UnEpic Was the Opposite of Mundane

Do you like RPGs? Do you like the idea of having a fully customizable character you can turn into a super-specialist or a jack of all trades without having to sacrifice character effectiveness?  Do you like Fantasy that is aware of the typical tropes and has a delightful mixture of falling in line with said tropes and standing them on their heads, both in such a way that it makes even the most tired trope feel fun an exciting? Do you like all of those things and side-scroll action, too (AKA, a “Metroidvania” style game)? If you answered yes to all of these questions or found the potential combination of them intriguing, then I have a game for you to try out!

UnEpic is all of those things and more. It is a side-scrolling RPG starring Daniel (at least, that’s the name he gets in the promo materials, you get to name your character when you start the game but that’s mostly for save file reference), a typical video gamer who got transported into the game when he went to the bathroom during one of his first ever tabletop gaming sessions. He finds himself in a castle and, deciding someone must have slipped something into his drink or food, decides that he’s hallucinating so blithely wanderings further into the castle. After a few rooms, he happens upon an evil spirit (AKA Zera) that tries to possess him, but it fails to do anything more than get stuck in his body. As he moves deeper into the castle, slowly becoming convinced he’s not hallucinating, he eventually figures out what he needs to do in order to get home. As he does, there are a number of humorous scenes as he and the dark spirit sharing his body try to trick each other. Daniel wants help navigating the castle and the spirit wants to kill him so it can leave his body and inhabit another that it can actually control. Daniel usually comes out on top since, ultimately, it is up to the player to decide whether or not to follow the Spirit’s advice, and the spirit is initially only trying to get Daniel killed. As the game goes on, the Spirit starts mixing in actual help with the incorrect instructions, making it much more difficult to figure out what is good advice and what isn’t.

As he explores the castle and learns more about what it’s going to take to get him home (and it’s fairly early that he learns he has to defeat the lord of the castle), he find money, items or gear, and magic to help him on his way. A lot of it is fairly typical fantasy fare, stuff like swords, bows, heavy armor, and more specifically named stuff like “Tunic of the Ranger” that makes you better at using bows and even unique stuff like Excalibur and an axe you get for, uh, helping out Goblins during mating season. Did I mention this game requires you to enter your age when you navigate to its page in Steam? Definitely not a game for young children, what with the references to sex, alcohol, and drugs. Fun fact, it’s also on the Switch now and plays even better on the handheld, wide-screen glory that is the Switch than it did on the computer.

Anyway.  As Daniel explores the castle, he discovers he needs to defeat the lord of the castle and, in order to do so, must free 8 light spirits from their prisons. From there, it’s all finding keys, exploring secret rooms, trying not to get murdered by traps, and finding the right gear so you can kick as much ass as possible while trying to figure out how to make it through rooms that randomly drop rocks on your head and through dungeons where every door you find is locked by a key that isn’t the one you just picked up. For the most part, in terms of gameplay, it’s nothing special. It’s fun, light-hearted take on dungeon delving is what makes it stand out. There are games with smoother controls, more intuitive interfaces, better layouts, and better levels, but this one hits the “satirizing fantasy” niche better than most similar games I’ve ever played.

The protagonist’s video gamer roots show in the way he tries to address his problems and the game’s mechanics catch him and any similar players off guard when it starts to introduce a lot of rules more commonly associated with tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. For instance, skeletons take (slightly) reduced damage from swords and spears, but extra damage from blunter weapons like maces or clubs. Bows require targeting for enemies that aren’t straight in front of you, which can be a little frustrating because you might have to cycle through available targets before getting to the one you want, but the fact that you can miss a slug crawling across the ground when firing straight ahead is the first real evidence you get of the game’s excellent hit-box management. Never will you take a hit you feel you shouldn’t have taken and never will you hit something unless you see your weapon enter into the enemy’s model. It can be incredibly risky to use a close-range melee weapon since that requires getting within striking distance of most of the enemies in the game, but they usually do more damage and have better bonuses or stats than spears and bows.

