A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Magical Mystery Tour with Ni No Kuni

Level 5's Ni No Kuni was one of those no-brainers when considering whether to buy it or not. A game that is equipped with Studio Ghibli animations, japanese vocals and a jrpg system sums up as a definite yes in my books. I bought it at some point when it was on sale in PS Network and left it to simmer until I finished some other games I wanted to play first. I started it after I finished with the Tales series, as I often like to have at least one jrpg that I play regularly. (Currently, I actually have four*, but who's counting?) I haven't quite finished the story yet, but I'm nearing the final boss every hour.

The story of Ni No Kuni takes part in two worlds - a "real" world and a magical one.  Our "real" world is represented by a town called Motorville, where our main character Oliver lives and from where he sets on his journey across Ni no kuni (the second world); a land of magic, fairies and wonders. The story progresses relatively straight forwardly  through the towns, deserts and snowy plains of Ni no kuni, and every once in a while Oliver is required to return to Motorville, in order to solve a problem in Ni no kuni. This is because the worlds are linked so that each person living in the first world has a soul mate in the other - and problems affecting the one person will have an effect also on the other.

After a while you gain control of a ship, which allows you to travel across the seas of Ni no kuni, giving you some opportunities to explore the map - and a little further from this, you befriend a dragon, which allows even more movement across the word. Also, the general running around is slightly lessened by a Travel spell, which you gain at some point, which allows you to teleport into any place you've visited earlier. I felt that most of these came available relatively early on in the game. Maybe I'm accustomed to first playing the game by running through the tube and then getting the chance to explore in post-game or in time-before-the-final-boss. It is nice to be able to balance the game between the main quest and the numerous side quests with all the travel options you have. It should also be mentioned, that in some cases it is not possible to advance the main story if you don't use the dragon, for instance, to get to the place you need to go next - so it is not always possible for you to just run forward.

You get altogether three members to your party. Oliver is joined on his quest by Esther and Swaine, who both have the same ability as Oliver to control familiars to use in battle. Each character can use either their own abilities or the abilities of three different familiars in battle - so basically you have the option of fighting with twelve different characters. In reality you only control one character and his familiars and the others are on autopilot. There's also Drippy, your friendly neighbourhood Lord High Lord of the Fairies, who helps a little during battles, too, every now and again.

Your familiars and characters both gain xp and levels at the same pace, although only those three familiars you've picked for your characters gain the xp. There are many more available, of course. The familiars and characters can both also be equipped with different sort of things to enchance their stats and/or abilities and it depends on the character or familiar what sort of things it is possible to equip for them. Moreover, you can feed your familiars candy to raise their stats.

The battles are in real time, meaning that once you've chosen who you're controlling, all of the friendly and enemy actions happen according to who is the fastest to declare them. Some skills are accompanied by animations and so prevent enemies or friendlies acting at the same time and all friendly actions apart from attack function have a cooldown time before you can use them again. It is also possible to change the familiar or character you are playing with during battle. Notable is, that only the three main characters can use items - the familiars are only restricted to those tricks they've learned and which have been picked into their trick slots by the player. The amount of tricks are familiar knows increases over time as they learn them through gaining xp as does the amount of trick slots they have available.

Apart from the battles, the game also has other sorts content. At some point in the game it becomes possible to practise alchemy - namely, use items to create other items. You can also do sidequests and earn rewards and stamps from those completed - the stamp cards can be exchanged to nifty rewards when enough - as well as take on bounty hunts to battle some of the more exotic monsters of Ni no kuni. Many of the sidequests deal with people having had their hearts broken and missing pieces from it, which then requires you to find a piece like it from someone else and giving it to the person in need. This is all accomplished through the spells Take and Give Heart and a locket which glows whenever an extra sliver of heart is nearby and stores them for later use.

In addition to the actual what-to-do content, the game is also very pretty, has nice music and good voice acting and is propelled along by a good story, which does manage to surprise you a few times at least, too. All in all, the gameplay gets a little repetitive sometimes, so to counter getting bored it might be a good idea to play something else for a change every now and again. The game mechanics are not too difficult to learn and not easily forgotten, so even a long break didn't break the rhythm, at least in my case. And although the main characters are children (apart from one), the game can be an entertaining experience for adults, too, as you travel around with Oliver and friends. Some of things would be, after all, far too scary, weird, or magical for adults to handle on their own. Having a child to guide on his journey, on the other hand, gives us both the excuse and the reason to explore the magic of Ni no kuni for ourselves.

