Garden Story: The Cutest Game of 2021?

A couple of months ago, I signed up for my own Steam account! I’m still learning Steam, so I don’t know how to find other users. In any case, my username is “WeebPleizGamezHere”; you’ll know it’s me because it has my same blog logo. Anyway, from the brief time I’ve been on Steam, I noticed that its discovery queue is perhaps the most accurate algorithm I have ever seen. For instance, it actually recommends things I might like that I would have never heard of! And one of those is Garden Story. It has everything I like, from whimsical graphics, to the satisfaction of restoring an area to—and beyond—its former glory. So without further ado, let’s talk about it!

In Garden Story, the lovely grove the game is set in has a problem known as the Rot. These are not adorable, marketable Totoro things from Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but rather an assortment of ugly gross things. They’re bad, and one young grape named Concord ends up shouldering the burden of having to restore the entire effing grove.

Immediately, Garden Story shows off that distinctively indie-game-like charm with its whacky, cartoon-like writing. Unfortunately, the story is pretty typical for the most part. It’s nice, and suits the game for the kind of experience it wants to be, but if you want your mind blown then Garden Story will fall short. The characters aren’t the selling point either. They’re likeable, but don’t really stand out as far as indie games are concerned.

Fortunately, it’s still easy to get lost and immersed in Garden Story‘s grove. Thanks to the simple and vibrant pixel-artstyle, and chill midi soundtrack, there is plenty of incentive to just relax. In fact, the Steam page for the game encourages doing just that!

But as relaxing as it is, Garden Story has plenty to do. Like in many games of its kind, you’ll be whacking stumps and rocks to gather resources to do all sorts of fun stuff. As expected, you progressively unlock different types of weapons to buy and use in combat. Every action consumes stamina, which needs time to replenish.

Before you think that this game is a shallow Stardew Valley wannabe, then read this paragraph. One way that Garden Story shakes things up is with different types of Dews. They mainly restore HP, but can have a wide variety of used effects. Also, weird orb thingies are scattered throughout the grove, and when broken with the proper weapon type, drop permanent stat buffs. The weird nuance with them is that some will say “Concord needs a stronger tool”, when in actuality, you can break them with a charge attack if the weapon is upgraded enough.

Another thing that Garden Story does is the Memory system. Concord will gain memories through fulfilling specific conditions, and an unlocked Memory can be assigned to his… hippocampus (or something?) to apply great perks, from stat buffs, to new combat techniques.

Building is… unusual in this game, and I mean that in both a good and bad way. The resources needed to craft buildable objects actually have to be stored in a chest. One nice feature is that Wood and Stone are essentially treated as currency, as they have their own compartments in which they can stack up to 9999 times. Unfortunately, built utilities can only be placed in limited locations. Planting crops is tied to specific spots as well, but at the very least, you only have to water them once, and can be left alone while they grow.

One of the biggest issues with Garden Story is no doubt its slow start. A lot of the rudimentary mechanics I’ve explained aren’t even doable until quite a ways into the story. Furthermore, you start off with two Stamina blocks, which is really gross. Upgrading Concord’s stats, especially his Stamina, is essential for the flow of the game, otherwise it’s a chore; I already dread the whiplash of returning to the grove with a new file (good thing I never have enough time for stuff like that). 

Inventory management can also appear to be kind of yikes. Items do not stack in Concord’s inventory. This can be alleviated by placing as many chests throughout the world as possible. However, items in chests can only be stacked fifteen times. And I don’t mean that you stack fifteen, and the sixteenth one starts a new stack; I mean fifteen of a given item type, PERIOD. But despite these very bad-sounding choices, Garden Story actually feels designed around these constraints. I honestly didn’t have a problem with inventory management as I thought I would.

Garden Story looks super simple and adorable, yet it caught me off guard several times. In addition to the limited Stamina early on, the enemies are deceptively annoying. Most notably are actually the super-basic regular blobs. When defeated, a core spits out, which needs to be struck to defeat the enemy for good. However, they bounce around and can damage you or inflict status effects. I’ve had a single one of these cores reduce me from full to half HP numerous times.

What I ended up enjoying the least was getting completion. Normally, games of this kind are tedious, but since Garden Story is so compact and streamlined, I figured it would be easy. And while completing the four libraries and finding all of Concord’s Memories is more than doable, maxing out every Village’s stats is the real problem. They cap at Level 5, and the transition to that from Level 4 is significantly longer than any other level gain. It doesn’t help that this will require repeat runs through the game’s dungeons, and the problem there is that it resets the puzzles AND bosses every time. Fortunately, upgraded weapons can make rematches go real fast.

But perhaps the biggest issue with Garden Story is that it doesn’t exactly feel rewarding to finish. There is a post-game, but all it gets you is the fifth and final Jar; nothing else changes in terms of content. Also, there are no Steam Achievements for things like completing libraries, maxing village stats, or getting all Memories. Furthermore, I’ve learned the coldest, hardest truth of all: that there is no Steam Badge for getting 100% Achievements in a given game.

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Final Verdict: 8.6/10

I’ve knocked games for being overly simple, but for some reason, I loved Garden Story from beginning to end, flaws and all. It’s one of those games that are just “nice”. I can’t really describe it any other way. One of the things that definitely offsets the game’s issues is its very reasonable ~11-15 hour length to finish. In the end, you’re the only one who can decide if you’d like this game. Now you know what you’ll be getting into.

Weeb Reads Monthly: August 2021

Well, here it is. Another irrelevant monthly post because it isn’t August whatsoever. But hey, at least being super picky with light novels means that I’m going to have glowing reviews of all of them, right?


Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 10

This could’ve been the final volume. But NOPE. Instead, for the penultimate installment, we get a bunch of filler stories. But like other filler volumes, the final chapter alone is actually plot relevant, so you can’t skip it! The filler chapters aren’t bad, but it’s the principle of the thing. As I’ve said numerous times, this is an expensive and time-consuming industry. Well, whatever. 

Verdict: 7.25/10


Eighty-Six Volume 8

Right at the start, we get our goal for this volume: to capture some base somewhere, which will have some information about the secret base that has the secret shutdown code that can end the war. Oh, right, Frederica is a princess for some reason that may or may not have been properly foreshadowed (knowing light novels, probably not), and she’s the key to all this.

Clocking in at two-hundred-seventy-seven pages on BookWalker, I believe this was one of the longest volumes… and one of the weakest. Even when things ramped up in the second half, it just didn’t feel engaging. I just couldn’t get a sense of 3D space in the base they went to (I could’ve just been tired though). Also, this area really has zero purpose. The ghost operating the boss of the volume doesn’t even have a name or character. I see no reason why they couldn’t push for the hidden base. They could’ve spent the whole volume training for it, and I would’ve liked it better.

