Tag Archives: neutral

Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC)

Title: Shining Resonance Refrain

Systems: PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC

Yuma is a young man with the power of the strongest dragon, the Shining Dragon, living inside him. After being rescued from the Empire’s clutches by the knights of Astoria, they beg him to use his power to help them fight the Empire. Yuma isn’t eager to grasp a power he doesn’t fully control, but the Shining Dragon may be the only hope against the powerful Empire . . .

This is a mediocre game, which can still be fun but has a lot of lower-budget frustrations. If you know what to expect going in, that should help decide if it’s worth your time.

The voice acting is excellent (too good for some of the lines these poor actors had to say). Zest and Agnum were particular standouts for me, but pretty much everyone is done really well.

The gameplay is not too bad. The action battle system provides virtually no challenge if you’ve spent a bit of time investing in aspects (I didn’t even get the best magic-boosters and was able to use Agnum to basically solo the final boss in about a minute). There’s a lot of flexibility with setting up your characters to suit your playstyle, and the Grimoire makes obtaining materials much easier. Some drops are restricted by chapter, though, so it’s not possible to craft certain aspects early.

It is disappointing that the “true dragon form” is actually worse than the first form (and the game recognizes this enough to give you an aspect to change Yuma back to that first form, if you feel like wasting a slot). It wouldn’t be as awful if you could at least pick the elements to attack with, instead of cycling through all the elements with every breath. Dragon form is a fun gimmick at first, but it doesn’t take long for un-transformed Yuma to noticeably out-damage his dragon form.

The world map is frustrating. You can warp back to the main city, but there is no way to warp anywhere else, which means re-treading the first few areas of the map over and over and over and over. At least the enemies are on-map so they’re easy to avoid.

Also, I’m not big into framerate wars, but this game was absolutely terrible at managing a decent framerate when magic spells or flashy abilities are on screen. It was dropping to a point where everyone was running in slow motion. I avoided Excella because most of her gravity spells caused huge lag.

The story lacks any real standout moments. There were a few places where I was laughing at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny, like Excella declaring she’s totally for the people in the same speech where she’s willing to sacrifice the whole nation to keep her dying father alive. But there were also moments of genuine humor, and although some characters stuck closer to their tropes than others (Lestin), it was still fun to see the various character interactions.

I’m not a fan of the visual novel format, which looks ridiculous when the screen blacks out to show a slash mark as a substitute for actual fights. I’m also not really a fan of the whole dating aspect, although that part at least is entirely skippable.

You do get some control over the ending, which is nice. I picked Agnum, because he was my favorite character all game, and he had the most interesting hints about what he and Yuma would do after the game is over. I mean, exploring the uncharted areas of the world with a guy who is also an excellent cook (and also cheerful, encouraging, and generally a total best friend) sounds like the most fun to me.

Overall, this is a budget title and it shows. I found it enjoyable enough since I knew going in the kind of game I could expect, but I don’t know that I’d be interested in a replay (I set it down after beating the final boss, with no interest in postgame). It took me about 60 hours to beat the main content, which allows for quite a bit of grinding, so the actual story content could be beaten significantly faster (especially if you don’t max out every character’s affections like I did). I rate this game Neutral.

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The Shield of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #2)

Title: The Shield of Kuromori

Author; Jason Rohan

Series: The Shield of Kuromori

Kenny Blackwood only meant to save his new friend Kiyomi from an untimely death—but what he’s unleashed in her might be worse. With an oni’s lifeforce now powering her body, she’s starting to adopt oni mannerisms and habits. So he’s determined to find her a cure. No matter what it costs . . .

I didn’t like this one as much as the first. I did actually enjoy Kiyomi’s changing personality, as I felt that saving her in the prior book was a big cop out, and seeing that the action has ongoing consequences has made that more palatable. But Kenny is in the process of throwing everything away for the sake of “fixing” her, and it’s not hard to see that this is going to land him in a whole heap of trouble in the long term.

(Besides, she doesn’t seem to be losing her essential personality. It’s basically her with new eating habits and anger management issues. Which is to say not very different from before at all.)

The book is still packed with a variety of weird Japanese monsters. This time, though, there’s a particular gang of them in addition to the random surprises. And this gang is acting much more intelligently than the rest. I liked the mystery of what was actually going on with the telescopes. (And the humor involved in the whole setup.)

I was less fond of the new human characters. I loathed Stacey. Pushy girls that will pretend to be in danger to get a reaction just hit all my “please someone kill you quickly” responses. But she’s wriggled her way into Kenny’s life (mostly by blackmailing him) so I guess the story will be stuck with her in the future too.

Overall I was mostly annoyed as I read this book. Annoyed at Kenny for pretending to go along with people only to abandon them when they were counting on him. Super annoyed at Stacey. And I’m not sure I care about the series enough to finish it out, especially since that currently means tracking down a copy of the third book. Maybe if my library gets them I’ll reconsider. For now, I rate this book Neutral.