It’s a fun game with relatively simple mechanics that don’t take long to pick up and really start to flow smoothly once you get used to swapping between items in your shortcut menus and rapidly targeting enemies with ranged attacks while avoiding the enemies closing in on you in melee. It even has a ton of fun little references to other games and media liberally sprinkled throughout. Some of them have been a little obfuscated in the Steam and Switch versions (the only versions I’ve played, but I read a few articles about it while trying to figure out if the spirit’s original name was a reference to something) for copyright reasons, but most of them are still there. There’s even one a few minutes into the game, when you fight your first enemy. I won’t spoil it, but it really sets the tone of the game.

If you’ve got ten bucks (or less, if you get it during a Steam sale event) burning a hole in your pocket and want several hours of relaxing dungeon exploration, I recommend checking out UnEpic. It’s not going to blow your mind, reveal the secrets of the cosmos as they relate to your inner-most heart, or make you acknowledge the secrets hidden deep inside that you won’t even admit you’re hiding to yourself (we’ll leave that to Celeste), but you’ll have a good time as long as you don’t mind a bit of a bratty protagonist who keeps getting shown up by the evil spirit possessing him.

My Second Favorite Cop Show

While my friend and I were watching Pysch a couple of weeks ago, we got to talking about our mutual love for comedy, cop shows, and comedic cop shows. While we both obviously rated Psych as our favorite, we were both surprised to learn that our second favorite cop show was Castle. Me, because I want to be Richard Castle (a rich, eccentric millionaire writer with a nice apartment and the fortitude to not only write books but help the police solve crimes every week while pretending he’s doing research) and him because he’s like a broke, slightly funnier, and much less involved in crime solving version of Richard Castle. The distinction is probably the smallest one I’ll ever make, but we argued about it for half an hour, so it is clearly important to both of us.

It was interesting to see that we were basically in agreement on pretty much every point of the show. The only difference was our experiences with it. He watched it as it came out on TV and I purchased the DVDs. I’ve also made it further into the series he has, but that’s mostly because I had the DVDs and could watch on demand. Both of us eventually stopped before the end because the series started falling into that hole that long-running shows sometimes fall into, where more and more incredible things have to happen in order to keep the show new and relevant. He has no plans to continue watching it but I own the DVDs for every season and plan to get around to it at some point. We both enjoyed the earlier seasons more, when it was mostly protagonists flirting, hints at larger plot arcs, and the standard human stuff that goes on in everyday life.

 

The characters are great and Nathan Fillion is excellent in this show. I’ll admit that I’m a little biased because I’m a bit of a fan of his, but I think his style of acting fits the series very well, able to go from light-hearted comedic relief to intensely serious as the situation calls, all before wrapping it up with a touching little moment at the end with Castle’s mother, daughter, or his current love interest. In a single episode. The writing of the individual episodes manages it well, too. Despite the wide variety of emotions at play in a lot of the episodes, there is never a moment were it feels rushed or unduly chaotic. As I said, the writing runs into problems as the show goes on, but they do remarkably well for something that obviously hadn’t planned on running for as long as it did.

The extended cast is a lot of fun. Richard Castle’s mother and daughter provide excellent contrasts, allowing him to be the more serious one at times with his mother and the more playful one with his daughter. The three of them do an excellent job playing off of each other as they interchangeably help each other, give each other advice, and rein each other in. The other characters, mostly people from the police side of the show, help keep the show balanced by providing the main drama for each episode without completely losing touch with the more emotional side of the show.

