Tag Archives: intrigue

Solstice (Visual Novel)

Created by MoaCube

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In the far north, a city rests nestled safe in the perilous snow under a magically-created dome. It’s lauded as the Jewel of the North. But as the brash young doctor, Galen, and the mysterious young woman, Yani arrive on the last caravan to the city before the roads shut down for the winter, they find that all is not as it seems. For this is a city that keeps secrets, and those secrets may just spell the end of both the city and the lives of all its residents if Yani and Galen can’t get to the bottom of things before the winter solstice.

By the same creators as the visual novel Cinders, Solstice brings us a similar sort of visual novel. You’ve got a choose-your-own adventure sort of layout, with multiple story paths depending on the choices you make–definitely some replay value there. I haven’t managed to get all the endings myself, yet. The story is described as a “dystopian mystery thriller,” which is surprisingly accurate. You’re trying to uncover the dark secrets of the city and save it, while everyone is trying to keep secrets from you, with a limited amount of time before disaster strikes and everyone dies. It’s actually a quite well-written and interesting story, although definitely kind of dark. The characters are solid, varied, and interesting, including Galen and Yani–both of whom you get to play as at various points. I will caution that the themes and content of this game are a bit more mature, probably in the region of a T+, including murder, language, and some sexual content. As for the gameplay itself, it’s text-based–visual novel, so duh–with the written story overlaying illustration, and text-box choices that you click. The illustrations are quite detailed and attractive; a similar semi-realistic style to that used in Cinders, including small animations to make characters fidget and gesture and such. The music is also quite nice and suits the story well without being intrusive or excessively repetitive. Solstice is a visual novel that I would recommend and will likely replay at some point.

Note: I played this on Steam, and it can be found here. You can also find out more at the official MoaCube website here.

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The Grand Tour: of The Purloined Coronation Regalia

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia and Kate, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Following their weddings, cousins Kate and Cecy–along with their husbands Thomas and James and Thomas’s mother Lady Sylvia–embark on a grand tour of the Continent, a honeymoon to be remembered. Or, well, that’s what it was supposed to be. And it certainly is. Memorable, that is. Nearly from the start, the party find themselves confronted with strange happenings–mysterious visitors, falling ceilings, magical illness, secret messages, and strange magical rituals performed in ancient ruins, among others. Certain that something odd is going on, they begin investigating, because really, could these people ever leave something that intriguing alone?

The Grand Tour proved a solid follow-up for Wrede and Stevermer’s first volume, Sorcery & Cecelia, although with some marked differences. If I could compare the first volume to Howl’s Moving Castle, then The Grand Tour could better be compared to one of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody stories, just with magic. The dates are completely off, of course, as is the location, but the whole well-to-do British travelers in foreign parts getting involved in mysteries and intrigue involving some antiquity or the other? Definitely fits here. As for the writing, this volume is told more as journals or memoirs as opposed to letters, so the tone is a bit different–actually quite a bit, really. There’s a touch of dissonance at first, to be honest, like the authors are figuring out who their characters are all over again when seen in this different light. After that first bit, though, you get to see more of the characters’ individualities coming through, you get more facets to them than might have been seen if this were also told as correspondence. And the characters are, well, quite the characters. Without the decorum demanded by Regency-era society, they might be quite shocking, and even while attempting to exercise decorum, they push the bounds at times. But in a very enjoyable sort of way. On the whole, I quite enjoyed The Grand Tour and would recommend it to those who enjoy Regency-era stories, historical fantasy, and intrigue.

 

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Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia & Kate, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kate has been dragged to London along with her (much more lovely and socially graceful) sister Georgina to be presented to Society. Meanwhile, her cousin (and long-time partner in crime) Cecelia is left in the countryside, staving off complete boredom as best she can. The two quickly begin an exchange of letters, sharing gossip and commiserating with each other’s woes. But somehow the two of them soon find themselves dragged into some inexplicable, magical conspiracy, unsure who to trust or what exactly is happening. But these two cousins are nothing if not sharp-witted, and they quickly begin putting their heads together (through letters sent back and forth) to figure this thing out before either of them ends up in true trouble.

Sorcery & Cecelia is an absolutely charming story! I’ve greatly enjoyed Wrede’s stories before, so that’s not particularly surprising; however, I don’t particularly have a great taste for Regency-era stories, and this most certainly is that. But it just has so much to offer, in spite of that, or perhaps because of. The setting causes so much of the story to be couched in politely-barbed wit, and the effect is quite delightful–reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest, I’d say. And the addition of magic to the setting is perfect. Between that and Thomas’s character, there are bits that almost remind me as well of Howl’s Moving Castle (the book, not the movie). The entirety of the story is told in letters exchanged between Kate and Cecy. It’s actually quite brilliant; this book started out as a role-play sort of game between the authors, exchanging letters in character, and sort of just happened to develop into an actual book. Because they’re cool like that. In any case, it works amazingly well. The story starts off a little slow at first, but I found myself quickly falling in love with the cousins’ wit and humor, and as actual plot began really developing, I found myself utterly pulled in. Highly recommended, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

