Review – Final Fantasy XV

A mostly open world Final Fantasy shows the series moving in the right direction.

I finally finished Final Fantasy XV a couple weeks ago.  Like I’ve said in past posts, Final Fantasy holds a special place in my childhood.  Final Fantasy IX was the first game that had a story I really connected with.   In the intervening years, the series quality has slowly declined.  Final Fantasy XV was famously in development for over a decade.  There was a lot of expectation for it to be at the very least not disappointing.  While it’s not the best game of the year, I can safely say it’s a good game that I really enjoyed.

Gameplay

The gameplay of Final Fantasy XV is easily the best part of the game.  Once you get through all the intro cutscenes and tutorials, the meat of the game is this: rest at a quest hub, go out and complete quests or monster hunts, drive around in a cool car, rinse and repeat.  The combat is simplistic, but it kept me engaged the whole way through the game.  Over time you unlock skills and combos that gives more flavor to the combat.  A lot of these techniques rely on teamwork between the four main characters, and they include some really interesting combat animations.   The side quests themselves aren’t very interesting, but they usually involve combat so I usually wasn’t bored doing them.  The monster hunts were fun, they were always combat oriented and usually paid well.

Surprisingly, the driving was super enjoyable for me, but not for the reasons you might think.  The driving sucks, hard.  The controls are so limited I don’t know why they’re even included in the game.  I never manually drove the car around, I always opted to have one of the NPC characters drive me around.  What I ended up doing is setting my car to drive across the map towards a quest and reading a book while the car was driving.  I read most of The White Luck Warrior while driving a video game car around.  I realize that’s a very specific situation and applies to almost no one, but for me I had a blast fighting monsters and reading about Drusas Achamian.

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This is an end game boss, can’t wait to come back in a few weeks and chase this thing down.

Story

The story was terrible.  There’s no getting around it.  It’s full of japanese and JRPG tropes.  I don’t like anime, and a lot of the things I can’t stand about anime are present in this game.  Final Fantasy dialogue I’m convinced was better when it was all text based.  Once they went to voice actors, it became very difficult for me to take the dialogue or characters seriously, going all the way back to Final Fantasy X.

The story really isn’t all that important to enjoying the game.  The gameplay is where it’s at for me.  I have enjoyed Final Fantasy stories in the past, tropes and all, but there are almost no memorable characters to latch onto.  I didn’t care about anyone outside of the four guys you follow around, and I was bored every time a cutscene played.

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The only good thing about the story and cutscenes is they’re very pretty.

The last third of the main story takes you out of the open world environment, and it also separates you from your three NPC buddies for a long stretch.  The developers take all the best parts of the game out at the end.  Nintendo has similar problems right now, a lot of the decisions Square and Nintendo make show that they don’t understand Western culture.  If they want to target Japan specifically, great for them and more power to you.  But a significant portion of their market is in the West, and the ending to this game clearly demonstrates that Square doesn’t know how to speak to a western audience.

Conclusion

This game is best enjoyed if you take the beginning and endings out of the picture.  The middle part of the game is a fun open world experience with interesting combat and a beautiful world to explore.  The story and characters fall almost entirely short for me, but if you’ve exhausted The Witcher 3 and Skyrim, the open world of Final Fantasy XV might scratch that itch for you. 3 Gibsons.

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Hospital Job Update

A pair of good interviews followed by some disappointing news, and a quick baby update.

I recently posted  about a job I applied for a few weeks ago.  The job is mostly supporting and possibly implementing hospital applications in their I.T. department.  I had a phone interview on Thursday last week and a follow up on site interview yesterday.

The phone interview went really well.  I always get nerves when I have to interview, but I felt like I answered pretty much every question well.  I usually have a question here or there that I fumble, but I didn’t really have that with the phone interview.  The on site interview was yesterday, and I did well on that one also.  I liked the I.T. director, she seemed like a cool person to work for.  The hiring manager for my position however came in late, didn’t introduce herself, and wouldn’t make eye contact with me.  I’m not sure how I felt about her.

