Monday, July 15, 2019

"Unfilial Child" is Featured Story at Curious Fictions

First, I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me in support over the past week. The well wishes and assistance are greatly appreciated that. I will be going into surgery this Wednesday, and hopefully all will be well with my recovery.

As mentioned last week, I am beefing up my Curious Fictions presence with three new stories. The free one, "Unfilial Child," is in fact the featured story for this week! So if you haven't already taken a look, please do.

"Living Rooms" and "The Final Gift of Zhuge Liang" are also readable for a token subscription cost.

The next subscriber story should be going live on the 21st (unless surgery leaves me too tired to hit the publish button), and that will be my space pirate novelette "Between Earth and Exile." Alexa escaped a conquered Earth as a teenager, living with other human exiles on the Bloodborne and surviving as a raider in a galaxy now hostile to humanity. But her family is still back on Earth, and she has a plan to rescue them.

I'm going to try lightening my blog load during my recovery, so next week's post is already queued up and should go up automatically next Monday without any input from me. I hope you'll enjoy my look at the story for the puzzle-platformer The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince.

I'll also be playing a new RPG or visual novel during my recovery period. If you'd like to vote for what I cover in a later RPG or VN Talk, please take the survey. The primary criteria for what games I placed on the list is that they have to be games I already have in my backlog and have not yet played.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Health Issues and Supporting My Writing

Hi everyone,

I've been keeping my blog mostly about my writing and my games, which is the way I like it, but I feel it's time to take a break here and talk about other things, which is part of why the blog has been a little bumpy this year.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, and while we caught it early and it's treatable, it's put me in an uncomfortable position financially. I am extremely fortunate in that my writing earned enough this year to make a difference in being able to pay for my treatment, but just when I thought I was out of the woods, I found additional unexpected medical expenses.

I don't have the stamina to do any kind of centralized crowdfunding like GoFundMe, so what I'd like is a chance to earn your money. If ever you've enjoyed my work and/or wished there was something you could do for me, now is the time. I've arranged a few things so that if my fiction or blogging has entertained you, you have two ways to support me:

Curious Fictions (via tips and/or subscription)
Ko-Fi (one time tips in increments of $3)

If you've enjoyed my short fiction, you'll find that I've recently added three stories to my collection on Curious Fictions. "Unfilial Child" has been offline for months ever since Great Jones Street folded, but now it's online for free (though you can still tip me if you like it!). In addition to that, I've added my Writers of the Future grand prize winning story "Living Rooms" and "The Final Gift of Zhuge Liang," the latter of which has never appeared in any online venue. Both "Living Rooms" and "The Final Gift of Zhuge Liang" are paid $1 reads, or free to subscribers.

Subscribers get subscriber-only content for as little as $2/month. In addition to the two stories already up, for the next two months I'll add additional subscriber-only reprints at rate of one every two weeks, so there are at least four in the pipeline, and none are currently available for free. I'd like to make Curious Fictions close to a one-stop shop for my previously published fiction so dedicated readers can find my short fiction where they like without having to run around collecting random magazines and anthologies.

As an added bonus, I will also run an unpublished novelette of mine, "Jack of Spades," as a serial and this will be the only way to read it. This story is near and dear to college age me, but I'm afraid in a post-Hunger Games world it looks mostly derivative rather than something I wrote before Hunger Games was published, so this is the ideal place for it to see the light of day.

I'll consider writing new content specifically for Curious Fictions subscribers if this proves popular!

As for the other way to support me, particularly if you're a reader of my blog rather than my fiction (or you're really just out to make my day), you can tip me at Ko-fi. Ko-fi doesn't have recurring payments, but operates more like a tip jar where you can tip me the cost of a cup of coffee (or in multiples thereof). You can do it as little or as often as you like and everything you put in goes straight to me, save Paypal's cut. I set a target goal where if we hit it, I'll do a reader's choice RPG or Visual Novel Talk on my blog, but as a catch-all donation jar there's nothing fiction related attached to it.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope to provide more fiction and fun in the months to come.

Monday, June 24, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 9: Cantarella

Sorry for another bobble in my posting schedule. Things have been a bit rough lately, and I'll try to address that in my next post, since I'd really like to finish up my Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ write-up first. But I will say that if you've been enjoying my VN Talk series to please consider dropping a tip in the Ko-fi jar, which you'll see in the upper right of my blog.

That said, this is the last, but certainly not least, of the ~Wintertide Miracles~ stories.

While I was playing this, I wasn't sure how everything would come together, because the side story has two plotlines and I wasn't sure at first which was the subplot and which was the main plot, but by the climax I knew what Cantarella was ultimately about.

It's a story about fathers and daughters and it's much better done than the Lupin's Gang side story in ~Future Blessings~. Lupin's Gang wasn't bad, but it clearly a side story unrelated to the main plot, and it didn't handle its father/daughter pairing with nearly the same deftness that Cantarella does.

In fact my biggest complaint with Lupin's Gang was that Shirley's father gave the final punch to the villain, taking away from Shirley's previous moment of victory and making the finale a showdown between two dudes, neither of whom the audience really cares about.

Like Lupin's Gang, Cantarella takes place after the airship race, but before Cardia and friends discover Isaac's laboratory, and from there dances a careful game between what the audience knows and what the main cast knows. Unlike Lupin's Gang, this does not take place completely outside the main storyline, and weaves in familiar enemies and even a familiar backstory.

Cantarella is a singing star in London, filling the opera house every night she performs, and Cardia and friends happen to meet her off the stage when the mysterious masked Baron Aiguille tries kidnapping her. Though they drive off Aiguille, Cantarella feels weak and they escort her back to her home so she can take the medicine she needs for a chronic condition of hers. This allows Cardia and Cantarella to become friends and for the crew to also meet her father, Miles Strand.

Miles is introduced as a lazy layabout who gambles away all of Cantarella's earnings (save what she needs for medication--he's pretty adamant he would never go that far) and from his looks, it's pretty obvious that he's not old enough to be her biological father. Though Cantarella's often frustrated with him, she tells Cardia about how Miles found her gravely injured as a child and took her in. They started calling themselves father and daughter because there could be no other reasonable explanation for a man to be living with a young girl, but Cantarella always calls him "Miles" because she's not sure how well he'd take to being called "Father" and she's afraid of being rejected, and with good reason.

As the audience learns, but Cardia never does (and even Cantarella perhaps only partially understands), is that Cantarella is one of the failed Cardia clones. She was unusual in that she was often awake while growing in the vat, and possesses memories of Isaac Beckford disposing of his failed prototypes. And then one day, to her horror, it was her turn to be thrown away. Isaac was disappointed by how she deviated from Cardia's intended appearance; her hair was white and her right eye deformed.

We also learn that Miles used to be the second-in-command of Twilight, so naturally he knew something (though not all) of Isaac's research, and became horrified when he was introduced to the room full of Cardia clones. This led to him becoming disaffected from his job and when he finally went AWOL, he spotting a dying clone and took her with him, naming her Cantarella.

(Which, by the way, only works because apparently nobody in Code:Realize knows the story of the Borgias. Miles named his daughter after a poison, which given that she's a Cardia clone is appropriate, but not something he should be advertising to the world.)

This means that Cantarella is actually Cardia's older sister. And by basing Miles's backstory around Twilight, the story is able to make use of Aleister and Twilight itself as part of the plot. Since Cantarella was artificially created and Isaac seemed to have implanted something in her brain, Miles needs Zicterium to treat it, and Twilight's the only source of that in town. Miles has been paying them Cantarella's earnings to get a regular supply, but now that Cardia's in the picture, Aleister has a different sort of payment in mind; one that Miles can't refuse.

I liked Twilight showing up since this takes place during the main story so they should be an ongoing danger and they were conspicuously missing during Lupin's Gang (though granted a lot of that took place on a boat where Twilight had no business being). As a former operative, it's fun seeing Miles change personas as he discards his "daddy" personality for that of a hardened agent (and it's something that probably was his game face earlier in his life). Seeing him prepare to face off against Lupin and company to capture Cardia was a good moment of tension, broken only by the story's other subplot.

I mentioned how Cardia meets Cantarella due to Baron Aiguille trying to kidnap her. Baron Aiguille is a completely unrelated party who has "inherited" a moving castle that won't walk anymore because it lacks the voiceprint of the appropriate singer to make it move. It's implied the castle was built by Isaac, and given that he knows it will no longer move but the appropriate person may eventually be born who will be able to wake it, it was probably something he'd built for the real Cardia and then buried knowing that eventually the reborn one might be able to reclaim it.

