Operation Backlog Completion 2017
May 222017
 

Over the weekend, I finished reading Thrawn by Timothy Zahn.

When I first heard about Thrawn’s return to Star Wars canon, my excitement nearly overwhelmed me. That feeling returned as I read Thrawn, the first novel featuring Thrawn outside of the old Expanded Universe.

It is a rather slow-paced novel, but it’s worth it for its fantastic look at Mitth’raw’nuruodo, better known as Thrawn.

In the old novels, Thrawn was an oddity, a nonhuman Grand Admiral in the human-centric Empire, and it gave the impression that the Empire couldn’t ignore his skill but wished they could forget about him. Here, we see that in action, as Thrawn encounters the political machinations of xenophobic Imperials determined to see him fall.

But while Thrawn might not be used to such politics (and it’s interesting to see a Thrawn who isn’t good at everything), he’s the brilliant tactician he always was. The book is filled with scenes of Thrawn in his glory as he analyzes, strategizes, and out-maneuvers everyone around him.

In fact, Thrawn lets us get into the character’s head more than ever before. Each chapter begins with a short entry from his journal, and several chapters are told from his point of view. In these point of view sections, other characters’ reactions and physical changes are written in the present tense, and while that was jarring at first, it does demonstrate the way Thrawn reads people–and how he just thinks differently.

He isn’t the only viewpoint character, and while I wasn’t terribly fond of Arihnda Pryce (especially once she got ruthless), I loved Eli Vanto, who works alongside Thrawn as his aide.

While Eli is human, he faces his own struggles (he’s from Wild Space, and people from the core of the galaxy look down on him), and his growing bond with Thrawn was just as enjoyable as getting to watch Thrawn’s brilliance at work through Eli’s eyes.

It was so enjoyable, I was a significant way through the book before I remembered that I shouldn’t be rooting for these guys! They’re with the Empire! They’re the bad guys!

I think it’s part of what makes Thrawn so fascinating. He’s not like the typical Star Wars villain. He’s fair. He does everything he can to avoid the unnecessary loss of life. He’s… a good person? He’s one of the “bad guys,” and he’s incredibly dangerous, but it’s difficult to really dislike him.

Click for Thrawn spoilers

If you’re a fan of Grand Admiral Thrawn, you’ll probably love Thrawn… and if you’re unfamiliar with the character, this is a good chance to see why he’s so popular.

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Apr 102017
 

I heard praise for Severed in the past, but it wasn’t until I sat down and played it that I realized what made it so enjoyable.

Going into it, the only thing I knew was that it used touchscreen-based combat (which is why it’s available for Vita, Wii U, 3DS, and iOS). It’s difficult to imagine Severed without a touchscreen, because it’s the heart of the battle system.

You slash enemies to damage them and slash against an enemy’s attack to counter. For many enemies, you need to wait until they show their weak spot, or attack in a specific way to reveal it.

This starts out simple, but gets pretty challenging later on. Fighting multiple enemies at once turns into a careful balance of dealing damage while switching between enemies to counter their attacks. If you build up your Focus gauge through successful attacks and counters, you’ll be able to sever parts of the monster’s body once you defeat it.

Ah yes, severing monster limbs.

You play a young woman named Sasha on a journey through a strange, twisted world to find and save her family. Before the game begins, Sasha’s arm is cut off, and that’s only the start of Severed’s macabre love of hacking off body parts.

Monster pieces–arms, eyes, wings, etc.–are used to upgrade Sasha. You have a skill tree to fill out, and each upgrade costs a certain number of parts. You can also break pots to find giblets, which can be converted to other parts.

Severed has a Metroidvania-esque progression style, although in some ways it also reminded me of The Legend of Zelda. You explore several dungeon areas, which involve locked doors, some backtracking, and areas you won’t be able to access until you have certain upgrades.

Finding secret areas is enjoyable, and since enemies don’t respawn, you can backtrack in peace.

(The lack of respawning enemies might make you nervous in a game where your upgrades depend on gathering monster parts, but I fully upgraded Sasha with parts to spare, and there’s an area near the end of the game where enemies do respawn, if you need more.)

Now, I haven’t said a lot about the story. Severed has a minimalist story that leaves more questions than it answers, but it does have some enjoyable moments and characters. In general, I liked it more for its exploration and unique combat than for its story, but that’s enough to carry it.

If a dark, stylish game with touchscreen-based combat and dungeon exploration sounds fun to you, look into Severed, because it’s a great little game.

