From a Mind of Eternal Chaos

A place where I post whatever happens to strike my fancy

The List of Limbo #2: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time – It’s enough to drive you N. Sane — June 26, 2021

The List of Limbo #2: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time – It’s enough to drive you N. Sane

Yes, it’s another one of these. And contrasting with my last entry (but coincidentally enough, within the same genre), this time, we’re discussing a modern game: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, the newest Crash Bandicoot game, released in 2020 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and in 2021 for the Switch, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X. There was also a PC version, but apparently it was tied to some Blizzard online thing or something, so I’m not really sure where you get that, and anyway, if a PC game isn’t available on Steam or as a DRM-free copy, it’s dead to me. Crash Bandicoot was one those series that I played and enjoyed growing up, and it went for quite a long time without a new entry that wasn’t a spin-off or genre change; the last main-series platformer was Crash Twinsanity, released in 2004, and the last one that played like the PS1 originals was Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex in 2001. Incidentally, it’s pretty silly that they called this game “Crash Bandicoot 4”, because Crash 4 already existed and was called The Wrath of Cortex. The Japanese version even had the number explicitly in the title (and I still don’t know why the English-speaking world is so averse to numbered sequels sometimes). Now that this game exists, you have to refer to it by the full title when out of context because just “Crash Bandicoot 4” is ambiguous. That aside, though, you may be thinking, as the first Crash Bandicoot game in 17 or possibly even 20 years that returns to the series’ roots, how does this hold up? Is it a good game? Well…I’m afraid that the framing pretty much spoils the answer to that. If I liked the game, I’d be doing a regular review of it. So you may commence with the wailing, gnashing of teeth, mourning, and wearing all black clothing (unless you’re a goth who already dresses in black, in which case you might consider expressing your sorrows by wearing bright pink sparkly clothing instead).

This game follows the ending of Crash 3. Cortex escapes his predicament with the help of N. Tropy, and they proceed to wreak merry havoc causing holes to open in the space-time continuum, so Crash and his friends must stop them. In addition to Crash, Coco, and Aku Aku, this game also introduces four new masks, each with their own powers and personalities (I know what you’re thinking, and no, none of them protect the bandicoots from viruses, nor do they have to stay 6 feet apart) and each available for certain parts of some levels. Also, while Crash and Coco are the regular playable characters (Coco playing exactly the same as Crash), there are a few levels where you get to play as other characters for a bit. So far, I’ve seen an alternate-universe version of Tawna who is much stronger and more adventurous than her Crash 1 counterpart, and Dingodile, who seems to have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time (no pun intended), and I’ve heard that it’s also possible to play as Cortex later on.

The game looks and sounds good enough. Being on modern consoles, it certainly has a much higher polygon count than the PS1 or even PS2 Crash games. I’ll admit that I don’t remember much of the music; the only track that stuck with me was the theme for the first boss, where you fight N. Gin as he’s playing the drums in a rock band (yes, really). But it’s possible that I’d be able to appreciate the soundtrack more if I listened to it by itself. Where this game really screws the pooch is in the gameplay, mainly because of how hard it is. Basically, this is Crash Bandicoot on Lunatic Mode. What would be endgame difficulty in Crash 2, 3, the other 4, or even 1 is reached and passed a third of the way through this game, and it only gets tougher from there. Where it gets really bad is when you’re trying to go for all of the gems and other items. Bonus rooms in this game are ridiculously hard compared to anything in the other games (the closest thing would be Crash 1’s Brio and Cortex bonus rounds, but even those weren’t this nasty), and quite often, boxes are hidden in very obscure and often unfair locations. I played the first half of the game, about 20 levels, and got the box gems on maybe three of them. And it wasn’t due to there being a lot of colored gem routes, either; there are only four colored gems in this game, as opposed to the five of Crash 2-4A or the six of Crash 1, and they don’t seem to be used a whole lot. It also takes a lot more time to replay levels if you missed anything (or, heaven forbid, failed a time trial) because they are much, much longer than anything in the old games. I don’t mind long levels in a vacuum, but long and ridiculously hard is a bad combination (see also: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams), even more so when you’re trying to look for items. The final straw for me as far as getting the boxes goes was Run It Bayou, the last level in the fifth area and the last level that I beat before shelving the game. After trying nine times just to get the boxes before the first checkpoint and not even coming close, I decided that I just wasn’t having fun and pretty much rushed through the rest of the level to see if that would make it any better. I also somehow managed to glitch through the bottom of the same section when trying to jump on the jet-ski, had the camera freak out, got stuck, and had to restart the level, so that was nice.

Then there are the alternate characters. Their differing movesets are actually pretty neat, and they would have been a great idea in a better game. Tawna has a grappling hook and a wall-jump, and Dingodile has basically a big vacuum that he can use to suck things up and launch them back out. But you don’t actually get to play as them for an entire level, just the first half or so of one, and then you finish it by switching back to Crash/Coco in a level that you’ve already beaten with them, except that now it has more obstacles. If you give me alternate playable characters with their own levels, let me actually play as them for the whole level, not just part of it. Also, I don’t know if it’s a problem with the game as a whole or if the Switch version has issues, but I swear the controls don’t always respond how they should (and no, I wasn’t even using the Joy-Cons); quite often, I’d try to move and Crash wouldn’t go quite the right direction even when I was using the D-pad. The Tawna levels were particularly frustrating in this way; her grappling hook is a bit finicky, and I swear her wall-jump just plain doesn’t work about 40% of the time. Considering that you have to use both of those moves above bottomless pits and other hazards, that is a problem. The rail-grinding sections were also pretty annoying, especially when going for boxes, because of how little reaction time they gave you. It all ties back to the high difficulty level, and in general, I feel like there was a lot in this game that just didn’t feel like it left enough room for error. You know, some of the levels in the older games could be difficult, and some of them could be quite a challenge to complete, but this game is on a whole different level. The High Road in Crash 1 was hard, but it wasn’t as hard as this game. Bee-Having in Crash 2 was annoying, but it wasn’t as annoying as making single-block-wide jumps at a 30-degree angle to get boxes. The motorcycle and flight levels in Crash 3 were tiresome gimmicks, but at least they didn’t require split-second reflexes to avoid missing boxes or dying. And Gold Rush in OG Crash 4 was long, but it wasn’t four times as long as a typical Crash trilogy level while also being difficult.

Summary:

Problems: The difficulty, the difficulty, the freaking difficulty. This game is tough enough when you’re just trying to get to the end, but if you’re actually going for completion? “Ridiculous” isn’t a strong enough word for it. No matter how hard you thought some parts of the other Crash Bandicoot games were, I guarantee you that nothing in those comes close to the kind of hell this game will put you through for 100%, let alone 106%. My lesser complaints mostly all tie into this.

Things that were okay: The presentation of the game was good. I thought the graphics and environments looked very nice, the characterization and story were fair enough for a Crash game (aside from the N. Tropies’ end goals and what happened to the alternate-universe Crash and Coco, which if you ask me is too dark for this series), and the idea of visiting all the different places and time periods was neat (even if Crash 3 kind of already did that), as were the ideas for the levels. The Quantum Masks were pretty cool as well.

Circle of limbo rating: 5

If I had a nickel for every video game I got in 2021 that was on the Switch, was a new entry in a series that I’d previously enjoyed, and should have been great but, due to poor design choices, ultimately ended up being more irritating than fun, I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice, right? I’m giving this one a high rating because I do think that I might come back to it someday, but oof, this is the first Crash Bandicoot platformer that I’ve seriously considered not finishing. It’s not just a lack of skill…when I got 100% completion on the first four games (okay, the N. Sane Trilogy version of the first one), didn’t think that Stormy Ascent was that bad, have beaten every classic Mega Man game, and have gotten full completion on every Donkey Kong Country game including the super-tough secret levels, and yet I can only make it halfway through this game before feeling like it’s too frustrating to bother with, Toys for Bob done goofed. And you know what the absolute most painful thing about it is? There isn’t even a good alternative. There are very, very few games that play similarly to Crash Bandicoot; 3D platformers are already rather rare compared to many genres, and most of the ones that are out there are open-area and are collectathon junk that shouldn’t even qualify as a platformer, or at the very least consist of repeating the same levels like…well, like my previous List of Limbo entry. There’s Super Mario 3D Land and World, which I’ve long since finished, and there’s Donald Duck: Goin’ Quackers, and there is little if anything else worth playing. I really hope that they make more Crash Bandicoot games that are better (or at least easier and more fair) than Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, but considering that game developers have a marked tendency to get all the wrong messages when a game doesn’t do well or is disliked, I have an uneasy suspicion that it could be another 17 years before we get anything else that’s decent in the series. It’s just a huge disappointment all around.

Video game review #3 – Bravely Default, Bravely Second, and Bravely Default 2 – Something old, something new, something brave, something true — May 22, 2021

Video game review #3 – Bravely Default, Bravely Second, and Bravely Default 2 – Something old, something new, something brave, something true

I’m doing something a bit different for this one, reviewing three works of media at once. I recently finished Bravely Default 2, and it made me realize that it would be a good time to review it, but I also never reviewed the first two games (yes, the game with “2” in the title is actually the third game…we’ll get into why shortly). Admittedly, I really should have reviewed the first two games sooner; it’s been a while since I’ve played Bravely Second and quite some time since I’ve played the original Bravely Default, so my memory of them could definitely be better. I still remember most of the important stuff, though. The original Bravely Default was released in Japan in 2012, with an updated version in 2013 that then got released in English in 2014. (I distinctly remember buying it and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze at the same time, even though the latter seems newer than that.) It is a direct reference to Final Fantasy games, particularly Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. Well, I haven’t played 4 Heroes of Light, and I found the retro Final Fantasy games overrated as all heck, mainly by virtue of playing Final Fantasy 6 on an emulator and wondering a) why random encounters had to stick around for as long as they did and b) whose dumb idea the ATB system was anyway, but I actually did like Bravely Default. To me, it’s more like what classic Final Fantasy should have been, with an actually decent battle system and some much-needed quality-of-life features. (Though the very first Japanese release didn’t have them, which makes me think that maybe asynchronous releases aren’t necessarily a bad thing.)

All three Bravely Default games have a number of commonalities. They all have four playable characters, who will be your party for all but the very beginning of the game. They all incorporate four elemental crystals: earth, water, fire, and wind. (Why it’s not just “air”, I don’t know…apparently, air is only an element if it’s moving? The Trails series did the same thing….) They all have a job system, where at various points in the story and sidequests, you fight human bosses who have a particular “job”, such as a white mage, black mage, knight, thief, monk, etc., that gives them a particular set of abilities by means of a magical stone called an asterisk, and when you beat them, you claim that asterisk for yourself and can use that job. (From what I know, it’s similar to the job system in Final Fantasy 5.) And most importantly, they all have the Brave/Default battle system that is this series’ trademark and basis for its name. The way that it works is, each of your party members has a stock of Brave Points, or BP, and gains one each time their turn comes around, but you can also get an extra one by using the “Default” command, which also acts like a defend command and reduces incoming damage to that character until their next turn. You can normally store a maximum of 3 BP. Normal attacks and most abilities cost one BP to perform, but there are some more powerful skills that consume multiple BP at a time. You can also use the “Brave” command to take up to 4 actions in a turn, which will reduce your BP by an equivalent amount, and it is possible to go negative; a character can go down to -4 BP, or -3 in Bravely Default 2, though some slight display tweaks in the latter make it act the same way anyway (e.g., at 0 BP, you can still take 4 actions). Anyone who does go negative won’t be able to act until they get back up to 0 BP or more. Enemies use the system as well, and there are also a few skills that can grant extra BP or take it away. It’s actually a pretty decent battle system, and it sure beats the heck out of that awful ATB system that was so common. It makes defending actually worth doing (unlike most RPGs that have a defend command…I don’t think I used it once during Super Mario RPG, for instance), and it makes it possible to bide your time if you don’t need to take an action just yet but also to blitz an enemy or group of enemies down if you can defeat them all in one round, or do multiple things in a row without having to wait a turn (such as reviving someone and then healing them).

So now we get to the differences. Bravely Default and Bravely Second take place in one world, while Bravely Default 2 takes place in a different world, and the latter doesn’t share any characters or locations with the former. (Basically, using Final Fantasy sequel terminology, Bravely Second is “Bravely Default 1-2”.) The selection and number of jobs is also different from game to game; there are some that are only in one or two of the three games and some that are different from one game to another. And, of course, the stories are different, as are most of the villains, enemies, and dungeons. I will elaborate on further differences and details in each game’s own section.

Bravely Default

Summary:

A small-town boy, a priestess, a womanizer with amnesia, and a feisty warrior’s daughter find each other, become friends, have the courage to go against expectations set for them, and save the world, in true classic JRPG style, and with a more engaging battle system than a typical classic JRPG at that.

Gameplay: Good

The Brave/Default system didn’t come out of complete thin air; there was apparently something similar in 4 Heroes of Light, but it’s more refined here. I tend to like turn-based RPGs better than action RPGs (though I’ll admit that playing Ys made me seriously consider looking into the latter more), and while I’m okay with a standard no-frills turn-based battle system, any game that enhances and builds on it, such as this game, Radiant Historia, Super Mario RPG, and the Trails series, tends to endear me to it more. Give me more of those, please.

Story: Okay

The overarching plot is nothing that hasn’t been done a hundred times before. A group of spunky teens and/or young adults works together to save the world with the help of magical artifacts. (Heck, I’ve even written stories with that same basic plot.) But the characters, especially their interactions, are rather more in-depth and interesting than that. Even some of the bad guys at least have motivations beyond being evil (granted, some of their motivations suck and they still deserve to die, but not all of them are that way). Late in the game, the story starts to get a bit more subversive, and I’ll tag the pretty huge spoilers. Your fairy companion Airy turns out to be evil, making the crystals shine is actually hastening the end of the world, and Airy is working with basically an eldritch abomination that is supposedly trying to invade the player’s world. Personally, I thought the fourth-wall-breaking twist was really hokey; something similar might have worked in a sillier setting, but Bravely Default’s world generally takes itself pretty seriously, so it’s kind of jarring. You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that the fourth wall will not protect me, but I still know perfectly well that characters in a video game can’t possibly harm me in real life, so it just comes off as goofy if you ask me. Unless technology one day allows me to transfer my consciousness onto a 3DS cartridge or they remake the game as an immersive virtual reality experience, I as a player am not and can never be part of the in-game universe.

Graphics: Fine

I recall this 3DS game looking like a 3DS game. That’s about the extent of what I can remember as far as the graphics go. I don’t recall paying any particular attention to the graphics, though I guess since it’s a 3D game, they’re understandably on the low-poly side compared to a typical Wii U, PS3, or Vita game.

Music: Decent

All of the battle themes are pretty good, but I didn’t really remember anything past that, certainly not half a decade or more after my last playthrough of the game. Most RPGs have good battle music, but significantly fewer of them, in my experience, have good or memorable dungeon music. Even fewer of them have memorable music for towns. Sadly, Bravely Default mostly seems to fall into that first tier, especially since there aren’t actually that many different dungeon themes. Of the towns, I’d say the one in chapter 1 definitely has the best music.

Positives: The battle system, the job system (including its nuances such as passive abilities), and the ability to change the encounter rate. These are all true about the other games as well (okay, not the last one for Bravely Default 2, but we’ll get to that), but this was the one that started it all.

Negatives: I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said here, but the part of the game after chapter 4 is a drag. You’re basically doing the same thing four times, and yes, I realize that you don’t have to refight all the asterisk bosses, but you still have to refight all the temple guardians at the very least. Chapter 5 could have been cut out entirely, and 6 and 7 could probably have been combined, without making a difference in the story setup. Also, there are a lot of job skills that just feel like filler, especially when it takes so much JP to get them (particularly at and beyond job level 10). They could have reduced the maximum job level by at least 1, probably 2, maybe even 3; kept all the JP amounts the same; and not lost anything important. For that matter, it sure feels like it takes a while before you start getting any useful jobs; the first decent one doesn’t come until the end of chapter 1, and most of the good ones don’t show up until chapter 3. Finally, why aren’t HP totals for enemies that you’ve scanned before always visible?

Final score: 6

Bravely Default is something of a diamond in the rough, though it’s less rough than the original Japanese release. Like I said, I got it at the same time as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and while I still think that that game is easily the superior of the two, 2014 me was surprised how much fun they were having with this game. It definitely has some parts that just feel like padding, and it feels like it takes forever before you get any decent job skills, but it’s still a pretty solid game overall. As I said, it is very much inspired by classic Final Fantasy, but it’s better than them if you ask me. It’s a worthy addition to the library of anyone who has a 3DS and likes RPGs.

Edit: I’ve actually been replaying this game recently (even when I really should be working on my Let’s Play of Trails in the Sky or at least playing Trails of Cold Steel 4), and it brought to my attention several issues that I’d forgotten about that I would have deemed important enough to mention. Firstly, I forgot how dumb the plot was. Not a single one of the enemy asterisk holders, even ones who really should be levelheaded enough not to shoot first and ask questions later, like Einheria, Kamiizumi, and Braev Lee himself (yes, his name is a bad pun; you may groan when ready at the lack of subtlety there), bothers explaining their motivations to the protagonists, trying to talk things out instead of fighting to the death, or at least explaining why they’re so adamantly against powering up the crystals. And in Braev’s case, for supposedly being a noble leader and wanting what’s best for the world, he’s sure willing to look the other way when it comes to human garbage fires like Qada and Khamer hurting innocent people. Even the protagonists seem to take a level in cluelessness toward the end of the game; the least spoiler-y explanation I can give is to look up the quote misattributed to Albert Einstein about the definition of insanity. Secondly, I forgot how crappy the passive abilities were in this game. I already mentioned the slow start to getting any decent jobs, but even when you do get good ones, the passives often suck (and quite a few of them take up too many slots for what they do). I could probably count on two hands the number of passive abilities among all 24 jobs that are actually useful; several are situational at best, and the rest are a straight-up waste of a job level. Thirdly, while the padding is most blatant in chapter 5 and beyond, there were still definitely some pointlessly padded parts of the game earlier on, probably the biggest one being the Performer sidequest (which, aside from the actual boss fight, requires no skill and has no challenge at all, consisting simply of revisiting all towns previously visited before returning to where the boss is, thereby doing actual nothing but wasting your time). Finally, I don’t like how the penultimate job is set up. It’s a Blue Mage-style job that involves learning abilities from enemies, and it first becomes available in chapter 4. The problem is, actually beating the boss in question in chapter 4 requires either being significantly overleveled or using specific cheese strategies, so it would be better to wait until later when you’re stronger…but if you wait, then all the enemy encounters change and you can’t fight the enemies from chapters 1-4 anymore, including quite a few enemies that have abilities that you can learn, and the only other place where you can fight them is in an endgame bonus dungeon. In other words, you either have to fight the boss and everything leading up to it while underleveled or miss out on a lot of its abilities. All of this does not change my rating of the game nor my ranking of it relative to the other two, but boy, it doesn’t do it any favors either.

Bravely Second

Summary:

As mentioned, this is a direct sequel to the original Bravely Default. Only two of the four previous characters return to your party; the other two are in the game but not playable, and they’re replaced by two new characters; Tiz and Edea are still around, but Agnes and Ringabel have been swapped out for Yew and Magnolia, and honestly, I welcome the change. Ringabel with his one-track mind was frankly rather annoying, and I guess Agnes was okay but kind of a stick-in-the-mud. Granted, Tiz is also pretty flat as far as characterization goes, though Yew is a bit better in that regard and perhaps more charismatic. Most of the jobs from the first game return in the second, but a few of them don’t, and there are a number of completely new jobs, some of which are very fun to play around with (I actually have never needed to use a returning job any of the times I’ve played this game, except for the occasional passive ability).

Gameplay: Good

Everything I liked about the first Bravely Default is still true here, and most of the new jobs are pretty cool. The only one I really didn’t like was the one you get in chapter 5, and honestly, by the time you get that, you have plenty of other options anyway. (Though I will say that the last job comes too late in the game to make good use of. You have it for, what, one dungeon and a few optional bosses? The same is true for the secret job skills that it unlocks, and on that note, some of those are pretty bad; the Wizard’s one comes to mind.) This game even added some new dungeon mechanics, such as switches to change the terrain.

Story: Fine

The story is overall a bit more lighthearted than the previous game, minus a few select boss encounters (one of them should be easy to tell just from his character design, but let’s just say that you wouldn’t think that pastries could be so scary). I think this game handles redemption and conflict over friends turned enemies better than the first one did, too.

Graphics: See above

These are pretty much identical to the first Bravely Default. They almost certainly used the same engine, so it stands to reason.

Music: Decent

You know, most people say that this game’s soundtrack is worse than the first, but honestly, I thought they were about the same. The battle themes are markedly different in style (and frankly, kind of overdramatic; the normal battle theme in this game sounds more grandiose and dangerous than a lot of climactic boss themes in other games), the town themes are nothing new, and the dungeon themes are still forgettable.

Positives: You can save up to three party configurations, you can now see all abilities of any job that is available before you unlock them, and enemies’ HP is now always visible if you’ve scanned them once. Also, the new jobs are generally pretty fun; in particular, I really liked the Wizard’s Spellcraft ability, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t come back for the next game. Sure, it was kind of overpowered with the right setup, but it was at least overpowered and fun, which is better than something being perfectly balanced but boring. I think that job was almost singlehandedly responsible for why I like to play sorcerers so much in D&D, because of their metamagic, and I wish that more games had metamagic-like things. On a related note, you actually get decent jobs early on. This deserves italics because it was definitely not true of the first game (aside from the White Mage because healing is always useful). Jobs have also been rebalanced, and they’re easier to max out, have much less filler, and require significantly fewer passive slots compared to the first game. Finally, you can now customize the trigger condition for special moves, which makes them a lot easier to use (and makes Rejuvenation even more broken than it was in the first game, especially when combined with the Catmancer).

Negatives: I really don’t have that much to complain about here, but I will say this: The Old Sagitta Ruins can eat a bucket of poop. It says something when that particular dungeon stands out to me just for how annoying it was. Not only was the gimmick kind of a pain, but pretty much every enemy in there was also a nuisance, capable of doing ridiculous damage, charming the entire party, and other nasty things. Relatedly, enemies should not be able to insta-kill characters, kick them out of battle, or inflict crippling status effects on a regular basis, which a number of them can do (admittedly, that was true for the first game as well). I actually got softlocked once by an enemy that managed to inflict Love status on the entire party, meaning that nobody could act because they were all waiting for another character to act first. They really didn’t think that one through. Also, it’s a darn shame that they didn’t bring back the Salve-Maker for this game; I realize that the Patissier sort of does the same thing, but it misses most of the functionality, and honestly, the Patissier isn’t that powerful of a job, so I think it could have gotten a few beneficial effects as well (especially given its flavor…does it really make sense that a job capable of making magical confectionery can only use it to debuff things?).

Final score: 7

Bravely Second takes everything that I enjoyed about the first game, fixes pretty much every problem that I had with it, and adds several useful new features and some fun new jobs besides. If you’re only planning on playing one Bravely game, I highly recommend playing this one, because it is by far the best of the three.

Bravely Default 2

Summary:

As I mentioned, Bravely Default 2 is set in a different world from the first two games and has all new characters, and it’s on the Switch rather than the 3DS. It has some new jobs and some new takes on old ones, too, and they changed how encounters and battles work. This game has pre-existing encounters instead of random ones, which I can’t complain about (even though Bravely Default and Second were among the very few games with random encounters that I didn’t mind because you could change the encounter rate), and characters and enemies take their turns individually instead of all at once, plus their turns come at different intervals depending on their speed stats and other things. I think I actually like the new versions of those things better, but the old ways were also fine.

Gameplay: Decent…ish…

The basic foundation of the gameplay is the same as the the first two games’, which is still good. But it’s fitting that the asterisks are such important artifacts, because there is a big bold asterisk after that “good”. The biggest problems with Bravely Default 2 come from some mechanics that the developers decided to add for the first time. None of them add anything fun to the game, but there is one elephant in the room in particular, one elephant that is smashing your furniture and taking a dump on your carpet, one mechanic that, shall we say, runs counter to the very idea of fun. Remember Kamiizumi? Remember how his boss fights were mainly based on him counterattacking you? Well, I didn’t much care for fighting him in either game that he was in, but somebody on the dev team must have been absolutely enamorate of his battle mechanics, because now every single boss in the game except the very first one has at least one counter. And unlike with Kamiizumi, they can do things other than inflicting physical damage, don’t cost any BP to use, and can counter anything and everything that isn’t a special. Bosses, and even some normal enemies, can counter physical attacks, being hit with magic, and being damaged, for starters. They can also counter attempts to inflict status ailments, as well as healing, buffs, and items that you use. They can even counter you for using Default, for crying out loud. You know, half of the main mechanic of the series? There’s even Counter Any Ability. Yes, that is actually what it’s called, and it triggers whenever you use any job skill…you know, the other flagship mechanic of the series. There is no “Counter When Player Presses Button”, but goodness, there might as well be. As it is, they range from being merely annoying to completely unfair. At least in the first two games, bosses that could counter you were using their own job skills; here, half your adversaries seem to have taken a few levels in a secret 25th job that the player can never access and gotten a passive called “Win Free BP by Doing Absolutely Nothing”. The fact that they force one passive ability slot to be constantly filled by the one thing that can cancel out some of the counters doesn’t help matters. While I do think that it would be possible to make the counters more fair if they ever remade the game, I’d have no problem at all with them doing a Marie Kondo and just chucking the mechanic out entirely, because it definitely does not spark joy. I’d say the same for the other new mechanic they added, equipment weight. Now you can’t just wear whatever you want, because all equipment has a weight rating, your characters can only carry a certain amount of weight, and if you end up overloaded on weight, you take hefty stat penalties, particularly speed. Needless to say, this makes equipping your party much more annoying than in the first two games (I frequently found myself wearing armor from over a full chapter ago), it makes an awful lot of equipment pretty much useless because it’s too heavy for what it does, and it limits options for squishy jobs more than ever (not to mention making them squishier than ever). Supposedly, arbitrary counters were added to discourage overpowered one-note strategies and weight was added to discourage just giving everyone the best equipment available, but if my playthrough was anything to go by, the former actually forced the player into cheese and minmaxing even more to avoid getting countered into oblivion, while the latter mainly seemed to force the player into “just give everyone Wind Talismans because they increase your capacity”. (And anyway, what kind of RPG considers it a bad thing to let the player use the best equipment that they can? Literally no other RPG I’ve played had an issue with that, but suddenly it is one here.) At least they’re consistent with their theme of trying to fix a problem that wasn’t really even a problem in the first place and ending up creating a much bigger problem.

Then there are the more minor, but still frustrating, things. For one, special moves in this game practically feel like an afterthought; there is now only one per job, as opposed to three per weapon type in Default and four per weapon type in Second, and they can no longer be customized at all; the trigger conditions are hardcoded and usually require using that job’s abilities, and you can’t add any additional parts to them. You no longer get maps for dungeons, which is especially bad in this game because a lot of the dungeons are huge confusing mazes. Some people don’t believe in giving the player maps for dungeons in RPGs and adventure games, sometimes for story reasons, and I believe that those people should toss their game designing licenses off a bridge. Even if your protagonist is exploring uncharted territory, it’s a video game, not everything is perfectly realistic, and why would you want to make things less convenient for players? Sheesh, even Etrian freaking Odyssey had a way to map out dungeons, and when Etrian Odyssey is outstripping your standards for modern conveniences, something has gone horribly wrong. While it is harder to make a map accessible in a Switch game due to it not having a second screen like the 3DS does, that’s no excuse. Also, why can’t you view completed sidequests? You could in the first two games. And why is the Beastmaster’s monster list such a mess? It goes only by the order that you captured monsters in, not by anything like power or location, and even then, it can get thrown off if you use up a monster near the bottom of the list and then capture a new one (in which case the new one might end up where the old one was). The list doesn’t even say what each monster does, unlike similar abilities in previous games. It also seems like they nerfed some things; a buff that would typically last 4 turns in the other games might only last 2 here, and the steal rate for Thief abilities is abysmal.

Story: Meh

There wasn’t really all that much to the story in this game, honestly, especially if you don’t count the sidequests. The main villain was clearly evil, but at least that’s better than trying to make us sympathize with a character who doesn’t deserve it. A lot of people seem to like chapter 3’s story for how realistically dark and serious it is, but I hated it and couldn’t wait to be done with the chapter for the same reason, so your mileage may vary. Edna spent a lot of time being built up and then didn’t actually do all that much. One thing I did like, though (slight spoiler), is that there is an entire village of fairies that you get to visit. It’s a cool place, it was really cool that we finally got to see some good fairies, and it’s a darn shame that you spend so little time there. If there’s one thing from this game that I’d like to see explored more in a sequel, it’s the fairies and their interaction with the rest of the world. Also, Martha is unquestionably the best NPC, and Anihal isn’t far behind.

Graphics: Fine, but a bit underwhelming

I had no particular issues with the graphics in this game (other than the giant zombie monsters being absolutely disgusting to look at almost to the point of making me physically ill), but I’ll admit that they sure didn’t seem to push the Switch’s hardware much. They were higher quality than the 3DS games’, but not by a lot. I’m really not one to complain about the quality of my graphics in video games, especially considering that about the only games that I play that are actually known for their graphics are the Donkey Kong Countries, but everything in this game looked like it could easily have been done on the Wii U. Yet at the same time, the game now has loading times between different rooms, which is kind of baffling in conjunction with it not seeming to push the hardware much.

Music: Fine

This game and the first game share a composer, while Bravely Second has a different one, and people were excited for the old composer returning for this game. Me, though? The battle themes were decent enough (notably, there are now multiple different asterisk boss themes depending on whom you’re fighting), but the only dungeon theme that I even noticed, much less liked, was the one from the airship. Pretty much the same story as with the first two games.

Positives: The Salve-Maker is back! Admittedly, it’s significantly nerfed from its first appearance and ingredients are much more of a pain in the butt to obtain (unless you use it with a maxed-out Phantom, which makes things too easy), but it’s still cool, and its asterisk bearer is actually a reasonable person this time as opposed to the complete psycho that the original one was. I also thought they made some nice tweaks to some of the old jobs. In particular, the Swordmaster seemed far more worth using in this game, and the new version of the Spiritmaster was pretty interesting and not half bad. I already mentioned the fairy village. I think this game has my overall favorite cast of the three games, too, at least when it comes to the player characters. Seth was still fairly flat but perhaps slightly less so than Tiz, and Gloria, Elvis, and Adelle were all fairly endearing (even though Elvis was a bit too interested in alcohol for his own good). It’s also easier than ever to level up and max out jobs, which finally makes switching to different jobs depending on the situation actually doable instead of feeling like you’re just gimping yourself. The second game and especially the first gave you pathetic amounts of JP for most of the game, so it’s nice that they changed that.

Negatives: Hoo boy. Counter spam, equipment weight, confusing dungeons with no maps, no saved party configurations, no sidequest log, lame special moves, we didn’t start the fire… Seriously, though, it is astonishing how many things they screwed up. It would be excusable if this were the first game in the series, but it’s the third one, and considering that most of this wasn’t a problem at all for its immediate predecessor, the developers really had no excuse. If they’d merely added new mechanics that sucked, that would be bad but almost understandable, but they also took away features that were in the previous game for no freaking reason. Also, the balance is terrible; while there still aren’t as many blatantly useless abilities as there were in the first game, there are still plenty of them that are underpowered or just not worth using over others, some that really should be better for how late you get them (why does BP Limit Up still only affect the person who has it equipped? and whose bright idea was it to hold off most of the weapon lore abilities until endgame, when there is actual zero reason to ever use them?), some that were in earlier games and inexplicably nerfed into oblivion here (More Money now only increases it by 10%…yeah, I’ll definitely take that over other options, all right), some that are extremely situational (Crushed Ice, great for the one ability in the entire game that has a chance of inflicting freeze), and some that just weren’t thought through very well (Purebringer, better for canceling your own buffs than actually helping you). For that matter, some entire jobs fall into this; the Gambler is more of a liability than a help, and the Black Mage, already one of the worst jobs in the first two games, has been made even worse in this one by making it slow as well. Conversely, some abilities, especially in combination with certain others, are blatantly overpowered; the second specialties of both the Beastmaster and Phantom come to mind, as well as Godspeed Strike. These games have always given you ways to break them in half, but at least they used to require some setup; in this game, you can do it without half trying. I can’t be that mad because of how cheap the bosses are and how cathartic it is to out-cheese them, but still… Once again, the final job comes way too late in the game; while it is pretty neat and fun to use, it barely matters when you only get to use it for about 2 hours (which is true even more of the secret job skills). Finally, though it’s a minor thing, the boat exploration is but a pale shadow of the town rebuilding mechanic from the first two games. They even had a destroyed city as a plot point; why couldn’t we have rebuilt Musa the same way as the moon base and Norende? Is it because of how much they gutted special moves?

Final score: 6

Bravely Default 2 is a great game if you like micromanagement. It really cannot be stated enough how irritating some of the things they added are, especially the counters (and especially Counter Any Ability, which is cheating in all but name and extraordinarily unfun), nor how stupid it was to remove or not bother implementing QoL features from the earlier games. In general, this game feels unfinished, like some things didn’t get fleshed out enough and others flat-out got skipped over. I vaguely recall something about the pandemic making development more difficult, but that’s not a good enough excuse. Yes, COVID-19 obviously screwed up pretty much everyone’s lifestyles and plans, but you can’t blame all your bad decisions on Corona-chan. (Which is good advice for anyone, really.) You know how Miyamoto once said that a delayed game is eventually good, but a bad game is bad forever? I’d say that definitely applies here. If only this game had had 6 more months in development, it could have been great; as it is, it feels like a poorly balanced, poorly thought through, unnecessarily annoying mess. Some might think that 6 is a generous rating for it given my summaries. Well, I did still enjoy it overall. I think that there is a good game in here, but dear lord, do you have to put up with a lot of crap to get to it. With the first Bravely game, and the second to a lesser extent, there were basically two different versions, the newer of which was essentially a remake that cleaned the game up a bit. In general, I don’t condone remaking a game on the same system as its original release, but I feel like this game is very much in need of such a thing. I really can’t recommend this game unless you’ve played the first two and are desperate for more Bravely. Even if you have a Switch and no 3DS, I’d still suggest getting a 3DS and the first two games (and as a bonus, you’d also gain access to both versions of Radiant Historia, which is amazing). It makes me sad when something that could have been great fails to meet its potential, but I think that’s what happened here.

Personal interviews for queer pride, round 2 — July 1, 2020

Personal interviews for queer pride, round 2

Well, I almost made it in time for June this time. For those of you unfamiliar with this, June is queer pride month, and back in 2018, I did personal interviews with people of various queer identities about themselves and how they fit into the world. This year, I’m doing it again.

1.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Sam: I’m male, I go by he/him pronouns, and I think I’m pansexual or possibly just gay.

TMG: Presumably pan- or homoromantic as well?

Sam: Yes, I’ve always been unsure about my sexuality and I could never find a label for it, but I settled on pansexual because while I’ve never felt attracted to a woman, I haven’t completely ruled out the fact that it could happen in the future.

TMG: Fair enough. When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Sam: I’m 16 and I can’t remember when I discovered my identity. I think it just happened one day and I thought ‘Huh. I’m gay.’

TMG: Heh. Seems reasonable to me. What would you tell a young person who is queer (or gay or pansexual) or thinks they might be? Or isn’t entirely sure about what category of people they’re attracted to?

Sam: Don’t worry about labels. Your sexuality is defined by you, and no one else should decide your sexuality for you. Definitely do your research to see if you can identify with a label, but if you can’t, don’t worry. Take your time, and remember that your sexuality is fluid and probably won’t remain the same throughout your life.

TMG: It does seem like sexuality is one of those things that isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as a lot of people think it is.

Sam: I would definitely agree. It’s so fluid and likely to change that I don’t understand society’s obsession with hastily labelling everything.

TMG: How has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community?

Sam: I haven’t come out to my family because I’m unsure as to how they will react, and I was really eager to come out to my friends that I forced myself to do it and I regret that. It hasn’t really changed any of my relationships, but I definitely feel like people are judging me from behind.

TMG: Aw. That stinks. Have you found other people who are safe to be yourself around?

Sam: Not really. I have trust issues that stop me from being as open about my sexuality with those I feel safe around because I don’t want to hurt them and I don’t want them to hurt me.

TMG: Darn. I hope you can find a good place eventually.

Sam: I hope so too. But I don’t want to rush anything. I’d rather take my time getting to know people rather than blindly assuming they’ll support me no matter what.

TMG: Yeah, that would probably be best. Especially if you’ve been burned before. Well, has being queer affected any other parts of your life?

Sam: Not really, no; I guess it has helped me cope with my insecurities in some places because I can pinpoint why I’m feeling certain ways about my sexuality. But it doesn’t really change anything else about my life.

TMG: Has your mental state been any different now compared to before you realized your identity? Aside from the increase in trust issues, anyway.

Sam: I think it’s slightly improved now that it’s not building up inside of me, but my mental health has always been bad due to issues in my life.

TMG: Bummer. Well, I refer you to my statement three comments ago. What do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Sam: There isn’t enough representation. It’s always either the feminine gay man or the masculine gay woman, and I wish there were more attention drawn to other members of the LGBTQ+ community, e.g. asexuals, pansexuals, bisexuals, etc.

TMG: I’d have to agree there. It’s like, just being gay is too mainstream now, especially if you fit the stereotypes.

Sam: Exactly! I’ve always been told that I don’t act like I’m gay and that I don’t come across as gay, which just goes to show how stereotyped gay people are in media.

TMG: Well, maybe you simply don’t wear enough glitter.

Sam: :’D Probably, yes.

TMG: At least there have been some nonbinary, asexual, and other characters in recent cartoons like Steven Universe and She-Ra, I guess. Still, one can only hope for more representation the more awareness there is.

Sam: Oh yeah, there’s definitely SOME representation. I just wish it was as mainstream as the stereotypical gay or lesbian.

TMG: Yeah. I guess TV is bad about stereotypes anyway. Remember, kids, don’t look to Hollywood for an accurate picture of reality.

TMG: Following up on that, what do you think about queer fashion and style?

Sam: The best.

TMG: Heh.

Sam: People like Billy Porter just show much influence LGBTQ+ people have had on the fashion industry.

TMG: I’ll admit I don’t know who that is.

TMG: It’s weird…I feel like as annoying as the stereotypes are, I’ve seen a lot of patterns in my online and in-person queer groups, meeting people, and such.

TMG: Honestly, I don’t have nearly enough Pride gear. I have a rainbow flag D&D logo shirt and a black ring, and that’s it. No other rainbowy things, no asexual flag clothing…what am I even doing with my life?

Sam: I don’t have anything; I haven’t been out of the house for a while due to the current environment.

TMG: Makes sense. I got the shirt online during a fundraiser. What does pride month mean to you?

Sam: Celebration, activism, and remembrance.

TMG: Makes sense. Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Sam: Not really, no. I think we pretty much covered everything.

TMG: Okay. Well, thanks for your time.

Sam: Likewise 🙂

2.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Morgan: I’m non-binary, demisexual panromantic, and my pronouns change based on if I’m masc, fem, or androgynous.

TMG: Makes sense. So, does that mean that you’re also genderfluid? Or is it just based on presentation?

Morgan: I identify as non-binary, although I do switch between masc, fem, and androgynous.

TMG: Okay. That does sound like genderfluidity to me, but hey, I’m not one to nitpick people’s labels and sense of self. And that’s still under the nonbinary umbrella. When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Morgan: I figured out I was demisexual around 3 years ago while researching sexualities for fun. I figured out I’m non-binary about a year and a half ago while talking to a friend about genders. I’m 19 now.

TMG: All right. Now that I think about it, do you also prefer different names to go with the pronouns? Or different variants of the same name?

Morgan: Nope. I go by Morgan no matter what.

TMG: Okay. I guess that is a pretty gender-neutral name.

Morgan: Yee.

TMG: What would you tell a young person who is queer or thinks they might be?

Morgan: That within this community, you’ll find a family no matter what. And don’t worry about not coming out to people about your gender/sexuality if you don’t think you’re ready.

TMG: Nice.

Morgan: And that it’s okay if they change their identity multiple times while finding themselves.

TMG: Yeah, labels and definitions can definitely change as one finds new information. Has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community much?

Morgan: I’ve lost a few friends after coming out, and I just came out to my family as non-binary a couple weeks ago.

TMG: I hope your family is supportive. That’s a lousy thing for your friends to do to you. Do you think being queer has affected any other parts of your life?

Morgan: Not really.

TMG: Fair enough. How is your mental state right now? How has it been previously? Has it changed from before you realized your identity?

Morgan: Right now it’s a little better than before I came out. But since realizing my identity, it’s been declining.

TMG: That’s rough. Because of the rocky friendships?

Morgan: Some of it, yeah, but most because of past trauma.

TMG: Ah. I hope you can get some help working through that. That’s no fun for anyone, queer or not.

Morgan: Yeah.

TMG: Well, what do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Morgan: I don’t really watch much, TBH. I stick to the same few shows, and they don’t really have much LGBTQ+ representation. It’s sad to see because it’ll get mentioned like twice then just not talked about ever again.

TMG: Yeah, that’s always annoying. Especially when you compare any given queer identity to other demographics that are comparably common. Like, from what I’ve heard, being asexual is more common than being a redhead, and you see plenty of those.

Morgan: Yeah. The representation I see the most is being a lesbian, which I believe is hurtful for the lesser known sexualities.

TMG: Apparently, the acronym is “LLLLLLL”.

Morgan: Right?

TMG: What do you think about queer fashion and style?

Morgan: It’s amazing. Every sexuality/gender expression has a distinct style, and it’s cool.

TMG: (Well, I guess that would be an initialism, not an acronym, but whatever.)

Morgan: Lol.

TMG: Yeah, it seems like quite a few queer people have a distinct…non-vanilla style, shall we say.

Morgan: Yeah.

TMG: The weird thing is that you still see patterns with that. Like, have you ever noticed how many queer people, especially if they’re nonbinary, have part of their hair long and part of it shaved?

Morgan: And with lesbians, it’s either short hair, flannel, snapbacks, or all of them.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Morgan: It’s a month where I can show how prideful I am of my identity

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Morgan: Not that I can think of.

TMG: Okay. Well, thanks for your time.

3.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Felicia: I’m gay (I like girls); I guess lesbian would be the term, but I’ve always identified and preferred the term gay more. I also just recently have been discovering that I am non-binary, and I think I have narrowed it down to demi-girl. My pronouns are she/her/hers for now, but I might add on they/them in the future.

TMG: Okay. Well, I feel like you’re in good company with a demigender.

Felicia: Nice! Are you also demigender too?

TMG: Yep. I’ve been calling myself demimale/demiguy since shortly after I found out that it was a thing, I think. It’s like…to most people, I’m just male because it’s what I’m used to, but I’m pretty apathetic about gender and would honestly rather not have to be concerned about gender or physical characteristics associated with it at all (give me a gender-neutral robot body any day), but I also don’t care enough to make a fuss over it.

TMG: People: (assigns me a gender) Me: “Uh, sure, let’s go with that.”

Felicia: That’s really cool. It’s nice to know another another demigender person. Personally for me, I’ve been raised as a girl, but I’ve never liked dressing in girls’ clothing. I’ve always thought it was because I was always active, and camp t-shirts and shorts were better for those activities, but I recently discovered that it was more than that. It’s kind of like what you said. People would call me a girl, and in my head I would be like: you’re right, but you’re also wrong. Similar to the phrase “close but no cigar”.

TMG: Seems reasonable to me.

Felicia: So right now on most days, I tend to go for a more neutral look. Larger unisex t-shirt and/or a sweatshirt, longer guys’ board shorts or athletic shorts or loose sweatpants. I also sometimes like to pull my hair back in a ponytail and wear a backwards snapback as well. Lately I have been trying to bind as well, but that has been off and on. And then I also have a pair of red and black skate shoes that I really like to wear.

TMG: Sure. Whatever is comfortable is usually good.

Felicia: Exactly. I’ve also just recently realized that I might be demi-sexual. I feel like I need to know the person first in order to want to date them.

TMG: It kind of weirds me out that the apparent majority of people don’t care about knowing a person before dating and/or sleeping with them.

Felicia: I can see a girl and think, “Whoa, she’s pretty.” But to gain any sort of feelings, I feel like I would need to talk with her first. And even if I do talk to her, there is no guarantee that I will gain those type of feelings.

TMG: That seems pretty normal to me. But…apparently it isn’t…?

Felicia: Apparently it isn’t. Apparently people would sleep with other people and know that just by looking at another person for the first time.

TMG: Sounds fake, but okay.

Felicia: Yeah. The only thing I have questions about for that is that I still get crushes on celebrities. But as usual, I need to see how they act and their personality to get that crush.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Felicia: I was 18 when I came out as gay to my friends. But I actually started seriously questioning when I was 16-17, and I told my sister that around November of 2017. I am 20 years old now. I first discovered that I was gay because of Lauren Jauregui. She was my first celebrity crush that I actually realized what was happening.

TMG: I see. What would you tell a young person who is queer or thinks they might be?

Felicia: That it is okay not to know. It is okay to take your time and just sit with it for while. Try and allow yourself to like who you like without labeling anything first. That is what helped me a lot when I was questioning. Also, give yourself time to come out. Come out when you feel ready, and there is no pressure to do so. Make sure you are safe and continue to do so after you tell your parents. It is okay to not say anything to them if you don’t want to.

TMG: Well said. How has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community?

Felicia: Thank you. I have been very lucky and me being gay hasn’t negatively affected my relationships. When I told my friends I was gay, most of them already knew and were just waiting for me to realize it and tell them. For the ones that didn’t know, they were amazing about it and really accepting. It actually made me feel closer to my friends when I told them. My sister was the first person I came out to, and she has also been an amazing person to talk to about it as well. When my mom and dad knew, it was okay. My mom wasn’t exactly happy or excited about it, but she wasn’t mad either. It was more of, “Well okay. Thanks for telling me. Let’s figure this out together.” sort of thing. A year later though, she has really learned a lot, and it has been a lot better. One time, she came home from the store and randomly gave me a rainbow-colored water bottle and a rainbow bandana. I was really happy when she did that.

TMG: That’s good.

Felicia: She also sent up stuff to me in college that I needed, and randomly included rainbow socks in there as well. I really appreciated that when I saw it.

TMG: Nice. I could go for some rainbow socks.

Felicia: Yes! Those socks are fun.

TMG: Well, has your identity affected any other parts of your life?

Felicia: It has actually made college easier for me, at least this year. I was able to live in housing specifically designed for LGBTQ+ people and their allies to live in, so I was able to make friends easily. It was really nice because I didn’t have to worry about if I was accepted or not. I had a built in support system.

TMG: Oh, cool. It’s good to have people around who understand you.

Felicia: Exactly. I felt a lot more comfortable, too, because most of my friends were part of that community at college. In high school, most of our friend group turned out to be queer as well, so it wasn’t that big of a change.

TMG: How is your mental state? How has it been previously? Is it any different now from before you realized your identity?

Felicia: My mental state currently is up and down. Figuring out that I was non-binary and now maybe demi-sexual takes its toll, but at the same time also really helps it. It is really amazing to finally discover yourself after a long while of questioning who you are. That was extremely noticeable in high school. I used to be very stressed out and worried before I came out as gay because I was really confused and scared to let people know. After I came out, I felt a lot more relaxed and happy that people knew. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders and I was finally free.

TMG: Nice. I’m glad that you’re feeling that sense of freedom.

Felicia: Yeah, it is a nice feeling to have.

TMG: What do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Felicia: It is okay. There are some shows and movies that have good representation, but I feel like most of them don’t do that job well. It is also mostly about men liking men or women liking women. And even then, it is not that healthy of a relationship, or people are cheating, or they are getting killed, or they are breaking up. There should be a lot more movies and shows that also include other identities like people who are bi, or pansexual, or trans. Or people who are asexual or aromantic. And have all those portrayed in healthy positive ways. It is nice to have some representation, but I feel like it could be way better.

TMG: Agreed. What do you think about queer fashion and style?

Felicia: I haven’t looked a lot into the fashion of queer people, but I think people should be able to wear what they want to wear without judgement. There shouldn’t be labels or boxes that people have to fit into.

TMG: That’s fair. It seems like there are some stereotypes associated with it, like gay men being really interested in fashion.

Felicia: I’ve noticed that too. I think it depends on the person as well. Caring about fashion doesn’t necessarily make you gay the same way not caring about fashion doesn’t necessarily make you straight.

TMG: Yeah. What does pride month mean to you?

Felicia: Personally for me, it means a celebration of who you are. You get to be whoever you are without judgement or worry. Going to pride events is super fun because there is no judgement and the atmosphere is really positive.

TMG: Nice. I’ve actually never been to such an event, but I’d like to go (assuming this stupid virus would quit…).

Felicia: Yes! Once the virus is over, I hope you get the chance to go. They are really fun.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Felicia: No, not really. You did a really good job of covering everything well. I would like to say thank you for the interview. It was really interesting, and I really liked the questions.

TMG: Well, thank you for answering and discussing them.

Felicia: Any time. I’m glad to help out.

4.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Matthew: I am a demisexual/demiromantic androgynous male (he/him)

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Matthew: I only figured it out fully late last year, age 21. I’m 22 now! I’ve always known there was something different. I haven’t always been a ‘manly man’ who wanted to connect sexually with as many women as possible, as seems to be the thing for many men growing up. I had always figured there was something different, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Dating sites with swipe culture never really worked for me, as I never had that initial attraction to a person to swipe them—attraction only came when I got to know someone. As it happens, I was on a site where you can choose sexualities, and one woman had chosen demisexual. Curiously, I looked up what that term meant and found out that it describes me perfectly! And my sexuality has been far less confusing ever since.

TMG: Nice. What would you tell a young person who is queer or thinks they might be? It seems like demisexual/romantic people often get the “isn’t that just normal?” response a lot, too.

Matthew: I’d say do the same as what I did—research the ‘types’ of sexuality out there, and see if any of them fit! I’ve had that response a few times and just explained demisexuality as best as I can!

TMG: Has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community?

Matthew: I haven’t really mentioned it to my family much. If I was gay, I would, but I feel like they don’t necessarily need to know about demisexuality! I’ve mentioned it to a few friends, and they’ve all been really accepting.

TMG: Well, that’s good. Has it affected other parts of your life any?

Matthew: I joined a Facebook group for demis, and it’s made me realise how not alone I am with my sexuality! It also helped me come to terms with why I failed in previous relationships. I was with a girl in my early teens and just didn’t have the romantic feelings toward her that she did toward me. Now I know that I wasn’t lousy, I was just demiromantic. My last relationship too fell apart for similar reasons, and I feel like I now would be better able to be in a relationship going forward now that I know fully about my demisexuality.

TMG: Nice. How is your mental state? How has it been previously? Has it changed from before you realized your identity?

Matthew: My mental state always fluctuates, but not necessarily as a result of sexuality! Realising my identity was like putting the final piece of the puzzle into place. It made me piece together why I had been ‘off’ in some relationships and not others, and why I was so different from other men in terms of sexual and romantic interest. It cleared the mist of confusion and made me realise that I’m different from your average person romantically, but not in a bad way! It’s also made me satisfied to be single, which I have been for almost two years now.

TMG: I wish I could be satisfied that way, heh. What do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Matthew: Being a satisfied single takes a lot of time, but you’ll get there! I think there’s a lot more LGBTQ+ representation in media, and that is a good thing. I think more work needs to be done to have more asexual/demisexual people in media, however, as they seem to continue to be underrepresented. I don’t think I’ve come across any character in any movie/show/book that’s openly demisexual. Asexuality is getting there—there was an asexual minor character of Sex Education series 2 who got some coverage—but there’s much room for improvement! There was a storyline about an openly asexual character in a soap opera here in the UK, but the character then went into a sexual relationship about a year later. (facepalm) I don’t think that helped represent the asexual community, as of course it’s not something that people grow out of!

TMG: That’s frustrating. Having asexual characters who “get over” their sexuality is, if you ask me, a good deal worse than not having them at all.

Matthew: Yes, I agree. It’s a bad portrayal of asexuality.

TMG: What do you think about queer fashion and style?

Matthew: I don’t do style and fashion at all, and it doesn’t really bother me, the fashion and style of others!

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Matthew: Some people think being demi/ace should be part of the LGBT+ community, but I myself don’t feel like I’m part of it, so I am quite neutral as far as pride is concerned. If people want to celebrate who they are during pride month, then I’m cool with that! Pride festivals always seem to have a positive and upbeat atmosphere.

TMG: Well, demi and ace people are part of the community as far as I’m concerned. That’s what the A is for, after all.

Matthew: I never knew there was an A. Interesting.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Matthew: I don’t. Thanks for the interview.

5.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Harriet: It’s a complicated answer, so ask for clarity if you need it.

TMG: That’s fine. (Complicated is more interesting…)

Harriet: I am a gray aro/panromantic asexual demigirl who practices ethical non-monogamy. My pronouns are she/her. My daughter so far identifies as nonbinary agender, and her pronouns are she/they.

TMG: Okay. When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Harriet: I discovered my identities in bits and pieces. I didn’t have words for all of it, but I knew I wasn’t your standard cishet person when I was 10. I started identifying as asexual about 10 years ago, nonbinary 5 years ago. Polyam about 10 years ago. I realized I was mostly aro about 2 years ago. I am 34 as of May 2020.

TMG: All right. I’m guessing that it didn’t take Ariana too long, being raised by you?

Harriet: Right. She’s been aware of the different gender identities her whole life. She’s too young to have decided a sexual orientation; at this stage in her life, everyone is gross and annoying. However, she started identifying as nonbinary spring 2019, but is only half out.

TMG: Seems like queer identities are often thought of as more of an “adult” thing, like there’s some minimum age threshold before you can identify as something other than cishet. Yet that’s the assumed default, even when a kid hasn’t even reached puberty yet, let alone become old enough for a relationship.

TMG: Also, I think that for some people, that “everyone is gross and annoying” stage never really goes away.

Harriet: Absolutely agree.

TMG: Hopefully, as more and more people become aware of identity spectrums, there will be more representation in children’s media and such.

Harriet: I tried to raise her knowing it was okay not to feel like her assigned gender and that whatever she decides romantic-wise will be allowed. She is aesthetically attracted to all genders as of right now. She has zero trouble switching between “that human is handsome” and “man that person is beautiful”

TMG: Hey, why not?

Harriet: I agree with her. Attractive people are attractive. Gender has no bearing on that

TMG: Yeah. I definitely see more women than men that are good-looking to me, but I think I’ve begun to realize in the last couple years that I can find men handsome/pretty too.

TMG: What would you tell a young person who is queer or thinks they might be? For Ariana, what if it was someone around your age or younger? Do you think their specific identity would matter in that case?

Harriet: That it’s okay not to know what you feel like at any age, that what society says is standard doesn’t have to be, and that there are a lot of places to feel safe to figure all of that out. Ariana says that if someone approached her at school and asked her what it was like being enby, she would say it’s mostly just a thing she feels. She knows she’s not one thing or another, and she’d tell them that not everyone will be okay with identifying as something other, so unless they have a super supportive mom like her, they should be careful.

TMG: Sure. Being safe is good. It’s kind of funny that, as harmful as it can be to make queer and especially nonbinary people out to be an “other” or “not a normal human”, I feel like there are at least some cases where it kind of backfires. “You mean I’m a mythical creature/divinity/cryptid? Cool!”

Harriet: Ariana and I are both dragons according to her. That’s how she answers kids at school who ask whether she’s a boy or girl. She has three answers: Yes. No. Dragon.

TMG: “Are you a boy or a girl?” “I’m a dragon!” “Uh, what’s in your pants?” “Your puny human mind couldn’t grasp the complexity!”

TMG: (Not that anyone should be asking a 10-year-old about their privates anyway…)

Harriet: Right. But they do insist she has to be a boy or girl, and she says “why?”

TMG: Gender is overrated.

Harriet: Agreed.

TMG: I’m not sure what I’d be. I feel like dragons are neat but overused. I have referred to myself as a dryad in some other contexts, though I don’t know if that fits. Mind you, Facebook is the only place on the Internet where I use my real name anyway.

Harriet: I feel that. Dragons are overused, but I put my own spin on them. I hoard people. I collect the broken and sad queer folx and make them part of my family. That’s my gold, my treasure.

TMG: The best hoard.

TMG: Anyway, I guess we kind of got off track, but that’s okay. How has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community?

Harriet: Happens to the best of us, I suppose. It hasn’t affected anything with my family, but I’ve lost some friends.

Harriet: There’s a lot of erasure. “You’ll find the right person” or “I don’t understand how dating multiples isn’t cheating”.

TMG: That’s frustrating. Some people are narrow-minded…some are just clueless…

Harriet: My favorite was when my best friend noped out of our friendship because I was going on a date, and she kept saying maybe he’ll be the one I’ll sleep with, because you don’t know the future.

TMG: Jeez. And…dating someone but not planning to sleep with them was a friendship breaker??

Harriet: No, it was more like…she kept insisting that I would change my mind, and she was mad. I kept telling her that’s not how it works. “You never know”, she kept repeating. I said, but I do know? And that was the death of our 6-year friendship.

TMG: That’s annoying. Why is this so hard for people to figure out?

Harriet: No idea, to be honest.

TMG: Have any other aspects of your life been affected?

Harriet: I mean, my dating life gets complicated, but not really anything other than that. I have to be careful with the kid’s identity, as not everyone would approve of me letting her choose “this early”, but other than that, no.

TMG: Okay. How is your mental state? How has it been previously? Has it changed from before you realized your identity?

Harriet: I have an anxiety disorder and some depression, but it isn’t tied to my sexual or gender identity. It’s just inherently part of my general identity.

TMG: Sure. And the same is true for Ariana, isn’t it? