Monday, June 27, 2016

Bibliography and Mailing List Added

I did a little maintenance work on the blog, adding features that I've been meaning to add for a while.

You'll notice that there are now tabs above this post! One will take you to my online bibliography, complete with links to my work when applicable. I've noticed that about half my short fiction is locked behind a paywall of some kind or venues that remove issues after a certain period of time.

I can't entirely control that, each individual market handles their fiction differently, so if you like my work in the online magazines and they're likely to be taken down, please read them soon after they come out. I do like me some reprints though, so I'm trying to get some of those that originally appeared in anthologies into online venues.

The second (third?) thing I added is that I have a mailing list now. The plan is to send a newsletter during the first week of every month, letting followers know about my latest publications and what I'm working on. For fun I'm adding a little widget so you can also see what I'm reading, playing, and watching.

If you'd like to sign up, you can click on the tab and either follow the link or fill out the form right there. I'm hoping the first e-mail will go out July 1st (because I'm expecting a new story to come out!), but it might end up being July 2nd depending on my schedule.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Voltron Legendary Defender: Changing My Favorite Character was the Best Thing They Could Have Done

I was going to write a more general post about Voltron: Legendary Defender, because I've been a pretty big Voltron fan throughout my life and there's so much to say about the decisions the creative team made, and I still might.

But instead, I'm going to write about Shiro.

This guy.

When the original Voltron came to the US I was in elementary school and it was one of my favorite TV series ever. But being a kid with homework and piano lessons, I didn't always get to see every episode after school, but I knew most of the show. Four guys and a girl piloted robot lions that formed a big robot every episode. But there was one character who I knew very little about.

That guy, on the left. In the opening credits of every episode was this one person wearing the striking black and gold uniform. Because of a coloring book my mom bought, I knew his name was Sven, but for a long time I didn't see him in the show (because it turns out that I'd never watched the opening six episodes).

Sven took on a bit of a mythic quality for me. When I finally watched far enough, I saw the episode where he came back after having been a prisoner on Planet Doom. I was thrilled to finally meet him and as a character, he didn't disappoint. Sven had a lot more development than the rest of the cast, due to being a fusion between older brother Takashi and younger brother Ryou from the original Go Lion anime. The American adaptation probably didn't intend it, but they created a character who changed over the course of the series.

Voltron eventually went off the air, but when my family would go rent movies, I'd ask for whatever Voltron I could find, which eventually included the first five episodes, letting me see the character for the first time as he was originally presented. Looking back, his faux Scandinavian accent was atrocious, but even after I entered middle school it was still magic.

Which brings us to Voltron: Legendary Defender.

The showrunners were making an active effort to avoid having a show starring five white dudes, and as part of that, they replaced Sven with Shiro, taking the name from his original Japanese one, Takashi Shirogane.

When I first heard this, I hoped they meant to do more with this childhood character I had come to love, and not simply kill him off or remove him from most of the show just because that's what happened to the original. Sven, despite his name and accent, had scanned as Asian to me, and as a Chinese kid growing up in the US I was starved for Asian protagonists. I grabbed on to just about any I could find and came up with ways to justify how this clearly Asian character could have such a distinctly non-Asian name.

I mean, look at him. Black hair, dark eyes, and when you see his full outfit it resembles an 80s Japanese high school uniform. His character design doesn't scream Scandinavia.

So Sven reverted to Shiro in Voltron: Legendary Defender, and the creative staff talked about pulling in a lot of Takashi Shirogane's traits from Go Lion that never really carried over to the American Voltron.

It sounded good, but until I saw it play out it would only be good intentions, and I'd seen good intentions before.

There's a lot to like about Voltron: Legendary Defender, but for me personally, I was most happy to have Shiro, whose full canonical name in the show now isTakashi Shirogane (you can see it on the news in the flashback when Pidge is learning about the Kerberos incident).

It is so rare to have an Asian team leader in an American-produced show, where the series isn't about being Asian. Shiro's heritage never comes up and I'm happy. The focus is on fighting an alien tyrant and becoming a team, none of which requires that the team leader be Japanese.

Which makes it all the more important that he is.

A character shouldn't be defined solely by their ethnicity and this is a role that Asians seldom get.

Shiro doesn't fall into stereotypes. Though he knows martial arts, everyone on the team does so that's no big deal. He doesn't speak with a funny accent. He's not the nerdy Asian boy. Character design-wise he's broad-chested and the tallest member of the team. Those are not traits commonly assigned to Asian characters!