Also, spoilers here. The volume has a fake death, along with a Deus Ex Machina… either that or I was just REALLY tired (or bored) of it. Nothing quite says “I tried to be cynical but I failed” more than a fake character death. I swear, if the final arc doesn’t start with the next volume, I might end up dropping what I had originally considered one of the best light novel series out there.

Verdict: 7.5/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 5

It’s business as usual here in Otherside Picnic; episodic chapters where weird stuff ensues. It’s surreal and creepy as always. Well… not exactly “as always”. I took a week-long break from reading stuff, and it felt really nice. So, it might be the stress of having to keep up with this stupid and expensive market that’s coloring my impression of today’s volume of Otherside Picnic.

But regardless, it might just be one of the weaker volumes. And that’s mainly because it’s not really that creepy compared to previous installments. The odd-numbered chapters in particular were very unceremonious. Weird stuff happens, but they’re situations where the protagonists weren’t in danger. Runa Urumi regains consciousness in this volume, but as huge as that sounds, it’s put to the wayside. Fortunately, the even-numbered chapters are as weird and scary as expected. This was not a bad volume by any means, it’s just that half of it doesn’t meet the series’ standard.

Verdict: 8.65/10


Durarara!! SH Volume 2

Now that we established the main premise, it’s time for Durarara!! SH to start in earnest. Unlike most light novels, time isn’t wasted as our new unlikely trio investigates the disappearances. It’s obvious that Celty didn’t do it, and she arrives to tell them that right off the bat. Also… I effing love Celty. 

Basically, this volume concludes the arc that was established in the last volume. We get some more development with Yahiro and Himeka, and more teasers as to whether or not Izaya is still alive. I don’t know if it’s the aforementioned stress from reading, but I didn’t enjoy this volume as much as the first one. Due to the sequel curse, SH is destined to not be as popular. I wouldn’t consider it bad, though. It just came out at a really bad time for me.

Verdict: 8.65/10


Conclusion

I’m really letting the stress get to me, aren’t I? It’s already stressful keeping up with an industry like this that has no subscription service dedicated to it. Part of me wants to swear off light novels forever. Even the ones I really, really love. But in better news (at least for me), there are no light novels I care about being published this month! If one or two happen to sneak by (because Yen Press likes dropping release dates short notice), they’ll be covered in the October 2021 installment.

Blood Like Magic: A Family Drama With a Cyberpunk Twist

I don’t consciously try to read books about racism. But when I began Liselle Sambury’s new series opener, Blood Like Magic, I was greeted with a disclaimer that basically said: “This book is about racism.” Well, let’s see how soul-grinding this one is.

In Blood Like Magic, families of witches get magic by having their periods (and Westerners think anime should be banned?). A young’un named Voya Thomas just had her period, and the next step after that is to have her nigh-impossible-to-fail Calling. Assuming you’ve had experience with urban fantasy before, what do you think happens when it comes to the main protagonist attempting some sort of magic test that everyone else in the world could do just fine? If you think Voya fails, you’d only be half-right. She calls Mama Jova, who—of course—happens to be the Dark Souls of the Thomas family.

So, the disclaimer at the beginning implies that Blood Like Magic is even more heart-rending and brutal than any other urban fantasy out there. It’s not. There is one scene (arguably two?) where racism is referenced at all. The scene in question is brutal, but it’s extremely out of left field. The reason for it is because Blood Like Magic is set twenty-eight years in the future, and in this future, racism isn’t that prevalent. Voya says that she has never been called a racist slur, nor conditioned to feel ashamed of being Black.

However, the book is still—to some extent—about racism, or at the very least, the fancy term known as “systemic racism.” Despite it not being in-your-face like in Legendborn, it still abounds in society itself. An example is showcased by NuGene, a big genetics company with a lot of weight in society. Apparently, if your genetic code implies that you might have a violent personality, you’ll be treated like a serial killer without even committing any crimes (or something), and this just so happens to be more punishing when it comes up in a Black person. The company’s employees insist on doing the whole “use gender identity at the end of their names” thing, but it turns out they’re hypocritical homophobes, which is shown when Voya’s transgender cousin is given the wrong set of chromosomes in their official record. 

The cherry on top is that Voya, as narrator, still uses those same race labels, despite the fact that they should be archaic given the context. In a way, Blood Like Magic more cynical than any other books of its kind. No matter how much progress we make, those in power won’t change. In that way, Blood Like Magic has left me emotionally distraught not in the moments of reading it, but when reflecting on it afterwards.

ANYWAY, let’s discuss the actual story! If you’ve read a YA novel, Mama Jova’s task will seem straight out of the edgiest urban fantasy ever: Voya must kill her first love. Fortunately for her, she joined a gene-matching program by the aforementioned NuGene, and was paired with Luc Rodriguez, the sponsor son of NuGene’s CEO. Of course, they hate each other as soon as they first meet. Key word: “first”.

After being given her task, Blood Like Magic becomes part-romcom, part sci-fi mystery as she juggles a classic tsundere relationship with Luc, and this weird stuff her family’s been hiding from her. It’s balanced surprisingly well, especially since YA novels this thick (just under five hundred pages) tend to drag. I read it with my butt clenched waiting for that inevitable conspiracy to be revealed.

Normally, I’d criticize the characters, but this time… I don’t actually hate them even though I should. By themselves, pretty much everyone is either unremarkable and/or very snarky. But together, their chemistry made them among the more tolerable YA casts I’ve seen. I loved Voya and her cousin, Keis, bouncing witty remarks at each other, or Granny—who basically runs the Thomases—asserting her absolute authority. Even what would be a cringe-inducing, formulaic tsundere relationship between Voya and Luc ends up seeming more legitimate and believable than “I hate you! I hate you too! *Proceeds to viciously make out*”.

Despite all its novelty, Blood Like Magic still has a lot of those annoying YA tropes. If you guessed that Voya falls in love with Luc and can’t kill him, then congratulations! You’ve read at least one YA novel! At the very least, the story manages to play out in a way that’s quite unexpected for the genre.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

I’m probably wrong and off-base about a lot of what Blood Like Magic is trying to say. But regardless, the thing to be invested in is without a doubt the families’ relationships. And I use a plural possessive noun because I don’t just mean the Thomases; I’m referring to their relationships with each other, as well as with the other witch families. Overall, I’d recommend Blood Like Magic just for the emotional story of Voya’s family.