The other protagonist, Detective Beckett, does an amazing job of calling Castle on his bullshit, keeping the police focused on their jobs rather than on Castle’s antics, and upstaging Castle almost every time he thinks he’s come out ahead. Unlike a lot of cop shows where the outsider protagonist constantly almost shames the police, Beckett proves herself easily Castle’s equal and much more likely his superior when it comes to investigation. There are a lot of times where he mostly just follows her around to flirt, make jokes, and accidentally stumble into a tense situation (or firefight) that she rescues him from. It is a refreshing change of pace when the damsel in distress is the male protagonist. He rescues her a couple of times, but it is mostly him tagging along and leaning on her. Beckett provides most of the plot arcs for the show and Castle’s are often just an accessory to hers. I enjoy the dynamic a little more than Psych’s where Shawn is constantly stealing the spotlight and setting up the story arcs. It feels a lot more realistic in Castle.

Eventually, though, the show loses the thread of its earlier seasons and starts trying to top itself, despite the fact that they more or less resolve the long-running character arcs and stories by season 5. They could have wrapped everything up neatly at that point, but they kept it going and things started to get a little messy. The plots started to get kind of convoluted, the season arcs felt like they were made simply to keep the show going, and the characters started throwing controversy into their personal lives just to give themselves plots for the season.

I feel like I encounter that a lot in TV shows these days. If a show does well for a few seasons, the network decides to milk it for all its worth. Scrubs Season 8 would have been great if they had just basically started the show over, letting all the old characters go except for a few who wanted to stick around and making it the start of something new instead of an attempt to continue something that almost everyone had left. The worst offender in my book is How I Met Your Mother. They had a nice, tight little plot that they wound up extending when they were given more seasons. That was fine, but continuing to extend it forever got very frustrating, since they wound up dancing around potentially ending the show at the end of the current season for a couple (or more) years.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a fun cop show that’s good for a watch, check out Castle. You’ll enjoy it, have a good time, and chances are good that you’ll like it well enough to watch all of it. I’m just really bad at finishing things if I wind up stopping them. I suggest taking your time and trying to be consistent rather than binging it like I did.

The Tale of the Magnificent Prince Abrams

 

I normally don’t like to preface my creations, but I want to explain this piece a bit since I’m not ready to continue with the serial fiction yet (there’s way more prep work that needs doing than I anticipated). I wrote this story for a Fairy Tales class I took in college and it was my first attempt at what would become my favorite writing voice. I started reading Terry Pratchett in the year following this story and I improved once I had a wider variety of examples to emulate when writing this sort of humorous, trope-challenging fiction. Still, this story holds a special place in my heart because it was my first expression of what I consider MY narratorial voice, rather than the one I pick up and put down for most of my other storytelling. Here it is, reproduced and only slightly edited (I couldn’t just leave ALL the grammatical and spelling errors). I hope you enjoy it.

 


Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, where dragons and princesses lived and magic was still a part of life, there was a Prince Abrams who traveled the country and rescued all sorts of damsels from dragons. He was a brave hero who was loved by all the land and won the hearts of many princesses.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop that?”

I’m merely informing the reader of your many illustrious deeds and-

“Don’t listen to the narrator, he’s not telling you everything. My NAME is Prince; I’m not actually a prince. My father thought it would be funny and my mother loved the idea of having a prince for a son.”

Now why’d you have to go and spoil it for the reader, Prince? I would have told them a tale of your daring and bravery!

“I’m sure they have better things to do than listen to you talk about how I ‘slayed the mighty Pig-monster that was terrorizing my town!’ It was only a pig, a normal-sized pig that no one else wanted to bother with.”

Well, how about the adventure you’re on now?

“Narrator, as I’ve told you before, I’m not going on an adventure, I simply moved out of my parent’s house and am going to start my adult life in a different town.”

That may be true, but it sounds more interesting the way I say it…

“Just be quiet for now, I’ve got a long way to go before I reach my destination.”

~

The valiant Prince trudged over hills and through valleys, forged mighty rivers and blazed a trail through an ancient forest! He travelled for many days and fought his way through terrible storms but finally, he caught sight of–

“IT’S ONLY BEEN TWO HOURS!” Prince exclaimed, “and are you going to say I ‘fought my way through terrible storms’ every time I wash my face?”