* In addition to Ni No Kuni, my unfinished jrpgs include FFX on PS3 and Persona 3 and Valkyria Profile 2: Silmeria on my PS2

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Asiria update #10

Oh right, I finished page six two weeks ago, and I've started on page seven on the next row. The arches and the window are starting to come out of the general mess of the stitches. Bad light, bad photo, but progress nonetheless.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Packomaniac strikes back! with Legends of Andor

About a year ago I bought myself a new co-operative fantasy boardgame, called Legends of Andor, to have games I'd be able to play by myself due to moving approximately 200km away from most of my friends. This Fantasy Flight Games boardgame by Michael Menzel turned out to be a packomaniac's dream in that it contains several different sorts of figurines, tokens, cards and dice, as well as a huge amount of sealable plastic bags for all tokens. On the other hand the game box is either a dream or a nightmare too, as it doesn't have any sort of interior designed to fit the game pieces snuggly, but is only a roomy box, which makes the packing process a bit messy, but very easy to do.

The purpose of the game is to take control of 1-4 heroes of Andor, who have been sought out by the Prince and together play through different sorts of "save the kingdom" -type scenarios. Each of the scenarios is depicted in a series of Legend-cards (hence the name Legends of Andor) where the goal of the game and the victory conditions are lined out.

Players each control one of the heroes, but they work together towards the goal outlined in the cards and against the obstacles presented by the monsters and the board. Having only played the first couple scenarios myself, I will here outline the way the game is played, without spoiling too much of the rest of the game's content.

Each player controls one of the four heroes available; a warrior, a dwarf, a mage and an archer. Each of the boards depicts the character's stats, strength and willpower, their special ability and the slots for money and equipment they can carry. Tokens are used to mark each of the respective stats or gear the characters obtain. Strength is used in battles to add to the value you roll on your dice (each hero has a set amount of dice) and the number of dice one can roll depends on the amount of willpower the character has. Each hero begins play with one point of strength and seven points of willpower.

The character boards are two-sided, with a female and male side. There is no difference between the genders though, apart from the visual one. There also exist cardboard figurines for both genders respectively.

The monsters and the heroes have their own tokens that are moved on the board. Whenever a monster is killed, it is added into the pool, which adjances the time marker on the event board - so, the more monsters you kill, the faster you need to play in order to attain the goals of the scenario. The heroes move through adjacent areas, spending a hour of the day each time they move and another hour if they fight monsters. Each hero has seven hours to use for their daily actions, plus additional three hours they can pay for with with their willpower. When the day ends (all heroes declare end of day), the events and the remaining monsters on the board are advanced, and the scenario may move to its next stages, depending on the position of the time marker at the edge of the board.

Monsters are battled with the use of the dice, where both the hero and the monster throw their respective dice pools and the difference is the damage caused to the losing side. The heroes can also work together the dispose the monsters, which is a very reasonable tactic early on in the game when their stats are still low.

The game also utilized different sorts of cards, which contain events for advancing or possibly hindering the party's progress. In the first couple of events the cards chosen are fixed, but will nevertheless bring some variation to the actions taking place on the gameboard.

The tokens in the game include coins, equipment, potions and event markers, to name a few. In the packomaniac sense, the gaming box is supplied with several tough re-sealable plastic bags, which makes storing the tokens easy.

The game board is also two-sided, and some of the legends occur on the day and some on the underground side of the board. The heroes' day counter is found on the top of both maps and the green alphabet marks the overall legens time, where you advance the marker once a day, or per every monster killed. Each legend states on which letters the story advances and the changes take place immediately once the new day begins.

Also, there's this cool dragon-figurine.

So far, the game has been very simple and fast to learn and it has posed some challenges as well in the earlier scenarios. As the game is for from two to four players, there are some differences implemented for games with different amount of players to keep the difficulty level reasonable. So far, I have not lost a single game and everyone I've introduced to the game have taken to it very quickly, co-operating spendidly to achieve the goals of the game. As the Basic rules are explained in a detailed manner in the first scenarios, it is very simple to continue playing the next scenarios with the help of the Legends cards alone. Even though the game was a bit of a blind-buy for me, I've not regretted it at all.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Imaginary feelings

So I went back reading my blog from last year, and around these times I had published a fiction post just for the fun of it. Reading through it again I thought that this Autumn character sounds like fun, and then I was suddenly inspired to write another short glimpse into her life. Maybe this will become a series, who knows.

- So you're saying THAT woman, who's currently in my bathtub, is some sort of Imperial assassin?
- It's true, Colleen. You better believe me.
- Is a bit hard, Jackson, with her looking like that.
- She's been held captive for ages, Colleen, so she's bound to be a bit banged up. Don't worry, she'll be right as rain in no time, just you wait and see.
- Uh-huh. I'll put the kettle on then, shall I?
- Yeah, that'd be great.

She could hear them clearly to the bathroom, if you can call it that. It was more like a niche in a wall, surrounded by paper-thin plaster walls, a gas lamp on the roof and the tub the sole artifacts within. The tub wasn't even big enough to stretch one's legs straight. But still, the warm water was a luxury, the smell of soap a heaven and the murmur of voices from the other rooms a bliss itself.

Seven years in a hole in a ground is a long time, Autumn thought, resting her head back at the edge of the tub. The scabs in her body were itching, but for now she was resisting the urge to scratch them till blood flowed. Her tattoos were faint, almost colourless now, and they hadn't moved in a long time.

She tried to remember the last time she had had a warm bath like this, but the memories eluded her, and her mind only conjured up images of the man she'd rather forget. It seemed not even seven years of misery were enough for her to replace the pain of rejection.

She grabbed her matted hair and soaked the tangled mess under the bathwater, then started scrubbing it cleaner with a sparsely toothed comb. Lots of hair fell out, some of it in big clumps. The water was dyed dirt coloured, with floating hair and earthy matter. There was even moss growing in some of the bigger hair clumps that she tore from her head with violent pulls.

Not that he would love me better now, seeing me in a messy state like this, she thought. Her body was lean, the joints black and aching, her breasts and bottom sagging after having lost almost all of the body fat she had ever possessed in her body. She had yet to take a look in the mirror, but she could feel her scapped lips and scars crossing over her face itching with the soapy water. Even some of her muscles had started to be eaten away as her body took to desperate measures to survive.

Finished with her hair, Autumn stood up in the tiny bath and attacked her skin next. The scars and scabs opened and bled as she rubbed herself up and down and removed the dirt from her skin along with its upper surface. Her nails needed cutting, but for that she had no better instrument than her teeth, and she was yet reluctant to use them for that purpose, as they felt loose in her gums. A part of her wished that he could see her now; a part of her wished to show him what she'd become in these years; while at the same time, another part of her wished only to be closed in his arms, to throw herself at his feet and kiss them.

Rising from the tub, she finally took a look of herself in the broken mirror on the wall. Her nose was red and running from her scrubbing it - she was still quite sure there were things inside - her scalp was showing in some places and the hair was still too long in others, her eyes were surrounded in black and blue and looking into her mouth, there was blood in the gums. The whip slashes on her face were also bleeding, since she had ripped open the scabs and her lips were swollen and colourless.

Looking at herself, Autumn could but agree with Colleen.

Everyone rose when she exited the bathroom. They'd been drinking tea in the only other room that comprised this girl Colleen's apartment. The window showed a scened of brick wall on the other side, closely built blocks of flats offering no other comfort to their denizens apart from a roof on their heads and walls to bar the windy cold. Looking at them, looking at her, Autumn sighed.

- I will need some other clothes. And something to cut my hair and nails with. Her previous clothes were in a bundle on the bathroom floor, but even had she wanted to put them back on, they were too rotten and full of holes to cover or warm anything much. The man, Jackson, jumped at her words, but the girl just shrugged and went to explore her closets. The boy was quiet and returned back to his mug of tea. Jackson hurriedly found a fresh cup and pouring some of the steamy liquid in it, offered it up to Autumn. She accepted it with thanks and drank deep, not minding the jolts of pain that went through her mouth and throat with the spicy drink. Not likely to keep anything solid down in a while, she thought, and then Colleen returned with green overalls, a red shirt and a blade and scissors.

- The scissors aren't too sharp, but knife's good enough, if it works for you, she said offering the items to her.

- Thank you, Autumn said and retreated back into the bathroom, leaving her unfinished tea in Colleen's hands. She changed into the clothes, which hung on her despite being clearly Colleen's size. Her ankles showed a bit and her shoulders had it a bit tight, but otherwise they were much better than the prison wear. The scissors proved too dull to work with, as expected, so she shortened her nails in the fingers and toes carefully with the blade, then gathered her hair in her hand and sawed a good armspan of length away, so that it fell only slightly below her shoulders anymore. Smoothing it over with the comb she decided that it would d have to do. She could always tie it up or something, once it dried.

She returned to the people in the other room, who this time didn't get up but just sat nervously around the table, looking at her.

- You wanna eat something? Jackson asked, casting fearful looks around him as if worried something would jump at him anytime. - I can go and get something, if you like.

- I don't think I can eat much anything yet. It's been too long with no food, Autumn said, finished her tea from the cup on the table. - I don't suppose, she then said to Colleen, pausing. - You've got any rice?

- Yeah, it's about the only foodstuffs we get from the city nowadays. Some half a kilo left still. Shall I put some cooking?

- Please.

They were mostly silent while the rice cooked and when Autumn struggled to eat it. She managed half a bowl before giving up, worried that her stomach would turn if she tried any more. Setting the bowl down on the floor, where she had taken to sitting, even though Jackson had tried to offer his chair to her and remained standing akwardly even after she refused, leaving the third chair unoccupied, Autumn looked around her in the tiny flat. Rain started to patter against the window glass and turned quickly to rivers snaking their way down and panes. Colleen rose at the first sound and installed her water distillers to the outside wall, which started to drip drink water into the containers. Autumn still didn't speak, and neither did the boy or Jackson. Finishing her task, Colleen returned to her stool.

- So, what's your plan? she then asked Autumn.

- I don't know, she anwered.