Monthly Archives: January 2015

Starfire (The Guardian Herd #1)

Title: Starfire

Author: Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Once every hundred years, a star appears in the sky. Once every hundred years, a black pegasus is born. If the black pegasus survives, on his first birthday he will inherit the star’s fire and become the most powerful pegasus in all five herds, able to heal or destroy.

Star is the black pegasus. His herd has always been divided about his presence. Some feel he is a harbinger of disaster, while a few hold out hope that he will be the healer his mother believed. For Star, who cannot fly, it’s hard enough dealing with life on the ground, let alone all the rumors that he will not be able to stop himself from turning evil.

This was an interesting read. The pegasi have horse-like behaviors, such as their herds and various bits of body language, but they are indeed a very aerial species, and flight is a big part of their culture and lifestyle. Star’s youth helps ease in the explanations of much of what’s going on, such as the annual migration, because it’s new to him too.

Fair warning: there is a bit of violence, and though I don’t think it’s excessive it may disturb more sensitive readers. These pegasi have territories and defend them, and that usually means with hooves and teeth.

I also liked the emphasis on not feeling bound to play the same game as those who wish you ill. It is possible to change the rules, and Star discovers the hard way things may not be as black and white as he thinks they are.

Overall this was a good story, which ties up well but sets up for a sequel. I rate this book Recommended.

Advertisements

Tales of Symphonia (PS3/GCN)

In the land of Sylvarant, the Chosen is sent out on a journey of regeneration every time the world’s mana fails. Collette, the current Chosen, is all set to recieve the revelation that will begin her journey. Her childhood friend, Lloyd, desperately wants to go with, both for the adventure and to be with her. Then disaster strikes, and Lloyd has nowhere else to go but with the Chosen and her group. The adventure slowly unfolds into a story far larger than anything Lloyd could have imagined…

I’m a bit late to the party on this, admittedly. Tales of Symphonia was released a long time ago, and although I have the GCN version, the PS3 version is the one I just finished. (I have a tendancy to get stuck in long puzzle dungeons, put the game down, and forget about it long enough that it’s hard to pick back up again). Since that is the case, I’m going to be discussing some outright spoilers below, so feel free to skip the rest of the plot notes if that’s a concern.

PLOT: The story does a good job of hiding where it’s heading, so that if you haven’t been reading anything online about this game, many of the twists will likely be a surprise. I do like how Lloyd’s attempts to save the world have a tendancy to be rather destructive, and how people are rightfully mad at him for blowing up their homes or killing their relatives, and yet he doesn’t stop trying to do what he knows is right. Even when it becomes clear he hasn’t got the full story.

That said, the story is also rather simplistic in ways. There’s a good reason Kratos is one of the most popular characters in the game—I think he’s got the best character arc of all of them. Unlike Lloyd, who tends to be purely focused on whatever the goal is, Kratos has many conflicting loyalties, and although he tries to do what he can to satisfy all of them, he ends up looking really bad. But he doesn’t justify his decisions, merely lets them work themselves out.

GAMEPLAY: The battle system is the action-fighting style that makes Tales games so much fun. All of the characters are solid on the field, so who you pick is generally going to come down to personal preference (with the exception of a few bosses that will require certain characters, mostly Sheena). Raine is the only real healer, though, so she does tend to take priority in most party formations.

The dungeons are very puzzle-heavy, which can be a bit of a chore in the middle of the game when you have to hunt down multiple summon spirits one after the other. That being said, once solved the puzzles also tend not to reset, so any subsequent visits do go faster.

There’s plenty of skits and extra content available. I did most of the sidequests, although I skipped much of the Colesium simply because I was too low-leveled to make a good run of the advanced modes and did not feel like grinding (though as an aside, any Tales game does make grinding less a chore simply by turning up the difficulty, at which point even regular enemies can become as difficult as minor bosses, and they will drop additional EXP to boot).

One fairly major aggrevation for completionists is the sheer amount of replays the game will require to get everything. There is a certain scene in Flanoir, particularly, that has unique story content (plus in most cases some only-in-this-version title or items) for every single playable character. That’s nine scenes. Some of the titles will combine, so I think the actual number of playthroughs required to get a full 100% on titles and the Collector’s Book (required for a title for Genis) is 5. I was able to save right before Flanior and watch both Kratos and Collette, and I do think Kratos has the best scene of the nine, but picking him does cause some major changes in the plot later on.