One thing that came up in the interview is the overtime expectation.  There’s a lot more overtime expectation than my recruiter told me when I originally applied.  With my first baby on the way, I’m not very interested in working a job with overtime expectation.  Another thing, right now my current job gives me 6 weeks of paternity leave.  This new job said they could try and give me 2 weeks, but no guarantee.  I’m struggling with this a lot.  I want to be a family man, I want that to be my priority over my job. I want my job to be in service of my family life, not the other way around.  I haven’t made a decision yet, but I’m leaning towards not accepting this position.  I have another interview with the CIO for the hospital in a couple weeks, so I have time to think about it.  <Christianity warning> I have been praying about it and will continue to do so, I need to trust God more with these things.  I know everything will work out in the end and that He’ll take care of us </Christianity warning>.

I’ve been on the job hunt for months now, and I’m getting used to the excitement of a new prospect and the eventual disappointment of it not working out.  I’m not happy with my current boss, but I have a decent paying job with a lot of flexibility for my family.  I’m not satisfied with my current job, but I can afford to be choosy on what position I accept.  I have an interview in a few weeks with a community college in my area doing support, so we’ll see how that goes.

Quick Baby Update

Another baby appointment tomorrow, hopefully we get to see the ultrasound again.  We’re about to go public with the baby news on Facebook.  Christmas was great, we got to be around our nieces.  Playing with those babies made us so excited for our own.  My one niece is the exact age our baby will be next Christmas, so it was great to get to see how she did with Christmas this year.

 

My Book of Regrets – Steven Wilson

Because of my love of Blackwater Park and Opeth, I discovered Steven Wilson.  Steven Wilson’s been around for a long time, and he’s produced  a lot of eclectic and interesting progressive music.  He’s also a very active musician, constantly working on multiple projects.  This song is off 4 1/2, an EP of songs leftover from Hand.Cannot.Erase.  I love the guitar solo in this song, it’s one of those solo’s that you can almost sing along with.  Great stuff.

Malazan – Intro

The first part of a mult-entry series focusing on Steven Erikson and his Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Steven Erikson is by far my favorite fantasy author.  I discovered him probably about six years ago, and in that time I’ve read everything he’s ever written twice.  I’m contemplating going through it all again, but I’ll probably wait for him to finish a few more books first.  I’m planning on doing a post on each of his books in the future.  This post will serve as an introduction to Erikson and his books before I write more in depth on each book.

Steven Erikson

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Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson is a pretty private person, so I don’t know much about who he is.  He’s not active on social media, his website hasn’t been updated since before I knew about him, and he has stated in the past that he likes to keep an air of mystery about himself from his fans.   Here’s what I know about him from scattered interviews and articles.

Erikson worked as an archaeologist in the 80’s with Ian C. Esslemont.  They bonded over playing D&D and they created a fictional world together.  This world and the stories they played out together became the basis for the Malazan series.  Erikson and Esslemont adapted specific campaigns from their gaming sessions into fantasy series.  Erikson wrote the main Malazan series and and he’s currently working on two trilogies.  Esslemont wrote his own series and is currently working on another trilogy. Erikson and Esslemont share the world and some of it’s characters, but they divvied up the campaigns and some of the settings for their individual works.

Erikson is a masterful writer.  He’ s created some of the most compelling and heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read.  His books are filled with diverse characters that play against tropes.  His plotting is slow and thoughtful, and he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs through each of the individual plots that ties each plot together into the main story thread.  He does this with each of the individual story arcs in every book, and he does it on a much larger scale with the plots of each book tying together at the end.  I’ve never encountered a series of books that gave me so much information at the outset while leaving me feeling puzzled and lost throughout.  That’s exactly how it starts with the first book.  You’re thrown into a story in the middle rather than at the beginning. You don’t start to feel like you understand how all of the stories tie together until about the third book, and your understanding is turned on it’s head time and time again before the end.  It’s this plot structure that makes a reread so rewarding.

He’s a much more difficult writer to read than your typical author.  The first book is especially difficult to get through the first time.  You’re literally thrown into the middle of a story with very little exposition or explanation of what’s going on.  You don’t even understand the magic system until many books later. There’s a very slow drip feed of information throughout the whole series.  This can turn a lot of people off.  It’s incredibly rewarding if you can stick with it, but if you’re an impatient reader who just wants a quick payoff this series is not for you.  Erikson is also prone to a lot of philosophizing.  I like this sometimes, but especially in his more recent books it seems like every single character, even down to the uneducated plow workers and latrine cleaners, has a PHD in philosophy and he spends pages and pages preaching their specific viewpoint.  It gets a little long in the tooth.

