Tag Archives: adventure

Tales of Zestiria the X (Anime)

Title: Tales of Zestira the X
Episodes: 13-25

With the war on hold—for now—Sorey turns his attention to the larger issue: the Lord of Calamity. But issues from Roses’s past and Alisha’s present threaten to derail them. The second season picks up right where the first one leaves off, continuing the Shepherd’s journey.

I loved Tales of Zesteria the game, so the anime has been alternately really good and really frustrating. The frustrating part is that, by and large, Sorey has been mostly sidelined in what’s technically supposed to be his story. I’ve heard this referred to as the Rose and Alisha show, and that’s not far off. The second major criticism I have for the show is that its attempts to blend Berseria continue to feel out of place, and I think the story would’ve been stronger to ignore the Berseria bits, or just refer to them much more briefly.

That said, the anime also continues to expand on some things the game either explained poorly or not at all, and it changes some of the minor things that were rather frustrating about the game. Maltran’s whole subplot is gone, which works better—they either needed more time to expand the whole mess, or it needed to go, and the anime chose to cut it (which I like more, since I liked Maltran, and the game threw her under the bus). Similarly, Eizen’s fate is much happier in the anime. Dezel and Rose’s backstory gets more attention, and is told in a much more straightforward way (although Dezel still can’t avoid how it turned out). Alisha’s present struggles with her father and the kingdom also get more attention.

I really liked the way the anime adjusted the final boss battle (no more bullet mechanics!) to be a better transformation, and actually wish they could patch that back into the game. (Besides, Heldalf’s multi-phase fight really sucks. I had SUCH a bad time the first playthrough because I had mediocre equipment. Second playthrough, knowing what was coming and able to gear up better, was a lot better.)  The downside here is that Heldalf himself is really a nonthreatening villain in the anime. In the game, he toys with Sorey, whereas the anime just has him as the focal point of malevolence and therefore only dangerous because he exists and not so much for doing bad stuff.

I also really liked the epilogue, which is about half the last episode, and expands on a few things the game left really vague (I really like Mikleo’s future design . . . and the fact that he’s trolling random kids who are arguing about seraphs being awesome).

This is still probably best for people who have played Zesteria, and possibly Berseria, who can appreciate the various things the anime did to adjust the story. But it wouldn’t be a bad introduction to those curious about the game, either, since unlike the Tales of the Abyss anime this doesn’t feel nearly so much like a videogame.

Overall I still enjoyed this second half. The anime is at times a very different thing from the game that inspired it, so even if you disliked much of the game, this could still be worth a shot. If you’re going to get into the show, start at the beginning, so the whole journey makes a lot more sense. I rate this Recommended.

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Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4/Vita)

Title: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Systems: PS4/Vita

Series: Ys

Adol Christin is an adventurer, but he isn’t planning to embark on his next one quite so soon. When the ship he’s on sinks, he and the rest of the castaways must survive on a deserted island. Only this island has far more in store for them—Adol’s dreams connect him to a mysterious girl, Dana, whose story has great importance for their own . . .

I have never played a Ys game before this one, but this has little enough to do with its surrounding series that it wasn’t a problem. Adol’s adventure is pretty self-contained, with only minor references to what I presume are series staples or callbacks.

The game was excellent. I loved exploring every corner of the island, unlocking its secrets one by one. The gameplay is action-based, and fights generally go very quickly, so there isn’t much grinding required (even if you’re like me and have to horde healing items for longer dungeons, the fruit regrows pretty quickly, and the ingredients for potions are easy enough to gather).

I liked how there isn’t any money in this game–you’re on a deserted island, with only fellow castaways, so what use would it be? Instead there’s a trading system that allows you to trade up or down for various materials.

And I wish the journal was something all RPGs implemented. It keeps track of the expected basics, like a plot summary and the tutorial screens that you’ve seen so far, but it also keeps track of every fish, monster, and material, which makes figuring out how to craft anything a breeze. And the menus are cross-linked, so you can start with a material, pick a monster that drops it, and go right to the screen with details about that monster. It’s such a little convenience, but one missing from pretty much every other game I’ve played.

Because of features like this, you don’t actually need a guide to get 100%. Just keep an eye on the quests in the village after every major story event and things will take care of themselves.

The graphics are admittedly dated, showing the game’s Vita origins. Still, I like the bright, colorful world, and the tropical locations are beautiful. The setting is the ancient Mediterranean very thinly disguised (Greek is the name of the country? Really? I suppose they speak Greece there).

The characters are mostly good as well. I was never fond of Laxia, who has the unfortunate distinction of being humiliated for fanservice right at the beginning of the game. It’s things like this that make it really hard for me to get non-anime fans into these games. They see a dropping-the-towel scene like that and figure the game will be smut, especially since this comes barely an hour into the game. And it makes no sense for her to even have a towel at that point in the game, much less feel safe enough to take a bath, given that she’s just washed ashore from a shipwreck and the local wildlife is decidedly unfriendly.

However, others, like Sahad, Ricotta, and Dana, were much better. Hummel is just kind of there to be comic relief.