Aiguille is a fun character even though he comes off as a bit of a brute in his introduction. He's arrogant, and shows up in a hilarious variety of places. The player gets to choose where to hang out with Cantarella soon after meeting her, and there are five locations (so each love interest has an opportunity to tag along). I highly recommend reloading repeatedly to do all of them. Even though a lot of the dialogue between Cantarella and Aiguille ends up rehashed I love how he randomly turns up in his mask and carnival costume in public as if it's no big deal and there's always a context specific question about why people don't mistake him a robber or the like.

One thing I love about Cantarella is that she has a really sharp tongue. She uses it on Miles a lot, and she certainly doesn't spare Aiguille. When he tries calling her his Fairy Tale Songstress, she doesn't have any of it, and won't even respond to his loony threats until he finally gives in and properly calls her by her name. Cardia and her male companion generally comment on how it doesn't even look like the conversation is happening between kidnapper and kidnappee.

When Cantarella is broken by Miles's betrayal, she on the verge of despair, but Aiguille blasts down a wall and interrupts with his steam-powered carriage, announcing that he's come to take her away and that he's not going to argue with her (because he knows if they do, he's gonna lose). Cardia also hitches a ride and escapes, leaving her friends to handle Miles and Twilight, which they do.

At this point, I really wasn't sure where the story was going, since the two plots were so different from each other. There's a fairy tale we're given early on about a paraplegic prince and a singing princess who are given a moving castle so the prince can see the world, and from the accompanying drawings, the prince and princess are clearly supposed to be Aiguille and Cantarella, but the two of them don't actually have a shared history and this fairy tale actually exists in their world so it would be weird if their lives were exactly as the fairy tale depicted.

Fortunately that's not the case. We finally meet the real Aiguille, who is not entirely paraplegic, but has "bad legs." Apparently he can walk a little bit with a cane, but it's very difficult for him so he usually goes around in a sort of automated wheelchair. I do like that Code:Realize has a prominent disabled character in the story, and depending on the choices made he might even get a big moment to save the day, but I'm not sure whether I like the ending where they mention he's training to walk better. It seems like if it was possible for him to regain his ability to walk (he lost it in a childhood illness) he would have done so years ago. Worse, it implies that the reason he hasn't been able to walk is that he's been too lazy to rehabilitate himself.

Aiguille and Cantarella have some good chemistry together, in both of his personas, but given how little time they actually spend together their story ends with only a potential for romance rather than an actual relationship. He wants Cantarella because one of the devices left to him indicates that her singing voice can power the castle, and even though she's in a rather poor state of mind, she takes pity on him and agrees to do it. That way Aiguille can travel the world just like the prince in the fairy tale.

Of course, being that this is an invention of Isaac's (especially if you play this after the Finis epilogue) it's not entirely unexpected when things go horribly bad. The castle powers up and sucks Cantarella into its main hub where the device in her brain goes into overload with leftover commands from Isaac. In anguish and having flashbacks of being discarding, Cantarella continues singing, because she wants to please her father and knows that's what is being asked of her, and her dirge turns the castle into an uncontrollable monstrosity that powers straight for London.

This sets up the finale where Miles comes clean about what he was really doing with Twilight, so he can accompany Lupin and friends on the rescue mission to the castle, where they met up with Cardia and Aiguille and everyone heads for the main hub to rescue Cantarella.

Though everyone plays a role in rescuing her, the lion's share goes to Miles, who has to apologize for his deception and tell Cantarella what she truly means to him. Unlike Lupin's Gang in ~Future Blessings~ where the climax is Shirley's father Darius punching out the bad guy, the climax in Cantarella is a bleeding and battered Miles risking his life to tell his daughter how much he loves her.

It packs an incredible heft to it, especially considering that much of Code:Realize has already been about children and their fathers, particularly Isaac in regards to his creations. But unlike Isaac, Miles truly cares about Cantarella as a human girl and not a homunculus or lab experiment.

This is the finale, and not anything that has to do with Aiguille other than the fact the trigger for Cantarella's device happens to be a part of his castle. I really liked the father-daughter relationship, and the fact we've come to care about both Cantarella and Miles makes this work. Though we're only with them for a few hours, both of them are fully realized characters with their own fears and foibles by the end of the story.

What I didn't particularly expect to find in this side story though, was the rehabilitation of a minor, previously unnamed character, now known as Theophraste. This is Lupin's mentor.

As we learned in Lupin's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ route, his mentor was previously a Twilight operative, and from Miles's backstory we discover that the two of them were close friends and found out about the Cardia clones at the same time. Apparently in Twilight's early days, before it became a full-on secret agency, Theophraste was able to convince himself that even if he got his hands dirty, he was doing it for the greater good, and some of his sense of justice rubbed off on the more cynical Miles. But learning about the Cardia clones broke both of them, because there was no way any of those girls could be related to protecting the British people. Being in charge of intelligence, Theophraste arguably had it worse, as he knew exactly what Isaac's plans were.

The two of them escaped Twilight, and given Miles's POV, we're able to see why Theophraste is so shaken that he can't carry on the fight anymore, making him more sympathetic than what he ultimately ended up being in Lupin's backstory. And Miles is canny enough to realize that Lupin is a student of his former friend.

Though this tie-in worked for me initially, it doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The problem is that Lupin says in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ that he met his mentor when he was about ten. According to the official artbook, Lupin is 24 at the start of the game, meaning that they met fourteen years ago. But according to Miles, he and Theophraste didn't freak out and leave until six years ago. When they go through the lab for Isaac's documents, most of the specimens are already dead or disposed of. The successful Cardia is not there, which matches the timeline given in ~Guardian of Rebirth~, which places her in Wales six years prior to the story.

I suspect that someone forgot (or decided to ignore) that Lupin's backstory can't be reconciled with the new information in Cantarella. Even if we ignore his age in the artbook, Lupin's young enough in the flashback image that he's probably no older than his early teens when his mentor dies, and this is a man he's described as raising him, so they'd obviously been together for some years prior.

One thing that I'm a little surprised about is that we never learn Miles's birth name. One of Miles's flashbacks mentions that is not his real name, which makes sense being that he's an intelligence agent, but we're only left with implications as to his real identity, rather than it being spelled out at any point. This means that only lore nerds are likely to guess that he is actually Mycroft Holmes.

Miles mentions having a younger brother multiple times, but only vaguely suggests what his brother is good at and that they don't see each other often. Mycroft is typically depicted as being involved with the government in some fashion, and post-Doyle writers have often placed him in intelligence work, which fits with Miles's backstory. There's also the matter that Sholmès gets the Count of Monte Cristo potion from someone with a lot of connections in his epilogue, and we only catch a glimpse of a silhouette depicting the person he'd spoken too, which looked like Miles.

I can understand not wanting to spell it out in Sholmès's route since there's no way of knowing the order the player will go through the different stories and explaining why Mycroft is going by Miles in the opening credits would get needlessly complicated, but at least in the Cantarella story it should have been okay to call him Mycroft at some point. Sholmès doesn't show up, but the players already know that Sholmès is Sherlock Holmes and he's been a major character in the past so there would be less explanation needed.

Cantarella was unexpectedly the highlight of ~Wintertide Miracles~, which makes me a little sad that there isn't anything left in the main story to explore, since I very much would like to spend additional time with Cantarella and Miles. There are no additional fandiscs after this, and the two don't appear in the unlockable Special Epilogues, which is a shame. This side story is a real gem, and I expect to go through it again in the future.

Monday, June 10, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 8: Finis

This week I'm covering Finis's route for Code:Realize: ~Wintertide Miracles~. Please beware of spoilers if that concerns you as I'll be discussing everything including the ending.

When I started, I wasn't immediately sure where Finis's story was going, because he's a non-romantic route and while it's nice seeing him and Cardia establish a relationship as siblings, we already get a lot of that in the Christmas stories with the other characters. At first glance, living their happy ending feels like all there is.

In a nod to Saint-Germain's Christmas Story, both he and Hansel drop in on Cardia and Finis to check on how they're doing and what their plans are, though Finis is less than thrilled about it. Saint-Germain is relieved when Cardia tells him that the siblings plan on living out their days in rural Wales indefinitely.

We also get cameos from Sholmès and Watson, who are pursuing Moriarty/Aleister, who happens to stop by the Beckford manor to ask a question of Finis, his former boss. It's an excuse to show how Finis has changed, as he's willing to share his new outlook on life with Aleister (though he's too embarrassed to admit any of those feelings to his sister), but it's also a reminder that even though Finis has left his old life as the head of Twilight behind, he's still Isaac Beckford's creation.

And that's really where the story takes a much different tack than the rest of the stories in ~Wintertide Miracles~.

The remaining stories have a low level of danger, but in Finis's epilogue, London experiences a mysterious disaster that is causing buildings to collapse. Cardia and Finis aren't sure what's going on at first, being so remote that their local newspaper doesn't have the details, but they want to help, and that's when Idea steps in, in the form of Hansel.

Hansel tries to get them to peacefully stay at home, because it's the life they said they were going to live, and this causes them to realize that if he's preventing them from going, the disaster in London must be related to their father. And he comes clean about it, but admits that it's not really Cardia he's worried about (since her Horologium has been neutralized). Finis is the problem, because he has all of Isaac's memories. Conveniently, since we can't spend the whole game convincing an Idea hard-liner, Hansel caves relatively easily and even helps them to London by using the Forest of Fog that Idea uses to travel large distances.

We get to see cameos of the other characters since Lupin and company are obviously not going to stand idle while what turns out to be giant machines are wrecking London, and there are some good jokes about why a construction robot needs a cannon mounted on it (other than it makes for a menacing enemy!). Though this ultimately ends up being more of Finis's story than anyone else's, Cardia gets some really good moments.

Cardia is the one who thinks of getting Impey's ornithopter to head off the master robot, and she's the one who both pilots it and drops the bombs. While this feels well within anything Cardia does, it's sadly still refreshing to see an otome heroine this dynamic.

But it's Finis who jumps out of the ornithopter to land on the robot's head so he can get to the control panel and halt its commands to the other robots. We get to see Finis at his most vulnerable, when he hesitates to complete the command input. It's not because he is missing part of his father's knowledge, as Hansel suspects, but that he's saddened by the fact he has to destroy even more of his father's legacy. And if that's not enough, when he finally keys in the passcode, it's "my_dearest" as a reminder that Isaac Beckford had done everything to be reunited with his family.

In the end, Cardia and Finis come to realize that though their father was ultimately consumed by madness, there is a lot of good that he did for the world, and they spend their final pre-credit scene atop the wall around Steel London where Isaac once admired the view (in a nod to a plot detail from Lupin's After Story).

After the credits roll we're treated to a congratulations party for Finis, who has returned to work for the government to properly handle Isaac's legacy (no more malfunctioning giant robots). Idea's approved of his new work, so long as Hansel is part of the new Daybreak bureau for oversight, and Cardia happily announces to him that they're getting a new family member.

Given that this is a romance game, and Finis is all too aware that most of Cardia's companions are male, he immediately jumps to thinking she's getting married, but it's actually that the dog Sisi is joining their household so Cardia has someone to keep her company while Finis is at work. To be honest, I figured it was the dog, since the game wouldn't shoehorn in a canon love interest on a route where the player makes zero choices, so I pretty much stayed back and enjoyed Finis going around accusing various guys of impropriety or pondering whether they would try at all. Amusingly he dismisses Impey without even considering that he could be a candidate.

Other than the fact there are zero choices to be made on this route, I quite enjoyed it and would have liked to see what kind of future it would lead to. It's a bit odd that despite taking place six months after ~Guardian of Rebirth~ there is no snow, since temporally that places it concurrent with the Christmas stories, but I assume that was done to dodge the Christmas romance themes in the other routes.

Next week will be the last installment of VN Talk for ~Wintertide Miracles~, covering the Canterella side story, which I have to say is excellent.

Monday, June 3, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 7: Sholmès

This week I'm covering Sholmès's route for Code:Realize: ~Wintertide Miracles~. Please beware of spoilers if that concerns you as I'll be discussing everything up until the ending.

I have to admit that when I started Sholmès's epilogue it forced me to realize that I don't really remember the details of his ~Future Blessings~ route all that well. I remember the basic gist of his story with Moriarty/Aleister and how Cardia ended up at his house, but the epilogue opens with Sholmès reflecting on his relationship with Watson and how Mary ended up getting killed, and that was a detail I didn't remember all. I remembered that Watson's wife had died before the Sholmès route began, but couldn't recall exactly what Sholmès had done to contribute to to it, and his musings do nothing to refresh my memory.

I also hadn't liked Sholmès's route much due to heavily borrowing plot elements from Van Helsing's storyline, including the villain himself. Unfortunately he doesn't fare much better in his After Story either.

The epilogue picks up shortly after his route in ~Future Blessings~. Cardia is still poisonous, they want to fix that, and she's now working with Sholmès as his apprentice. The opening is a lot of fun since we get to see Cardia, Sholmès, and Watson mess around with Lupin and Impey (and Lupin and Impey mess around with them in turn). It adds another layer of character to Lupin and Sholmès's rivalry to have Cardia involved as well, and as a result, attempting to foil Lupin's heist feels a lot like a game between friends. Unfortunately this is the route's best foot forward and it's all downhill from here.

We get to see cameos of other members of the main cast (everyone except Saint-Germain really) and of course Victor gets involved again. He and Watson are working on trying to develop a cure for Cardia, but there's no Zicterium for him to work with this time, so thankfully the game avoids shoehorning Victor's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ solution into yet another After Story.

Sholmès himself is rather useless this route since he can't personally do anything to help Cardia except cheer her on since he's a detective, not a scientist. But he does a fair enough job of wining and dining her, and he does run into a convenient contact, who leaves him with a potion identical to the one used by the Count of Monte Cristo that will leave someone in a deathlike state without killing them. The contact's identity is intentionally hidden from the audience, but from context it's fairly easy to guess that it's his brother, Mycroft, who has not been used in prior games.

This potion turns out necessary because Cardia's Horologium (conveniently for the plot) reactivates and starts its more murderous transformation where she'll eventually explode and spread poison for miles around.

Since Victor and Watson believe they are at least a year away from rendering the Horologium harmless, they get help from Impey and Nemo of all people, to adapt the potion to one that should be safe for Cardia to take and revive from later. After some mushy talk with Sholmès, during which he proposes to her, she takes the potion and the credits roll.

Of course the route doesn't end like that, and the post-credits scene is after the year has passed and Cardia's condition has been successfully neutralized. But what I didn't like so much was that when Sholmès goes to wake her, he pretty much pulls a Victor by putting the wake-up medicine in his mouth before kissing her to wake her up. If Victor's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ ending hadn't already mouth-fed her medicine, it might have been all right, but Victor's did it first and it had a more compelling reason for him to do so other than he would think it's romantic. It also didn't help that the kiss illustration is posed almost identically, as if the artist couldn't be bothered to get a different angle.

What I did like though is that Cardia gives him crap about not letting her get her bearings after being asleep for a year because the first thing she wakes up to is finding his lips on hers. And I did like that we avoided a Victor and the Zicterium rehash. They just rehashed a different part of his route. But at least that gives us some reassurance that even if Victor had never gotten a hold of the remaining Zicterium, he would have eventually developed a cure as promised.

There are still two posts to go with Finis's epilogue and the Canterella side story. I will likely cover Finis next week, depending on whether I have the bandwidth for a more writing-related post. Because of the issues I've been dealing with, free time is very precious right now and I'm fortunate in that all these Code:Realize posts were actually written back in February/March when I played the game, so adding them to the blog is just a matter of formatting them and adding images.

Monday, May 27, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 6: Impey

Apologizes for taking so long with this. I had the Nebulas and a number of other personal things going on and somehow prepping these posts kept slipping by me these past few Sunday nights! If you'd like to catch up, you'll find the previous installments with Victor, Lupin, Van Helsing, and Saint-Germain here.

As before, this game is still less than a year old, so here's your spoiler warning!

Alternate Story: First Christmas

I had low expectations for Impey, given that he was my least favorite route in ~Guardian of Rebirth~, which allowed them to be pleasantly thwarted when I finally played his Christmas story. As expected, he was really upset by Cardia leaving for Wales and made a big fuss over it, because Impey is nothing if not constantly declaring his love for her. But afterwards he became significantly more subdued, to the point that Saint-Germain asks him not if he loves Cardia, but why, which prompts Impey to do some unexpected soul searching.

On Cardia's side of the story, we finally learn why she falls in love with Impey in return, a key ingredient that was missing in their original romance. It turns out that Impey's constant assurance that he loves her, while initially meaningless, eventually convinced her that she was worthy of loving and being loved at a time when she still considered herself a monster. She attributes that in turn to her ability to save her brother Finis and allow him to know love as well.

Cardia doesn't quite understand why one love is different from another (leading to an amusing scene where she convinces Finis to tell her that he loves her and concludes that it just doesn't feel the same), but she figures out enough to know that Impey is important to her.

Impey's route leans into the humor, but oddly enough it's not as outright funny as Lupin's is. His usual amount of ham is toned down because he's trying to sort out his feelings for Cardia, causing him to at one point run away and pour his heart out to Nemo of all people about how he's feeling. (And Nemo dispensing deadpan serious relationship advice is the creepiest thing in this entire game.) Impey's still fond of the grand gestures though, such as when he plows through a blizzard to find Cardia because her train's been delayed.

