Review: Late Eclipses (October Daye #4)

Sometimes I’ll decide to read a long running, in progress book series, and I’ll feel as if the plot and characters would’ve had a greater impact on me if I’d had a year to wait between books (for them to come out in paperback, at least). This is pretty much how I feel about Late Eclipses in a nutshell.

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Two years ago, Toby Daye thought she could leave Faerie behind, now she finds herself back in the service of Duke Sylvester Torquill and sharing an apartment with her Fetch. When her friend Lily comes down with a mysterious, seemingly impossible illness, however, she soon finds herself struggling to save the undine and her subjects, not to mention that the Queen of the Mists has plans of her own, and, as if that weren’t bad enough, Oleander de Marelands, the same person responsible for turning Toby into a fish, is back, and just how does Toby’s mother Amandine fit into all this?

There’s a lot going on in this book. The pieces are moving around the board and things are changing. The central mystery isn’t that hard to solve in that the reader will probably know whodunit, it’s the how that keeps the characters (and the reader) guessing. Well, I figured it out as soon as a certain character was introduced, but even then there are a couple of twists and turns to this tale, and by the time it wraps up there are a lot of intriguing developments for future books to explore, and we’re not even halfway through the books that are in print and the series is still going!

As I mentioned in the little intro bit, I’ve been reading these books back to back and I can’t help but feel that I’m missing some of the impact of certain scenes than if I had had the time to wait between installments. Characters I feel like I’ve just come to know start dying left and right. This must be like what reading A Song of Ice and Fire feels like, except I’m fairly certain a few characters in this series have thick enough plot armor to survive for most of it.

That said, the series slowly seems to be becoming a bit more diverse. May Daye (who is honestly one of my favourite characters in this series) brings her South Asian girlfriend to a ball, and characters of colour like Raj are still up and about, but it’s a shame that given the immensity of the world and the variety of Fae on display that it isn’t more diverse. Then again, this is only book four, and I’ve read entire series that don’t even bother. In terms of potentially triggering content, I can’t remember anything specific besides there being a lot of death. It’s one of those books.

This is one of those books where it’s difficult to talk about it without spoiling everything. Suffice it to say that although this book made me sad (and a little angry) I’m intrigued by the possibilities it presents, and the next book deals with selkies! I love selkies, selkies are great!

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Game Review: Dishonored 2

Dishonored was a pretty great game with some really cool levels even if constantly reloading saves because some asshole spotted you during a Ghost run wasn’t the most fun gaming experience I’ve ever had. I’d generally heard good things about the sequel, that it was more of the same etc. which TBH I’m fine with games being more of the same or I wouldn’t keep buying every Fire Emblem game. I was a little concerned, however, by some reviewers comments that the levels weren’t as memorable as the first game.

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Set fifteen years after the events of the first game, Dunwall is prospering as a city under the reign of Empress Emily Kaldwin. Naturally, you get to spend a few moments of stability and safety before a coup is staged by returning antagonist Delilah Copperspoon, who usurps Emily’s throne and declares herself Empress. As either Emily or Corvo, you escape the palace and head for the southernmost island of Serkonos (the city of Karnaca in particular) not only to discover what led to Delilah’s rise to power, but to hunt down her co-conspirators.

For the most part, Dishonored 2 is pretty much more Dishonored: the game drops you into a huge open level, gives you some cool powers and weapons to play with, and lets you accomplish objectives the way you want. Do you want to go in guns blazing or take the stealthier route? Do you want to kill your targets or find a way to remove them without killing? You can even play the game without supernatural powers if you want. There are also a number of optional side objectives, like robbing the black markets in certain levels for some free equipment, and of course there are runes and bone charms scattered throughout the level for you to collect. You can also craft bonecharms and runes if you upgrade the right skill. Crafting is simple and involves “sacrificing” bonecharms for trails and whalebone and creating new bonecharms with multiple traits.

At the time of writing, I’ve only played through the game once with Emily, but from what I’ve heard Corvo’s powers should be familiar to you from the first game. He can still possess characters and animals, but this time around he can possess corpses to create instant hiding spots. Emily’s powers are a bit different. Far Reach, her short range teleport, doesn’t have the reach (lol) of Corvo’s blink, but she can also create copies of herself with Doppelganger, enthrall enemies with Mesmerize, and link enemies together with Domino so that they share the same fate. This last power is easily my favourite, as you can link up to four enemies at once and then knock them all out (or kill them) at the same time.

In Dishonored, if you wanted to deal with enemies in a nonlethal manner, you were pretty much limited to sleep darts and choking them out (and occasionally distracting them with noise). Dishonored 2 is much more non-lethal friendly. You still have your trusty sleep darts and chokehold, but now you can do non-lethal drop assassinations, use grenades or shots from your pistol to destroy bloodfly nests, and destroy clockwork soldiers without worrying about ruining a clean hands run. The game also tracks things like how many people you’ve killed or whether you were detected by enemies, making it much easier to get a clean hands or ghost run without agonizing over whether you were actually spotted or not.

The environments also have more of a sense of being lived in than in the first game. You can open cupboards and find towels and bath salts, books the occupant has been reading. Once I stumbled into an apartment shared by two women where one appeared to be cooking and I really felt like I was intruding in someone else’s space. Unlike Dunwall, much of Karnaca sees actual sunlight (which reminded me of the last mission in the Brigmore Witches DLC) and yet it still feels every bit as oppressive as Dunwall’s dark streets.

