Operation Backlog Completion 2017
Jun 292015
 

I spent the past week at Seton Hill University for my fifth Writing Popular Fiction residency. (My time as a graduate student is almost over!) The residency was fanastic, as always. I learned a lot and came back with new story ideas.

Two events I looked forward to were non-academic: the book signing I previously announced and the costume ball, both part of the alumni’s In Your Write Mind writing conference. The costume ball ties back to a promise I made earlier this year, that I’d soon try my first cosplay.

This year’s theme for the costume ball was “comics.” So of course, I decided to do a Tales of Symphonia cosplay.

…There’s a manga adaptation! It counts!

I cosplayed Martel. Since the Church of Martel was very obviously inspired by the Catholic church, I made sure to take pictures in Seton Hill’s beautiful chapel.

(Edit: I have since realized I made an embarrassing mistake with my cosplay, so some day in the future I will have more accurate photos to share!)

Martel cosplay chapel 2

I commissioned the costume from Cosplay1, and I was really happy with how it turned out. The wig, I bought from Amazon, and had the bangs trimmed at a local salon.

Martel cosplay pray 7

Yes, after one standing shot as Martel, I decided some praying pictures were in order. Who exactly does Martel pray to? Now there’s another question a Symphonia prequel could answer…

Martel cosplay pray 4

Martel cosplay pray 6

The costume was a big hit at the ball (I even won a prize!), too, although I haven’t included the costume ball photos here. Overall, I really enjoyed my time as Martel, and I’ll definitely do it again sometime.

Let’s backtrack to the day before the costume ball, when I attended the In Your Write Mind book signing with three of my books. That was also a success!

I specifically chose my Resident Evil shirt for the book signing.

I specifically chose my Resident Evil shirt for the book signing.

I completely sold out of my comedy The Accidental Zombie, which you can buy here. It seems the humorous misadventures of two NOT-mad scientists appeals to people more than my romance or horror story, although Love Under the Mistletoe earned several sales and a lot of attention (probably because of the cover).

Book signing 4

“Rokurokubi” fared the worst, although that may be because the cover of Wicked Words Quarterly makes it less clear what sort of content is inside. If you’re interested in horror stories, such as my yokai horror story, do check it out.

In addition to the book signing itself (at which I bought books, as well, of course), the event was also a great opportunity because I got to meet Steve Saffel of Titan Books. That was really cool.

The entire residency was fantastic. I came home with stories, ideas, inspiration…

…and a long list of editing projects.

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Jun 222015
 

Earlier this month, I shared a blog post I wrote for Kellan Publishing about my upcoming book signing. This Friday, June 26, I will be at the In Your Write Mind book signing at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA.

I’ll have copies of my three stories available in print:

The Accidental Zombie, my comedy novella about two scientists who accidentally reanimate a corpse, and their misadventures as they try to stop their creation.

While it has horror elements due to the subject matter, it’s primarily a comedy.

Plus, if you visit this site for my video game blogging, you’ll be pleased to know The Accidental Zombie has some video game influences.

Love-Under-the-Mistletoe“A Special Present,” found in the holiday romance collection Love Under the Mistletoe, my Christmas romance about the growing relationship between two elves.

Santa’s elves.

Yes, it’s a far cry from the sort of material I usually write about, just a sweet little story about two toy-makers and their attraction to one another. It’s quite possibly the most lighthearted of all my stories, and the collection includes three other holiday-themed romances.

Wicked-Words-Quarterly-Issue-3Finally, “Rokurokubi,” found in the anthology Wicked Words Quarterly: Issue 3, my yokai horror story about a series of mysterious murders.

I’ve talked about yokai quite a bit lately, due to E3 and the upcoming 3DS game Yo-kai Watch (a series which took off in popularity in Japan). “Rokurokubi” is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Yo-kai Watch. While Level-5’s game is a lighthearted look at non-malevolent creatures, my story “Rokurokubi” takes a bloodier, grimmer approach.

All three books will be available in print at the June 26 IYWM book signing!

