Arby's Backlog Hell Arbiter Libera’s profile

~ Let's Get Some Games Done ~

An Ongoing Exercise in Clearing the Backlog Extraordinaire

Nothing special here for now, really. Just my updates divided for somewhat navigable lists using the artwork I used when updates were originally published with all now updated to current art assets fitting to match 2019 updates and also easier to click on if you're using mobile. Maybe I'll add more to the "homepage" at some point, but this is serviceable for now.

Don't worry, I haven't been idle in my month long absence. You could make a point I had the exact opposite problem having played plenty of demos and outright free games Steam has to offer. It is precisely the latter I return with in full full force bringing along FOUR reviews for games you can immediately check out for yourself.

I'm usually faster in cranking out a review after beating games, but Evoland 2 took me a while until I got my thoughts in order. By that I mean it wasn't written in an hour immediately after the fact. So, what's new? Well, I guess I found that CRPG crack I was looking for and rather like the taste of it so that's a thing to look for. Way, way down the horizon, though. Enjoy the read and have fun.

It gives me satisfaction when something I wrote years ago is relevant for a recent piece and that turned out to be the cause, well, right now. There's a link to one of the earlier Reports where I talked about my favorite genres which just so turned out to be adventure games and RPGs, both relevant for The Council review down below. I also got around to posting that SF novel review.

The Dragon Never Sleeps ( Science Fiction – 1988 – 440 pages ) + GOOD READS

Not a first for Glen Cook, but it's always interesting to see an author branch out beyond their comfort zone. The Dragon Never Sleeps is not necessarily a stellar [heh] space opera and I'll get into why yet I would also state upfront it's still signature Cook with all the hallmarks you either love or hate depending on what kind of writing style you fancy.

In Canon space Guardships have been the law for millennia. So much so they've become the bogeyman, an out-of-time force no one really understands anymore that manages to keep this universe in check with sheer technological and information superiority despite complete self-sufficiency. When you take into account power hierarchy is one of volatile variety with Great Houses, various Presidencies and their Capitola Primagenia, with Outside's powers constantly looming over the edge you learn to appreciate the fine distinction people have bestowed upon the Guardships - they don't defend Canon, they exterminate Canon's enemies. This mindset has lead to many, many attempts in subverting the established order of things and each of them has utterly failed at the hands of Guardships... conveniently numbered and dubbed after Roman legions of old no one remembers anymore. That's not to say current events, involving some of the most outstanding individuals on both sides of space and even an ancient enemy considered long vanquished, don't threaten to condemn the Guardships to history where many believe they rightfully belong as people should be left to govern themselves...

What makes this premise interesting is you could argue the two sides we focus on could play BOTH the roles of antagonist and protagonist. Which is what they often do to each other and the rest of space. VII Gemina gives us distinct insight into what Guardships are all about and is arguably one of the more balanced ships out there where active crew, Dictat leadership and ship itself exist harmoniously. Inner ship politics notwithstanding. In the opposite corner is House Tregesser doing their own long term con with ever fluid leadership and questionable characters all-around held together by genius Provik as their second-in-command spymaster. Depending on your POV and absentee "let me bash you over the head with morality lessons" you could argue each is doing something worthwhile for different reasons. Hell, primary hero candidate in the novel doesn't take center stage for a good while and even then he's only doing what he was made for. Characters in general have a note they're assigned and they play to it because, as befitting the genre, it's more about the big picture and immersing you in this alien universe that whatever this week's character drama is.

Reading The Dragon Never Sleeps was quite an uneven experience. First you have a "what the hell is going on?" phase because you're jumping between characters without knowing who or what they are, then the middle section where you finally have a grasp on things follow by the final third or so where, in my opinion, book's tendency to have too much going on backfires. What do I mean by that? Well, throughout the book everyone has plans-within-plans and reader operates on a lot of need-to-know basis. Towards the end this escalates so far with some newly introduced players that I frankly lost track exactly what the plan WAS beyond the broadest of strokes. You could say it's the double-edged sword of Cook's writing - that straight-to-the-point, terse style of his works wonders in quickly establishing the narrative via fragmented world building and rapid storytelling, which surprisingly gels together in a science fiction story of this scale, but with information overload it implodes on itself with finer details getting lost. At some point "we came, we saw, we won" cannot substitute a paragraph or two of laying things out, and that pains me to say as someone who is very much inclined toward Cook's particular flair. In fact, I would almost say had someone else written The Dragon Never Sleeps the page count would've likely doubled and as a result there's a whole lot riding on per-page basis.

Overall? I expected more, but as pages ran out I didn't get it. Ending also kinda came out of nowhere in a sense it was rather abrupt yet hopeful. In retrospective all the parts were introduced earlier throughout the book. Solid read if you want some standalone military SF.

I considered giving this a shorter review, but as I kept at writing the damn thing it just grew all on its own. Might as well turn it into a full-fledged one at that point. So yeah, Feudal Alloy is a change of pace after something like Planescape: Torment and that was precisely the reason I chose it. Still in the business of looking into a big RPG to play next. Would be a shame to bite into a 50+ hour epic...

