Monday, May 2, 2016

3-Minute Stream of Thought

I decided to do a brief "Stream of Thought" exercise today. I set a time limit for 3 minutes and just wrote what came to mind during that time. This was the product:

The moon hung over the sea of trees. There was no sound coming from the forest this night and that bothered Alastair. The last few nights at the fortress had been very uneasy as the Knights of the Holy Arm could sense a dark presence from the forest. It began when Brother Foster went in to gather wood and a scream had pierced the morning. They found his mangled body among the gathered lumber. The wounds were strange. Gashes covered his body as if from the claws of a beast but there were also clean cuts from what appeared to be from a blade.

I was not able to get too much written (I am not the fastest typist) but what I did get down is intriguing enough that I wish to re-visit it later and make a proper short story from it. Look forward to seeing what happens to Alistair and the Knight of the Holy Arm at a future date. Who knows what is lurking in the forest?

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Ranger and the Smith

This was going to be the first issue of a comic I was making with a close friend of mine. Instead of writing it panel by panel like other comic writers tend to do, I wrote it in a short story format so I could do more with it. Although the comic fell through I still have this to show off. I present to you: The Ranger and the Smith.

The sun shone over the trees of Grünvelt Forest. A playful breeze flowed through the trees and rustled the long golden hair of the ranger. Ferrit smiled to himself as he walked the forest’s trail, and there was a bounce to his step. After a few minutes of walking the green wall of trees broke and a small village came into view. Alba. A small village that had been part of the great forest for longer than one could remember. The folk within were a quiet people who didn’t experience much in the world. The most excitement Alba would see were the rare wanderers and the traveling caravans that would frequent the forest road. Despite this though, the Albans were a fair folk and always quick with a smile. This wasn’t Ferrit’s first time in Alba, oh no, he actually comes here often because he loves the town folk and enjoys their company. On this day he came to visit an old friend and headed to the smith. Alba’s forge wasn’t big by any means but it was big enough for the smith and the town. The smith himself was not to be found in the forge this day. No, it was too bright and sunny a day to be spending indoors with the sweltering heat. The smith was outside under a great oak tree, with a small circle of children around him.
“And with a ear splitting roar, the dragon soared over the castle walls wreathed in flames,” the smith told the children, “To this day the kingdom of Sundagore flies the banners of a dragon.”
“Tell us another, Owan!” yell the children in delight.
“Haha!” bellows the smith, “ That I would, but it seems we have a visitor.”
The children looked to where Owan was pointing and saw the ranger. Immediately the children forgot all about another story and rushed over to Ferrit.
“Ferrit! Ferrit!”
“Do you have anything for me?”
“What new places have you seen?”
Ferrit tried to wade through the children to get to the smith.
“Children!” bellowed the large smith, “Go play! The sun is out and the day is beautiful, and I wish to talk to my woodsman friend.” With a loud collective sigh the children gave up and ran off laughing and giggling.
“What brings you back to Alba friend?” asks Owan
“I’ve come with a warning: Bandits are massing in the west. I think it’s of dire importance that you contact your elders and warn them. I don’t know what can be done but surely they could think of something.”
Owan looked worried but a smile broke across his face, “I appreciate the warning. We all do, but why would bandits come to such a small town like Alba? There are much better pickings elsewhere.”
“Owan. I really think Alba is in danger. You have to believe me.”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you, Ferrit, it’s the fact that bandits don’t come around these parts. We simply don’t have anything that they would have any interest in.”
“I see your point, but I also know this feeling I have in my gut. Something feels wrong. I ask again, please warn the council.”
“I will, my friend but I fear they will feel the same. I will do it for you.”
“That’s all I ask.” And with that Ferrit left his friend and the village of Alba.

