Fallout 76 is Challenging my Expectations

I bought this game the day before it came out so I could play with my roommates and friends. I played it the first night people could access the servers and not much since then, thanks to National Novel Writing Month. That being said, most of what I’ve learned about the game has been from my solo playing after the brief introduction with my friends and from watching my roommates play it. Well, plus reading about it online because it is currently the internet’s favorite thing to love to hate right now. While I don’t have as many hours as I’d normally like in the game before reviewing it, I really think that it needs to be talked about.

First of all, it plays like pretty much every other Fallout game. There are a bunch of minor variations, like V.A.T.S. (the auto-targeting system that lets you use character stats to shoot or hit things instead of your ability to aim) not pausing time and jumping costing Action Points, but those seem like fairly obvious concessions necessitated by the change from a single-player game to an online multi-player game. You can’t pause the world if someone on the map is using V.A.T.S. and it’s unreasonable to expect the developers to find a way to pause time for only your character. Other than those two things, it feels remarkably like Fallout 4. Maybe even disappointingly like Fallout 4, since I was really hoping for a change in color. You get bored with browns and washed out blues or greens. I was hoping for some orange and yellows, maybe, or some vibrant color variants. It is a solid entry in the same vein of most Fallout games, simply trading one contrived plot for another, one vault for another, and one location for another. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I quite enjoy all the Fallout games even if I tend to get bored of the endless side missions and weird power curves before long.

The biggest downside to this being a standard entry in the Fallout line of games is the number of bugs. There have been tons of them and even the most forgiving players would characterize Fallout 76’s first month as a “rough start.” That being said, it’s still managed to pull off a multiplayer online game while avoiding all of the worst problems. Griefing people is difficult, since the Player versus Player combat rules require two consenting adults to shoot at each other before removing a huge set of damage reductions on either character. It is still possible, of course, but there’s no way to stop a determined player from griefing someone if they want to. The lack of a good, in-game reporting feature is concerning, but the fact that they can real-time track every player, who is doing what events, and how your individual actions might set up the environment for a player passing through later is monumental. We expect it because we’ve been spoiler by online multiplayer games that are good at faking it, but we actually get the whole thing here. There have been myriad issues with the gameplay itself, things like players getting trapped in their Power Armor or the one player whose character is unable to die. There are a lot more bugs attributed to the game acting weird than issues arising from it being an online game, which has so far shocked no one but the people who’d never played a Fallout game before this one.

The internet has been going on about this game a lot. Most people seem to absolutely hate it or love it, which seems to be a theme of internet culture these days. Everything is all of one thing or it’s all of the other. There’s no room for middle-ground or change over time, everything either sucks or is the greatest. To be fair to the haters, Bethesda kinda deserves it. There have been issues with pre-orders, people feel like they were misled about the game they were getting, some of the pre-order people received sub-standard items with their pre-orders, and people feel like the game is limiting them from actually enjoying their online experience because of the rough start to the game’s release. At the same time, not all of the criticism is as valid as the rest. Advertising a canvas bag in one of the top-tier pre-orders and sending a low-quality nylon bag instead is dumb. They either should have had the prototypes and pricing done before they advertised, or they should have sucked up the cost and given people what they were promised.  Being mislead about the game they were getting isn’t really valid. Sure, people expected a fully finished game on launch, but I think people’s expectations are wrong in this case, especially seeing how the video game industry has changed over the years.

Sure, there’s the basic change of development from risk-taking hobbyists to corporate profit-chasers that has resulted in micro-transactions and a “new” Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty game every year, but that’s about how the industry makes its money and what sort of staple games appear. What I’m talking about is the way games are delivered and what is handed to us when we download it. Back in the day, there wasn’t a way for games to get an update so they’d take a few years to create despite being relatively simple. No amount of computer tools makes a 3D model easier to create and animate than a sixteen-bit pixel model and every level in an old game was a two-dimensional surface with shading to give it a sense of depth. The games took longer and were as complete as possible when they reached our hands because they had to be. The games that weren’t that good have gone down in history as being enormous flops or cult classics. Sure, everyone probably remembers the Missingno trick from Pokemon Red and Blue, but not every realizes that doing it wrong or making a poor choice at any time could have really screwed up your game. I mean, I played Majora’s Mask for a week, trying to get to the first save point before my game froze on the N64 and I only ever saw it as a challenge I had to overcome. Our expectations were different back then. The only games that were “perfect” where the ones that were too simple to mess up, and even most of those had bugs or exploits for whoever went looking for them. At some point, we got it into our heads that games had to be perfect when they come out and it’s ruining our ability to enjoy perfectly playable if buggy games.

In addition to that, the product being delivered to us has changed.  Gone are the days when we expected a game to stay exactly the same as when we bought it. There are still some games like that out there, but most of our big games change overtime. Almost all of our online multiplayer games shift as time passes, introducing new events and story tidbits for us to enjoy. Look at Destiny 2. The game has an entire year of additional content planned. Most of it isn’t story content or anything that’s really going to change the game for us (we already got our big chunk of story content and changes to the game this year, so that’s all for us until the next expansion), but it’s still new activities and weapons and so on. Look at World of Warcraft and the way they spread the pieces of a new expansion out over the course of several months. Look at literally every multiplayer online game out there. We, as consumers, have grown to expect this, and yet the entire customer base loses their shit when a game isn’t perfect the minute it releases. For whatever reason, we love a story that unfolds over months but can’t stand a game that transforms from a basic, ambitious concept to a fully realized constantly developing world that ceaselessly incorporates community feedback in its decisions about what to do next? That’s ridiculous.

I think that we, as a whole, need to cool our jets and just enjoy the alright Fallout game we’ve got as the development teams continues to improve it. It is far from unplayable and the fixes they’re delivering are a sign that they’re listening to what the community wants, even if they’re slower about responding to it than we’d like. People should just play what they can and give the game a chance to live up to our expectations rather than trying to shut it down the moment it fails to conform to our desires. I think people will be presently surprised at how much the game has grown if they return to it in the spring.