One major criticism I have, despite saying that the world feels lived in, is that the mission locations lack a certain uniqueness. There’s one notable level involving a time travel gimmick and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy zipping around the Royal Conservatory or going between the walls of the Clockwork Mansion, but much of the game is spent going from fancy house to fancy apartment to fancy house. I can understand the desire to not retread old ground, but I’m baffled as to why they didn’t attempt to do another “social stealth” level like Lady Boyle’s Last Party, especially since that mission is so popular among the fanbase. It’s not an awful game by any means–I had more fun playing my no-kill run than I did in the original, and to be fair, I do like exploring fancy houses (and there’s some great environmental storytelling if you care to explore) but by the time I’d finished the final level, I’d had enough of seeing the same paintings over and over again. Another thing that I almost didn’t mention because it’s more of a personal pet peeve of mine is the way you pretty much have to play Dishonored’s DLC to really get what’s going on in the sequel. This isn’t really a huge deal since the definitive edition of the game is available for really cheap (especially during a Steam sale) but I hate it when companies make it so that reading tie in novels or playing DLC is required to understand the sequel (hey Dragon Age Inquisition) I might seem like a fussbudget but I remember a time when you could play a game and jump right into its sequel and understand what was going on. I miss those days.

In terms of diversity, Meagan Foster, who basically does Samuel’s job from the first game, is black and plays a not insignificant role in the story. A minor character, Mindy Blanchard, is implied to be trans, and one of Corvo/Emily’s targets is implied to be gay. while another is implied to have romantic feelings (or they could just be obsessed) that may or may not be reciprocated. There’s also a more overt bisexual character. Emily herself has a significant other, Wyman, and the game deliberately avoids using gendered pronouns for them. You can also encounter NPC couples who may or may not be romantically involved. The first game’s gender representation was limited, but in Dishonored 2, women are Empresses, witches, community leaders, enemy combatants, domestic workers, artists, doctors, it does feel like Arkane listened to criticism in that area, even if their LGBT representation could stand to be a little less implied.

In terms of trigger warnings, one mission takes place in a hospital, one of the non-lethal options involves giving a character a lobotomy via electric shock, while another can end up in an asylum, and notably there’s the old chestnut of “split personality where one is evil”. The slow motion assassinations of key targets return, and they’re even bloodier than before. Also. for those of you who really don’t like bugs, bloodflies are glowing bloodsucking wasps that glow orange and buzz menacingly when you come near their nests. Unfortunately, they’re unavoidable, especially on a high chaos run, and boy, talk about unnerving. The Heart also has even more horrifying secrets to spill, usually involving murder.

Dishonored 2 is a fun game. IMHO, it lacks the uniqueness of the first Dishonored‘s missions (although the time travel mission was a blast), but in terms of gameplay I had way more fun playing the sequel, so much so that I’m thinking of doing a high chaos run with Corvo, but I’d also like to get to Death of the Outsider. I’m just bad at stealth. At the end of the day, it’s more of the same stealth action gameplay in a whalepunk setting, and that’s good enough for me.

Game Review: Dishonored

This is one of those games where a review has been a long time coming. Since I lacked the hardware necessary to play the game when it first came out, I had to wait until I had a PC that was capable of handling the game, that time came and went, and I progressed to near the end of the base game before being swallowed up by other, newer, shinier games.

You know, the usual.

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Dishonored is a stealth action adventure game about a man on a quest for revenge. Corvo Attano, once the bodyguard to the Empress, is framed for her murder and must hunt down and eliminate the people who orchestrated his downfall with the aid of supernatural powers bestowed upon him by the Outsider as well as rescue the late Empress’ daughter, Emily.

The basic gameplay flow of Dishonored is that it drops you into a huge level in the plague-infested steampunk city of Dunwall, gives you a target to eliminate, and then gives you free reign to accomplish your goals. There are multiple ways to approach targets and multiple ways to dispatch them, including nonlethal means. In addition to conventional tools like crossbow bolts (regular and sleep darts for nonlethal takedowns), Corvo also has some neat supernatural powers: Blink is a short range teleport, whereas Bend Time slows or stops time completely. Corvo can summon rat swarms to devour enemies or possess animals and people. These powers can be combined in interesting ways. One of my favourite things to do is stop time, fire a couple sleep darts at enemies, then watch as they all keel over unconscious. Powers can be upgraded by finding runes scattered throughout the level. Corvo can also equip bone charms (also found throughout the level) which enhance his abilities (increasing his movement speed, for example). Another important gameplay element is Chaos. Killing enemies (other than key targets) or leaving bodies around for enemies to discover raises Corvo’s Chaos rating. High Chaos will make Corvo’s enemies more suspicious, and result in increased defenses and a more difficult time traversing the level in the next mission.

For my playthrough, I went with a Low Chaos, Clean Hands (no killing), Ghost (no enemy alerts) run, which is one of the more difficult runs but is perfect for stealth runs. I didn’t manage to get Ghost due to an annoying alert guard in the very first level. This means that many of Corvo’s more interesting abilities were off limits to me (although I did take the opportunity to mess around a bit with the combat before loading a save). As a stealth game, Dishonored is engaging, if at times frustrating, and Ghost runs involve a ton of reloading if you’re spotted. I personally wouldn’t recommend a Ghost run on your first run, I just really like stealth games.

Here we come to the disconnect between Dishonored’s gameplay and the Chaos system in that the game gives you a bunch of cool toys to play with and punishes you with a bad ending if you use them. You can choose to only take down key targets or complete most missions in Low Chaos and still get the good ending, but even so, it still feels like you’re being punished for playing with your toys.

