My 2014 Game(s) of the Year

End of the year lists always seem to come out the same: the video games with the biggest budgets, biggest explosions, biggest everything tend to dominate. A couple of indie games might get included in a cursory fashion, but that’s about it. Back at Gamer Limit we used to write about our personal favorites. It allowed us to highlight games that affected us (see my 2010 and 2011 posts), and it’s a tradition I continued on my here last year.

This year felt different for me. To say nothing of the horrendous movement that is #gamergate, 2014 felt like a year where my interest in mainstream AAA games and gaming culture hit an all-time low. But that doesn’t mean 2014 was a bad year for games themselves. Indie games are everywhere; and I even got my hands on some I backed via Kickstarter. Oh yeah, my list is in no particular order! Oh yeah again, a 2014 release date isn’t a requirement for my list; I only had to have played the game this year!

Faves

Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus

The Ratchet & Clank series started in the PS2 era, and those games are good (though I haven’t gotten all the way through any of them), the series didn’t take off for me until the PS3 iterations. The series just gets better with every iteration. Into the Nexus is the swan song for the series on the PS3 and it’s everything that makes Ratchet & Clank great distilled into a focused, downloadable title.

The art direction is amazing–like a Pixar movie that you get to play in. The story’s goofy, funny, and Into the Nexus just made me feel pure joy. Saturday morning cartoons meets zippy space opera meets an action adventure game with impeccably tuned controls and over-the-top weapons. I can’t wait for Insomniac Games to return to the series.

Highlight: listening to Mr. Zurkon’s taunts

The Banner Saga

I missed out on backing The Banner Saga on Kickstarter, but as soon as the first episode came out, I knew I had to get it. To contrast Into the Nexus’ obsession with joy, The Banner Saga is a game permeated with melancholy. Melancholy can be gorgeous and haunting at the same time, and the developers at Stoic Games nailed it. The game is set in a Viking-inspired world with a hand-drawn art style that looks like it came out of an old-timey Disney movie. The gods in this world are dead, and everything is slowly dying. To make matters worse, a race of walking suits of armor called the Dredge are rising and are intent on wiping out humanity and a race of horned giants called the Varl.

the banner saga

The player takes control of a refugee caravan, and large portions of the game are spent watching the caravan travel from place to place, trying to stay ahead of the Dredge horde. All the while you watch your food stores dwindle and wonder when the people under your protection will start dying from starvation. Oh, and then random events can happen: you come across people claiming to be refugees but maybe they’re bandits, what do you do? Somebody has been stealing food from the caravan supplies, what do you do? Sometimes there’s no right answer and people die. Sometimes there is but people die anyway.

In between stretches of travel, you participate in tactical, turn-based battles against humans, Varl, and Dredge. It’s a system similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but it works. The funny thing is: the combat was my least favorite part of the game. By the end of the game, things had gotten a little repetitive but damn if I’m not going to get the second episode when it comes out.

Highlight: watching your banner flutter in the breeze as you cross a desolate landscape as the caravan’s morale drops to dangerously low levels

Super Mario 3D World

Nintendo rarely goes wrong with Mario games. Super Mario 3D World is no exception. I loved Mario Galaxy, but never finished Mario Galaxy 2 despite its excellence. This game came with my Wii U, and it’s easily a reason to get the console if you’re on the fence. Everything in the game just works, even the chaotic-made-my-wife-threaten-to-divorce-me-for-messing-her-up multiplayer. I tried playing Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS but I just couldn’t get it, but the Wii U iteration clicked.

My wife and I spent months playing the game, and we even collected all the stamps, green stars, and top o’ the flagpoles. If Super Mario 3D World is your latest in a long string of Mario games or your first one ever, it’s worth your time.  Nintendo manufactures meticulous happiness flavored with nostalgia (at least for a lot of people my age-ish) and with this latest outing they’re still at the top of their game.

Highlight: Cat Luigi saying “meow”

Cook, Serve, Delicious

I first heard of Cook, Serve, Delicious on Northernlion’s channel, and after watching his video I went out and bought it. So what is Cook, Serve, Delicious? I’d say it’s Guitar Hero meets running a restaurant. You’re a chef at a restaurant in an office tower, and your goal is to make your hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon into a Michelin star winning establishment.

Every day you open your restaurant and cook four dishes for your patrons. Cooking is accomplished via quick time events and it takes some getting used to. Not only do you have to hit the right buttons, but some dishes take longer to cook than others, some have multiple steps, and the customers themselves are picky little bastards. Do good and you’ll be rewarded with extra tips. Fail and you’ll piss off your patrons and miss out on revenue which can be used to buy new stoves, dishwashers, and recipes.