Well, This is Interesting: Wizardthrone — Hypercube Necrodimensions Album Review

[Writer’s Note: This review was written and completed well before the incident regarding Christopher Bowes and the members of Gloryhammer. For those who don’t know, leaked private chats from four years ago have revealed the men to be racists and sexists. I do not want to open the endless debate regarding cancel culture, and at this time, their fate is undecided. After much deliberation, I have decided to leave the original post as is, but I at least acknowledge that I am aware of the controversy.]

When it comes to the very popular subgenre of metal known as death metal, certain household names come to mind: Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Children of Bodom, Arch Enemy, and more. Yet, being the uncultured, un-cerebral pig I am, I have yet to enjoy death metal at all. In fact, I only ever gave the second aforementioned band an attempt and I hated them. Since death metal has had such an influence on the metal community, to the point where most bands these days at least have a growler on backing vocals, I felt I had no right to be considered a metaller unless I could like a death metal band. And my most recent attempt is a new outfit known as Wizardthrone.

Wizardthrone entered our realm, in the midst of the ongoing, unholy pandemic. Sporting Jordi LaForge glasses, these wizards have graced us—unworthy as we are—with their presence… Their members’ first names are merely initials, and yet… one of these guys feels familiar. C. Hyperiax Bowes in particular makes me think of pirates and undead unicorns of war for whatever reason. Some individuals might glean other things, such as goblins, from specific members of the group. In 2021, they unleashed their first album, known only as Hypercube Necrodimensions; the topic of today’s post.

I normally despise death metal album covers for trying so hard to be scary that they look like nonsense. Fortunately, Hypercube Necrodimensions‘ art is legitimately awesome. The composition is exquisite, with a lovely combination of green and black. I can actually identify the image’s subjects along with its background, unlike other album artwork of this ilk.

It was my pitiful human brain’s fault for having any doubt in these wizards of death metal. Right off the bat, I was blown away by the incredibly intricate riffage that makes the subgenre appealing. However, Wizardthrone kicks it up a notch. In addition to the hyper-aggressive jams, they incorporate synth and symphonic elements as well. They even have a dedicated narrator. Hm… it’s like a more extreme version of Gloryhammer. I suppose that they could’ve learned from all three of their albums and made a whole album of their own in the brief time they’ve been in our dimension; they are wizards, after all (it’s not like at least one of them is actually IN Gloryhammer). 

If you watched the music video, you’d notice that their lyrics don’t have anything to do with death, murder, or various methods of torture. A lot of newer extreme bands have actually broken that stereotype (they just happen to be the ones that aren’t talked about enough), and Wizardthrone is one of them. They tell a lot of fun and nonsensical space opera stories, some of which pertain to the Wizardthrone they name themselves after. 

“Four billion years have passed and all we truly know is this” / “That astral deities still dwell within the deep abyss” / “Beyond the universal law of stellar entropy” / “Extra-galactic masters of mortal reality” / “The path we chose must soon me judged in kind” / “A quantum flux until the end of time” / “A black sun rising, the eldritch moon” / “Behold! Arise! Macrocosmic doom!”

Of course, these lyrics would sound like drivel if their vocalist wasn’t good at his job. Fortunately, that’s not a problem. With a more tenor and gravelly voice, Wizardthrone’s vocalist sounds both fluent and venomous. It must be really hard to have to speak our substandard, primitive language, let alone growl in it. Props to him!

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Final Verdict: 10/10

As much as I loved Avaland and VEXED’s debuts, Wizardhtrone’s Hypercube Necrodimensions both met and surpassed my initial expectations. I know this is a hot take, but I would definitely claim this to be the best metal debut—and my new musical obsession—of the year. It’s incredible how they’re able to make death metal that doesn’t sacrifice extremeness in favor of accessibility (as someone who’s listened to Behemoth, I can say that Wizardthrone is at least as heavy as them, if not moreso). Even if you don’t like death metal, I’d highly recommend Wizardthrone. I particularly think that Christopher Bowes, the creator of Alestorm and Gloryhammer, would love this band. Wait… Christopher Bowes… C. Hyperiax Bowes…? Nah, that’s impossible!

P.S. No post this Saturday. I don’t think I need to tell you why.

Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (Part 1 of 2): I MISSED THIS SERIES SO MUCH

Time for a long story. While this is the first Ace Attorney game I’m covering on my blog, this is definitely NOT the first Ace Attorney game I’ve played. In fact, I’ve played through these games with my sister for years. Thing is, that was way before I had this blog. We played up through Spirit of Justice (with the exception of the Edgeworth games, but thankfully NintendoCaprisun had his videos of them for us), but that was five years ago. Now, we both have jobs. However, that didn’t stop us from squeezing what little time we had for a massive and unexpected adventure: an official U.S. release of The Great Ace Attorney spinoff series, with HD remasters for the Switch. This review is of the first game. I figured I could split the post so I could spoil this game when talking about the second.

In The Great Ace Attorney, we turn back the clock to the early 1900s, to Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo. His lawyering career begins when he has to defend himself after a man is shot to death while he happens to be holding a gun found at the scene. Thus starts a saga that continues for generations.

The story structure will seem pretty familiar; episodic cases that build up to a bigger plot. And similar to the Edgeworth spinoffs, this one plays with your expectations. In fact, despite the lack of returning characters, The Great Ace Attorney felt very emotionally tense for what it was. I’d even say it was the most tense next to Spirit of Justice, a game where [SPOILERS] a guy commits suicide just to frame someone. Some cases feature a jury (who actually exist this time, unlike Apollo’s game), and they change their minds a lot, making trials even more nerve-wracking when the scale leans toward guilt. While there are no straight-up bad cases, the third case is definitely where the game starts in earnest.

The writing in The Great Ace Attorney is great as always. From wry humor, to raw emotion, and spine-tingling suspense, Capcom once again demonstrates their writing prowess (if only that carried over to other games (*cough* Monster Hunter Stories 2 *cough*)). However, there are some big changes in the overall feel, more so due to this localization. And if I may write one more sentence, I’ll have an excuse to elaborate in a nice and organized new paragraph.

First off, the localization retcons the Ace Attorney universe. The main games have been set in an ambiguous country that could pass as just about anywhere, with the U.S. localization being set somewhere in California. However, The Great Ace Attorney universe doesn’t just scream Japan, but other countries as well. Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about old-timey world culture in order to solve a case, but Japanese honorifics are used without explanation.