I should probably mention the localization is getting an update, though as of my playthrough I only saw the original. It would be nice to get a few of the place names updated to something with less awkwardness in English (the Archeozoic Big Hole is probably the worst offender), but I didn’t find it a game-ruining experience.

Overall, I am very glad I picked this up (would also like to get the soundtrack, and if there is an artbook I want it, because the monster designs are awesome). I beat it in 77 hours, but that was with a lot of exploration, the final boss, true ending, postgame dungeon, and various points early on trying to subvert the need for double jump to get some chests (hint: the characters have different jump distances, and this can also be altered somewhat with moves. So Sahad, if you can get him to do his 4-swing attack in the air, has a lot of horizontal distance, or Laxia has a charge attack that can move her forward). I only missed the platinum because I decided to play on Normal and not Nightmare. I rate this game Recommended.

Dragon Defender (Dragon Defense League #1)

Title: Dragon Defender

Author: J.A. Blackburn

Series: Dragon Defense League #1

Peter Clark is not really an adventurous sort—unless you count building robots. But when an uncle he didn’t know about shows up on his twelfth birthday, he learns his mother’s disappearance is connected to an unexpected legacy with dragons. Now he’s running around South America looking for a dragon egg . . .

This was pretty good, although it relied a little too heavily on circumstances being favorable for my tastes. Peter might be an approachable lead, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of skills to offer (the awesome car battery scene aside). He picks up two companions fairly quickly, though. I don’t care much for Xana, whose main contribution appears to be that she’s rich and has parents who don’t care if she runs around in a dangerous place unsupervised. Similarly, Mario is almost a bit too good when his introduction paints him as a kid who has had a very hard life and turned to crime to support himself.

Those are comparatively minor quibbles, though. The dragons are the main point of the book, and those are a lot of fun. I like that there are multiple types, with their own habitats, and in some cases ties to local folklore. And the particular dragon this book is tracking down isn’t exactly typical. Given what ends up happening, I am curious to see how Peter interacts with other dragons in the future.

As might be expected, the first book is in large part setting up a series to come. I am curious to see how the larger story unfolds. It would be nice if the bad guys aren’t so one-dimensional, but given everything else this book was doing there wasn’t a lot of room for that here. I rate this book Recommended.

Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara (Aster Wood #1)

Title: Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara

Author: J.B. Cantwell

Series: Aster Wood #1

Aster Wood is devastated about spending the summer with his grandmother in the middle of nowhere. But his boring isolation becomes far too interesting when he accidentally travels to another world. Now if he wants to get back, he’s got to track down an ancient group who once traveled between the worlds looking for the cure to a sickness that’s suspiciously similar to what’s happening on Earth . . .

This was excellent. Aster is an engaging protagonist—a kid who wants to be typical. But his heart defect means he’s unable to do anything really active, and it’s made him cautious about anything that looks more strenuous than a walk. Which his adventure definitely requires. And when he stumbles over a possible cure, it complicates his decision about finding his way back home. Thankfully, he does have the ability to be physically active after he gets cured (which in itself comes with some interesting wrinkles).

I liked the way multiple worlds show up, and how they’re handled. I liked the mystery of the links and how I’m still not certain Aster made the right choice with one of them. And the wolf is amazing and needs to show up in some future book.

Besides all that, the pace is snappy. Aster never stays in one place long enough to get bogged down. The plot lingers just long enough over his initial transport and shock to really ground him in the new world, but he hasn’t got anything like all the answers. Which is really funny when he determines to destroy a certain rock.

Overall this is a great adventure, and I look forward to seeing how the story develops. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Sword of the Stranger (Movie)

Title: Sword of the Stranger

Content warning: There’s a ton of blood, but not really any gore. Also a few brief scenes of someone under torture.

Kotaro is a young boy on the run. With only his faithful canine companion, Tobimaru, he struggles to avoid the soldiers after him. Then a chance encounter with a nameless samurai offers him hope of returning to a place of safety.

I watched this streaming, and liked it so much I immediately ordered a copy. This isn’t a particularly deep movie, but it’s a lot of fun. Kotaro is stubborn and a bit high and mighty, but he’s also frightened of the soldiers and loves his dog very deeply. Tobimaru alternates between being cute and rising up to defend his master however the situation requires (the scene of him riding in a sling was just adorable). And the nameless man is an excellent swordsman who struggles with the memories of the war he left behind. The journey changes all of them.

On the enemy side, we have the native Japanese who are suspicious (but supportive, for now) of a group of Chinese who are building some grand project. Of particular note is a blond-haired, blue-eyed man the Chinese brought with them, who hungers to fight a worthy opponent. (The comments about him being a barbarian and a demon are perhaps not intended to be jokes, but I found them very funny. No assumption of blond-haired, blue-eyed innocence here.)

Also the hostage situation is one of my favorite parts of the film.  I love when these kinds of things go sideways since so many stories play it straight.

