Game Review: The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief

[TW: possible racism, mention of Nazis]

It’s been quite some time since I picked this up and I’ve only just beaten it a few minutes ago. Truth be told, I have a weird history with games from The Adventure Company (now a division of Nordic Games) everyone seems to love their point and click adventure games, but to me they’ve always been badly acted with puzzles that defy common sense.

The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is a point-and-click adventure game in the truest sense. Whereas other games I’ve reviewed recently add some interesting features (like Gemini Rue‘s verb interface and combat) this game goes back to pointy and clicky goodness. You probably know the drill by now: wander around gathering items, combine some of those items, use items to solve puzzles. The controls aren’t particularly fancy in that you use the mouse to do everything except bring up the options menu (press escape for that).

The story concerns the exploits of a gentleman thief known only as “The Raven”. The Raven’s burglaries are always grand affairs, and the thief always emerges unscathed, until a botched heist in Paris in 1960 where a hotshot detective, Legrand, fatally shoots The Raven.

Or does he? Four years later, a priceless jewel, part of a pair known as the Eyes of the Sphinx, is stolen from the British Museum, and speculation runs rampant that The Raven has returned. Mixed up in all this is Swiss Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, his journey will take him from a train in the Alps to a ship in Venice to the Cairo Museum.

I found Zellner to be a likeable character. He’s a very well-mannered man, very much not the shoot first type. The other characters have their own quirks. There’s the snooty violinist, the bratty child, the distinguished writer who is basically Agatha Christie, and a few others. As you might expect from a game with a heavy emphasis on mystery (and something so heavily influenced by Agatha Christie’s novels) most of the characters have secrets to hide, some darker than others. The one thing that didn’t endear me to the characters was the voice acting. Although it’s much improved from other games I’ve played from this developer, and I would say that the voice acting in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was far worse, the voice work in this wasn’t the best I’ve ever heard.

There’s also the issue of the puzzles. Yes, it’s the return of Adventure Game Logic, where the item combinations usually don’t make any sense and you need to crack open the developer’s head to try and figure out what they were thinking. Seriously though, how the hell does wooden salad tongs + penny = makeshift screwdriver? Yeah I guess I can see it but wouldn’t it make more sense to use a nail or something? Other times when I was stuck it was because the game wanted me to go on a pixel hunt, and those are never fun. The game does have a hint system, where you spend “Adventure Points” (gained from solving puzzles) to either highlight all objects that you can interact with or provide a text-based hint via your notebook. However, spending too many adventure points will cause you to miss out on achievements, so if you want all the achievements, it’s best not to use them. If you don’t care, use away. The pixel-hunting was easily the most frustrating aspect of the game for me.  The other most frustrating aspect was the pacing. The game does speed up at points but most of the time you’re left wandering around because you forgot to click the one thing twice.

The graphics are a meh for me. They haven’t changed much since the late 90s when I was first playing these games (although they are much crisper and the scenery is very pretty). The music kind of annoyed me after awhile, and it has a tendency to be very loud in sections.

Another frequent issue I had with the game is that character pathfinding was very very weird in spots, and at one point I needed to restart because a character would become stuck in the environment. At its lowest point, I had to replay the same series of scenes at least three times because for some reason the game wasn’t saving where I wanted it to save, and the game doesn’t give you the option to skip cutscenes outright. I would recommend saving frequently, keeping multiple save files, and overwriting saves whenever possible.

As far as stuff to keep an eye on, there’s only one person of colour in the entire game and his portrayal is….mixed….in my opinion. He does call out a character for treating him like shit, specifically referencing his skin colour, but I’m not really sure if anyone would consider him positive representation or not, and, like I said, he’s the only non-white character in the entire game (and, TBH, during some scenes in the game his skin is just a shade darker than white, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many people simply read him as white).

And, oh yeah, Nazis are eventually involved as part of a character’s background. There needs to be a variant of Godwin’s Law for video games.