This confident guy in the middle? The obvious leader? Totally Asian.

And I'm admittedly a sucker for guys with a strong sense of duty, so as a character Shiro pushes all the right buttons.

He's not entirely the Sven I remember from childhood, but I find I love Shiro just fine.

Okay, maybe there are some things about him that haven't changed.

I have to admit, then when I saw Shiro crossing his arms and leaning against the wall, I immediately thought of Sven, because he did that so many times in what few episodes he was in.

Considering how much Asian media gets distorted and changed when adapted and brought to the US, it's amazing to actually see a previously adapted character restored and made closer to the original.

They could have named him anything when they changed his ethnicity back to Japanese, but the fact they specifically chose Takashi Shirogane means something, and I appreciate that.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fire Emblem Fates' Child Problem

I've been playing Fire Emblem Fates as a creative recharge and plan to write a dissection of the story as I've done for other RPGs, but there is one secondary game component that I figured was worth its own separate discussion, and that's what I'm calling its "child problem."

As I mentioned when writing about Fire Emblem Awakening, one of the unique things the game did was how the children of characters who married in the first generation went back in time to save the lives of their parents, resulting in two generations of characters fighting side by side on the battlefield.

The marriage plus children feature was hardly required for beating the game, but went over so well with the player base that it was kept almost entirely intact for Fates. But the problem is, going back in time to save their parents was woven into the main narrative of Awakening's story and Fates doesn't bother with the same trick (nor should it, since it would be contrived to figure out a convincing way to do it a second time).

So instead we have the introduction of the Deeprealms.

Under the justification that it's too dangerous to have the children raised at home, their parents send them to the Deeprealms, essentially pocket dimensions in the Astral Plane (presumably with some attendants to watch over them). But in a surprise that no one expected, time passes differently in the Deeprealms than in the regular world, which causes the children to age much faster during the time they're away.

Now, it's not like their parents sent them away and found out the next day they have teenage children. The narration (and subsequent dialogue during recruitment battles) make it clear that the parents visit their children from time to time so even after finding out about this crazy accelerated aging, apparently no one cares whether or not their children largely grow up without them.

Though some of the children rightfully chew out their parents for being away, it's a little surprising the group as a whole aren't more resentful for having been left behind. More than a few eventually break out of the Deeprealms and go to their parents' world on their own, though usually this isn't out of a desire to seek out their parents so much as they're teenagers now and more likely to bend the rules.

Compounding this is that player's base of operations is already on the Astral Plane and cannot be touched by the enemies they're at war with, so it seems ridiculous to send the children even further into the Deeprealms. The garrison does get invaded from time to time by otherworldly entities, but so do the Deeprealms, as we find out during the recruitment missions, so I can't say they're much safer.

The cynical min/max gamer in me considered that the kids are intentionally being left there to grow into adults, because once they're old enough, they can join the army! But this is not actually borne out by parent/child dialogue. (Though it is part of Nintendo's selling point if you watch this promo video at the 0:52 mark.)

Involving the Deeprealms rather than time travel, also results in some weird time dilation as to just when in the story the parents ended up having time to manage pregnancies.

In Awakening the only characters who have a child during the story itself are Chrom and his wife, and the pregnancy and birth happen during a two year time skip. The rest of the children have not been born yet, which is fine, since they're coming from the future.

As other couples marry in Awakening, side missions appear on the map, but the underlying assumption is that the children have already arrived from the future. It's just they have not been located until this time. This bears out with characters like Laurent, who says that he actually arrived a few years ahead of everyone else, which is why he now appears to be older than the other children.

In Fates there is a similar BAM! Instant children! recruitment mission right after a couple gets married, but since the children are being raised in a sped up timeline rather than coming from the future, that means that all the women (who are currently soldiers in an army no less) have somehow managed to get pregnant and take a leave of absence in a ridiculously short period of time.

To give an idea of how this played out in my game, my female avatar married Silas at the end of Chapter 14 in the Conquest storyline, which was right after completing a difficult mission and they returned to Nohr before the start of Chapter 15, which means that there actually was downtime in the story when they weren't on the march.

I don't think that it was two years' worth of downtime, to allow for their children Sophie and Kana to be born, but it could have been, so narratively I could buy it. Wars could drag on for years and this could have been one of them. But on the other hand, they could have gotten married between two chapters when the army was on the move, and the kids would have appeared anyway!

