Friday, December 30, 2016

The Long-Awaited Games Have Come - First Impressions of Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian

...Also I totally missed last time's update. I am so sorry! I'll try to post for the next three Fridays in a row to make up for it.

Christmas came with a bang this year, and if any of you have read my Confessions of an Excited Gamer, you may recognize the titles of a couple games I got to play:

Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian.

I just sat staring at the game covers for a while before I could even bring myself to pop them into the console. Illnesses and obligations have kept me from completing either one so far, but I've played more than enough to gather a few first impressions...

Final Fantasy XV

I've tried to steer clear of the spoilers online as long as possible, but I'd gathered enough hearsay to know lots of people praised the game for its characters and complained about its confusing story and poorer pacing during the latter portion of the campaign. I haven't gotten far enough to comment on the story or pacing, but I can say that the very beginning of the game hooks you in with its well-written, entertaining characters--and it hasn't let go after my first five hours of wandering around its gorgeous landscapes.

These characters feel real. They feel meaningful. And they feel like they're buddies who would give you the shirt off their backs--not because you're a prince, but because you're their friend.

The side characters make it just as fun to run off on hunting sidequests and random fights as it is to watch the main story's drama unfold--and this coming from me, the gamer who plays for the stories, not the gameplay.

I'm not saying this game is perfect. There are elements of the story I have yet to see that still have me a little worried. The combat was tricky for me to get at first, and it throws a lot at you at once. But my biggest fear was that this game wouldn't live up to its ten-year-long hype.

In some ways, it's clear this is not the same game that was teased back in 2006, but it has maintained a lot more of its 2006 elements than I expected--a lot of the really good elements. In addition, right from the start this game proves it was a labor of love. Frankly, I'll wait another ten years for a game this hand-crafted good.

The Last Guardian

This is yet another Team ICO game. If you loved ICO and/or Shadow of the Colossus (like I did), you will love this one too. The Last Guardian feels like a crossbreed between its predecessors: you and your companion must maneuver through wreckage shrouded in mist and mystery.

Oh, and your companion is a giant beast with mystical powers. No big.

This is not a puzzle GAME. It's a story-driven puzzle EXPERIENCE. I feel like I'm actually there, running with this monster-pet-partner-friend at my heels. It's true that he won't always do exactly what I want, but far more often he's steered me in the right direction without outright telling me where to go. That's an invaluable asset to the puzzle-solving and to the immersion. Trico, your companion critter, feels like an actual animal rather than an AI.

Again, no, I won't say this is a flawless game; but the depth and magic of the experience are many and the frustrations are very, very few.

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Interested in more juicy details of my gaming experiences? Tune in the next two Fridays for an in-depth review of both these games.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Flash-Post: Jeannette Out of Context 2

"Hm... Guess I'll prolly warm up more of that bear meat for dinner
Probably among the top 5 weirdest things I've ever said"
 

Today at 5:26 PM

Friday, December 2, 2016

Follow-Up to "Character Issues" Post

One of my readers was kind enough to give me some tips on my previous post. As I was replying, I realized that I actually had some new angles to examine while looking at this character (and that I kind of did a poor job explaining myself last time), so I'm going to revisit the topic of this particularly troublesome TVB character.

This particular character (who I'll codename "Roxanne") was originally created to be an insert of one of my best friends. Of course, as is often the case with the characters I create, the character took on a life of her own. This ends up being a good thing; it gives me freedom to let these characters make choices my friends not be flattered about. It lets them be their own people: characters rather than real-life people.

So sometime around the early drafts of the book (in the early 2000's, I'd say), once "Roxanne" started to become her own person, I took a look at her role. It boiled down to one goal: Roxanne was there to get Emarella, one of the core characters of the story, to open up.

Now, in earlier versions of the draft, this was a perfect role. Roxanne also took on a secondary role of protecting Jaranin (the protagonist) and thus completing her own small character arc. Whereas originally she had one relatively short-sighted, self-promoting goal, she was beginning to look beyond the needs of herself (or even just her race) and look to the whole world's wellbeing by rescuing Jaranin. It was simple. It worked.

