Final Fantasy XV: Dawn of the Future (spoilers)

While this does not involve my dewy-eyed Noctis and Prompo ship, this book is definitely worth reading for a fan of Final Fantasy XV.

Like any entry in a multimedia story, there are two questions: does it stand on it’s own and what is it’s relationship with the rest of the material.

Simple answer to the first one is: mostly yes. Someone with no prior context would have questions, but the story that opens at the beginning is effectively closed at the end. It even keeps it concise: four stories, all about characters with close relationships (either personal or associative) with one another.

Each of the four stories has a neat simplicity of scope: each narrative rarely goes further than the perspective of a single character. Two protagonists, Ardyn and Noctis, have experiences that afford panoramic views of their home world Eos. While this works like broad-spectrum explication, it is still rooted in a specific character’s perspective. To the credit of author Jun Eishima, this complication is accommodated by the novel’s internal context.

Speaking of context- the answer to our second question is lopsided. The novel The Dawn of the Future contextualizes the rest of Final Fantasy XV better than the game contextualizes the book. The weakness on one side and the strength on the other both relate to the narrative use of alternate timelines.

Players of FFXV may remember that alternate timelines were suggested in Episode Ignis, at the end of the first DLC season. This suggestion was followed up at the end of Episode Ardyn, which was projected to be the beginning of a second DLC season.

Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future chronicles the story that the second season would have told. When read as a single frame story, divorced from the rest of FFXV, multiple timelines are a more central part of the story than in the base game. In retrospect, the rest of the expanded universe needs this book more than the book needs the expanded universe.

Obviously, this is a consequence of Square Enix canceling the second season of DLC. In the normal course of things, the “hint” from Episode Ignis would rise closer to the surface in Episode Ardyn. This would enable the multiple timelines to be revealed through a “slow burn” of DLC chapters spaced months apart.

Instead, whatever happened at Square Enix happened, and we now have a novel. Instead of the episodic format, the whole thing is wrapped up in a single book. There were small insinuations indicating time travel, like revisiting memories in a visionary state in the “post game” material. But the importance of manipulating timelines and the forces of destiny just isn’t talked about very much in the base game. For a reader concerned with continuity with the rest of FFXV, this can feel like a sudden change (even if Episode Ardyn and Ignis could potentially soften the blow).

As it’s own book, it works wonderfully. Then again this might be something of a haunting difficulty with the FFXV dev team. The film, Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive also had world-building that wasn’t present in the base game. Also like Dawn of the Future, the film Kingsglaive created a deeper world than the base game.

As I type this, it occurs to me that Kingsglaive may be a more intuitive next step for someone who appreciates this book rather than the game Final Fantasy XV. To be fair, though, a fan of Dawn of the Future would still find the game worth playing. Much of the book (particularly the stories of Lunafreya and Aranea) are set against backdrops of travel across great distances. Distances in both time and space are detailed in the stories of Noctis and Ardyn. Eishima writes vividly of the shifting landscapes and how relationships may grow and change on the road. The travel-centered gameplay of Final Fantasy XV and the chemistry of Noctis and his retainers would feel natural after Dawn of the Future.

Appropriately enough, the novel starts with an intense confrontation between Noctis and Ardyn. Our setting, Zegnautus Keep above the city of Gralea, has been reduced to an undead playground by Ardyn, whose demonic nature was not fully appreciated by his enablers until it was too late. Placing Ardyn and Noctis on opposite sides establishes the importance of their rivalry in the uniting frame story. The familial relationship and physical resemblance between Ardyn’s brother and Noctis makes this opening “flash forward” an appropriate set-up for the story of Ardyn’s human lifetime.

This early framing also sets up one of the distinguishing story developments of Dawn of the Future. This is a huge spoiler for the original game so consider yourself warned. And it’s something we’ve seen before in Final Fantasy. Once in IV and indirectly by association in X.

Those two games tell stories that experiment with redemption. A while ago, a friend and I were discussing what we saw as the lack of a coherent direction in the new Star Wars films. The prequels cover the fall of Anakin and the original series cover the rise of Luke. I said that the sequels don’t seem interested in continuing this theme.

This doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if it’s completely original material that can stand on its own and needs no contextual validation. It is a high qualitative bar to meet, but it is not impossible. Both of us agreed that he sequel movies did not meet it. But if one half is a “rise” story and the other half is a “fall” story, what would a thematically consistent third story consist of?

My friend said it should be a redemption story, containing both. This would introduce the pressure of balance. A “fallen” state at the beginning would have to be believable and substantial enough for this character to look like a tragic hero or a villain protagonist. At the same time, the “rising” process would also have to be believable.

The easy way to meet the first requirement would be to go hard on the evil. Something like Anakin butchering children in Revenge of The Sith. But that kind of obvious solution could paint you into a corner when you attempt the “credible redemption” later.

For the sake of covering our bases, let’s also own that you absolutely can go hard on both. The original Star Wars trilogy did, but mitigated the risk of audience expectation by only allowing Darth Vader to survive a few moments in his redeemed state. I have a lot of respect for George R.R. Martin for ignoring this fine line, just so current pop culture has at least one visible example of it. In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, chopped off a child’s head in the first book simply because he was ordered to. But after a few books, he is clearly portrayed with sympathy.

I’ve wondered if this was something that made the creators of the TV show anxious. Perhaps this was the reason they decided to portray Jamie and Cersei Lannister with more darkness, so a casual viewer wouldn’t feel too deprived of morally laundered sadism.

Final Fantasy IV and X explored different expressions of these extremes. With X this is a little less obvious but an experiment is still at work: Jecht’s human failings as a father and a bully are always in the foreground. Jecht’s role as the human vessel for the being Sin is revealed afterward. In one of our first glimpses of Tidus, venting his fury to his mother, he is told that if he never sees his father again he will never have the chance to tell him how much he hates him. Before the final battle, Tidus does tell him. In the mind of Tidus, the human failings of Jecht haunt him more than Jecht turning into a supernatural, apocalyptic monster. If Jecht is damned, it is because of what he did before he transformed.

Final Fantasy IV does not defy the expectation of reconciliation, but exceeds expectations with reconciliation. Golbez, it is revealed, was fathered by the same alien that fathered Cecil. Before that moment, Golbez committed a series of atrocities that would have been at home in one of the first two world wars. The depth of suffering Golbez has engineered cannot be avoided, since Cecil has to go through a painful expiation process because of something he did under Golbez’ authority. At the end of the game, we learn that Golbez was effectively “possessed” when he did those things.

This is weird because the expiation of Cecil has already shown us that “the devil made me do it” is no excuse. Cecil had to personally face the survivors of his victims, endure their hatred and nearly pay with his life. Cecil had doubts about Golbez when he delivered the “ring” to Mysidia and he wasn’t even aware that the “ring” carried a nuke-level destructive spell. Cecil is morally evaluated strictly according to the outward consequences of his actions, with no attention paid to his thoughts and intentions.

It is possible that this expiation may have been intended to soften the player toward Golbez. But a casual player could not be faulted for wondering if Golbez’ last minute redemption is a bit of a double-standard.

Final Fantasy XV: Dawn of the Future explores similar moral extremes. Is there anything like Final Fantasy IV’s inconsistency that might get in the way? No, but the simplicity of the experiment itself creates its own questions.

This novel plays it straight. You know how I used the words “undead playground” earlier? This ain’t news to anyone who played the game but Ardyn basically had ten years to kill the majority of people on Eos and turn them into daemons. Another one of the viewpoint characters, Lunafreya, was herself killed by Ardyn before she is resurrected at the beginning of Dawn of the Future.

Lunafreya is also the first major character in the book to solicit Ardyn’s assistance. The apparent forgiveness of a viewpoint character who once died by his hand helps establish Ardyn’s positive arc before the last story, The Final Glaive.

Some of the best moments in the whole book are in this story. The first paragraph on the page above engages the philosophical dimensions of this story directly. The two female perspective stories are about road trips and the two male perspective stories feature long, visionary or altered state segments.

With this kind of thematic division, there is one half with people literally doing things. The other half needs to be written in a way that holds its own by contrast or comparison. Ardyn’s story features an eventful flashback and a brief period of action and travel to an ethereal plane.

The beginning of The Final Glaive starts the contrast in the right way. There is an exchange between the physical travel of the female protagonists and the astral travel of the male protagonists. Both place experience front and center, which is all that lasts between transient states. This lends gravity to the early meditations of Noctis within his ten year slumber within the Crystal.