Which should result in awkward conversations. For example, in Chapter 16, Xander, the adopted brother of the avatar, returns and asks how things have gone since the last time they met (around Chapter 10 or so).

I kind of pictured the conversation going like this:

Xander: Well met, little princess. I hope I have not missed anything important.

Avatar: Oh, nothing much. I got married and now you have a niece and nephew.


Avatar: They're also teenagers because I sent them off to the Deeprealms for some accelerated aging.

I understand having the children in Awakening was a nifty feature, but part of the reason was for the narrative. It was a unique twist and involving the player's decision-making in who got married to who was solid gold for shipping fans.

But shoehorning the second generation into Fates feels tacked on, since the plot makes no mention of their existence. Considering that most of the major characters are royalty and you'd think that succession would be a big deal, it's incredibly weird that someone like King Garon wouldn't comment on having a grandson by Xander or comment on who Xander chose to marry.

Chrom in Awakening, who was royalty, had a limited set of potential partners, probably to prevent him from marrying someone who would be considered too far out of left field for a queen. Xander, on the other hand, can marry the majority of marriageable female characters in the Conquest storyline, with only his blood-related siblings being ineligible. In my playthrough, he ended up taking the former assassin Beruka for his wife.

I figure they don't have much in the way of bedroom conversation, but damn if they didn't make a fantastic wrecking crew on the battlefield.

Going back to the topic of time dilation, this also creates something strange in Xander's particular case, being the crown prince of Nohr. From his parent/child conversations with Siegbert, we can see that he's concerned about making his son into a good heir, but when you consider that they're physically no more than ten years apart in age by the time Siegbert joins the army, it's unlikely that Siegbert would spend much time ruling at all. Barring accidents, Xander isn't likely to die much ahead of him, making his son's reign a very short one.

Maybe it's because I'm older now, but it feels like the person who wrote the Deeprealms parts of the game either doesn't have kids or know someone who has them.

For gameplay purposes it's fun mixing and matching the parents and looking at the kids that come out of the relationship, but I'm not entirely sure the game needed that. I would have been fine if they had left the support system in (since it has been a Fire Emblem feature for several games now) and just stopped it after marriage.

The kids generally forgive their parents for the bone-headed decision of having left them to grow up alone in a speedier timeline, but it just feels like all that trouble was ultimately unnecessary from a storytelling perspective. And I still would have liked to see how the pregnancies were managed while on the march. I mean, seriously.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 6: Joker World

Initially Amnesia: Memories seems like a strange experiment with four different realities where the player is a particular girl who wakes up with amnesia and has to find out who she was; simply variations on a theme.

But after playing the different storylines, and particularly if the player hits a few bad endings, it becomes apparent that there is more going on.

A mysterious character called Ukyo shows up in all routes, though he's not always named and does not always have much interaction with the protagonist. However, some of his conversations make it clear that they have met before before and allude to him having existed in multiple realities.

It's only after getting the good endings for all four initial love interests that the Joker world unlocks, and there's a good reason for that. The effectiveness of Ukyo's storyline depends on the player knowing what has happened in other worlds, even if the protagonist has less of a clue.

Unlike most storylines, Ukyo does not start out already in a relationship with the protagonist and cryptically comes and goes, leaving warnings about danger. His warnings are not to be disregarded. Doing so quickly results in the protagonist getting killed, giving him more bad endings on his route than any other love interest.

Oddly enough, there is one bad ending where Toma goes psycho and locks the protagonist in a cage to protect her again. (Really? Did we have to revisit that?)

Ukyo's route also dispenses with a lot of the introductory stuff that the other storylines do. Though there are still some elements of the protagonist trying to find her memories, depending on player choices they can be oddly sparse in this world. The game also throws its entire cast of characters in this route, giving them all a reasonable amount of time in the spotlight, which works best with the player already knowing who they are and what their personalities are like.

In a way it feels like a last hurrah, because the game knows this is the last route and the player's last chance to spend time with these characters. I admit I did particularly like the shaved ice speed eating contest between all the love interests, culminating in Shin getting a case of head freeze due to trying to win. He might act like he doesn't care, but he sure does.

In fact, if the player doesn't make a point to seek out Ukyo, there are a ton of alternate events on this route, more than any other, where the protagonist and the rest of the cast can just be friends. Ukyo's route is one of my favorite realities because of it. Everyone knows everyone else, and even the Ikki fan club president (who's a bitch on all other routes) is a decent person.

