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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 Hollow (2018 Animated TV Series)

Slap Happy Cartoons with Netflix

Status: Complete (1 Season/10 Episodes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Three teenagers find themselves waking up together in a doorless room with no memory of who they are or what their lives were like before that moment. An old typewriter on the floor and names written on pieces of paper in their pockets are their only clues–Adam, Mira, Kai. Accepting that these are their own names and that playing along with whatever “game” or “puzzle” is afoot is their only way to escape, the three begin working together, putting their skills to work in the series of ever-stranger situations they find themselves in. And they’ve got some pretty crazy skills to put to work, too! Which makes them have to wonder, who on earth are they? Because normal people can’t do the things they can do, and they’re freaking themselves out.

The Hollow is a show that I actually watched on recommendation from some family members, and while it’s not exactly what I would normally watch, I did enjoy it. But I feel like I can’t properly review it without totally spoiling it, and it’s one of those shows that you do not want to go into with spoilers. The mystery and watching it unfold is a huge part of the enjoyment of this story. And yes, mystery there is aplenty. The what-on-earth-is-going-on factor is on a level that nearly surpasses that of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and that’s saying something.  It’s such a strange mix of genres and themes that I never really felt like I knew what was going on, right up until the end where everything’s explained. It did kind of feel like some of those kids’ stories where each character has specific skills that are suited to specific tasks and everyone fits just so; I didn’t care for that so much, it’s just not my thing, but it does make more sense once you get the explanations. The characters were good, not great, but good. Normal, if you can consider teenagers with superpowers to be normal. They’re relatable, which given the situation they’re in and how you’re supposed to be getting into that, is what you really want. The art is interesting; an animation style somewhere between an American cartoon and, say, A Cat in Paris, at least in terms of the character design. I think the character designs felt a bit inconsistent between characters, like the styles switched somewhere in between them, but it worked in this context. Overall, for those who enjoy having their head messed with and watching an inexplicable mystery unfold, I would recommend The Hollow.

Created by Vito Viscomi/Directed by Josh Mepham & Greg Sullivan/Starring Adrian Petriw, Ashleigh Ball, & Connor Parnall

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EXPIRED | Double Deal Alert: Super Nebula Author Showcase 2018 Humble Bundle & Humble Store Spring Sale

In honor of the upcoming 2018 Nebula Awards, Humble Bundle is offering a rather brilliant selection of fabulous (including numerous award-winning) titles in speculative fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. We’ve got previous Nebula winners, Hugo Award winners, Philip K. Dick Award winners, and World Fantasy Award winners. There are a few repeats from previous humble bundles, yes, but there are a lot more titles that I haven’t seen featured here before, including a couple of Jane Yolen novels I’ve been planning to get which, personally, make the bundle worth it in their own right. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.

In other news, Humble Store is having their big spring sale, which means lots of great games at deep discounts. Seriously, some of this stuff is up to 90% off right now. I found Hakuouki: Kyoto Winds for $8.99! Plus, there are some free games thrown in if you spend certain amounts. Again, if interested, check out the Humble Store at https://www.humblebundle.com/store.

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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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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Fan Favorite Graphic Novels Humble Bundle & Winter Sale

For anyone who’s interested, Humble Bundle currently has a graphic novel bundle that looks potentially interesting. I’m not really that familiar with any of the titles, but some of them look like they have potential. In any case, they’re supposedly “fan favorites,” for what that’s worth. If you’re interested, you can find out more at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/fan-favorite-graphic-novels.

Also, Humble Bundle is having their big Winter Sale in the Humble Store, so there are a lot of games on sale there that might be worth checking out.

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Humble MangaGamer and Friends Bundle

Just an FYI, for those of you who enjoy visual novels, Humble Bundle currently has a pretty nice bundle of them for a decent price ($10 for the entire thing). Looks like it’s got some variety–horror, tourism, looks like some slightly ecchi idol ones, and even one that looks like a nostalgic/romantic shoujo ai one. Honestly, I’m not at all familiar with most of these games, so I can’t vouch for how good they are, though some definitely look interesting. Probably the biggest selling point of this bundle is its inclusion of the first five Higurashi When They Cry sound novels–which, frankly, is enough to be worth buying this bundle in its own right. Because, let’s face it, those games are classic.

If you’re interested, you can find more information at https://www.humblebundle.com/games/mangagamer-and-friends-bundle.

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Love Nikki – Dress UP Queen (Mobile Game Review)

Publisher: Elex

Platform: Android

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Nikki gets dragged from her ordinary life in fashion design school and dropped–along with her cat Momo–in a strange place called Miraland. There, the enigmatic Queen Nanari tells her that she has a destiny that is tied to the fate of Miraland. Not that that actually tells Nikki much. But what an odd place she’s landed. It seems that fashion design is a huge thing here; conflicts are even resolved through design competitions! Looks like her design skills are going to be tested as she meets new people, learns more about the land and its people, and tries to figure out what on earth Nanari was talking about. Now if only Momo could find a satisfactory supply of grilled fish, they might be in business.

I generally don’t play mobile games much–like, ever. But Love Nikki is one that I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s basically a fashion design/styling game, but it has a lot more to offer than it looks like at first glance. You’ve got a main storyline in which you encounter other characters and advance along a storyline. It’s not too complex, but it’s cute, and the fashion competitions there are pretty challenging–but there are plenty of tips to help if needed. There are also two levels, if you need a bigger challenge. There are also a number of other arenas in which players can engage with each other, whether competing directly against each other or teaming up in associations to complete tasks together. Plus, the publishers are really good about keeping fresh events to keep some variety. You also have several options for getting outfits–as rewards for completing levels, by purchasing them in the store(s), by completing special events, or by crafting them yourself. There’s a wide variety of outfit pieces to choose from (like, seriously huge), and they’re attractively created. Overall, the whole game aesthetic is really cute/pretty–kind of an anime sort of style. There’s definitely some strong Japanese influence (I think maybe it’s originally Japanese and has just been translated, actually). But yeah, the gameplay is pretty fun, and the style is cute. Plus, it’s free (okay, you can pay for extra stuff, but it’s entirely possible to play completely free, so why on earth would you pay for it?!). I would definitely recommend Love Nikki for those interested in an above-average mobile game.

Note: You can find more information on the game, including lots of helpful tips at https://lovenikki.world/.

 

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