Now, because of the book signing and its surrounding events, I won’t be blogging at all for the rest of this week and the start of next week. It might seem especially odd since this comes right on the heels of E3 and all my additional coverage during that.

At the start of July, I’ll be back with my usual schedule, some thoughts on the Final Fantasy VII remake, and the fulfillment of something I mentioned earlier this year…

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Jun 202015
 

Despite Nintendo’s lackluster E3 2015 digital press conference, it still had a chance to reveal itself with Nintendo Treehouse. Last year’s Nintendo Treehouse was fantastic, and I looked forward to seeing gameplay.

Rather than watch all of the Nintendo Treehouse livestreams, however, I only watched those for the games I was most interested in. For those games, I’ve embedded the videos below. For all others, you can find them on Nintendo’s Youtube channel.

Nintendo-Treehouse

Table of Contents

Nintendo World Championships
Bethesda
Microsoft
EA
Ubisoft
Sony
Nintendo
Square Enix
PC Gaming
Nintendo Treehouse

Nintendo E3 Games Not in Digital Show

Nintendo’s E3 site lists quite a few games that weren’t shown during the digital event, most notably Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon, Chibi Robo: Zip Lash, Bravely Second: End Layer, EarthBound Beginnings, and Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.

Yes, the newest Fatal Frame received both its official localized title and a new trailer that was absent from the press conference for some reason.

The other games on the E3 site that weren’t in the press conference are:

  • LBX: Little Battlers eXperience
  • Runbow
  • Typoman
  • Mutant Mudds Super Challenge
  • Fast Racing Neo
  • SteamWorld Heist
  • Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
  • Just Dance 2016
  • Extreme Exorcism
  • Soul Axiom
  • RIVE
  • Freedom Planet
  • Lovely Planet
  • forma.8

Nintendo Treehouse

The first game I checked out was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. For me, this was the best surprise from Nintendo this E3, but I started the video with a mix of anticipation and… dread. I’m still scarred from the last Paper Mario game, and I’ve heard mixed things about Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Antipathy toward Sticker Star and ignorance of Dream Team aside, this is a crossover between two of my favorite series, so I really hope it’s good.

Nintendo Treehouse’s demonstration of Paper Jam’s gameplay reassured me of one thing at least: it won’t be like Sticker Star. It’s a legitimate RPG, with characters gaining experience and leveling up. In at least this section, you didn’t have a partner like in traditional Paper Mario games, but fought in a party composed of Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario. The combat looked very much like the Mario & Luigi series’ system.

Another good sign is that they mentioned the game’s story. While they were just setting up the basic premise, it at least provides hope that Paper Jam won’t go the no-story route, either. On a more amusing note, they briefly discussed the past Paper Mario games: the original, Thousand-Year Door, and Super Paper Mario. If they want to pretend Super Paper Mario was the last entry in the series, that’s fine by me.

They showed a few different gameplay mechanics, how Paper Mario’s unique nature gives him special abilities, and a bizarre segment where the party controlled a giant “papercraft” Mario. Overall, I liked what I saw. I have hope that Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam will be a worthy addition to our two beloved Mario RPG series.

Next, I checked out Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash. Other than the demo for Photo Finder, which didn’t impress me, I’ve never played a Chibi-Robo game. From what I’ve heard and what they discussed in the stream, though, Zip Lash is very different from the rest of the series. It’s an action platformer, with lots of collectibles to find and secrets to discover.

I’m not sure if I’ll get Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash, but it was entertaining to watch and it sure is cute. (This really was the E3 of Cute.)

After that, I moved on to a game I’ve been anticipating for a long time: Yo-kai Watch! (And even though I call the mythological creatures “yokai” and tend to spell the game’s name the same way, I’ll try to stick to the “yo-kai” spelling from now on when discussing this.)

Yo-kai Watch, a game where you befriend monsters so you can use them to fight and befriend other monsters–yeah, it sounds like a Pokémon clone when you describe the premise. More than anything else, watching the gameplay from Nintendo Treehouse showed me how it isn’t just like Pokémon.

