Fire Emblem Fates

It was Fire Emblem: Awakening which helped to establish the Fire Emblem IP as one of Nintendo’s best and Fire Emblem Fates built on top of the previous game’s structure and made something even better. Sadly, this game didn’t seem to receive quite as much praise as its predecessor, but I definitely think it deserves just as much, if not more.

At its heart, it’s similar to the previous games in the series: it’s a turn-based tactical RPG which tells the story of a prince involved in a conflict between two kingdoms in a fantasy world containing dragons. Every unit you use is a unique character with their own story and you can improve relationships between characters (and stats) by having them fight side by side.

There are a few changes to the classic formula, however, and I feel that these my be at the heart of some people’s mixed feelings. First of all, while you can play through the game with permadeath on, it feels as though it was designed to be played in Casual Mode. Casual Mode was introduced in Awakening as an option for players who were new to the series, because it was felt that permadeath might make things too hard and stressful. I completed Awakening with permadeath on and had completed several of the other games in the series too, but Fates was so extremely difficult that I switched to Casual Mode quite early on. Even with it on, I still struggled with some levels. I can see why some people might be unhappy with this change, even though I don’t see them as an issue.

On a similar note, in previous games weapons all had a limited number of uses before they broke. This added an interesting element of resource management to the games and encouraged you to buy new and more powerful weapons as you went on and needed to replace your old ones. In Fates all weapons can be used infinitely – I didn’t really see why this needed to be changed. It meant I ended up sticking with weak weapons from the start of the game for longer than I should have. This was only a minor problem though and is nothing next to all the good new features this game provides.

And what are those features? Well, the biggest and most important is a branching storyline. In one of the earlier levels of the game, the main character is forced to decide which side of a war they will be fighting on and the story goes down a completely different path depending on if they choose one side or the other (or if they refuses to side with either.) I loved this and I felt that the characters were all so fleshed out and the story so interesting that I was more than happy to play through three times to see each version of events.

I’ll try and talk about the content of the game’s story too, although it is hard due to the fact that it contains so many unexpected twists and developments. You play as a young person called Corrin (who can be male or female, as per your choice) who must decide between fighting with the family who raised them or fighting with their biological family (who both love them immensely.) What makes the decision so hard is that each family is full of very likeable characters: on one hand there’s his adorable adopted sister and immensely protective adopted brother – on the other, two birth sisters who are enormously overwhelmed with positive emotion to be reunited (to give just a few examples.) Along with all that, there’s the mysterious and aloof singer called Azura who remains enigmatic throughout the game and is as much a main character as Corrin themselves.

It’s a game that packs some serious emotional punches and is honestly one of the best things on the 3DS. There are certain times where they go so far that you’ll be completely stunned at what you see and I think it’s all done fantastically. Moving scenes are always emphasised with an emotive soundtrack too. Since you control the growth of these characters and get to witness their blossoming relationships with each other, you will be pretty devastated if anything happens to them and in this story, nobody is safe (which kind of makes up for the fact that you likely aren’t playing with permadeath.)

One negative I would like to mention, however, is the way that this game was released. This doesn’t affect the quality of the experience, but it is still pretty frustrating. Essentially, it was released as two games – one for each side of the war, then you could get the other paths as DLC. I was very disappointed in Nintendo for this. It should have been one, all inclusive game – especially as releasing it like this means that people have to make the game’s decision before even buying it (unless you download the game, like I did.) A lot of people will want to play all of the paths, which makes the game crazily expensive (especially if you buy the smaller pieces of DLC too!) I hope one day they’ll release some kind of “definitive edition” of the game containing all of it at a reasonable price.

Aside from that one gripe, it’s actually a really good game. The characters will stay in my heart for some time and completion of the game’s harder levels was so, so satisfying. If you’re looking to get into the Fire Emblem series, it could be a great place to start.

Rating: 9.7/10

Buy Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright here.

Buy Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest here.

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Cover Novels

I usually quite enjoy cover songs – I know that they might not contain quite the same level of originality as a completely new song, but I find it really interesting to hear things re-imagined from the perspective of a different artist. Often I’ll like a cover equally if not moreso, but in a different way.

Today I found myself thinking: why is this something which only happens within the musical medium? Why don’t we get “covers” in other forms of art? Why not, for example, cover novels?

I know this probably sounds like a strange idea, but a large part of any book’s appeal is the style in which it is written. Some authors have very, very distinctive voices which alone make for strong selling points – so imagine if authors reinvented each others work from time to time.