Rising of the Shield Hero #11 (Light Novel)

Title: Rising of the Shield Hero #11

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

Naofumi’s plans to rebuild Raphtalia’s village and raise an army to fight the waves is derailed when news comes in of the missing heroes. But their failure to win against the Spirit Tortoise has left them in a terrible state. As Naofumi finds unexpected allies, he’s also confronted with the fact that the waves and the Divine Beasts aren’t his only enemies.

The first few chapters of this are once again pointless harem crap, but it does get more interesting later in the book. I like seeing Naofumi realize he’s been neglecting his training, and that as important as it is to raise up strong allies, that won’t help if he’s unable to keep up with HIS strongest allies. Naofumi has been smart enough to realize that despite levels and stats there’s more to this than trusting game mechanics, so I look forward to him continuing to improve his actual combat ability.

The best part of the book, for me, was the fact that the other heroes are now so broken they’ve started unlocking their own curse series. Which leads Naofumi, for the first time, to start thinking really hard about what the curse series is and what it means. For instance, Naofumi has a well-known love of money, yet he only unlocked the Wrath curse series, not Greed. But Naofumi’s greed is a more normal greed, not the psychological break that triggered his initial Shield of Rage. And the theory that the Curse series might even be a hero suicide prevention mechanic is fascinating.

But Curse weapons are going to make recruiting the other three heroes—or even just trying to keep them safe to protect himself from stronger waves—rather more difficult. They were arrogant and stubborn before. Now they’re sinking into legitimate crazy.

Overall, this is sadly bogged down with a lot of pandering and Naofumi continuing to expand his slave enterprise, but the story does still have a stronger core. I rate this book Neutral.

The Steel of Raithskar (The Gandalara Cycle #1)

Title: The Steel of Raithskar

Author: Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron

Series: The Gandalara Cycle #1

Ricardo is a university professor nearing the end of his life. A terminal diagnosis has led him to take a cruise around Europe, but his planned vacation ends with the fiery impact of a meteor. But he wakes up, on another world, in another body. Another life. A second chance. But living means taking on the identity of Markasset, the former owner of that body, and Markasset had problems of his own . . .

I read this once years ago and never got around to finishing the series, so I thought I’d give it another go.

The characters can be pretty thin. Illia, Markasset’s girlfriend, is probably the worst drawn of the main cast. She’s beautiful and interested in Markasset, and that is the extent of her characterization. Zaddorn, the police chief that Ricardo inadvertently crosses, is better but still fairly straightforward: he wants to recover the stolen jewel and thinks Markasset either did it or has answers about what happened. Thanasset, Markasset’s father, has the most depth. He recognizes immediately that his son is not the same, although he’s also remarkably quick to come to terms with his son’s death.

The plot is a bit better. Ricardo tries to analyze the new world in which he finds himself, piecing together what clues he notices to try to figure out who he is supposed to be, and later on, what happened to the jewel that was stolen. He can’t even say with any certainty that the body he wears now DIDN’T do it. And I liked that although Zaddorn is an antagonist, Ricardo has a great deal of sympathy for the man, as he’s only trying to do his job.

I also liked Keeshah, the gigantic cat that Markasset had bonded. In this dry, desert world, the cats are used as mounts by those who have bonded them (everyone else goes on foot). It’s a little strange to me that a meat-eater would be the largest creature in the desert, but I do like the relationship between him and Keeshah. The cat, of course, knows that Ricardo is not Markasset. But Keeshah’s trust opens a number of opportunities for Ricardo, not the least of which is the ability to get from place to place much faster than anyone else.

Overall I’m ambivalent on the series so far. I’m not particularly fond of any of the characters except Keeshah, but the plot was decent, and the book is short enough that it’s not a slog. I rate this book Neutral.

 

The People’s Necromancer (Age of Magic #1)

Title: The People’s Necromancer

Author: Rex Jameson

Series: Age of Magic #1

Content warning: rape, incest, and violence against children

Ashton is grieving the loss of his best friend Clayton when the unthinkable happens: a hand pressing up from the dirt. Apparently his calls to Clayton to come back actually woke something up. Necromancy is only a vague legend, and Ashton has no idea why the dead respond to his call. But when tragedy strikes, his power offers the perfect opportunity to even the scales . . .

I could have done without the incest. I never liked Julian and his self-hatred doesn’t make his actions any more palatable (his sister’s even worse). Things like this are why I avoid Game of Thrones (and probably this is what prompted the comparison in the blurb.)

The other major weakness is that Ashton doesn’t actually have a method or a cost associated with his raising the dead. He can pull one person or hundreds with no effort. Speaking to them is fine, but he has no idea what in his words is actually working. Given that necromancy isn’t something just anyone can do, I would find it more believable if there was some kind of cost or ritual associated.