Even though the game isn’t technically open world, Dunwall feels huge. You can find the usual assortment of books and documents to read which flesh out the world. You can look for the Outsider shrines in each level, which contain a rune and some dialogue from the Outsider that changes slightly depending on your actions. Point the Heart (a macabre artifact that beats whenever a bone charm or rune is near) at an NPC and you’ll hear a fact about them. You might find out a guard you just knocked out is a serial killer or that one of your associates peeps on women in the bathroom. One of my favourite missions in the game is Lady Boyle’s Last Party, which sees you rubbing elbows with the elite at a fancy party where you need to first identify your target before moving to the main event. You can even eschew stealth altogether and walk in through the front door like a boss. Some of the nonlethal methods to eliminate your targets arguably leave them worse off than just outright killing them (like handing a woman over to her stalker or having two targets sent to be worked to death in their own mines).

Some criticisms I have is that the Blink power is a bit too sensitive, I’d be wiggling the mouse around, trying to get the indicator where I needed it to be and accidentally end up blinking too soon and faceplanting in front of enemies. Sometimes there would be a weird “time skip” where I’d save my game, get spotted, and reload to immediately be spotted again. Sometimes unconscious bodies that I’d stashed away were missing after a reload. Fortunately, the instantly spotted on reload only happened to me once and the game autosaves frequently. This is something that happens in many games, but after a while you hear the same NPC chatter over and over again. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a guard whistle the same tune I’d be filthy rich right now. Another thing I personally object to is the way the DLC apparently has more to do with the sequel’s plot than the actual base game. It’s not a complaint about the DLC itself, it’s just a personal gripe of mine. I dislike when I’m expected to play the games, play the DLC, buy the tie-in novels, and bake the officially approved cake so I can understand what’s going on in the series. To be fair, Bethesda isn’t the only company that’s guilty of this EA and BioWare but I thought I’d mention it because I despise the practice so much.

Normally I don’t buy a lot of DLC but I bought the definitive edition of the game on sale on Steam. The Void Walker’s Arsenal includes bone charms, gold, and books that were offered as preorder bonuses. The Dunwall City Trials are a series of challenge maps, each with a different objective. In “Mystery Foe” your goal is to collect clues in order to find and eliminate a random tarot, while “Kill Cascade” is a series of drop assassinations on a timer.The real meat of the DLC are the two story campaigns: The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which follow the adventures of Daud as he searches for a woman named Delilah. Daud controls much like Corvo with the addition of some new tools like the Chokedust grenade, which can distract enemies for a few seconds while you escape (or sleep dart them). Another new feature of the DLC is corrupted bone shards which have both benefits and drawbacks. The favours system allows Daud to purchase advantages (like a weapons cache or a rune) that can make levels a little easier. The DLCs are supposed to be harder than the main campaign but they are absolutely a must play.

In terms of triggery content, one of the easiest ways to non-lethally deal with enemies is to choke them out. As you might expect from a game where you play as a supernatural assassin, violence is par for the course, and even in a playthrough where the player isn’t violent, NPCs will frequently be shot and stabbed by other NPCs. Descriptions of the effects of the rat plague are horrific and the game makes it clear that children are not exempt from the horrors that the poor of Dunwall experience. There are a couple sequences (one in the DLC) where you can torture characters for information.

I spent about 55 hours in total on both the base game and two story DLCs and 26 hours on the base game alone. There is some replayability if you want to go back and try a High Chaos playthrough. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t played this game, but if you’re the one person who hasn’t. Dishonored is a dark but engaging stealth action game with some really interesting level design.

Review: Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia #1)

I’ve been thinking about this recently, but describing a book as “historical fantasy” seems like a contradiction in terms, and yet, there’s no better way to describe this series, which was recommended to me courtesy of the tumblr hivemind as a sapphic historical fantasy series.

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Margerit Sovitre didn’t expect to inherit a baron’s fortune, and with it, a bodyguard in the form of Barbara. At first, Margerit protests the need for Barbara’s protection, but she wasn’t counting on earning the enmity of the new baron and soon she can’t imagine life without her by her side. All is not well in Alpennia, however, with the Prince ill and the succession in question, Margerit finds herself drawn to the mystical rituals known as the Mysteries of the Saints, and now she’ll need Barbara’s protection more than ever to survive the deadly intrigue of the court.

I’m struggling with finding words to describe this book. There’s a bit of political intrigue, a little action, a bit of (Catholic) magic and a lot of mingling in Society and maintaining one’s reputation. According to the author, Alpennia is a fictional country nestled between Italy, Switzerland, and France. I’ve heard it described as “Ruritanian romance” but as I wasn’t familiar with that term, I was reminded of Regency romance.

The major players in this slow burn of a novel are Margerit and Barbara, the point of view characters. Margerit is a typical fish out of water protagonist who suddenly finds herself a highly eligible heiress, though she would rather spend her days buried in books than trying to land a man. Barbara, on the other hand, was trained from a young age by the former baron to be his armin (professional duelist) and finds to her chagrin that his death hasn’t freed her from service. There are some interesting secondary characters, like LeFevre, the baron’s (now Margerit’s) man of business, Margerit’s aunt Bertrut, the prickly scholar Antuniet, and the eccentric Vicomtesse de Cherdillac. My one issue is that we didn’t get to see very much of a couple characters.

Politics, religion, and reputation play a big role in Alpennian society. At times, the politics can be a bit knotty, but the basic idea is that there’s a crisis of succession based on the validity of a marriage contract. At one point there’s a discussion of some of the finer points of Alpennian inheritance laws and debts that becomes a plot point later on. The magic system is focused on the mysteries of the saints, which combines ceremonial magic with intercessory prayer and rituals in a way that reminds me of the game Darklands.

It’s a very slow-paced book, there isn’t really a sense of urgency in the plot until the last few chapters, when the plot threads are neatly tied up. In a book like Throne of Glass, where the main character is an assassin, the focus on dresses over murder was disappointing (even if Celaena is recovering from being imprisoned) but here it makes sense: Margerit is an heiress and would-be scholar, and Barbara doesn’t have many opportunities to leave her side, so of course there’s going to be a lot of visiting, parties, the opera, and the like.