Noctis does not immediately let go of the hatred that Ardyn provoked. At the same time, the simple existence of innumerable lifetimes conveying innumerable experiences is marked by Noctis within the Crystal. If each subjectivity is at least a little bit “objectively real”, than thoughts and emotions are empowered. If subjectivity is accepted as “real” then an internal process- like the changing of Ardyn’s heart -is empowered.

This is a careful attempt to substantiate Ardyn’s positive character arc. In the context of the novel, it works. But since I’ve played FFXV, it is hard for me to reconcile this with what I felt was a relative disinterest in narrative continuity in the base game.

Absent narrative continuity has haunted the FFXV project for years. It’s the reason why I never bought the thematic comparison between Ardyn and Kefka that appear throughout FFXV. It’s why I found the visionary afterlife in FFXV with the reunion of Luna and Noctis so unbelievable. We see Noctis go from a boy to a man and learn the wisdom of acceptance in the face of disaster, only to find his ultimate refuge in a fantasy of a woman he met briefly in childhood with whom he corresponded through a distance.

I’ve belabored the pointlessness of the Ardyn-Kefka analogies enough already, but do we need to drag Dancing Mad into it to, now?

I emphasize that the narrative treatment of Lunafreya within The Dawn of the Future is satisfying. In fact, she and Aranea probably have a few of the more entertaining moments in the book even if The Final Glaive is my favorite. Giving Luna both depth and a spine was sorely needed. The appearance of a new character, Sol, in three of the stories also builds up the continuity of the book. But it would have been nice to have something like this in the base game.

And here we are, back with the problem of a part of a story building the world better than the whole, like the Kingsglaive film. As a stand-alone “frame story”, this book carries its own weight just fine. But in the bigger FFXV multimedia project, it’s hard not to think something like “Why can’t all the good ideas make it into one specific story?”

Zelda: Outlands +Q (part 3)

Blobby eyeball creature in Level U doesn’t unlock anything but rupees….X_X…

But now we can buy moblin meat and potions with Bagu’s letter, and the Goron shop with the Kokiri Sword and Goron Shield is unlocked with the ocarina. So at least rupees are worth more than they were.

Meanwhile, back in Level T, remember that you just received two expansions to your bomb bag. Take the hint. Both the raft and the dungeon’s Tetrarch Fairy are not far off.

With another fairy comes another ocarina warp location: directly across the stream from Level O. There’s some obvious goodies and a warp cave that returns you to the other side of the stream…but not much more than that so far.

With more progress comes more ocarina warp locations…which you can’t really control. Playing the ocarina can take you to any of them. Now and then I suspect that your location on the map has some sort of correlating, mirroring relationship with where you warp to, but I’m not sure.

What this means is that, with the expanded range, you can no longer count on the ocarina to take you across the central water body. At least, not with any predictability. So, while getting the raft from Level T might feel a bit redundant, it’s really just in time. From now on, it’s the only way you can cross the central water body until you find the Gerudo warp caves.

(Actually, I remember some water in the upper left corner of the map, near a waterfall. I think the raft had some sort of use there, during the first quest?)

Along with the Outlands signature crisscrossing between dungeons comes another reversal of traditional Zelda mechanics. Each dungeon will not necessarily give you something that you need to unlock the next, sequential path forward. A treasure from one dungeon, the ocarina, has unlocked two dungeon entrances so far. Two others were accessible from the very beginning, even without the sword.

Like acquiring the sword, the expectation that the next treasure should unlock the next dungeon is so ubiquitous across Zelda games that, without it, you can easily feel lost. With Level T behind us, the ocarina has gained more warp spots and, ironically, appears a little less useful for it. And receiving the raft feels almost disappointing, since we’ve been coming and going across the water for awhile now without it.

This made me assume, several times now, that there is no clear path forward ever and each time you have to do a ground-up systematic investigation of everything.

So I spun my wheels for awhile before remembering that there are suggestions of where to go next, even if the treasures are not always involved. Back. in Level T, Zelda said there was a dungeon with twelve guards. Typically, numbered guards could only mean one thing. And they usually come in pairs of four or five so the uncommon pairs of six adding up to twelve are easy to track down and rule out.

Level T sets an interesting precedent for the next three dungeons: continuing the theme of the Subrosian warp caves, the secret staircases are often one-way passages. Level L particularly is arranged so these paths loop back on each other. The next two dungeons, N and A, also have tricky underground staircases, but at this point T and L still hold the record.

Ooh look another sprite from The Adventure of Link!

Level L also has the next item, after the ocarina, to unlock multiple dungeons: the Handy Glove. Level N is hard to miss if you do just a little bit of experimenting outside of L.

Next, it’s time to hit up the puzzle next to the cemetery in the lower left corner of the map, now that we can actually push rocks outside of dungeons. The hint-for-rupees Subrosian said it could be solved the same way it was in quest one, after all.

I knew, from the moment I saw this mushroom tree, that it would lead to a dungeon. In the second quest, if not the first

Interesting touch, saving this location for later in the game. The puzzle that lets you access this area felt significant in the first quest to- last time around, there was a heart container hidden in the area. It put me over the quota necessary for one of the Gerudos to hand over the Staff of Byrna. Speaking of, between L, A and a few other random holes in the ground, we’re at more than enough to get the staff in quest two.

If you remember Zelda’s hint about the “red tree path” from Level N you’ll probably find your way to Level C, right next to where the Thunderbird’s fortress was in the first quest. Just a few screens in, though, we naturally learn that we need all eight of the Tetrarch Fairies before venturing further.

So. Where to go from here. This actually got me pretty frustrated for awhile. The only other hint from Zelda was about searching “the dark maze of ice,” from Level A. But you need the Handy Glove to reach Level A in the first place and the Handy Glove dungeon is in the frozen area itself. So it kinda looks like you have to go back and look for a third level in the frozen maze. Which sounds a little obtuse for a Zelda game, what with the emphasis on exploration, but it was the most recent lead I had at the time.

Nonetheless…there was a lot going on up there that I just hadn’t covered yet in the second quest. The waterfall in the upper-right region of the frozen area seemed significant, somehow. I remembered that there was a way to reach it with the raft in the first quest.

Since there didn’t seem to be any way to trigger the raft up there, I started bombing walls and pushing rocks. Bupkiss. There’s no dock to launch from…but if I remember correctly, there wasn’t in the first quest either? My next “sure thing” theory was the small forested area with no snow, near Level L. I remember something being there last time around, but I guess there isn’t this time. Not even after bombing and throwing fire at everything and playing the ocarina.

Slowly, the weirdness of this sinks in. No other Zelda game I can think of has three dungeons in the same area. But wasn’t the hint about the “frozen maze” from Level A? You need the Handy Glove to get to A. The Handy Glove is in one of the two dungeons in the frozen maze. If I’m not supposed to go back to the frozen area, then what does that hint mean?

Another way of looking at it: how many hints refer to the frozen area and how many dungeons are there? Two, for sure. What about the hints? “Twelve guards” is one, “frozen maze” is the other. Is it possible that it’s simply two-for-two and that hints might be scattered randomly?

Strictly speaking…all you need to reach Level L is the ocarina and bombs. It’s entirely possible that someone might finish that dungeon (somehow, miraculously, without the sword, or maybe with the Kokiri sword) and then proceed to Level T. In which case, the “twelve guards” hint would have seemed a little pointless, just like the “frozen maze” hint now appears to be.

It’s annoying but at that point I felt forced to consider it. Also…all of the dungeons, so far, are in different locations than the first quest but none of them are far from their original placement. And I think there were only two dungeons located, roughly, within the frozen maze in the first quest.

There are two conspicuous areas that hid dungeons in the first quest which, so far, have yielded nothing. One of them is a rocky enclosure only accessible through to e Gerudo warp caves.

This one, Level D, is just a few screens away from the area you need the Gerudo warp cave to access. Where else do the Gerudo caves lead? Just outside of the Graveyard of Serenity. If two of the warp caves are in the vicinity of Level D and T, maybe the third location is also close to a dungeon?

It’s interesting that sprites from the first LoZ are used for the concept of Dark Link from the second game

As expected, it’s near the Gerudo warp location across the water. This one hardly lasts any longer than N or A. The hardest thing about this dungeon is the search for it. Also interesting: I think Level S has more Dark Links than any other dungeon before it. Story significance, maybe?