OVERALL: I did enjoy this, and beat the game in about 75 hours having done most of the content (again, excluding Colesium as well as certain character weapons that required Level 80 to obtain, and skipping the optional dungeon). The ability to carry forward bonuses for new games using the Grade earned in battles from a completed game means any subsequent playthrough would be faster, but I doubt I will be playing through again anytime soon. One big difference from some of the later Tales games is that the clear files created after you beat the game do not allow you to keep playing on that same file, but rather start a New Game+, so do anything extra you want before the final boss.

Fans of the series have likely already played this, but to those who are thinking about diving in, the PS3 collection offers a great opportunity to get both this game and its sequel for a reasonable price. There is plenty of footage on Youtube if you need a visual of how the game looks and plays. The PS3 version does include a few things that will make life easier, such as additional compound Unison attacks, but they’re more tweaks than anything and either version would play largely the same. I rate this game Recommended.

The Fires of Calderon (Balance Keepers #1)

Title: The Fires of Calderon

Author: Lindsay Cummings

Albert was prepared for a boring-yet-awesome summer with his dad in Herman, Wyoming. But when a delivery lands him in the Core, a magical place deep below the earth, he learns he’s destined to become a Balance Keeper, someone who protects the three underground Realms. Albert is eager to make friends and gain special powers, but things aren’t quite going according to plan. And then the realm Calderon’s Imbalance keeps getting worse . . .

I liked the variety of creatures that pop up in this story, everything from dogs with glowing eyes to the fierce raptor pictured in the cover art and more. There’s a good mix of familiar mythological faces and original. The powers range the gamut from the typical superhero fare to the somewhat more mundane: speed, strength, breathing underwater, talking to animals, enhanced memory, etc. Albert’s relationship with Birdie and Leroy is predictable but still engaging, as the three of them learn to use their powers as a team.

There were a few inconsistencies that bothered me. Albert’s job in the beginning was highly unbelievable to me—the government allows an 11-year-old with no supervision to handle mail? A quick check on a search engine is enough to bring up how such a process is actually handled, and rather predictably it doesn’t look anything like what’s in the book. When Albert reaches the Core, he immediately latches on to a certain person as suspicious, although said person doesn’t actually do anything suspicious at all, unless that person is supposed to be assumed to be the unnamed person in the last scene.

I think it was mostly that nothing personally grabbed me about this book. The bully and cronies were mean just to be mean and follow the expected rise and fall. Albert’s Tile makes him a wildcard, and he feels overpowered (he actually handles most of the last mission by himself, and the other two function more like sidekicks than full teammates).

Overall this is not a bad read, and kids would probably enjoy. But I find myself ambivalent about continuing the series for myself. I rate this book Neutral.

Legacy of the Claw (Animas #1)

Title: Legacy of the Claw

Author: C. R. Grey

Bailey Walker is excited to be heading to Fairmount Academy, the most prestigious school in the kingdom. And he’s also terrified that his secret will get out. In a world where everyone is kin to some kind of animal—Horse, Dog, Bear, etc—Bailey has not Awakened to his kin. He might not even have one. Fairmount offers more than a chance for an education for Bailey. One of the professors used to be famous for his work with the animal-human bonds, and Bailey is hoping for a miracle.

But a dark shadow has never left the kingdom since the assassination of its previous monarch. The people are restless, leaderless, unhappy. And the surviving daughter of the king intends to take her father’s place . . .

I really enjoyed this book. The animal-human bonds were fun because being “kin” to a creature means a connection with all of that kind of creature (eg, all owls) and perhaps a special bond with one in particular. So there are a lot of animals running around in the book, living life right alongside their human kin (yes, even the bears). Kids will Awaken to their animal kin sometime between nine and eleven, which makes twelve-year-old Bailey incredibly embarrassed not to know just yet. And he’s afraid he might also be one of the ones with an Absence, a total lack of kin-bond, which has a tendency to drive the afflicted insane.

There’s also a bit of steampunk thrown in for good measure, though it’s certainly not the main focus of the plot. I loved Phi’s little project, though. I also liked how the big game at this school is a variant of Capture the Flag, with rules that completely make sense (think paintball plus a soccer-like structure of forwards, midfields, and goalies).

The bigger political story unfolds slowly, and I think it helps tremendously to see things from Viviana’s viewpoint as well as the much younger Bailey and Gwen. Viviana is a somewhat sympathetic villain, which underlines her lack of remorse. The world overall was a bit weak; I wasn’t sure if Aldermere is the entire world, or simply the name of the nation, and the history tended to stop at about twenty years previous. But there’s certainly room for more in the future, as this is the first book in a series, and from the look of things Bailey will probably be traveling a great deal in days to come.

Overall this was a lot of fun. My only regret is that since the book is so new there isn’t even word of a sequel yet. I rate this book Highly Recommended.