Dragonfire (magedragonfire) wrote,

Things Left in Memory

I had an odd twinge of nostalgia last week. It just kind of came out of nowhere, as far as I can figure. It's a bit funny in hindsight, actually; I managed to attempt to revisit two series of media that I had enjoyed in the past, each with five entries. I had previously consumed the first three entries of each. I now owned all five of each, but for some reason had never touched entries four or five. Time to fix that, thought I, about both series! (Although, of course, I never put two and two together about the similarities between them until I sat down to write this. Hah.)

But, of course, one could not blindly charge into entry four in either series. It had been quite a while since I'd done anything with the two, and although I remembered broad themes, could not remember details that might come in handy. So, hey, why not start at the beginning? They were things I enjoyed! Surely I would enjoy them again.

The Magic Kingdom of Landover, written by Terry Brooks of the terribly mediocre Shannara fame, five (now six, actually - he released another one a couple of years ago when I wasn't looking) novels about a perfectly mundane lawyer who purchases a fantasy kingdom from a department store catalogue and finds out that it's all real, magic and dragons and fairies and all. Shenanigans ensue. (Shannaragans? ...*smacks herself*) It starts with Magic Kingdom For Sale - Sold!.

And, you know, I really should've let well enough alone, in this case. The books were fun when I was thirteen, but my tastes in wordsmithing have apparently matured a little bit since then. Go figure?

The premise is still fun, but it could've been so much better than it is. I figure the book is mostly hampered by Brooks' inability to show whether he's taking a broad wink at pulpy fantasy conventions, or playing things absolutely straightlaced, with all the awful that's associated with those concepts.

On one hand, he does things like naming his inept but well-meaning wizard figure 'Questor Thews' (who neither quests, nor has developed thews of any sort). Things in the kingdom are odd, we get some cute scenes and interactions between the fish-out-of-water protagonist and the magical fairy kingdom's citizens...

...And then, the first named female character that the we meet, halfway through the book (the protagonist does previously encounter some secretaries and receptionists, but they are never named, and he does wax eloquent about his dead wife, but we of course never meet her, she being dead from the start), throws herself at him in exactly the same style of a terrible pulp novel from the 50s or 60s, with all the same earnestness of author voice.

(After that scene was where I put the book down, honestly; I did try skimming ahead a bit, a bit flabbergasted, to see whether or not there was ever any justification for her behavior, whether it was supposed to have been a 'joke' on Brooks' part that fell flat, or something, aaaaand, nope, couldn't find anything. He either wrote it and meant it, or else failed to show that it was satire. I just couldn't keep going after that.)

Then there was Brooks' writing style, which doesn't really help matters. It kind of reminds me of the sort of writing I did as a not-entirely-newbie roleplayer; not bare-bones and absolutely void of description, but stiff and somewhat colourless, even when what's being described is otherwise interesting. Lacking believable emotion, let's say. There's a lot of floating body parts flying around. (I don't mind expressions of the 'rolling eyes' sorts, but when it's stuff like 'a hand lifted', when the hand should really be attached to someone, weeeell...) There's unnecessary emoting, most of it by the protagonist. ("I do owe you for giving me this unholy acting talent!")

Most grating of all for me was his overuse of epithets. I get that you get sick of writing out your characters' names. You want some variation in your life. Call Questor Thews 'the wizard' in your narration instead, sure, or Ben Holiday 'the lawyer'. Why not? I do it, too. But for all that's good and holy, can you at least keep them a) relevant to the narration and b) not thirty times longer than the thing the epithet is standing in for?

(Abernathy, the court scribe, was transformed by Thews into a furry dog at some point before the narrative begins. Conveniently, a dog who can still hold a pen, but one who occasionally forgets himself and barks at something, or circles three times before laying down, or so on and so forth. (Mostly it's the barking. I don't remember the doggishness ever getting called on otherwise, to be honest.) He's actually explicitly described as being a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier just after he's introduced (and just why the breed is called all that and not just a Wheaten Terrier is something for its breed-clubs to make excuses for, I guess (couldn't dare have someone thinking Wheatens were wire-coated, the horror!)). But rather than describe him as 'the scribe', or 'the dog', or any other epithet that actually makes sense in context, Brooks more than twice refers to Abernathy as 'the soft-coated Wheaten Terrier' in entirety. ARRRRRGH.)

