Category Archives: Media Review

1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum (Visual Novel)

By Black Chicken Studios

My rating: 4 of 5

1930, New York City: Prohibition is in effect, and the Great Depression is making itself known across the country, but for wealthy heiress Scheherazade Keating (Sadie to her friends), other things are much more immediately important. Having just graduated valedictorian of her high school class, Sadie is ready to make her mark, embarking on a whirlwind college degree in archaeology that includes on-site work at a variety of digs around the world. Incidentally, she’s following in the footsteps of her parents, a pair of famous (now missing) archaeologists . . . . She’s also following a trail of clues that may (she hopes) lead to more information about what’s happened to her parents. And she’s not afraid to break a few rules of society if that’s what it takes.

How to describe Scheherazade . . . it’s honestly a pretty unique experience, although there are similarities to a lot of other stories and games in certain aspects. It definitely plays like a visual novel–nice backgrounds, music, character pics, text describing what’s happening, and choices for the player to make that influence how the story progresses. You could, I suppose, even compare it to an otome visual novel in some senses; there are certainly several romance paths that can be pursued, if desired. But it’s entirely possible to play with purely platonic relationships as well. I actually loved how much good friendships were a part of the story. Mechanically, the game is also almost a princess-maker sort of game in that you have to choose how to spend your time, different choices build different skills, and your skills influence how certain challenges resolve. There’s actually a good bit of challenge to the game mechanics if you really want to play to meet certain goals; however, there’s also an easy mode that basically lets you focus on the story. And Sadie’s story is pretty interesting in a pulp novel sort of way. She’s a very strong character, and an amusing one to read–even if her ridiculous wealth tends to make you forget how bad life is in the world at large for a lot of people. But then, she’s more ridiculous than even her wealth, getting caught up in chases, digging in the dirt, getting into arguments, and suchlike. And there are actually a lot of interactions with people of a variety of stations in life–lots of interesting relationships to build. On the whole, I really enjoyed playing Scheherazade and found it to be an interesting slice of an era as well as an exciting romp around the world and a fun exposition of a fascinating character.

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Incredibles 2 (2018 Movie)

Pixar Animation Studios

Sequel to The Incredibles

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Parr family have already lost their home to the attack of an evil villain, and following some bad press, the government program that has been supporting them is shutting down. What’s more, that bad press is leading to even more pushback from society against superheroes–as if their technically illegal status wasn’t already bad enough. Seriously, all this sweet family wants is to be normal and to be able to use their powers for good . . . but nothing seems to be going their way. So when Elastigirl (Helen Parr) gets a job offer to fight crime using her powers while also working to publicize her work and regain the trust of the people–and the legality of supers–it’s not exactly like she can refuse. Meanwhile, Bob is left at home with the kids, trying to help Dash with his homework, understand the complexities of Violet’s love life, and work out Jack-Jack’s newfound (and numerous) superpowers. But as they’ve found before, this family is at their strongest when they work together.

So as I’ve said before, I really love The Incredibles, and thus was pretty nervous about watching its sequel. But I have to say, Pixar actually did a pretty decent job with Incredibles 2 . . . nothing groundbreaking, but they stuck to what worked with the first movie and made it work again. It honestly feels almost more like a continuation of the first movie than like a sequel proper, considering that it literally starts at the exact point in time that the first movie ends. Yes, you’ve got a new plot–or at least a new bad guy–but the continued focus on the family dynamic is strong here. Like, the superhero thing is what makes the plot work, but the story is actually a lot more about the people, the way the Parrs work through stuff like homework and dating and which parent stays home with the kids just like normal families do. It manages to be heartwarming and funny and relatable, which is great. Like I said, nothing groundbreaking here–they follow the typical (safe) Pixar tropes and all that–but they’re tropes for a reason. They work. The animation is CG, fairly consistent with the first movie–gotta say, they had some fun with water effects, which were impressive. Ditto with the music, pretty consistent and typical of this sort of movie. So yeah, if you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly movie, Incredibles 2 is a solid, safe choice.

Walt Disney Pictures/Written and Directed by Brad Bird/Produced by John Walker & Nicole Paradis Grindle/Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, & Samuel L. Jackson/Music by Michael Giacchino

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Powerless (Danny Phantom Fanfic)

Author: PixieGirl13 

FanFiction ID: 4389824

Status: Complete (24 chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

Rated T, mostly for whump/violence and Vlad-typical manipulation and evil machinations

Danny’s finally got the house to himself for a week and a half of unsupervised, (hopefully) ghost free summer relaxation. Even Sam and Tucker are going to be out of town, and Danny plans to take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and take it easy for once. But nothing seems to go the plan for the teenage half-ghost superhero as he finds himself kidnapped by his (also half-ghost) archnemesis Vlad Masters and dragged halfway across the world to help save Tokyo (or at least Vlad’s evil drug-lord friend) from a golem that has been terrorizing the drug trade there. So much for a vacation!