Overall, if you really want a “classic” adventure game you could do much worse, but I’d recommend buying this on sale, especially if you’re an Agatha Christie fan and you’ve already played the games based on her work.

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The Thirteen Houses Project: Valerian

It’s the thirteenth, and by now you know what that means, but now we’ve reached the final entry in the Thirteen Houses Project. Seems like it’s been awhile since I wrote that introduction, and now here we are at the end. On the one hand, it’s been a long journey and a job well done, but on the other, I’m kind of sad to see it go.

Valerian House’s canon is algolagnia and submission. It’s motto is “I Yield,” like Mandrake House, we don’t learn about what they hold transpired when Naamah offered herself to the King of Persis, but i think you can guess. Valerian House has an interesting way of selecting apprentices. They are given spiced candies, and are told that the pleasure from the candy is derived from the pain of the spice. Those who understand this lesson are kept, others have their marques sold to other houses. Valerian House also maintains an altar to Kushiel, in Kushiel’s Dart, Phedre learns that many Valerian adepts are dedicated to him.

Although Valerian adepts are recognized as Servants of Naamah and perform the same sacred duty as the other Houses, Valerian adepts don’t get a lot of respect in canon. Characters compare them to dogs and refer to them as “whipping toys for ham-fisted noblemen” even Phedre, who has been divinely ordained to be so masochistic she can never be broken by torture, looks down on the adepts of this house. The only characters to give Valerian adepts a measure of dignity and respect are Imriel and Mavros.

Valerian’s lessons are submission and surrender. These can be hard lessons to learn, especially since many people (at least, in North America) seem to want to take Mandrake’s lesson to heart, to assert control over every aspect of their lives when there are some things that are always going to be out of control. I feel like Valerian adepts know how to go with the flow better than any other house, they learn to trust their patrons in ways that other houses do not. In Heathenry, there’s a sizable contingent of Heathens who assert that “we don’t kneel before our gods” this despite numerous references to people kneeling and prostrating before images of the deities. It seems like there’s at least one meme every week echoing that sentiment, and it’s no less annoying every time it happens.

At the same time, I feel like some groups, perhaps reacting to the former view, push too far in the other direction at times. I don’t think I have to name specific names, but I’ve found that some people seem to expect everyone to have 100% godslave=like devotion to their deities at all times, and, quite frankly, I find this notion to be utterly ridiculous. Not everyone is going to have the exact same relationship with their deities, some might not even interact with deities at all, instead focusing on local land spirits and ancestors, not wanting to devote one’s life 200% to the deities doesn’t make you impious, it means that you have other responsibilities, and few people in this day and age can really afford to devote 100% of their time to their deities. It’s not uncommon to see reactionary movements that respond to one extreme by going to the other extreme, and I don’t think that either extreme is really helping in this case. It is possible to say “It’s okay to kneel, it’s okay to have an intense relationship with your deities,” without expecting everyone to be the same way, sometimes you might need to just go with the flow, but other times, other times you need to help yourself. My deities aren’t all-powerful and are frequently busy, so I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

This project has taught me that there are many ways to serve Naamah. That might seem like an obvious conclusion to reach, but even Phedre didn’t fully understand this until Kushiel’s Avatar, and she was born and raised in Terre D’Ange. I know some of the entries are rushed because I really wanted to get the post done on the 13th, but overall I had fun with this project and it provided a nice framework for discussion topics.

Thank you for sticking with me through this project. I don’t know when I’ll be doing something like this again, but until that time, enjoy all the reviews, rants, and random mutterings.

Image credit: “Valeriana officinalis” by Kurt Stüber (via Wikipedia)

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Growth and Changes

Since it seems like the comments on the blog have been inundated recently with comments from ignorant folkists who seem to think I will magically accept their racist ideologies, it’s time for me to move this blog forward a bit.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my views have changed over the past decade (or, hell, over the past few years). I’ve gone from thinking things like Pop Culture Paganism are weird to actually calling myself a Pop Culture Pagan and engaging with that community, and TBH, the most shit I’ve gotten for it has been from more “traditional” Pagans.