Ukyo's route is a little frustrating to play though, because we know he has the key to everything (or almost everything), but he refuses to get close to the protagonist, claiming that he's dangerous, even as he's giving whatever information he can to protect her. His behavior is maddening, especially since the protagonist can barely remember anything about him.

When he visits her in her apartment, he handcuffs himself to the table and gives her pepper spray, a stun gun, and a safety whistle to use in case he gets out of control, which is comical in how seriously he wants her to be able to defend herself against him.

It's not without reason, as the player has seen Ukyo in other worlds and is aware of his split personality. Depending on player choices, his more malicious persona emerges from time to time and that one is clearly not the protagonist's friend. One side of him wishes the protagonist well, the other wishes her harm (and even kills her in some endings).

As a result, the pacing of his story leaves something to be desired, as Ukyo's cards are played far too close to his chest, but what eventually unfolds is a hopelessly romantic story. I won't say that Ukyo's is my favorite route, but it's the only one I cried over.

Ukyo's world is not the "original" world, but it's the one that the Ukyo we know originated from, and Amnesia is not a story of alternate realities so much as many realities.

Joker world Ukyo lost the protagonist in an accident on August 1st, with her eventually succumbing to her injuries on August 25th. His grief and his wish for her to survive drew the attention of Nhil, a god from between worlds who is also Orion's master. Nhil gains power and sustains his own existence from granted wishes, so he wanted to grant Ukyo's wish, for Ukyo to witness a world where she survives past August 25th.

Nhil can't revive the dead, so he merged with Ukyo, making him semi-immortal, and the two of them went reality hopping to find a world where Ukyo and the protagonist could live together beyond August 25th. But they found that he didn't exist in any other reality with her, and if he tried to join a reality where he didn't exist, the world would realize there was a foreign influence and kill him to correct itself by the day of her death (preventing him from seeing whether or not she lived).

These were some of the worlds that the player previously played through. Ukyo began to give up hope, always traveling to a world, always dying by August 25th, but still wanting to see the woman he loved even if she found happiness with someone else. His despair gave birth to his split personality, the part of him that resents dying just so he can watch her live. (And most of Ukyo's deaths are pretty horrible. When the world corrects itself, it's not nice.) His other personality learns that if he kills the protagonist in a given world by August 25th he gets to live in her place, though the sane part of him always departs for another world after recovering himself.

Orion's accident, where he bumps into the protagonist in the prologue, seems to have been an unconscious bid on his part to fulfill Nhil's wishes and find the woman that Ukyo was searching for, which is how the whole amnesia thing starts, even though it's not directly related to what Nhil and Ukyo are doing.

Finally, Nhil decided to make one last gamble and used the remainder of his power to rewind time in the original Joker world to give Ukyo a chance to save the original protagonist that he loved, and he resets the clock to the start of July, a month before the protagonist's death, so Ukyo can prepare. Because this also rewinds past the day they started dating, there are no memories of them dating for her to recover (though she had met Ukyo originally in March, so she does recover the memory of having seen him).

Because Ukyo is aware of the protagonist's eventual fate in Joker world and his own split personality, he behaves differently and keeps his distance from her so he doesn't accidentally kill her before the 25th. Ironically on his part, the only way to get the good ending is to ignore all of Ukyo's warnings about staying away from him and become as close as possible.

Though he does save her from the initial accident on August 1st (assuming the player listens to his warning not to go somewhere), the world spends a crazy amount of time between the 1st and 25th trying to kill the protagonist and correct the fate that didn't happen. It's only because Orion is merged with her that the world doesn't seem to be able to pinpoint her well enough to close in for a complete kill.

The final day of Ukyo's route is pretty frantic, because by then the protagonist has pieced together that Ukyo intends to die in her place, and the world is going haywire with freak weather, mechanical malfunctions, a fire, and more to kill her. And if that wasn't enough, Ukyo's other personality tries to murder her in the final minutes before the clock strikes midnight.

I wasn't really sure what was going to happen.

But Ukyo stabs himself to prevent his other personality from killing her, giving her a reprieve long enough for the clock to roll over to midnight. Knowing that she has survived to August 26th, Ukyo's wish is granted.

A good chunk of the backstory comes out at this point (they really saved everything up until the end!) including that Ukyo has killed her in other realities, and the player is asked whether or not they forgive him.

