Monday, February 20, 2017

RPG/VN Talk Index

Since I've written quite a few RPG and VN Talk entries I decided to set up an index at the top of the page so it's easy to find them all.

My series is basically me discussing the plot of a particular RPG or visual novel irrespective of the game's non-story related qualities, so I talk about foreshadowing, motivation, pacing, etc. Why did this work? What were the writers trying for? What was attractive/unattractive about the characters?

In theory, it could be a terrible game and I'll still talk glowingly about the story, because the purpose of the talk isn't to discuss the mechanics. In most cases I won't even mention them.

But I'll only discuss games I finished, so if the mechanics are so bad I don't, then it'll never be posted here.

My talks deal with the entire plot, including the ending, so there are spoilers abound, though I usually will not flag that unless I'm discussing a game that's been released within a few months of my post. Because I'm a game hoarder it's not uncommon that I buy more than I can play and unless it's a part of one of my favorites series it's unlikely I'll play close to release day.

Monday, February 13, 2017

VN Talk: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

Ace Attorney has always revolved around crazy cases, outlandish witnesses, and other things that would never stand up in a real court where often the player protagonist comes off as the only sane person in an insane asylum. Spirit of Justice continues this irreverence as the sixth entry in the main series, but it took me a while to get into it.

Usually the Ace Attorney games are structured so there is an intro case (short, one trial session, no investigation segment), somewhere in the middle there is a throw-away case that has little to do with the main storyline, and then the remaining cases build on each other so the finale is a culmination of everything that led up to this point.

Spirit of Justice actually has two throwaway cases that are largely skippable except for minor details that could have been introduced at another point in story. It's not that they aren't fun. I loved the magic show trial, and the rakugo trial was fascinating since it covers an art form we don't have in the west, while still making it easy to understand.

But they have no context in the greater story. Their only contribution is the introduction of Nahyuta Sahdmadhi as the prosecutor for the magic show trial and we don't know why he's really suddenly back in the US (story-wise) for the rakugo trial since he just finished the previous trial with Phoenix back in Khura'in. It's a lot of jet-setting and while I know the LA of Ace Attorney is now short on prosecutors thanks to the events of the last game, it seems strange for the characters to not at least comment on that.

The result is that the storytelling feels uneven. I'm used to having one breather case, but two was a bit much (and the rakugo one didn't even have an investigation phase).

Part of the problem is the Ace Attorney series' burgeoning cast. Capcom put Phoenix back in the saddle with the start of Dual Destinies, resulting in at least two active lawyer protagonists, since Apollo Justice had taken the protagonist's seat in the fourth game while Phoenix was disbarred.

But Dual Destinies also added Athena Cykes, who is a fantastic character, but brings the number of lawyers at the agency up to three. It worked in Dual Destinies because the central story that ran through all cases encompassed Athena and Apollo's personal stakes in different ways as well as integrating how Phoenix became a lawyer again with the meta-plot.

Spirit of Justice doesn't have that, but it still (by narrative necessity) has these three protagonists that it has to deal with. The player base isn't going to be happy if the three don't get a turn at the wheel, and the result is that Phoenix gets two cases, Apollo gets two, and Athena gets one.

Unsurprisingly, being the junior lawyers at the agency, Apollo and Athena get the two standalones that don't have much context.

And given the number of game installments, there are so many beloved characters that the plot bends over backwards to accommodate them. Though Maya returns in a way that completely makes sense, Edgeworth feels shoehorned in because the player base would be hugely disappointed without him. Dual Destinies' antihero Simon Blackquill makes a guest appearance as well, and while I really like the character, he's in Athena's throwaway case that has no bearing on the rest of the story.

Spirit of Justice unfolds with Phoenix meeting his friend Maya Fey in the fictional country of Khura'in, which has a screwed up legal system which makes the lawyers share the fates of their clients, which means that if the client is guilty, the lawyer is as well. This is naturally a deterrent since failing to prove an accused murderer not guilty means that the lawyer may also be executed. Thus, the country is largely devote of defense attorneys.