With all eight Tetrarch Fairies liberated, we may now proceed to the Thunderbird’s fortress in the red territory of Subrosians.

Remember how I said L and T had the record for misdirection and difficulty? They don’t, anymore. N, A and S were kind of effortless, but C makes up for all that- with rather classic dungeon design. The circular, misleading staircases do make an appearance but they only really take the foreground near the end of the level. It pays to rely on both the HUD map and the map in the pause menu which shows what rooms connect to what others. This level is intimidating but it doesn’t throw anything at you outside of the context from the rest of the game. And there’s some pretty neat treasure scattered throughout, to. Only one of them-the Silver Arrows -is necessary to finish the game.

Just like the first time around, I’m hesitant to go into too much detail. A final dungeon is just…such an important part of a “puzzle box” game. And this one is so much more than a tribute from a fellow Zelda fan (although it’s definitely that as well). Zelda: Outlands actually feels surprisingly genuine- like a Zelda game from some alternate reality.

First quest review

Afghan withdrawal

For the first time since I’ve been of voting age, I finally managed to support an anti-war president; and to think I almost didn’t.

Not that I don’t continue to have reservations about Biden’s political record; I absolutely do. In the sixties he called mixed-race schools “racial jungles” and he worked on legislation empowering private prisons and the drug war. Considering how the enforcement of drug laws has typically been carried out, it paints a scary picture in conjunction with the “racial jungle” comment. He even co-authored a bill with Strom Thurmond that expanded civil asset forfeiture to those convicted of drug crimes. He then laundered his image by running alongside Barack Obama in 2008.

(To clarify: civil asset forfeiture is when the police are empowered to preemptively seize property or money if they think you are going to use them to commit a crime. Essentially, it’s when law enforcement takes your stuff because they think you might do something illegal)

Joe Biden’s record could reflect corruption at worst or political opportunism at best. But the withdrawal from Afghanistan has, in my opinion, proven that Joe Biden is already twice the President that either Trump or Obama was. What he has done was both necessary and profoundly brave.

Some obvious objections are the American collaborators we left behind and the return of Islamic theocracy with the Taliban. Regarding our collaborators, it is possible that there was some sort of miscommunication: before the withdrawal, Biden said that military intelligence projected months before any possibility of a Taliban incursion. Right now, though, military intelligence liaisons are telling the media that they always knew the Taliban would instantly take control.

As of this writing, it doesn’t look like the precise mechanics of what wires were crossed with what is in any way clear. But there is room for legitimate criticism there.

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though, has a simpler context which I believe is causing subconscious angst in the media coverage of the withdrawal.

Put simply: it was preventable. Easily preventable. And easily preventable by the Afghans.

America spent roughly eighty-nine billion dollars training the Afghan army. An army that numbered some 300,000, armed with modern American weaponry. The Taliban had 75,000 combatants on their side, with artillery from the eighties and nineties. The Taliban was vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

Yet the stronger Afghan army instantly cleared the way for them and the Afghan head of state disappeared. The only way that could have happened is if they wanted it to.

America gave Afghanistan every means of support we could possibly offer. But all the money and weapons in the world can’t make a nation do what she does not want to.

The shallow and obtuse pearl-clutching in the mainstream media strikes me as more psychological than moral. If a western-style democracy is not the prerogative of the Afghan people, it makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that our stated motive of benevolent statecraft was never truly about the Afghan people.

Let us be clear: our recently stated motive of benevolent statecraft.

After the death of Bin Laden, it became impossible to pretend that our military presence in the Muslim world had anything to do with 9/11. So the justification then had to be an altruistic effort on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This reframing took place during the administration of Barack Obama. After quarantine and the end of the Trump presidency, nostalgia is now more sacrosanct than ever. Everyone wants to get back to normal and Barack Obama is one of the symbols of life before 2016-2020.

To admit that an altruistic effort to establish western-style democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq was never the desire of those nations touches a nerve. Both Trump and Obama won droves of voters with the promise to end American intervention in the Middle East. Many (perhaps most) Americans probably voted for one President or the other. And both of them welched on their anti-war platforms. To cling to the fantasy that either Trump or Obama represent some lost state of greatness is to buy into the belief that A. we were right to support their anti-war platforms and B. they were right to welch on them.

These two articles of faith are reconciled in a narrative of maturation: we were once youthful idealists but we learned hard lessons. In this narrative, it follows that the fine points of responsibility require us to eradicate tyranny in the Muslim world and leave them with representative governments. This leads to a perpetually receding goal post and permission to chase it forever.

To let go of what Obama and Trump represented is to admit just how deeply we were lied to. And the last thing anyone wants to do as they pine for the good old days is to lose more of their illusions.

The falsehood of our altruistic claims is particularly glaring in light of the parties who have benefited from our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jon Schwarz, writing for The Intercept, reports that a 10,000$ investment in defense stocks at the beginning of the Afghan war would now be worth 100,000$. A recent tweet from Public Citizen listed the returns on defense stocks during the Afghan war:

Now that we realize that our stated aspirations could not have been realized, we are forced to ask who benefited from it all. The answer to that is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us. We pursued a political program for those who did not want it for no better reason than the enrichment of defense contractors. We are now forced to grapple with this, and hopefully we will be more clear-eyed in our voting and political scrutiny.

Less money squandered on foreign occupations can also allow us to re-allocate resources to fight climate change. Billions to trillions of dollars every year, now freed up. You know, so there can be some humans walking around after we’re dead carrying our genetic code.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/07/08/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-drawdown-of-u-s-forces-in-afghanistan/

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-us-efforts-build-afghan-army-2021-08-15/

https://theintercept.com/2021/08/16/afghanistan-war-defense-stocks/

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (spoiler review)

On its own, this can be read as a loose frame story. Several interconnected, short story-like blurbs take turns in the foreground until the mysterious occasion for the FBI investigation begins to take shape. Each vignette is relayed by Tamara Preston, a fictional FBI field agent, belonging to the Blue Rose task force from Twin Peaks lore.

Then again, if you have any familiarity with Twin Peaks at all, it’s hard not to think of this book as a puzzle piece belonging with both T.V. runs and Fire Walk With Me. Especially since this is a story that David Lynch has treated protectively at times. To hear him tell it in every interview with him I’ve ever seen or read, Lynch is a visual artist first. He was a painter before a filmmaker, after all. At times, he considers story a rich ingredient in an overall work of art- but not necessarily the point on it’s own.

And when story does reach a critical level, he perceives opportunities within tangents that may be more rewarding than whatever the apparent McGuffin might be. To great effect, in my opinion: Mulholland Drive, Fire Walk With Me, Eraserhead and Lost Highway are some of my favorite movies. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Lynch cares more about mental and emotional continuity than a literal cause-and-effect unfolding of events.

During the first season of Twin Peaks, both David Lynch and Mark Frost (author of The Final Dossier and most Twin Peaks screenplays) were committed to this flexibility. Both Frost and Lynch agreed that the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer might not even be revealed, if the right stories were generated in the process. When the studio required that the murder be solved in the second season, Lynch appeared to be so dismayed as to nearly loose interest in Twin Peaks.

As much of a blow as this was, though, Lynch still had not let go of his attachment. In the mid 2000’s, a DVD re-release of the series was planned to include a comic written by a third party that would pick up where the mysterious ending of the second season left off. Lynch would not allow it to be released.

For someone who believes that numerous and diverse interpretations are proof of success…this seems like a relatively protective attitude. Especially after the studio meddling nearly killed his interest in Twin Peaks in the early nineties.

Mark Frost was half of the creative force behind the original story, which may be why he has been allowed to create a canonical Twin Peaks novel. I’m aware of some other Twin Peaks prose fiction and audio books released in the early nineties, but this book was released almost simultaneously with the 2017 Return series which strikes me as significant. In fact, the multiple links that the Final Dossier has to The Return strongly suggest that this book may be a companion piece to the 2017 continuation.

The Final Dossier bridges some very specific gaps between the early nineties Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: The Return and Fire Walk With Me, such as the parentage of Audrey’s son and the role of Philip Jeffries.