(I make no apologies about all the parentheses in the paragraph above.)

So, basically, that series should've been one sleeping Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier left to lie. I stopped reading midway through the first book, and picked up Kij Johnson's The Fox Woman instead, which so far has been much more magical, and I haven't even got to the humanoid canine part yet.

Vae victus!

Blood Omen: The Legacy of Kain, released in 1996 for the PS1 and later followed with a Windows version in '97. Five games, with a sixth in development (a multiplayer effort that's looking somewhat interesting), about a minor nobleman who winds up murdered on the road one night... and gets back up afterwards, and allll the far-reaching consequences of that.

I've never really been into vampires, not much. Werewolves were always my traditional supernatural-horror creature of choice, and even then, I was more interested in dragons and unicorns. Couldn't really care less about bloodsuckers, even today; I've never touched the Twilight series, nor True Blood or any of the more recently spawned ilk, and only watched a couple seasons of Buffy back when it was fresh and new.

Except for Kain. It's not a pretty game. The gameplay isn't riveting. The storyline is jointed and jerky in places. But the world-building, the setting, the atmosphere, and the acting? Aah, yes, the blood of ages is so sweet.

I've actually played Blood Omen twice - well, three times, now - although the last time had to be about ten years ago, now. Its sequel, Soul Reaver, is one of my favourite games of the PS1 era; all the block puzzles and shifting planes and hot zombie vampire wraiths you could ask for. Blood Omen is definitely rougher, but has a charm of its own.

...seriously not kidding about the lack of pretty, though. It's an old game, but everyone knows I hold Chrono Trigger in the highest esteem as far as visuals go. BO tries - and it has some scenes that are very visually striking, certainly. The first time you walk into a Spirit Forge, or Fountain of Blood, or near the end of the game while you're wading across a battlefield filled with fallen allies and foes alike - these are all things that pop out and impress. Until you realise that the spirit forge is a huge room with nothing in it, and the blood fountain rooms, likewise, and that a lot of locations in the game look pretty similar. The map designers, in particular, were either uninspired or severely hampered. I do know, now, that there was a lot of cut content; perhaps there was always meant to be more to these places, but as it stands they kind of stick out like a sore thumb. There's some artifacts in the FMVs, though, in these modern computer systems; colours blinked out like an acid trip, even with compatibility modes running. Ah well. Kind of surprised it still ran at all, to be honest.

Sore thumbs are also to be had from the combat system, which involve a lot of pressing the sword button, and intermittently pressing the spell/item button and/or the drain-blood button. :p For the most part, the control scheme is okay. I just wish there'd been a handy hotmenu for switching between weapons, like the spells and forms and items, rather than having to go into the main item screen every time you wanted to switch. Which is often, since even the first weapons are useful later in the game.

The voice acting really shines, though. I could listen to Simon Templeman be foreboding and arrogant all day long, and Tony Jay - Tony Jay! - shows up in various roles and sounds delightful each time he does. Anna Gunn's monologues as Ariel, too, are (fittingly) haunting.

I do have to wonder, though - if Ariel was the previous Balance Guardian, what were her powers, to go with the rest of the Circle of Nine? I mean, we know that [the new Balance Guardian]Kain kicks a whole lot of ass, but we never find out what she did in life. Hrrrm. It is lovely to speculate.

I'll be moving on to Soul Reaver this week, if I can find the time, and proceed to squee over my bb Raziel all over again, I'm sure.

...I've got other contemplations I should write up, too. We'll see how that goes. I've kind of been figuring that unless I force myself to write, I won't do it out of sheer lazy, or something. Hrm.
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