Now that's what I'm talking about and what's been on the back-burner. Surprisingly, this CRPG classic turned out to be shorter than I expected. Or remember. Which brings me to say this is kind of cheating on my end. I HAVE played the original PS:T, but never got around to the Enhanced Edition following its release and Beamdog's somewhat dubious reputation. One could also make the argument that 20 years is long enough to forget and experiencing the game all over again felt very fresh to me.

A redemption Report, if you will. On a more serious note this is simply closing the final chapter on a game I got in a rut with and took a break from. I expected it to turn into a far more negative take compared to what I bring to you. Maybe that break gave me some time to reflect on what almost got me rage quitting, though.

I can't help thinking this is a kind of low effort Report when I should be dedicating them to a single, proper review. Beyond tackling three free games that you yourself can play right now and finish in under an hour each, I also binged on some anime by checking out a much acclaimed show I never got around. You could say it's “Isekai done right” from before the entire genre departed into distilled mediocrity. Kept it short this time around, though.

The Twelve Kingdoms ( Fantasy – 2002 – 45 episodes ) + TRAILER

I'll spare you the usual wall of text, but holy crap did watching The Twelve Kingdoms again make me realize just how much anime has changed.

Slowly watching over the course of two months may have added to it somewhat. I especially liked how it focuses on introspection and self-reflection with problems getting solved as, surprise surprise, characters actually change and act upon that despite difficult situations at first glance. Cynical part of me kept imagining just how differently Youko's entire journey would be handled in a modern show. She'd probably ass pull some magical power to demolish the entire established order of things because it would be a simplistic "correct thing to do" or something. Effect itself isn't necessarily solely the result of having 45 episodes and focusing primarily on the protagonist, either. Hell, The Twelve Kingdoms even pulls off three parallel stories in its longest arc with two brand new characters who still end up undergoing their own meaningful developments.

If there's a flaw to the show it's the way it sometimes can't decide whether it wants to be about Youko's ascent to position of Queen and status thereof in this fantasy world heavily based on East Asian aesthetics with accompanying celestial bureaucracy to go along where the Heavens seemingly choose rulers of the eponymous kingdoms through their own agents OR have her be shoehorned into entire arcs and act merely as the common element while we're told tangential backstories. If not for setting building value one could almost argue two arcs could've been excised entirely let alone the unnecessary recaps. It is amusing that few standalone episodes were my favorites because they kinda cover what happens between big story arcs. Sadly, I can't comment whether anime is faithful to original novels or not, and you can also say it may be too long for its own good, bur journey here is a lot more important than the final destination you can tell will be reached. I wanted to see a lot more because the show ends just as Youko comes into her own... and is then followed up by recollections of a supporting character.

According to my last Report here it's been... two months? Well damn, time does fly. Probably due to my dabbling in FF14 as I'm want to occasionally and somehow never get past level 20. But seriously, I think the holdup was simply tackling a long ass JRPG and one I wasn't enamored with as it went on. If there's any uplifting news it's my newfound determination to stop buying games beyond what I get from Humble Choice so let's see how that pans out.

There's also a SF novel I managed to finish.

Embassytown ( Science Fiction – 2011 – 345 pages ) + GOOD READS

I imagine Embassytown would be something of a wet dream to a creative language major considering how much of its very core revolves around the nature of linguistics, weaponizing languages as such and identity-defining powers they hold over societies. It should speak in novel's favor when I say despite having little beyond cursory interest in such topics, and debates over them sometimes slowing the narrative to a crawl, idea as a whole STILL managed to keep my interest strong to see it through. Additional observation worth pointing out is I can't recall another instance of a novel making such a heel turn at exactly halfway point when all hell breaks loose and alternating past/present chapters get dropped in favor of a linear fixed narrative.

Continuing author's weird fiction twists we now take to science fiction territory as we follow one Avice Benner Cho from her childhood days in a small town called, well, Embassytown on planet Arieka seeing things from her point of view along the way. You might imagine this leads to a "girl wants to leave her hometown and go to a big city" kind of scenario and you'd be right if not for couple of things. Terre and other races are allowed to have a colony of Embassytown by natives of this planet, whom all others have affectionately dubbed Hosts, and due to how their Language works there's this privileged group of people called Ambassadors who are the only ones capable of open communication. Our girl Avice would have been just one of frontier residents had the Hosts not used her to embody a simile and thus forever immortalizing her as part of their Language. Looking back on the novel as a whole this is the pretty much the only elements making her important in subsequent events otherwise way above her pay grade. On a fringe world where language and those who ply its trade are so important even her relatively exclusive status of a Terre immerser aka someone who navigates hyperspace of sorts, is treated as a curio rather than something admirable after she makes her return and ends up embroiled in massive societal changes as new mysterious Ambassadors arrive alongside her. Turns out everyone has an agenda in this place, especially those furthest from it.