Phoenix, being who he is, can't let someone face a trial undefended, and jumps in protect those he believes in. But because Phoenix's trip was intended as a visit, Apollo and Athena aren't with him, and half the game takes place in the US with the two of them holding down the fort while the boss is gone. I assume this was done because there's no reason for all three of them to go to Khura'in (until the last case makes it so) since their relationship is a professional one. People don't usually go on vacation with their boss and coworkers after all.

It would have been fantastic if somehow the cases in the US turned out to be connected to the cases in Khu'rain but with the exception of the two-part final case Turnabout Revolution they're not.

Fortunately, Spirit of Justice ends on a high note, with what is probably the longest case I've ever seen in an Ace Attorney game, and I can only assume that the rakugo case Turnabout Storyteller was intentionally so short because of all the effort being piled into Turnabout Revolution.

There is still that unevenness over the game as a whole though, because Turnabout Revolution makes it clear that Spirit of Justice is really Apollo's story, not Phoenix's. Yes, even though the game starts with Phoenix and even brings back fan favorite Maya Fey, they aren't the ones who have the greatest reason to fight. In a way, Spirit of Justice is the culmination of all the character growth Apollo has had since his debut in the fourth game.

I actually didn't like Apollo very much when he was introduced, because I had come off the first three games wanting more Phoenix, and not only did I have to deal with a time skip that made Phoenix look like a wino, but I had this new guy who was wound up way too tight and he just didn't feel as compelling to me.

But Dual Destinies gave Apollo's personality some meat, and he had a few badass moments that built out his backstory, which was further elaborated on in Spirit of Justice (to the point I think he now has the most detailed and convoluted past out of the entire cast). Phoenix doesn't have a personal story arc in Spirit of Justice, but Apollo does, so I was really glad when he's the one who takes the reins in the final case.

It's a pretty heady one that brings the legal system of Khura'in crashing down and beginning a revolution while also solving a twenty-three year old assassination attempt (only in Ace Attorney would that happen through a court trial). And it worked, because not only was it pretty convoluted, building on the prior cases in Khura'in, but it integrated Apollo's personal story into the revolution. He's not defending his client just because it's his job or he's a nice guy, but because the outcome has a personal meaning for him as well.

I can't help wondering if the game's staff is aware of the too many protagonists problem though, because the ending features Apollo choosing to remain in Khura'in to help rebuild the legal system (now that he's the only practicing lawyer in a country that had just about eliminated them). For future games it'll make it easier to find things to do for the lawyers of the Wright Anything Agency if designers only have to worry about two of them instead of three.

But I feel bad about losing Apollo now that he's finally come into his own.

The final scene does tease that he'll come back again though, in an exchange between Phoenix and an off-screen speaker who is his mother. The only known part of Apollo's past that hasn't been brought to light at this point is a leftover plot thread from Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice.

Tangential to the final AA:AJ case, it's revealed to the player (but not to Apollo) that Thalassa Gramarye is his mother, which makes Apollo the half-brother of Phoenix's adopted daughter Trucy. This doesn't come up in Dual Destinies and the two of them are still clueless in Spirit of Justice, which we know because when Dhurke teases Apollo about Trucy being wife material neither of them react with disgust.

At this point, since they've gone on two games without knowing better, I imagine that it'll only come up in a court trial, and it would have to be a plot point.

The exchange between Phoenix and Thalassa make it sound like she's finally ready to reveal her existence to both her children, since Trucy thinks she's dead and Apollo just doesn't know who she is, and I'd really like that. Spirit of Justice brought his family into the picture in a big way with both the his biological father and his adoptive father, so it would be an easy segway into him wanting to discover the fate of his mother.

As for Phoenix, he's considered the main character of the series since he was the protagonist of the first three games, and since they brought him back for the fifth it seems impossible to lose him now. I just hope the next time around they give him his own plot.

It doesn't have to deal with his past since he's older now and I think those depths have been plumbed, but he can still have personal stakes through the people he knows and what compromises he is willing or unwilling to make for the sake of a trial. That would bring the focus back on him.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Writing "Poison Maiden, Open Skies"

"Poison Maiden, Open Skies" came out in mid-December, and it's still the current issue for Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show for a few more weeks, so I'd like to take a little time to talk about my inspiration and writing process for this one, since I think it's my strongest short story of 2016.