Alba’s council hall sat in the middle of the town. It was the largest building in the village but still rather small compared to other towns. Owan stood in front of the council and repeated Ferrit’s warning to them.
“Though this news is troubling, Owan, we cannot see a reason that these bandits would bother with Alba. We have nothing to offer them and we are close enough to Renton that we are under their protection.” said Elder Maris. Of the four elders Maris was the oldest and the most wise. Though not leader in name he was respected in that way.
“I thought the same thing but I have never seen Ferrit  shaken like this. Something is wrong and he can feel it. Maybe we should do something.” replied the smith.
“And what would you suggest, Owan?” asked Elder Glenda, “Evacuate the village? That is complete nonsense.”
“We are not doubting the words of the ranger,” said Elder Len, “For he has been a great ally and friend these past years, but he doesn’t know the ways of bandits. They come for things that have value and, as Elder Maris stated, Renton has always provided protection to us and all the other outlying villages from such harm.”
“I know that but maybe these aren’t your everyday bandits. Maybe they are after more than just loot.” Owan replied.
“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” said Glenda haughtily and rolling her eyes. Glenda and Owan had never gotten along and she made it clear she was not fond of him.
“Glenda is right, Owan. It seems that you are grasping for excuses. We can’t clear the village with excuses alone.” Maris said.
Elder Martin, who had been silent the whole time, finally spoke up. “If bandits do come, the gods will protect us.”
“I hope you’re right,” Owan said as he turned to leave, “Gods help us if you are wrong.”
Outside the council hall Catherine, Owan’s wife, stood waiting for her husband.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“Went as well as I thought it would,” he said, putting his brawny arm around her, “They said that there is nothing to be done.”
“I hope Ferrit is wrong. Maybe they will just pass us over and look for something better.”
“I hope so. Come let us go back home. I am hungry and I just want this out of my mind. Maybe swinging the old hammer will set my mind at ease.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” said Catherine smiling, “I have some stew cooking at home and some fresh bread to go with it. Everything will be fine,”
Night fell over the small village of Alba, and Owan lay in bed tossing back and forth. The smell of smoke pervaded the room and Owan was awakened by a noise. Upon waking he realized that the sound that woke him was screaming. Not a playful scream, but the scream of pure fear and terror. He jolted out of bed and ran to the window. Outside he saw the neighboring building alive with flames. People were running back and forth from strangers in black. Black hoods hid their face, but he knew them: bandits. Ferrit was right. He woke Catherine up and she saw the chaos outside.
“Go to the council hall!” he said, “The other women and the children will be there.”
“No. I will go with you!”
“I will not allow it. If something were to happen to you I don’t... I don’t  know what I’d do. Go. Please,” he said pleading.
“All right,” she said, “I will wait for you. I love you.”
“And I you.”
They hugged and she left the house and ran to the safety of the council hall. The door to the forge burst open and Owan rushed to the weapons rack in the back of the forge. The weapons were covered in a light layer of dust. Alba had never needed them before. His hands found the leather grip of a one-handed axe. He swung it in the air and found it to be good. Of course it was good, he thought to himself, he made it. The dark figure of a bandit lurked into the doorway behind Owan, skulking closer with his sword drawn. The sinister grin in his dark face was erased as a black arrow found rest in the base of his skull. The man fell to the ground with a choked thud. Owan turned in readiness to see Ferrit standing at the door.
“I warned you.” he said quietly.
“I know. I went to the council like you asked but they would do nothing about it.” said Owan.
“It’s too late. We need to leave at once.”
“Leave? What do you mean leave?” Owan said, anger rising, “My village is under attack!”
“And what will you do, Owan? You’re a smith, not a warrior! Find your wife and return here quickly. We have to go!”
“Coward.” Owan muttered.
“What did you say?” Ferrit said, eyes narrowing.
“I said you’re a coward!” roared the smith, “I thought you were a friend of the village, a friend of mine, but I was wrong!”
Ferrit stood there silently as the large man pushed past him and out into the chaos.
“The fool.” Ferrit said to himself.
Outside, the surviving villagers were in a panic. Owan saw a woman being dragged by three men.
“That’s a good place to start.” He said grimly. The smith ran over to the three men who were preoccupied by the woman and didn’t notice till they heard his roar and one of them fell with an axe buried in his skull. The other two just looked at him. Owan took advantage of the moment and freed the axe just in time to swing it at one of the others. The second man fell, a gaping gash in his chest. The last came to his senses and pulled his sword from the worn scabbard at his side. It was too late and he fell gurgling to the ground, his throat cut. Owan stood there panting, the axe dropped to the ground, and he fell to his knees. He looked at his blood soaked hands. Tears started to form in his eyes.
“Ferrit was right. I don’t belong here. I’m no warrior.” A scream tore him from his moment. The scream was familiar. It was Beth, the miller’s wife. He looked around and saw bodies around him. Bodies he recognized. He pulled himself up and grabbed the axe from the ground and steeled himself. He’d be damned if he let these thugs ruin his home. With that, a roar was loosed from his lips and he ran to find the next target.
The light of morning found its light resting on the wreckage of what was Alba. Ferrit, the ranger, walked through the debris and bodies to find survivors. The only movement he saw were piles of ash blowing away in the wind and the rustling of clothes on the fallen. Why did I leave? he thought, I should’ve stayed and helped. I owed them that much.
He continued his sad walk through the town he almost called home when he came to the burnt wreckage of the council hall. The building was a shell of what it once was. Only walls stood, blackened by the fires. The roof had collapsed and was strewn across the bloodied ground. He walked through what once was the double wooden doors to find a bloody form kneeling in the middle of the debris. He walked over to the man and noticed not only was he alive but his broad shoulders were shaking.
“Why?” came the shaking voice, “Why us? Why here? Why her?”
When the ranger got closer he found the smith holding something in his arms. It was Catherine.
“Owan. I am sorry.” he said breathless.
“You should be.” the big man said, “You could’ve helped. You chose to run.”
“I know.” he replied softly, eyes lowering to the ground.
The smith’s shoulders stopped shaking then. He turned to the ranger.
“They will pay.” he said, anger in his voice. “They will pay dearly for this.”
“Yes my friend,” Ferrit said, resting his hand on the man’s shoulder, “Yes they will.”
“Can you track them?”
“A child in the dark could follow their trail.”
“We must bury them first. It’s only proper.” Owan said heavily.
“Then we must do it in haste. The more time we spend here, the more ground they can cover.” Ferrit replied.
The two men spent the better half of the afternoon gathering the bodies of Alba and digging small and shallow graves near the remains of Paran’s shrine.
“Their souls will need the Sky God’s guidance.” Owan told Ferrit grimly.
Ferrit looked around and saw that Catherine’s body was not among the buried. He noticed Owan moving away from the site with something in his arms. The ranger quietly followed his friend to the charred oak tree by the forge. From afar, Ferrit watched the smith slowly dig a hole by the tree. After he laid the shovel down, he carefully lifted his wife’s body and slowly lowered it in the grave. He then covered the grave with the earth. Ferrit watched as the big man whispered something to the grave, shoulders heaving in great sobs. He walked over to the smith and put his arm around his broad shoulders.
“You know what?” Owan said through his tears, “She was the only girl in the village who talked to me growing up. All the other girls were scared by my size, but she had an adventurous spirit to her. It was love at first sight.”
A tear formed in Ferrit’s eye as he heard his friend’s story. This is my fault, he thought to himself.
Wiping his tears away, Owan turned to Ferrit with fire in his eyes. “Let’s make those bastards pay.”
“I agree. Come my friend, before they gain more ground.”
Owan grabbed the axe from where it was resting and walked to his friend’s side. The sun shone through the iron grey clouds as the two men embarked on their trail of vengeance.
End of Part One