In terms of potential triggers, there is an attempted rape/sexual assault and the attacker appears later in the story. The romance, which is between Margerit when she technically “owns” Barbara (it’s complicated) might make some people uncomfortable. However the power disparity between the two is acknowledged and Margerit does make multiple attempts to free Barbara from her obligations, which for me is more palatable than, say, the relationship between the two main characters in The Winner’s Curse. Although the main romance is between two women, Alpennian society is still very heteronormative, so characters make certain comments about how Barbara might be one of *those* women because she dresses in masculine clothing.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. I’m not sure if it would make my “Top Ten Books of All Time” list, but the Alpennia series is now one to watch. I would recommend it if you like books like The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, just be prepared for a slower read.

Game Review: Hand of Fate

I start again, thinking I have what it takes to beat the final boss and finally finish this game that I’ve spent nearly 45 hours playing. The first tile I land on is the Desert Cult, “Easy” I think. “I’ll just beat these enemies and get some free gear out of it.”

And then the game throws a past boss at me and six enemies with shields, on a small map.

And that’s how I died on the first tile of the dungeon.

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Beyond the thirteen gates at the end of the world, the game of life and death is played. As one of the players of this game, you’ll tackle a variety of challenges: some will reward you with gold, equipment, or food to ward off starvation, you may be blessed or cursed. Tour opponent, the mysterious Dealer, won’t pull any punches. Your run can end in one of two ways: victory or death.

Prepare to see a lot of death.

What makes Hand of Fate unique is that it is a combination of rogue-lite randomness, action combat, interactive fiction, and a deck-building game. The “tiles” of the dungeon are actually cards drawn from your encounters deck. As you might expect, each card represents an encounter of some sort. Many encounters present you with a choice: to attack some bandits or sneak past them, to try and pry open a treasure chest, or leave it alone. Unless they involve combat, these encounters are purely text-based, although sometimes you’ll be asked to pick a card to see if you succeed or fail at your endeavor. Some cards have tokens, which are gained by resolving that encounter in a particular way. Tokens unlock new encounters and equipment for your deck. As you traverse the dungeon, you need to keep an eye on your food and gold. One food is consumed per dungeon tile and if you run out of food, you steadily lose health until you buy more food at a shop. Starvation is only one of the few ways you can lose the game. You can also be afflicted with curses, which cause various effects (most of which are bad, but there are a few you can turn in your favour). Your goal is, naturally, to get to the end of the dungeon, where you’ll fight the boss. From there, you choose a new boss to face, adjust your encounter and equipment deck, rinse and repeat. There’s also an “Endless Mode” where you see how long you can last before dying.

It sounds like the deck is stacked against you (ha!) and occasionally you just won’t have any luck during a run. Fortunately, there are ways you can tip the scales in your favour. I mentioned before that most of the encounters come from your encounters deck. Each time you begin a run, you can add or discard encounters and equipment from your decks. Are you going up against a bunch of lizardfolk? Add in weapons and armor that are effective against lizardfolk. If food is going to be a problem, add in encounters that give you food cards. While the dungeon layout is random and there are some special encounters that you have no control over, you aren’t entirely at the mercy of the RNG.

When you enter combat (and you can go a full run without entering combat) the game switches to 3D graphics and becomes an Arkham-style brawl based on fluid counters and dodges. I loved watching the character bounce from enemy to enemy like the world’s angriest pinball. The idea is to watch for enemy prompts, a green prompt above their heads means that the attack is counterable, while red indicates an unblockable attack (I can’t remember if there’s a colorblind mode but I don’t think so). It’s a simple system that doesn’t really add many more mechanics although some shields and weapons have special abilities and artefacts grant powerful abilities with limited uses. Combat can be frustrating at times, particularly when you’re surrounded by enemies with shields of their own, but even though I would say it’s the weakest aspect of the game, I still had fun with the combat system. One thing I do recommend is using a controller. You can get by with mouse and keyboard (as I did for most of the game) but it’s much easier to activate weapon abilities and artifacts with a controller (which is ultimately how I managed to beat the game).

This wouldn’t be a proper review of Hand of Fate if I didn’t talk about the Dealer. The Dealer is basically the DM of the game your character is playing, and apart from the enemy grunts, his voice is the only one you’ll be hearing throughout your playthrough. He praises you when you do well, snarks at you when you forget to use a weapon ability, and questions your decision-making skills when you purchase new equipment at the shop. Mostly he snarks at you. Anthony Skordi does such a great job as this character, especially during later runs, where he goes from being smugly confident in his victory to throwing quite literally everything he has at you when you rise to the challenge. There are also many characters within the game, and some of them (like the one with the goblin disguised as a very short human) have a series of encounters that are unlocked in succession. It’s weird to talk about exploring a world where interactions are almost purely text-based, but the world is full of encounters with the supernatural, heroes who are down on their luck, treasure vaults filled with traps, a secret society, an auction where the currency is blood, and deals with the devil. Sometimes I just wanted to explore the entire floor of a dungeon just for discovery’s sake.

I’ve tried recommending Hand of Fate to my friends and most of the time they are reluctant to play it because they don’t like “hard” games. I don’t blame them, I dislike most games the “hardcore” gaming community touts as “hard” (not to mention that “hard” is subjective). Hand of Fate can definitely be a challenge, but I also feel like the deck-building aspect allows players to tailor their experience to some extent. I would say Hand of Fate is one of the easiest “rogue-lites” I’ve played, and I’ve played a bunch, but even so, the last level in particular seemed almost insurmountable until I managed to beat the last boss last night. It will definitely challenge you, and the red/green colour scheme and timing-based counters don’t make the game very accessible, but it’s also a unique game in an industry full of samey open worlds (says someone who loves open world games).