This Sci-Fi Series is Consuming My Attention

It is no secret that I love John Scalzi’s books. From the first time I found a copy of Old Man’s War to his recent release, The Consuming Fire, I have always thought of him as one of the best Sci-Fi writers, and not just because Old Man’s War shone like the sun in comparison to The Forever War when it comes to books that critique war in a space-centric futuristic setting. He’s one of two writer’s I’ve gotten to sign my laptop, a request reserved for my favorite writers of a genre I want to write in. All that bias acknowledged, I still think you should take it seriously when I say that the Interdependency Series is one of the best science-fiction series I’ve read in recent years.

The first book in the series, The Collapsing Empire, sets a complex, multi-faceted stage. We are introduced to The Interdependency, a series of Human colonies spread through space, connected by something called “The Flow” and ruled by an Emperox who is not only the leader of the government but also the head of the official religion. The Emperox we are introduced to, a younger woman named Cardenia Wu who assumed the throne somewhat unexpectedly after the death of her half-brother. There’s trouble brewing in the system of Human colonies, something vague her dying father only hints at before his death, and she must rise to the challenge of assuming a role she doesn’t really want and convincing the entire Interdependency to take her seriously. Helping her is the son of the scientist who spotted the problem, who is also an accomplished physicist in his own right and who has to escape his home planet and the noble family who wants to grab power during what they think will be a time of great vulnerability for the Interdependency and the Emperox.

All of the characters are incredible. The Emperox is a mixture of a confident, trained leader who has clearly been prepared for their role in society and a woman who never expected to be the head of anything but a few charities. She perfectly rides that line between fitting in with the part she must play in the Interdependency and wanting someone who sees her as a person instead of just as the Emperox. She is sympathetic to the reader, but her character is never dependent on that sympathy. The male scientist, Marce, is a giant nerd who studies The Flow, a series of wormholes that connect our realities to streams of altered space-time that allow ships with properly configured reality bubbles to travel great distances quickly along the flow of said streams, and who is clearly along for the ride when it comes to getting off-planet. He always seems a little bewildered, but never lost. He’s clearly intelligent and it shows as he quickly grasps whatever plans are laid around him, even when he’s clearly out of his element and just trying to keep up with the women who are trying to keep him alive.

Even the antagonists seem Human, showing us not just their plotting but also why they’re trying to grab power when they are. Most of them have a softer side, making it clear they are concerned for the survival of all Humans even if they’re taking this chance to enrich themselves while they try to safeguard Humanity. The only exception is the ring-leader, a woman named Nadashe Nohamapetan, who seems like a cackling villain from the beginning and whose behavior does nothing but reinforce that image of her. I want to believe there’s a chance at redemption for Nadashe coming (I haven’t reading The Consuming Fire yet), but all signs seem to point away from us seeing her as anything but an ambitious woman trying to grab power for herself and her family with little regard for the survival of Humanity.

She’s clearly a political expert, though, given the way she relentlessly positions herself to be in the right place for each step of her plan. Watching the political maneuverings is interesting since the whole system of government is a lot more difficult to influence that it is in more politically focused novels. For instance, in Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, the government is ruled by whoever has a claim and sits on the throne. In The Interdependency series, not just anyone can become the Emperox. Anyone can try to grab political and economic power, but the absolute rock-solid certainty of the house of Wu being both the head of the government and the head of the church means that power will almost always tip back to the Emperox in the end. Which means the politics in both The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire are a little tame compared to what people generally look for, but the unique setup of the government of the Interdependency is more than enough to make them interesting.

The universe itself is well-developed in exactly the right ways. The specifics of everything aren’t incredibly important and Scalzi tends to brush past them quickly, instead focusing his time and attention on the important details. For instance, there is only one planet in the entire Interdependency on which Humans can live without some kind of habitat. Every other human settlement is either some kind of space station or hive, a bubble of habitability for Humanity to occupying in an otherwise hostile environment. This is important because it means there is only one place all of Humanity can survive for an extended period should something happened to the Interdependency’s linked economies is this planet, End. If the empire actually does collapse as the first book’s title suggests, then it is likely most of Humanity will die out except for those who live on End, a planet called such because it is as far from the center of the Interdependency as it is possible to get. All of the world details we get, from how The Flow works to how the various Human populations behave shows us how connected everything is and how reliant every single Human settlement is on being able to trade with all of the other settlements.

Like all good science-fiction, Scalzi’s books make a few statements about modern Humanity. The way all of the settlements rely on each other for long-term survival closely mirrors the situation we have on Earth, and how our survival as a whole is dependent on us working together in the modern age to fix the problems we’re all facing. The story has yet to show how The Interdependency works together to solve the problem, but I imagine it will fit Humanity’s current process all too well: argue for too long to do anything positive and then find someone to blame for the lack of results. Additionally, the deterioration of The Flow is a decent analogy for the environment and the way The Interdependency as a whole receives Marce’s scientific presentations completely matches the way most governments reacted to the initial findings about Global Warming. Some people take it seriously and a lot of people fear that it is true, but the idea of having to change on that big of a scale is so much more terrifying that people will cover their ears and yell so they can’t hear the truth. As someone who tries to fight that behavior in the real world, it is refreshing to find characters in a book who are trying to do the same thing, albeit in a more fantastic setting.

The entire series is worth reading and The Consuming Fire is even better than I hoped it would be. I would go into it more, but so much of The Collapsing Empire would be entirely spoiled if I did. You should definitely start there and enjoy the various twists and turns of the plot, even if it does pretty much match up with the title. The entire series is a solid chunk of science-fiction and I’m definitely putting this on my list of Christmas gifts for other people so I can spread the love of this series as far as possible. Let me know what you think once you’ve read it!