For me, it was a no brainer. If you want tragic, suffering romance, Ukyo is the poster boy for it. It's an uneven route and filled with a lot of instant death pitfalls, but if one doesn't mind an info dump for a reward and knowledge about how this whole scenario started, it's a fitting capstone to Amnesia as a whole.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 5: Diamond World

Ah, Toma. Or as I nicknamed him, "the psycho boyfriend." (I also called him Stalker-san for a bit, which kind of gives you the impression of what he's like.)

My first playthrough was the Diamond world, for a couple of reasons. As I've mentioned, character design does a lot to show what kind of person the love interest probably is like, and factors into the selection process for the player. Toma had the most appealing character design for me.

Also, the suit he's associated with is diamonds, which was my childhood favorite, so it seemed like a good bonus. My adult favorite is spades, but I didn't like Ikki's design much, so Toma it was.

Of course, if you've read my comments on Shin's route, or seen his bad ending yourself, you can guess I was in for a rough shock, and I was going in blind.

The beginning was entertaining enough, trying to figure out details of the protagonist's past and why she was getting these mysterious threats, all while trying not to cause Toma to freak out. I got halfway through the month before I stopped playing for the night.

Unbeknownst to me, I had picked a really good time to take a break.

In this world, Toma is an older brother figure of the protagonist, and it becomes clear through early dialogue with a third party that he is not her boyfriend. He says he can't get interested in her because they grew up together, and the protagonist's brief flashes of recovering memory tells her that she liked someone who was having trouble seeing her as a woman.

When she gets around to asking him if she liked him before she lost her memory, he tells her that they were a couple, which contradicts what he had said previously.

Playing through Toma's route was fascinating, because choosing the right dialogue choices reveals that there is a lot that Toma is hiding from her, but it's also clear that despite not being her boyfriend, he cares a lot about her. He says and does all kinds of contradictory things (he says he's her boyfriend, but also mentions that they haven't held hands in years) and resists all attempts at intimacy.

It made for a compelling read. I loved it. I was pretty sure he was ultimately on the protagonist's side and had a good reason for his deception, but then I hit the second half of his route.

You see, Toma's route is the problematic one that I alluded to in my first post, and it makes the game difficult to recommend because I'm not down with attempted rape perpetrated by the love interest.

Toma is, in anime fandom terms, yandere. It's a type of character that normally comes off as sweet until jealousy or overprotectiveness unlocks their crazy side.

And no matter what the player does, he will be a bastard to the protagonist in the second half of the route. Unless enough correct choices are made throughout the story (walkthrough probably needed) he is not redeemable. One of the other characters even lampshades this by telling the protagonist that Toma is the least frequent of the love interests to have a happy ending with her in all the worlds.

I was... rather shocked and disbelieving when Toma locked my protagonist in a large dog cage to stop her from leaving his apartment. It's not exactly where I wanted to spend a third of my playthrough.

Because of the memories I had unlocked so far, I was pretty sure that Toma was doing this because it was his sick and twisted way of protecting the protagonist, but there's no getting away from the sick and twisted. He reveals just how much he's been observing the protagonist, and in subsequent playthroughs of his route (I got his bad ending first and wanted to try for his good ending later) his attentiveness to everything she likes comes off far more sinister than the first time through.

He also acknowledges that what he's doing isn't what she wants, but he doesn't care as long as it protects her.

Even if the protagonist is still sympathetic towards Toma, she chooses to escape on the last day of the route and is nearly run over by a motorcycle, causing a number of scrapes and bruises. What happens then is messed up, no matter the good, bad, or normal ending.

If it's the bad ending, Toma catches her outside and locks her up so she can never escape again. If he seemed yandere before, it's nothing compared to his facial expression when he finds her, and makes it clear that he was holding back earlier. And that he won't hold back anymore. The ending illustration is seriously creepy, with the protagonist suspended in chains while Toma is clinging on to her.

The good/normal endings aren't much better. In those the protagonist is not found by Toma and returns to the cage hoping that he won't notice when he gets home, but because he's hyperattentive, he does. He makes her strip to her underwear so he can see all her injuries and then tells her that since she's disregarded his own pain in trying to protect her, he's going to disregard hers. And, it's pretty clear from the illustration of him pinning her on the bed and his dialogue that he intends to rape her.