When I started this blog (and when I started my main tumblr) I didn’t think I’d get any followers. I was just someone who had opinions on the internet. Lots of people have those. I just passed the 666 follower mark on tumblr, like, really? That many people think I’m at least worth a follow? It just seems so weird.

There are also times where I just want to reach back into the past and smack myself because I just….gods…..WTF was wrong with me? But I suspect we all have those moments, and I bet our past selves are thankful that we don’t have access to time machines or they’d be pretty bruised from all that smacking.

It’s one thing to be like “You weren’t the same person five years ago,” but it’s a whole other thing when you are five years on looking back, you know?

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Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller — Episode 3

[Once again, this episode will contain SPOILERS for the previous episodes, so read at your own risk.]

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Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2

This review contains SPOILERS for episode 1 of Cognition, so if you haven’t played it and you want to go through it first, don’t read this review yet. In fact, I’m going to put the review under a cut this time. (Yes I actually know how to use cuts, not that my other reviews are any indication.)

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Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, Episode 1

[tw: suicide mention, especially suicide by hanging, racism]

I don’t really get the whole episodic games craze right now. Yeah apparently The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us (and Telltale Games’ stuff in general) are the shit and everyone must play them, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s just like watching TV only you have to wait months instead of days for the next episode, that is, if the company even finishes the game at all.

Please note that this is just the review of episode one, next week I’ll do episode two. it’ll be just like doing recaps of a TV show.

Cognition is one of those games that kept popping up on my radar and I never paid it much attention until I realized it had a Steam demo, I tried it, saw that it was on sale at GOG.com, and thought “What the hell, I have $8,” and bought it. I’ve played some really crappy demos, but this one was solid and I definitely recommend it to get a feel for the game.

Here’s the setup: you are Erica Reed, an FBI agent, and your job is to catch serial killers. Each episode features a different serial killer. In episode one, Erica is on the hunt for the Hangman, a serial killer who makes their murders look like suicides.

Cognition is yet another point and click adventure game that seem to always end up in my library, and, in that respect, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. You can click on objects in the environment to bring up options to look at it, investigate it further, or use an object in your inventory on it. Cognition‘s unique feature is Erica’s cognitive powers. She starts with the ability to see past events, and as the game goes on she picks up a couple more powers: the ability to “project” an image of something that’s missing from a scene using objects related to that scene, and “regression” which helps subjects regain lost memories. Each power is color-coded (blue for seeing the past, green for projection, pink for regression) so you’ll always know which powers can be used on which objects. The trick is knowing when to use them. For instance, an early puzzle has you using precognition to cut a bunch of wires in the reverse order in which they were connected to disable a trap. The game is also not afraid to force you to think on your feet (with bloody consequences for failure) fortunately autosaves are frequent and you can save almost anywhere.

Cognition takes the other favourite indy game graphics style route and goes for comic book style graphics with few animations. The graphics are very bright and colorful, in-game animations are very fluid. The music does get a bit repetitive, but I particularly enjoyed the main theme, a melancholy piano piece.

I did have a couple issues with this first episode. The first is that the voice acting really is a mixed bag. Erica’s voice is tolerable, but Rose’s (the lady who runs the antique shop) is not. The dialogue can get really awkward at times, and the characters are the typical stock characters you’d find in any crime drama: the overbearing boss, the grouch in forensics, the nerdy tech guy, the magical black lady (yes, the game has a magical black lady) and apart from that last one, they’re not horrible characters, they’re just….typical.