Fire Emblem Fate: Birthright Review

Fire Emblem has been a longstanding tradition in the realm of RNGs and RPGs. The first Fire Emblem came out in 1990 in Japan and until 2003 no Fire Emblem games had come westward. Any kind of western release was due to the popularity of Marth and Roy when they appeared in Super Smash Brothers. The first western release was Fire Emblem 7: The Blazing Sword, although it was just titled Fire Emblem, and introduced players to the rigors and challenges of the series. Fire Emblem Fates is the newest title to be released and was released with three different versions, Birthright, Conquest, and the downloadable Revelation.

The story of Fates revolve around the avatar character that the player creates named, Corrin. Corrin’s world is at war between two kingdoms, the Nohr and the Hoshido. Corrin is a member of the royal family of Hoshido but was kidnapped and raised by the Nohr when he was a small child. Depending on the version you play you choose to side with your birth family in Hoshido or with your adoptive family in Nohr. Revelation offers a third path where you choose neither side and forge your own path.

I chose to play Birthright first due to the Japanese setting and the characters you can recruit. Of the three versions, Birthright was intended to be an almost easier game to introduce newer players to the systems and formula of the series. Conquest, on the other hand, was intended to be more difficult and true to the previous titles in the Fire Emblem history. While easier than Conquest, I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t have its challenges. I found myself grinding often to make sure that I was up to snuff for each chapter of the main game.

If you are unfamiliar with the Fire Emblem games you may find that one of the mechanics that previous titles used is a “perma-death” for its characters. If one of your units die in a battle that unit stays dead for the remainder of the game. With Awakening released in 2012, they added a “Casual” difficulty setting that allowed for those units to return after the battle was done. In Fates they added another setting called “Phoenix mode” that allowed the fallen units to immediately come back within that battle. Another mechanic changed in Fates that was prevalent in previous games is that all items and weapons had a “life.” A bronze sword, for examples, would have 20 uses before it would break and you would need to replace it. In Fates, the only item that had health are healing items.

One of my favorite mechanics in Fire Emblem games is the class system. All characters have a base class that they fit into and can be changed or upgraded to another class using “seals.” These seals have a few different variations on what classes they can change the unit to. For example, the “Master Seal” can upgrade the unit from his/her base class to an even better class. The Knight unit can be “master sealed” to the heavily defensive General or to the mounted Great Knight. Fates added two new seals to the game called the “Heart seal” or the “Partner Seal.” These seals depend on the support roles in the game which I will talk about in a bit. These seals can change a unit to a class of a unit they have a high support with. Let’s say Corrin has an “S” rank with Rinkah, Corrin can then use a “Heart Seal” to change to the Oni Savage class which is unique to her. I have always been a huge fan and sucker for class systems in games and Fire Emblem Fates certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard with the variety and options for all the different classes.