The problem now (other than the fact it's fifteen-some years later) is that the book itself has become far more complex. And Roxanne now serves an additional goal that I just noticed is crystallizing. She's there to advance a plot point that will span the first two books in the trilogy.

Well, problem one solved. Now I know that yes, I actually do still need this character--at least as of this current draft. Just knowing that actually takes a weight off my shoulders.

For a while now, I've been wondering if a lot of my cast is extraneous. Honestly, just today I found myself wondering, "Is Emarella even that important to the narrative?" Emarella, who's my self-insert character (sort of) and has been part of the story since basically the beginning. Yes, even way back at the start of The Victor's Blade, back when it was "The Golden Sword" beginning.

So to figure out that yes, Roxanne actually is important to the plot right now--that she's not just some extra appendage of a character I slapped on as a kid--is really reassuring in some ways. I guess it's me reassuring myself that I [at least kind of] know what I'm doing.

So now the question becomes how do I distinguish Roxanne from the currently-existing cast?

This is going to be easy for those of you who are familiar with Enneagram personality typing, but I'll try to boil down my main cast as quickly as possible for those who don't:

Currently, I have...
  • Jaranin, the 9-type protagonist with 6 tendencies. He's a follower and laid-back to a fault until it comes to protecting his loved ones.
  • Elun, the 7-type goofball best-friend and wingman who will pretty much talk Jaranin into doing any number of dangerous activities when they're bored. He seems like a doofus sometimes, but he's got a good heart, he's more loyal than your Golden Retriever, and he's a great friend to have in a pinch.
  • Isalaina, the 6-type soft-spoken but spunky, introverted but fiesty, rebellious and sweet gal who is Jaranin's childhood friend and only fully opens up to him.
  • Zaelor, the 8-type mentor archetype who is full of street smarts and hard life-lessons and mystery. He's got wit, but he's a bit lacking in the charm department as he's used to a life of getting things done the hard way and saying what he thinks to people's faces.
  • and Emarella, the 4-type motherly one of the group. Both a mentor and a comforter, Emarella serves as a foil to Zaelor as the fellow instructor who uses the somewhat less brazen methods. Although she seems perky and fun-loving and even a bit innocent at times, she also bears the heavy weight of a dark past she'd prefer to keep in the dark.
Now, Roxanne won't be a whole-series companion of the group, but she needs to fit in long enough to, well, fit. And I wonder what would be a good fit, both for the group as a whole, but also as a companion of Emarella's.

I could potentially just spin the Enneagram wheel and look to fill the group in with one of the numbers I don't have. The Enneagram goes up to 9 numbers, so I still have a variety of options to pick from:

She could be a 1, a by-the-book, detail- and goal-oriented worker who strives to bring order and good to the world but who can be rigid and unflexible, even perfectionistic and demanding.

She could be a 2, a warm-hearted and giving person though with an undercurrent of jealousy for attention and a proclivity for manipulation.

She could be a 3, an ambitious go-getter who is flexible in a variety of settings, but who struggles to understand who she truly is on the inside with how much she adapts to things on the outside.

Or she could be a 5, a deep-thinking and logical knowledge-seeker who can be extremely introverted even to the point of eccentricity.

For now, the only must-have qualities are:
  1. Roxanne must not be too similar to any of the existing characters.
  2. Roxanne must get along with the group.
  3. Roxanne's personality must mesh with Emarella's to the point that they would be best friends.
  4. Roxanne must be the kind of person who is independent and emotionally strong enough to be able to hold a military-esque position.
  5.  Roxanne must be physically strong (long story; it has to do with her race).
With that in mind, which of those four types would you like to see? Which do you think would fit best with the group? Which do you think just sounds the most interesting or the most likable? Are there any other personality types you can think of that you didn't see represented in some way from this list? Let me know!

Also, apologies on the late post. It's been a heck of a couple of weeks for me emotionally and it nearly slipped my mind that it was blog day.