Some criticisms I have of this game are lack of any sort of character customization (you’re limited to playing as a dude), lack of enemy variety, and some late-game encounter cards. While lack of character customization isn’t a deal-breaker to me, I was still disappointed that I couldn’t play as a lady or even change the hairstyle or skin color of my adventurer. This has been addressed in the sequel somewhat with the option to play as a lady, but I don’t think you can customize the PC beyond that. Another issue I had with the game is lack of enemy variety. There are some unique enemies in the game (like Minotaurs or Lava Golems) but most of the time you’ll be fighting against four basic enemy types (“suits”) in the game: Dust (Bandits), Skulls (skeletons), Plague (Ratmen) and Scales (Lizardfolk), the game does try to mix it up by giving enemies more special abilities and throwing former bosses your way, but once you’ve fought one you’ve kind of fought them all. Finally, some of the late-game cards that require you to spend ridiculous amounts of resources for were little more than an annoyance, especially on the final level, where resources can very easily be lost from bad luck with the pain deck. A special annoyance for me during the final level was the Kraken, a boss who was just as much a challenge as the final boss and often ended my final boss run prematurely by happening to be in a linear dungeon layout. Sometimes, the way you obtain a card’s token is obscure, like the encounters that require you to fail in order to eventually succeed. I can’t think of any common triggers, though there are references to slavery (including one event where you are captured and forced to fight in gladiator games).

It took me 46 hours to finish the game, with a lot of stopping and restarting, and barely having touched the achievements. A single run to a boss encounter might take a few minutes or longer depending on which encounter cards you come across. There’s a ton of replay value, and the Wildcards DLC (which I recommend) adds “Fates” (like character classes) with their own encounter chains. Some encounters are only available to certain Fates, and they each have their own advantages and drawbacks. I would say the expansion is definitely worth it, especially if you’ve completed the game and are looking for a bit more challenge.

Not gonna’ lie, Hand of Fate is a frustrating experience at times, but it’s a unique experience, it’s an experience that kept me coming back for more even when I had the most rotten luck during a run, and that speaks volumes if you ask me.

Review: Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

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This is going to be a very difficult game to review without spoiling anything but I’m going to try.

As I mentioned in my review of the first Danganronpa, I never thought this series was going to come to the West. Well, here we are with three core games, one spinoff, two animes, and a manga (I think?), which, when you think about it, is huge for a series as niche as this one.

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If you aren’t familiar with this series, the basic premise of the core games is that a bunch of teenage prodigies (called Ultimates) are trapped in a remote location by a malevolent robot bear named Monokuma and forced to play a “killing game” where they murder their fellow classmates in order for a chance to “graduate”. However, they first need to survive a class trial, where everyone tries to figure out “whodunit”. If they manage to find the “blackened” murderer, the person who did the deed is executed in spectacular fashion. However, if they accuse the wrong person, everyone else is executed while the murderer goes free.

The appeal of this series for me is bonding with the characters and then watching in horror as they are murdered or are revealed to be murderers. I like to guess which ones are murderers and which ones are victims based on their designs. In the last game, most of my favourites ended up surviving (and the character I hated the most died). There’s also a lot of stuff going on in the lore of the game. The executions are also interesting in that they are tailored to that person’s talent and personality. In fact, I’d say the executions were a low point for me in Danganronpa 2. They just didn’t have the impact of most of the executions in the first game.

I will say that I immediately liked the cast, which is an improvement from the second game, where I hated some of the characters from the start. I mean, if character death is a thing your series does, you obviously want the audience to connect with the characters in some way. The characters in this game are all very memorable, from the elegant Ultimate Maid Kirumi, to the man-hating Ultimate Aikido Master Tenko, to the to the leader of a “secret evil organization” Ultimate Supreme Leader Kokichi. I think a couple of them are now my favourites in the entire series. The only characters I didn’t like were the Monokubs, Monokuma’s color-coded children with their annoying catchphrases.

Gameplay follows the standard formula for the core games in the series: Daily Life, where you converse with your classmates and build your bonds, Deadly Life, where you investigate murders, and the class trials, where you attempt to uncover the identity of the killer. Class Trials consist of a bunch of minigames: Non-Stop Debates, where you need to shoot contradictions with truth bullets, Mass Panic Debates, which are just like Non-Stop Debates only with multiple people speaking at once, Hangman’s Gambit (one of the most annoying minigames in the series IMHO) where you need to illuminate letters before shooting them into place, Mind Mine, where you play Minesweeper, Psyche Taxi, which is like the dive game from Danganronpa 2, only in a taxi, Rebuttal Showdowns, which are Non-Stop Debates with swords, Debate Scrums, where you’re split into two groups and need to match the subject of your opponent’s argument with the right word to counter them, Argument Armament, a rhythm game, and the Closing Argument, which has you putting manga panels in the correct sequence to finally expose the killer. Most of the minigames are essentially taken from Danganronpa 2 and most of them are annoying, although I personally enjoyed Psyche Taxi and Debate Scrums. One added feature to the Non-Stop Debates is the ability to lie. You usually need to lie at least once a chapter. Choosing to commit perjury nets you some extra dialogue and a “back door” that makes it easier to ferret out the culprit, but it doesn’t do anything drastic like affect the culprit’s identity or the ending.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that it is a hard game to talk about without spoiling anything since the game pulls absolutely no punches. Yes, including in the very first trial. This game will shock you, punch you in the feels repeatedly, and surprise you. A standout for me was the third case, with its occult themes, otherwise the middle of the game is a bit slow. The final cases, however, are well worth persevering through the game’s slower points. Even the executions are more brutal this time around. Get ready to see a lot of pink blood. I will admit to feeling a bit cheated by an early game twist, but managed to roll my eyes and sigh and keep playing.