Running the restaurant is a fast-paced balancing act and every now and then I’d find myself complaining that I was “in the weeds” or yelling “Behind, chef!”

Highlight: Doing a day of perfect service and then heading back out into the culinary trenches again the next day

Almosts

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I haven’t played a Wolfenstein game since Wolfenstein 3D, but the premise of The New Order was too interesting to pass up. I mean, Germany winning WWII isn’t the most original idea for a speculative story, but The New Order excels when it comes to its setting. Nazi-fied Europe is terrifying, especially when you get to explore 1960s Berlin. The game doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the setting and the horrors of the Nazi regime–especially a regime that ended up in uncontested control of the whole continent. What was more surprising was that Wolfenstein did it while being a First Person Shooter, a genre not known for subtlety (see: pretty much any AAA FPS franchise).

The game wasn’t perfect though. I played it not knowing it was a sequel to 2009’s Wolfenstein, but the game assumes you’re familiar with the side characters that make up the resistance movement. Since I had no idea who any of these people were, some of the moments that were supposed to be the most affecting fell flat. The other reason this game ended up on my “Almost a Favorite” list is because even though I enjoyed playing it, I didn’t feel any compulsion to keep it once I was done. Still, my year was better because I played it.

Highlight: shooting Nazis on the moon.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Can you really go wrong with a Zelda game? The answer is yes. Very yes. I’m still angry at Nintendo for Skyward Sword. But I’m not angry at A Link Between Worlds. It’s a finely crafted Zelda game, and the big hook is a good one: it’s a sequel to the classic* A Link to the Past.

a link between worlds

So why is LBW not on my list of 2014 favorites? Because of its big hook, more specifically, the fact that it’s big hook wasn’t that big to me. The SNES was the first game console my family owned, but I never owned LTTP as a child. I never even played it until high school, and then it was on an emulator. So LBW doesn’t push my nostalgia buttons as hard as it might for other players either my age or perhaps just a couple years older.

A Link Between Worlds is still a well-crafted game (it’s following a pretty dang good template for a start). I love the item rental mechanic, even if I think Nintendo could’ve gone a little bit further with the amount of freedom they give you. However, it’s a novel feeling buying the bow before the bombs or some other “Zelda Formula” breaking combo. But is LBW my favorite handheld Zelda game? No. That honor goes to Minish Cap. This one was great game, but still an almost favorite.

Highlight: Buying items out of order then not dying so you get to keep all of them forever

Dishonorable Mentions

Are the following two games“bad” games? I dunno. Maybe? Not sure how you’d really qualify or quantify that. But I can say definitively that these were my personal duds of 2014.

Pier Solar HD

Pier Solar HD is on my list of shame more because of how much of a letdown it ended up being. I backed the game on Kickstarter in 2012, and I spent the past two years waiting for the HD version to come out. How could I not be excited? Pier Solar was a Genesis game released in 2010. Yes. A Sega Genesis game developed and released in the Year of Our Luigi 2010. What? And a classic JRPG to boot! So hell yeah I was all on board for an HD version on Steam.

pier solar

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it more than a couple of hours into the game… The writing didn’t do it for me, and I guess I’m not as big a fan of old school JRPGs as I used to be. Plus the game was terrible at explaining how to turn on the auto-save feature. It might have been a perfectly serviceable throwback, but no thank you. I’ll pass.

Yoshi’s New Island

I’m not sure what I was expecting going into Yoshi’s New Island. The original Yoshi’s Island on the SNES is one of my favorite games of all time (and IMO one of the best games of all time) so Nintendo had a lot to live up to in making a sequel to one of their classics. I mean, they already made a sequel on the DS that was okay. Not amazing, but okay.

Right off the bat, I wasn’t a fan of the art direction. Everything just looked weird. Yes, I realize that’s a highly technical term, but I’m sticking with it. Yoshi’s New Island isn’t terrible, but it felt more like it was put together by following a list of things a Yoshi platformer should have. That lack of heart, that special care that you can feel in Yoshi’s Island wasn’t there in this New version for me.

And that’s it for 2014! Come back in a year for more!

 

Let’s Talk About: Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is a talented writer. I love her Clockwork Century setting with its alt-history + steampunk + zombies mashup. However, Ganymede was just ok and kinda boring. The characters are great. You have Josephine Early, madam of a high class establishment and spy for the Union, trying to get an experimental submarine out of the New Orleans bayous and into Union hands. And then series regular(?), guest star(?) Andan Cly, a tall dude and airship pilot, also a former pirate.ganymede cover

Great stuff. Great supporting cast. Great central premise. There should be tons of tension to this plot. But none of the “expected spy story” plot beats ever happen. Josephine is afraid that the Confederates and their Texian allies are onto her, but never once does it *actually* happen. Nobody questions her, suspects her, searches her place, nothing like that. Every time she goes out and is doing the “watching her back for tails” type thing, it never manifests into anything.