"Poison Maiden" was born out of multiple influences, the easiest one to guess being my playthrough of Code: Realize this past summer. There's a bad ending on Victor's route in Code: Realize where Cardia chooses to leave him behind because the queen says she can help her. Underlying that promise is the potential for Cardia and her growing poison to be used as a weapon, but since it's a bad ending, we never see that scenario never play out.

Now, Code: Realize is not the first media I've seen with a literally poisonous protagonist, there's a whole page dedicated to such characters on TV Tropes, but that ending got me thinking, how would you employ a such a person as a weapon in a war?

I write a fair bit of fiction set during World War I, and if you're going to write a war story involving someone emitting a cloud of poison gas, there's no better conflict to choose.

But in a first for me I decided to write from the side of the British.

I got into World War I from reading All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque when I was in high school, so I tend to picture the conflict from the German side of the war. Airplane models, submarine models, strategies used, I have a decent pool of knowledge I can call on if I'm writing Germans. It's how I wrote "The Wings The Lungs, The Engine The Heart" and my upcoming "Kite Dancer" (which deals with zeppelins).

But because I was going be writing about chemical warfare I decided to flop sides. My pet peeve about WWI in media is that frequently people can't seem to tell it apart from World War II and portray the Germans as mustache twirling Nazis. Even the WWI game Valiant Hearts, which includes a sympathetic German protagonist, couldn't avoid having a cartoonishly evil German officer for the last boss.

So for my purposes it made better sense to have the British be the ones deploying a reluctant female soldier as a poisonous weapon. That way the reader could focus on my protagonist's personal predicament rather than the morality of her country's stance in the war.

This required more research though, because I realized I was a complete moron regarding the British situation, and I read up on the draft, the female labor force, among other things. I also studied up on chemical warfare in general since none of my previous stories had involved gas attacks.

"Poison Maiden" went through a lot of changes in its brainstorming/outlining phase. Originally Edith, my protagonist, was going to be the only Poison Maiden, but after some thought I decided it was more realistic for there to have been multiple survivors of the accident that changed her, and thus Harpy Squad was born; a whole band of women who could not help but emit poison wherever they went.

At one point I almost made them literally harpies with an accompanying airborne delivery system to shoot them over enemy lines, but I ended up tossing that out because such a flashy entrance would no doubt result in a lot of Poison Maidens getting killed and given that I wanted them to be a rare resource, I couldn't consider that as a viable strategy.

I also couldn't think of a good reason to give them wings.

Their poison traits are acquired in a highly superhero-ish fashion with the factory accident, but people generally don't connect poison with powers of flight. Still, I did try to keep some of the harpy imagery in through the name and some of my word choices when Charlotte finally cuts loose.

"Poison Maiden" was also written specifically for Intergalactic Medicine Show's Festivals on the Front issue, so I knew that the story was going to be Christmas-themed and I knew going in that I wanted the final scene to be set around an improvised Christmas tree in the middle of no man's land.

Like the characteristics of Harpy Squad itself, the ending went through several permutations of who was there and what condition they were in. Some of the brainstorm endings were incredibly dismal (including one where Thomas, Edith's love interest, ends up feral and insane) before I settled on the bittersweet one that still has hope for a brighter future.

"Poison Maiden" should be up until the end of February, so if you have a subscription to Intergalactic Medicine Show please check it out. There will likely be an ebook version as well on Amazon in the future.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My 2016 Award Recommendations

It's nomination time for both the Hugos and the Nebulas for science fiction and fantasy, and though I tried to get a better handle on my reading this year, the fact is I still couldn't read as widely as I wanted, so I'm going to restrict my recommendations to short stories and novelettes.

Links to recommended fiction are provided when available, and yes there are more short stories than there are slot to nominate. Read a few to see what you're missing!

Short Stories

"This is Not a Wardrobe Door" by Merc Restad - Fireside, January 2016
"Dragon Brides" by Nghi Vo - Lightspeed, April 2016
"The Gentleman of Chaos" by Merc Restad - Apex Magazine, August 2016
"Pagpag" by Samuel Marzioli - Apex, October 2016
"And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice" by Cassandra Khaw - The Dark, November 2016
"A Glamour in the Black" by Sylvia Anna Hivén - Writers of the Future Vol 32, 2016
"Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart" - by Samantha Murray - Clarkesworld, November 2016

Novelettes

"A Deeper Green" by Samantha Murray - Beneath Ceaseless Skies, August 2016
"The War of Heroes" by Kameron Hurley - Lightspeed, August 2016 *

* This was originally published on her Patreon, but because the copyright date is 2016 I assume it is eligible for this year.

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Favorite Anime of 2016

In the final installment of my 2016 entertainment round-up, let's cover my favorite TV anime of 2016. Since I ended up watching quite a bit, I decided to remove any sequels (since people generally don't jump in the middle) as well as restrict the list to my Top 10.

Unless mentioned otherwise, all series completed their runs in 2016. Anime listed are not ranked, but presented in the order I watched them.

Erased

Erased has a killer premise. Satoru has the uncontrollable ability to go back in time (in his own body) to correct the past before someone is hurt or killed, but when his mother is murdered he's sent back a shocking 18 years in time to when he's a 10-year-old kid. He thinks by saving the life of a classmate who was murdered he'll be able to save the life of his mother in the future. If the ending had lived up to the first half this would have made my top 3 of the year, but it couldn't quite pull it off.

Prince of Stride: Alternative

This is apparently based off an otome game, but I actually watched it for the sport (and there is surprisingly no romance in the show either, so it's either the pretty boys or their athletics). Stride is a fictional sport that works like a cross between an obstacle course and a relay race. Honan High School used to have the best stride team, but has fallen on hard times until our intrepid first year students manage to fill up the remaining team slots and revive the dream of winning the End of Summer championship. I don't watch much sports anime so I can't compare to others of its genre, but as someone who ran track and field in high school this rang true for me.

Schwarzesmarken

I never watched Muv-Luv so I can't speak for Schwarzesmarken's place in that universe, but the spin-off is fairly stand alone and I didn't feel the need to watch the parent series. In an alternate 1983 aliens have landed and are slowly wiping humanity off the planet in a grueling land battle. It's a mecha series and despite all the political shenanigans, it never forgets it is a mecha series, with a pivotal battle every episode that never feels like filler. Every round of combat has a purpose and moves the story forward, resulting in a lot of plot and character development that other series wouldn't be able to fit in a similar amount of time.

Joker Game

Joker Game follows a group of spies affiliated with D-Agency, a fictional Japanese spy unit from World War II. Unlike most of the Japanese army at the time, they aren't staunch nationalists, blind to anything but the success of war. Taking an anthology format, each episode or two-parter revolves around a particular character who either belongs to or comes into contact with an agent of D-Agency. It's a dicey topic depicting Japanese spies during World War II, but is made palatable by the fact that D-Agency's rules forbid killing and the spies are more interested in protecting Japan than attacking other countries.

Knights of Sidonia

The two seasons of Knights of Sidonia ran in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It's a far future hard science fiction story about the remnants of humanity fleeing into the depths of space in search of a new home after the mysterious alien Gauna destroyed Earth. Centuries later the Gauna catch up with the generation ship Sidonia and a new war begins. Unlike most mecha series, Knights of Sidonia injects a heavy dose of realism, ranging from how pilots can relieve themselves in a sanitary manner while stuck in a mecha for hours on end, to the effect on people's bodies when a vehicle as large as a generation ship has to sudden change course. The series is great for people who like science in their sf, and narrowly misses being in my top 3 of the year.

Orange *

Orange is instantly relatable for anyone who was a shy and awkward teenager. Teenage Naho receives a letter from herself ten years into the future, telling her to watch for a new student, Kakeru, who will become very important to her. The letter is full of future Naho's regrets and how she would have done things differently if given the chance, but the crux of the matter is that it's easy for adult Naho to say such things, and considerably more difficult for teenage Naho to act on them. I won't spoil the real dilemma of the series, but it's not hard to find with a little searching. Orange does falter around the final third of the series, but its feelings and treatment of isolation and depression are expertly handled and make for a beautiful ending.