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Endless Summer (Visual Novel)

Pixelberry Studios

Status: Complete (3 books)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Along with a group of fellow college students, you find yourself on a plane heading for a Caribbean island paradise. Sounds just about perfect, right? Only, before you even land, things begin to go awry. There’s an extra person on the plane, and no one can figure out which of you isn’t supposed to be here. A freak storm nearly causes your plane to crash. And when you arrive on the island, instead of a bustling tourist resort, you find . . . nobody. Eerie in the extreme, but also kind of tempting since you’ve got a huge resort stocked with food and booze, nice rooms, beaches and pools, and a fun group to hang out with. Only, how long can you have fun before the strangeness of the situation begins to have larger repercussions? And will you be able to find the clues you need and make the choices you have to in order to survive?

Endless Summer is another choose-your-own-adventure style visual novel that’s playable through the Choices app. And the first thing I have to say is, quite simply, play it. It’s a lot of fun, it’s well thought out, and it’s engaging. The art style is unique and in many places quite beautiful–especially the island scenery, of which there is a lot. This story is largely character driven, and they manage to create characters who are interesting and fun to interact with. Of note, a lot of what goes on in this story is driven by your relationships with the other characters, and those relationships are impacted by your prior choices. So choose wisely. The initial plot lands you on this seemingly deserted island with a group of fellow students, but the plot quickly spirals in an ever-expanding whirlpool of mysteries, time travel, strange people, and evil plots that somehow manages to remain unified and coherent in spite of the strange paths it takes. I also feel the need to note that this story is absolutely rife with geeky and pop-culture references–not that you can’t play without a good knowledge of these, but stuff is definitely going to go over your head. Personally, I thought this aspect of the character development was absolutely marvelous. The sole reason I don’t rate this visual novel a 5 of 5–and this is significant–is that a lot of major choices and story paths require diamonds (i.e. real money, in most instances). It’s possible to play, enjoy, and complete the story without spending any real cash–I did it and had a blast doing so. But you should know going in that there are lots of major things you just aren’t going to be able to do, or you should go ahead and purchase a set limit of diamonds before going in, if you choose to spend anything . . . otherwise the spending is just going to get out of hand. But despite that, I would highly recommend Endless Summer to anyone looking for a fun choose-your-own-adventure story that’s a bit off the beaten path.

 

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Ghost in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah has made the difficult choice to work for Wona–the company he had believed responsible for his girlfriend Sue’s death as well as the deaths of several other individuals–in order to find those truly responsible and hopefully see justice done. But that choice has come with a cost as most of his friends in the Dream State now see him as having betrayed them . . . which he kind of deserves, actually. He’s trying to fight for the greater good and hope they come around eventually. Of course, working for Wona has its perks, too. Cushy living conditions and great pay IRL, position and privilege in-game–it’s not all bad. But things continue to get more complicated as players in the Dream State find themselves attacked by seemingly untraceable random attackers . . . especially when one of these Screamers, as they quickly become known, shows up wearing the face of Noah’s friend Chloe’s brother, one of several beta-testers who had previously disappeared. Now it’s up to Noah to bring together a functional team and figure out what’s going on and who is behind it all.

As with the first two Dream State books, I found Ghost in the Game to be a treat to read. Keene continues to impress with his world building, giving us a sweeping, imaginative view of the Dream State world in its many iterations. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that his way of presenting the world and the way the characters interact with it in-game are not only one of his greatest strengths as an author, but it’s also some of the best I’ve read, period. It manages to be immersive, easily understood, and captivating. I really enjoyed that in this volume we move away somewhat from the revenge theme, getting into more mystery, adventure, and relationship building/repair. There’s definitely some intriguing plot going on, which is fun to read, and it’s nice to get more interpersonal development in this volume as well, especially with where Back in the Game left us. I’m still not sure about Noah’s way of looking at the whole situation, but after three volumes, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that he and I just think really differently about stuff . . . and it’s actually kind of neat to have a character that is developed enough that I can draw that kind of conclusion about him. I also quite enjoyed getting to see more of the characters IRL in this volume; combining both in-game and IRL character interactions seems to add a lot to the character development and really flesh Noah’s group out as individuals. I should mention, we get left with a bit of a cliffie, or at least with lots of room for plot development in future volumes, which I am looking forward to. I would recommend Ghost in the Game, particularly for gamers, cyberpunk fans, and LitRPG fans in particular.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Back in the Game from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.

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Enquiries (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: StarlightInHerEyes22

AO3 ID: 4943506

Status: Complete (10 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Note: This is officially rated M, although I feel T+ is probably more accurate and the author’s just being paranoidly careful. There’s definitely some whump and blood, and yes some OC death, but nothing too crazy.