Furthermore, the humor is very… hm, at times. It’s the 1900s, which means… racism. Ace Attorney has never held back on stereotypes, but it’s really nasty here. Foreigners act like Japan is a massive sh**hole, like an anime fan who hates ecchi. Their culture is even insulted right in the middle of their most supreme courtroom. You’re meant to chalk it up to English people being hotiy-toity, but I actually own a Japanese mythology research book, written at around that time, by an Englishman who fell in love with Japan, even shaming his own culture in one chapter. But when the story shifts to the U.K. itself, even our Japanese intrepid heroes act as if their own nation is a sh**hole. The U.K. definitely has the more advanced technology, but they even imply that the country has a richer history, which is a very subjective thing that’s neither right nor wrong (and is probably just meant to hype up London in the context of the story and I shouldn’t be reading into it this hard). 

ANYWAY, the characters, despite being all newcomers, stand within Ace Attorney’s cast as my favorite in any visual novel franchise. Ryunosuke is another new face, and I mean NEW. The first case isn’t just his first case as a lawyer, but he’s also had no experience in law whatsoever. He has a really unique arc where he gradually acquires the confident Ace Attorney animations we know and love over the course of the first case, and it’s wonderful to see. The Maya Fey of this game is a waifu named Susato, who is a bit of a kuudere; she’s condescending in a deadpan way, but some Maya-like qualities shine through at times (and she often proves herself a better lawyer than Ryunosuke). The Gumshoe is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I know the text says “Herlock Sholmes”, but if you play with Japanese audio, he is referred to as Sherlock Holmes. Based on this, I assume the reason for a lack of localization was a copyright thing, similar to the Stands in Jojo. In any case, he’s as confident as he is wrong about his deductions, i.e. he’s wrong a LOT but loves himself nonetheless. As much as I love Gumshoe, this guy grew on me very quickly. Screw it; he’s my favorite detective in the series, second only to Gumshoe (sorry Ema). Our prosecutor is Barok van Zieks. As one of the hunkiest antagonists thus far, he behaves like a scarier, more aggressive Klavier Gavin, where he’s sometimes willing to help the defense if things happen to go a certain way in the trial.

Whenever I think they have run out of ways to play Ace Attorney, Capcom manages to surprise me. The Great Ace Attorney tries (no pun intended) fun new ideas both in and out of court. For instance, multiple witnesses can take the stand at once, and have their own testimonies. As a result, one person can have a reaction to what the other person says, and naturally, it’s a good idea to pursue that nervous tick. In trials with a jury present, you also have the power of the Summation Exam. Basically, when the jury unanimously votes guilty (which, in series tradition, will happen often), you get to hear their reasoning. At this juncture, you take a pair of statements from the jurors’ that contradict one another, and reveal said contradiction. Ryunosuke paces like a badass when tearing their reasoning apart, and it feels really good. The one dumb thing about it is that you’re warned not to press anyone during the tutorial, but you actually will need to press jurors for every solution after the first examination.

What’s extra super fun is the Deductions. Sherlock has a ridiculously over-the-top routine where he makes wildly incorrect statements about an NPC, and it’s up to you to correct them by examining the NPC, the location, or by presenting evidence. These sequences kind of take a while, since you basically have to go through them twice, one to hear the initial take and two to correct it, but they’re awesome.

As a spinoff, The Great Ace Attorney proves to be very difficult because it plays with your expectations of the series’ tropes. If there’s any pro-tip I feel like I should give, it’s to REALLY examine any new evidence as soon as you receive it. There aren’t many times where they’re like “If you didn’t examine any evidence you should do it now”, either. Also, dialogue in a specific case is actually affected by whether or not you examined a piece of evidence at the earliest opportunity.

For a port made from the ground up during a thing-I-should-probably-not-bring-up-because-you’re-probably-sick-of-seeing-it-attributed-to-things-that-shouldn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-it, The Great Ace Attorney looks beautiful. The models are as on-point as always, and the environments are lovelier than ever, thanks to the Switch. They even have light sources flickering just like they would be in that time period. 

Unfortunately, this game probably has the weakest soundtrack I’ve heard in the whole series. Some of the character themes are good, but by keeping true to the time, I feel like they might’ve trapped themselves. And worst of all, the “Pursuit” theme shows up the least often in this game. Maybe that’s because of Ryunosuke’s character arc, but it still stinks.

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Conclusion

I had no idea how good this spinoff was. The Edgeworth games are great, but The Great Ace Attorney has been a real trip. It’s like playing Danganronpa but it’s better because it’s Ace Attorney (ooooooh snap). But wait, there’s more! We still have the second Great Ace Attorney game, Resolve, to cover. Of course, I gotta beat it first.

Legendborn: This Book Broke Me

I definitely have not hesitated to come down with constructive criticism on stuff that deals with racism. However, I’m only showing one side of the coin. As confidently as I make quips like “It’s too ham-fisted” or “It’s just torture porn”, I don’t entirely feel that way. To be honest, every commentary on racism—no matter how well it’s framed—has broken me, especially after the George Floyd incident. And Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn is no exception. This book made me hate my own existence. In fact, I’ve actually read—and started writing this review—not long after the book was published; I was just so indecisive about how to go about writing it. I still don’t know if the post is proper even now. Oh well, it’s here.

In Legendborn, a girl named Briana Matthews (henceforth known as Bree) has been on an incessantly long road of recovery after the tragic death of her mother. She’s been attending this super-highschool-early-college academy place, and gets herself almost immediately expelled when she joins a dumb teenager-y gathering. During this gathering, a bizarre incident occurs, and she witnesses a strapping young man slay some kind of demon thing. This dude, named Selwyn Kane, is one of many Legendborn, and is able to alter people’s memories. It’s at this point that Bree realizes that they have a connection to the cause of her mother’s death, and with the help of fellow Legendborn Nick Davis, she’s going to find the truth even if it kills her.

As much as I’d like to say that Bree’s Blackness is irrelevant, I can’t because I’d be wrong. It’s ham-fisted, but necessarily so, considering its 2020 release year. Bree is frequently harassed by authority figures and other people in the Legendborn’s secret society of angsty special teens. That’s to be expected, but it goes further when some developments regarding slavery and the Civil War come up later. It’s so on-the-nose that it absolutely crushed my nose, and the momentum from that weight crushed my soul as well. 

But as integral to the plot racism is, the social commentaries feel like a vehicle to make otherwise uninteresting worldbuilding interesting. Beyond the racism, Legendborn’s basic lore is just Jujutsu Kaisen meets Last Round Arthurs. The reason for its resemblance to the latter is the fact that the Legendborn’s Order has King Arthur symbolism. They use lengthy exposition to make it seem like a really deep system, but the basic idea is that some kids are descended from King Arthur and his knights and can awaken those individuals’ powers once the demons decide to reenact the Battle of Camlann Hill (or something). This, along with Bree’s character arc, exists to cater to that fascination that individuals have with their family histories. The Order’s enemies are the Shadowborn, which are the same old “demons that feed off of human negativity” that have been used billions of times.