Psycho-Pass *

The other older series I watched this year, Psycho-Pass, originally ran in 2012-2013 (and I have not yet watched the sequel) and after I finished I just could not get it out of my mind. Taking place in a dystopian future, Psycho-Pass follows the members of Division 1 from the Criminal Investigative Department (i.e. the police). The interesting thing is that they are law enforcement in an authoritarian police state, and yet they are essentially good people, who are doing their best to work with an oppressive system that in many ways works against them. The worldbuilding is fantastic and brings up excellent questions that the series both notes and addresses. Things get technical, but I never felt lost, and the series is self-contained without any need for future material, even though it exists. It's dark and a tad on the violent side, but soooooo good.

91 Days

I have a weakness for no-doubt romanticized period pieces about the mafia, and 91 Days stands with the best of them. Though made by people an ocean away, it's clearly a love letter to mafia media featuring mafiosos who are fully capable of being caring friends and family while ordering a hit without breaking a sweat. Angelo Lagusa is a bit of a cipher as a protagonist, but even if the audience isn't privy to his inner thoughts, the motivation for his single-minded quest for revenge is understandable. This is a show where how the protagonist does something is more interesting than whether the audience would have done the same. Reactions to the ending might be a bit mixed, but considering where the show is coming from, it's clear that there would never have been a happy ending.

ReLIFE

I dithered on including this or Ushio and Tora and ReLIFE edged out in that the cast is the more relatable of the two. I wasn't sure how well the manga would transition to anime considering that it's essentially a series of short scenes, but it holds together remarkable well, pulling itself together into a solid episode format. I know people who are or have been in exactly Arata Kaizaki's position, being intelligent people who graduated from a university but can't seem to land a full time job. I'm not sure they would have taken the opportunity to be de-aged ten years and sent back to high school, but the premise is the charm of the series, with Arata coming off as strange or weird to other high schoolers due to his actual age and the actual teenagers behaving more like actual teenagers.

Yuri on Ice *

It may be too soon to truly rank Yuri on Ice as one of my top 3 of the year, seeing as this just wrapped up in December, but I'm a huge figure skating fan, and combining realistic figure skating with an amazing cast of characters, is just like catnip. You can see how much effort went into recreating the sport in the animation, the details of what it's like to compete, and even cameos by former Olympic skaters. That this is one of the most gay positive portrayals in anime is icing on the cake. It's refreshing to see a show where the characters are comfortably attracted to each other and it's given the same respect as a heterosexual romance rather than being fetishized for the straight female audience.

And this concludes my Top 10 anime viewed during 2016. The three series I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year, where I found myself looking forward to every new episode or binge watching in Psycho-Pass's case.

Though not an anime I'd also like to give a thumbs up to Voltron: Legendary Defender for capturing what was good about the anime original while still updating it for present day audiences.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite Games of 2016

My gaming backlog is something impressive, as I typically buy a few more than I can play in any given year, and then those extras build up. The result is that I rarely play any game in its year of release unless it's a part of a favorite series, and even then, depending on how busy I am, a much anticipated game might get postponed.

But I'm not adverse to playing older games. As long as the gameplay is still there I generally don't care. Maybe that's the same for you?

These are the nine games I liked enough to finish for the first time in 2016, in the order I played them.

Virtue's Last Reward *

I enjoyed 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the Nintendo DS, so I intended to pick up the sequel, but took a while due to a bugged 3DS version (now patched) and not having a Vita at the time.

Virtue's Last Reward is quite simply the strongest entry in the Zero Escape series. Science, pseudo-science, multiple universes, time travel, non-linear gameplay, and an incredible cast of characters made this a joy to play. I was up at 3am with tears in my eyes (on a work night!) because I had to see a particularly bittersweet sequence through. Fair warning there is a lot of reading, and the gameplay is all making choices and escape room mechanics, but if that's even remotely your bag it's worth playing.

It'll mean more if you play 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors first, but the good news is that both games are coming to Steam in a remastered edition.

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest

I was looking forward to Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, and despite the child problems I blogged about, I enjoyed it. It was refreshing to have a game so focused on family and divided loyalties. I really liked the moral gray area that Corrin and her siblings occupied and as mentioned in my RPG Talk entry, I like that the final confrontation features Corrin standing together with her siblings rather than Corrin plus love interest and motley band of heroes. Familial relationships are usually set behind the romantic ones in games, so having family placed before everything else makes this unique.