The portrayals of Lawrence Jacoby and Ben Horne surprised me with how sympathetic they were. During the first two T.V. seasons, I was absolutely disgusted with Jacoby. The overal tone of the show seemed to insinuate that regularly crossing sexual boundaries with young female patients was just more quirkiness. No worse than the jokes about Deputy Brennan tossing cups of sperm across the lobby of the sheriff’s office.

Both Jacoby and Ben Horne have redemption arcs that are pretty easy to believe. For a story about the virtues and vices of small towns, keeping things realistic and simple go a long way (especially if there are things that are complex and otherworldly elsewhere in the story). In the case of both characters, personal revelation is only half the battle. A penitent must also live with the uncertainty that the world (and those you have wronged) has no obligation to acknowledge growth or repentance.

Ben has a pretty dismal experience with this. He basically agrees to an amicable separation from his wife, who wants no reconciliation. His son, Johnny, is dependent on her so Ben is effectively cut off from his son in the bargain. After what she has had to tolerate in her marriage, though, Ben seems to have accepted that fair is fair. Similarly, Audrey Horne, his daughter, wants absolutely nothing to do with him for every good reason a viewer of the show can think of. While making what reparations he can in his professional life has no hope of repairing any relationship, that seems to be beside the point for Ben.

Jacoby…basically loses his license for having no grasp on doctor-patient confidentiality and plying patients for sex on the reg. Pretty much what I was hoping would happen during all of the first two seasons. He then begins a tour under a Nordic New Age Guru, dabbles in being a psychonaut and does some progressive politics boosting. After this sabbatical, he returns to the town of Twin Peaks due to a friendship in the Horne family and stays for his own reasons.

He reinvents himself as Doctor Amp, a broadly anti-establishment podcaster, which has an unexpectedly therapeutic impact on Nadine Hurley. In The Final Dossier, this comes across as similar to Ben’s late stage withdrawal from white collar crime: Jacoby maintains an open forum where he could, potentially, do some good but obviously will never practice medicine again.

If The Final Dossier was the last word on the subject, this would be a perfectly acceptable way to wrap up his character arc. But Twin Peaks: The Return portrays his Doctor Amp persona as a little less benign and more rambling and explosive. When The Return first aired, I wondered if Jacoby’s alter-ego was perhaps modeled after someone like Alex Jones. I’m not saying there was anything narratively wrong with that, but there is a tone conflict between the two versions of podcaster Jacoby.

Agent Preston’s investigation has a wide scope but there are repeating patterns between the vignettes that make the focus of the story clear.

To the book’s credit, Tamara Preston’s character development is one of the things that makes The Final Dossier a little bit more than a companion to The Return. While this is easy to miss in the beginning, by the end of the book it’s obvious that Preston has been in the town of Twin Peaks for awhile. Picking up exactly where The Return left off, Tamara is doing a follow up investigation of the mysterious shootout in the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s office in 2017.

Tamara has a “writer’s presence” that places her very close to the foreground. Between the multiple reports on people and events, though, some names come up more often than others. Special Agent Dale Cooper, in particular, could be reasonably interpreted as a secondary protagonist to Tamara’s primary protagonist.

Tamara passively observes that Dale has a white knight complex, during her report on Windom Earle’s crime spree. She theorizes that his mentally troubled mother may have parentified him as a child and engendered a reflexive urge to protect vulnerable women. Later in life, when Cooper falls in love with Caroline Earle during Windom’s downward spiral, a psychological lure is planted.

This draws Cooper in and leaves him vulnerable when Windom shows up in Twin Peaks. This is the same occasion that creates Cooper’s double, while the man himself is outside of time and space for (what we experience as) twenty five years in the Black Lodge.

Tamara goes on to infer (like many Twin Peaks fans) that the seemingly random time differential between entering and exiting the Black Lodge is a consequence of its location outside of time and space. This would be consistent with the eventual fate of Philip Jefferies who, when he materializes in Fire Walk With Me, is disoriented and demanding to know what year it is. This is also covered in The Final Dossier, as is Jeffries shock at seeing Dale Cooper. He points at Cooper drunkenly and asks Cole “Who do you think that is, there?”

If Jeffries is on guard against someone who looks like Cooper…and Cooper himself has a malevolent doppelgänger known to travel across time and space…it’s not difficult to run into the possibility that Cooper’s double and Jeffries somehow crossed paths on the other side.

Tamara’s final analysis accepts two things as likely. First: there are multiple doorways to the region outside of the space-time continuum and the time differential between here and there is nearly random. Second: something happened between Dale’s “evil twin” and Jeffries somewhere on the other side.

What exactly that is is not obvious. Clearly stating that this meeting happened at all would have been more welcome within The Return. This book also states the link between the New Mexico nuclear weapon experiments, Sarah Palmer and The Dutchman’s Lodge more openly than The Return. Again, which The Return should have done to begin with. In all fairness, it’s not like you couldn’t piece it together on your own, but probably only with the help of secondary sources that are less likely to be available these days. A bare minimum requirement would be knowing Sarah Palmer’s age and the state in which she spent her childhood. To make matters more confusing, she only lived in New Mexico as a child but was born in Bellevue, Washington- I remember that last part causing a lot of fans on YouTube to dismiss the possibility that the little girl at the end of the “crispy ghosts” episode was Sarah Palmer. Just now, I only know she was close enough to the nuclear weapon tests as a kid because I read it in a book by Mark Frost from 2017. A lot of secondary sources available to fans only stated where she was born, not the rest of her life leading up to marrying Leland and giving birth to Laura.

Which leads us back to whether or not The Final Dossier is an addendum to the T.V. show. Obviously, you’ll get more out of it if you were a Twin Peaks fan beforehand. Whether or not this is a problem depends on your opinion of multimedia storytelling or world building. In the case of Kingdom Hearts, the fanbase seemed to call bullshit with a single voice, causing Square to re-release the handheld KH games numerous times on multiple platforms just to make sure everyone was on the same page before they went ahead and released KH3.

A case could be made that the success or failure of multimedia storytelling depends on the specific story. Both Twin Peaks fans and David Lynch fans in general love hunting down rare minutia, so maybe a book that is equally necessary, side by side with the movie and two T.V. shows, is admissible here. Multimedia storytelling also depends heavily on whether or not the individual pieces are complete on their own in spite of their links to each other. The fictional universe of Stephen King, for example, is expressed largely through individual, standalone stories, with the exception of the Dark Tower novels. When I first discovered Stephen King message boards as a teenager, a lot of us seemed to be interested in the bigger multiverse threads because we were hooked by a specific part, like It, The Stand or The Dark Tower.

I bring all this up after mentioning the Sarah-Nuke-Dutchman-Jeffries-Double link because the episode that deals with it most directly feels like brief exit from the overall continuity.

This, of course, is the episode with the crispy ghosts. Most of the episode has no dialogue and there is no obvious sequential link with anything else in the story up until that point. There is surreal imagery associated with both BOB and Laura that makes it look like some kind of Lord of The Rings / Final Fantasy battle between good and evil was turned loose by the 1943 Los Alamos nuke experiments. And that this spiritual battle is waged, somehow, by Laura and BOB.

Twin Peaks, at this point, has been through a few radical genre shifts already: first stage was noir balanced with slice-of-life Americana. The second was a little closer to something like The X-Files with supernatural activity taking up more of the foreground. Fire Walk With Me, my favorite part of the Twin Peaks story, brings the subject into more psychological and spiritual territory. This, for me, put the emotional center of Twin Peaks (Laura Palmer herself) in the foreground where she belongs. By linking the metaphysical imagery from the show thus far directly to Laura’s psyche, Fire Walk With Me becomes (for me) the most compelling part of Twin Peaks.

Then…the episode with the crispy ghosts brings the story into something like high fantasy.

This can only be reconciled with the rest of the story by Laura inheriting something from her mother, Sarah, who in turn may have been exposed by the crispy ghosts who emerged after the nuclear blast. A story link from that distance would even go with the broader range of locations used in The Return. It bounces between Twin Peaks, the Dakotas, Las Vegas and New York City. A brief digression to the 40’s would fit within that spectrum of variance as well, so long as the link to the rest of the story was clear.

So while that link can be discerned with effort in The Return, I think it could have been done better. With those weaknesses out of the way…the link from the nuke to Sarah to Laura gives deeper credibility to Cooper’s journey back in time at the end of The Return to prevent Laura’s death.

I mentioned earlier that The Final Dossier slowly makes it clear that Tamara Preston has been in the town of Twin Peaks after the events of The Return. Reason one for this is just to follow up on the confrontation in the sheriff’s station. Which was definitely weird enough to require follow up research. Reason two is that, according to everyone in Twin Peaks and all relevant documentation, Laura Palmer never died but disappeared. Tamara found this out incidentally and is of course shitting bricks and trying to get Gordon or someone else with the Blue Rose task force to give a second opinion.

This could lead to another application of multimedia storytelling that the overall Twin Peaks body of work may have been more successful at: each fragment informing the others. The Final Dossier informs The Return with the nature of Sarah Palmer’s link to the crispy ghosts. The Return informs The Final Dossier with how exactly Laura’s murder was retroactively undone. Reading The Final Dossier also sheds a lot of light on Sarah Palmer’s behavior in The Return and introduces the possibility that she’s expressing a kind of “Mandela effect” freakiness.

Being a depressed alcoholic would have made just as much sense in the original continuity, but The Final Dossier states explicitly that she suffered from depression and alcoholism in the continuity in which Laura disappears, rather than dies. If she’s channeling some part of the emerging “new” timeline next door, it could inform the scenes in The Return in which she appears posessed: whatever she passed onto Laura which was then harvested by BOB (within her father) never could have made it to BOB. If BOB never killed Laura and extracted whatever it was he wanted from her, perhaps Laura is still carrying it around…or maybe it somehow stayed with Sarah. Which would explain why she sometimes turns into an interdimensional monster (?).

If you enjoy these kinds of Easter Egg hunts like I do, than I one-hundred percent recommend this book.

Zelda: Outlands +Q (part 2)

…Lynels…X_X…

Kudos for dungeon design in level T. You instantly land in a sandpit with a patraquad that is far easier to kill with bombs, so no precious candle-wall cheesing. Just watch the thing and try to place a bomb somewhere it will move over and hopefully you’ll only use one or two of them. Up two screens is Zelda with the sword (thankfriggingNayru) and some more rooms that are either puzzles or require an item. Just past this point, we run into Zelda again who tells us that ‘twelve guards watch over the dungeon’s gate.’

Proceeding down from the patraquad sandpit instead of up, there are some familiar monster rooms with block switches. As per usual, they gotta be cleaned out before the switches can be pushed. One of them is filled with pols voice which die from a single strike but turn into peahats. In the peahat-filled side-scrolling staircases, it’s easy to get complacent. But the directional mechanics aren’t the same in the side-scroll basements which, combined with misplaced sense of sword security, can trick you into taking some hits. So don’t be too eager to stop relying on the boomerang.

So our vigilance is subtly tested during our immediate sense of relief after getting the sword. We also run into a blue lynel for the first time in the game which is a frustrating pain the ass and you had better hope you’re at full health for the sword beam. Compliments to GameMakr24 for creating a test of caution and vigilance reminiscent of Bloodborne.

It soon becomes apparent that, once embarking on the path south of the sandpit, doors lock behind you with no obvious floor switches. This happens as you move down, to the left and slightly upward, like a one-way spiral pattern. With persistence, you will be able to return to an apparently empty room at the beginning of the left turn.

Now…remember the invisible doorways from the first quest? That is the dungeon exit. And this is the first invisible doorway I’ve encountered in the second quest, so it felt like an understated blindside. It really does pay not to loose track of the possible ways of detecting hidden paths, even if one hasn’t worked in a while.

Since Outlands banks on crisscrossing between dungeons, I was tempted to do some back-tracking.

Upon our return to level U- there is a room with a staircase behind a cubic block. It is guarded by peahats, stalfos and yellow tektites, all of which need to be killed before the block switch will move.

A key hallmark of this rom hack is that some of the hit boxes are mixed and matched with other sprites. Peahats have passed their burden of annoyance on to the keese and are now the only monsters that can be killed with the boomerang. The stalfos could be dispatched by cornering them against the wall with a candle or bombs. The tektites, in Outlands, are invulnerable to the candle and the bombs.

Before I finally tracked down the sword, that screen was maddening. Two variety of monsters vulnerable to bombs and the candle and one that isn’t. So guess what I did as soon as I managed to escape from T?

The sword got the tektites out of the way but holy crap does it take some doing. Rather like the first quest…things tend to go smoother if you keep your sword beam as long as possible. As it is also clear that the second quest will play fair as harshly as possible, there is absolutely no reason not to cheese as much as you can. If a room is filled with monsters, hide in a doorway and step out every now and then to throw a sword beam into the fray. Gathered hundreds of rupees? Stop by a Goron shop whenever you can and buy keys whenever you have just over two hundred. As soon as you explore a little bit of level O, it becomes clear that moblin meat is frequently demanded and only occasionally available. So stockpile every resource you possibly can.

No fucks given ^^

Back in U, there are successive rooms with cloaked, firey mages, the ones that turn into disembodied fire sprites when you kill one of their colony members. I know the digital version of the instruction manual has a name for them. They’re basically Subrosian mages that gather together into a colony organism. And there is one after another in a few successive rooms, until you get to one with just a fire sprite and no clear hit box locus. Time to put a feather in that and move on, for now.

Not so far from U is level D, which can be unveiled with the ocarina, which I’ve somehow overlooked this whole time.

This, as implied by the dodongos, is a bomb-centric dungeon. It is also filled with a lot of monsters that have been bosses and mini bosses in the past. Like, in nearly every other room. This dungeon also has more meat which I promptly ran back to O with. Since D has its own hungry moblin…I was a little worried about…going down a path of no return. So far, I don’t think I have…but holy crap does O have a lot of hungry moblins.

Between O and D, Princess Zelda increases the bomb bag capacity by four in each of them. Once you figure out the reciprocal relationship between both dungeons, it’s pretty easy to release both of their Tetrarch Fairies…which seems to effect the ocarina.

Maybe? ‘Cause afterward, the ocarina can warp to different locations. My working hypothesis for now is that each Tetrarch Fairy unlocks a new location, with the lake near the respawn point as a kind of home base. It seems likely: I can’t remember an exact before and after point when the ocarina began warping during the first quest. Only that it was later in the game, which suggests that the number of fairies released has something to do with it. Not to mention, the flute in the original LoZ warped to each completed dungeon.

So. Because of the liberated Tetrarch Fairies or whatever the reason might be…we now have access to the landmass that was uncovered by the raft in the first quest. It’s only at this point that the second quest feels fully shod of the helplessness it begins with. While everything except the overworld is different, it now feels like the mobility of the first quest is largely regained.

With a little bit of digging, the Goron shop with the bow and arrow can be found, along with the Gerudo with Bagu’s letter. You’ll probably get robbed multiple times in other grottos you expose while looking for it…but it’s there. Now, then: I seem to remember a boss monster with one eye back in the U dungeon…

Part 3

This is my review of the first quest

Final Fantasy VII for the NES! (spoiler review)

After the example of the famous Chinese NES bootleg, this version was made to be a closer reflection of the PS1 original. These adaptations were made by Lugia2009 with patching and translation support from Lindblum, who also provided the English translation for the first Chinese version.

The 2005 Chinese “Famiclone” is widely credited to Shenzhen Nanjing Technology, which tempts me to assume that the game engine is original. There are however unmistakable resemblances to the first three Final Fantasy games, including reused assets. For the most part, it plays like an early FF as well. A notable improvement is that your party has armor, weapons and materia from the very beginning, which I’m happy with since I’ve recently dealt with FF1’s initial grinding slog.

Of course, when I say materia, what I mean is magic that works the same way as the spells you learn in shops in FF1. Each party member has a single piece of materia when they join you and each one will grow its own roster of spells as you accumulate AP. Each party member can only equip a single materia at a time. Perhaps that was the best way to reconcile the materia system with the early FF scaffolds- simply integrate it into the existing equipment mechanic. It also simplifies strategy- even streamlines it.

To an extent, anyway. It gives each party member a distinct function. This comes through in the mid to late stages of the game when more healing spells are likely to develop (excluding Aerith’s Light materia- the only one with healing magic enabled from the beginning). The majority of your strategic freedom concerns elemental affinities, which is accommodated by the ability to equip and unequip materia in your inventory mid-battle.

On the other hand…elemental affinities are infuriatingly difficult to keep track of. Especially since the whole range of random encounter monsters could potentially show up at any point. Like in the image above- you can run into Christopher and Tonberries and stuff as early as the bombing mission at the start of the game. Sometimes there are vague encounter patterns, but you could potentially run into any monster anywhere. Some reasonable consistency is still maintained by how tough they are, though, relative to location and progression route.

This rom-hack retains a few of the base game’s sudden difficulty spikes but, fortunately, not all of them. In an NES format it would be maddening.

After the unpredictability of the monster encounters, the next biggest combat annoyance is the scarcity of group healing magic. Even without Aerith, you’ll probably end up having one of your party members carrying her Light materia. Then again, you could simply cough up for a ton of group healing items, depending on whether you prefer to rely on magic points or money. The former can increase its max limit with usage and regular stops at “magic shops.”

Which brings us to another key mechanic change- materia and weapon enhancement. Your character builds will hinge on two point values: conventional “grinding” by winning battles and the frequency with which you use both weapon and magic.

EXP, of course, raises your level and therefore stats, etc. AP is accumulated every time you use a weapon or a materia-based spell. When you reach a given maximum limit, you’ll need to stop at either a weapon or materia enhancement station to move the ball forward. Neglecting this can make you feel extremely naked and challenged early on so luckily it doesn’t take long to put it together.

Stat + items are also dropped way more frequently than they were in the base game, which is interesting. 4-8Productions, on YouTube, has a video about the only non-finite source of stat+ items: using the morph materia on any monster in the crashed Gelnika. This is, naturally, a huge pain in the ass because that means whittling down a ton of really strong monsters to roughly below 10 HP so the morph ability can knock them below 0. However, if you’re patient and persistent enough, you can unlock a HUGE work-around the leveling system. (Yes I’ve done this and yes it’s every bit as grueling as it sounds)

This can either be good or bad. Good because it enables more character build freedom or bad because it makes a group of PCs that feel kinda same-y even less unique. As much of a fanatical Final Fantasy VII fan girl as I am, I still can’t help noticing that the combat system lurched between stilted and fluid to the point of emptiness. In order to notice and take interest in the subtleties of FFVII’s character build avenues, you would almost certainly need to like the story and the fictional world enough to pay close attention. While I’m one of those people, it’s still kinda sad that the character build experimentation was not more accessible.

Since this is an 8-bit, NES demake of Final Fantasy VII, it is necessarily shorter which means less time to stop and smell the mako. Which means the finer points of gameplay need to carry more weight. Perhaps the frequent stat+ item drops from monsters were meant to add an extra layer of build variability. This, like healing magic from non-Light materia, will likely be at its most noticeable near the end. Chiefly because you’ll have the ability to travel between the different land masses and observe which stat + items are dropped where.

Essentially, the progression route follows the original as closely as it can. Some of the music, early on, is a little tinny, but evens out once Cloud makes it to the Seventh Heaven. The chip-tuney version of Lurking In The Darkness was a pleasant and charming surprise, especially since it gets used in a few more dungeons. Those Who Fight Further was converted nicely which matters- in graphically simple turn-based RPGs, music carries a lot of weight.

As per the necessary shortening, certain musical cues are adjusted. During Cloud’s brief dream dialogue before waking up in Aerith’s flower bed, I was surprised to hear Listen to the Cries of the Planet (the music from the Forgotten Capital in the original game). Reunion is heard for the first time inside Gaia’s Cliff, which I appreciated. I realize that Reunion is basically Aerith’s Theme with a lower, mysterious-sounding key change. But I always thought it was unfairly overlooked.

One interesting consequence of the shortening was a new presentation of Cloud’s mental struggles. We simply hang out at the Inn room in Kalm as Cloud tells everyone. No actual flashback. Which means, when the party gets to Nibelheim, the player is seeing it for the first time. Unless you hang out nearby for the grinding, you won’t see it again until the illusion just outside of the Northern Crater. It’s a neat way to build tension; a series of small, gradual reveals that create questions about why Cloud told things the way he did.

Obviously there are far less side quests and stuff like Wall Market are pretty linear in comparison. I noticed some collision detection oddities on the world map (which, mechanically, functions no different from anywhere else) which made me wonder. I’ve been playing through the second quest on the Challenge Games Legend of Zelda rom hack, so I have been doing some compulsive wall-testing lately.

Maybe the Zelda hack is making me obsessive…but after I found a short length of mountain you can walk over in the Icicle area, I immediately doubled back and started testing other terrain barriers. Particularly around Wutai and the area between the Mythril Mines and the place where Fort Condor is in the original. You can see little entrances under mountain ranges and house sprites in inaccessible areas.

Like…you can see the entrance to the cave with the old miner who gives you Aerith’s Great Gospel limit break in the original. If you explore in the northern oceans, you can see a house that looks like it might be the home of the Chocobo Sage. On the southwestern continent, you can get a view of a circular pond collected from a waterfall that then feeds into a lake, like Lucrecia’s hideout.

Then again, the moogle construction site of Wutai was obviously there just to…pay tribute to the original and add a bit of cute, aesthetic consistency. Sort of a wink and a nod saying “Yeah, we get it, it should be there, but what do you expect? It ain’t like we got three discs!” Maybe the miner’s cave and the Chocobo Sage’s house are decorative, as well.

In an objective and qualitative assessment, this is equivalent to a streamlined NES-era Final Fantasy. Other than this one, I’ve played some of the very first FF and the very beginning of the second. This reimagining of FFVII has an intuitive and accessible combat system and some simple “high score” rewards that let you enhance your weapons and materia. The adaptation of the soundtrack from the original also adds to its stylistic distinction from other NES Final Fantasy games. But this second iteration of NES Final Fantasy VII doesn’t exactly “push boundaries.”

But for FFVII fans who also like retro gaming, this game is rather more than the sum of its 8 bits. Also like the original Final Fantasy VII, the storytelling is the main distinction here. The portrayal of Cloud’s background is significantly altered, as is the date with Aerith in the Gold Saucer. The location within the Northern Crater where Sephiroth’s original body is located, right next to Sapphire, Ultima and Diamond WEAPONs, is named “The Mako Tree” and the Prelude music is heard there, like the crystal chambers in FFIV and FFV. Since the original FFVII was such a huge tone shift from all others before it, I was both bemused and charmed to see this thematic tie-in with the older, “swords and sorcery” games.

The “tree” part is also an interesting touch. Especially given the shortening of Sephiroth’s name during combat. I know it’s an NES remake which means that menu commands, item names, monster names etc. get shortened sometimes, what with the limited information storage. But when you name the antechamber of Sephiroth’s stronghold “The Mako Tree” and you drop the “h” from the end of his name…it kinda puts the whole Tree of Life symbolism closer to the foreground. Maybe it’s not the biggest deal in the world, but I think it’s cool.

Zelda: Outlands +Q (part 1)

Meat outside of the floor compartment. What would Dracula say D:

Since I’m playing through the second quest, I’m gonna exercise zero restraint on spoilers.

The first moments of quest one can be a little intimidating. But a modest amount of exploration will reveal that your sword is sitting there for the taking in the first dungeon. After that, a little lateral thinking will set you straight on how this rom hack differs from the original Legend of Zelda: run back and forth between dungeons, the “One way!” teleportation caves, etc.

Second time around, though…after the “New Adventure Awaits!” notice when you bump off the Thunderbird…it’s, uh…pretty tough.

Before now I never really stopped to consider what a security blanket the sword actually is, in a Zelda game. Being without it is pretty damn inconvenient, but on top of having to rely on bombs, the candle and the boomerang to kill and stun monsters…you just feel naked without it.

So you find ways to compensate. I stumbled across a cave with a moblin giving away rupees, early on. From there, the question is what to buy with the most possible utility, since no sword means you won’t be milking enemies for item drops as frequently as the first time around. Like an idiot, I went with bombs instead of the candle. Both the candle and the bombs can harm enemies and unlock hidden paths, but they also have different strengths and weaknesses. The bombs do more damage and the candle is easily replenished between screens. Coming and going from the screen next door to renew the candle is less of a test of patience than spending twenty rupees every time you run out of bombs.

Get ready for lots of THIS shit

Luckily, one of the early dungeons offers a solution: like-likes, who probably have the best item drops out of any monster you’ll have access to in the very beginning. Lots of money and bombs. With persistence and luck, you’ll be able to farm enough rupees for both the first boomerang and whichever of the two initial purchases you didn’t go with the first time around.

After that point…you’ll probably notice that the dungeons have letters instead of numbers. Meaning that the progression route will be even less linear than last time, perhaps? Less linear than the first play through that was distinguished largely by it’s non-linearity?

Like linearity itself, this has it’s own set of possibilities and limitations. We know, from our first quest, that an item obtained in one dungeon may unlock an obstacle in another, or elsewhere in the Outlands. Therefore, finding yourself with bombs, the candle, one boomerang or another and some occasional meat with no path forward in the “first” two dungeons is not a death sentence. It just means you have to keep looking.

As per the original Legend of Zelda and our first quest in the Outlands, the typical methods of revealing hidden paths include: pushing rocks, bombing walls, burning bushes, crawling with the ladder, sailing on the raft and playing the ocarina. That last part is an addition from GameMakr24 that I’m really happy with. It contributes to the exploration of what the lore of Ocarina of Time would be like if it were present in the first game.

So we dart all over burning things, blowing stuff up, pushing rocks and playing the ocarina. This process is narrowed by my lack of a power bracelet: only the plain, cubic blocks and the headstones can be pushed right now. After several failed bombings (hehe…sorry, I couldn’t resist) I remembered a pattern from the first quest: lots of breakable walls and very few flammable bushes. Maybe the distribution is reversed in the second quest?

Maybe a little less of a reversal, as it turns out. While breakable walls are in hiding so far, flammable bushes are only slightly more numerous…and they usually only have moblins who pay you to keep the secrets of their woodsy little holes.

(I know they’re called Goriyas in the NES games…but it’s hard for me to shake the resemblance they have to moblins. Like how the Wizzrobes look like Subrosians from Oracle of Seasons or potion vendors from A Link to the Past. My mind just seems to…have it’s own preference. And it’s not like we don’t call the armored foes Darknuts even though Nintendo canonically named them Iron Knuckles)

Rupees are perfectly good but they don’t really help, if you already have some of the early equipment. Excluding keys for dungeons, of course. Still haven’t found any amazing Goron shops with bows and stuff yet, though, so rupees aren’t high on my list. Given how open LoZ: Outlands is, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a way to access it even at this point.

I found the step ladder in dungeon O. This opens up the territory beyond streams, which shows promise at first. If you can scrape together the rupees, you can pay a Subrosian for a hint. The cute, robed sorcerer makes it sound like the cemetery puzzle in the lower lefthand corner of the map can be solved in the same way it was in quest one. Until I realize that I need the power bracelet to see that through…

…X_x…

The systematic method can be seriously frustrating if you overthink things. Especially if you haven’t played the original Legend of Zelda in a while like me. See, earlier, when you get the ocarina from Zelda, she tells you to look for a hidden path in the Graveyard of Serenity. And you happen to have the step ladder which lets you access the lower-left cemetery. So…it…it almost starts to feel like the game isn’t playing fair…

Then I took a break and realized two, blatantly obvious things I’ve overlooked: the Graveyard of Serenity refers to a specific graveyard and the first quest had three of them. We’ve ruled out one. The other is on the other side of some water. And in the last paragraph, where and when did I say Zelda gives you the hint?

Oh. Right. When she gives you the enchanted instrument that’s used for revealing paths and warping. Thing is…I sorta wrote that off for the same reason I did the flammable bushes: it only ever seemed to unlock rupee moblins and a heart container. And the cemeteries are flooded with ghostly floor masters that I just can’t kill yet.

Back when I was trying to set all the plant life I see on fire, I usually had to clear the screen of moblins and scrubs before I could start testing the bushes one by one. And I didn’t want to keep spending money on bombs so I would come and go from the screen to keep reusing the candle. That requires waiting for them to get close to a wall so the fire can continue to burn them after it knocks them backward. And, if you want to spare yourself as many screen to screen refreshes as you can, you should probably camp out near a wall with the boomerang so you could stun and burn a whole group.

The lady said it was the Graveyard of Serenity, though, so off we go. And that means the floor master ghosts. Which, presumably, means a whole lot of dodging. And the floor master ghosts spawn every time you touch a tombstone. It’s a risk…but not impossible.

This was almost too much for me. Guess what’s in there? A rupee moblin. Just a moblin with more money. *eye twitches*

But did Zelda say to push aside a tombstone? And as much of a bust as the ocarina had been so far…it has unlocked secret paths in places without water before.

So. Not only is the path to level T unveiled but…

Oh Zelda. My orange-headed savior. I’ve never been happier to see you. At long freaking last, my A button is no longer useless!

I mean, yeah, other stuff happened before I got the sword but I had to get it out of my system

Onward to part 2

Also, in case you wanna see my review of the first quest

Devil Box by dedbutherflys

This album, for me, is in event. I have known Rachel- the frontwoman of dedbutherflys -for over ten years. We met online, when we were what the world now calls “eggs.” We bonded as we read each other’s online journals and later saw more of each other than anyone else may have, at that point in our lives. She listened to me talk about my stories and she told me how things were going with her current band at the time, 11:34. She taught me everything I know about sludge metal and introduced me to the music of Acid Bath and Cancerslug. We hit agonizing brick walls together and talked each other through. She sent me pictures when 11:34 opened for Otep, in Pennsylvania.

And here we are, then. Rachel’s first album, a solo effort under the name dedbutherflys, recorded in collaboration with Taylor Kouqj Bull of Seventh Wave Studio, in Harrisburg, PA (who is a musician herself- her own material is created under the name Kouqj). On to the music, then!

Catatonic Despair is an instrumental but not quite what I would call a normal intro. The opening notes sound like slow beats with gentle echoes between them. If you don’t pay attention to the track sucesssion, it sounds like an extended beginning to Back On Da Liquor, which is when we hear Rachel’s voice for the first time. Lyrically, Back On Da Liquor describes a world that refuses to listen to you melting into a silent and passive mental landscape, like a “natural habitat” of enforced loneliness. I also gotta mention that, during our long and passionate friendship, I didn’t get Rachel mad at me very often but…well…it’s happened before. She never went as far as yelling at me but I did learn to recognize a subtle build-up in her voice, just before it’s about to become elevated. This is my first time listening to Rachel sing and I never would have guessed how expressive that emotional build-up can be.

Back On Da Liquor is a slow burn of depressed ferocity which explodes to satisfying effect in Magic Murder Bag- if I’m ever able to see dedbutherflys or any of Rachel’s other bands live, this is one that I’ll be hoping for. This is the shit that headbanging was made for- an extended guitar part would make this delicious to be in the presence of. To say nothing of how beautifully the percussion comes out- which would be Rachel herself on drums and Taylor Kouqj Bull on bass.

(For the record, this album was assembled from multiple, separately recorded tracks. Rachel played every instrument except bass, which was played only by Taylor Kouqj Bull)

Also: “I’ll kill you just because I’m hungry / I’ll kill you just because it’s funny” sounds just like her.

Killer Clown keeps up the pace with delightfully manic syncopation between the percussion and guitar. Maybe I shouldn’t be as focused on this as I am but Rachel’s voice does an awesome job of supporting the bond between melody and rhythm in general. Is that to be expected, though? She’s been playing in various sludge metal bands in Pennsylvania for over a decade, largely as a percussive musician. If anyone would know anything about that, a drummer would.

Next is Mr. Bradley – Mr. Martin. If I didn’t already love this woman like my own flesh and blood, that song title would win me over. A fellow Burroughs lover :3 The song itself is a snare drum solo that’s just soft enough create an anxious build-up of tension. This leads us into Blowjobs 4 Satan, which is the first time we hear dedbutherflys reaching for the typical speed of metal drumming along with what I suspect is some layering of vocal tracks? The fast guitar makes this all add up to a “wall of sound” effect. That’s the phrase a lot of people use to describe it. I’ve always thought of it as being more of a watery effect, since it feels immersive when its done right (like it is, here). There’s a sudden sound sample that signals a guitar-driven key change with each electric note getting stretched longer and longer with distortion. After the dynamism of the “band-scale” sound combination, the electrical distortion outro has the right atmosphere to sustain and subtly shift the tone near the end.

The opening riff of The Chase reminds me of something Akira Yamaoka would compose for a Silent Hill game. Around fifty seconds, the rest of the tracks kick in with the drums taking a strong lead. The guitar slowly assumes the foreground as the song gets heavier. As I’m listing right now, The Chase is probably the most dynamic song on the album so far. The combination of Mr. Bradley – Mr. Martin and Blowjobs 4 Satan was rich and satifying and energetic, but this sounds like a journey through a hostile supernatural landscape. This is the second song that’s made me think of an imaginative “place” so I think this is seriously coming together.

Aaaaand what have we here??? Hermaphrodite Love!!! Can it be that my sludge metal musician friend is able to write large hypnotic instrumental segments that actually carry serious weight? I haven’t heard anything like this since I last listened to Hella or El Grupo Nuevo Omar Rodiguez-Lopez! Maybe this is just my erratic failure to follow genres closely, but this is actually pretty different. You normally only find this kind of comfort with experimentation with electric dream-poppy stuff but it combines beautifully with the sonic abrasiveness of metal. Actually…sludge metal is more atmospheric than a lot of metal sub-genres. Could it be that dream pop and sludge metal are fellow travellers? Am I profane idiot? This album might make me commit to that opinion.

Singing comes back with Rum is Gone. In a time where literally every fucking body is caught up in labels and wanting to look good…I am like, jump-up-and-down stoked about an MtF metal singer who ends a verse with “choke on my dick”! She also just now informed me that she got the phrase “same sex dates” from me ❤ Around the 3:30 mark is another key change that at first tempts you to think of it as a bridge. And what the fuck is going on with the guitar’s rhythm near the end? I suspect I’m discoverying a low-budget metal album that baits you with successive instrumental innovation in ways that you normally only get from avant-garde jazz and witch-house. I think this is why I was hesitent to call Catatonic Despair an “intro” track- because it isn’t. In light of the nature of the overall album, Catatonic Despair is actually the first song, if that’s not redundant.

Second to last track is another instrumental- Candyland Vampires! And I totally gave her that name! There, it’s out of my system. I have a running list of word association experiments. Candyland Vampires brings us back to the distortion-heavy ghostliness of The Chase. Somehow this feels warmer, coming off of Rum is Gone. For this she used an Earthquaker Afterneath pedal and it’s both haunting and euphoric at the same time. Perfect preparation for the opening of NB AF. From what I understand of the recording process behind this album, NB AF was intended as a bonus track but I think this should actually be the canonical end of the album. Rachel forcibly drags the foreground back to her voice and doesn’t fucking let go. Back to the syncopation sweet spot from Magic Murder Bag except there’s more of it. Another song I’d be thrilled to hear live!

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https://dedbutherflys.wordpress.com

https://linktr.ee/SeventhWave

https://kouqj.bandcamp.com

Let’s play Charlie Murder! (part 2)

While Charlie Murder has a world map, character building and other RPG-lite mechanics, it mostly stays in it’s beat’em up lane. The progression route is linear and grinding like you would in an RPG may or may not help as much as you’d think. At this point, tackling a difficult battle the way your build already is seems to pay off more. The auto save feature is blessedly reliable and you usually pass through at least a few screens on your way to a boss or a melee obstacle.

With an auto save between screens, you’ll still be better off on your next respawn even if you do lose some resources after getting KO’d. I mean, so far exploration hasn’t been that big of a factor and that’s one of the things that helps grinding not be an abject chore. Like I said- the game mostly stays in it’s lane, with combat, rhythm games and rail-shooter segments taking up most of the foreground.

I love seeing stuff like this: the contact-damage obstacles in the cemetery clearly contained germs of the Whispermen and Hanged Men from S&S ♥️

In my mid to late childhood, gaming arcades were still common. Consequently, I got a few fond memories of pumping quarters into beat’em up arcade cabinets so I could keep trying to get passed a single, frustrating melee obstacle. Obviously, this is only one example of gamer rage, but it’s a kind of gamer rage that makes Charlie Murder’s design satisfying for me.

Speaking of the design- you have two different forms of EXP: pocket change and social media followers. I think the scrounging for pocket change as it drops from fallen zombies kinda makes the social media thingie less repugnant through association.

Yeah I get it: social media is not doing so hot when rolling zombies for quarters makes it look more comfortable through association. Think it through, though: aren’t social media accounts promoting content creation (*sits there innocently, totally not self-aggrandizing* 😇) more interesting than most of them? I’m not wrong 😺

It’s also delightfully random when your followers plunge to zero because you just leveled up ^^

So when we last left off, we learned that a jilted ex-band member was gonna be our primary antagonist.

After each boss fight, there’s a flashback to older Charlie Murder gigs where you play a rhythm game as whatever band member you’re playing as. After that, there’s a more conventional cutscene showing the anguish of ex-band member Paul before he takes his fatal steps toward becoming a supervillain.

Is it weird that this is more fun than the aerial combat in FFVIIR?

There are also swag shops immediately after boss fights allowing you to cash in your pocket change for stat buff booze, equipment shops and tattoo parlors. Earlier I compared the tattoos to the brands from S&S but it might be more accurate to say they’re kinda like limit breaks. The more you fight, the more you fill a blue energy gauge. When it’s full, you can hold down a button which lets you unleash special attacks bestowed by the tattoos in addition to your chi-blast death metal scream.

The rail shooter segments also become more common as your progression route leads you to obtrusive terrain, requiring you to drive, fly, grapple, etc. The one that made me spaz out enough for my wife to take pictures of me was the shootout with witches on broom sticks.

This plays exactly like Einhander or Defender which makes it simple from a gameplay perspective. But there’s just something really fun about witches on broomsticks pulling out automatic handguns and shooting at you, like a gang war. How the fuck has this not been used in The Magicians or something?

There’s stories like The Prophecy and certain Anne Rice books in which supernatural creatures are either confused or intimidated by human technology. With the right world building, that can work. But a lot of stories don’t bother with that, so why hold back? Prolly afraid to be compared to Underworld ‘cause it looks campy but there’s also a good way to do camp as well. I’m raving about how much I like this game, aren’t I?

Maybe it’s just me and my witch-shootout fixation but just looking at this image almost makes me smile

After getting caught up on the progress of Paul’s rival band after his Faustian deal, we learn that he’s been present in the story every since we were resuscitated in the first level.

Back to the beginning of the play through

America’s forever war: bombshells from Trump and Hillary Clinton

Alex Kane, in a May 25th article on jewishcurrents.com, wrote that the Biden State Department committed over five million dollars of aid to Gaza humanitarian efforts. Simultaneously, the State Department also accepted a 735, 000, 000$ offer from Israel in exchange for military support.

Kane writes that the State Department dispensed an export license to Boeing to carry out the American end of the purchase. This included Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Small Diameter Bombs: two varieties of laser-guided explosives used by Israel in an eleven day attack on the Gaza Strip which ended on Friday, the 21st of May.

Reporting earlier that month suggests an interesting dialectical process leading up to this point. On May 3rd, Axios reporter Rebecca Falconer published an article detailing remarks made by Hilary Clinton on a potential withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. Clinton warned that such an event could cause a surge of Afghan refugees and give Jihadi militias a chance to regain lost ground. Two weeks later, the UK branch of The Independent reported that Trump sent a private memo to his Pentagon appointees, stating a wish to immediately withdraw from Afghanistan following his loss of the 2020 Presidential election.

The irony is hard to miss: Trump gets all furious and apoplectic after losing so he decides to punish his own base. So Mister “I love selling weapons to the Saudis” wants to take his ball and go home. Since the 2020 Presidential election and immediately afterward, all criticism of Trump is welcome on the left- even if it’s for things the left should be doing. This leaves the door open for Hilary to look after her own bottom line and look good doing it.

So on the 25th of May, we learn Biden sold laser-guided weapons to Israel for 735 million dollars while kicking five mil to Palestine for humanitarian aid. The dude is hedging his bets but it’s clear which one he expects the bigger return from.

You know how green infrastructure reform, universal healthcare and universal basic income are constantly shot down by people asking how we’re gonna pay for it? Do the outraged deficit hawks have nothing to say about the laundering of perpetual war? Is this what the big liberal rollback of the Trump administration looks like?

Important update: https://ailixchaerea.blog/2021/08/21/afghan-withdrawal/

Days Before Approving Humanitarian Aid to Gaza, State Department Agreed to Contentious Bomb Sale to Israel

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-election-memo-military-troops-b1848997.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.axios.com/hillary-clinton-pulling-us-troops-afghanistan-consequences-0f57af75-56b3-465b-ab94-9b27a3afec02.html