Overall, I really liked this game, but I think I ultimately prefer the second game (although the first game’s characters are the most memorable). The ending was simultaneously brilliant and, if I’m being honest, disappointing (and it doesn’t help that the creator has a habit of trolling fans). Suffice it to say that you should absolutely play at least Danganronpa 1 and 2 before playing this game. There are so many references that it’s not optional.

The series continues its track record of very negative depictions of mentally ill people. One such character is not only a murderer but is also a serial killer who is implied to have had an incestuous relationship with their now deceased sister (who is the basis for a split personality that emerges in times of stress), they’re also into BDSM. It’s as if the writers were checking off a list of “obviously evil” points and dumped all of them on one character. Of the two characters with darker skin, one was literally raised by animals (and talks in Hulk speech) while the other is a religious fanatic who walks around in a bikini. Speaking of incest, two of the Monokubs appear to become infatuated with each other (although its weird to call a relationship between two robot bears incestuous) to the point where Monophanie (the sole feminine presenting bear) is shown giving birth during an execution, well, it makes sense in context. Most of the more fanservicey moments are courtesy of Miu, the Ultimate Inventor who is constantly, constantly saying some really crude, TMI-type things (which masks a shrinking violet personality). As much as I like the cast, I admit I did cringe a little when Kokichi calls Miu very gendered insults, like “cum dumpster”.

I would say I like this game overall but I’m not sure how I’d rank it among the games I’ve played. I loved Danganronpa 2’s cast and setting, although the first had the more iconic characters and less annoying minigames. I will say one edge Danganronpa V3 has is its post game modes: Salmon Team, which is a dating sim (much like Island Mode and School Mode) without the gathering/sim elements, Talent Training, a fun board game where you select a character and play through three years at Hope’s Peak Academy with the students from all three games, and Monokuma’s Test, an RPG where you take the characters you raised via the board game and pit them against a dungeon where you gain coins to unlock more characters for the board game. I would honestly play an entire game based on this board game.

In a nutshell, this game has definitely been very divisive among the fanbase and it’s very clearly meant for people who have played the previous games. I enjoyed it, and I feel like the cast and post game content in this title are particularly strong.

Review: An Artificial Night (October Daye #3)

Fresh off her last big assignment, October “Toby” Daye barely has time to rest before trouble finds her again. Someone’s been stealing children from mortal and fae alike, and all signs point to Blind Michael, the leader of the Wild Hunt. Unfortunately, getting to him won’t be easy, as there are few roads that lead to his realm, each one can only be taken once, and some roads demand a more heavy toll than others, and once she’s in, she can only stay so long before her magical protection burns away and she’s at the mercy of the land’s formidable fae lord. To make matters worse, May Daye, her own personal Fetch and harbinger of her coming death, has suddenly appeared on Toby’s doorstep.

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I wouldn’t say the first two books in this series were a slog but they certainly had their slow points. This one kept me glued to the page. This one has a bit more action and tension, and of the three, this one is definitely the most “fairy tale” like. There’s a set of instructions the protagonist needs to follow in order to pass safely through Blind Michael’s realm. Blind Michael himself follows some very specific rules. Before this book there have been hints of fae protocol (like how you should never say “thank you”) but this book really highlights how Faerie is different from the mortal realm. I also really liked May as a character. As a Fetch, she shares many of Toby’s memories, but she also has more of a bubbly personality than our protagonist. I think Quentin and the Luidaeg are my favourites out of the recurring characters thus far.

I’ve criticized the series so far for October’s lack of investigative work and how the plot seems to happen to her. She takes more of an active role in this book, actually taking the initiative when she’s thrown a curve ball, though she still finds herself in situations where she needs rescuing. It’s not that I’m against characters who need rescuing, it’s just that it seems to happen more frequently to Toby Daye than it should. This book feels more like Toby is coming into her own. The word “hero” is repeated so often it gets annoying, but it really feels like Toby is starting to be the hero of her own story, so to speak. Another thing I like is the lack of a strong romantic subplot. While Toby does interact with men (including an ex) romantically, she doesn’t really have time to spend pages pining over men, unlike some other protagonists who by book three are usually juggling three love interests or at least trying to decide (because polyamory is never an option) between two love interests.

As far as complaints about the narrative, I felt like one of the twists in the second half of the book felt like the author was making excuses for October to put herself in harm’s way again, and the final confrontation seemed anticlimactic. It reminded me of the end of the College of Winterhold quest line in Skyrim, where I stood there and said “wait, that’s it?” but at least there wasn’t as much stumbling around and waiting for the plot to happen.

In terms of triggers, there is violence against children. Toby is physically abused by the antagonist (who also abused his wife). This book is a bit bloodier than the previous books, and at one point Toby describes bleeding from cuts all over her body. There is also a bit of body horror with children being turned into animals. When I say this book is like a fairy tale, I mean it in the sense of “sometimes horrifying story intended for adults” the way that uncensored fairy stories tend to be.

In terms of diversity, there’s Raj, Tybalt’s nephew, who is described as having bronze skin, but once again we have a dead Japanese girl and Blind Michael, the major antagonist, is, well, blind. I wish McGuire would stop killing off her characters of colour. Another thing I wish she’d stop doing is I wish she’d stop equating mental illness with evil (like with Rayseline). Although I doubt that’s going to happen soon.

The first two books in this series were good but this one seriously hooked me. It definitely has some flaws (like consistently failing on the diversity front) but even so I still couldn’t put it down, and I think that speaks volumes for the writing, the world, and the characters in particular.

