Friday, January 30, 2015

Final Fantasy III (Review)

I never expected to play Final Fantasy III. I had relegated it to history as I never intended to track down the game, nor did I ever intend to own a console again that would play that series. I had once owned a PS2, and on it I had played Final Fantasy X and X-2. That would be it. There would be no more. Then the tablet revoltion happened, and a very intelligent Square Enix remastered their Final Fantasy series, putting out the series for Android. As FF3 was only $5, a bargain in my book, I decided to buy and play.

I found FF3 a fairly charming story of four youths, four Warriors of Light, out to save their weird little corner of their polygon world. How do we know this? A sentient crystal told us so. The silly thing is that I never realized, until right now, that I had gotten my question from a sentient crystal. Perhaps it had some sort of being in it? Anyhow, once the crystal told me that I had a Mission-From-God to Save-the-Orphanage, it was time to hit the road and get the band together.

The band? A group of four young people from all walks of life, each given their own assigned color. Where have we seen that before?

So by now, you should realize that there's nothing original in this story. Most of the adventure revolves around grabbing something from some dungeon and then putting it into another dungeon, and then a boss fight happens. After the boss fight, something big may or may not happen that allows you to go out and find more dungeons for more boss fights. You can pretend that you saved the world after any boss fight that you want to because the story will vary very little.  Yet, that's not a knock on the game. As I said, the game is charming. It contains no cynicism or betrayal. In that way, it may be an early entrant into the New Sincerity movement. Or would it be late? I always misremember when that movement started.

As for hitting the road, you hit the road in style, receiving a series of ever-better and ever-cooler ships to wisk you about the world, sometimes above it, and sometimes below it. There never seems to be a lack of new ships.

My biggest mechanical complaint was for the final battle. You had to fight through multiple dungeons, beat multiple bosses, then take out the main biggest-baddest-boss, all without saving. That last battle was an all-or-nothing marathon. I guess that was to make sure that you showed your true grit, but for me, that was an annoying way to lose several hours of gameplay with one bad battle.

My smaller mechanical complaint was occasional need for grinding. I would run into absolutely brutal boss fights, barely eeking my way through. I eventually figured out that I wasn't grinding at all, and that my characters were completing dungeons seriously under-leveled. In a way, I guess that I showed what a bad-assed RPG player that I was, but that wasn't my intention. What I really wanted was some brain candy and some auto-fighting.

Early on, I did lose the plot a few times, wandering about the world like a lost fool, which turned out to be helpful as that was grinding, except not grinding because I did have some fun exploring.

The 3D part drained my Kindle's battery like nobody's business. All 3D games suck down power on my Kindle.

Would I have paid $50 for this game? I don't think so. But at $5 for my Kindle, I think that it worked out well enough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Textbook on Theosophy (Book Review)

Charles Webster Leadbeater published A Textbook on Theosophy in 1912. This book describes the fundamentals of Theosophy to anyone who is interested in the topic.

For a book written in 1912, where florid styles were all too common and readability was thoroughly secondary concern, this textbook reads remarkably clear. By an large, the writer shows restraint, indicating that the author truly did intend this as a textbook, its purpose to explain Theosophy clearly. So if you want to learn something of Theosophy, or the Theosopohy of 1912, you would do well to start with this book. Myself, I knew almost nothing of Theosophy, and after reading this book, can talk at length about the subject. So as a textbook, I think that this work proved rather successful.

Many parts of the book read archaically. As the technical terms of our language have changed, so too has the apparent meaning in the book. In places, the author refers to "vibrations", making his analogies sound rather strange, Today we use the word "frequency" to describe differing vibrations. For example, instead of two worlds existing at two different vibrations, which sounds like a cheap 1920's planetary romance sort of thing to say, two planes would exist at two different frequencies, sounding something more like modern SF. Thus, although the language often sounds antiquated, the notions themselves persist in our culture in different guises.

If you are already familiar with eastern philosophy, many parts of this book will seem simplistic and rudimentary. In the world of 1912, concepts from the east, such as karma and reincarnation, were little known in the west, and so require significantly more explanation to make sense of. Today, the explanations would still have been there, but the actual word would have been used rather than longer-winded explanations.

In many places, the use of scientific words is not only inapplicable, but completely misapplied. For example, Theosophy is often called a science, with its ideas being scientific. In no sense of science, even in the 19th century, would this apply. Knowledge given to us never counts as scientific.

The book makes several references to spells, Masons, and other aspects of the occult, the hidden lore of a world, but I cannot describe this as a book of occult lore in the modern sense. You will be no more capable of doing anything amazing after reading this book than you would be before reading this book, except for finding inspiration and reason to make you a more generous humanitarian. Somehow making yourself a truly unselfish person, acting in the best interest of every, is amazing enough for any book.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Quest for the Diamond Sword (Book Review)

The Quest for the Diamond Sword, by Winter Morgan, can be best described as a heaping helping of Minecraft adventure with some characterization thrown in. If you are into Minecraft and you just can't get enough of the stuff, then this book may be for you. For everyone else, it will leave you wondering why anyone would even bother playing Minecraft at all.

The story centers around Steve, the quiet farmer. After a zombie invasion of his village drives him off, he swears to return and help his friends defeat the zombies, but returning isn't so easy. Through luck, perseverance, and quite a bit of Minecraft knowledge, Steve takes a tour of the Minecraft world. Despite all his challenges, the dangers of this world aren't nearly as bad as the challenges posed by the dangerous and fun-destroying GREIFERS.

The text feels like it was churned out. To test that, I wrote my own Minecraft story of similar ilk, finding that I could write at 2K words per hour, which is pretty insane rate. At the end, my prose was similarly polished. So, my hat goes off to Winter Morgan, for finding a niche and profiting fiercely.

The book itself isn't very long, racking up a hundred pages, or about 20,000 words. The pacing throughout is quick, spritely, and eager to move. If there's a dull moment in this book, it will only be a moment as the story keeps moving no matter what.

If you do play Minecraft, the pages are full of many useful hints and clever tactics that you can use against your enemies. Any Minecrafter out there should find himself a better adventurer for these stories.

While I can't give this book any high rating, I also can't say that I was the target audience. So, for a non-Minecrafter, I would give this book two stars. This book is not for you. It's competent but dull. For a kid who's into Minecraft, I give the book four stars, because it contains so much of what the audience desires. The book is all Minecraft, all of the time.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Wrinkle in TIme (1962)

My tour of the 70's continues with Madeleine l'Engle's work, but to get there, we have to go back into the 1962 with A Wrinkle in Time. This is one of those series that I never quite got around to reading way back when, so here at 48 years old, I'm reading Madeleine's work for the first time. This is no childhood book for me.

A Wrinkle In Time is a Christian allegory involving Meg, her father, three seeming witches, and a few other people. By Christian, I don't mean the modern usage of the word where Christian = Evangelical. Instead, this is the Christianity of mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism. This is a realm where the theological matters more than the salvational.

The writing in this book is absolutely charming, and if you are at all interested in writing for older children, this is a wonderful book to study. The sentences are clear. The paragraphs and comfortable. The characters are well formed. The story is neither padded nor sparse. At 50k, it's a short book by modern standards, but quite comfortably within the range of historical children's books. With an economical use of words and no random deaths, Madeleine builds a world both horrifying and evil, one that leaves you colder and lonelier, and a villain that makes Voldemort look like a playground bully.

The plot itself is linear, having a few twists and turns, little of which is unexpected. There is some tension, but not from the usual places. The story carries its share of tropes, but as its a children's story, these tropes all seem perfectly in place, able to support the story that they form. Yet by the end, all of this seeming simplicity doesn't seem so simple, for fear and intimidation, presented so simply, feel sharper and more threatening.

As I alluded to earlier, this is not a book born of violence. There's a few punches and tackles in there, but no violence leads to any sort of solution to this story. This is a Christian allegory, with no problems being solved through violence. Violence does not lay close to the heart.

Overall, the book tickled me pink. I enjoyed it immensely, and I look forward to more of this series.