Monthly Archives: February 2017

Tales of Berseria (PS4/Steam)

Title: Tales of Berseria

Platforms: PS4, Steam

Demons roam the land, spreading terror and death in their wake. Even Velvet Crowe, who lives in the small village of Aball, has lost family to their attacks. But her brother-in-law Arthur is an exorcist, and he’s protected them . . . until the Scarlet Night when everything she thought she knew is torn apart. Now Velvet herself is a demon, out for revenge against Arthur, the man who stole everything she had left.

This is a much more solid Tales entry than the last several. It’s connected to Zestiria, but as a distant prequel, so no knowledge of Zestiria is necessary to enjoy this game (although certain nods are often given). However, playing both games does help expand the world.

The plot stays compelling throughout. Tales games have a tendency to lose focus along the way, surviving more on the character interactions than the main plot, but this one stays strong. And the cast is generally very good too. I was fairly sure going in that Eizen would be a favorite, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed everything he’s in—he’s even more fun to play than Velvet against trash mobs, where he can go into full shadow-dragon fury. And his dour outlook, Reaper’s Curse (basically Murphy hates him), and nerdy interests kept him fun from a story perspective too. Pretty much every favorite skit I have involves Eizen in some major way. (See the skit Two Headed Coin for a great example).

Gameplay was generally solid, but the new Souls system led to a rather unbalanced feel overall for me. This is the only Tales game I played the majority on Hard from the beginning (moving up to Chaos by the final dungeon) because the enemies died too fast otherwise. On the other hand, especially with bosses, getting stunned/statused down to one soul means a really not-fun time trying to get it back when you can only do one attack at a time. I liked the equipment mastering system, but overall I preferred Zestiria’s system. I got the 30 hour menu achievement NORMALLY playing through this game because I was micromanaging my equipment so much. At least with Zestiria it was possible to both create a build, and feel no need to upgrade it until you had a better one in mind.

The game also contains a number of minigames (the card one is especially fun), a decent number of in-game costumes, some optional areas, and the usual postgame dungeon. So there’s a lot of content, and what isn’t fun is usually skippable.

The New Game+ option unfortunately doesn’t let you carry forward some of the more useful items, like the geoboard, which doesn’t come in until late in the story, or any of your equipment (although you can choose to carry forward mastered skills). But you can carry over various gameplay features, and the usual bonuses to grade/exp/gald.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I beat the main story in about 112 hours, but mostly because I’m slow, I micromanage equipment, I let the card game distract me for way too long, and I had to keep redoing sections of the final dungeon. It does make me sad that Zestiria couldn’t get the same attention to detail as this game. Despite being set in the same world, Berseria got the depth it feels like Zestiria failed to reach—little things like how Eizen will talk about Edna here, but Edna basically never mentioned Eizen in Zestiria. On a personal level I think I enjoyed Zestiria more, because I like happy-go-lucky stories better than the grimness of a revenge-focused narrative, but objectively Berseria does a lot of things better. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

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Beast Master’s Ark (Beast Master)

Title: Beast Master’s Ark

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

Series: Beast Master

Storm has better things to do than cater to the egos of the scientists on the Ark. Some unknown thing is stripping living things down to the bone overnight, and if it isn’t stopped soon, the humans and the natives of Arzor might end up warring each other. Tani, a scientist, dislikes the Beast Masters because she thinks they kill their teams. But her help is vital if they hope to stop disaster.

A number of things broke the story, for me. Punctuation was one of my more minor quibbles, but cropped up often enough to be aggravating. Characters would ask each other questions, that are clearly questions, and not use question marks. Some of the dialog felt stilted. The story awkwardly sets up Storm and Tani for a couple well before either of them want anything to do with the other, with even the animals asking if they’re going to mate right after she arrives.

And I found Tani extremely unlikable. She’s supposed to be 19 but her behavior is really childish. Giving her a tragic backstory is almost an excuse not to think. She’s lived through a war: she ought to understand, at the very least, there are two sides, and sometimes choosing not to fight means getting run over. (I have no problem with extreme pacifists who are willing to stake their own lives on that philosophy. It starts becoming a problem when they want to stake everyone else’s lives on it too.) This is a big problem with the potential romance angle, because now I’m actively rooting against them getting together.

For something so intrinsic to her character and her upbringing, she changes her mind remarkably easily. The character just never felt right to me. The tragedy felt rather tacked on since once the decision is made that’s it.

