Monthly Archives: March 2016

Otherkin (Otherkin #1)

Title: Otherkin

Author: Nina Berry

Series: Otherkin #1

Dez is used to making her own way through life. Scoliosis has put her in a brace, but she’s managed to be pretty normal despite that. Then she turns into a tiger, wakes up in a cage, rescues a boy . . . Life is about to get very, very different. Now she’s learning to be a shifter with others like her, but those who took her once still want to see her dead.

I liked some things about this a lot. Dez’s struggles with how she sees herself, particularly in light of her scoliosis, give her some good depth. She refuses to play the victim. And I liked the nuance to her strength and will—what helps her is also, at times, what limits her.

The other shifters were also a lot of fun. From a geeky opera wanna-be to the punk who can’t manage to keep a tattoo (since shifting erases all damage), Dez’s new companions are unique and fun. It’s disappointing the shifters are limited to just five groups, but at least they are groups and not single breeds. For example, the cat shifters includes both tiger and lynx. And I liked the different ways each of them has to shift. You can see a pattern, but also the individuality.

I’m personally not that fond of hot-boy-instant-love stories, so I mostly skimmed the bits with Caleb. I like him as a character, though his tragic backstory and big secret were not exactly surprises. But I like his potential, his power, and where he might be going next.

But there were also things that made me roll my eyes. Setting up the villains as an organization of fanatics who wants to exterminate the shapeshifters (while being hypocritical about using what abilities are useful to them), fine. No problems there. But the motive is so weak! They hate shifters, because God. They mouth some cheap rhetoric and throw the word God on the end and suddenly it’s a religious thing and we don’t need to explain any further. Oh, and Dez’s mom is a Wiccan who is good, even though nothing in the story really shows her being a Wiccan, other than saying Goddess once or twice. So it’s just really flat characterization that relies on very old and tired tropes. The shifters get a good amount of complexity, but the villains are clowns, right down to marrying off a young teenage girl to an ugly old man, because this will purify her.

So I enjoyed the shifters, and I might keep going with the series, but it was disappointing to have such stock bad guys, who are either too cartoony to take seriously or just cannon fodder. I rate this book Neutral.

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Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth (PS4/Vita)

Virtual reality has progressed to the point where the virtual world of Eden is as important to people as the real world. Your player-created character receives a special invitation for a prize, but things go horribly wrong, leaving you trapped inside a virtual body that’s somehow in the real world. Now a detective, your job is to take up various cases, with the ultimate goal of solving the mystery of what happened to you.

Story: Cyber Sleuth takes the Digimon franchise and wraps it up in a nice RPG. For the most part, the big-picture story is pretty good, if a little predictable to anyone who knows much about Digimon. I like Arata the best, mostly for his quips, like suggesting poison and a dagger is a romantic gift because it’s reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.

Some bits of the required story would be better off as sidequests, though. For instance, the occult club adds nothing to the narrative but they have several quests that you can’t skip. And the timing of some of the really minor quests can interrupt some major happening, so they can introduce bad pacing to the narrative.

One other thing that really trips up the story is the translation. There are multiple instances of badly-formatted text, quiz answers that where the correct answer flags as wrong, and “Bakemon” shows up in the text (this is probably meant to be “bakemono” in Japanese, aka “monster”… there is no digimon named Bakemon so the text ends up confusing). I’m not sure how much the patches may have fixed as I only went through the game once, but there were definitely rough spots. The overall story was mostly okay, but those places tended to stand out.

Gameplay: This is a turn-based RPG whose main strategy revolves around which digimon you’re fielding and what abilities they have. As someone who never played any of the previous Digimon games, I found it very accessible, although I had to keep accessing the tutorial for type/affinity weaknesses to confirm what types/elements beat what.

Digimon is similar to Pokemon in that you can collect just about every monster you run across in the dungeons, but one of the key differences is that evolution is more flexible. Given enough time to go up and down evolution trees, anything can become virtually anything. This gives you a huge amount of freedom early-game to get a wide range of digimon. And two of the uglier and more useless digimon lines have really good passive abilities, like boosting EXP, money, or item drops. This can be compounded by items. I spent a fair amount of time save scumming early game to get Tactician USBs to ease the level-up process, but once I had them I was able to fill out most of the Field Guide very quickly (some of the highest-level digimon in particular are locked behind story events or later-game quests). This cuts down the grind tremendously, and there’s something addictive about putting in an hour or two of grinding when you can get multiple level 99 Megas out of it, starting from the lowest level Rookie.