-caught sight of a grand castle in the distance. It had majestic sweeping parapets and two tall towers on the far side. The lower walls were covered in vines and moss and there were many ancient trees growing near its walls. He made his way to the aged castle and knocked on the sturdy, oaken door, seeking shelter from the brutal elements. When no one answered, he cautiously pushed the door open and stepped inside.

“Hello?” called Prince, “Is there anyone there?”

Hearing no response, he walked through the empty hallways. The castle was modestly furnished, for a castle, there were torches in all the brackets and a fire burning cheerily in every hearth, but there wasn’t a person to be seen anywhere. As Prince searched the first floor, he noticed a quiet wheezing noise was coming from above, almost as if the castle itself where breathing. He found himself in the kitchens and was surprised to find that there no sign of food anywhere. All the pots were hung on pegs, gleaming and spotless, there were stacks of mugs and plates that looked as if they had never been used. Prince gazed in awe at that spotless kitchen and was thus caught by surprise when a door opened behind him.

“Who are you?” exclaimed a burly man with a sword and buckler in his hands.

“I’m merely a traveler,” answered Prince, “one that is looking for a place to spend the night if I may.”

“You certainly look harmless enough,” murmured the burly man, “but it is up to the steward to decide. Follow me.”

Prince followed the burly man through the door and down a flight of stairs into the castle’s cellar. The cellar was furnished much better than the rest of the castle and hardly resembled a cellar at all. The only signs that this was indeed a cellar were the stained walls, the group of ale barrels in a corner, the vast wine racks, and food stored in a side room. The burly man led him through the entry room and into the back storerooms where they greeted by a tall, well-dressed and distinguished-looking man.

“Ah, Maxwell! I see you have corralled our intruder. Who is he?” asked the distinguished man.

“He claims to be a simple traveler and his possessions speak to the truth of what he says.”

The distinguished man turned to Prince and said, “Hello, I am this castle’s steward and I wish I could welcome you into the castle in a more comfortable setting, but we are having a few issues at the moment. Pardon me for asking, but what is your name?”

“I am Prince Abr-” began Prince, but he was interrupted by a gasp from the burly man and the steward.

“Prince!?” exclaimed the steward, “Please forgive me for my rudeness, my liege!” and with that, the steward fell to his knee in a bow, as did the burly man.

“Did I hear you say prince?” came a voice from the other room and in walked a broad and well-built man wearing a white apron. Seeing the steward burly man bowing, he too fell to one knee and called out over his shoulder, “I heard right, it’s a prince!”

Prince groaned inwardly as more people came rushing into the room and fell to their knees. After everyone had come into the room, they all rose and returned to their business. The steward approached Prince, but Prince rushed to speak before the steward: “You misunderstood me, good steward, I am-”

“You are our savior!” exclaimed the steward jubilantly. “You will be able to break the curse that awful witch has set upon our castle.”

“Please let me- wait, you have been cursed?” queried Prince, for he was truly a good man who would not hesitate to help others in need.

“Yes,” replied the steward with a mournful sigh, “a witch placed a curse on our beloved princess that caused her to grow enormously fat and eat everything in sight in one bite!”

Prince was startled at this horrid curse and immediately felt a pang of pity for the poor princess. “What can I do to help?” he asked gently.

“You must take your sword and slay the awful witch! She has taken up residence within our princess so we would not be able to touch her! But you, my good Prince, will be able to survive being eaten by the princess. Then you can hunt down that dreadful witch, slay her, and everything will return to normal!”

“How will I survive where another might not?” asked Prince.

“All princes have some magic that enables them to survive,” said the steward, “did you not know your own power?”

“No, you see I-” began Prince.

“Where is your majestic sword and princely attire?” interrupted the steward, “how can you go save our princess without your sword and attire?”

“You see, I haven’t got a majestic sword and princely attire because-” Prince said before he got cut off once again by the distinguished steward.

“You where robbed during your travels? How awful! Then we must find you a sword and dress you in our finest garb! Blacksmith? Bring your finest sword to the prince so he might save our castle! Good Tailor! Bring your finest tunic for our savior, the prince!”

A blacksmith appeared from one of the back rooms bearing a beautiful sword with a jewel encrusted hilt sheathed inside a scabbard with gold and silver inlay. He lowered himself to one knee and presented Prince with the beautiful sword and scabbard. Prince took the sword somewhat reluctantly and bade that man rise. As he left, a tailor appeared through the same day and presented Prince with a tunic of purple that almost simmer as it shifted in his hands. The prince slipped the tunic over his head and buckled the sword to his waist.

“Wise prince! You look marvelous in your princely attire and your sword looks most fearsome! Please, find our princess underneath the west-most tower and defeat the evil witch inside her!”

Prince looked at the smiling, expectant face in front of him and sighed. “I shall do as you ask good steward. I will save your princess.”

The steward began bubbling with gratitude and showed Prince to the stairs, supplying him along the way with directions to the princess’ room. Prince walked up the stairs and strode out confidently to the princess’ room. He stopped at the door as the wheezing sound seemed to grow stronger the closer he got to the room. He threw the door open and was horrified by the sight lay before him. A mountain of flesh lay in the room. It was impossible to distinguish any body parts from amongst the piles of flesh. Prince stepped cautiously into the room and before he could react, he was grabbed by a pink lump and thrown into a gigantic mouth. He tumbled down the throat and splashed into what appeared to be the princess’ stomach. He pulled a lantern out of his pack and lit it.

Prince spent the entire day searching through the princess organs, but found no witch, only enough furniture to furnish the castle and innumerable bones, both human and animal. After sleeping awhile, he continued his search in her leg. He found a vicious tapeworm that proceeded to attack him. Prince slew it with a few deft strokes of his majestic sword and continued on his way. After finding nothing more in her leg, he returned to the stomach, slept, and then he searched her other leg. This leg looked almost like a huge empty hallway except for stacks of partially digested food sitting around on the floor; her entire leg was completely hollow. The next day he searched one of her arms and found it filled with weapons of all sorts, but all of them were rusted and decaying. The Princess’ other arm was a maze of tissue that took him two days to navigate his way into and out of. Finally, on his 6th day inside the princess, he searched her head and found it full of brains but otherwise empty.

“Narrator, it’s been 6 days since I began my search, and I’ve found no witch.”

Do not give up yet valiant Prince! The witch may yet be hiding within the poor princess!

“No. I’m done. I’m leaving.”

But you can’t! You told the steward you’d slay the witch! And if you don’t, who will save the princess?

“How about this? You, Narrator, go find an actual prince to narrate and get him to come to this castle.”

But where will I find another prince as brave, kind, and valiant as you?

“I’m no prince, and there’s no witch here. The princess is simply a person of gargantuan proportions who ate so much that her skin no longer fits on her bones, or has been an unfortunate victim of some unnatural phenomenon.”

But princes save princesses!

“Indeed? Well, maybe that’s why they always need saving. You can’t count on someone to come along and solve all your problems for you. More often than not, no one will do anything about your problems unless you have already started.”

But Prince-!

“No, I’m leaving. If these people want the princess to return to normal, then they had better break a hole in the wall so she can go out and get some exercise. But I’m done. I’m going to cut my way out and leave. Good-bye Narrator, hopefully you’ll find someone else to narrate.”

Prince swung the jeweled sword and cut a way out. He dodged the pink lump that tried to snatch him then ran out the door. He returned to the steward, fully explained his name, returned the sword and tunic, and recommended that they take the princess out to get some exercise as there is no witch. He was then chased out of the castle by the steward and burly man as they believed the witch had taken him under her control. Once out of the castle, the prince brushed himself off, and without a look backward, walked off into the horizon…

So… Um… Reader! How would you like to save a princess…?