Other than that, this is a decent enough read. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated Tani, which spoiled everything. I rate this book Neutral.

The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon #1)

Title: The Shadow of Black Wings

Author: James Calbraith

Series: The Year of the Dragon #1

Bran is a young dragon rider eager to graduate from the Academy and go on with the rest of his life—even if he’s not too sure what he wants to do. A journey taken with his father on a ship bound for places he’s never heard of sounds like a good start. But destiny has some marked him for something else . . .

The land of Yamato is more isolated than the Qin behind their barrier. An island unreachable by most sailors, it nonetheless contains a civilization to rival the rest of the world. But strange divinations foretell great changes. A shrine maiden and her best friend, a female samurai, are more involved than they suspect in the turmoil to come.

I really liked this, but the book suffers greatly from a lack of cohesion. The worldbuilding is excellent, picturing an alternate-history where Bran, who is from either Scotland or Wales (I never looked up what the new names referred to), finds himself on a sea voyage that takes him all the way to China and Japan. Along the way we see various kinds of dragons and magic, and the ways different cultures approach them both. The majority of the beginning and middle is devoted to this, with the greater plot only picking up at the end.

The biggest flaw is that the narrative doesn’t flow well at all. The initial scenes put a great deal of emphasis on Bran’s time at school and the bully that torments him. Both of these things drop out of the story after he graduates (hopefully they’ll surface in a future book so the time spent developing them wasn’t wasted). Then the sea voyage is less of a journey and more of a series of vignettes about various places Bran sees along the way (and the frequent switches from Bran’s point of view to his father’s don’t help much). Then we switch to Yamato and spend a good amount of time setting things up there before the story ever circles back around and connects the two threads. And the story cuts off in the middle of rising action, with nothing resembling a climax, even a minor one.

The ending may be less of a problem if you read the bundle, since I presume the second book will pick up immediately after this one left off. But whether or not you enjoy the book is probably going to come down to how much you like exploring the world, as the rest of the story feels like it needed another draft. I would have preferred alternating chapters between Bran and the girls, as it would have allowed the moment their stories merge to come much closer to the event that caused it.

Overall, I suspect I’ll keep going with this, because I do like it, but you’re probably better off getting the first book while it’s free and sampling it that way. I rate this book Neutral.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Title: Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Author: Richard Parks

Series: Yamada Monogatari (technically there are more about the same character but I was unable to track down what order they are supposed to go)

Yamada no Goji is a minor nobleman with a keen mind and a tolerable blade, but he has little influence at court. So when the conspiracies of the nobility reach out to ensnare him again, he’s reluctant to get involved. But for the sake of an old friend, he agrees—and finds himself confronted by a silent killer who is leaving dead bodies around the city. If he can’t solve the mystery fast enough, he’s bound to lose more of the few people dear to him.

I’m reading these incredibly out of order, I suppose, but it didn’t make much difference as far as I could tell. The story is good about introducing characters, places, customs and so on as needed, without assuming too much knowledge beforehand. I liked the historical Japanese setting, and how naturally the supernatural intersects everyone’s lives. Yamada is smart but not impossible to follow, and the layers of mystery generally work well.

I wasn’t as fond of the alcoholism, or the way the story breaks between its first segment and everything that comes after (largely because Yamada spends four months drinking his life away). It’s a little harder to sympathize with his poverty when he’s wasting multiple opportunities to stay farther out of it.

All in all, though, it worked far more than it didn’t, and I would be interested to read more in this series. This story is fairly self-contained, so it doesn’t hurt to read out of order or as a standalone. I rate this book Recommended.

Elizabeth’s Legacy (Royal Institute of Magic #1)

Title: Elizabeth’s Legacy

Author: Victor Kloss

Series: Royal Institute of Magic #1

Ben Greenwood was devastated the day his parents vanished. With his house wrecked, and no clues to where they’d gone, he has nothing but his own stubbornness and a fragment of shimmering cloth leading him to believe they haven’t just abandoned him. But when an unexpected legacy leads to a place he never suspected existed, he realizes his parents were involved in far more than he knew . . .

If there’s one major complaint I have about this, it’s that the prologue is too good to then drop Michael for the rest of the book. I had expected alternating chapters exploring what Michael saw in the past with what Ben was discovering in the present, but it appears the prologue is there mostly to provide that long letter of introduction to the Royal Institute of Magic (and so Michael’s name will be vaguely familiar the next time you encounter him as a historical footnote).

That aside, this was a lot of fun. I liked how overweight and unmagical Charlie wasn’t ignored or belittled, but has his own critical part to play at several points. And I especially appreciated that the end wasn’t looking to write him out of Ben’s life. Similarly, I liked Ben. His parents clearly have something weird going on, which they tried to keep him out of, but he’s mostly normal, although he’s got more of a gift of magic. He’s desperate to find his parents and clear their names, but he can’t do it alone.

The worldbuilding was also interesting. Various races and types of magic show up, although they do tend towards certain class stereotypes for the most part (with the hotel being an amusing exception). Then again, Ben doesn’t really get the chance to know any of them for longer than a few moments, so that could easily change.

All in all, this is a solid start to a series, with the hook at the end indicating what direction future books will take. I still wish Michael’s story got a chance to fully come out, but maybe he’ll get additional scenes in the future. I rate this book Recommended.

In Arcadia (Touchstone #5)

Title: In Arcadia

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #5

Laura never second-guessed her decision to walk through the gate to Munia to live with her daughter. But now that she’s on the other side, living in another world is settling into a directionless, mundane existence. Then comes the complication of possible romance. Having been divorced, Laura isn’t sure she wants to go through a relationship again.

I was expecting something closer to the Gratuitous Epilogue than the first three Touchstone books, but this isn’t even much like that. Although the idea of a story focusing on Cassandra’s mother was interesting, I thought the execution fell rather flat in several places.

I liked being able to see the impact Cassandra’s disappearance had on everyone at home, and what happened to the family as a result. Even though this was more of a summary backstory, it still filled in some holes and helped to explain why everyone who came with had decided that way. I liked the general story about Laura and her wanting to be close to her daughter but not be some kind of helicopter mom, understanding her daughter now has a family and a life.

The problem is I never really bought the romance, and unlike the other books, where there’s plenty going on outside that, here the romance is basically the story. I don’t mind the story being sex-positive, but I still find it bizarre Laura has no inkling this man even likes her, then a week later decides to sleep with him as the FIRST step in a relationship. And then half the reason she decides to continue it seems to be nothing more than “we had really good sex.” It would’ve made a lot more sense to me to have them start building the relationship on some common foundations before getting to that point. As it is, she’s known the man for mere hours before offering him that much intimacy.

It would have been nice to see more of her struggle with being a divorced person in a new relationship (and frankly, his struggle with the same; Tsur Selkie’s backstory is interesting, but he’s a rather flat character compared to Kaoren).

At least the twist at the very end leaves me hopeful some future book might explore the impact of that. But even if it does, it’s unlikely this one will need to be read to augment the story. I rate this book Neutral.

A Legend of Starfire (A Sliver of Stardust #2)

Title: A Legend of Starfire

Author: Marissa Burt

Series: A Sliver of Stardust #2

Wren still has nightmares about the land of Nod, the evil Boggin she so narrowly stopped, and the horrors at the gate between worlds. Unfortunately, it looks like her contributions to the peace aren’t over yet. When some work on the gate goes wrong, she ends up on another adventure, one that will determine the fate of both worlds.

I wasn’t as engaged by this one as the first book. Wren’s still struggling with the aftermath of her actions in the previous book, which was nice. But the plot tries really hard to introduce a lot of content, particularly in the latter half, and it feels like a lot just got skimmed. Take the mechanical animal hybrids. There’s certain twist, but there’s almost no time in the story to actually dig into that or what happens as a result. So it ends up feeling really rushed. Or Wren suddenly having a crush on a certain guy, which seems to consist of finding him cute but not much else, and no time at all to act on that. Not that I mind as much on that, since one thing that aggravates me is breakneck pace adventures slowing down for a lot of romance. But I do mention it because it was another area that felt underdeveloped.

That said, I did like the end. The Ashes and the Crooked Man were interesting, particularly with the conflicting information Wren has about them. Jack, particularly, was a star of the book for me. He’s not at all who he was in the first book, but he’s not entirely free of his old self either. I wish we’d had more of a chance to see how he’s changed and how he hasn’t, and walk with him through the major decisions he makes and the way they impact him.

Overall, this is still a good cap to the duology, although not one I liked as much as the predecessor. If you have more of a liking for dystopias some of what goes on probably won’t sit as badly. I rate this book Recommended.