Interestingly, this is the kind of thing which would have happened all the time with storytellers in ancient history. One person hears a story, then passes it on to somebody else – along the way adding several of their own unique touches. Of course, modern copyright laws will essentially make this sort of thing impossible in today’s world, but then are these laws stifling creativity? Are we robbing artists of the ability to build on top of each others’ work, as is the natural way of this art form?

I wouldn’t like to say definitively, because artists do absolutely need for their work to be protected by law. On the other hand, legalities will stop authors from even considering certain projects – even though they could be absolute masterpieces. I still can’t really understand how and why we live in a world where cover songs are acceptable but not other things – but I suppose it all depends on the developmental origins of each art form. Really, it was just a passing muse for me and something which, on reflection, I am disappointed does not exist in our world.

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Rise and Fall and Rise of Silent Films

I’ve not seen that many of them, but I am quite fond of silent films. Nosferatu is a film I really enjoy and it has several scenes which remain quite creepy to this day. Metropolis gives us us a weird view of the future from the perspective of the 1920s and it’s one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever watched. There’s a certain mystique to silent films that I really appreciate.

Of course, as good as silent movies can be, those with sound are much, much better. Simply hearing a person’s voice does so much more to humanise them and to help us to feel their emotions. I’m sure that in, say, the 1960s people would have said that silent films don’t have a future. How and why would they ever come back after becoming what is essentially an obsolete art form?

Well, it’s funny because silent films are back – although they’ve taken a very different form. We all know that Facebook automatically starts playing videos silently when you scroll through your newsfeed and as much as some of them may implore people to turn the volume on, most people won’t. What this means is that it’s the videos which can be enjoyed silently which are the most popular and they’ll often have little bits of text on screen – much like how a silent film would have the odd bit of text. It’s an interesting parallel I think, as content creators of today may well begin following the same conventions of silent film makers of 100 years ago.

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Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible by Marc Platt

Coming fresh off the heels of the exciting finale to the four-part Timewyrm series, I was really keen to find out what the next of the Doctor Who New Adventures would be. Since the title doesn’t give anything away, all I really knew was that it was written by Marc Platt, who had worked on the TV series around the time of its original cancellation. Since I liked a lot of the ideas that he had for the show, I was keen to see what this novel would be about.

And he certainly delivered in terms of interesting ideas. We get a glimpse of Ancient Gallifreyan society, which is cool and we also find out more about the history of the Time Lords. It’s clear that Platt wanted to expand the Doctor Who Universe and he’s done a great job of that.

Too bad the novel is really boring to read. Yes, as much as I appreciate many of the ideas in this book, I just didn’t think it did well in terms of delivery. It felt like the Doctor, Ace and all the incidental characters were just running around a bunch of ruins for ages. It was interesting right at the start and then again near the end, but the middle seemed to drag on for so long without many interesting developments.

What further cemented this as not very good for me, is that all the characters seemed to have really stupid sci-fi names and it was hard to imagine them as real people and to really care for them. They weren’t unlikeable or anything like that, they were just very bland.

On the other hand, The Doctor and Ace are, of course, two exceptional characters. The problem is that The Doctor is absent for a large amount of the plot, meaning that all the focus is on Ace. Unlike earlier novels, which had given us amazing insights into Ace’s mind and life, this all felt very surface level and I didn’t feel like I knew her any better afterwards.

Because it was Doctor Who, I kept going and because it was Doctor Who there were sections which I kind of enjoyed. I don’t think this says much for the book. The main thing I like about it shouldn’t be the fact that it was connected to something bigger that I already like. I will say this about it: it told a story they’d have never been able to tell on TV at the time, which is nice. Ironically, when I looked it up, it turned out to be an unused TV idea, so who knows what to think?

It’s possible that the Cat’s Cradle story arc will pick up in later instalments (and I hope it does) but as things stand, I do not recommend this book… Not even to really dedicated fans, really.

Rating: 5.7/10

Buy it here.

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Let’s Be Friends

I really like the song “Let’s Just Be Friends” by Alex Lewis. If you’ve not heard it before, you can listen to it here and if you’re not in the mood to listen to it, essentially it’s about a man who ends up in several intimate situations with women (e.g. cuddling in bed) which he incorrectly reads as sexual, when really they’re just being especially friendly. He gets annoyed with them saying “Let’s just be friends” to him and then ultimately ends up saying it himself to a woman he finds unattractive after a drunken one night stand.

