Operation Backlog Completion 2017
Jul 052017

While I never became interested enough in Episode Gladiolus to buy it, Episode Prompto caught my attention.

Prompto isn’t my favorite of the party members (that would be Ignis), but he has one of the more interesting stories. Final Fantasy XV also left him with gaping plot holes thanks to its bizarre handling of a certain revelation.

His DLC episode fills in those holes, while also letting the Empire’s mad scientist take a stronger role in the story. One of the things that disappointed me the most in Final Fantasy XV was that Verstael only had a single scene. Why give a villain one scene and never show him again?

I still think Verstael’s role and the explanations surrounding Prompto should have been in the game to start with, but at least Episode Prompto finally brings them into the light.

Since Prompto fights with guns, Episode Prompto feels somewhat like a third-person shooter rather than an RPG… which is interesting, if a little odd. You also get a snowmobile to zoom around in during certain sections. It’s largely linear, but still allows for a little exploration.

I’m in it for the story, though, and that aspect satisfied me. In addition to cutscenes, the story is also told through optional documents and logs you find in the facility. I love that kind of storytelling, and I wish Final Fantasy XV used that more to flesh out its world.

Plus, Verstael. Mad science. Good stuff.

Prompto’s internal conflict and development are also handled well. If you’ve played Final Fantasy XV, you probably can guess when this DLC takes place, because it’s when Prompto gets separated from the group. And if you’ve watched the anime episode about Prompto, you might remember that he had some self-esteem issues (and still does).

These elements come together in a satisfactory way that resonated with me, and I was invested in Prompto’s journey–always a good sign for storytelling.

Episode Prompto only lasts a couple hours, but it adds welcome information to Final Fantasy XV’s scattered storytelling. Here’s hoping Episode Ignis does the same… and I’m patiently waiting for Ardyn DLC to be announced.

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Jun 262017

The original Steins;Gate is one of the best visual novels I’ve played so far, and overall an amazing story to experience.

Steins;Gate 0, available for the PlayStation 4 and Vita, fills in an important gap in the original’s story. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to discuss even its premise without Steins;Gate spoilers.

In other words, if you haven’t gone through the original Steins;Gate yet, do that before you even read about Steins;Gate 0. Steins;Gate 0 is a sequel/midquel set partway through the original game’s true ending.

If you recall, during the true ending of Steins;Gate, Suzuha tells Okabe that he had to fail once in order to set the events into motion that would allow him to reach Steins;Gate. He then gets a message from his future self, who tells him what to do.

This follows that first Okabe in the beta worldline, from the point of Kurisu’s death up through him creating that message.

As you might guess, this means Steins;Gate 0 has a dramatically different tone. While the original started out light and funny, with elements of mystery, until it reached the key point in the story where everything changed, Steins;Gate 0 starts out dark and bleak.

The events of Steins;Gate left Okabe with PTSD. The mere mention of Kurisu is enough to trigger flashbacks. Seeing Moeka causes panic attacks. He carries anxiety medication in his pocket, visits a therapist with mixed results, and doesn’t even want to think about his old “Hououin Kyouma” personality.

It does have lighter moments, and Okabe gradually gets better, but there’s no denying that the events of the first game had a serious impact.

Another notable change is that he isn’t the sole viewpoint character here. Other characters, especially Suzuha and the newly-introduced Maho, tell parts of the story from a third-person perspective. At first, I had trouble adjusting to this, but it actually works quite well. It’s especially important to show us additional perspectives because Steins;Gate 0’s story is complex.

Despite dealing with time travel, the original Steins;Gate generally kept things clear and easy to understand. When the worldline changed, you knew why.

In Steins;Gate 0, however, you don’t have the power to change time. Different countries fighting over time travel is what eventually leads to World War III in the beta worldline, so the worldline (and the route you’re on) change based on who gets that technology first.

Most of the changes depend on how much you interact with Amadeus Kurisu, an AI at the center of the struggle.

On one hand, this makes the story much more unpredictable, because you never know what might happen. On the other hand, I ended the game still not knowing why some of my decisions led to different endings. It’s much more difficult to untangle the cause and effect in Steins;Gate 0.

Steins;Gate felt like one linear story that branched into what-if scenarios, but Steins;Gate 0 feels more like many different possibilities that show you disjointed pieces of the whole.

This complexity makes the true ending feel a bit confusing, and the true ending also suffers because it’s only a step toward the original game’s ending. Steins;Gate 0 is meant to fill in a gap, and that means the conclusion feels a bit lackluster on its own.

Now, all of this might make you think I disliked Steins;Gate 0. Nothing could be further from the truth. Steins;Gate 0 is fantastic and definitely worth reading. Maho is a great addition to the cast, the story delves into interesting questions about AI research and how much an AI can be like a person, and there are many wonderful scenes in every route.

Click for Steins;Gate 0 spoilers

While Steins;Gate is an amazing story, Steins;Gate 0 is merely a great story. It’s a little hard to follow and it might raise more questions than it answers… but it’s still definitely worth a read for fans of the original.

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Jun 232017

When we last left the characters of the Witcher saga, Ciri was running wild as a bandit and Geralt embarked on an urgent mission to find her with an unlikely band of heroes.

The Tower of Swallows handles its storytelling a bit differently, with interesting results.

The book begins with a hermit finding a girl with grievous injuries–Ciri. From there, it’s a frame story, partly told by Ciri as she explains what happened to her, and partly through a court investigation.

Other sections follow characters outside of the frame story, although everything ties together into the overall plot. The Tower of Swallows has some of the best pacing in the series, as well as moments of humor to break the grim tone. Even though its structure means you know how things will end up, it’s still an intense journey to reach that point.

Among other things, it introduces one of the scariest guys in the series, Leo Bonhart, a nearly unstoppable bounty hunter. An unarmed Bonhart is deadlier than a group of armed men.

(The end of the book also includes one of my favorite scenes in the series, when Ciri confronts her pursuers on the ice.)

It still is only part of a larger story, and the Wild Hunt continues to pop up with vague hints about their goal, but it’s a strong story in its own right, with many interesting moments. And, since I know how the saga concludes, I also noticed some nice pieces of foreshadowing that I missed when I read the fan translation.

Click for Lady of the Lake spoilers

In short, if you’re interested in the Witcher series, The Tower of Swallows is a must-read. That only leaves us with one book to go, the saga’s conclusion The Lady of the Lake.

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