In the normal ending, there's a sound effect of her breaking free and she runs out the door, bumping into Shin, who helps her escape (I like to think she kicked Toma in the nuts). A lot of the mysteries in the storyline are then resolved in exposition and Toma disappears from her life.

To get the good ending, the protagonist needs to completely trust Toma despite knowing everything he's lying about (if that's not a contradictory set of requirements I don't know what is) and if she does, she doesn't run out of the rape scene. Instead she asks him to help her, and during the resulting moment of shock on his part, she accidentally knocks her diary off a shelf.

The diary reveals (almost) everything that the protagonist had been trying to sort out since she lost her memory.

In a way, Toma's storyline is tragic. It's clear from his actions that he cares about her (it may be twisted to all heck, but it's there) and the diary reveals to both of them that the protagonist loved him too, but she was having trouble confessing her feelings to him. The day they met at the start of the storyline was supposed to be the day she would tell him her feelings, except that it got disrupted by Orion's arrival and the onset of her amnesia, then amplified by unrelated harassment from other girls in a club and stuff related to the fifth storyline that crosses all realities.

Everything snowballed from there, making Toma feel like he had to take extreme measures to protect the protagonist, and causing him to mistakenly think she was in love with someone else (he resisted all her advances because he thought she was someone else's girlfriend) when he was the one she was in love with the whole time.

Since Toma reads the diary as well, he comes back to his senses and participates in the epilogue to set everything right.

But that doesn't excuse everything that he did along the way. I'm surprised how easily the protagonist forgives him (her own voice comes out a lot once she has her memories back) and when she decides to stay with him after everything that's happened, even he admits she has poor taste in men.

What I didn't like about the ending was that Toma reverts completely from psycho wannabe boyfriend back to his earlier affectionate personality. (Five minutes earlier he was ordering her to strip and suddenly he's uncomfortable kissing her when she's not dressed?) It happens so easily that the unfortunate implication is he can switch between the two at the drop of a hat, and when you replay the route, it's easy to see that his psycho side was always there, buried just beneath the surface. Even when he and the protagonist are in their final scene together he admits he's afraid he'll be unable to handle it if she ever leaves him.

It makes me want to shake the protagonist and say, "Did you forget what he almost did you, what he did do to you? Don't you realize that the crazy side of him hasn't gone away?"

I might have been okay with this if Toma had been the bonus/villain route unlocked for subsequent playthroughs, as I expect a certain amount of twistedness in those, but Toma was a regular love interest so this completely blindsided me.

For what it's worth, his storyline is well written and probably worth playing twice so you can see how far ahead he begins manipulating the protagonist (proof that his psycho side was not a sudden snap), but I have mixed feelings about not knowing how dark his route can get. On the one side, not knowing is effective because of the shock it elicits, but on other, it makes this game the "attempted rape by a love interest" game so I'm going to have to include that qualifier whenever talking to anyone interested in playing it.

I've seen characters with yandere tendencies in otome before, but Toma goes so much farther than any of the others. And that's saying something considering that there is a bonus route in this game with a love interest whose split personality wants to kill the protagonist. Ukyo's route is up next week!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 4: Clover World

For some reason, Kent's route is called Clover instead of Club. I suspect this might be what Japanese players use to refer to the suit since some of the artwork uses this spelling and the localization team might not have wanted to change that.

Kent was the last of the four main routes that I played largely because of the "type" he appeared to represent. Being tall with glasses I assumed he would be the cool, logical type, and the only route where he does much as a supporting character is Ikki's, where he is so bluntly observant that I told a friend I wasn't too interested in playing the route where I would be dating Spock.

At first my suspicions appeared to bear out. Kent's storyline starts much like Ikki's, with the protagonist waking up in her apartment with no memories and almost immediately being asked to meet her boyfriend. Once again she meets him and Orion is surprised by how she had such an incompatible boyfriend, but this time instead of being mobbed by women, he's just an insensitive clod who doesn't understand why she got so upset yesterday.

Apparently they had a fight, and this is normal behavior for them.

Kent is brusque and every conversation seems to be setting up for an argument, or a debate as he calls it. He's terrible about showing affection and it's clear that he has no idea how to date, since a lot of his early dialogue centers around doing research on how to do it properly (and he misinterprets the advice pretty badly).

Much like with Ikki, the first memories the protagonist gets back are of fighting with Kent, but unlike Ikki's storyline, where we only hear that he's changed to become a better person since meeting the protagonist, we actually see Kent's struggle to change and we're with him every step of the way.