Either the song is very clever or enormously hypocritical. When I read the comments of people who enjoy listening to it, I think they obliviously have a hypocritical view on it. The fact that he ends up saying “let’s just be friends” himself makes it seem like it’s quite a clever commentary on people who complain about that phrase, but it’s hard to be sure. I try not to worry too much about the authorial intent and just enjoy the fact that it’s a nice sounding song.

What I find quite amusing is that I have been in several of the same situations as the person singing the song, but I have never thought that I was in a romantic or sexual situation. People should be less afraid to be particularly affectionate with their friends. My original plan for this blog post, in fact, was to write a parody of the song, but it actually turned out so bad that I didn’t want that to be published – hence this analysis.

Ultimately, the character in the song is somebody who does not appreciate their friendships. “I’m going to staple a sign to my head that says, ‘I have no interest in being your friend!'” and that’s a shame because friendships are actually very valuable and a source of great emotional contentment. In fact, I think the phrase “Let’s just be friend” alone reflects a lack of appreciation for friendship, because saying you are “just” friends with someone implies that it is somehow lesser, when in fact friendship is a fantastic end in itself.

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This Moment

At any given time, we’re the sum of all our experiences which lead up to this moment. I look back at the time when I was dangling over the edge of a cliff in the Welsh countryside, then later to the time when I persuaded a woman at an amusement arcade to give my friends a prize despite not having enough tickets because they worked so hard, to being told I owe my whole school year an apology for my behaviour, to hiding under the school sofas because I was ill, to an emotional leaving presentation in my sixth form, starting this blog, making new friends, creating missing cow posters, visiting Nando’s for the first time, feeling new feelings, starting a webcomic,  helping avert brownie fires, saying goodbye to very many people, arguing with corrupt business owners, meeting cast members of The Waltons, getting punched by too many people, becoming depressed at a call centre…

It’s all actually one string of events, despite these seeming so disconnected. A deterministic view says that it could never have happened any other way. Every experience, every hello, every goodbye, every tear, every smile, every Trusty Water Bottle and every friend all leading up to this moment – the culmination of my life; the culmination of so many emotions and experiences that I could never adequately capture them all in writing, even if I had a life time. And what is this moment? Oh, I’m just eating a bag of doritos. I’ve got a nice dip too. But that’s every moment. This moment will always be the sum of your life.

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NES Remix

If you’ve ever played a WarioWare game before (and if you haven’t, you should give the series a try, it’s great!) then you’ll be familiar with 9-Volt’s collection of ‘microgames.’ For those not in the know, they are moments from classic Nintendo games where you have to quickly fulfill a certain objective – it’s very fun. NES Remix feels like the end result after somebody decided to take that formula from WarioWare and make it its own game.

The challenges you’re given are broken down by game, so if you had a particular favourite on the NES, you could enjoy tasks taken from that game. Take Super Mario Bros. for example: you might be tasked with simply completing one of the games levels, or you might have to defeat a certain enemy, or win a level while collecting enough coins. You’ll find similar challenges for Donkey Kong, Ice Climber, Balloon Fight and other iconic NES games. What you’re asked to do gets a little harder each time and you’re rewarded between one and three stars based on how well you do.

The process I’ve just described is something I found quite fun, but the real treasure within NES Remix is its remixes. In the context of this game, what “remix” means is that a section of one of these NES games has been taken and then changed in some way, often even spliced with another game. Some examples include Link (in his original Legend of Zelda form) having to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong, having to do something in the original Mario Bros. while controlling two Marios, playing a level of Wrecking Crew with everything as a silhouette or playing Excitebike and only being able to see what the bike’s lights shine onto.

As it’s only a cheap, download game, I definitely recommend NES Remix as I had a good time with it and found it quite addictive. The way that you’re ranked with stars gives it quite a lot of replay value too, as it is satisfying to go back and improve your old scores. If you’re a big NES fan, I think you’re likely to love this, but even if you’re just a general Nintendo fan, it’s still worth playing.

Rating: 8.3/10

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Starting Your Career With a Terrible Job

The idea of starting your career off with a terrible job might not sound very appealing, but actually I think it has some benefits. Let me be clear, though, that I am not talking about a job that’s low on the career ladder – I don’t mean ‘terrible’ like, working in a shop or a call centre. Those are respectable and honest jobs that somebody needs to do. When I say a terrible job, I mean any job which is badly managed and which has a negative working environment.

But why would you want a terrible job? Something which causes you stress and frustration? Well, I think that some negativity in the workplace is completely unavoidable and it’s good to be prepared. If you have such a bad experience early on, then nothing that comes afterwards will seem that bad.