You Should be Reading “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”

If you are a Human who uses social media, grew up on the internet, are a part of modern society, have regular access to the internet, or sometimes wonder how the world has become as angry and loud as it currently is, you need to read Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.” Ideally, everyone should read it. I doubt it’s the first book of its kind, but I don’t know if any other book like it speaks with as much experience, is written with as much clarity, or delivers as powerful a message as Hank Green’s does. This Science Fiction/Coming-of-Age-For-The-Modern-Twenty-Something novel is the beginning of something big that I can’t really put my finger on, but everyone I know who has read it agrees with me so I’m inclined to believe my gut on this one. You should read this so you don’t fall behind. Also, if you someone miss that feeling of something on the horizon or don’t really get what I’m talking about, you’ll at least have read a good book.

Even though this book doesn’t really fit into any of the modern genres, I still think it’s useful to talk about it in those contexts. This is a science fiction novel because it involves a world much like our own with a few changes, all of which could be explained by technological advances. It also talks about the way technology (in this case, social media) impacts civilization and offers some wonderful, insightful commentary on the lives of Humans and on Humanity as a whole. It is a Coming-of-Age novel because it involves the growth of a character from a more “childlike” mindset to a more “adult” one, even if all it really does is show an adult, albeit one in their early-to-mid-twenties, becoming wiser and more responsible as a result of the challenges they face and overcome. The book, at its core, is both of these things done in the best ways possible. The story focuses on a young woman who suddenly finds herself going viral and what she does as a result of that. She makes mistakes, she learns a more about how the world and Humanity works, and she ultimately makes a statement about the Human Condition.

Even though you can’t really separate it from those genres, it still shouldn’t be lumped into them without an asterisk. Instead of the usual coming-of-age story about a child becoming an adult or leaving behind the carefree days of youth for the responsibilities of adulthood, this story is about the uncertainty modern twenty-somethings face and the way that we struggle to find a place to exist in the world. Above all else, though, it’s a story about the internet and how Hank Green feels about it, as told through a fictional setting making use of hyperbole to make a point. If you don’t know who Hank Green is, he’s the younger half of the Vlog Brothers and the person who has most relentlessly pursued a pro-internet agenda. He’s started dozens of companies, or at least started dozens of big projects, like various educational shows with their own YouTube channels, a side channel for his process and projects as a whole, 2D glasses for people like me (well, people like his wife) who get headaches when we watch 3D movies, at least one charity, multiple conventions, and so much more. He has been a huge part of internet culture for a long time and he has firmly advocated that the internet is a good thing.

If you went to one of his book events or have read the book, you know he doesn’t really believe that anymore. Now, he seems pretty clear that the internet is a tool. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on how it’s used. He has a lot more to say on the topic, but I don’t trust myself to properly recall the talk he gave at his book event and I will update this review with a video about it if he ever posts one (or if I find one he’s previously posted). To summarize, though, we basically failed to establish rules on the internet and that has allowed a lot of very angry and very loud people to have influence we should have denied them. Unlike physical societies or communities, there aren’t strict mores governing how we treat each other on the internet. Closely tied communities like the Nerdfighters (what the fans of the Green Brothers call themselves) might have some, but the internet at large does not, nor do a lot of internet communities. All of which is an important part of understanding what Hank Green says in his book during the times the protagonist, April May, interacts with her fan communities. Or strangers on the internet. Or the communities that sprung up specifically to oppose her. There’s a lot of really good social commentary that feels particularly relevant after the shitshow that was 2015 and 2016 wound up deciding to carry on through the present. There are entire characters, antagonists mostly, who map to some of the negativity and hate that we’ve seen crop up since then, and it’s all shown to us by someone who knows what it is like to be an internet celebrity, to be able to influence thousands of people with a single tweet. Someone who knows what that power can do to people has reached out and shown us what that power can do to the person who has it and wants to use it for good.

Even without all that, it’s still a really engaging book that addresses the age-old question of “what would it look like if we had an encounter with an alien species?” The story is about a young woman who finds what looks to be a new art installation in New York City when she’s heading home from work late one night, and how her life changes as she becomes the official face of what the world has taken to calling “the Carls,” which are the exact same art installation that appeared in cities all over the world at the exact same moment. There’s romance, heartbreak, violence, and even a bit of heartwarming friendship all mixed into a plot that could carry the book on its own. April May has to figure out what the art installations are and defend her beliefs about them in front of an international. audience before the people who are senselessly promoting fear and hate get ahead of her, or else she’ll lose what she believes in one of the best opportunities she has to be a force for good in the world.

The writing itself is clean, pleasant, and easy to follow. It reflects the way Hank thinks and talks in his YouTube videos. Hank tends to keep his sentences brisk and direct, heading directly toward his meaning like they’re going to lose out if they don’t get there quickly. It works really well for a book like “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” a story told as if the narrator were speaking to us or writing an informal blog post. There are a few places where that backfires a bit, ending in some grammatically correct but difficult sentences were the verb tenses combine to make a tangle of words, but there’s literally no way to avoid this in the English language if you’re writing a first-person narrative in the past-tense about events that happened but are still sorta of a part of life when the story is being told and specific things might even still be happening the day the reader picks up the book. I don’t really ascribe to the whole “English rifles through the pockets of other languages for loose grammar” derision a lot of people express (I literally studied the languages that combined to become English and the history of the English language, so I’ve got a view-point that most people don’t have), but I will say that past tense talking about events still ongoing is a pain in the ass to write. These moments that no one can avoid are the only burrs in the story and it wouldn’t have been as powerful any other way. Just keep going if you hit them. The meaning of each sentence is clear enough, they just sound weird in your head or out loud.