That said, the game itself is pretty forgiving on Normal, and biased in favor of those digimon with defense/int-ignoring attacks, as those will typically do at least double the damage of another digimon who does have the correct type and element and is getting triple damage on its attacks. But if you have a favorite, the system is flexible enough that it will probably work for most fights, if it has the right abilities.

In terms of aesthetics, it’s more of a mixed bag. The graphics generally look good, although on the PS4 especially there are a lot of clues this was originally a Vita game. All the digital dungeons look like the same ramps copy/pasted into different configurations, and both dungeons and towns only offer a very limited area to wander.

The soundtrack is also generally good. A few of the tracks are used so often I got a bit tired of them, but for the most part I enjoyed the soundtrack.

Also, although I didn’t play it, there is an online versus mode for players who would rather pit their teams against other people (there are also AI opponents provided if the system has trouble finding a match).

Overall: If you like RPGs or monster-collecting games, this is a good one to check out. It’s much easier to collect them all than Pokemon (although the medals exist to drive completionists insane). I finished all quests and had a full Field Guide at 83 hours, although the real number is probably a bit higher given the amount of save scumming I did for a few farm goods. I’m not sure this one has as much replayability as other RPGs I’ve enjoyed, but the ability to carry forward the most important things means a New Game+ would go a lot faster if I did. And the online battling could be a draw for players looking for something to do after the main story. I rate this game Recommended.

The Wednesdays

Title: The Wednesdays

Author: Julie Bourbeau

Max lives in a small village with one peculiar rule: nobody goes outside on Wednesdays. The villagers have long since figured out Wednesdays are prone to accidents and disasters, and everyone shuts themselves up for that one day a week in the hopes of warding them off. But Max is a curious child, and hates being trapped indoors for an entire day. When he goes exploring outside on a Wednesdays, he soon finds more than he expected . . .

This is actually more a horror story than a fantasy. A supernatural evil with its own peculiar set of rules terrorizes a small town, and an ordinary boy finds himself snared in the middle of it. If he can’t figure out the mystery in time, the supernatural evil will claim him. Sounds like horror to me.

That said, the story has a unique take on such a well-trod path. In this case the evil is Wednesdays. (Ironically, since this happened to be next on my pile, I did read it on a Wednesday, which added to the amusement greatly.) Max is at first convinced it’s all superstition, but he has a surprising amount of trouble when he is outdoors, so he continues to hunt for answers.

Overall this is a quick read that isn’t too scary, and kids are likely to enjoy the variety of crazy accidents Max stumbles into. I rate this book Recommended.

The Luck Uglies (The Luck Uglies #1)

Title: The Luck Uglies

Author: Paul Durham

Series: The Luck Uglies #1

Riley has lived all her life by a few simple House Rules. Don’t talk to strangers in masks. Don’t let Shady outside. Don’t ever remove the pendant from around her neck. But when Riley starts to break those rules, she encounters monsters of legend: the Bog Noblins, creatures from the forest who eat people. The only ones rumored to stand against them are the even more notorious Luck Uglies. Now her village is in danger, and Riley is beginning to uncover far more about her world than she ever wanted to know . . .

This was mostly just okay for me, although I really like Harmless. Riley’s world is dark and oppressive and poor and dirty, and although that scenery is painted well, it got a bit depressing for me when nothing really livened it up. And there’s the Earl, who’s completely full of himself and a huge bully, but nobody really protests much. On the other hand, there’s also Harmless, the mysterious stranger who always keeps his word, treats Riley like an adult, and deals swift and deadly vengeance to those who cross him.

Riley herself is a child who tends to break rules, and has enough klutziness to balance out any good luck she might have. Early on there were some hints that she might have extraordinary luck (in both directions), but if so that’s never really brought out. I would’ve liked to see more of the world and its differences, too.

Overall, I didn’t care enough for the world to get that enthusiastic about this, but I suppose that could change if there are sequels. And there’s no problems with the story, though it might be a tad violent for younger children. I rate this book Recommended.