Review: A Local Habitation (October Daye #2)

I know it seems like I write these reviews moments after I finish the work in question but the truth is some of these have been kicking around for months (I blame the depression), not this review though, I literally just finished the book in question.

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The first book in this series, Rosemary and Rue, was surprisingly good, and surpassed my expectations (which are, admittedly, very low for the urban fantasy genre). The world McGuire has created is so captivating that I can almost forgive her protagonist’s investigatory fuck ups (which often involved her getting shot in the first book).

This time around, October’s liege, Sylvester, Duke of Shadowed Hills, charges her to check on his niece, January, who is Countess of a the newly formed County of Tamed Lightning, sandwiched between his realm and the Duchy of Dreamer’s Glass. He can’t go himself, nor can he send more qualified members of his Court for fear of sparking a war with Dreamer’s Glass, though he does send her with Quentin, a page in need of some experience outside the knowe. What was supposed to be a simple courtesy call, however, quickly becomes deadly as someone starts killing off January’s key people.

As with the last book, I found many of the characters likeable. Besides Toby, there’s Quentin, an underage, inexperienced page currently being fostered in Sylvester’s Court, who is, interestingly enough, more savvy than October when it comes to technology. The staff of ALH computing were a mixed bag for me, I liked January and Elliot (who is a bannik, fae who are able to magically clean people and things), but couldn’t stand Gordan, who makes no secret of the fact that she hates purebloods and spends most of the novel hating on October (who she sees as the “lapdog” of the purebloods).

The world continues to be compelling. It’s populated by a wide variety of fae with their various organizations and politicking. Honestly, have the fun of urban fantasy for me is reading about the various fantastical elements and seeing how the author puts their own unique twists on myths, folklore, magical systems, etc. I love the ides of a company that specifically makes technology that is compatible with the weirdness that is Faerie, especially since traditional lore on the Good Folk often places them at odds with modern technology.

Unfortunately, like the first book, October doesn’t really do a lot of traditional investigating. Once again, I felt like the plot happened to her instead of her doing anything to drive the plot forward, to be fair, however, she’s facing an unknown assailant and something’s wrong with the phones. I’m probably jumping the gun by saying this, but her PI training seems like more of what TV Tropes calls an Informed Ability than a skill that has any bearing on the plot. My other major issue with this book is that the characters make a ton of questionable decisions. Guess what the remaining staff members at ALH do when Toby warns them not to split up? They split up, of course! One of the characters even references the “never split the party” rule in tabletop gaming. Personally, I was baffled that it didn’t occur to October to take a certain course of action (which seemed obvious to me) until about halfway through the book. At least Toby doesn’t end up injured and in distress as often as the first book.

Also unfortunate, but there’s not a lot of diversity here either. The only person of colour is one of the murder victims who was dead before October arrived on the scene. In terms of triggers, Alex, forces a kiss on October and his sister, Terrie, flirts with Quentin (who is underage), he also makes October feel attracted to him against her will. Fortunately, October is not having any of his shit (especially when other characters tell her “he can’t help it”) and tells him to stay away from her and Quentin. I also disliked how the killer is referred to using ableist terms for mentally ill people, which, while a pretty common trope, is still harmful.

Despite some very questionable decisions on the part of both main and minor characters, I’m enjoying this series and I look forward to reading the rest of it (provided I don’t get sick of it like I have with so many other series). I’m captivated by this world, even if the characters annoy the hell out of me sometimes.

Game Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

It’s taken me longer than I thought it would but I’ve finally finished the Uncharted series (or not, because The Lost Legacy is now a thing) and it feels much the same as finishing a book series I’ve particularly enjoyed: bittersweet. On the one hand, I have more space on my (full) PS4 now, yay, but on the other hand, I’m going to miss Nathan, Elena, Sully, and their wild adventures (not to mention the gorgeous environments).

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Sometime between Uncharted 3 and 4, Nathan and Elena got back together and are now trying to live a “normal” life, though Nathan obviously misses his treasure hunting days. However, an encounter with his thought to be dead older brother Sam draws him back into his old life on the hunt for the treasure of the infamous “Pirate King” Henry Avery in order to pay off Sam’s debt to a drug lord who helped him escape from prison. As usual, they aren’t the only ones hunting for the treasure, and this time their rival is a businessman with money to burn and the backing of a private military company.

There’s really not that much to say about the gameplay. It’s still the same combination of jumping, climbing, swinging, shooting, driving and puzzle-solving in gorgeous environments as in the previous games. I did feel as if stealth is a much more viable (and often encouraged) solution to ending conflicts this time around. There’s even an achievement if you manage to stealth through a particular section of the game, and unlike certain other games in the series, I wasn’t failing at stealth so often that I managed to get the achievements for stealth takedowns in a single level.

I’ve said before that I almost feel like saying the graphics on a PS4 title are great seems a little redundant but I especially liked the facial animations in this title. I find it’s often too easy to fall into uncanny valley territory, even in many triple A titles, but I wasn’t bothered at all by Uncharted 4’s faces. They didn’t have that “plastic” look of, say, Dragon Age Inquisition (which, TBH, sometimes look like they’re made out of modelling clay, to my untrained eyes at least). I really can’t stress how pretty this game is, with sprawling vistas, busy cities, opulent mansions, and some gorgeous water features. Heck, I could practically smell the meat cooking in an outdoor market. This and Horizon: Zero Dawn are prime examples of the graphical capabilities of the PS4 IMHO.

I feel like this final installment is the one where Nathan stopped being less of a machine that dispenses wisecracks and more of a character. I still found myself sighing and rolling my eyes and some one-liners but smiling at others. Also, Nathan Drake doesn’t deserve Elena, she is an amazing lady. Another character I liked was kick ass South African mercenary Nadine, who can and will kick Nate’s ass.

