Moon Rising by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I respect the hell out of a fantasy series that’s as much about the world as the individual characters. The first five books in Wings of Fire told its own complete story of the Sandwing Succession. Moon Rising represents the first in the next series of books starring new characters, though most of our old favorites make frequent appearances.
Instead of fleeing the tyranny of dragon queens and fighting for their lives, this new group of dragonets must survive the drama of the new Jade Mountain Academy, a school opened by our original heroes to help bring the formerly warring dragon tribes together.
Moon is a unique Nightwing who actually does possess the legendary mind-reading powers of her tribe. The story is less action-packed and much more introspective, with Moon as a young-adult mutant or inhuman (from Marvel comics) viewing her powers as an ostracizing curse, and her mentor may or may not be a legendary dragon supervillain from ages past.
As much as I enjoyed her character and her supporting cast, including exuberant Kinkajou (first introduced in the third book) and likable friend Qibli (from the fifth book), the plot moves agonizing slow due to all the internal dialogue. A murder mystery helps shake things up, though the final revelation isn’t terribly shocking, and the end serves as more of a springboard to the next series than a satisfying conclusion to the story.
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I’m a latecomer to the Dragon Quest series, having played through and enjoyed Dragon Quest 9 and 11, and bits of 7 and 8 via the semi-recent 3DS remasters. But I’m completely unfamiliar with Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (1992), from which the new feature-length animated film Dragon Quest Your Story is based on.
Turning a 40+ hour RPG into a 100 minute film is a daunting task, beginning with the well-known stigma of adapting any video game onto the big (or small) screen, yet Dragon Quest Your Story distills all the game’s major events and fun characters into a film that should please fans and newcomers alike.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t usually read nonfiction, preferring to escape into genre stories amidst all the news and feature articles I read on a daily basis, but Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is an absolute gem. Jason Schreier is one of the best gaming journalists in the business and provides an excellent compilation of ten feature-length, source-based articles, each focusing on a different game around the 2012-2015 era.
Video game development is incredibly complicated and challenging, with big-budget titles zooming into the tens of millions with hundreds of employees and years of labor, some of which is grueling overtime. Challenges include company mismanagement, corporate takeovers, and technology woes, all in the vein of triumphing over adversity.
Even as a freelance writer who covers much of the gaming industry and has interviewed many developers, the stories and quotes in here are sobering. Yet Schreier always maintains an aura of positivity and hopefulness about game development, including how initially mediocre games (like Diablo 3 and Destiny) can be vastly improved years later.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is easily accessible even for complete gaming neophytes, and highly recommend for anyone interested in the enriching stories of modern game development.
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Shovel Knight was one of the most popular and well-received indie games of the last several years, lovingly ripping off NES-era pixels and gameplay.
With fun abilities, excellent level designs, and a charming art style, I’m declaring Kunai the Shovel Knight of 2020, though Kunai shoulders the much more expansive (and oft-overused) genre of metroidvania, and not without some significant growing pains.
Cooperative dungeon crawling is one of my favorite digital past-times, and the same is true for tabletop gaming. In Petersen Games’ 8 Bit Attack, the pixelated dungeon has been distilled into a series of boss battles against aliens and demons, culminating in a gigantic showdown with Cthulhu himself.
The character and monster variety create lots of different situations, though the dice-chucking gameplay wears out its welcome long before it’s over.
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first book centered on a team of rogues called the Gentleman Bastards, while the sequel focused entirely on the deep friendship between Jean and Locke. With The Republic of Thieves, we’re finally introduced to Sabetha, Locke’s lover of whom we’d only heard about.
I was more than satisfied with how Sabetha was written, and especially the deliciously tense, passionate, witty scenes between the two veteran rogues. Their fraught relationship is by far the best parts of the book, though it’s a shame that Jean, a huge part of the last book, is a bit player here.
I was less enthused with the pacing and the overall plot, as Locke and Jean are hired to swing an election in the Magi-ruled town of Karthain. When it’s just a bunch of rogue-ish shenanigans it’s fantastic, but I dislike the god-like magic in this universe, and hated an 11th hour twist regarding Locke’s origins. It also takes an annoying amount of time fixing the poison predicament that we ended the last book on before this story can really get started.
Given the weird twist reveal and the tease of a former villain returning, I can’t say I’m excited that the series is leaning more heavily on its magic stuff rather than the vastly superior rogue elements.
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I put about 40 hours into Fallout 4 when it launched in 2015 before I fell off, leaving much of the massive world and story unexplored. I’ve kept it installed on my hard drive ever since, deluding myself that I would jump back in to finish it some day.
After playing The Outer Worlds, I promptly uninstalled Fallout 4. The Outer Worlds’ tight pacing, excellent writing, and fun gameplay have completely satiated my first-person RPG desires – and it does it all in under 40 hours.