There was only one point where I felt a bit bored, and that's when Impey comes back to Cardia after Nemo gives him a talking to and they just kind of meander around town. While other love interests do this with her on their route, it doesn't work on Impey's because of when the meandering happens. It's a pacing issue.

When she goes through town with Victor and Van Helsing, it's in the middle part of their Christmas stories, so there's no immediate expectation for an emotional payoff. However, on Impey's route, this happens after she asks him to tell her that he loves her (in a repeat of her experiment with Finis), and he refuses. So we expect that after he gets straightened out by Nemo he's going to come back and do the deed, not fart around town while quite obviously avoiding saying the l-word.

It picks up a little bit before the end when they eventually wind up at London's Crystal Palace, where Impey shows Cardia an exhibit dedicated to her late father and talks about how for all of Isaac's flaws he did a lot of good things, including being an inspiration to him. And it's only after they leave the exhibit that Impey finally confesses that he loves her, amidst fireworks prepped by Nemo of all people.

His route wasn't horrible, but because of the odd dip in the end, it felt just "okay" rather than great, which is too bad because I thought it had a promising start.

Special Epilogue

Unsurprisingly, of all the love interests, I also played Impey's Special Epilogue last. He still doesn't get to the moon. Rather he's busy with a lot of the World's Fair stuff that he did in exchange for getting Zicterium for Victor in his ~Future Blessings~ ending, so he's not home at the beginning. Cardia misses him, but figures she should be constructive and help him with his moon project, so she decides to head back to her old home in Wales to see if there's anything good in the books her father left behind.

She leaves a note for him so he won't worry if he comes home while she's away, but because she wants to surprise Impey with her research results, she doesn't want to say why she's going home. So she just leaves a note saying that she's gone back to her parent's house. And that's it.

Poor Impey comes home, finds the note, and freaks out thinking that he's neglected her so much that she'd gotten pissed off and gone back to her old house. It was great. I suppose it's a bit mean of me, but Impey works best as comic relief, and this is totally a misunderstanding that would happen.

In fact, when he finally chases her down to Wales, the game resumes from Cardia's perspective and she hears footsteps have entered the house in the middle of the night. No one else should be here so the player is presented with a choice to either wait and assess the situation, or deliver a preemptive attack on whoever enters the room. I knew it was Impey, so I assessed the situation to get the good option first, but you better believe I later reloaded to give Impey a karate chop to the face.

It was worth it, especially to see Impey freaking out as he wonders if Cardia is now so pissed off that she wants to physically attack him.

Eventually they get things sorted out and he reveals that he brought her a wedding ring because they hadn't gotten them yet, despite the wedding. This felt like an odd retroactive omission to me, though they wouldn't be the first couple I know who got married first and picked up rings later. Cardia's ring has a base with no stone though, and initially I thought it was because they're supposed to pick up the stone from the moon, but no, it's so she can hold up the ring and the moon "fits" in the empty space.

I was less impressed by that, though Impey suggests they can make new rings with stones from the moon once they get there, which is sort of what I was thinking, but why new rings at all? Maybe this is just another reason why Impey and I don't click, but all in all his Special Epilogue was fun (even if it was mostly due to Impey bashing) so it wasn't a bad way to end the game.

Even though his Special Epilogue is the last event I played due to the nature of the Special Epilogues unlocking at the very end, there are still more posts to come. Next week is Sholmès's regular epilogue.

Monday, May 6, 2019

"All Times, All At Once" Is Out In Intergalactic Medicine Show

My latest short story "All Times, All At Once" is now out in the April 2018 issue of Intergalactic Medicine Show. You might have already heard if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook. This issue seemed to be running late, but the good thing is it's now available to readers.

Currently a subscription is required, but it will become available for free later this year after the magazine ceases publication. Unfortunately, this is IGMS's penultimate issue and I'm sorry to be losing such a good market. This is my second time appearing there and my second time getting the cover art as well. I've been very fortunate in that regard.

"All Times, All At Once" is set in the far future when humanity has colonized the stars, but in some places, the stars are definitely "not right" as the crew aboard the Starfish quickly learns when they answer a colony's distress signal. If you love the idea of space colonies, Lovecraftian fiction, and Chinese food, this may be up your alley!

I know I missed a post with my Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ VN Talk series last week. Sorry about that. I'll pick up with Impey next week.