Despite my nitpicks, I have found Legendborn to be one of the better YA novels I’ve read. They ham in the mother’s death in that blatant “start with a tragic event as an easy emotional hook” scheme, but it’s done exquisitely. The writing is very descriptive, and gives the action sequences some punch that is often lacking in the genre. And although the story is pretty generic, it’s still fun to read. Last but not least, its portrayal of racism and its history is bone-crushing. My soul was broken, and the pieces were ground into dust. To be perfectly blunt, I barely remember how the book ended, mainly because the raw emotion of it took complete hold over me.

Bree is perhaps one of the best YA protagonists simply because she actually is what most YA authors try and fail to make their female leads. Her struggles are real, and her ability to be strong through all this grief is something else. Unfortunately, she is a case of “has unique powers for no reason”, but that doesn’t dampen her arc.

Most of the other characters aren’t that interesting. Nick Davis is an exception; his Prince Charming-esque relationship with Bree feels legit because neither of them exactly wanted the hands they were dealt in life. Selwyn, however, is your super-edgelord, and I have a bad feeling that he will reluctantly be part of a love triangle with Bree and Nick (since there is an upcoming sequel and all). That’s kind of where the likable characters end, as everyone else is either unremarkable and/or racist.

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Final Verdict: 9.2/10

Legendborn is a dime a dozen, but it’s a really, REALLY well-polished dime (wait, is that right? Well, you know what I mean). I am excited for the sequel, but I don’t exactly know what direction it could go in. As of now, Legendborn is more than worthy enough to be in a list of best #BlackGirlMagic books.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 can Either be a Decent JRPG or a Min-Maxing Hellhole. Take Your Pick.

I was always interested in the Monster Hunter series ever since I watched one of my relatives play one of the 3DS installments. The problem is that I’m a filthy casual, and that franchise has way too much depth for my puny brain to comprehend (and for frame of reference, Pokémon is probably the most complicated franchise I have ever played). However, I did find out about the anime-AF spinoff series, Monster Hunter Stories, right on time for its sequel, Monster Hunter 2: Wings of Ruin, to come out. As such, I decided—spur of the moment—to try Monster Hunter Stories 2, my first ever Monster Hunter game!

In Monster Hunter Stories 2 (after some privacy policy mumbo jumbo, because that’s what gaming is these days apparently), the main protagonist and their tribe are enjoying some festivities, which happens to go south because videogames. Apparently, a flock of wild Rathalos decided to fly south for the winter… or something, and that means the titular Wings of Ruin is afoot… I guess? 

It’s a JRPG. Ergo, the story will take more than a hot minute to get started. Early on, most of it consists of required errands where you go to an area and fight a specific type of enemy. Before long, you will go to the actual main dungeon and fight the boss, where you get actual plot progression.

The actual plot involves you meeting a Wyverian waifu named Ena, who gives you a special Rathalos egg. This egg contains a Rathalos very similar to the Wings of Ruin, and everyone wants it dead because of Original Sin logic. And, well, that’s about as deep as it gets. This game really feels like it was meant for an audience much younger than the regular games, because it’s about as subtle as a Saturday morning cartoon, with predictable developments, and a lot of smooth-brain moments.

And it gets worse. The product tagline of “Will your bonds bring hope or destruction?” implies that you can make a series of decisions, and raise your Rathalos in a way to influence its power toward the light or dark side. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. In fact, there are ZERO prompts for your player to add to the dialogue whatsoever. Spoiler alert, they completely cop out on moral ambiguity by revealing the actual Wings of Ruin to be a completely different entity. There’s also a weird cult that never gets fleshed out at all; in fact, you only deal with them thrice in the game.

The cast, unfortunately, is the weakest aspect, and unlike my usual pickiness, I have a pretty darn good reason for it this time. Your main character, being fully customizable, is completely silent and reactionary. However, they did a good job at making them very expressive. Also, there is a nice detail where your grandfather, Red, will have the same type of eyes in flashbacks, taking into account how Wyverian NPCs mistake you for him because of your eyes. You also gain a talking cat follower in the form of Navirou, who has no shortage of funny lines. His arc, however, makes me feel like this is a direct sequel to the first game, because Navirou knows 80% of the plot relevant characters really well for no reason, and his own backstory is super glossed over.

Sadly, that’s where the positives end. Ena is pretty much there. She gives you the egg, and that’s about it. She’s not even a party member, and hangs out in the most recent town while you do all the legwork. And boy oh boy… it actually gets worse.

This game is structured like everyone’s definitely-not-least-favorite Final Fantasy game, Mystic Quest. Just like that game, you get one extra party member who sticks with you for a specific arc. And as such, the 100+ hours of bonding time you get with your crew is not in this game, resulting in some flat characters. You get their backstories at very arbitrary points, and they’re all very generic to the point where it doesn’t even feel like they tried. The sole ally I liked was Reverto, who had a Californian exterior but a very down-to-earth interior. 

Overall, there are a lot of character developments that happen way too fast, as if they were just checking off items on that list of tropes. Even things like discrimination against Monsties end in seconds flat. Ironically, the main protagonist actually gets the most character development out of anyone; they make mistakes, and learn to work through them. The issue is that a lot of those mistakes are really arbitrary things that don’t have to do with gameplay at all, and it just feels like they came up with any excuse for characters to dunk on you in order to act like they have an actual arc (Geez, way to dispute your previous statement, self). 

And the cherry on this smelly peanut-butter-ketchup-sundae is the voice acting. These gaming reviews have made me more willing to play JRPGs with the dub, and my ears have paid for it. Monster Hunter Stories 2 has a pretty bland dub, with characters sounding quite unremarkable. I only liked Navirou and Reverto’s voice acting and no one else’s.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 has your essential JRPG mechanics: questing, crafting, buying new gear, forging and upgrading gear, etc. Only, as with the main series, it’s insanely complicated. For starters, there are a LOT of weapon types, each catered to different playstyles. Forging and upgrading equipment is interesting, since each item requires a specific assortment of resources. There’s no specific quantities needed; you just need to use enough to gain the “points” needed to do the deed. Rarer materials get more points, but excess points are wasted completely. 

The thing to keep an eye on is armor. Each piece of armor can have its own passive skills. But more importantly, keep in mind that there is no base defense stat. The only defense you get from armor is some amount of resistance—and weakness—to one of the game’s many elements, including the non-elemental element. This causes every piece of equipment to become very situational. But unlike Xenoblade Chronicles X, you can save MANY equipment presets to be changed on the fly for their specific uses.