Part of it is because they haven't been dating as long. The protagonist has the ill fortune to lose her memories just a few days after she starts dating Kent, but instead of derailing the romance, she tries to be a good girlfriend because she doesn't know what their relationship was like before or why they started dating in the first place.

The other part is that Kent, despite his manners, is genuinely interested in being better at courting the protagonist and, once he realizes that not every conversation is going to result in an argument, is willing to listen to her suggestions on how to treat her.

This is going to sound a little odd, but Kent reminds me of my dad. There's a lot that's different about them too, but Kent specifically says that he's not a mind reader, and the protagonist is going to have to tell him what she wants or he's not going to be able to accommodate her. It's something my dad talked a lot about when he told me about his own relationship experiences. (Way to go, Dad! You've now been compared to a hot guy in an otome game.)

Perhaps because of that I felt Kent's romance was more realistic, even if the extremely logical parts of his personality were not. His route is a story about communication, which makes or breaks any relationship. It might not be as sexy as some of the others, but it's certainly sweet.

Since the memoryless protagonist honestly takes a stab at making the relationship work, she helps the laconic Kent open up and treat her like the girlfriend he wants her to be.

The problem becomes her memories, because in a twist I haven't seen before, it looks like her returning memories of Kent are almost entirely bad (not surprising considering all the fighting they did) and this romance probably would never have happened if she hadn't lost them.

When Kent finally figures out she has amnesia as part of the story (and not the player screwing up from bad choices), he's entirely supportive of her getting her memories back, but is also afraid that she will hate him again once she does. It's a nice set of conflicting interests, though ultimately he decides to help her no matter what it costs him.

Not getting her memories back is not an option, because if she does not then Orion will never leave and will involuntarily push out what remains of her mind until she degrades completely.

It turns out that the worst memory between them hinges around the fight they had when her dog died in an accident where it was run over by a car. Kent's bumbling attempts at comforting her included telling her that she should have been a more responsible owner, because if she was, then she wouldn't have used such a frayed leash that could easily break and the dog wouldn't have been so ill-trained as to run away the instant it got free.

It's unsurprising that in that moment she told him she hated him.

They only started dating because of a fight to begin with. Kent, understanding that he was feeling romantic inclinations, wanted to see what it was like to date someone and suggested it as an experiment. The protagonist disliked that he was seeing love as a set of chemical reactions rather than something more romantic. So they essentially started dating each other to see who was right and whether love could be justified as something rational.

But because of her memory loss and subsequent attempts to have a real relationship, she's able to see a different side of Kent who is trying to be better to her and is a nice person even if he's not always good about showing it.

Kent's story felt very human. I got his normal ending first, which is usually a bittersweet one since the relationship isn't fully committed, but it's by far my favorite of the normals and in some ways I like it better than the good ending for its realism. Kent leaves for a year to study abroad and promises to keep in touch. In a call back to his impersonal attempts to be a boyfriend earlier in the story, the protagonist tells him she would be happy just getting "Good morning" and "Good night" texts from him.

After the ending illustration scene ends, a text message pops up in an unusual post-ending scene. Since it's morning, we expect it to be "Good morning" since we know Kent isn't much for words. Instead, all it says is "I want to see you." Cue the girly squees.

The good ending changes things so Kent initially loses his chance to study aboard so he can rush to the protagonist's bedside after an accident, when it logically makes no difference to her health whether or not he's there (the accident describes her as having light injuries). Just speaking for myself, I would not have wanted him to pass on his academic presentation for a romantic gesture like that, but the ensuing ending where they both travel to London the following year instead is charming, and keeps them together.

Kent also wins points for being the only mainline love interest to actually interact with Orion. Granted, Shin and Toma never learn about him, but for someone as logical as Kent to force himself to accept the existence of a spirit must be a humongous undertaking and I'm happy he takes it as gamely as he does.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 3: Spade World

Ikki's route is played much the way Orion's opening dialogue leads you to expect. The protagonist wakes up at home with no memory and does her best to hide it from those around her. She doesn't always succeed to the degree that she'd like, but the dialogue options offer some creative ways to avoid answering questions.

While Ikki's route has a level of mystery about it due to the player's amnesia, it doesn't quite manage the oomph of Shin or Toma's. This is largely due to the fact the plot doesn't seem to have much in the way of suspense beyond the fact she has amnesia in the first place. Sure, the player and the protagonist have a lot of questions, but Ikki's route doesn't feel like it has a problem beyond what recovering the protagonist's memories would solve.