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Mar 242017
 

When World of Final Fantasy was first announced, fans weren’t sure what it was. Well, it turned out to be a pretty awesome turn-based RPG.

World of Final Fantasy feels like a strange hybrid of Final Fantasy, Pokémon, and Kingdom Hearts.

In some ways, it’s a crossover game, with characters from across the entire Final Fantasy series present in a single world called Grymoire. However, their lives and motivations make sense in the context of this new world, even if they have similarities to their original counterparts.

The main protagonists are two original characters, twins named Lann and Reyn. They enter Grymoire to search for their missing family and learn the truth about their past.

They also learn they have the ability to capture monsters, which leads to the Pokémon-esque monster catching system. Each monster, or Mirage, has its own requirements to be caught. For example, you might need to use fire attacks on one Mirage, while another just needs its HP lowered.

(You can repeat the process on the same Mirage to make it easier to capture–something I didn’t realize until halfway through the game.)

In battle, your captured Mirages fight in “stacks” with Lann and Reynn. The monsters in your stack determine the abilities you have available, and some can stack to form more powerful spells. Every Mirage has its own skill board to fill out as it levels up, with a few blank slots to allow a bit of customization.

It’s an interesting twist on traditional Final Fantasy combat, and if you dislike the new battle menu, you can change it to a more classic style from the settings. World of Final Fantasy also has random encounters and fixed save points–in short, it’s the most traditional Final Fantasy game we’ve had in a while, although it still lacks a proper world map.

(They showed off a little world map and airship in previews, but they’re disappointing when it comes to actual navigation.)

But even though I wanted a world map, I loved World of Final Fantasy. It’s fun to play, it’s a solid turn-based RPG, and it has a pretty good story.

Before we get into the story, I want to discuss what I considered to be World of Final Fantasy’s greatest strength and one of its greatest weaknesses: intervention quests.

Intervention Quests

Early in the game, you meet The Girl Who Forgot Her Name. This mysterious character has power over time and space, and therefore lets you “intervene” to help your allies.

This means you’ll get to see story events that don’t directly follow Lann and Reynn, but Lann and Reynn will fight the actual battles. These are some of the most interesting and often funniest scenes in the game, and they give the various Final Fantasy characters a chance to really shine.

Both the intervention quests and main story are filled with Final Fantasy references.

Unfortunately, while the setup makes sense since you’re messing around with time and space, I often wished they were normal side quests encountered normally in the world, instead of selected from a list. Most don’t involve any gameplay aside from the battles, and I couldn’t help but see missed potential.

Additionally, there’s a certain point in the game where the story is also tied to completing intervention quests. When they become the main focus instead of a side activity, the pacing slows to a crawl. A traditional JRPG structure could have greatly helped World of Final Fantasy there.

But those are minor criticisms of a pretty awesome game. Now, intervention quests may be entertaining, but what about the overall story?

Story and Writing

World of Final Fantasy’s writing uses a lot of subjective humor. Either you’ll love the banter between characters, or you’ll find it (and them) annoying.

Lann and Reyn use the manzai style of comedy we discussed recently in reference to Lady Layton’s humor. Lann is the boke (funny man), and Reynn is the tsukkomi (straight man).

In our Lady Layton discussion, I mentioned Abbott and Costello, and if you don’t like a style of humor that focuses heavily on one character (Lann) saying stupid things and getting words confused, while the other character (Reynn) gets annoyed, the twins will drive you crazy.

I loved it and found it entertaining. That, together with humorous shout-outs to the Final Fantasy series and many funny monster descriptions made World of Final Fantasy’s writing a treat.

The story itself starts out simple, but it gets pretty crazy. It isn’t just a cute adventure where you catch monsters and fight alongside chibi Final Fantasy characters, but a full-fledged JRPG story in its own right.

If it feels too slow and simple when you start out, give it time. Major revelations and twists are waiting for you ahead. The characters are interesting, the plot is intriguing, and it’s definitely worth it to play for the “true ending” in order to experience the full plot.

Even then, although the story is self-contained, World of Final Fantasy’s in-game “Who’s Who” guide introduces so much expansive lore, they easily have room for a prequel, a sequel, or even a new series.

Click for World of Final Fantasy lore spoilers

The story might look simple on the surface, but when you dig into the lore, it gets kind of insane… and if they don’t make another game in the series, all of that lore will go to waste! So, where’s our sequel?

If you haven’t figured it out, I loved World of Final Fantasy. It was an excellent game and a worthy addition to the Final Fantasy series. If you love turn-based RPGs and monster-catching games, definitely give this one a try!

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