Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: Designers & Dragons: The '70s

Designers & Dragons: The '70s
Designers & Dragons: The '70s by Shannon Appelcline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The decade that gave RPGs its birth has never been covered in much greater detail and scope elsewhere. About a third of the volume details TSR, which is understandable as the company published the Dungeons & Dragons and created an entirely new industry. As a fan, I went through an emotional rollercoaster as I read the book: my heart soared as I shared in the victories and many firsts of the era, as RPGs are starting to rise to prominence, while I almost wept (with or without much gnashing of teeth as accompaniment) as companies floundered in the many upheavals of the industry and failed. Having been introduced to RPGs around 1989 or so, and having grown up in a small backwater South-east Asian country, it is nice to know about the people (and games) that have all come before in this industry I will always be a part of. On the the '80s!

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: The Broken Sword

The Broken Sword
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic story. Furious action scenes and a fast-developing plot, along with Poul Anderson's prose make this a fantasy epic worth reading. Read this because of the AD&D (1st Edition) Dungeon Master's Guide's Appendix N (Inspirational and Educational Reading). Elves, trolls, demi-gods, cursed swords--this is one of Gary Gygax's many literary inspirations from which pages the now-classic D&D tropes would evolve.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: ソードアート・オンライン Sword Art Online - Fairy Dance

ソードアート・オンライン Sword Art Online - Fairy Dance
ソードアート・オンライン Sword Art Online - Fairy Dance by Reki Kawahara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great continuation to Sword Art Online, the killer VRMMO which was cleared in volume 1 by Kirito the Black Swordsman and Asuna the Flash. However, two months after the servers of SAO went down, Asuna still has not revived. Kirito wallows in despair until he is contacted by Egil, who showed him a screenshot of a girl uncannily resembling Asuna except her avatar looks like that of a winged fairy. Furthermore, Asuna-fairy is held in a cage hanging from the lower branches of the World Tree, the ultimate objective of the new Full-Dive VRMMO, ALfheim Online.

So off Kirito went to create a character in this new world, where he meets Yui, his and Asuna's "offspring" from volume 2 and the Sylph swordswoman, Lyfa, who is much closer to Kirito in the real world than either of them realize.

The first few chapters of this new volume almost felt like they dragged on a bit too much, but that's understandable as the author lays in the foundations--characters, settings, new rules, and all--of this new game called ALO. Soon, however, the pace quickens as Kirito logs into ALO and begins his journey towards the massive World Tree that dominates the center of the world.

The books ends abruptly though, so make sure you have volume 4 ready to read as soon as you finish!

A must-read for fans of SAO, fantasy and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: Sword Art Online - Aincrad

Sword Art Online - Aincrad
Sword Art Online - Aincrad by Reki Kawahara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Volume 2 of Sword Art Online is set before the end of Volume 1 (which had Kirito clearing the game). This volume featured four short stories, each one pairing Kirito with a different girl he met during his two years in SAO.

The first story, The Black Swordsman (Aincrad 35th floor, February 2024), features the beast tamer Scilica, and how Kirito helped her restore life to her dragon pet, as well as hunting down some player-killers.

The second story, Warmth of the Heart (Aincrad 48th floor, June 2024), features the blacksmith Lizbeth who forged Kirito's white blade, Dark Repulser.

The third story, Morning Dew Girl (Aincrad 22nd floor, October 2024), features Yui, a strange "girl" who becomes Kirito and Asuna's "offspring" in SAO.

Finally, the last story, Red-nosed Reindeer (Aincrad 46th floor, December 2023), expounds on Kirito's first ill-fated guild, The Black Cats of the Full Moon, and his quest for redemption after the TPK of the said guild.

The stories are top-notch, so if you liked Volume 1, this volume is a must-read. A couple of the stories, particularly the ending of Warmth of the Heart as well as the Rudolph song sequence in Red-nosed Reindeer, are definite tear-jerkers, underlining just how much sadness there can be in this life and death VMMORPG.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Sword Art Online - Aincrad

Sword Art Online - Aincrad
Sword Art Online - Aincrad by Reki Kawahara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finished this during traffic on the bus. It's a very quick read.

This first volume covers the launch of the first Virtual Reality MMO where players use NervGear helmets to achieve "deep dive," a state that allows full immersion in the game. About two hours into the launch, the creator of Sword World Online announces that everyone is now trapped in the game with no way to logout. This taking of the players hostage is achieved via the specifics of the NervGear interface which basically cuts off all of the brain's signals so that they translate to actions in game rather than as instructions to one's body. Death in the game also results in the NervGear electrocuting (or microwaving; the translation is hazy) the player's brain, killing the in the real world as well.

Sword Art Online is set on the huge floating "castle" called Aincrad which is itself divided into 100 floors. Players start on Floor 1 and negotiate the maze there until they come upon and defeat the floor's boss, in which case access to the next floor is granted.

As I've said, this novel is a very quick read, not just because it is relatively short at less than 400 pages. The pacing is fast, often jumping months, and years to follow the main character. By the time the game is cleared at the end of this volume, two years have already passed in the story, and the main characters are at a supposedly high level, and the frontier of exploration has moved to the 75th floor.

Those who have played MMORPGs before (and have been hooked) will definitely find something to like in this action-adventure/love story. Even without NervGear, the experience we players had with the current MMOs are comparable: sometimes, the difference between the real and the virtual worlds blur, get confused. And you're left with the feeling that one is better than the other.

I'm looking forward to reading through Volume 2 which are side-stories set parallel to the main storyline of Volume 1. In the anime adaptation, these stories have been inserted into the episode order, mainly as padding to complete at least 13, or maybe 26 episodes (a season length to which some anime should definitely adhere).

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: Dungeon World Red Book

Dungeon World Red Book
Dungeon World Red Book by Sage LaTorra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Old-school dungeon delving with a shiny new ruleset! I've just stumbled into this gem fairly recently and loving what I'm reading. I've taken a look at Apocalypse World before, but my eyes glazed over before I could grok the rules. Dungeon World grounded Apocalypse World's rules for me. Who doesn't like a dungeon crawl?

This one's different though, enough to make me feel like that time I got my grubby little hands on the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide.

Can't wait to unleash this on my players.

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