You search for yo-kai with your yo-kai radar as you move throughout the town. Once you think you’re close enough, you can search to find the hiding monster. After that, you track it on the screen until your gauge fills up, and then the battle begins. Battling also differs from the more popular monster-catching series. In Yo-Kai Watch, your yo-kai automatically attack the enemy. You support them by using items, playing little mini-games to charge up attacks, and switching different yo-kai in and out of battle according to the techniques you need at that time. Battles earn you exp. so your yokai can level up.

Unlike the kind of yokai I like to write about, the beings in Yo-kai Watch aren’t malicious. Rather, they affect the world just by existing, and some of these affects can be harmful (like making people argue).

Some of the yo-kai are original, while others come from Japanese mythology. When I first heard that, I was disappointed that a game with “yo-kai” in the title didn’t draw all of its yo-kai from mythology. The stream, however, showed me one very cool thing. They demonstrated that if you jaywalk too many times, you’ll be attacked by a very strong yo-kai that targets jaywalkers. That is hilariously weird, and it feels true to yo-kai myths. There is, of course, no jaywalking yokai in mythology–but if those myths were created in modern times, that sounds exactly like the sort of myth you’d see.

Next I took a look at Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, or Genei Ibun Roku #FE as it’s now being called. (I assume that won’t be its localized name, but who knows?) The trailers left me really confused about what sort of game this even is, so the gameplay video was extremely clarifying.

Despite its nature as a crossover, they said it’s really like this is a brand new series of its own. That’s fine by me, especially since I have very little experience with either series. Genei Ibun Roku #FE is a “J-Pop RPG” set in a modern world. Creativity is a big thing in the game, as characters can unlock their inner “Performa.” As an example, one of the characters in this section wants to be a pop singer, and the player had the option to encourage or discourage her. Each character has a side story about realizing his or her entertainment dreams.

Forces from another world are invading the real world, the Idolosphere. This is also where you’ll find the Fire Emblem characters, though they don’t have memories of their Fire Emblem lives. Characters transform when you enter the Idolosphere, and the locations you visit there all have special puzzles based on their real-world counterparts. In this video, the dungeon was based on a fashion-centric area, so the dungeon had puzzles related to clothing and fashion, like moving the arms of a giant mannequin to explore.

Combat seems fairly standard for a turn-based RPG, albeit with a strange, quirky atmosphere. It uses both series’ ways of exploiting enemy weaknesses. There are also special “session attacks” that can unite multiple characters’ power to deliver a powerful blow to the enemy.

I… really liked what I saw. I’m not very familiar with either series, and the J-Pop emphasis feels a little weird to me, but I might want to play Genei Ibun Roku #FE.

Like with Paper Jam, I watched Nintendo Treehouse play Xenoblade Chronicles X (both videos) with mingled excitement and fear. I want to like this game. I love RPGs, I love my Wii U, and I love Xenoblade Chronicles, so a new Xenoblade RPG on the Wii U should be a given. It probably would be, if not for two things: 1) one of Xenoblade Chronicles X’s selling points is that it has a massive open world, and 2) open-world is not my genre of choice.

As I watched them explore this massive, sprawling world, though, they mentioned one thing that made me feel better. To avoid the sense of confusion that open worlds can cause, X’s world is subdivided into sectors so it feels to some extent like a series of smaller areas. They even mentioned the satisfaction of filling in blank spaces on the map, which is one of the things I love when exploring semi-linear games!

So, aside from the open world, what did I think of Xenoblade Chronicles X? Well, I like the setting itself. The alien environments are beautiful, and I like the way modern and futuristic designs mix in Ne Los Angeles. (After just watching the Genei Ibun Roku #FE video, I found it amusing that creating New Los Angels also required a lot of research into the real-world location.) One thing I found disconcerting in the city, though, was the lack of collisions. Not that I want New Los Angeles cars to mow people down, but watching a car drive straight through an NPC with no effect bothered me a little.

Combat seems very similar to that of Xenoblade Chronicles. One notable change is that you can target specific parts of enemies, and this can affect the dropped items. For example, attacking an enemy’s horn might increase your chances of receiving a horn at the end of the battle.