I had the most trouble with two aspects of this game: treasures and mandatory shooting sections. When I first started the game, I told myself that I’d find all 109 treasures for this final installment (using a walkthrough) but unfortunately some vague instructions caused me to restart certain levels multiple times because I missed the window of opportunity to get a particular treasure (the game autosaves frequently). The other time I had trouble with this game was near the end, when the game forces you into shootouts with wave after wave of enemies. Up to this point, I’d mostly been stealthing my way through these encounters, so I kept failing as I fiddled with the shooting controls, that’s on me though, and to be fair, the jet ski levels and mandatory stealth sections in previous games caused me no end of grief. Occasionally I did get a bit lost in some of the game’s wide open spaces (the game takes an “open linearity” approach to level design, where the levels are big open spaces that you can explore but the actual progression is linear.

In terms of diversity, Nadine is black and while I love her as a character she is also an antagonist. There was also some controversy surrounding a black character being played by a white actress (Laura Bailey). There’s also a minor Latino antagonist who is…..a drug lord, are you surprised? At least the main villain is a rich white American man now?

In sum, Uncharted 4 is (or was) a fitting sendoff for a great series, and to be honest I wouldn’t object to further adventures with a certain spoiler character from the very end of the game. In terms of length I spent just over 30 hours obtaining all treasures but not the optional conversations, journal entries, or rock cairns, and I’m nowhere near close to unlocking all of the achievements, so if you’re a completionist you might take a bit more time than I did. You can also earn points to unlock different graphics modes (sepia, rainbow colours, black and white, etc.) infinite ammo, zero gravity, etc. that might be fun just to play around with. I think the game is accessible to those who haven’t played the first three games but since you can buy them all on the same platform I definitely recommend picking up the remastered collection before starting on this game, it’s worth it, trust me.

Game Review: Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator

Here’s a game I never thought I’d review, and that’s because I originally thought that it was one of those dime-a-dozen “wacky” dating sims with no substance. Listen, game devs, you are never going to top Hatoful Boyfriend, especially if you think the wacky humour is why it’s so popular, so stop trying. The game has also been the source of much discourse on tumblr.

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In Dream Daddy, which is by Vernon Shaw and Leighton Gray and funded and voiced by the Game Grumps, you play as a Dad (you can customize his name and appearance) who has just moved to a new neighbourhood with his daughter Amanda. The cul-de-sac also happens to be home to other eligible dads: from his former college roommate, to the anxious owner of a coffee shop, to a dad who always seems to spark his competitive side, but will he find love, end as friends, or meet an untimely demise?

Gameplay consists of a lot of reading, clicking, and making choices, but its broken up by a variety of minigames that have you doing everything from match-3 fishing to trying to fix a broken radio to making your way through a crowd at a concert. You can go on a maximum of three dates per game and each Dad has three dates you can go on. You are ranked on your performance during these dates and given a grade (S is the highest rank). Depending on your choices, you can end up romantically involved with one of the Dads, end on a friendly note, or even die. Some of the routes have more realistic resolutions, like the one where the Dad in question reciprocates your feelings but decides he’s not ready to be intimately involved with anyone. Besides dating, you also spend a lot of time hanging out with your daughter and can end the game with a good or bad relationship with her.

When I first heard about this game I immediately assumed two things: that it was just a silly dating sim with way too many dad jokes, and that it was probably going to be homophobic. Having dated all the Dads, I can say that this is one of the sweetest, most heartfelt dating sims I have ever played (aside from Hustle Cat). Even though a couple of them took some time to grow on me, there isn’t a single Dad I would say I dislike (even though I think one could’ve used a better ending), and each Dad is more than they appear: one is still grieving the loss of his wife, another’s aloofness hides emotional wounds, another cultivates a certain image because he fears others will find the real him dull. I wasn’t expecting to have a serious conversation about death during a date. There’s still a ton of dad jokes, but it never feels like the humour and pop culture references (and there are a ton of pop culture references) overstay their welcome.

One (small) issue I have with this game is that I wish the characters had a bit more time to develop, like a fourth or fifth date (which I admit would take a lot of resources for a game with seven possible love interests). A more major criticism is the fact that some of the minigames are sadistically difficult (MINI GOLF!) and there are a number of bugs (including bugs that are preventing people from getting certain achievements). As of this writing and as far as I am aware, those bugs haven’t been addressed. There also isn’t a ton of voice-acting, mostly “Ohs” and moans that sound dirtier than they should when you fast-forward through the dialogue.

In terms of diversity, four of the seven potential love interests are poc: Craig, Robert, Hugo, and Mat. One of the Dads is trans, casually mentioning binders in conversation. You also have the option to make your character trans and can choose whether your partner was a mother or a father and whether one of you gave birth to or adopted Amanda. There isn’t a whole lot of diversity in body types, however; Brian (and optionally your MC) is the only Dad of size. To be fair, you can only choose from three different body types during character creation, the only difference is whether that body has a binder or not.

In terms of potential triggers, one of the characters you can date is a married man and third dates always end in sex (of the fade-to-black sort). Characters do a lot of drinking. There’s also a segment during one of Mat’s dates where you buy drugs (which turn out to be oregano).

Dream Daddy is a sweet game about a single Dad trying to raise a daughter and find love. Steam has me clocked in at nineteen hours, but that’s because I’ve been playing a certain minigame obsessively trying to get the achievement for it. Which Dad is my favourite? Damien, hands down, although I also love Hugo and Mat. If you’re looking for a nice game about queer dads dating queer dads, well, what are you waiting for?

Also I’d really like a queer mom dating sim.