The other major issue I had with this game was the lack of prompts. The game definitely doesn’t hold your hand and it requires you to read between the lines a bit, but oftentimes I didn’t realize I needed to do a thing because there was absolutely no indication whatsoever that it was something I needed to do (for instance, talking to a certain character to get a new gadget at a certain point). In a particularly frustrating moment, i had to interrupt what could have been an intense interrogation to hunt for items I needed that the game wouldn’t let me get before that point. Fortunately, the game has a hint system in case you get stuck, that said, the fact that I was stuck at a few points was more me not being observant than Adventure Game Moon Logic. This episode is also a bit slow, the very beginning is action-packed but then you spend most of the time wandering back and forth between locations looking for clues.

The other place the game fails is how it treats its black characters. There are three, one of the police officers working the crime scene who gets a few lines, Rose, who is the aforementioned magical black lady, and your boss, who promptly exits stage left for most of the episode. Seriously though, racist tropes are racist.

Overall, despite the presence of some fired old tropes, I liked the first episode of Cognition and I look forward to playing the rest. See you next week with a new episode!

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Pagan Prosperity Gospel

There’s this rhetoric in certain corners of the Pagan/polytheist web that really bothers me. Originally I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but now I’m angry enough that I’m saying “Fuck that!” and I’m speaking out, because bullshit should be used to fertilize fields, not flung around willy nilly.

The subject I wish to discuss is what I and others on the net call the “Pagan Prosperity Gospel”.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the prosperity gospel, it’s a stance in certain Christian churches that says that if you have faith in God and give to Christian ministries, he will reward you with material wealth. The obvious issue with this brand of theology is that it implies that the poor obviously don’t have enough faith or, well, they’d be rich, of course!

Of course, it’s just this weird Christian thing and many other Christian leaders have denounced it as the bullshit it is, right? Surely there aren’t Pagans and polytheists advocating the exact same thing, right?

Well, you see, that’s the problem.

It seems like there’s a certain vocal group of people within our wonderful communities who think that if you were just devoted to your deities enough, if you just gave them 100% of your time and attention, if you just worked that much harder for them, you would be showered with all kinds of blessings and things would be wonderful.

In a word: NO.

In so many words:

Seriously, the fuck is this bullshit? How is this not spitting on every single polytheist from antiquity to today who sweat and bleed for their deities but are poor as dirt? How is that not ignoring the many, many other factors that contribute to poverty? How is that not classist as fuck?

No no no no no!

We do not need this in our traditions. If the majority of Christians denounce this as bullshit, we seriously don’t need it. We don’t need to take their bullshit, we have enough of our own.

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Game Review: Path of Exile

I’ve been meaning to review this game for ages, and I kept putting it off because I said “I should beat it first,” but then that thing happened where other games kept piling up and I never got around to beating it.

Still, I think I’ve played enough to give a good review.

I’ll just cut to the chase. Do you like free to play games but hate that they’re all pay to win? Do you like action RPGs like Diablo? Are you one of the many gamers who was disappointed by Diablo 3? Did you like Diablo 3 but you need another game to scratch that itch?

My friend, Path of Exile is for you.

Path of Exile is a dark fantasy action EPG that looks and plays like a true Diablo clone. You play as an Exile, a person who has been exiled to the unforgiving continent of Wraeclast. You may have pissed off the wrong person, had the dumb luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or you might just be an asshole, whatever the reason, life as you know it is over, and you need to survive in a place where everything wants you dead.

Your first order of business is to create a character by choosing a name and a class for them. There are six main classes, and the classes all depend on three main stats: strength, dexterity, and/or intelligence. Since I love magic users,  I chose to play as the Witch class, which is the pure intelligence class. When you beat the game once, you can unlock the Scion, who is strong in all three areas.

From there, you’re dropped on a beach and need to fight your way to the nearest settlement. Combat is simply a matter of clicking things until they die. You know how this works, right? Click to move, click to destroy your enemies, click your way to victory.