Exploration in Monster Hunter Stories 2 is both great and iffy. The positives consist of how chock full of stuff the world is. Every second is generally spent picking up materials or going into randomly spawning Monster Dens for eggs. There are also Everdens; fixed Monster Dens that contain Bottle Caps, which are exchanged for VERY worthwhile rewards.

However, that’s about where the positives end. Xenoblade really effing spoiled me on RPG worlds, because… maaaan… they just don’t make ‘em like Xenoblade anymore. The layouts in Monster Hunter Stories 2 are very basic and “videogamey”, with only one way to get from any point A to point B. What doesn’t help are the Ride Actions. These are field abilities that allow you to reach specific areas. While the game is nice enough to let you quick switch to a Monstie that has the ability when you’re at the area you can interact with, it is a pain to round out your party with varied Ride Actions and type coverages. And if you don’t have the ability, then you gotta go back to town and change out with a Monstie who does have it. 

Now, lett’s actually talk about Pokémon—I mean—Monsties. You obtain them by going into Monster Dens and sneaking off with an egg (child abduction is totes legit in this world). Hatched Monsties can be named and organized at the stable. Unfortunately, hatching is kind of a gacha system, where some Monsties will get better perks than others. You’ll have to learn various visual cues while kidnapping other monsters’ children in order to deduce how good it’ll turn out. Unfortunately, one thing you can’t predetermine is the bingo board of Monstie genes. This is a randomly generated 3×3 grid of abilities. The actual movepools of Monsties are the same, but a lot of other abilities are very random. Lining up genes of the same element and attack style gives the Monstie a permanent damage bonus, and the occasional rainbow gene acts as the free space in bingo.

Speaking of genes… oh boy. Prepare for one of the easiest to learn and hardest to master systems of min-maxxing I have ever seen (Pokémon’s still worse though). When you unlock the Rite of Channeling, you can choose to essentially kill a Monstie to allow one gene on its chart to be transferred over to another Monstie. Blank spaces are free to receive any gene, and copies of a gene can be stacked to upgrade it. Getting bingo bonuses will increase that attribute damage done by a Monstie. If you couldn’t tell, this gets insane and requires a LOT of grinding, since you will need to hatch Monsties just to level them up and learn the genes you want to transfer. Grinding gets easier as it goes, especially since a lot of bulletin board quests can be done over and over again for XP and money, and Monstie Expeditions become an important asset for those cooped up in the stable. 

So, combat is really complicated. You fight alongside your Monsties, and whoever your battle buddy happens to be. When attacking, you can use either the Power, Technical, or Speed style. If you’re attacking an opponent who will target you next, it’ll trigger a rock-paper-scissors match, with the victor gaining a damage advantage based on the matchup between who uses what style. This effect is even better if you and your Monstie both use an attack type that wins the rock-paper-scissors thing. Attacks, as well as successful rock-paper-scissor-ing, charges up the Kinship Gauge, which functions as MP. Most skills that consume this gauge can also be used in either of the three attack styles. Monsties run on A.I., and while you can consume Kinship to order them to use a move, there is no cost if they use it on their own.

Oh, and similar to the Ys games, enemies can have weaknesses and resistances to one of three weapon types, those being slash, blunt, and piercing (yes, there are less types of weapon damage than actual weapon types).  There are also the aforementioned elements to worry about, and getting hit by a supereffective element shows up as an orange number. Enemies can also change up their attack patterns and weaknesses mid-battle through actions, such as using a rock as a shield. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem since you can hold up to three weapons that can be switched mid-battle without using up your actual turn. Like with Xenoblade X, specific parts of an enemy can be broken to guarantee an item drop. Sometimes, breaking monster parts can topple them. Monsters that can be hatched have conditions to increase their chances of retreating, which spawns a small den that’s guaranteed to have that species’ egg. However, some exceptionally rare monsters can be hatched, but are unable to be retreated, meaning… good luck with that.

Things get even more complicated with the Ride On ability. This only activates when the Kinship Gauge is full. Using it restores a lot of HP to both rider and Monstie, and gives a stat buff. Kinship Skills in this mode are powerful, even moreso when your ally uses theirs in conjunction with you. Win rock-paper-scissors to level up the Kinship Gauge in this mode, allowing for even stronger moves. Unfortunately, your battle buddy always uses their Kinship Skill immediately, and you’ll have to work around that.

Despite being all cute and kiddy, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is tough. The first chapter is dirt easy, but after that, you’re pretty much expected to understand how the game works. This includes nuances that aren’t taught, such as the fact that Kinship Skills are guaranteed to cancel ANY enemy attack, including the yellow and brown ones that aren’t affected by rock-paper-scissors. If you’re unlucky on your first time, you could end up wearing armor that’s weak to whatever the next story battle is (that happened to me a lot). 

Another issue is your Rathalos. This is probably intentional for story reasons, but your Rathalos is baggage early on. It won’t learn certain abilities until much later in the game, even if it actually levels up enough to learn them. Plus, it has no Ride Actions starting off. One of the worst examples is in biomes where you’re inflicted with a permanent debuff. You’re encouraged to get Monsties that resist those debuffs, as well as armor yourself to protect from them, otherwise you need to buy and use specific consumables to mitigate it. The stupid thing is that you can’t box the Rathalos, so regardless of what you do to account for those debuffs… you still gotta use the items for the Rathalos! And it doesn’t even save on uses, since one is enough to apply to the whole team.

Oh, and being a turn-based RPG with A.I., expect your allies to be among your biggest enemies. Their behavior varies wildly. I’ve had them adapt perfectly to changes in enemy patterns, as well as picking the style with disadvantage after clearly establishing that pattern. They are also inconsistent as to when they decide to use a healing item. 

The biggest nuance I’ve had to get used to compared to most JRPGs is the Heart system. These are like lives in an arcade-style platformer. Instead of having to use an item to revive people, they just get back up and consume a Heart. You lose if either your team or your battle buddy’s is fully depleted of their Hearts. It becomes less of an issue once you’re able to freely obtain Vital Essences, which restore Hearts. Due to this system, fighting by yourself isn’t as nerve-wracking, but it’s still about as tedious as any JRPG not built around the idea of having one character.

