Tuesday, January 16, 2018

REVIEW: Her Story (game)

Her Story is a mystery FMV (full motion video) game. I picked it up in a Humble Bundle.

Review:

I try to keep my game reviews focused on games that have simple gameplay but are story-rich. Her Story is definitely that - it's all about the story. Gameplay is limited to keyword searching and watching videos, and that's it (well, except for the Mirror game, but that's more of an extra).

You play as someone who's been given access to an old desktop computer from 1994. There are a couple text files that give you information on how to search and work with the police database, the database itself, and a simple game. Your job is to search the database and watch various video clips. They haven't been organized in any way. If you wish, you can assign tags to them or save them for quick re-watching.

The catch, when it comes to adding tags, is that searches only show you the first five retrieved results. If you add certain tags too many times, searching those tags becomes nearly useless. Of all the tags I chose to add, only one turned out to be useful - I used it whenever I came across video clips that felt particularly important but that I didn't know enough about to fully understand. Which I know is a pretty useless way to describe the tag, but I don't want to give too much away.

I recommend playing the game with a piece of paper and something to write with on hand. Each video clip will give you ideas about new keywords to try. Write them down as they come up and go through them one by one. (Librarian FYI - This is also a useful thing to keep in mind when performing searches in real life!) There's a little eye icon that makes it easy to tell whether you've seen a particular clip before or not.

The basic story (no spoilers): Back in 1994 the police recorded several interviews with a woman who claimed that her husband was missing. As the investigation progressed, it became clear that he had probably been murdered. The game gives you no guidance as to what you're trying to accomplish, so it appears that your goal is to figure out the full story: whether the woman murdered her husband or not.

REVIEW: Mystic Messenger (game) - Christmas Special 2016 (Zen and 707)

Christmas Special 2016 is one of two available DLCs for Mystic Messenger. It's different from After Ending and Valentine's Day, in that you don't need to have completed a character's route in the main game before doing one of their Christmas routes. If it weren't for the fact that it costs hourglasses, I'd say it'd be a great way for newbies to Mystic Messenger to dip their toes into the game and see how things work. It's much shorter, only 2 days of chats, emails, and phone calls.

I purchased Christmas Special 2016 when it was on sale near Christmas. I timed my first playthrough to coincide with the story - the first day takes place on Christmas Eve, and the second day takes place on Christmas. I aimed specifically for Zen's "good" ending (I assume there's also a "bad" ending) the first time through. The second time, I aimed for 707's "good" ending.

REVIEW: Mystic Messenger (game) - Jaehee's route (plus After Ending and Valentine's Day)

I know I said I'd review this ages ago...and then I didn't. Well, I'm finally getting around to it. The short version: I loved it! Enough to actually spend money in the app, which is saying a lot for me. I don't like spending money on or in apps.

First, a little about the game (again). Mystic Messenger is best played on a phone, although I suppose you could play it on a tablet as well. You'd lose a little of the immersiveness, since the app is supposed to mimic the experience of chatting with, emailing, and calling people on a phone, but I assume it'd still be playable.

Because it mimics interaction with real people, gameplay happens pretty much in real-time. Which means you're going to get notifications at all hours of the day that there's someone in the chatroom, or that you have an email, etc. If you miss a phone call or chatroom conversation, you can pay hourglasses (which you either earn throughout the game, buy with hearts you earn in the game, or buy with real money) to re-open them, although a certain number of chatroom conversations can be missed without ruining a route. The main game happens over the course of 11 days, or less if you get one of the earlier bad endings.

I started my first playthrough after I got back on vacation, which was a good idea, because the app uses your current timezone to schedule the various chats and game events. You can't change the timezone, so that's something to consider before starting the game. For my first time through, I opted to play relatively naturally, at least during the Common route (the first four days of the game). During that time I got to know the characters and situation. You play as someone who's installed a mysterious app and gets roped into joining a group that plans fundraising parties for charities. For some reason the group decides that you should plan their first party since one of their prominent members died a while back.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: The Garden of Words (anime movie), on Blu-ray

The Garden of Words is a short movie, only 46 minutes long. It’s licensed by Sentai Filmworks. If I had to pick a genre for it, I’d say maybe drama.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Takao is a 15-year-old high school student with a dream: he wants to become a shoe designer. His unsettled family life and flighty and immature mother forced him to grow up pretty quickly, so he knows he’s going to have to accomplish his dream all on his own, somehow scraping together the money for proper training himself. In the meantime, he allows himself to skip school and go to a quiet garden and sketch shoe designs on rainy mornings but forces himself to go to school at all other times.

One rainy morning he meets Yukino, an elegant-looking woman with nice shoes, at his usual sketching spot. Just like he skips school to sketch, Yukino skips work to drink beer and eat chocolate. The two strike up a quiet friendship and, despite the difference in their ages, Takao finds himself starting to fall for Yukino.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

REVIEW: Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vols. 11-13) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen

Another vacation reading post. I had a huge stack of these available during my vacation. I somehow forgot how good this series was and put off starting them until just a few days before I had to go back home, so I only managed to get through three of them. I'm definitely going to be continuing this series during my next vacation. I'm pretty sure I still haven't made it past the point where the anime stopped (or at least what I've seen of the anime, since apparently there's now more).