While we only see one character in detail, we get enough of a picture of the other characters for them to all feel incredibly real. Even the bossy, sorta nasty PR woman who basically takes on all of April May’s publicity and contacts stuff seems like a real person you’ve met even if she’s only in the story a handful of times. The main antagonist, who sees The Carls as something to be feared and hated rather than as something that could unite Humanity, even gets the same treatment. Despite appearing as a caricature of hate (like a lot of internet personalities), Hank Green manages to make it clear that this person has depth to them, even if all we see if their caricature because the narrator doesn’t spend much time on them. More than any one character, though, Humanity as a whole gets one of the best depictions I’ve ever read. We’re depicted as beings who want to simplify and who often define ourselves not by what we support but by what we fight against. Some of whom will embrace hate or fall prey to fear when we’re up against something we don’t understand instead of taking a chance on hope and love. It’s honestly kind of refreshing to see someone who regularly witnesses the best and worst of humanity as an online media presence show us in a truthful and complex light rather than just one extreme or the other.

You should read this book. Everyone should read this book. I’ve bought three copies and am planning to buy more, just so I can give it away to people. If you really want it but can’t afford it, I will try to buy it for you, finances permitting (I can’t afford to buy one for everyone, though I totally would if I could). Buy it for yourself and then treat yourself to an afternoon of reading. Knock it out in one sitting and then bask a book that is the start of something much bigger than itself. Maybe in a few more years, there’ll be an entire genre for books about finding meaning in the twenty-first century and trying to grow as a twenty-something. I can’t wait to see what comes of this movement and I’m going to do my best to be a part of it.

Dysa of the Nothing Reminds me of Mythology in the Best Ways

I don’t know if it’s a common part of most people’s college experiences, but I spent a lot of time reading mythology. I also studied literary criticism, so I’ll admit I’m probably more likely than most to encounter mythology as it was originally written rather than just more recent adaptions. It was one of my favorite things to study because there was a long period were all stories were what we’d now call “fantasy” and we kind of just lump them all into “mythology” because it’s an easy classification. It’s a vast oversimplification of a complex and storied body of literature, but it does make life easier for everyone who doesn’t specialize in pre-modern literature or spend a lot of time reading mythology.

To that end, I think a lot of people would enjoy ancient mythology if we had more complete stories and they were translated into more modern words than most scholars use. I mean, most Norse mythology makes for a great read, but even the translated stuff is a bit dense since almost all ancient mythology we have is from someone writing down a story that had been passed down through a solely oral tradition up to that point. Oral stories tend to have a lot of repetition and they tend to spiral around each plot point for a while to make it easier on the performer. If you could streamline it all, fill in some of the gaps in stuff like The Epic of Gilgamesh, I’m sure more people would get really into it.

Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, they should read “Dysa of the Nothing” by Arlynn Lake. While Amazon lists it as a “Suspense” or a Children’s Fantasy and Magic eBook, I honestly thing “mythology” would be a better fit. There’s a certain cadence to storytelling that appears in almost all ancient myths and “Dysa of the Nothing” captures that perfectly. It is an easy book to read, but it is anything but simply written. Something that flows through a story and a strange world with this much ease can’t be anything but the result of strong writing and a lot of work on the author’s part. It has the feel of a finely crafted statue, with all of the rough spots smoothed over and everything seamlessly joined together so that every piece of the story feels like a single, unbroken part of a whole.

If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed the writing in this story and that, alone, would make me willing to recommend it. That being said, there’s plenty more amazing stuff to say about this book and I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on all of the high points, but I also want to stress that this was a really good read. It was engaging, it kept me interested the whole time, and it was short enough that none of it had the time to get boring. In terms of well-craft stories, this is probably one of the best I’ve read this year, right up there with Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” (which I’ll be reviewing next week) and John Scalzi’s “Head On.” It’s very different from most of the stuff I read, but it was good enough to be literally the first eBook I’ve ever fully read in an electronic format. I am so bad with most electronic forms of writing and information collection that I literally forget I have an entire (small) library of Nook and Kindle books that I’ve never even read a tenth of (going by page count since I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve never finished an eBook before). Anyway, back to the stuff most people care about: the story, its characters, and the world.

The world is deceptive in its complexity, with two very different groups of people who might not be that different after all and a long history of conflict with something called “The Nothing.” There’s a sense of long history and traditions maintained over many lifetimes as the story starts and no matter where the story takes us, there’s this sense of so much more just around the corner or hidden over the horizon. The worldbuilding isn’t as heavy or “complete” as it is in most contemporary fantasy, but there’s no need for more. There’s never a moment in the entire story were I was left wondering about some aspect of the world. You’re given exactly as much as you need to enjoy the story and maintain your suspension of disbelief. Arlynn Lake has done an amazing job at one of the most difficult aspects of storytelling (or blog-post writing): taking out what isn’t necessary. I like my fluff as much as the next fantasy fan, but I also really appreciate a good story told succinctly and, as someone who struggles with that, greatly admire an author who can do it well.

The plot itself is fairly straight-forward. There are not many surprises along the way, but the real point of the story is watching the characters progress through the journey that has been laid out for them. While there is some question of how things will turn out, it mostly hinges on how what the characters’ relationships will be once the story has finished rather than how the journey will end. This works well for the story since it is mostly focused on the growth of the characters and they’re the most interesting part of the story by far. I was all set to dislike the main character, a teenager named Andwith, because he’s pretty much set up as this perfect kid who can do anything, but you gradually start to see the Humanity in him, the flaws and fears he hides behind what everyone calls his Four Virtues (which are explained in the first chapter of the book). Despite his gifts and near-perfection, he still has flaws and he still makes mistakes, even if most of them are small. Plus, the story isn’t really about him, it’s about the people around him and what happens because he appears in the world (much like when Enkidu appears to change the life of Gilgamesh, though the similarity pretty much stops there).

I would definitely recommend buying this book. It’ll take a few hours to read, but they’ll be fun hours from beginning to end and the low price of the eBook on Amazon (especially if you have Kindle Unlimited) makes it a no-brainer to buy. You should check it out and enjoy a quick story about having faith in people, trying to help people become the person they want to be, and giving people a chance to be Human, even if they’re not.