If you can get past those minor flaws in the writing, you’re going to love these books.  I try and recommend them to everyone I meet that likes fantasy.  I see them more as a thinking man’s fantasy series rather than simple escapism.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely view fantasy literature as entertainment and escapism.  But Erikson’s philosophy and the structure of his plots definitely forces you to use your brain more than your typical fantasy author.

Malazan Book of the fallen

This is the main series of books, and the first series Erikson wrote in this world.  It loosely follows the journies of the Crippled God, two specific Malazan armies, and a slew of characters from different races and factions.  It’s hard to sum up in a sentence, there’s a lot going on in these books.

  1. Gardens of the Moon
  2. Deadhouse Gates
  3. Memories of Ice
  4. House of Chains
  5. Midnight Tides
  6. The Bonehunters
  7. Reapers Gale
  8. Toll the Hounds
  9. Dust of Dreams
  10. The Crippled God

 

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Midnight Tides

The Kharkanas Trilogy

This is a prequel trilogy that Erikson is currently writing.  It takes place 300,000 years before the Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Erikson is also planning on writing a trilogy focusing on the years after the Book of the Fallen, but he hasn’t started that yet.

  1. Forge of Darkness
  2. Fall of Light
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Anomander Rake and Dragnipur

The Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach

These books are short stories and novellas following the journey of two necromancers.  Erikson definitely lets off some steam in these stories, his other books are very heavy and dark, these stories are filled with satire and dark humor.

  1. Blood Follows
  2. The Healthy Dead
  3. The Lee’s of Laughters End
  4. Crack’d Pot Trail
  5. The Wurms of Blearmouth
  6. The Fiends of Nightmaria
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Bauchelain and Korbal Broach

Ian C. Esslemont

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Ian C. Esslemont

I also see myself writing about Esslemont at some point.  Esslemont is a decent writer, but he gets a lot of criticism from the community because he’s constantly compared to Erikson.  I don’t really think the criticism is all that fair, Esslemont is a decent writer who is trapped in the shadow of a master author.  If Esslemont’s books were released separately from Erikson, I think his books would be reviewed more fairly, and much more positively for that matter.

Malazan Empire Series

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Malazan Empire

This series is Esslemont’s analogue to Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.  It primarily follows a competing power to the Malazan empire, the Crimson Guard.

  1. Night of Knives
  2. Return of the Crimson Guard
  3. Stonewielder
  4. Orb, Sceptre, Throne
  5. Blood and Bone
  6. Assail

Path to Ascendancy

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Dancer, I’m assuming

This is a planned trilogy focusing on the early life of the first Malazan emperor and his partner.

  1. Dancer’s Lament

Posts

I don’t have a plan or a schedule for how often I’ll be writing about these books.  Again, this blog is mainly for my own edification.  I like writing, and writing about the things I’m into is a big stress reliever.  I’m also not sure how I’m going to write about the books, is it going to be a review?  A plot discussion?  I don’t really know, but I do know that I love these books.  I’ll return to Erikson and Esslemont periodically, and when the time is right for me.

Baby Reveal

First ultrasound, and we told our family and friends we’re pregnant.

Last week we finally told our family and friends that we were pregnant.  We’ve been keeping this secret for about a month, so it was really fun sharing our news with the people we care about.

We had our first ultrasound last Wednesday morning.  I posted a couple weeks ago about my anxiety, but it really ended up being no big deal.  My wife and I were so excited to see our baby moving and to hear its heartbeat, we barely registered anything else.  Leading up to the appointment, we had known about the baby for a month.  Because we hadn’t shared our news with anyone, the baby seemed like a far off possibility, rather than a soon to be reality.  Seeing our baby on screen was a big game changer for us.  That, combined with actually telling people about the baby, made this whole pregnancy seem a lot more real for both of us.

Everyone had a super positive reaction when we gave them the news.  My mom specifically — she saw the ultrasound picture and practically dove into me and my wife and started crying.  It was a very sweet moment.  We saw a few people in person, but we ended up having to call most of our family and friends.

I mentioned in that previous post how I was worried about my wife’s parents reactions.  Her mom was the one we were most worried about, and at first she seemed like she was annoyed that we didn’t say  anything sooner.  But she quickly got over it and was excited for us.  All in all it was a really exciting and fun day.

My wife is diabetic, so her pregnancy is high risk.  She will be monitored by her OB/GYN every two weeks, so I’ll continue to provide updates as we move along.  I know there are going to be struggles and challenges — especially with her diabetes, but this was a great day and we’re both so excited for what this baby means for our little family.