It all started when Gwaine and the other knights got the bright idea to go track down Merlin and find out his last name . . . since suspiciously no one seems to know. But when they find him in the marketplace of Camelot, Gwaine only just manages to warn Merlin in time for Merlin to avoid being stabbed by an assassin. And that’s not the only one to find him over the next few days. Not to mention, Merlin soon finds out that the twin Powysi crown prince and princess–officially at Camelot to sign a treaty with them–are actually there to “protect” Merlin. It seems that Gwaine and Merlin are the only ones who really know what’s going on, while the rest of the Round Table are clueless around them, but are these two friends even able to trust each other in light of recent revelations?

Enquiries was a very enjoyable Merlin fanfic for any number of reasons. For one thing, the writing itself is of excellent quality and is just plain fun to read. For another, the author did a great job of creating a unique, interesting plot and some complex, rich original characters–including Gwaine’s frenemy of a half-sister. Speaking of, we get some fascinating–and entirely plausible–backstory for the most secretive Sir Gwaine. Quite the can of worms to open there, I must say, but I thought that whole part was both well thought out and well executed. Plus, we get some great development on the Gwaine/Merlin friendship front, and that’s one of my favorite friendships in the whole Merlin fandom. It was nice to see a story focus so much on that, although it’s also weird to have so relatively little of Arthur in a story, if only because he figures so largely in most of Merlin’s stories. Still, both of Gwaine and Merlin and for other characters that don’t show up as much, I got the feeling that the author really understands the characters and the reasons the fandom loves them; these aspects of them are definitely highlighted. I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys a good whumpish bromance that also has some solid plot.

Note: You can find Enquiries on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/4943506/chapters/11347294#comments.

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Fullmetal Alchemist (2017 Movie)

Netflix/Warner Bros./Oxybot Inc./Square Enix

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric find their lives forever changed when their childhood attempt to use alchemy to resurrect their mother ends tragically, with Ed losing a leg and an arm and Al losing his body entirely–only Ed’s quick thinking and sacrifice binding Al’s soul to an old suit of armor in the house. Years later, Ed has become an Alchemist for the military in order to access their resources, and the brothers travel the country searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, the one thing they are convinced will help them get their bodies back. But stranger and larger forces are at work in the country, and the two find themselves treading into murky waters, thick with government intrigue, homonculi, and people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

First of all, thank you Netflix for making this available in the U.S.! Secondly, I have seen such a polarized array of reviews that I feel I need to write my own review in two sections–the first discussing who should and who shouldn’t watch this movie, and the second discussing what I personally enjoyed and my general impressions of the movie. You should know before going into this that Fullmetal Alchemist is a Japanese live-action movie based generally (not precisely) on the manga and anime series of the same title. It’s not exactly the same story, so don’t expect that; rather it is an adaptation of the story crafted to suit the live-action movie format, and I believe it does that very well. Also, it’s Japanese–Japanese actors, Japanese language, subs only. Moreover, the acting style and the humor shown here are very Japanese–tastefully done, but stylistically distinct, so if you don’t like that, pick something else to watch. But if you’re interested in a creative, well-cast, cinematically gorgeous adaptation of this beloved story, Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) may be worth your checking out.

For myself, I truly enjoyed this movie a great deal. I felt like the cast was chosen well and portrayed their roles excellently. The acting was very well done, keeping the darkness and tension of the story present, but balancing it with appropriate humor, friendship, and hope. Again, since this is an adaptation, certain characters don’t come up at all, and others don’t get as much attention and screen time as they might in a different format; however, I felt like the characters they chose to focus on and the way they wove their stories together told the story well and kept distractions from the main storylines to a minimum. With the plot itself, again, they adapted it, taking pieces from both Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while also doing some things unique to this particular movie, but I felt that the story they chose to tell was crafted well. Additionally, the ending point is conclusive enough for me to be okay leaving it there, but it leaves things open enough for the possibility of a sequel. . . . We can hope, right? Visually, this movie is absolutely stunning. The countryside where this was filmed is just gorgeous–a lot of it shot in Italy as well as some in Japan. The CGI is also incredible, like, seriously breathtaking. And the music is really beautiful as well, quite suited to the sweeping beauty of the country. My only minor complaints are that I would like a little more Al cuteness and open brotherly bromance (both of which are there, I just want more), and I could do with less fiery violence at the end (although that’s an important part of the big finish, so it’s kind of excused). But seriously, I was very impressed with the 2017 live-action version of Fullmetal Alchemist and would recommend it to anyone who likes Japanese live-action films and who isn’t going to nit-pickingly compare this to the anime, because if you’re that person, you won’t enjoy this. At all.

Written by Hiromu Arakawa/Directed by Fumihiko Sori/Produced by Yumihiko Yoshihara/Screenplay by Fumihiko Sori & Takeshi Miyamoto/Music by Reiji Kitasato/Starring Ryosuke Yamada, Atomu Mizuishi, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Ryuta Sato, Jun Kunimura, Fumiyo Kohinata, & Yasuko Matsuyuki

 

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