Powerless was a brilliantly executed fanfic displaying, yes, the aspects I really want in a fanfic, but also a lot of what I would want even in a published short novel. It goes without saying that the writing itself was excellent, if in need of some minor editorial work in a few places. Very enjoyable to read, expressive, and engaging. The characterizations were remarkably well done. Getting into Danny’s head to write him in first person is never easy, but particularly so in such a tense, chess-like situation, and I feel like the author not only gave us a credible rendition of the character but also an insightful one. Not to mention, one that’s a lot of fun to read. And the interactions between Vlad and Danny throughout are spot on–not some over-indulgent father figure or some slashy nonsense, but rather the incomprehensibly confusing manipulation of a brilliant but self-centered and morally-lacking mastermind trying to mold/mess with a toy/protégé/pet. The insight into Vlad’s character and the ambiguous (is he evil? or does he actually care?) way in which he’s written is perfect, making the way Danny is manipulated by him entirely credible. Also major kudos to the author for writing engaging, complex OCs that are a delight to read; I’m not normally big on having OCs in my fanfic, but I’ll gladly make an exception for these ones. As for the actual story, it’s surprisingly, refreshingly plot-centric, with lots of interlinked pieces gradually falling into place. There’s a great balance of suspense and action, plus a good bit of whump. Also, the author’s dragging the characters out of Amity Park and into such exotic locales as Prague and Tokyo is a really nice touch that gives some much-needed variety and room to breathe and be creative. All in all, Powerless is a gripping, balanced story that I highly recommend.

 

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A Wise Use of Time (Text-Based Game)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Jim Dattilo

My rating: 3.5 of 5

You find yourself unexpectedly with the ability to stop time. Now, what will you do with your newfound ability? You could use it to save people in dangerous situations or you could profit from it. Or you could refuse to use this ability, uncertain as to what it all means and if it’s dangerous. And maybe it is; you certainly feel drained after using it much.

As with Choice of RobotsA Wise Use of Time is a purely text-based game that uses the same scripting language–so no pictures, no sound, just stuff to read and choices to make. And of course, stats and events that are affected by the choices you make. Personally, I enjoy this gameplay style, so that was fun for me; I’ll probably continue to seek out more games written in this script because I do enjoy it so much. The basic premise of A Wise Use of Time is also pretty interesting–not time travel or anything like that, but the ability to slow time so much that it appears stopped. That’s pretty cool. And you do get a good bit of customization at the beginning as far as who you want to be, your skills, your interests and such . . . but after the beginning, the choices are more limited. Or rather, you have a lot of choices, and they do affect people’s opinion of you and the outcomes of certain events, but for the most part, I feel like the general chain of events is pretty linear. Much more so that for Choice of Robots, in any case. That was kind of disappointing, especially with such a strong emphasis placed on 1) my job and 2) my roommate’s gambling problem. Not that those aren’t interesting issues to work through, but it would have been interesting to have a bit more branching of options. Still, this was an interesting game and one that I enjoyed. I should note that I played the Android version, but I’m pretty sure (based on what I’ve seen of their games in general) that the gameplay is identical regardless of platform.

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Next Gen (2018 Movie)

Netflix with Baozou Manhua, Alibaba Pictures, & Tangent Animation

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Ever since her father left when she was just a kid, Mai’s life has been a rage-filled, lonely mess. Her mom doesn’t really pay attention to her, the kids at school bully her, she doesn’t have any true friends. It’s only a matter of time until all that anger finds a target; for Mai it becomes the robots that dominate her mother’s attention and give the other kids at school the power to hurt her. And when she stumbles upon a robot that’s different–on that has true artificial intelligence and that wants to be her friend–she suddenly has the power to do something about all the rage and hurt that’s built up inside herself. But Mai isn’t the only one with an agenda, and perhaps nearly losing everything is enough to make her realize that lashing out isn’t the answer.