If I Had to Pick a Webcomic as a Religion, I Would Pick Erfworld

I’ve been putting off this review for months because this is my favorite story and I don’t want to sell it short. I want to be as charming and witty as this webcomic is and I just don’t have it in me since I’ve been constantly struggling just to keep up with the stuff I need to do, much less the stuff I want to do. I’ve written and deleted this post ten times over at this point because I can never come close to expressing how much I love this comic and how much Rob Balder, the writer and creator, inspires me. I feel like there’s some perfect version of this review inside me and I just keep failing to bring it out. Ultimately, though, a finished review that’s “alright” is better than the “perfect” review that never gets written. Anyway, as the protagonist of Erfworld–a man named Parson Gotti (just rearrange the letters a bit)–said, “We try things. Occasionally they even work.”

Erfworld is a comic about a man, the aforementioned Parson Gotti–aka Lord Hamster, who gets sucked into a different world by a spell created by people to be named later. The “side” of Gobwin Knob, ruled by Stanley the Tool (formerly Stanley the Plaid), paid a fortune for a spell to summon the perfect warlord, as defined by a handful of people who all had very different ideas of what that meant. Nevertheless, Parson arrives and sets to work with a will, slowly learning everything he doesn’t know he needs to know in order to take on what feels a lot like the whole world from the disadvantageous position of a long losing streak. Joining him is a memorable cast of detailed characters from a resigned necromancer, an illusionist with arguably too few marvels, a conjurer who hates violence, and a telepath whose moral ambiguity isn’t as much of an asset as she wants to think it is. Leading (debatably) them all is a man who just so happens to be incredibly short, incredibly short-tempered, and frustratingly short of common sense. Throw in some magic weapons with godly powers, a war for the very soul of Erfworld, a power dynamic that resists change, and you’re finally scratching the surface of this amazingly complex story.

While most of the world works according to some basic mechanics best compared to a miniatures game (units form “stacks”, move a certain number of terrain “hexes,” and have certain “specials” that modify their unit type such as “Flying” or “Archery”), the magic system is far more complex than most I’ve encountered and my descriptions of the various casters in the above paragraphs are vast over-simplifications for the sake of expediency. The necromancer is actually a “croakamancer,” which is a subset of the “naughtymancy” class of magic. I’d explain the others, but you’re honestly better off just reading the comic for yourself because the time it’d take to explain the magic system in a way I’d find satisfactory is greater than the time it’d take for you to read everything on the website. Not to mention that I’d have to revise it several times while writing it because we’re constantly learning more about magic in Erfworld and old assumptions and “facts” are constantly being set aside as we realized the fallacies of our assumptions. The one thing you do need to know is that the rules of the world are incredibly important, much more concrete than the rules of our world, and potentially exploitable. If you’re a gamer and you look at this story from the perspective of a power gamer looking for an exploit, you’ll find a lot of places for things to be used in a way the rule-writers likely didn’t intend. At the same time, Balder does an amazing job of breaking down what’s happening through text updates, character narration, and the detailed direction he gives the artists so that you don’t need to be a power gamer to understand or see what’s going on. All you really need is either a strong knowledge of pop-culture or strong Googling skills.

The plot itself is both pretty standard but also incredibly open-ended and unpredictable. Parson is summoned to serve his ruler and save the “side” of Gobwin Knob, but then what? The story carries on after plot wraps up and even the characters dealing with the fallout of how that concludes is only setting the stage for the appearance of even larger threats who all seem laser-focused on the fact that Parson is a player on the stage of Erfworld. Is Parson actually in a different universe, or did he have an aneurysm? Who are the bad guys in this story? What’s right and what’s wrong in a world where free will is a basically a special trait belonging only to a few units? What part does Fate play in the outcome of events and can it be circumvented or defeated? What does it mean to be the perfect warlord? All these questions and more are posed as the plot winds it way from one startling turn of events to another and, the further we go, the more we realize we’re not actually sure about the answers to those questions.

No one is the villain in their own story, but how do you tell a story about people who are trying to conquer the world through what seem like some pretty brutal means without making the readers dislike your protagonists? Is it enough to just give them someone worse to fight, and is that other someone actually worse or does it just seem like they are because we automatically sympathize with characters whose perspective we get to see? Only Balder has the answers to these questions, but it’s plain to see that he actually does have the answers to them. The way the story unfolds and the clever way he seeds foreshadowing into every major event is so detailed and complex that I can barely begin to comprehend the scope of his planning and work.

Behind the veneer of cutesy-sounding names and hilarious onomatopoeia is a harsh world full of difficult questions and the undeniable fact that only through death and war can any “side” survive. The often cute art of the comic hides an incredibly dark story of how far is “too far” and what’s justifiable in war, either as a defender or as an aggressor. Easily, the best part of this comic is the number of large and important questions it constantly raises and forces you to answer on your own. The characters in the comic find their own answers frequently, but that aren’t necessarily the answers we want since their answers are generally motivated by the desire for their side to win the war or come out on top. It can be difficult to keep track of what horrors each side has visited on each other because it feels like there’s a clear bad guy, but there are a few good guys who are only good because they’re willing to talk rather than fight. Peace isn’t really a permanent solution in Erfworld, but working for it seems like a better goal than just fighting all the time.

The art is amazing, even though it has changed rather frequently. The current artist team is by-far my favorite and I’m always excited for each new page because I can’t wait to pour over each page for all the hidden details they slip in. The often-changing artists are emblematic of the major struggle that has plagued Erfworld for a long time: an overabundance of tragedy. From the artist’s mother having cancer to the writer’s wife and one of the main employees of the website getting cancer, to stylistic differences with another artist, there’s a lot that has gone wrong for the comic as a whole and for Rob Balder in general. He’s been fairly open about everything since his fans are willing to stick by him throughout it all and have numerous times helped him come up with the money he needs to continue working on our favorite comic, but I still feel like most of those stories are his to tell, so I recommend checking out his news posts once you’ve read the whole thing. Regardless, his persistence and the way he’s always carried on with this story despite the hurdles he’s had to overcome has always inspired me to keep trying, even when I didn’t write for most of a year and considered giving up on it. I set the little statue of Parson I got from one of the Kickstarters next to my monitor and told myself “We try things. Occasionally they even work.” That is my all-time favorite quote from this comic (and that’s saying a lot because there are some real doozies here), and it has helped me not just get through the rough patches but stay focused when things were going well so I never took my good days for granted.