And then when it comes time to move the Ganymede sub: the book tells the reader that it’s tense, full of danger, that the Texians (that spelling/term bothered me; no idea why) or the Confederates could spot them at any time. But it never happens. They move the sub without a hitch.

Okay I can buy that. That part of the story *was* tense. So to have nothing terrible happen lets the reader breathe a sigh of relief. It also makes them think “Okay, they made it through that. But what about what’s next?” Cool. I’m all on board with that.

Once the Ganymede is put into the Mississippi River, it comes time to sail her to the gulf. The crew decides to make a stop at Barataria Bay to help out some pirates who are putting up one massive fight against the occupying Texians. Cool! This part of the book is going to be the climactic “Final Battle” so to speak. I was fully expecting for something to go wrong as the Ganymede sneaked into the battle and started picking off Texian boats.

Nope. They never once take any hits or anything. There’s no scene with the sub taking on water. Nothing. The entire climax had no tension. The good team blows up some bad guy boats and then moves on. And then the scene Josephine’s been waiting for the entire book–reaching the airship carrier Valiant and turning over the Ganymede to the Union–is *told* to us in a quick little paragraph. So the supposed payoff isn’t even shown to the reader.

Overall, Ganymede (the book, not the underwater craft) felt like a first draft. It took forever for the two main characters to meet up, and then when they finally do, everything goes their way. Lots of things are told to the reader rather than shown. And even a surprising revelation about one of the supporting characters near the end is never explored. It would’ve been so awesome and unexpected to have that be a bigger focus. As it was I just went “Ohhh. Ohhh. Cool. I see what she did there.” and then didn’t really give it another thought because the book ended a few pages later.

It’s clear that there are bigger things happening in the world while the story of Ganymede is taking place, and like I said before, Priest is talented and inventive. I’m going to finish this series–not out of some sense of duty and finishing what I started–but because I genuinely want to. And it’s the fact that the series and previous books, Boneshaker and Dreadnought especially, have been so fun that makes Ganymede such a letdown.

The Exile’s Violin Review Copy Requests

The Exile's Violin (Tethys Chronicles #1) by R.S. HunterOh, hello there. I didn’t see you come in. Stay awhile and listen. Oh, don’t worry. I’m going to keep this post short and sweet.

My first novel, The Exile’s Violin, was just re-released by Rara Avis, an imprint of PDMI, with a new cover layout, editing, and formatting! I want to make sure if you’re interested in reviewing it that you can get a copy in your hands as quickly as possible. To do that, I direct your attention here! *tada* This is PDMI’s review copy request form. Fill it out and get yourself a copy!

I appreciate any and all reviews, so make sure to request a copy from my publisher if you like any of the following**: me, steampunk, sci-fi, airships, gunfights, airship fights, adventure, reading, books, kittens, puppies, go-karts, slip-n-slides with the little pools at the end, extension ladders, extension cords, grading extensions, hair extensions, Land Before Time (1 & 2; none of the others), physics, metaphysics, metafiction, Metatron, and just plain Tron.

Thanks and I hope you enjoy the novel!

**Some of the above may not be featured in The Exile’s Violin

Let’s Talk About: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I don’t really do book “reviews” per se, but I just finished Kameron Hurley’s latest novel, the epic fantasy The Mirror Empire. Since I have lots of thoughts (and feels too as the kids say) I figured I’d jot them down here in a loose sorta way. There will be some spoilers so read on at your own risk.

1. The Mirror Empire is the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga. Points for having a badass title and series name. This isn’t an in-depth thought. I just like the name.

2. As Justin mentions in his review, the world of The Mirror Empire starts in a state of flux–and flux seems to be the status quo for the world(s). The world of the story is orbited by “satellites” (moons? comets? actual man-made thingies? No clue and probably not important), and these satellites give certain people magical wizard powers. The closest comparison I can think of is the bending powers from Avatar: the Last Airbender. But each satellite also waxes and wanes at irregular intervals, so each wizard faction can gain and lose power at random. This means the worldview for almost every country in the world is based on change. It’s awesome how deep this theme of change permeates the book.