Another unique mechanic in Fire Emblem games is the support system. All units can be paired together to achieve ranks in their relationships with other units. The relationships are ranked on a scale of “C” being the lowest and, depending on the genders of the characters, “A” or “S” being the highest.  While prevalent in other titles, it wasn’t until Awakening that the support system was important because, with achieving an “S” rank between a male and female character (although there are some small exceptions to this) they become married and introduce a child character that is exclusive to certain units. For instance, if Ryoma attains an “S” rank with a female character he is granted to the opportunity to recruit his son, Shiro. The supports add a fun side objective to the game and I would find myself spending a copious amount of time trying to get all the childbearing characters to “S” ranks to get their children as well as getting “A” ranks with other units just to read the dialogue between the two. One character, a monk names Azama, was one I tried to max ranks with as many characters as I could because his conversations were hilarious. Units also gain bonuses to stats when they are next to units they have high support ranks with.

One of my biggest gripes with Birthright was the lack of an engaging story. I felt that the story of Corrin and his two families could have been told in a better fashion than it had. You were constantly being shoved back and forth between the two families and not really being able to relate enough to either. Some of the story chapters felt out of place and almost seemed like they were just fillers while the story built itself up. Towards the middle of the game I finally felt that the story was going in a good place as well as a good pace but then I found that the last 3 chapters, once again, fell flat and the ending underwhelming.

Another complaint can be found with the cast of characters. Especially at the beginning I had a hard time liking most of the characters and praying with each chapter that I would get better ones that I actually liked. In the end I did find that I liked a lot more than I could actually use in the battles, but it felt like it took most of the game to get to that point.

Fire Emblem has long been one of my favorite series and always look forward to playing and replaying each one and Fates certainly satisfied me. With three different versions being available it adds more flexibility and options that you normally wouldn't be able to do unless you replayed the game. I give Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright a solid 8 out of 10.

-Great variety of classes to play with
-Support system adds a nice flavor to gameplay
-Various difficulty options for players of all kinds

-Lack of an engaging story

-Cast of characters were bland at first and took awhile to build a decent team

Yo-Kai Watch Review

Yo-Kai Watch
A Gaming Review by Ben Flygare

As a fan of many Japanese RPGs, culture, and monster collecting games, when I heard about Yo-Kai Watch and it’s popularity in Japan I was praying for years for a Western release. Well, in November 2015 my wish finally had come true and I was able to get my hands on this fabled game.
Yo-Kai Watch runs in the same vein as other monster collecting games such as the Pokemon series and others like that. What sets it apart is that the “Yo-kai” you meet throughout the game are based on actual Japanese myths, legends, monsters, and spirits that are prevalent in the culture’s spiritual history. Obviously some do not follow this rule but for the most part as you collect you can learn a little bit more of Japan’s myths.

The story follows two main characters depending on the gender you choose. Nate is a young elementary school boy and Katie is his female counterpart. While collecting insects for their school assignment during the summer, the main character is outdone by their classmates and friends who are collecting bigger, better, and more insects. Not to be left by the wayside, the character searches the forest by the local temple for the best insects. While exploring the forest he meets Whisper, the first of many Yo-Kai he will befriend. With the help of Whisper and the other Yo-Kai, Nate and Katie help people throughout the city with problems associated with (and more often caused by) Yo-Kai.

There were many things about the game that I loved and enjoyed. The first and foremost is the soundtrack. The songs are very light hearted, catchy and have an almost “mystical” sound to them and I would often find myself humming and whistling along to the tunes. Another plus is what I had mentioned earlier and that being the roster of Yo-Kai that are available. I knew from the beginning that I would be building a team based on samurai and banchous because of my fascination with them. The designs are not only based on tradition but some of them were so silly that it just made the game fun (I’m looking at you Cheeksqueak). The dialogue of the game was another highlight and made the actual story fun and made me eager to keep going. The banter between the main character and Whisper was always delightful and, more often than not, quite unexpected with where it went.

The battle system was the hardest for me to get used to. Being a fan of Pokemon and other RPGs of that like, I was expecting the battle to run similar. What you get instead is almost a “coach” kind of role instead of a “controller.” Instead of picking what your Yo-Kai do in battle they do it themselves and you remain behind the scenes making sure you keep up with their health with items and doing special moves called, “Soultimate” moves. You can, however, do things that pull the battle into a way you want. Your Yo-Kai have a few different things they do that include attacking, defending, lazing around, healing and what is called “inspiriting” that is a debuff that they inflict on the enemy Yo-Kai to prevent them from attacking. Another option on the battle chart is “Purify” which gets rid of the “Inspirit” debuff.  You can change your Yo-Kai’s personality and attitude to make them more prone to a certain pattern such as changing their personality to “Grouchy” or “Rough” will make them more prone to attack more than another.

Yo-Kai watch has been a very enjoyable and fun ride that I would recommend to anyone who wants a game that will be light and fun throughout.

Ben Score: 9/10