This is certainly the case for me. While not my first ‘real’ job, fairly early in my career I had a job with a particularly nasty manager with many unpleasant personality traits. I put up with so many terrible things there, that nothing in any other job since has really seemed that bad – even when other employees have complained that things are really bad. I feel like it’s helped me to become quite resilient to corporate irritations and that’s something I am very pleased with. Handling problematic authority figures is something you can only learn to do through experience and that’s why it’s good to start your career with a terrible job.

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The Desire to Rewrite

When I started this blog, I was an A Level student. Between now and then I have successfully completed a Creative Writing degree at Bath Spa University and have started out a career in copywriting. That’s a lot of new experiences and a lot of time for my writing skills to improve and I believe I have gotten better in these last seven years.

The fact that I have gotten better means that I look back at some of my earlier Trusty Water Blog posts and feel like they’re not up to my current standards. I wish I hadn’t reviewed certain books or games so long ago, because I know that had I played or read them now and written a fresh review, it would have been so much better. Similarly, I wish I hadn’t written up certain anecdotes so long ago, because I could have written them in a much more engaging or entertaining way now.

There’s nothing stopping me from just going back and changing those old blog posts (and I do certainly edit them) but I don’t feel I can completely rewrite them. It would be disingenuous for me to do that. The other solution is to just write them again as new posts while leaving the bad originals intact – but for me that sets a worrying precedent. I’d probably end up writing things over and over every five years.

Funnily enough, I have sometimes wished that I had started writing this blog earlier in life, but if I had done that this issue would be an even bigger one. As it stands, I will just leave the old, less well written posts. At very least, I like that reading these back to back would create a pleasant transition from my old writing style to my current. When things are public, you always have to be very careful about when you start…

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The Stranger by Portia Da Costa

Unlike, say, Pride and Prejudice or To Kill a Mockingbird, The Stranger is not a title which will instantly stand out as a well known book. So what exactly is it? Well, it’s an obscure piece of erotica from several years back – but it’s not just a piece of obscure erotica from several years back, it’s also a Doctor Who novel in disguise! Now you begin to understand why I read this, even though my previous experience with erotica was extremely negative.

Let me explain the Doctor Who connection. The protagonist of the novel is a women named Claudia Marwood who meets a mysterious stranger who shows up near her house one day and can’t remember anything about himself. When they first meet, he’s wearing an Edwardian gentleman’s outfit and based on his description, he looks just like the Eighth Doctor. Funnily enough, they end up calling him Paul and what was the name of the actor who played the Eighth Doctor? Oh, yes. It was Paul McGann.

If that was all there was to it, this book wouldn’t really be anything more than a homage to the character, but it goes further than that. You see, the official range of Doctor Who novels later went on to explicitly reference Claudia and the events of this novel, retroactively making it an actual part of Doctor Who canon. After all, the novel series has been acknowledged as canonical with the audio adventures, which have been acknowledged as canonical with the television series.

So, I thought that connection was pretty cool. But what did I think of the actual content of the book? Well, to be honest, certain parts of it did make me a little queasy. Anything that involves bodily fluids (and especially the ingestion of bodily fluids) is a little too much for me. Some of the things that happened felt like they must have been written to appeal to really specific fetishes (for example, stuff involving urine…) but maybe I’m wrong. I am not an expert of human sexuality.

But something I did like was that none of the characters really seemed to be held back by gender. There’s a lot of sexual experimentation, with people realising that they’re attracted to the same sex and trying things for the first time. There’s actually quite a large variety in the sexual encounters (two men, two women, a man and a woman, a man and two women, etc.) and I like that. It felt very progressive. Plus, it means the Doctor has canonically had sex with a man – though I prefer to read him as an asexual character (which is pretty much impossible here) it’s nice to know that gender is not an issue for him.

Overall, I did appreciate the positive attitude to sex within this book. There was never any ambiguity when it came to consent and the interactions all felt very healthy to me. I was a bit concerned, however, that nobody ever took the time to use contraception – particularly as many of the characters take multiple partners… I also did start to find it a bit repetitive after a while – every chapter contains at least on sexual experience and, if I’m honest, I don’t really find these interesting to read about at all. Nonetheless, I did enjoy reading the book on the whole and I’d recommend it to any fans of Doctor Who who’re looking to explore the stranger corners of the expanded universe, or fans of erotic novels in general.

Rating: 8.3/10

Buy it here.

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