Unlike in many other games of this type, Path of Exile uses a socket system for skills. As you complete quests and acquire tons of loot, you’ll come across skill gems: red gems give strength based skills, blue gems give intelligence based skills, and green gems for dexterity based skills. Each skill gem must be inserted into a socket of the corresponding colour in the armor or weapons you have equipped in order to use them. There is a skill tree (actually. more like a skill forest, seriously, it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen) but you’ll only find passive buffs and stat boosts there. It’s a bit weird storywise (ie. if I’m a Witch, shouldn’t I just be able to use magic naturally?) but it does require the player to make some tough decisions: Do you take that great piece of armor with fewer sockets, or do you keep what you have? While you can get an item that changes the colour of the sockets, the reforging is random so it’s not the most reliable method unless you have the orbs to burn.

Health and mana regeneration is also handled a bit differently in Path of Exile. Remember how you used to stockpile so many health and mana potions in your inventory and they took up a whole ton of space? Path of Exile says “Fuck that!” and has you collect flasks which regenerate whenever you kill an enemy, so you no longer have to worry about dragging potions around.

Speaking of potions, Path of Exile has a barter system, so instead of exchanging loot for gold, you exchange items for other items. One of my favourite items is the Orb of Transmutation, an item that turns any normal item into a magical item, with random effects. I love playing around with these things, making my equipment badass through the power of randomness. (You can also craft items in a more controlled way by using a recipe or a different kind of orb, but I’m content with randomness.)

Since I mentioned bartering, I should mention the cash shop. Now I know what you’re thinking “Gef this is where you say that PoE is pay to win, right?”

WRONG.

Everything in the cash shop, everything that you can buy with real money, is purely cosmetic. So if you want, say, wings made out of tentacles, you can buy them in the cash shop. All these things do is replace the appearance of your regular armor, so you don’t get any kind of bonus, you just look really cool. You can also pay for different skill effects, pets that follow you around, and animations, but these are all completely optional. The ONLY thing you purchase that even remotely affects gameplay is more space for your stash (not your inventory, the place where you dump items you don’t want to sell and don’t want to carry around with you) but since I’m the type of person who likes to sell stuff I don’t need, I don’t really use my stash. Also I should mention that the game is solo-friendly. You can take on all the horrors of Wraeclast alone with no issues (that I’ve seen).

Let’s talk a bit about the environments. The levels are huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge and sprawling and full of things that want to kill you. The fire and water effects are really pretty. and combat is bloody. Did I mention the levels are huge? The one feature I really like is that the in-game map lets you know whether a level has a Waypoint (which lets you quickly travel to a level from a town) this cuts down on the time you spend wandering around looking for one when there’s none to be found. There are also a variety of monsters from zombies and cannibals and giant spiders to…….sentient ribbons? Okay, sire, let’s go with that. Although, truth be told, there are only so many ape-like creatures you can kill before it gets boring after awhile.

Just a random screenshot of one of the environments.

If I had one complaint, I would say that the game doesn’t force me to vary my strategy a lot, and I’ve been doing okay just spamming a strong area of effect spell like firestorm, even with enemies who are strong against fire attacks. One particular pain in the ass is that each level is randomly generated–including the exits out of the level–levels will “reset” every fifteen minutes, so if you die on one floor of a dungeon and it takes you more than fifteen minutes to return to that point, have fun looking for that exit again! (Although, exits are generally in the same area.)

In short, if you like games like Diablo and you want a free to play experience that is really free to play, go and download Path of Exile right now. Not only is it a great game, it won’t break your wallet. Isn’t it nice when game developers give us nice things and don’t charge through the nose for them?

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Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #12 + Retrospective

This is it. This is the final review for the Sailor Moon manga series. It seems like I’ve been reviewing this series for years and I only bought the sets in January.

I love the cover for this one, btw. All the covers are great though.

Sailor Moon is on her own. Her friends and allies are being picked off left and right, and all she can do is seek out Sailor Galaxia for a final epic confrontation that will determine the fate of the galaxy and the cosmos.

No pressure.

This volume is basically one drawn out conflict between Sailor Galaxia and Sailor Moon. This is when the gloves come off and we see how much Sailor Moon has changed from the clumsy girl who really needed Tuxedo Mask to rescue her in her first few battles to a young woman with faith in herself and her friends (even when she’s scared out of her wits).

There’s really not much I can say about #12 other than the fact that it’s pretty much all action, all the time with a few brief pauses for origin stories, because who doesn’t love origin stories? And this time, the epic final battle actually feels epic (basically the opposite of how I felt the Nemesis arc ended). The chips are down and the cards are on the table.

I am so glad Kodansha got their act in gear and hired a translator who didn’t literally translate everything, because this volume could have been much more confusing. Again, I did notice some spelling errors, but overall, I’m relieved that at least the last few volumes were given the translation I’ve been waiting for since the very beginning.

So, since there’s not much more for me to say about #12, here are some thoughts after reading the entire series.

As I’ve said consistently (I just said it above) it’s such a shame that the translation was handled so poorly, especially for a series as popular as Sailor Moon. Seriously, this is why you don’t listen to the purists who think that everything must be absolutely as close to the Japanese as possible, because what you end up with is this mess.

Which arc was my favourite? I really liked the Infinity arc and thought that it had a very strong beginning. The Dream arc was also great, as we got to spend a bit more time with the Inner Senshi, and learn more about their dreams and plans for the future. I love the Stars arc, finding out about other Sailor Guardians all across the galaxy, although, why are there guardians of planetoids and satellites but no Sailor Sun?

Probably because she’d just steamroll over everything if she was ever introduced.

Well I guess technically Endymion is the unofficial Sailor Earth and Sailor Sun.

Other things of note, the box art for the sets is gorgeous and when you put both sets together it makes a full picture of the main cast. The stickers are adorable but I’m not going to use them at all (I have a thing against using feelies). I love the cover art for the individual volumes (although the third edition covers are absolutely gorgeous). Sadly, even if the third edition is translated into English, this will probably be the only version of the manga I will own, although I’d take a look to see if the translations are actually decent.

Overall, this is such a great series. I grew up with the characters through the anime and I met some characters for the first time while reading the manga. It’s just such a shame such a classic has been given such a lackluster translation, although apparently not the worst translation, which is actually pretty scary when you think about it.

Anyways, the lackluster translation was probably my biggest complaint overall. The art was great, and I definitely thought the storylines improved over time even though the format essentially stayed the same (ie. the Monster of the Week plots) there were enough variations to keep things interesting.

Honestly, even with the lackluster translation, this is still a great series and if you are the one person who likes magical girls and hasn’t bought this, I’d say it’s still worth a buy unless you want to wait and see if the third edition’s being translated.

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Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #11

The finish line is in sight, everyone, only one more volume after this and it will be all over!

Volume 11 introduces us to the final arc in the series, the Stars arc. After defeating Queen Nehellania, the sailor guardians return to their normal lives, and Mamoru leaves to study at Harvard in America. Now is no time to rest on their laurels, however, as the arrival of a popular band heralds the coming of a new enemy.

This arc introduces us to sailor guardians who watch over heavenly bodies outside of the solar system, including the Sailor Starlights, guardians who caused some controversy when their season of the anime first debuted in some countries.

In terms of story, this arc does a much better job of not blatantly hanging a sign that says “obvious villain” over some characters’ heads. I was even pleasantly surprised during one reveal that I won’t spoil. It does return to the Monster of the Week format, but with a bit of a twist this time to keep things interesting and add some tension. Ironically, the thing that bothered me most were the Starlights themselves, particularly Seiya, like can you not with Usagi while Mamoru is away? I just didn’t really like them as characters. They were like three Mamorus when he was in jerkass mode.

The art is once again great and the translation is finally the quality translation it should have been since the very beginning, although I did notice some spelling errors. Still, compared to the mess of earlier volumes, I can handle a few mistakes. Overall this arc is great and once again, it’s really a shame that we’re only now getting a great translation.

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