Review – The White Luck Warrior

My thoughts on R. Scott Bakker’s excellent The White Luck Warrior.

I finished R. Scott Bakker‘s The White Luck Warrior last week.  I’ll be spoiling the plot of the book so if you’re sensitive to spoilers for this book or any of the books that preceded it in the series, turn back now.

Initial Thoughts

I enjoy this series more and more with every book (despite the terrible book covers).  This is the fastest I’ve ever read one of Bakker’s books, I finished up in a little over two weeks.  Usually I take my time and digest his books a little more, but I was so caught up in Achamian and Sorweel’s stories that I couldn’t stop reading.  Bakker gets better with every book, and The White Luck Warrior is just as big an improvement over The Judging Eye as it was over The Prince of Nothing.  The characters and plot were extremely engaging and kept me emotionally invested in their stories the whole way through.  The only issue I had is some of his writing is so vague and subtle it can be hard to know what’s actually happening.  These moments are few and far between however, and this book is Bakker’s best so far.

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Bakker’s marketing team needs to be shot. This cover art is hideous.

Characters

Achamian/Mimara

Once again, Achamian and his arc are the highlight of this book.  Achamian and Mimara are easily my two favorite characters of this second half of Bakker’s series.  It’s hard not to love Achamian, his tragic past with Kellhus and Esmenet make him instantly sympathetic and his love for Mimara makes him all the more likable.  For her part, Mimara feels like a more youthful version of the Esmenet we saw in the first trilogy.  They go through hell in this book , battling Sranc, the Slog of Slogs, drug addiction, and a dragon.

Sorweel

Sorweel is still with the Great Ordeal, battling Sranc and gaining the trust of allies.  Sorweel felt like a more fully realized character in this book.  In the previous book, Sorweel felt like a character who was just positioned in the army so that Bakker could give us a POV into Kellhus’s march.  Sorweel didn’t press the action and he didn’t make a lot of autonomous decisions.  Most of his story happened to him, rather than Sorweel taking the reigns and determining his own fate.  This time around, he was a much more active character and I ended up enjoying his arc much more than I did last time.  He ends up leaving the Great Ordeal by the end of the book, and I’m excited to see where Bakker takes him next.

Esmenet

Esmenet’s arc in this book dragged the most for me.  Her chapters were primarily split between herself and her son Kelmomas.  It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed her in the previous trilogy.  Her sections weren’t bad, but in contrast to the other more exciting POV chapter I never looked forward to reading about her and the empire in the Andiamine Heights.  Kelmomas was the bright spot in these chapters.  He’s a manipulative, murderous brat and he has Esmenet completely fooled as to his true nature.  Kelmomas may be my favorite addition Bakker has made in this newer series.

Story

The story follows the Great Ordeal north on their journey to Golgotterath, the Skin Eaters and their journey to the Library of Sauglish, and the politicking back at home in Momemn.  The plot moved along briskly with the Great Ordeal and the Skin Eaters.  Each time one of these chapters ended, I had a sense of loss as I wanted to keep reading about either of these plots.  The stuff in Momemn seemed too drawn out for me.  I honestly don’t care as much about Esmenet or the policitics in Momemn as the other plots, even with Kelmomas and his siblings in play.  The passages with the white luck warrior also really confused me, and I didn’t even realize the assassin at the end was him rather than the narindar.  I had to look that whole thing up online before I understood what actually happened.  For me that’s a small criticism, as I ended up enjoying her passages alright.  I think she suffers more in contrast to the other two, rather than her story being uninteresting or poorly written.

Score

Overall I really loved this book.  In a lesser book, Esmenet’s story may have been a highlight, and it’s weighed down purely because there are two fascinating storylines competing with it for page time.  If you’ve read this far into the series, you’re going to love this book.  I don’t know why you’d get this far and stop, the writing and the characters just keep getting better and better.  4.5 Gibsons out of 5.

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I’m going to take a break before I hit the next book, Bakker isn’t releasing the final book until July next year and I tend to mix up all the fantasy names if I take too long a break (Ishroi, Inchoroi, Fanim, Fanayal, Malowebi, Maithanet, etc.)  I’ll probably start the next book in March.  Next I’m pushing on with Peter Hamilton, despite the disappointing intro I had with him a few weeks ago.