Flight of the King (Animas #2)

Title: Flight of the King

Author: C. R. Grey

Series: Animas #2

Bailey is eager to get back to school, where Taleth, the last white tiger, awaits him. But Viviana is looking into the students now for the death of Joan Sucrette, and if anyone discovered Bailey’s Animas was tiger, Viviana would kill him. Even without that, Viviana has her own plans for the country. Bailey is determined to stop them, but he’ll need all the help he can get.

I adored the first book, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit let down by this one. The worldbuilding doesn’t expand much on what was presented in the first book, nor do the characters feel like they’ve really grown. Bailey does have some good moments, though, where he realizes his impulsiveness isn’t always the most helpful response. Gwen tries to have an important role but comes off feeling as though she’s just there (however, with some revelations that could make the next book very interesting).

I suppose it’s also a question of stakes. I clearly see what the stakes were in the first book, and how that directly impacted Bailey and his friends. I’m not really sure what was accomplished in this one. The aftermath of the Progress Fair will of course be ongoing, but immediately, the implications are fuzzy. Did Bailey really win anything? Or just escape with his life?

Either way, I’ll be hunting down the third book when it comes out, and hoping it wraps more up. This book doesn’t stand alone as everything assumes you’ve read the first one, so read them in order. I rate this book Recommended.

Escaping Peril (Wings of Fire #8)

Title: Escaping Peril

Author: Tui T. Sutherland

Series: Wings of Fire #8

Peril thought everything would get better once the war was over. At least, as far as she thought about anything. She would have Clay and they would be happy together. But other dragons are still afraid of her, and her beloved Clay is worried about what Queen Scarlet might be plotting. To Peril, the solution is easy (though a bit heart-wrenching): kill Queen Scarlet. But the crafty Queen is still dangerous, even to a dragon whose touch can kill.

And here I thought Winter was socially awkward. Peril takes that to a whole new level.

Peril has too much fire, which means anything that touches her tends to burst into flame. Other dragons have always avoided her because of it, and because Queen Scarlet used her as a weapon against them. So Peril has an interesting outlook on life as a result. She’s utterly fearless, never having met a dragon that could stand against her, and she tends to size up other dragons by how quickly she thinks she can kill them. She also has no filter, and says whatever she’s thinking regardless of how awkward that makes other dragons feel.

Which leads to some pretty funny conversations.

Placid Turtle has a role, too, though I think the decision to go with Peril’s point of view instead of his was a good one. So we get to see Turtle as she sees him. And it’s sad but funny that it only takes four days of Turtle not running away screaming for Peril to consider him a friend.

I liked what happened with Scarlet. She’s spent a long time lurking; it was both surprising and satisfying to see how it all works out.

Overall, this book hangs a lot on what happened in previous books, so read those first. This is a solid continuation of the series, and I have high hopes for the rest of them. I rate this book Recommended.

Spell Robbers (The Quantum League #1)

Title: Spell Robbers

Author: Matthew J. Kirby

Series: The Quantum League #1

Ben is dealing with being the new kid at school, again. His mom’s scattered life has dragged him all over. When an invitation comes to join a science club, he’s not sure he wants to participate—until he finds out that the “science” is actually doing things like creating fireballs and rainstorms. Dr. Hughes is a quantum physicist working to build machines that allow Ben and others to manipulate reality. But when an attack on her lab leaves Dr. Hughes kidnapped and her most dangerous machine in the hands of criminals, Ben is recruited by quite a different group to help get her back.

This is a fun, fast little story that merrily blends some high-level physics with effects that most of us will call magic. The plot wastes no time introducing Ben to the oddities that are about to take over his life, and after a briefly calm start, he’s thrown into the middle of a war of conflicting loyalties. Like any origin story, it lays the groundwork for what looks to be a lot of adventures to come.

I liked the double-crosses, and double-double-crosses. There’s so many switches and betrayals that sometimes the game ends up being more true than Ben would imagine. I like that it’s not as simple as Quantum League = Good, Dread Cloaks = Bad. And I like Ronin. In an odd way, the dishonest loner is almost the most honest of the lot.

The story starts a little TOO fast; the first scene is a bit of a mess. And the book as a whole could’ve used a bit more depth on Ben’s mom, or Peter, or exactly why Marshall is such bad news. Some of this might get cleared up in later books (and if Marshall is Richter I will laugh my head off).

All in all, I enjoyed the book, and will be on the lookout for a sequel. I rate this book Recommended.