Because the Funimation stream doesn’t offer the Japanese, I can only comment on the English dub, which was very good. Aside from one secondary character whose introductory lines were a weird monotone, everyone had top-notch voice acting. I was especially impressed with Kotaro and the nameless samurai. Kids in anime can sometimes sound a bit weird, but Aiden Drummond really nailed Kotaro. And Michael Adamthwaite did a great job breathing life into No-Name. I also really liked that the dub kept the Chinese portions intact (Funimation’s stream, at least, shows subtitles on these parts). Since the Japanese don’t understand what the Chinese are muttering to themselves, it’s nice to have the foreign language to reinforce that.

Overall this is perhaps a bit too eager to throw around lots of blood splatters, but is otherwise a movie I plan to show my friends. I rate this Recommended.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1)

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan. Unlike the stories, he’s not expecting a grand destiny or secret power to claim him. He knows where he is, who he is, and what his future is likely to hold. Then an aunt he never suspected he had shows up to claim him—and he encounters creatures of a darkness beyond this world who would destroy him . . .

This was fun on so many levels.

First, it’s incredibly self-aware of the various genre tropes that tend to crop up in books like these, and there are often little winks skewering concepts even while embracing some of them. Orphaned children discovering secret societies and great power—where have we heard that before? Right. But the fact that the story knows well enough where it’s going, and where others have gone, to poke fun at things lends an air of amusement to the whole thing. Even when it’s uncovering the fact that most of the secret world is really nasty and populated with extremely competent and deadly people who exist to stamp out the really nasty bits.

“Right,” Denizen said. “I thought this place was actually haunted or something.”
“Oh, not at all,” Darcie said brightly. “It’s just in constant danger of falling into the dark end of the universe.”
She frowned. “That’s not better, is it?”

Or bits like:

Three. Three near-death experiences. Was that a lot? How did they ever get anything done?

The horror and the humor work really well together. I can’t really read horror unless it’s screamingly funny, because something about the darkness sharpens the jokes. I loved the Tenebrae and the various bits of it that Denizen encounters. I loved the power and the Cost, and the deeper implications of it may be unstated for now but like Denizen is warned early on, there’s clearly a limit to what they can do.

“Rescue you,” Denizen said again in the same annoyed tone. “I’m here to save you from the Clockwork Three. Not”—he kicked some files out of the way—“that I’m expecting a thank-you or anything. With the kind of day I’ve been having, I expect you’ll try to kill me when I free you. Everyone else has. It won’t even be difficult. I’ve had about”—he half slid down another drift of folders, barely catching himself from pitching headlong into the circle—“ten minutes’ training since this whole debacle started.”


And the characters are so good. I liked Simon a lot, and how he proves so unexpectedly resourceful. I like his friendship with Denizen and how the two of them compliment each other. I loved Denizen’s caution, skepticism, sarcasm, and attachment to having things familiar and predictable. All of the Order that he meets is awesome in his or her own way.

It’s also well-written at a sentence level. The language is often playful, often beautiful. But the book isn’t so in love with turning a phrase that it doesn’t read swiftly. I chewed through it in one day but I think I’m going to read it again, to better appreciate the little details.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how Denizen’s last choices change things going forward, and what happens with certain other characters I liked quite a bit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Boy Who Knew Everything (Piper McCloud #2)

Title: The Boy Who Knew Everything

Author: Victoria Forester

Series: Piper McCloud #2

Conrad and Piper have escaped the school that held them prisoner and tried to force them to be normal. But life in the outside world can’t exactly go back to the way it used to be. Conrad has no family anymore—or none he can trust. So Piper offers hers, and for a little while, the two of them start building a home where they can use their extraordinary gifts. But an ugly mystery has been lurking, and Conrad and Piper have been destined to confront it . . .

I really enjoyed The Girl Who Could Fly, and it’s taken me far too long to actually sit down and read this. It’s equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. Conrad is far too smart to live a dull and ordinary life, but he’s also susceptible to the usual human ailments of loneliness and a hunger for love. Piper has plenty of heart, which makes her a perfect partner, but Conrad gets most of the narrative here.

And it’s so quotable. I have to skip the quotes that spoil too much, but I LOVED these:

Conrad stiffened and made no move to come closer. “Uh, Dad, you just tried to kill me, so I’m not really feeling this whole father-son thing at the moment.”

Another favorite:

“It takes talent to lose the President of the United States. Sorry, dude, can’t help you with that one.”

Conrad might be much better at head knowledge, but I love how he’s able to cut right through certain attempts at emotional manipulation and put the situation in plain language. He knows what has to be done, once he understands the situation. And in the end, he has a lot more courage than anyone except perhaps Piper expects of him.

The end leaves enough open that there’s a potential for another book, but it also wraps things up well enough that if it ended here I wouldn’t feel too sorry. (I suspect Conrad, though, is the only person capable of figuring out a way around the villain in question, and it would be interesting to see him succeed and actually kill that person.)

Overall this was a lot of fun. I’d recommend reading The Girl Who Could Fly first to get a proper background to some of the characters and the general situation, and then dive into this. I rate this book Highly Recommended.