Xenoblade’s affinity system has returned, but now it’s even more involved. Your affinity with other characters is affected not only by conversations with them, but by the choices you make during the game (along the lines of Mass Effect or Dragon Age). Unlike Shulk, this protagonist is silent and communicates only through your choices. I like gameplay choices and branching dialogue, but one part was jarring: the sound and music completely stop when you get to make a choice. Rather than immerse me by putting me in control of my character’s decisions, that feels like it will pull me out of the game when choices arise. Why not just continue the background music?

One other thing concerned me. As they played, there was a notification in the corner telling them to go back to the base to receive the next story mission. I didn’t like that. Missions are fine in a game like this, but something about that made it feel so… separate.

Maybe I’m nitpicking. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game I want to love, but which I’m afraid might let me down.

Once I finished worrying about one RPG, at least I could relax by checking out an RPG with a classic, old-school feeling, Bravely Second: End Layer. I still haven’t played Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, but I enjoyed the demo a lot and can’t wait to get into it. Everything I saw of Bravely Second (which they said is accessible to people who haven’t played the first game) made me confident I’ll love it.

These games have found a great compromise between keeping the old-school feel of random encounters and making them less annoying. While I like systems that let you auto-win easy battles (as in EarthBound) or skip battles (as in Wild Arms 3), Bravely Default and Bravely Second have a different solution. You can adjust your encounter rate–crank it up if you want to fight lots of battles, and set it low if you want to hurry through an area without worrying.

Monsters you face in random encounters will be more difficult at night than during the day, but that’s not the only thing time affects. You’ll also be able to talk to different NPCs at night, or find them in different places.

Battles themselves are turn-based and often challenging. The Brave and Default systems from the first game return, where instead of taking your turn normally, you can choose to use multiple attacks in a row at the cost of however many extra turns you used, or sacrifice your turn to stockpile turns to use all at once later on. This adds strategy, especially during boss battles. You also can obtain new job classes by defeating bosses of that class, such as the new wizard class in the video.

In general, Bravely Second: End Layer looks like a solid RPG as far as the gameplay goes, and what little we got to see of the story interested me. I can’t wait for this game… so I better hurry up and play Bravely Default already!

The last Nintendo Treehouse game I watched was Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water. As a survival horror fan who wanted this one to come west for a long time, I was really excited to take a look at it. First, it’s beautiful in a terrifying way, very spooky and atmospheric. The section shown in the video featured a forest.

Second, it’s definitely horror. Even beyond its ghosts, spooky setting, and limited resources, all of which add tension for the player, even this small section of story went to some dark places. At first it amused me that they warned people at the start of the stream that this is an M-rated horror game, but parts of it legitimately unsettled me, even as I watched from the safety of my well-lit room.

If you’re familiar with the Fatal Frame series, you understand the basic gameplay. You fight ghosts using the Camera Obscura, which in Maiden of Black Water is the GamePad. That is one of the best uses of the GamePad I’ve seen. By holding the ghost in the frame and taking a picture at the right moment, you deal damage to it. If you take a shot right as it’s about to attack you, you get added points for the “fatal frame.” This game also includes something called the “fatal glance,” which allows you to witness the ghost’s final moments before death.

Even picking up items is a tense experience in this game, as a ghostly hand will sometimes attack you as you reach for the item. They described this as a new feature, but I believe it was at least in the Fatal Frame 2 remake that never came to America. Water is also your enemy, as you’ll be more vulnerable when your “wetness gauge” fills up. It isn’t normal water, so you want to dry off as soon as you can.

In general, I loved watching this game. The one thing that concerned me was a lack of locked doors and puzzles. While they said there are plenty of optional areas to explore that they avoided for the sake of the stream, I hope there are locked doors and puzzles along the course of the main story. It’s a survival horror staple!

Even though Nintendo’s E3 announcements disappointed me, Nintendo Treehouse showed off some great games and made me excited for the future. I can’t wait to learn more about… well, all these games, really. What was your favorite game streamed by Nintendo Treehouse this year?

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