Zero Time Dilemma

Zero Time Dilemma had a hell of a lot of hype to live up to, and at the end of the day I don't think it's going to be anyone's favorite out of the Zero Escape series, but it's still an enjoyable game. It keeps a lot of the same mechanics from Virtue's Last Reward, but suffers from a less satisfying mastermind than the other two. There's also a plot twist that people tend to either love or hate. But that said, it does a decent job of wrapping up the series, the escape rooms are still fun, and offers a lot of emotional rewards for fans of the previous two.

Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth

This is the best otome game I've played to date. I would have liked to include it in my top three games of the year, and it was a narrow miss. Otome games are usually given lackluster, passive protagonists to serve as the female player insert, but not Cardia. That girl is amazing, whether she's piloting an airship, busting herself out of confinement, or being a supportive girlfriend, because why can't one person do all of that. The boyfriends are more interesting than average, with only one route that really bored me. If there's any fault to this game I'd say it's locking Lupin's route behind everyone else's and making it so clearly the "real" route.

Danganronpa: Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Ultra Despair Girls is a little strange in that I don't think it's a particular good game, though I still finished it. It's a third person shooter, which is a strange genre jump for what had been a visual novel series. I only played it when I did because the Danganronpa 3 anime had Monaca, who originated in this game. The story isn't bad, it asks good questions and even clears up some others (like where did Junko Enoshima get all those crazy robots), but I'm not a shooter fan and I can't imagine the overlap between visual novels, shooters, and Danganronpa is enough to justify this game's existence. If you suck at shooters though, there's no story penalty for playing on easy. You can still see the whole thing.

Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

I still haven't posted my VN Talk for this, but the sixth entry in the Ace Attorney series was a bumpy ride. It was good, but it wasn't great, and I think this is mostly due to character bloat. Dual Destinies had three lawyer protagonists so by golly Spirit of Justice has to too, even when the game can't quite figure out what to do with them. Unlike Dual Destinies, where the story honestly belongs to all of them, when it comes down to it, Spirit of Justice is really about Apollo, but the writing tries to showcase everyone, including several supporting characters, which results in a lack of focus. But if you like Apollo, this is the game to play as he has his best moments.

This War of Mine *

I waffled a lot on whether to buy This War of Mine because the vertical cut-away view of the buildings made me think of old platformers I was terrible at, but This War of Mine needs very little in the way of reflexes. I bought it for the for miserable experience of surviving as a civilian in an urban warzone and I was not disappointed. There's no tutorial, but the basics can be picked up by point and click, which feels oddly immersive, as the characters you're tasked with caring for have no idea how they're going to make ends meet either.

Chances are, a first playthrough is going to be unsuccessful. People will die along the way, and you'll feel awful, which is the point. You get to put down the game and go home whereas the people who really lived this life could not. It was a sobering realization. (This War of Mine was inspired by the real world Siege of Sarajevo.)

The Room

This was a purchase based on a friend's recommendation because we both like escape rooms. While you're not escaping anything in The Room, the type of puzzle solving is familiar to anyone who has done escape rooms, and it's a affordable fix that can be done in an afternoon or two. The story is minimal and the atmosphere creepy, though it's manageable for those who scare easily (with one possible exception during the ending, but you've solved everything by then). I'm skipping the sequel because I react poorly to jump scares, even the ones that are so mild that most people wouldn't even consider them jump scares.

Civilization V *

When Civilization VI came out, I realized I wanted to play a Civ game again, but rather than getting the latest and greatest at full price, I decided to pick up Civilization V during a Steam sale, which netted me the base game and all the expansions and DLC for under $14. This turned out to be $14 well spent as I've now logged an embarrassing amount of hours on it. It's a lot of strategy and management to bring my chosen civilization to victory, but fun since the AI leaders of other civilizations have their own personalities. I had a really good tussle with Caesar in my Carthage campaign, which felt appropriate.

My only complaint is that Europe feels over-represented in the number of civilizations available. There are multiple options for a continent like Africa, with Carthage, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Songhai, and Zulu available, which show that the game designers did put effort into avoiding a Eurocentric world, but it feels like it's not enough when 15 of the 43 civilizations are European (17 if one counts Byzantium and Ottoman, which I'm not since they're partially in the mideast), making them slightly more than a third of what's available.

As I did with my book roundup, the three games I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year and definitely worth playing.

I'd also like to mention the four games I replayed this year since it's rare that I replay anything, and four is unprecedented.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (second time)
Dragon Age II (third time)
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (third time)
Danganronpa 2: Good-bye Despair (second time)

The Danganronpa games were mostly because of the anime and wanting to relive the experience, but Fire Emblem: Awakening and Dragon Age II were purely unprompted, with the former having happened before the release of Fire Emblem Fates.

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

I didn't read nearly as much as I'd wanted to in 2016, though I read more than the list below suggests since I'm omitting my research books. It's hard to stack up a historical non-fiction piece with novels and anthologies since they're read for so many different reasons.

That said, these are the nine books I enjoyed enough to finish, and in the order I read them. Maybe you'll want to check them out too.

Thief of Songs by M.C.A. Hogarth *

Thief of Songs is what Hogarth describes as a pastoral romance; low stakes, not a lot of drama, lots of sweetness. It made the long list for the James Tiptree Jr Award, and features a world where there are four genders; female, male, hermaphrodite, and neuter. The world building is amazing and feels like a living place, though the hermaphrodite pronouns are a little hard to get used to at first since they don't map to any real world ones (as far as I know).

Justice Calling by Annie Bellet

Annet Bellet's Justice Calling is the first in her Twenty-Sided Sorceress series and stuffed full of pop culture geeky references centered around magic. I'm not usually an urban fantasy reader, but this was fun and I have the second book in my to-be-read pile.

A Song for No Man's Land by Andy Remic

World War I is one of my favorite settings (as most of my writer friends are well aware of, considering the stuff I send them) and Andy Remic's dark fantasy take on it is really dark, melding what's real and what's not with the horror of the trenches. This is the first in a trilogy and again I already have the second book waiting to be read.

Romancing the Null by Tina Gower

Disclaimer, I got a review copy of this one since Tina is a friend. That said, Romancing the Null is a fun urban fantasy romp through the eyes of an actuary for fantastical events. The fact her profession is such an unusual one (and not one pre-disposed towards ass-kicking) is what makes this fun.

Baccano: The Rolling Bootlegs by Ryohgo Narita

Baccano is one of my favorite anime series and the original novels are finally being translated into English! It's a hot mess (in a good way) when mobsters, an alchemist seeking immortality, and two cuckoo thieves get mixed up in the transit of a few bottles of alcohol that are totally not the booze most people take them for.

Spice and Wolf Vol 10 by Isuna Hasekura

Spice and Wolf is my guilty pleasure. Hasekura is not the strongest writer out there, but he still manages to spin a charming romance between a wolf goddess and an ordinary merchant who don't want their time together to come to an end. Volume 10 takes them to a monastery heavily in debt that might have the bones of Holo's fellow wolves, which leads to the usual economic shenanigans the series is known for.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone *

Gladstone's Craft Sequence is supposed to be readable in any order since the volumes are stand alone, but I figured I'd start with the first, and I have to say that after reading it, I'm really going to miss Tara when I move on to the next! She's easily my favorite new protagonist of the books I've read this year, for being so creative in how she gets the job done. And the setting doesn't hurt either, being a sort of early 20th century magic-tech society.

Another by Yukito Ayatsuji *

Though there is an anime based on Another, Ayatsuji's original is much, much better, with a lot more details fleshed out. Kouichi Sakakibara gets a late start at his new school, and when he gets there, he discovers there is a supernatural phenomenon that is periodically killing the students and families of those in class 3. It sounds like a creepy horror novel, but in practice plays out like a whodunnit mystery, as there are rules to the phenomenon involving how a dead person can masquerade as one of the living.

Writers of the Future Vol 32 (anthology)

I almost always read the latest of these, since I know so many of the writers who end up in them. There's a wide variety so subgenres can jump drastically from story to story. This approach might not work for someone looking for a theme, but there's more than likely something that appeals. My favorite this year is "A Glamour in Black" by Sylvia Anna Hiven, for being so creepy and having the best reveal at the end.

The three novels I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year, the ones I considered the page turners where I tried to get a few more pages in every night before going to bed. I can't recommend them enough.