I did find the whole situation between Ashton and Clayton amusing. Ashton, having no idea why Clayton came back or what his now-dead friend might want with him, can only flee in terror. Which gets him into deeper trouble. And I like how this ties into the larger political situation between the two nobles, though I find their lack of willingness to be political with each other and cut a few deals a little puzzling.

Overall this was mostly entertaining, except for the incest. And it’s mostly due to that I’m not interested in pursuing this further. I rate this book Neutral.

Lioness Rampant (Song of the Lioness #4)

Title: Lioness Rampant

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Song of the Lioness #4

When Alanna seeks answers to the strange script on the letter she received from a dying woman, she had no idea it would point her towards a legendary treasure. The Dominion Jewel tempts her with the promise of fame and glory won by her own hand—something to prove her status as a knight. But trouble is brewing back home, and Roger’s long-laid plans are finally coming to fruition . . .

It occurs to me Alanna really fits her nickname of Lioness. She certainly behaves like a cat in heat. When last we left her, she had shifted her affections to George, but circumstances on his part and restless feet on hers pulled them apart. Now she’s met the Shang Dragon, Liam Ironarm, and pretty much immediately starts sleeping with him, even though it’s clear almost from the outset this relationship is going to be doomed. And once again, Saint George has no problems with the love of his heart sharing her bed with a different man.

Honestly, at this point George ought to find someone else. This kind of infidelity is a big red flag for a marriage (and it’s only due to the vagaries of fiction that when Alanna does finally get married—not here—she’s not cheating on her husband every time she gets bored or lonely, as she’s certainly not apologizing to George for replacing him in her affections).

I’m also still puzzled by Roger’s ultimate goals. If I’m understanding this correctly, he simply wants to tear everything down. There won’t be much of a kingdom left if he succeeds. Which makes me wonder why Alex goes along with it. The final conflict is certainly spectacular, but I can’t quiet the dissatisfaction of wondering what’s the point.

On the plus side, it’s nice to see Alanna in action again. She’s gathered a handful of new allies in her quest for the Jewel, and her traveling outside the boundaries of Tortall allows for some exploration of the wider world. I am particularly amused at her resolution to the fight with for the Dominion Jewel.

And her return to Tortall brings back characters like Raoul and Gareth, who have also grown up and taken on their own responsibilities in the years she was away. I like George’s dilemma about how far he’ll go to protect Jonathan when his code as a rogue conflicts. I like that Jonathan is stepping up to be king and struggling with the various kinds of messes his father left him.

The fight at the finale is one of the best in the series, with multiple layers and locations. And a crazy princess with an ax (even if she doesn’t last all that long against a trained opponent, I still find that probably funnier than it should be).

Overall, although I did enjoy the series well enough as a kid, as an adult it’s less easy for me to want to hand this to a kid due to the sheer amount of sex, even if all of it is offscreen. I wish the focus had stayed on the training and action and not on putting Alanna in bed with whoever caught her interest. I feel equally bad for Jonathan’s eventual wife, as he’s even worse than Alanna. He outright goes and picks up a girl to sleep with because he was mad that Alanna told him no, just to spite her. Now THAT’S a recipe for disaster when their marriage has the inevitable conflicts.

This is a stronger book than the previous, and does tie off some plot threads nicely, but in all honesty I’d almost prefer this to be a duology, as the third and fourth books introduce so many frustrating elements, and the payoff in the fourth is spoiled by the fact that Roger’s grand plans really don’t make much sense. I rate this book Neutral.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Song of the Lioness #3)

Title: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Song of the Lioness #3

Alanna had always planned to travel after becoming a knight and revealing her gender. Now that she’s killed Duke Roger those plans look twice as good. But life among the desert tribes to the south is not as simple as she had hoped. Traces of Duke Roger linger in the strangest places, and the proud tribesmen are no more comfortable with a woman warrior than the people back at the palace.

Once again I find the romantic issues my least favorite part of the book. Jonathon’s relationship with Alanna has finally come to a point where both parties are thinking hard about their future together—and reaching different conclusions (which should have been obvious years earlier). And Alanna’s quick to sleep around when things sour. I still find George incredibly unrealistic.

George is unrealistic from another angle, too. Why he thought leaving the city for a few months wouldn’t result in these kinds of problems is confusing. We’re talking about the underworld—a place often ruled by force and opportunity, as George knows as well as any of the rest.

The rest of the book is more interesting. Alanna has to take on new responsibilities, training youngsters to use their Gift, which does more to push her towards being an adult. The tribes get a lot of focus, magic finally gets some explanation, and there are hints of the larger game still in play.

I think the fact that Alanna has no clear goals beyond “stay away from the capital until everyone can get used to me” hurts the story. She’s mostly involved in small-scale events and sorting out her romantic life. If it wasn’t for the fact that this book has some important points for the next, I would probably skip it. I rate this book Neutral.