As usual with these vacation reading posts, there are spoilers beyond this point.

REVIEW: Orange: The Complete Collection (manga, vol. 2) by Ichigo Takano, translated by Amber Tamosaitis

Orange is a high school drama series. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment and complete in two omnibus volumes.

My review includes major spoilers.

Review:

Warning: this manga deals with depression and suicide. You've probably already read the first volume and know that, but this volume goes into more detail and includes a lengthy section from the POV of a character up to the moment he makes his decision to commit suicide.

I enjoyed this but had some issues with it that I’m not sure I can articulate. Well, I’ll give it a shot.

Orange is only the first two thirds of this volume. The last third is an unrelated story with a completely different tone. I’ll discuss them separately in this review.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

REVIEW: Alliance in Blood (e-book) by Ariel Tachna

Alliance in Blood is m/m urban fantasy with vampires and wizards, published by Dreamspinner Press. It's 210 pages on my Nook Simple Touch.

Review:

I was working on my “Best and Worst of 2017” post and realized I still needed to review this because it’s definitely going to end up on my “worst” list.

This is one of the Dreamspinner Press books I bought before I decided to boycott them for knowingly publishing P2P fanfic and then just sort of shrugging and doing nothing when they were called on it. I had given Tachna’s The Inventor’s Companion 3 stars when I read it back in 2011 and liked it just enough to give her books another shot. This turned out to be a mistake on my part.

I finished this a month and a half ago, so apologies if my summary has some issues. Alliance in Blood stars Orlando, a vampire, and Alain, a wizard. Vampires and wizards have been at war for a long time. Although wizards view vampires as dangerous monsters, they’ve decided that they need to try to form an alliance with them because the wizards are also at war with dark wizards and could use some help. The vampires agree to the alliance 1) because it would give them a chance at having the same rights as wizards and 2) because Alain and Orlando accidentally form a bond and discover that wizard blood might allow vampires to walk in the sun again.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (live action movie)

[This isn't the best or most insightful review, but one of the things I'd like to do in 2018 is be better about writing something for everything, even if what I write isn't all that detailed. I saw several movies in 2017 that never got write ups because I never turned my brief notes into posts.]

I was nervous about going to see this in the theater because, wow, two and a half hours. But my vet told me that my cat was probably on the mend and that I should cut back on force feeding her and see what her food consumption was like, so 1) I wanted to celebrate a little and 2) I needed to get out of the house and stop obsessing about her eating and litter box usage. I even made an event of it and bought myself popcorn and a drink, which I never do.

I still haven't seen Rogue One, and the last time I saw The Force Awakens was when it came out in 2016. I was a little rusty on what had previously happened. For example, I can't for the life of me remember why Finn had all those water (?) things attached to him, although the "leaking" scene was hilarious.

I feel approximately the same about this movie as I did The Force Awakens. Although it made for a nice time at the movie theater and didn't feel nearly as long as I feared it would, I didn't love it the way a lot of Star Wars fans I know did. Again, I seem to like the fandom output more than the original stuff that inspired it.

On the plus side, this didn't feel quite as weighed down by nostalgia as the first movie. On the minus side, it's a very long movie considering how little really happens. The main thing that kept it from feeling so long, I think, was that I enjoyed the characters a bit more this time around. I was nervous about what was going to happen with Rey, I was charmed by Rose, everyone loves Finn, and I worried that Poe was going to manage to get himself kicked out of the Resistance for insubordination. Cranky Luke was kind of fun, and I liked Leia better without Han around (I'm sorry!).

I can't remember how The Force Awakens did in this department, but I definitely noticed that The Last Jedi made an effort to have a significant number of female extras and minor characters. Very nice. And since I love animals, whether they're fictional ones or not, I also enjoyed all the new creatures. My favorites, I think, were the crystal fox things and the Porgs (Ship Porg is best Porg).

I don't plan to buy it or anything, but I'm glad I saw it. Now I need to sit down and watch Rogue One sometime. The main reason I've put that one off is because the few things I read about it made it sound like death and sadness. (Technically The Last Jedi had death and sadness too, but it also had downright goofy bits, like the Porgs and BB-8 literally using its head to fix things, so it balanced out.)

Monday, January 1, 2018

REVIEW: Orange: The Complete Collection (manga, vol. 1) by Ichigo Takano, translated by Amber Tamosaitis

Another vacation read review, so expect major spoilers after the break.

This is another manga that made it onto my TBR list because of some review I came across a while back. I can't remember which one or who wrote it.

Unfortunately, I saw the "complete collection" part and didn't look closely enough before requesting the volume. If I had paid better attention, I'd have realized that "complete collection" didn't mean that the series was complete in this one volume - instead, it's an omnibus edition with one more volume after it. I'd have requested both if I had known.

I went into this with vague memories that the reviewer had loved it, and also that it was maybe science fiction. I suppose it could be considered science fiction due to its thread about parallel universes, but it read more like drama that had the potential to be a tear-jerker.

REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper (e-short story) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a vacation reading review and, as usual, there are spoilers.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is one of the few things I read during my vacation that wasn't a graphic novel or manga. I downloaded it via Project Gutenberg. I think I saw a review of it on Booklikes, but I couldn't remember a thing about it. I wasn't even sure what genre it was and, since I didn't bother to look it up before getting started, I thought it might be a mystery. It's actually more psychological fiction (psychological horror?).

REVIEW: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vols. 4-5) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is a 4-koma comedy series. I had a large stack of it available during my vacation, but after I burned out so badly on My Neighbor Seki, a comedy series that feels like it could be 4-koma even though it isn't, I was reluctant to plow through them. What if I burned out on this series too?

I wasn't quite as into this series this time around as I was during my last vacation. Maybe I was just burned out on comedy in general. At any rate, I still enjoyed it and plan on reading more during my next vacation.

As usual for these vacation reading posts, there are spoilers from here on out.

Happy New Year

It's now 2018 where I am - happy new year! My "best" and "worst" posts for 2017 will probably be very late this year, as I'm still working my way through the backlog of reviews I'd hoped to get through before 2018.

My cat is still sick, but also still mostly the same. Her behavior is normal (I have no clue how she still manages to have any energy), and she seems to be decently hydrated. She ate quite a bit more today than she had in the past four days, but far less than she should have. Maybe 1/4 cup of food instead of 1/12? And unfortunately she threw some of it up, so it may have ended up being 1/12 cup anyway. Crossing my fingers that she eats a bit more while I'm sleeping. I'm still force feeding her baby food with Nutri-Cal mixed into it, and still hoping that she'll finally start eating on her own without throwing any of it up. We'll be seeing the vet on Tuesday, whether her eating picks up or not.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

REVIEW: M.F.K. (graphic novel) by Nilah Magruder

This is a belated vacation reading review. As usual, be warned that there are major spoilers in this. I use spoiler tags on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Booklikes if you'd like a spoiler-free version of this post.

A tweet from Magruder saying that "it's asexual AF" put this on my radar. I took this to mean that there was an explicitly identified asexual character. Um... If there is, then it's not in this volume. I haven't read the webcomic, which includes a fourth chapter that wasn't published in this book, so maybe it's in that chapter? That said, those looking for romance-free graphic novels may want to check this out. (I sincerely hope that Magruder didn't think "romance-free" and "asexual" are the same thing.)

REVIEW: The Ginza Ghost (short story collection) by Keikichi Osaka, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Ginza Ghost is a collection of mystery stories originally published in Japan, primarily in the 1930s. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Have I mentioned that I hate reviewing anthologies? Collections of stories by the same author are easier to review than ones with stories by many authors, but I’d still rather review individual novels, novellas, and short stories.

Anyway, this made it onto my TBR after I finished Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders and went hunting for similar books. The Ginza Ghost starts with an introduction about Osaka and his stories. Like Shimada, Osaka was an author of honkaku (orthodox) mysteries. He was born in 1912 and began prolifically publishing mystery stories starting in 1932. Unfortunately, this was a time when honkaku mysteries were looked at unfavorably in Japan, and so he eventually had to switch to comedy and spy stories. In 1943 he was drafted, and he died of disease sometime in 1945.

The collection includes twelve stories organized semi-chronologically by publication date. I’m not sure why there were a few exceptions mixed in. Perhaps to make sure the volume ended as strongly as possible? “The Phantom Wife” wouldn’t have made for as good a stopping point as “The Ginza Ghost.”

REVIEW: Stranger (live action TV series)

Stranger is a 16-episode Korean drama. Each episode is about an hour long.

Review:

I finished watching this series a few weeks ago. Netflix's brief description:

"As a teen, prosecutor Hwang Si-mok received surgical treatment for his abnormally developed brain, but the procedure left behind serious side effects."

Which is absolutely not what this show is about at all. Si-mok's surgery is barely discussed and only really comes up a couple times in any kind of important way. He tends to come across as very cold, because the surgery affected his ability to show his emotions. He also believes he can't feel most emotions, but that isn't exactly true.

For the most part, the show is a murder mystery/political thriller. The murder mystery comes first. If I remember right, Si-mok was planning on meeting up with an informant (or witness?). Unfortunately, the man was murdered in his own home. Si-mok (who, remember, is a prosecutor and not a cop) thinks he knows who the killer is, chases the man down, and arrests and questions him. There’s a speedy trial and the man is found guilty. He swears he didn’t do it and kills himself to show his conviction.

Si-mok goes on TV and promises that he will find the real killer in two months. From this point on, things get murky. It’s difficult for him to know who to trust, and he views almost everyone with suspicion. Can he trust his bosses, who he thinks may be corrupt? Or his trainee, Young Eun-soo, who has hidden connections to the murder victim? Or Seo Dong-jae, a slick fellow prosecutor who might have acted under orders from higher up. The only person in his life who seems to be 100% trustworthy is Han Yeo-jin, a cop. No, they don’t end up becoming a couple - this isn’t that kind of show. (Although I did think, at one point, that there was going to be a love triangle. That wasn’t the case either.)
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