His route is largely a story about a good looking young man with the unfortunate ability to charm any woman who meets his eyes. In other words, his story is more about him than the relationship between him and the protagonist, and I never quite got the feeling that Ikki loved the protagonist for herself rather than simply being the only person who can resist him.

Ikki cannot have a normal relationship with someone who is constantly under his sway due to his "condition" and he's annoyed by that. By the time we meet him he's been like this for several years, rotating girlfriends and figuring even if he can't find anyone he likes he might as well have a little fun.

His condition is a little weird though, in that other than Orion and the protagonist's magically induced amnesia, supernatural elements are sparse from storyline to storyline. But there is no doubt that Ikki's condition is supernatural given the way it works. Shortly after eye contact is broken, women come to their senses.

The protagonist is the only exception, and he's both intrigued and a little disappointed that his eyes don't work on her.

As with Shin, the protagonist starts out already dating Ikki, but despite the fact he's the playboy character, he hasn't actually gotten very far with her. Most of the mystery is figuring why the protagonist is going out with him in the first place, why she puts up with all the crazy girls in his fan club (especially since they're constantly trying to drag him away from her), and what is this mysterious deadline where he wants her to fall in love with him by the end of the month.

While interesting, it's just not as compelling, because it doesn't feel like there's a greater truth to be found. With Shin and Toma there was a lot of "Do I trust what they're doing?" and "What is the real story?" But with Ikki, the real story is pretty much what you see.

Ikki has girl problems. Ikki likes the protagonist even though he has to sneak around to see her. Eventually, Ikki develops a spine and girl problems end.

The protagonist actually does very little other than get jealous and a little upset at Ikki to finish off the storyline. The most engaging parts of her involvement are early ones when she's trying to get a hold of her situation, but after that the show is all Ikki's, and arguably if Ikki had more backbone there wouldn't have been much of a story at all.

The thing is, despite his confidant playboy image, Ikki is actually a doormat and a people pleaser. He can't stand being mean to girls who can't help falling in love with him, and while that's an admirable trait, he's not good at drawing the line between being civil and explaining that he really can't keep them company, which results in Ikki constantly being late to dates with the protagonist and running a charade that he actually doesn't care about her.

Some of the stuff Ikki and the protagonist arranged pre-memory loss was just flat out nuts to accommodate his desire to be nice to everybody. For instance, he wants to walk home with her from work everyday, but he gets mobbed by his fan club so he always meets her about a block away after he manages to humor them.

It's not like he's trying to be a gentleman about it. He ignores her when she leaves, even though she's known to be his girlfriend, and escorts one of his fangirls to the train station before turning around and meeting up with the protagonist. He does this to avoid upsetting his fans (who would otherwise bully her) while still sneaking around to see the girl he actually likes, and the pre-amnesia protagonist knew that this would be their mode of operation, even though she didn't particularly enjoy it.

But the story can't end with that as a permanent arrangement, especially since the unwritten rule is that Ikki never dates anyone more than three months and the end of August is the deadline, so in the good ending Ikki confronts the fangirls openly about who he likes and that they better not do anything to her or he won't have anything to do with them.

In the middle, there's just a lot of waffling back on forth on Ikki's part, trying to please his fangirls while trying to keep them from bullying the protagonist, and trying to get the protagonist to fall in love with him, when there's really no compromise. The ramp up to what might be considered the climax is actually Ikki suggesting they should take a break from their relationship, with the difference between one of the bad endings and the good/normal endings is whether or not the protagonist is jealous enough to confront him about it.

Yes, he's willing to walk away and give up on the girl he loves because he can't say no to other people.

I mean, it's not that he's a bad character, Ikki himself is sympathetic if flawed, but because all the problems encountered were easily solvable if he would just make his wishes clear, his story didn't carry much weight with me, and I never felt like I got a good feeling for what Ikki and the protagonist's pre-amnesia relationship was like.

But I will say that if one's personal tastes run towards a romantically tormented love interest, Ikki's voice actor does a wonderful job conveying how messed up he feels inside. Ikki's desperation for the protagonist's affection is clear, even if the reasons for his desire are not.

Oh yeah, not critical to the plot in any way, but this is the first otome game where I have been drunk called by a love interest. Not make or break in any way, but Ikki being heavily inebriated was a good laugh.