I have kind of mixed feelings about Next Gen. I mean, it’s a good movie. The CG animation is solid and visually catchy; technically, it’s well done. But I find myself incapable of not comparing it with Big Hero 6, and it keeps coming up short. There’s the whole robot friend thing for starters, and 7723 (the robot here) is enough like Baymax that I can’t help but make comparisons, and yet it is not nearly so cute or so prone to push the protagonist towards good choices. There’s actually a lot of violence here, and a lot of it is caused by Mai and 7723 . . . and it’s not all against obvious “bad guys” either. Mai also reminds me somewhat of Hiro–more than even just the angsty teenager vibe, there are just aspects of their personalities that are pretty similar. Only, Hiro is an example of someone like that who has good friends and family supporting him and helping him make good choices, while Mai is a clear picture of someone completely out of control with no one bothering to notice enough to help her or stop her. On a completely tangential note, I feel like the big overarching storyline (the bad guy trying to destroy humanity part) was 1) too over the top to be credible and 2) not sufficiently related to the basic story (Mai’s life and struggles), although they certainly do interact over the course of the story. So yeah, on the whole, while Next Gen is a solid enough movie, it just doesn’t strike me right, partly because I just don’t enjoy stories that are so fueled by rage and hurt. On the other hand, Bookriot presents a differing perspective on this movie in their excellent post (which I recommend reading), pointing out that this movie provides much-needed discussion for kids on appropriate versus inappropriate ways to handle anger, bullying, and the like. Which, yes, I can see their point. Thus the mixed feelings. I probably won’t watch Next Gen again myself, but I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it,” either.

Based on 7723 by Wang Nima/Written & Directed by Kevin R. Adams & Joe Ksander/Music by Samuel Jones & Alexis Marsh/Starring John Krasinski, Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Peña, David Cross, & Constance Wu

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Choice of Robots (Text-Based Game)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Kevin Gold

My rating: 5 of 5

You may just be in postgraduate studies right now, crafting the initial designs for your first real robot, but you know your creations are destined for greatness. One way or the other, you’re going to impact the world. But will you be a humanitarian, training your robots to work with people and crafting them to be useful in the medical field? Or will you create robots that are useful for the military, regardless of the consequences? Or hey, your robots are intelligent enough, will you just give them their freedom and let them decide for themselves what sorts of beings they should become?

Okay, so first off, I’m hesitant to call Choice of Robots either a video game or a visual novel–but I don’t really have a good word for what it is other than those. This is an entirely text-based computer game, devoid of pictures or background music entirely. Sounds kind of boring, right? It’s totally not. This is an indie choices matter sort of game that is just fabulous, truly. It’s smart, for one thing; the writer has a Ph.D. in computer science, and it shows. It’s very well thought out and organized. The game is like a visual novel in that you read a block of text and are offered a variety of choices you can make based on that text. Your choices are meaningful, and even small choices can have a big impact on what happens later in the game. Choices also influence your stats (empathy, grace, autonomy, and military appeal for your robot, plus your own wealth and fame) as well as your relationships with various other characters. I can see this game as having a great deal of replay value due to the huge number of story paths available; I’ve played through it three times already, and have only unlocked a few of the possibilities. If you’re willing to look past the surface simplicity of such a purely text-based game, I think Choice of Robots is an excellent game, and I will be trying other games by this group.

Note: I played Choice of Robots through Steam, and you can find out more at the Steam store page or on the game’s credits page.

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The Visiting Prince (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Emachinescat

FanFiction ID: 6965383/AO3 ID: 1263553

Status: Complete (17 chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Rated T, mostly for whump/violence

Prince Arthur remembers Prince Edmund of Stafford as a narcissistic, violent prat from their time spent together as children . . . but then, he was the same back then, right? It’s been years since they’ve seen each other, and surely Edmund has grown up and changed, just like Arthur has. As their kingdoms come together to sign a new peace treaty, Arthur finds this assumption challenged strongly when Merlin comes to Prince Edmund’s unwelcome attention. Because of course, Merlin can’t keep his mouth shut, and Prince Edmund was never one to let a challenge to his authority go easily. Or at all.

Emachinescat is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite authors–whether it’s fanfic or original fiction–and Merlin fanfic is one of the areas where her writing most shines. She’s got this great balance of bromance and whump that’s just a treat to read, and the characters and their relationships are just spot-on. That’s definitely the case in The Visiting Prince, although it’s actually not one of my favorite Merlin fanfics. In this story, we are presented with an OC baddie that we can truly love to hate; he’s really quite awful. As such, a lot of the story is focused on suspense and whump, with Merlin, Arthur, and the rest being backed into some pretty tight corners and not being able to do much about it. Because the threat is political and social rather than magical, we don’t get to see the BAMFery that shines in other Merlin stories. Also, due to the tight situations our heroes are stuck in, there is a limit to the bromance we get–mostly only the first couple chapters and then right at the end of the story. But what bromance we’re given is exactly in character and a lot of fun to read. So yes, The Visiting Prince isn’t my favorite of Emachinescat’s stories, but it’s a solid, well-written story that is definitely an enjoyable read.

NOTE: You can find The Visiting Prince on FFNet at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6965383/1/The-Visiting-Prince or on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/1263553/chapters/2607037.

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