You’d think it’d be time to give the final score, right? Well, too bad; I forgot to go over audio and visual presentations. Being an anime-style JRPG, it’s kind of… eh, especially since it’s a studio as beloved as Capcom. The areas don’t just look basic, but similar to games of this kind (*cough* Ys *cough*), they chug despite the lesser textures. Of course, if you’re a proud Switch owner, you’d be used to it, but considering that games like Smash run way better with more intricate visuals kind of says something about this game. To make up for this, the Monsters have a ton of personality in them, especially with the special moves (which, for some reason, are when the game runs the smoothest). Oh, and the equipment has some of my favorite equipment designs in all of videogames because of how much thought is put into them making them actually LOOK like the monster materials they’re built from. The music is sufficient, but there really isn’t any one song that I would be willing to bop to (Xenoblade has REALLY spoiled me). The overworld has no music, but unfortunately, there really isn’t enough ambience to make an immersive atmosphere. 

JRPGs have at least gotten better at having substantial postgames. After beating Monster Hunter Stories 2, it gets a lot longer… but in a bad way. You unlock the Elder’s Lair, which is a ten-story dungeon where you have to accomplish various tasks in order to advance. At the end is the game’s superboss. The thing is that the prep-work is where it gets obnoxious. High-Rank Monsters spawn in new high rank Dens, marked by red crystals covering the entrance, which gives you the ability to infinitely farm Bottle Caps. Thanks to this, you will be able to purchase unlimited amounts of Stimulants and Nutriments used to min-max stats. Also, High-Rank materials… *sigh* allow you to get better versions of EVERY EQUIPMENT PIECE IN THE GAME. And the best part? They all require Weapon and Armor Spheres, found only through Monstie Expeditions, and rarely in High-Rank areas. I might slowly work toward finishing this monstrosity (haha pun), but I’m not making any promises, especially since this game is no Xenoblade.

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Final Verdict: 8.45/10

Monster Hunter Stories 2 has a lot going for it: great combat, great replayability, an extremely customizable playstyle, and PLENTY to do. However, that’s about it for positives. The story isn’t that epic either. Plus, a lot of dungeons—even story ones—recycle room layouts like nobody’s business. I only recommend it if gaming is your job, otherwise there are plenty of other super-long JRPGs to devote your precious time to.

The Haunted Bookstore: Gateway to the Shallowest Shinto Portrayal I Have Ever Seen

This is another light novel series I really wanted to read. I mean, LOOK at that cover art. Also, the description implies that it’s stuffed full of Shinto folklore, i.e. my kind of jam. For the love of Amaterasu, The Haunted Bookstore: Gateway to a Parallel Universe had better be a banger!

In The Haunted Bookstore, an ordinary woman named Kaori Muramoto lives in an extraordinary place: the spirit world. Despite the title, our titular haunted bookstore is an establishment within said spirit world; it’s not actually a gateway TO it. She lives there with a cranky old oni named Shinoname, and helps all sorts of people. But one day, a weird exorcist boy named Sumei appears, and ends up lodging with them.

The thing that makes this inherently appealing is the commitment to Japanese mythology. If you’re knowledgeable about this stuff, you’ll see some familiar faces. And if you’re an American who’s struggling to find accurate research material for it, then The Haunted Bookstore has you there as well. 

Uuuugh, as much as I wanted to love this, I have to say “that’s about where the positives end”. Being a slice-of-life isekai, everyone and everything is super-grounded, and there’s never any reason to feel tension whatsoever. While this can be done well in certain (rare) cases, The Haunted Bookstore is one of those that “pretends” to have heightened tension with numerous action sequences that just aren’t exciting because, by nature of the subgenre, we KNOW that everything will have to turn out all fluffy in the end. 

The book also does a slice-of-life isekai trope that I hate: arbitrarily trying to wax poetic. One example is a side story where Kaori looks after a pair of cicada spirits who have a similar situation to Hikoboshi and Orihime, but in the form of dying and reincarnating over and over again. It’s supposed to make you cry, but… they just come back, so what’s the point of the feels? The universal theme of the series is a big philosophical question of whether or not humans and yokai can coexist. They make a big deal about it, but you just need to look at real life to know that it’s a ham-fisted thing. In the context of actual Shinto, humans and yokai live together whether we like it or not. It could be brushed off as a creative liberty, but it’s not like yokai have completely cut themselves off from humans in The Haunted Bookstore; in fact, there are plenty that live in the real world just the same. Also, I’m gonna have the gall to criticize a Japanese person for being inaccurate, but… the author categorizes jorogumo as a type of tsukumogami, which I’m pretty darn sure is wrong, since those are limited to household objects, while jorogumo is a spider yokai. 

The writing could also be better. For how enchanting the cover art looks, stuff is described with about as much heart as expected in a standard isekai; i.e. the bare minimum of what you could call a description. It’s a real shame, especially considering that this world is supposed to be the appeal of the whole darn series. 

As usual with me, the characters are what I really can’t stand. They are all boring. While they have some semblance of personality quirks, the subdued nature of the series means that no one can really express themselves in a way that has oomph. Kaori is kind of tomboy-ish, but she’s also super special and entitled for no reason, given her ability to live in the spirit world. Suimei is a garden variety kuudere; by living with Kaori, he’s forced to experience feelings for the first time in his life. Shinoname is a grumpy old man and that’s about it.

The characters from Japanese mythology were also not very engaging. No matter what their personalities are in the actual legends, they are all equally as dull here. Also, there were no kami present whatsoever. I feel like it would’ve mixed things up, but nope.

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Verdict: 6.5/10

What a disappointment. I shouldn’t have expected a straight-up masterpiece, but I at least expected something that wasn’t just as mediocre as a standard isekai, especially with the legitimately cool ideas at work here. It’s not the worst thing ever, so I’ll try to keep up with it. But to be honest, there isn’t much appeal with The Haunted Bookstore. At this stage, I wouldn’t even recommend it to a fellow weeb.

The Owl House (Season 1): A Distinctly American Isekai

I had actually started watching The Owl House on a whim around the time the first season came out on Disney+. I was so certain it would be two seasons that I didn’t think I needed to do a season-by-season review. But according to Wikipedia and IMDB, it’s actually going to be two and a half seasons? Well, regardless, the second season has been turning different enough to where I should review The Owl House season-by-season. So yeah, here’s my review of season one!

In The Owl House, a girl named Luz is very eccentric and creatively expresses herself all the time. Of course, we can’t have any of that in America, so her mom decided to ship her off to summer camp to make her more mainstream. Luz instead chases an owl into a suitcase portal, where she ends up in a fantasy realm called the Boiling Isles. With pretty much no hesitation, she decides to live here with a witch named Eda the Owl Lady and a chuunibyou demon named King in the titular Owl House. 