Even if execution of this particular premise where you see aliens change after continual exposure to something like a language changes was at times protracted and protagonist herself almost ended up being a go-between until very late into the story, where she figures out things others must have considered earlier and decided otherwise, I have to say the setting definitely did not fail to pique my interest. First half of Embassytown is almost testing you to see for just how long you can go without air as it throws terminology and ideas you're eventually less so explained and more left to your own devices to piece together with context later on. From the fact this is the Third Universe, begging the question what happened to first two, entirely bio-engineered "technology" of the Ariekai like battery-beasts and living buildings that can get chemically addicted, to general weirdness where mentioning "there are other alien races beyond two most prominent ones" is almost an inconsequential side note when you look at the bigger picture. It gripped and sustained me when whatever was going on did not. Impression I got was one of very divisive nature - on one hand there's inventive and almost esoteric SF backstory I wanted to immerse myself in, while on the other the equivalent of an airline pilot involved in debates regarding the living nature of languages with experts on the matter high on their own farts. I found one far more engaging over the other, as you can probably tell.

This is where I would talk about characters, but I don't think there is much to say in this particular case because I'd be hard pressed to remember much about Avice herself. It says something when we get more about her as a person from childhood parts than when she returns as an adult after X kilohours had passed. Other than her having multiple husbands and a wife before this current relationship. In her own words I would describe her as unsurprising. If this was a lesser work I would almost assume she's one of those horrible self-insert and forgettable type of female protagonists. Other, support, characters are firmly on Ambassador side of things as primary conduit to the Hosts. Latter surprisingly get almost nothing until the very last quarter of the novel, but I think it adds to their alienness so I approve.

These Reports are once again starting to take a month between releases, and I have a JRPG on the side to finish that's probably going to take a while as it is. Good news is I bring six short reviews for you to peruse + that novel I finally got around to. I really need to stop trying out walking simulators seeing as they obviously aren't my jam.

Greybeard ( Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse – 1964 – 237 pages ) + GOOD READS

As opposed to more immediate world-ending apocalyptic events I found Greybeard's take on the matter refreshingly laid back. Essentially, current generation of people is set out to be the last one as there are no more children being born. In practical terms this means our protagonist Algernon Timberlane is one of the last few young people by the time story starts in 2030s. And by "young" I mean he is in his fifties and has only childhood memories of what the world was like before "the Accident" in the '80s which altered the world making not only humans incapable of successful procreation, but also many mammals in generals with few exceptions. While the novel explains what happened through flashbacks and recollections, which are spoilers so I won't go into them, I can safely say the causes that lead to this slowly dying world don't really matter because the story isn't about them or trying to fix the impossible. World is what it is leaving Algy and his wife Martha to find their way as years inexorably go on.

Structure we're working here is alternating chapters - present day followed by flashback at various points in time. I particularly liked the one set after things really started falling apart in England so military steps in to assume control. Makes you realize this entire story could've taken a drastically different direction then and there. Amusing bit for me was how a pivotal chapter explaining Algy's reasoning as to why he initially joins DOUCH(E), organization meant to safeguard humanity's future... in a way, fell completely flat. Additional points as the man himself confirms that very thing towards the end of the book. But lest I type things randomly those are the parts meant to flesh out the world-that-was. If you ask me the body of work are present-day chapters dealing with how our little group survives. You never get the impression it's some epic adventure or anything, but rather senior citizens who still have to contend with circumstances beyond their control and other people being idiots as effective post-apocalypse brings the worst out of them. You're on the run with nowhere to go? Come across a secluded makeshift village and stay there for almost fifteen years, why not. Rich descriptions of this new existence go a long way to successfully selling it, though. By god, I believed they were sailing down Thames for most of the book and bustling wildlife coming to reclaim its rightful place as few holdouts of decrepit humanity start becoming more out there with age.

We come to my problem with Brian Aldiss that I keep complaining about despite reading his books anyway. He cannot write characters conversing with one another without coming off as incredibly stilted or expository. I think Greybeard suffers from it in particular because all those scenes between Martha and Algy when they talk about what childhood memories spurred the latter to become the man he is now or what the former feels she's missing as there are no children in the world all sound very dry as presented. Then again that particular type of rapport is Aldiss' preferred. Even with other characters like their religious friend Charles or certain cult leader they come across, for example. Everyone is uttering dialog relevant to their personality, but final result is lack of character itself.

Impression I could not shake while reading Greybeard was one of meandering series of pit-stops along the road to nowhere as there's no clear-cut objective. Novel also pulls the rug from under you in the last fifteen pages or so by revealing the great mystery that has been continually skirted along. You can probably guess what it is, but the abrupt manner in which it's handled just did not sit well with me.

It was definitely not my plan to review a game so similar to my last one, but I guess things just happen. Looking at them both it's obviously I have a preference for more RPG than action. I'm also seriously lagging behind Spiders' release schedule and it's been educational to see them polish the formula with time. In any case, I hope 2021 is turning out better for you and have fun reading my walls of text at least here if not on Steam because of Review limitations.