3. However, because everything is in a state of change–satellites, a bad moon rising so to speak, impending civil war, impending invasion (more on this later), it felt a little hard to get everything straight in the book. Plus, being epic fantasy, there are multiple point-of-view characters in The Mirror Empire. Keeping them straight, their allegiances, their friends and families, and even genders straight can be overwhelming at first. (This may also be partially user error as I tend to read right before bed, so sometimes I fall asleep reading)

4. Lots of stuff happens in The Mirror Empire, but at times, it felt like the opposite. It’s the first book in a trilogy (series?) so a lot of the stuff (heady, dare I say world-breaking even) can feel like setup for future books. There’re quite a few threads and by the end of the book it feels like they’re just starting to really tie together. But I get it, you can’t cover everything and you have to end a book somewhere otherwise it becomes a never ending tome.

Mirror Empire map

5. Hurley some really cool stuff with gender/gender roles in this book. So there’s an assassin that can change their biological sex at will or basically at will. So that character embodies the theme of change in the book. One culture has five different genders each with their own pronouns and an individual gets to decide how they view themselves and which gender they want to be referred as. Cool stuff!

5b. But it goes further than that. One of the cultures, Dorinah, is a matriarchy. So one of the POV characters is a high ranking general. Basically take all of the stereotypes you see male characters think about women in fantasy books (and elsewhere too!) and then flip them around. When you read a passage about this general catcalling a man and then thinking “Well, he just got upset because he doesn’t have a sense of humor,” it’s biting. It hits home because I’ve seen it in real life and on the internet. Women don’t have senses of humor; they’re too sensitive; can’t they just see that men are trying to compliment them? The Dorinah culture in The Mirror Empire flips this all around and man it makes for some caustic satire.

5c. That’s not to say that we’re supposed to read the general as 100% in the right. Or that readers shouldn’t criticize her actions or the actions of her nation. Hurley’s writing makes it clear that we’re supposed to engage all of this critically.

6. Rideable bears. With forked tongues, big-ass claws, and cat-like eyes. Seriously. Rideable bears. Read this book.

7. Alternate universes. That’s one of The Mirror Empire’s big hooks. It’s like Fringe meets epic fantasy meets plant-punk or something. It’s awesome but also a bit confusing. At times I couldn’t remember who was from what universe, and it’s mentioned in an off-hand way that there are more than two universes out there. So when people in World A mention invaders, I think they’re talking about World B. But then I swear people in World B mentioned invaders. Are they being invaded too? And really their invasion of World A is just another word for retreat? Cool stuff, a bit confusing, and I think it will be explored even more in future books.The Mirror Empire cover

8. The characters, especially the POV ones, didn’t quite grab me as much as those in Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series. I get it though. As a writer you don’t want to just create the same main character over and over again. I appreciate that there’s a wide variety of personality types on display here, and all the characters have agency in their own way. Still, and this is just personal stuff (YMMW), I didn’t feel a huge connection to any of them. I think I cared about Lilia the most and probably Roh the least. I’d love to see more of Taigan too.

9. You can’t help but use the word “ambitious” to describe The Mirror Empire. It’s sprawling, but also personal at the same time. Occasionally the number of concepts thrown at you can be overwhelming, and for me, the characters didn’t quite hit the mark. But seriously, what else is like this on the market right now? I honestly can’t tell you. Despite a few flaws, you have to applaud Hurley’s ambition and the way she throws the reader into the deep end of everything. But unlike the Malazan books, I was never too lost that I gave up. In fact, I finished The Mirror Empire pretty damn quickly. The only bad thing about devouring it so fast is that I have a longer wait until book two comes out.

10. The Mirror Empire, her previous Bel Dame novels, plus her nonfiction collection, We Have Always Fought, only cement in my mind that Hurley is a writer to watch and one I want to learn from.

Let’s Talk About: Final Fantasy X-2 HD

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD

YRP: Girl Power

It took me over 10 years to finish Final Fantasy X-2. It took multiple tries, a completely different console, and an HD upgrade for me to get it done. It wasn’t the game’s fault that I never finished it before; the blame is entirely at my feet.

You see, Final Fantasy X-2 is the first direct sequel in the Final Fantasy franchise. As I said in my write-up about Final Fantasy X HD, I was in high school when that game came out. It was one of the first PS2 games I bought, and it blew me away. Those graphics, that voice acting, those character models–so realistic when compared to the weird Popeye-esque blocks of Final Fantasy VII or the blurry pixels of Final Fantasy IX, and of course, that opening Blitzball scene.

I loved it. I loved playing Blitzball, filling out the Sphere Grid, and the story-focused nature of the whole affair. No more wandering around a zoomed out world map wondering where to go.

FFX-2 abandons all of that. As Todd Harper said on Twitter (apologies for paraphrase! I never saved the original tweet), it’s like the producers at Square Enix purposely made a sequel that had none of the things that gamers liked in the first one.

I hated it. You see, like most 14-15 year old boys, I was a bit of a fuckhead. “It’s too girly. It’s too gay. Tidus isn’t even in it. You just play dress-up.” Yup. A little fuckhead, just like Tidus really. That’s why Leigh Alexander’s recent essay really hit home for me.

Fast forward a few years: I’m a bit older, a bit less fuckhead-y. I understand that Final Fantasy X-2 is purposely trying for a different tone: a JRPG Charlie’s Angels with a fast-paced battle system and an emphasis on fun. And it works. Oh yes it works.

But where FFX is a relatively linear affair, FFX-2 breaks up its plot into chapters and in each chapter you have certain locations (Hot Spots) you have to go to in order to advance the story, but everywhere else is optional. You can do some sidequests, then do a Hot Spot story mission, and then go back and do some more sidequests. This structure makes the game feel more open and less constricting. That’s all well and good except for one little thing that makes one of my biggest gaming neuroses kick in: FFX-2 has a completion percentage counter.

According to Mitch Krpata’s “A New Taxonomy of Gamers,” I’m something of a Tourist with Completionist tendencies. I like to see what a game has to offer; I don’t need to get the highest score possible or top an online leader board. However, I try to find as many secrets as I can, collect as many collectible thingies as I can, do as many sidequests as possible without annoying amounts of effort (which varies from game to game). These personal tendencies are what drove me away from FFX-2 on my second and third attempts. I wanted to get 100% completion and see the secret, best, ultimate, etc. etc. ending. Maybe I could have just tried to find a recording of the ending online (more on that later), but back then doing something like that was out of character for me.

Final Fantasy X-2 HD screenshot

Fast forward to 2014. I’ve sold my PS2, sold FFX-2 (but I’ve held onto X), and sold the tome of a player’s guide I had used on my previous attempts. I tell my wife that the HD remaster of and X-2 is available and she convinces me to buy it. We’re going to play both games together. Luckily I know FFX well enough that we’re able to get through it pretty quickly. (See my thoughts on the remaster here)

She enjoyed the characters–especially comparing Auron to Teen Wolf‘s Derek Hale (it makes sense, trust me)–and the overall story. Understandably, she was less than happy at the more game-y, RPG-y parts of the experience. Luckily, we struck a deal where I was able to grind “off-camera” so to speak and we’d play together whenever I made story progress.

As soon as I finished we jumped into the sequel. I warned her that I’d only ever reached Chapter 3 one time so I didn’t remember as much of this game as the first one. We also set the ground rules that I would try to get as much completion percentage as possible and that we’d just watch the secret 100% ending online. (10 years later I now value my leisure time more than I did when I was 15)

Right off the bat, FFX-2 throws the melancholy tone of FFX right out the window. I mean, the opening cutscene is like a J-Pop music video. It’s silly. And I mean that in the best way. It’s silly, over the top, and amazing. This game takes Yuna and Rikku (revealing default outfit aside) and adds in newcomer Paine and throws them together in a globe-trotting, girl-power fueled adventure.

However, the game’s episodic nature didn’t appeal to my wife. She knew going in that Yuna’s journey was in part about finding Tidus, but she expected that to really take the driver’s seat. Looking back on the finished experience, it really doesn’t. FFX-2 is more about exploring Spira and seeing how Yuna’s victory in the first game has changed things.

I guess if you just played the mandatory Hot Spot missions in order the story would be more cohesive. But if you do that you’ll miss out on tons of completion percentage points. Some of the sidequests in X-2 are character-driven and reveal more about Paine or more about what happened between the two games. And others are: selling balloons or participating in a coin-based mini-game. I didn’t mind them because I was trying to get as much completion as possible, but my wife wasn’t too pleased. She wanted more story stuff, more character interaction, and more shipping.

I mean it all comes down to the overused adage: your mileage will vary. I absolutely loved the parts where the Gullwings were together on the airship or fighting/working with the Leblanc Syndicate. Plus the funky music played aboard the airship is really fun. The main story was good, and it was nice to see Yuna be more outspoken; this was her Calm after all.

Even if you get annoyed with the way the plot kind of meanders through chapters and some random sidequests, the game plays great. Eschewing the turn-based battle system from before, Final Fantasy X-2 returns to a more active system. Plus you can change the character’s dress spheres (basically classes like warrior, thief, mage, etc.) on the fly. It creates a rather frantic energy to fights, and boss fights can be downright tough if you’re unprepared. There’s a ton of depth and with the monster capturing/raising sidequest included in the HD remaster, I know I barely scratched the surface of FFX-2‘s character and class-building content.

Final Thoughts

Again, your mileage will vary. If you really, really liked FFX’s battle system, know that this one is completely different. Todd really hit the nail on the head; aside from setting and characters, almost every aspect of the first game doesn’t carry over to the sequel. In my opinion, it works. It really does.

I think part of my wife’s problem came from the fact that we had just finished Tales of Xillia before starting on the X & X-2 collection. She was used to more modern conventions, an even more active battle system, and little skits and vignettes bewteen the main characters all the time. Still, I consider my money well-spent. I finally finished Final Fantasy X-2 eleven years late, but I’m glad I finally did. While I’m sad I was too much of a fuckhead to play it years ago, I feel like this HD remastered collection is the definitive way to play these two games.

Statistics

Game: Final Fantasy X-2 HD

Platform: PS3

Release Date: 3-21-14

Completed: 5-2-14

Trophies/Achievements: 28% (10/35)

Let’s Talk About: Final Fantasy X HD

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD

The HD remakes/upgrades/re-releases/whatever you wanna call ‘em of Final Fantasy X and X-2 are dual spin kicks right to my nostalgia organ. (I believe that might actually be the appendix’s true function)

Listen to my story

I first played FFX around 9th grade or so. Basically every bit of music, pop culture, etc. that I consumed during those years has stuck with me for better or worse.

My wife and I had just finished playing Tales of Xillia together and she wanted another RPG to dive into. FFX HD had just come out, and because I’d played the game three or four times already, I told her we’d be able to get through it pretty quickly. So how does a decade-old game hold up? Pretty well for the most part.

The character models look better now than they did back in ‘02. Secondary characters…not so much. They still have those flat PS2 era faces. But man, dat CGI intro.

*sings Otherworld to himself*

Yeah, I still know all the words to that song. Sorry not sorry.

So how ‘bout that story? Not gunna lie. I had to look up some stuff on Wikipedia even after beating the game again last night. I don’t remember it being so “sorrow, spiral of death, existence is futile” when I played it back in high school. It all seems so melodramatic now.

Tidus is still annoying. Plus the whole “this is my story” thing kinda sucks for Yuna. It’s kinda her story too. So yeah, Tidus that’s really selfish of you.

Auron’s much more of a dick than I remember. And now I can’t hear Wakka without thinking it’s Jake from Adventure Time with a weird accent. (This is not necessarily a bad thing!)

This time around I got annoyed with Yuna’s voice acting. I don’t know if it’s because this is one of the earliest voice acted games, but the cadence to her lines is so, so weird. It gets better by the end of the game when she speaks with more confidence and has more of a personality. It’s way more normal sounding in FFX-2 though.

Final Fantasy X‘s battle system still holds up. Plus there’s a bunch of new stuff in the HD version that was only available in the international version originally. I haven’t even gotten close to completing all the sidequests and optional bosses.

If you’re looking for some nostalgia or a fun JRPG with the best/most nonsensical minigame ever (blitzball fo life!), check out the HD remasters. Don’t worry too hard about the story or about how Seymour’s hair does the things it does.

Also, Rikku and Tidus make more sense to me than Tidus and Yuna.

Final Thoughts

The inclusion of both FFX and FFX-2 on one disc is worth the asking price. I played the intro of FFX-2 last night, and I think I’m actually looking forward to playing it more than the first one. I’ll write a post about it once I’m finished with the game.

Statistics

Game: Final Fantasy X HD

Platform: PS3

Release Date: 3-21-14

Completed: 4-22-14

Trophies/Achievements: 53% (18/34)

Conquering a Galaxy Far Far Away: Star Wars Rebellion

Star Wars Poster

In honor of #StarWarsDay, I want to take the time to reminisce about one of my favorite Star Wars games of all time. A game that you won’t see mentioned alongside your Rogue Squadrons, your Jedi Knight IIs, your Knights of the Old Republics. I’m talking about Star Wars Rebellion–a real-time strategy game that mysteriously came into my life and took over my imagination.

Star Wars Rebellion

I don’t know when or how Star Wars Rebellion ended up in my hands. I know it was sometime before my family’s move to Southern California. I mean, it had to have been at least 1998, as that’s when the game was released. But other than that, I have no clue who bought the game, placed it in a fuzzy, Velcro CD case, and made it part of our collection.

We had a computer that we kept in the den. While my dad used it mostly for work, my brothers and I were allowed to play games on it. We kept the boxes the games came in on a bookshelf in the den. I remember looking through the shelves; it was mostly full of odds and ends: the aforementioned PC game boxes, some books my dad read, a copy of the DOOM Hacker’s Guide (or something like that), and then this instruction manual for some game called Star Wars Rebellion. Next to the manual was a black, fuzzy CD case–the kind that has multiple “pages.” The Rebellion disc was its only contents.

Star Wars Rebellion screenshot

For a kid that loved the spaceships and battles in Star Wars more than anything else, Rebellion was perfect. Not only did you get to mess around with the galactic map–full of planets and star systems only mentioned in the Expanded Universe (EU)–but you also got to engage tactical fleet battles. Homeworld did this much, much better a year later, but for 10 year-old-me, it was like bringing my LEGO battles to life.

Part of Rebellion’s brilliance is that it let you maneuver your ships–glorious groupings of Mon Calamari Cruisers, squadrons of X-Wings, and formations of Imperial Star Destroyers–in three dimensions. Most other strategy games only operate on a 2D plane. But in Rebellion, you could order your ships to go above or below the enemy. I spent so much time, way too much time drawing battle plans and stuff in my notebooks at school while I waited to get home and put them into action in the game.

It’s Good to be Bad

Let’s be honest: the Empire was cool. Darth Vader (before the prequels) was cool. Yes, yes I know they were the bad guys. But I always wanted my own Star Destroyer. Star Wars Rebellion made that happen. This was the first Star Wars game I played that let you choose the Empire as your side. Finally! I was able to have Darth Vader hunt down Rebel spies. My admirals patrolled the galaxy with fleets of Star Destroyers, cruisers, and endless waves of TIE Fighters under their command. It was amazing.

Star Destroyer

I never actually won a game in Rebellion, but I certainly got close. I painted the galactic map that bright, almost neon Imperial green.

It’s Only Cheating if You Get Caught

According to the movies, books, comics the Empire is supposed to be powerful. It’s supposed to have hundreds of ships under its command. Unfortunately, in the interest of “balance” and “giving the Rebels a chance” (ugh), the Empire starts out with a pitiful number of ships. Enter the glorious world of game editors!

Much like my time with Red Alert and the Tiberium series, I spent many a happy hour tinkering with Rebellion’s innards. I’m not ashamed to admit I completely broke the game in my favor. Imperial Star Destroyers are supposed to have ion cannons according to the Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels? Okay! Mod them in! Of course they’re supposed to have more shields. You know what? I’m pretty sure all the Rebel ships should have no weapons. Sound good? Of course it does!

I wasn’t playing multiplayer–as far as I knew, nobody else had ever heard of the game–so what was the harm? Did I care about winning fairly? Absolutely not! Even though I completely unbalanced the game, it was still horrendously fun.

Talon Who? What’s a Bane Nothos?

Another one of the best parts of Star Wars Rebellion is the fact that it included a bunch of characters from the movies as well as the EU. For somebody who voraciously read any Star Wars novel he could get his hands on in elementary and middle school, playing a game where characters like Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and Borsk Fey’lya were included was a dream come true.

Sidebar: I played Rebellion before I ever saw any of the Thrawn trilogy graphic novels, so the game’s version of Talon Karrde is the one I pictured in my head. Seeing him bare-chested and long-haired in other media just weirded me out.

Darth Vader

All the characters in the game came with encyclopedia entries about them, so if you had no clue who Jan Dodonna or Pellaeon were, then the game was there to help you out. I loved the fact that I got to play around with people I recognized from the books in ways that didn’t have to follow established canon. I always paired up Thrawn and Pellaeon though. Couldn’t break up that duo.

Control a World. Command a Galaxy

Was Star Wars Rebellion a great game? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t even rank it among the top Star Wars games. Parts of it were extremely boring. And aside from the space battles everything else happened via info cards. Still, the ability to spread fleets of Star Destroyers across the galaxy goes a long way toward winning my heart.

If you’re looking for a Star Wars game that’s more grand strategy than Empire at War, Galactic Battlegrounds, or Force Commander, then give Rebellion a try. Just be willing to sit through some outdated game design.

Let’s Talk About: True Detective

True Detective Poster

There was so much–so, so much–hype surrounding HBO’s True Detective, which just finished its first season. Every Sunday night (pre GoT return, of course) it felt like my Twitter feed was full of people talking about this new show. And then came the references. That’s what really got my attention; I didn’t read articles like this one from io9 for fear of spoilers, but just seeing Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow mentioned was enough to convince me to watch the show.

Did the show live up to its hype? What about a supernatural payoff? Did the show deliver on that front? Let’s talk. And of course be aware: this post will have massive spoilers for the entire first season of True Detective. Consider yeself warned!

Continue reading Let’s Talk About: True Detective

Let’s Talk About: Reign

Reign on the CW

I can’t shake the feeling that Reign is a trainwreck. It feels like the CW, seeing the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, decided they wanted a piece of the medieval-costumed pie. (Though, I guess Reign takes place in the 16th century, so this is more Renaissance-ish than medieval, right?) They went through their roster of CW-esque actors and actresses and made a show. I feel like, costuming and set dressing aside, the cast of Reign is indistinguishable from say Vampire Diaries, or The Originals, or Star-Crossed.

So despite these misgivings, why can’t I turn away while this show is on? Let’s dive into that!

Continue reading Let’s Talk About: Reign

The Writing Process Blog Tour

mind map made with XMind

My good friend Gwen Whiting (formerly Perkins) asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour, and I was more than happy to say yes. Gwen’s written two novels in her Artifacts of Empire series: The Universal Mirror and The Jealousy Glass. Luckily for you readers, a second edition of The Universal Mirror is being published by Rara Avis sometime in 2014-2015. If you like fantasy, magic, and gruesome plagues, check out her series. I’ve also been lucky enough to read some of The Unwilling, and I can’t wait to see the end of it. Plus the premise is just killer.

So it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts and shared what I’m working on, so now’s as good a time as any! Here’s my answers to the questions posed to the authors on the tour.

1. What am I working on?

As of a few days ago I was working on two things: going over the edits for the 2nd edition of The Exile’s Violin and finishing the outline for a brand new fantasy novel tentatively called Red Magic.

The Exile’s Violin is set to be rereleased through PDMI’s Rara Avis imprint sometime later this year, so my editor and I went through it and cleaned up a few typos and other minor things from the Hydra Publications version. As far as I know the cover art isn’t going to change (which I’m happy about!) and work on Terraviathan should hopefully begin soon.

Red Magic came about because I wanted to attempt a twist on a common fantasy trope: mages and wizards. For the most part you hear wizard and you think Gandalf or Dumbledore. Mages are usually portrayed as aloof, purposely staying away from the population at large, using their magics for esoteric goals. Red Magic looks at the consequences of magic being withheld from the populace at large and plays with this question: what if something like a working class revolution was aided by magic?

Plus this book means I get to do a ton of research on the French Revolution, 17th and 18th century Europe, the Holy Roman Empire, and a bunch of other good stuff.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That’s a tough question. I have a feeling my readers would be able to do a better job with that. Personally, I think that my worldbuilding abilities are one of my strong points. Everything I write is all secondary world fantasy or science fiction, so all of it has to be created from scratch (or mostly from scratch. The real world is an inspiration for certain things).

I believe that helps all my books feel different from each other. The world in the Tethys Chronicles is very, very different from The Song of Siya, and hopefully Red Magic will continue that trend.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write to tell stories–human stories. Yeah my books may have airships or spaceships, but they’re always about people. Plus, I enjoy taking certain tropes and twisting them around a little bit. (Whether or not I succeed is up to the reader!) For example, Gifts of the Earth took sword and sorcery tropes and changed them by featuring a brown-skinned queer woman as the main character in a non Medieval Europe setting. For the Tethys Chronicles, they’re steampunk novels, but I wanted to avoid glorifying the imperialism of the Victorian era and hopefully show off a sooty, seedy underbelly to the whole notion of steampunk.

4. How does my writing process work?

Right now I’m between jobs so my schedule is really fluid. Ever since my wife and I moved to Portland, I like to get up in the morning, make some coffee, and write for an hour or so until she gets up. After that, I try to squeeze in some more writing time whenever I can in the afternoons or evenings. I used to be a night owl, but now I find myself becoming more of a morning person (as I write this post after midnight).

As far as how I approach a novel: I’m a major, major plotter/outliner/architect whatever you choose to call it. I start by creating a detailed, detailed plot outline. Sometimes they end up being over 40,000 words long. (Red Magic is 21,000) I don’t think they stifle my creativity because I’m really willing to move chapters around, change major plot beats, and rewrite characters during this outlining phase. I do all that early on rather than when I’m righting a rough draft. Having a complete story done in outline form makes writing the first draft go much quicker.

I also use a free program called XMind to create mind maps to keep track of my worldbuilding. I find it to be a useful tool for keeping track of characters, backstory, countries, cultures, food, weapons, basically anything. If you’re writing secondary world stories, you might want to give it a try. The header image of this post is a screencap of my Red Magic one.

Well that’s all from me! Sorry if this post ran a bit long. Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about what I’m working on. Thanks again to Gwen for tagging me for this blog tour!