“The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” First and Second Chapter Review

I know I’m really late to the party, but I don’t have as much time for video games as I used to. I try to be very discerning in the games I spend time on now, scouting around reviews and looking into information before I commit to playing through. “The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” had been on my list for a while. An old-school JRPG that is supposed to have a phenomenal story paired with good gameplay? Sign me up. I devoured the first chapter. I completed every single side quest, getting every treasure chest, etc. I logged about 51 total hours on the first game. The second game, I did every achievement, logging 86 hours along the way and once again enjoying every single second of it.

Trails in the Sky begins with a slow burn. It is unpretentious. It starts as what seems to be a simple coming-of-age story, as you take control of Estelle and Joshua Bright on their quest to become better “Bracers,” individuals who go around doing odd jobs, taking out monsters, and the like all to contribute to the well-being of all. Over the course of the main story, it becomes clear there is more going on than meets the eye. Friendships are formed, conspiracies develop, enemies are made, and the plot gets deeper as you continue. It is continually punctuated by joyful interludes and humor, but the plot is both serious and endearing. It gets inside your head and grows, becoming bigger and more emotionally-involving as time goes on. It’s a phenomenal take on many of the standard JRPG tropes for plot, while also pushing it in a few new directions, particularly by having such deep investment in the characters.

The world in the game is superbly detailed and developed. Locales are filled with characters who change the simple statements they say at different points in the game. The world brims with detail, though no one would claim the graphics are top-of-the line. The music is otherworldly in its quality. I don’t listen to video game soundtracks much if at all. These games stand alongside Seiken Densetsu 3 (now “Trials of Mana”) as the only soundtracks I’ve listened to outside of a track here and there.

The world, again, is developed throughout both games, with more and more locations opening up and history filled in as players explore the game. There is some backtracking, but the music is so delightful, battles are skippable by avoiding enemies (though I pretty much never did), and the animations so smooth that it never felt like a chore to backtrack through locations. The only gripe here is that some of the quests are fetch quests and require more backtracking than seems strictly necessary.

Battles are turn based and fought on a grid with boosts to critical power and the like added randomly on turns. Players can utilize systems to ensure their characters align with the most important boosts. Strategy is pretty deep and some bosses require much planning beforehand in order to effectively counter their strengths (I needed some trial and error or a guide to get some of the achievements, but I’m not going to claim to be awesome at video games). Alongside this is the “orbment” system which allows players to effectively customize their characters abilities from moment to moment by slotting in different orbs to make new synergies and unlock new moves throughout the game. Struggling with having enemies beat you to the punch? Slot in some speed orbs. Need some magical punch? There are orbs to help you there, too. It’s a great system that keeps players involved in the gameplay as it develops throughout the series.

Trails in the Sky is difficult for me to adequately describe. It has the sense of wonder, delight, and fun that I missed for a while in video games. I thought that I’d maybe lost it myself. But instead, here comes a series that has such joy built into it alongside so many plot twists, villains, and stunning revelations that I just feel my heart warm thinking about the games. I recommend them very, very highly. Play them.

The Good

+Fantastically detailed, intricate world
+Superb music
+Great overaching plot
+Side quests often seem like they have an impact in the world
+Absurdly phenomenal characters

The Bad

-Somewhat dated graphics
-Some fetch quests
-Slow start

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

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Reading the Classics: “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Yes, I know the last classic I read and reviewed was Pride and Prejudice (click for review), but I’m double dipping on Austen for two reasons: 1) Jane Austen is one of the most talented authors ever, so deal with it; 2) my wife and I went and saw a production of the novel that was just so excellent and fun I knew I had to read it.

I actually ended up nabbing the audiobook of this one and listened to it while working on our new patio. I have to say, this one could actually challenge Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel. It is so good. More than any of her other novels that I’ve read, Abbey has the satirical voice of Austen coming through loud and clear. Whether it’s that fantastic aside about having characters in novels reading, well, novels (because, after all, why shouldn’t a novelist endorse her own trade?) or the overwhelming feelings and emotions that overtake characters all throughout, this is an absolutely hilarious delight of a novel of manners.

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland, a gothic novel obsessed young woman who is of prime marriageable age and her interactions with society around herself. She makes and loses friends, talks to others about her love of specific novels–the more horrible and ghastly, the better!–and finds all the excitement she could have hoped for as the novel goes on. It’s a dramatic melodrama that Austen has layered over the whole work, somehow meshing it neatly into her own formula of social commentary and with so much humor I was laughing out loud as I was lifting cartloads of bricks listening to it. I know of few books that have been this much of a delight.

Austen’s satire is never bitter or even biting. It’s just funny. Yes, it is strange to be obsessed with gothic novels. Yes, the more horrible the better is an odd attitude. And yes, society people of the time would virtually never actually run into such events occurring. But for all of that, and for Austen’s mocking it, she made a masterpiece of her own that I am just as obsessed over as her characters were for gothic novels.

Throw all that in alongside classic Jane Austen twists and turns surrounding society love interests, and it’s a formula for total success. I cannot recommend Northanger Abbey highly enough to you, dear readers! Go read it, or come talk about it, or both!

Links

Reading the Classics– Check out the other classics I’ve been reading and reviewing and let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more!)

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

 

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis – A Steampunk Delight

It’s no secret: I love steampunk. The thing is, I’ve struggled to find novels that capture the feel I really, really want out of the subgenre. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is one prime example of an excellent series. Then, I saw The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. It had a blurb from my favorite author, David Weber on it. Surely, he would not lead me wrong! Would he?

No, he wouldn’t.

Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above is the beginning of what I hope becomes a lengthy fantasy series. Bennis doesn’t do much experimental here. No, she instead delivers to readers an extremely sound, tight, action-packed steampunk novel. Do you want harrowing air battles? Do you want some political intrigue? Character development? Check all the boxes, it’s all here.

The story centers around Josette Dupre,who is the first woman airship captain in her nation. Some doubt her abilities. Upping the drama is the addition of Lord Bernat, a love-to-hate aristocrat with a gambling and womanizing problem. These might sound like familiar tropes, but Bennis develops them so well and adds just enough twists and turns in the overall plot and world to make it a novel that I churned through not once, not twice, but three times already. I’m thinking about adding the audiobook to my collection because it’s that good. It’s a lengthy read, but one that is so quick to pass by that I sat and read it in a day the first time.

Character development is clearly one of Bennis’s strengths. I know that term gets thrown around a lot. Too many times it means a character is interesting throughout the book. Here, the mains truly develop. They change in meaningful ways that make sense within the plot. They’re not static, but living and breathing.

The blurb from David Weber is spot-on as there are many parallels here, from the military trappings to the character development. It’s a debut novel that not only shows a ton of promise but also absolutely delivers the goods. And it has airships. AIRSHIPS, people. This is the kind of novel that fans of older JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV-IX and their like have longed for. Go get it. Read it. Love it. Share about it. And then come here and talk to me about it. Oh, and good news: the second book is already out!

Tell me what you think of The Guns Above in the comments!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Trek: DS9 Season 4 “The Muse” and “For the Cause”

Are they lying to each other, too?

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“The Muse”

Synopsis

Jake gets seduced by a brain eating alien who uses his creative energy for nefarious purposes while inspiring him to great heights of writing. Lwaxana Troi wants to have her own child, but the customs of the father means she may not, so Odo intervenes and marries her, convincing all present of his genuine feelings for Troi in the process. Jake is saved at the last moment by his father, and his writing career feels like it may take more work.

Commentary

This is one of those episodes that definitely feels like the writers had two ideas, neither of which would make an episode on their own, so they awkwardly packed two half-episodes of TV together into one. It’s no secret that Lwaxana is not my favorite, but she has gotten a pretty heartfelt character overhaul on DS9 and seems like a real person rather than a ludicrous caricature. Her interactions with Odo feel genuine, and they’re often hilarious due to Odo’s proper way of acting and Lwaxana’s, well, being Lwaxana.

The Jake storyline I enjoyed much less. It felt like a monster-of-the-week episode with a twist that makes it feel like Jake is less creative than I may otherwise have thought him. He says he feels like he cheated to get what he began on his novel, but Benjamin Sisko points out that he couldn’t have written it without having it within him. Nevertheless, it does feel as someone watching it that some of his capacity as a writer was stripped away by having the alien be the only way to inspire him to the loftiest heights. Kind of a letdown, to be honest.

Grade: B- “Weird but heartfelt. Not a bad episode, but not great either. Troi did well, though, and Odo was delightfully awkward.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “A clearly memorable episode with interesting sci-fi elements and character development.”

“For the Cause”

Synopsis

Garak tries to figure out the intentinos of Gul Dukat’s half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal. He thinks she may be set up to kill him but she denies it and they ultimately begin a relationship centered around learning about Cardassia. Meanwhile, Captain Sisko is confronted with the possibility that his girlfriend, Kasidy Yates, is working for the Maquis. Evidence continues to mount and he launches an investigation, which ultimately leads to her capture and imprisonment in the brig for collusion with the Maquis.

Commentary

My synopsis is much, much less complex than the workings of the episode (just check out the plot summary here). Basically, we’ve got a character piece, but one that is for four different characters: Yates, Sisko, Garak, and Ziyal. They each, remarkably, get enough time on screen for us to feel the emotional impact of the events for every character involved. That said, the episode’s pacing and scene changes are quite jarring, and as a viewer I felt jerked from one scene to the next, sometimes violently. It also felt as though they wanted to introduce more complexity to Yates as a character by having her involved in the Maquis while not doing the groundwork to make this plausible. Yeah, it does make her a more complex character, but it also makes her somewhat less believable.

Grade: A- “A convoluted but emotionally impactful episode both for Garak and Sisko/Yates.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was interesting, but it didn’t seem consistent with the character they’ve developed for Yates so far.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: James Garfield #20

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with James Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) is Garfield: A Biography by Allan Peskin.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

James Garfield, #20

Garfield, A Biography

James Garfield is another President whose path to the office seems to be the quintessential American Dream story, wherein he rose to power from extremely humble beginnings in a log cabin in Ohio. His religious background was opposed to seeking office, but the draw of leadership and his innate ability proved too strong for his upbringing and he soon rose through various offices, ultimately becoming the first and only (so far) sitting member of the House elected President.

During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of Major General. He proved himself a capable leader, but resigned for a seat in the House. In the House, he was a member of the Radicals for some time, opposing leniency in Reconstruction. But over time his radicalism cooled down and he even opposed the passage of the Ku Klux Klan bill, which Grant favored heavily in order to oppose the KKK with federal power. Garfield opposed this bill, thinking it gave too much authority to the Federal Government. His conflicting attitude towards freed African Americans was indicative of many political authorities of his time, but makes it no less alarming, given the real existence of people with whom he rubbed shoulders who favored full equality of all people. He was also involved in corruption surrounding the Trans-Continental Railroad, though he denied his involvement in this corruption.

As President, he expanded the power of the President, including continuing the fight with the Senate over nominations. He worked for civil service reforms, but did not have a chance to see most of the outcomes of his work, because he was assassinated less than a year into his Presidency.

Peskin’s biography , Garfield: A Biography, is a bit disappointing. It’s huge, and gives a detailed account of Garfield’s life, but seems to be a purely fact-based account with little reflection on Garfield. I was most interested in the lengthy account of Garfield’s death, in which Peskin’s tone shifted somewhat to a sympathetic tone.

Garfield’s Presidency is difficult to judge, but what he accomplished in the short time he had in office is enough to lead to serious and lingering questions about what he may have accomplished had he not been assassinated.

James Garfield’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

James Garfield (20th President – Original Ranking #15)- James Garfield didn’t accomplish much as a President due to the violent act of assassination against him, but what he did has impacts into today. He worked against corruption and continued to undermine the system that led to a “good ol’ boys club” in regards to the appointment of nominations for certain offices. He worked for rights for African Americans, but did so in an extremely inconsistent way. He also favored civil service reforms. Assassinated less than a year into his Presidency, it is an interesting question of what he may have accomplished if he had a whole term.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #96-100

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

96. VALIS by Philip K. Dick Grade: D-
“One thing I’ve discovered from reading through this list is that I pretty much detest novels that are just covers for the author to offer either autobiography or their own philosophical musings. This book is both. What’s most amusing about this is that I do truly love many novels which are full of philosophical musings. The problem is that VALIS is, at its core, just an excuse for Dick to philosophize at his readers. There’s not much of a plot to speak of. There isn’t character development. It’s just like reading about someone’s narration of a quasi-Gnostic religious experience. Oh wait, that’s basically what it is. How is this even considered science fiction? I don’t know.”

97. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card Grade: B
“Another excellent entry in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, Xenocide picks up right where Speaker for the Dead left off. However, it isn’t as polished as the first two books in the series, and probably could be about 150 pages shorter while conveying all the same characterization and plot. There is a bit too much ‘what are we gonna do next’ happening here. That said, it is still quite enjoyable, and the continuation of the plot makes it a must read. Speculation about morality, religion, and more abound. It’s great science fiction.”

98. The Postman by David Brin Grade: C-
“I couldn’t help but feel a major amount of deja vu with this. It’s got scenes that feel incredibly similar to Chrysalids or Alas, Babylon in different ways. I’m not saying it’s copied–it clearly is not–but it has a sense of familiarity that simply should not exist in a post-apocalyptic novel. Perhaps that’s a mark of how many of these books I’ve read by now, but I think it is at least in part a function of the writing itself. Anyway, The Postman certainly isn’t bad, it just didn’t strike me as particularly excellent, either. The blurbs on the back seemed to focus on how it’s some kind of warning. But a warning of what? And why is it particularly poignant in regards to humanity’s plight? Frankly, compared to some other post-apocalyptic tales, this is rather tame.”

99. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: B
“An emotional ride on what it feels like to be truly alone among all of humanity. That part is well done. Sturgeon’s characters are raw and real. However, there is very little science fiction in this one, and the ideas about male-female relations are straight out of the 1950s. There is also very little plot to speak of here.”

100. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle Grade: B
“Many of these classic science fiction books are very worth reading. Doyle never quite reaches the transcendent heights of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, but it’s an exciting read nonetheless. The idea of the undiscovered country on earth remains compelling, and the style was fun reading. It’s a fun, short jaunt.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 4: “The Flight of the Eisenstein” by James Swallow

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

Galaxy in Flames showed the true breakout of the Heresy and the violence that almost immediately ensued. Here, with Eisenstein, we find that the Heresy is truly breaking out and follow the path of this ship as we see whether the knowledge of the Heresy can get back to the Emperor in time.

The premise is really intense, as is the setup. Will the Eisenstein escape? What bigger ramifications will it have? The book weighs in at over 400 pages, so I went in expecting that we’d see the ship escape as well as some of the ripple effects of that. But a huge portion of the book is spent just on buildup to whether the Eisenstein will truly figure out what’s happening or not, and then on whether they get away. This leaves only the last small portion of the book to deal with any ramifications.

As I read this book, it felt very much like the first 300 pages could have just as easily been a short story. It reads as being very dragged out, with each scene dragging on longer than it needed to. The last 100 pages or so, though, were totally awesome. The building up of Garro as a character is really awesome, as were the scenes featuring the “Lord of the Flies.” The incredulity Garro and others had to face in the face of the Imperial authorities is believable, though I also wonder if there’s more going on behind the scenes than we get to find out in this book.

Really, what would have improved the book, in my opinion, would have been shaving off about 100 pages and increasing the action. Large portions of the book are spent with characters debating the next course of action, and that drags it down. The last section, though, made the book well-worth reading. I enjoyed it immensely at the end, and look forward to finding out what comes next.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.