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I’m a little ambivalent about ‘Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland’. I enjoyed it, and I haven’t played a game quite like it, but it also has a lot of flaws.

I think the title is now self-explanatory...

I think the title is now self-explanatory…

You play as Princess Meruru who has to develop her kingdom of Arls using alchemy before it joins Arland in five years time. There is a time limit, and every action you do takes time, however it is very easy to meet the deadlines and if you’re worried about that, don’t let it stop you. It’s an easy game.

The main focus of the game is item creation using alchemy. The alchemy system is initially intimidating but once you get into it it’s really quite enjoyable and deep. You use alchemy to make various items to develop your kingdom and accumulate points. Once you have enough points you can build facilities, which appear on the world map. It’s surprising how much fun it can be just making stuff and watching the map change. The fighting is ok, it’s not fantastic, but it’s not bad either. You can make accessories for yourself with alchemy and you can also make materials, which you give to the blacksmith to make weapons. You should be able to make several ultimate weapons by the end of your first play-through, which you can carry over to your next game if they’re equipped.

What really got me about this game though is how shallow the characters are. There are a handful of new characters, but most of the people you meet come from earlier games. I don’t know if they were interesting in ‘Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland’ or ‘Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland’, but they certainly aren’t here. I’ve heard people describe them as quirky and weird, and they are, but that’s all they are. It’s like each character has one strange thing about them, and that’s where their character ends. There’s nothing more to say about them.

‘Atelier Meruru’ was a fun game, and I did enjoy it, but there’s a lot of room for improvement, and it’s definitely not for everyone.

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Review: ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’

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This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman, and I loved it, though I’m not entirely sure how to review it. I don’t want to discuss it in too much detail, lest I ruin it, but ‘it was really good’ isn’t a very enlightening review. Anyway, let’s see how I go…

ocean‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ follows a nameless narrator as he returns to the home of a forgotten childhood friend and reminisces about the past. This book is written in a very clean style, and by that I mean is that there aren’t any superfluous words or scenes, and Gaiman manages to describe things vividly, but in few words. Themes of childhood and growing up and wishes (and I hate discussing themes in books) are woven seamlessly into a story about scary monsters living downstairs and ponds that are really oceans.

The world of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is full of mysteries and secrets, that our narrator barely scratches the surface of (in some ways, it reminds me of Charles de Lint’s writing). The story was magical and enchanting, at times scary or sad, but always engaging. In short, it was a pleasure to read and I can see myself re-reading it many times.

Review: ‘Pandora’s Tower’

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Pandoras_Tower_box_artworkPandora’s Tower is just plain fun. I had a great time playing this game. You play as Aeron, who has to explore the towers to find Master flesh, which he has to feed to Elena to stop her turning into a monster. There are two main parts to the gameplay – the time you spend in your base interacting with Elena, buying stuff and organizing your equipment, and the time you spend in the towers. You can find items and money in the towers which you use to buy stuff and create presents for Elena to improve your relationship. You also find beast flesh, which you feed her to prevent her from turning into a monster. There’s a limited amount of time you can spend in the towers, if you don’t return to the base and feed Elena she’ll turn into a monster and your relationship will decrease. Your relationship with Elena determines what ending you get. As you progress through the story and get to new towers Elena’s reaction to the Master flesh subtly changes… the story unravels slowly, and the game does a good job of slowly building dread that something isn’t quite right…

Now, the towers. As I said before, the towers are just really fun to explore. They’re kinda like the dungeons in Zelda. You use a chain (Oraclos chain) and Aeron’s sword to explore the towers and defeat monsters (later in the game you find some new weapons, but I stuck with the sword). There are a lot of shortcuts in the towers you can open up, so repeatedly leaving the towers and coming back to feed Elena isn’t really an issue. The towers were fun, challenging and varied, as were the battles with the Masters. Halfway through the themes (fire, water, earth…) of the towers repeat, which does make sense in the context of the story. This isn’t an issue though, as towers expand on previously introduced mechanics and become more difficult.

Pandora’s Tower – Master’s Door

Once you’ve finished the game you can replay it to get new endings or explore areas of the towers that were previously off-limits. This was a really enjoyable game, and I had a lot of fun playing it. If you enjoy the Legend of Zelda games on the Wii you should enjoy this game.

Review: ‘The Spiritwalker Trilogy’ by Kate Elliott

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I’ve had the first book of this trilogy, ‘Cold Magic’ in my bookshelf for years, I don’t know why it took me so long to read it. But I finally read it, and I quickly went and consumed the other two books, ‘Cold Fire’ and ‘Cold Steel’.

I guess the best way to describe this story would be as a romance set in a world with an alternate history to our own – longer ice age and magic. As technology spreads and clashes with magic, the common people also begin itching for revolution. As well as the struggle for freedom playing out in the mortal world (or, the Deathlands as they’re called in the book), a similar struggle takes place within the spirit world. The backdrop of these struggles plays into the heroine’s story – and in fact instigate her problems. However Catherine really only plays a minor role in the revolution and war (appearing at important points here and there) as she spends so much time being kidnapped, escaping, getting kidnapped again and wandering around the spiritworld. Unlike Elliott’s ‘Crown of Stars’, you only follow one character- Catherine, so while the other characters are doing interesting things which you hear about, you don’t follow their story. For a while, Catherine doesn’t have a specific goal outside of not being captured, but about halfway through the second book the story really gains direction.

coldmagicpaint

Speaking of the characters – Elliott does an amazing job revealing her characters’ personality through their body language. Slowly, you get to know the other people as Catherine gets to know them. There aren’t as many characters in ‘Crown of Stars’, but the ones there are are interesting and complicated, with many unexpected depths – I’m particularly fond of Bee.

The Spiritwalker world isn’t as rich and deep as that of ‘Crown of Stars’ (which you would expect, being so much shorter), but it is still highly detailed, with lots of history. Elliott’s descriptions of the world are also fantastic, and the little details of the icy landscapes – frost riming a stone, the feel of snow underfoot- are a pleasure to read.

The ending moves quite quickly, and the two struggles –  the one in the spirit world and the one in the mortal world – draw to a satisfying conclusion. I very much enjoyed this series, and I’m happy I finally read it. Does anyone else have an opinion on these books?

Update

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So, as ‘The Magekiller’ has now been available for a month, I raised the price today from free to $1.99. It passed 1000 downloads last week, so I’m pretty pleased about that. I’d like to say thanks to all the people who took the time to review it, and if you do read it, all reviews are appreciated – good or bad ones.