The Owl House is modern, childish, and very one-dimensional. But it’s not just those things; it’s mind-numbingly straightforward. They don’t even try to hide that it’s a pure escapist fantasy, what with the aforementioned summer camp literally being called “Reality Check Summer Camp”, and the first episode showing a prison called the Conformatorium. 

“Well, at least it’s not another Harry Potter clone,” you comment. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. The initial interest of having someone learn magic through a wanted criminal like Eda gets brushed aside about two-thirds into the first season. Luz discovers a long lost method to do magic, entirely by happenstance, and ends up enrolled in the local school, Hexside.

And it gets more cliché than that simply by being a children’s show. It goes through a lot of the motions, where a protagonist does something blatantly stupid and learns a lesson at the end. It’s just about as clear-cut as any kids’ show, and as a result, The Owl House ends up reinventing the wheel quite often. There is also zero subtlety, as it practically beats you over the head with teasers of things that will happen.

Fortunately, it more than makes up for spoon-feeding you “American values” with sheer entertainment. The show is whimsical, colorful, and builds on itself just about as organically as any good modern cartoon. And speaking of building, the show does have some decent worldbuilding. The Boiling Isles has a lot of creativity going into it, from some guy’s house being held up by a giant hand to school bells that scream bloody murder. It’s meant to look grotesque and terrifying to try and subvert the idea of it being an escapist fantasy realm, but that ends up falling to the wayside because of how charming the Boiling Isles end up becoming. The vibrant and appealing visuals help tie it all together. 

And speaking of charming, the cast—despite being very cliché—ends up being just that. Let’s start with the worst of the bunch first: the main protagonist, Luz (oh, everyone’s going to hate me for saying that, aren’t they?). She’s your typical isekai protagonist through and through. Luz is reckless, tomboyish, and overly easy to relate to. The show tries to make her not seem like a special snowflake, but based on what I discussed earlier, that doesn’t exactly happen.

Fortunately, everyone else is better. Imagine Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls but ridiculously sexy and you get Best Mom Eda. She’s just about as snarky as Stan, plus she seriously embodies the American spirit. Her tragic backstory is the driving force of the narrative throughout season one, which involves her sister, Lilith (who is also quite sexy but not as fun). King is an adorable little sociopath who tries every angle to assert dominance over others, and it’s fun to see him have melodramatic speeches just from things like climbing to the top of the local playground.

Luz ends up making a few friends in Hexside. Willow starts off as the “my parents want me to do this even though I’m a lot better at something else” character, but that ends up being resolved in the first episode she’s introduced in, and seems like a relatable conflict created just to hook audiences into liking her (which ends up being such a non-issue to the point where we don’t even get to see her parents). But hey, she’s lovable enough on her own. There’s also Best Boy Augustus, who offers a lot of comic mischief without falling into a rut of the same joke over and over again. My least favorite of the Hexside kids is Amity Blight. She’s basically the tsundere, and that’s about it (and now the entire fandom REALLY hates me). On another note, Hexside’s principle is actually pretty great, but he doesn’t show up often enough.

Of course, I must dedicate an entire paragraph to the best character in the entire show: Hooty. He’s a literal door, and is basically a perfect person. 

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Verdict: 8/10

The Owl House is nothing new, but it’s fun, and at least tries harder to be interesting than Amphibia. And from what I’ve seen of season two at this point… yeah, it’s WAY more interesting than Amphibia. I recommend it if you want some Disney magic with a bit of edge.

The Infinity Courts: What If Siri Ran the Afterlife?

I don’t know why I’m still trying to get into YA novels, considering that I tend to not like them. But sometimes, you just have an impulsive, smooth-brain moment. And in this particular impulse, I decided to try Akemi Dawn Bowman’s The Infinity Courts, the first in what is—according to Goodreads—a trilogy. I’ve apparently made a habit of reviewing individual installments of book series as of late, so I guess I’ll continue that pattern again!

In The Infinity Courts, a typical teenage girl named Nami Miyamoto is about to have the night of her life: a graduation party, whereafter she and her crush, Finn, will have their happily ever after. But when her dumb friend makes her buy something spur-of-the-moment, Nami has a true isekai-light-novel experience when she is shot in a convenience store and is awakened in a strange world known as Infinity. Everything here is perfect, which means it’s actually not even remotely perfect. And it doesn’t take long for Infinity’s Residents to start hunting her down.

I suppose that, being at most the one-third point of the bigger story, the following statement would be said too soon. But I’m going to say it anyway: if you’re looking for something that’ll make your brain gears whirl, then The Infinity Courts is not it. The world of Infinity is more-or-less that of The Matrix. Just like in those whacky conspiracy theories, our smartphone A.I.s—with this world’s model being named Ophelia—end up ruling the human race and want to brainwash everyone. Nami joins your typical Resistance group in an effort to take Ophelia down.

However, there is at least a bit more creativity this time around. Infinity has a lot of appealing and surreal setpieces, as implied by the map at the beginning. It helps that we get a good enough description of these setpieces; not too much and not too little. A lot of names are just common nouns with uppercase letters, but it’s not as excessive with that trope as other YA novels.

It also helps that Bowman is a legit good writer. Even though The Infinity Courts is a case of “same sh** different day”, I was thoroughly engaged with the story and wanted to know what happened next. It’s not too pretentious with metaphors, like most YA novels tend to be (even if it asks those philosophical questions a lot).

The cast is also surprisingly likable… for the most part. A lot of the resistance people are decent folks who just really prioritize the Colony above all else. However, Nami—despite being named after One Piece‘s Best Girl—is an incredibly hard sell. Like your typical YA female protagonist, she’s self-deprecating, and doesn’t want to fight the Residents even when shown how they enslave and torture humans. And of course, she has mysterious abilities that no one else has, even if this particular instance kind of makes sense, given her weird sense of sympathy with her smartphone in life.

Gil is the other hard sell. He’s a middle-aged, war torn veteran trapped in a teenager’s body, but some of that teenager-y-ness manifests as well. He’s so hard-headed and angsty, and is also that guy who hates the main protagonist just to be an asshole. The other leading lad is Prince Caelan, one of the four Princes of Infinity. He’s, well, Mr. Perfect, and is—for the time being—the only Prince to get an actual character arc. The main antagonist, Ophelia, is your typical robot overlord; she’s all like “humans are all born racist and violent and evil”, and thinks that trying to remove them from Infinity is an objectively good thing.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

The Infinity Courts is not original whatsoever, but it reinvents the wheel in a pleasantly surprising way. I’m more than willing to commit to this series, which is saying something considering how I feel about YA novels. I recommend it if you want raw entertainment, but don’t expect your thoughts to be provoked.