There aren’t a lot of stories I can say had a huge impact on my life and the number of writers I find truly inspiring is small enough that I can list them all on one hand, but Rob Balder and his wonderful story is at the top of both lists. If you want a story that will carry you along, with a cast of impeccable characters and a plot that will never leave you wanting, read Erfworld and bask in the glory that is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Please, do us both a favor and start reading it now.

I Need More Stuff to Review

I’ve been struggling to find stuff to review every week, partly because I haven’t always had time to read new books, watch new shows, or play new games, but also partly because so much of the stuff I find these days has been out for so long it isn’t super relevant anymore. In terms of games and shows or movies, a couple of years old is enough to fade into irrelevance online. Books often have a long lifespan in the public eye, but not always, and a lot of the books I’ve picked up have tended to fall into the “cult following” area and I haven’t been able to find them online. I still review stuff I enjoy, of course, but don’t always write about it when I feel like I’ve got nothing to add to what is already online.

Which is why I’ve started asking for recommendations of books, comics, games, movies, TV shows, and media in any form. I posted on Twitter today (and have been getting so many responses it gets difficult to keep up with them all now that everyone is home from their day jobs and checking their notifications) and have gotten a lot of links to books, a couple graphic novels, some story or poetry collections, and one webcomic. I’ve gotten so many things I might need to start doing reviews more than once a week if I seriously plan to review everything. I don’t even know if that’s going to be possible, given the sheer number of responses over the last couple of hours alone.

I’m looking forward to it, though. It feels nice to be able to help out people who are launching their careers or trying to make a name for themselves on the self-publishing market. One day, I’ll likely be right there with them, trying to get exposure and reviews for my book so other people will become more interested in reading it. I hope someone else is willing to review my books then. Additionally, it’ll maybe get exposure for the other stuff I offer on my blog, the various poems and bits of fiction I post fairly regularly (still trying to get back on the “poem a week” horse and my crazy work schedule still hasn’t let up so it’s not happening), and I would love that. I love it when people read my stuff, so I can understand the excitement people feel when they see someone actually asking for books to review.

All that being said, I’d love if you recommended some things to me! Anything is fair game, at this point. As long as it is published and available for me to obtain, I will review it. Got an indie game you’re working on? Send it along! I can’t promise I’ll review it immediately, but I am happy to buy a copy and put it on my list. Know someone who is trying to launch a book series or a webcomic? Comment or email a link and I’ll check them out! All of us creative people are in this together and it never hurts to help someone out as long as you’re not putting yourself out too much. We both have something to gain from this and there’s no losers in this scenario. Except people who don’t like it when people share things they like, I guess. They lose out big time.

I don’t know if it’ll generate sales for these people, I don’t know if it’s going to get them a lot of exposure considering the relatively small number of views I get in a given month, but it’ll be a good project and it most-certainly can’t hurt.

Victories in Hallow Knight are Anything but Empty

As you know, I am a big fan of the Nintendo Switch. I like to find games I can play on it and, as it happens, most of the highly rated games on the Switch are platformers. As I’ve said before, I love platformers and metroidvanias in particular, which means I’ve had my eye on Hallow Knight since before it came out. I’ve had it on my Steam wishlist for well over a year and, when it looked like the internet was going to be out for a while, I downloaded it during the brief periods when the internet was working. That was the best decision I’ve made this month.

Hallow Knight is basically just another metroidvania. You start out in a basic world with a jump, an attack, and the ability to heal yourself. After that, you slowly unlock abilities that let you progress through the game until you reach an end determined by a couple of factors. You move about in a two-dimensional plane, avoid stage hazards, and fight off enemies using a combination of your basic attacks and unlocked abilities to get around the special qualities of the enemies. When it comes to gameplay, its nothing super special. It’s fun, but there are better examples of gameplay innovation and quality. While it is fairly standard in those terms, it makes it’s mark because every other quality of the game is extraordinary.

The plot is fairly simple, you’re a knight who was called to complete some kind of quest. You don’t really know what, but you find yourself drawn to the ancient, ruined city of Hallownest. There, you find a cadre of characters, all of whom adhere to the “bug” theme your character starts, who make their lives supporting the numerous people who feel called to explore the dungeon or call it their home. One of the first I met was a map-maker who quickly set the tone for there being something a little off about the world and the people in it. As you defeat enemies and rescue these little worm guys, you start to notice blobs coming out of some of the enemies you defeated and then encounter enemies who had giant sacks of the stuff which they fire at you like little orange bombs. While exploring, you meet a few more characters who subtly work in references to a wonderful world lost and the eventual corruption of everyone who stays in the city for too long or who goes too deep. There’s more to the plot, of course, all of which is revealed through little hints or statements by the more peaceful denizens of the dungeon. I don’t want to spoil it, since I was more interested in digging up little nuggets of the plot, themes, and history as I played than I’ve felt while playing any game since Celeste.

While you’re working through the world, you’re making your way through a world of black, white, and grey tones that manage to brightly portray a world of gloom in a way I’d never thought possible. Occasionally, a splash of color shows up as some enemies explode into orange blobs or shoot little orange spheres at you. Occasionally other color shows up in the environment, like when you find a giant blue crystal that, when shattered, gives you temporary hit points. Other times, it’s something like a mine with light purple crystals scattered throughout or the worm creatures you rescue. Each time you see color, your eyes and attention are instantly drawn to it as it shatters the beautiful gloom of the greyscale environment you get used to between blooms of color. Setting color aside, every visual in Hallow Knight is absolutely incredible. The characters feel so alive and even the background stands out in its incredible variety as you try to find your way through the various rooms. Even though everything is notable enough that you never really feel lost or like you’ve just walked through the same room twice, it still all blends together incredibly so you know that the mine and the courtyard with the small palace in it are definitely a part of the same place. The game also makes incredible use of the foreground, having your character walk behind a whole range of things as you move from one place to another, but never in a way that you lose sight of your character.

Despite the fact they fit into the grey-scale, gloomy environment so well, none of the enemies are hard to spot or difficult to figure out. Occasionally a boss throws a new move into the mix as you chip their health down or their attacks start having secondary effects, but they mostly have pretty clear modes of attack and methods of movement that are nevertheless a challenge to work through without injury. Because of the way your character gets bounced back when it attacks an enemy, it can be difficult to avoid falling in the pit full of spikes and avoid running into the enemy as it is charging toward you. You have to push forward, toward the enemy, just enough that your bounce doesn’t send you off the ledge to your death but not so much that you run into them and get hurt. Throw in the variety of enemies and the way they mix them up, it gets to be a challenge to make sure you’re fighting each enemy the right way.

While you’re fighting them, the somber music in the background doesn’t change, though it somewhat fades to silence. When it comes in, it starts slowly, changing from simple environmental sounds accompanied by the wind to a rather simple but sad music that does an amazing job of representing the area you’re currently in. As time goes on, the music adds more, interjecting small sections of brighter notes to contrast with the quieter, more morose ones. It never changes abruptly and, even when I went to listen specifically to the music for this section, it was so subtly and perfect that I almost didn’t notice the change.

If you like metroidvanias and you haven’t played Hallow Knight, you’re missing out on incredible artistic masterpiece of a game. I recommend you pick it up and let yourself experience it at a comfortable pace. This game begs for a slow, methodical play-through and I recommend you play it in a dim room with little other noise so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience.

I Finally Saw Hamilton

On Tuesday of last week, the twenty-eight of August, I got a notification on my phone I had always dreamed of getting but never expected to actually get. I had won the Hamilton lottery and could purchase one or two tickets to see the show in Chicago on the following day. Needless to say, after spending two minutes freaking out, I bought two tickets and then started going down my list of people to invite. Unfortunately, my first pick was busy since it was his first day back at work (as opposed to cleaning up while on the clock) following the flooding and he couldn’t get the day off to drive to Chicago for a matinée showing. Thankfully, one of my roommates was my second choice and he was able to get the day off. So I went. Even with eight hours of driving due to traffic and construction, it was worth it.

Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s big-hit musical, was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I cried throughout it, not just at the emotional moments, of which there were many, but whenever the writing, acting, vocal work, staging, and lighting came together to create these wonderful little moments of perfection. As a whole, the musical showcases some of the most clever writing I’ve ever seen and sets aside the tried-and-true method of weaving songs together for one that relies more heavily on certain phrases that are the best foreshadowing I’ve ever witnessed. Between the moments where the songs themselves pull you out of the show, to impart some useful historical information or to help move things along, I was caught up in a world of song and voice. I can’t remember what the people who sat in front of me looked like, despite the fact that I spent three hours staring over their shoulders. I lost sight of everything while the show was in full swing. I was more caught up in this show than in anything else I’ve ever seen, read, or done. The full three hours of the show passed in a blink, interrupted only by an intermission that felt longer than either half of the musical.

While I can’t speak about the show in a general sense, since my only experience with it was the specific show being performed in Chicago, I honestly can’t imagine how it could ever be done poorly. The set was fairly standard, a level stage with an upper deck the actors could reach using a couple of on-stage staircases or some off-stage ones, and mostly functioned as a place for more of the chorus to dance and sing from, though it was used to add emphasis for some characters during important moments. The set was used entirely for staging, for dictating where people moved and how actors showed up on stage. All of the scene-setting, all of the environmental stuff that told you where the bit the actor were currently performing, was done entirely through lighting and the clever use of props. Using stuff like tables, desks, stools, and various similar things, they were able to create everything from a tent in the Revolutionary War to bedrooms or open fields. The best part of the staging was their use of a two-part turntable so one group of actors or props would spin one way and another group would spin the other way. They used this to amazing effect in one of the songs during the second half of the show, “Hurricane.” It blew me away and created the images that have stuck with me the most.

Honestly, the entire show was memorable. Each moment felt perfect, each little bit of acting and each scene being set felt like it was perfectly natural and complete, like it was unfolding on stage the way it certainly must have unfolded in the eighteenth century (with perhaps some liberty taken for language). I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since I got back into my car after the show and I feel like I can sit back, listen to the amazing music, and rewatch the entire show in my head. Each of the actors stood out from the crowd in their own ways and there was no wasted movement as they made their way around the stage. It was super clear they had the practiced precision that comes with repeating something dozens of times, but the emotion and energy they put into the show felt like this was their first night in front of an audience.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the content of the show because I avoided everything from the music to plot summaries for almost three years before I finally got to see Hamilton and I’m so glad I did. The sheer wonder and powerful emotion in some of the songs would have created scenes in my head and I would never have gotten the chance to see the show for the first time without any expectations or preconceptions. It was worth the years of denial for that moment when the lights dimmed and the first actor walked out on stage. I know it’s probably too late to recommend that you do the same thing, but hold on to that abstinence if you’ve managed to stay away so far. The music is magical and there are scripts out there you can read, but the show itself is better by far and worth waiting for.

What I will say is that it’s a relatively modern take on Hamilton, specifically it reflects modern scholarly opinions of Alexander Hamilton and some of the other Founding Fathers. The music is pretty Hip-Hop centric, which is another way it’s modern, but it seems like a pretty accurate portrayal of history, with the only liberties taken being in the way the characters spoke to each other rather than how situations resolved. I did some research to confirm this and it’s as accurate as a couple hours of reading can show. I’m sure a dedicated historian could shed more light on the subject, but I don’t have the time for getting another bachelor’s degree before writing this review.

I suggest downloading the Hamilton app so you can participate in the lottery or, if you’ve got a bit more money to spend, buying tickets the normal way. No matter where you see it, no matter who you see it with, it’ll be one of the most memorable days of your life. I suggest you go invest in enriching your soul.

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.

Exposition X And X Narration X The X Anime

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Anime Hunter X Hunter, the title of this blog post is reference to how the show titles all of their episodes. And also a reference to the two biggest parts of the show that might as well be characters. In terms of story, Hunter X Hunter is an adventure show about a young boy joining an elite group of dangerous people called “Hunters” in order to find his father who abandoned him when he was a baby. Gon, the abandoned hero, makes a few friends along the way and constantly impresses people with his superhuman strength and sense until he complete his exam, becomes a hunter, and is introduced to the world his father inhabits, a world filled with people far stronger than him which exists a step removed from the world he used to know. To be specific for those wanting to look up this anime, I’m reviewing the much longer series that premiered in 2011, rather than the earlier and shorter series. That’s the one my roommate introduced me to, the same roommate who introduce me to My Hero Academia, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of his taste in Anime anymore.

Now, to be entirely fair, he didn’t talk Hunter X Hunter up nearly as much as he talked up My Hero Academia. He admitted there are some serious issues with the later episodes and that it isn’t as strong as some of the other ones he’s recommended, but it has held a special place in his heart for a long time and it’s actually pretty fun to watch. It has frequently defied my expectation when it comes to the story and I’ve enjoyed watching a large number of the crazy characters in this show wind up being surprisingly sane. An assassin bonds with his son, a martial arts instructor acts to help a pair of young fighters who are in over their heads, and two incredibly strong children are actually children who play around and get up to trouble between being ridiculously overpowered. It’s very refreshing to see it stray away from a lot of the more frustrating adventure anime tropes and to create an insane world occupied by sane people.

If it weren’t for two things, I’d love this anime. As it is, they are making it difficult to enjoy the show at times. If it weren’t for the constant exposition, often delivered by going over events that just occurred multiple times, and the steadily increasing amount of narration, I’d definitely recommend this anime to everyone who doesn’t mind ridiculous fights, stupidly powerful characters, and a hero whose main weapon is a fishing pole with an apparently unbreakable line.

While the show is rather complex, introducing some really fun concepts like the Hunter organization, a plethora of unique animals who inhabit an incredible dangerous world, magical beasts of all kinds who live in the same step-removed world as the incredible strong people, and some rather complicated and open-ended powers called “Nen,” it gets really bogged down in the details. When Nen is introduced, they just go over it countless times. While initially peppered my roommate with questions about how Nen works and what it means, the Anime answered all of those questions and more. Multiple times. In one episode. There’s literally a point where we watch a fight, get one guy’s ability explained to us in exhaustive detail by his foe as a means of psychological warfare, see the end of the fight, get the other guy’s powers explained in excruciating detail as a flashback aside by a mysterious healer who came to fix him up, and then go over them again as the hero and his friend learn about Nen from the kind man who has taken them under his wing. I was so bored and the flashback felt like it took an entire episode. If this was the first time this had happened, where the show went over ground it had just covered, I’d forgive it, but this is becoming a theme.

In the same vein, the amount of narration is getting tiring. While there is a narratorial voice who sets up and concludes each episode, the show itself does a ton of narration through the characters. In writing, there’s this phrase, “show, don’t tell,” that’s supposed to help people keep in mind that they should show the characters acting rather than just narrate through a scene. This anime does both. It shows and then it tells like it didn’t show you just a minute ago. This is heavily tied to the exposition I mentioned since the worst of it, the flashback exposition, is handled by a character narrating whatever happened. There are much more natural ways to show what happened. Heck, if they’d just gone over the fight as the two young heroes learned from their teacher and explained it all that way, it still would have made sense and then it would have been explained in a place it made sense to talk about what happened. I’ll admit that I just watched this happen a couple of hours before writing this review, so I’m still a little frustrated and steamed with the show.

I’m still going to watch more of it, though. I’m willing to sit through some odious exposition and unnecessary narration in order to find out what happens next. While the characters motivations are fairly basic–finding a father, getting revenge for the death of your family, financing your education so you can become a doctor, and trying to find meaning outside of what you’ve always been told you’re meant to be–the show explores them in a rather novel way. Gon wants to find his father, but he’s not in a hurry and he is very much committed to living his own life even if that means setting aside his quest to find his father for a while. Leorio, the teenager who looks like an adult, is willing to risk his life and harm people in order to become a doctor who can afford to freely give out the medicine that would have saved his childhood friend’s life. The child assassin, Killua, will kill whoever he needs to in order to explore life as a normal kid with friends. Kurapika, the last surviving member of his clan, will sacrifice his own life if it means getting a shot at a member of the band of thieves called the “Phantom Troupe.” Of them all, Kurapika’s story is the most cliché and ordinary, but he’s an angry child trying to take out a group of the strongest people in the world and the show has already proven that it’s not afraid to let the stars get the crap kicked out of them so I have high hopes he’s not just going to “fighting spirit” his way to victory. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m a little bored of the trope. Just a personal preference thing, but it feels like it’s often used to let a character set up to be weaker than someone else win a fight they shouldn’t be able to.

I’d recommend watching the show for the characters, the interesting world, and the plot, but make sure to keep the remote handy so you can skip forward a bit once the boring exposition and narration shows up. Also maybe don’t watch every episode because I’ve heard the narration gets terrible toward the end. I don’t know for sure yet, since I’ve only watched thirty-four episodes. If the show changes a bunch before I stop watching, I might do a second review. There’s certainly been enough show in the episodes I’ve seen so far to justify doing a second one once I’ve watched more. I barely touched on the Hunter organization, the crazy exam people need to take in order to become Hunters, and the insane people who run it in a surprisingly formal and normal–if deadly–way. Let me know if that sounds interesting to you. I always need more stuff to review.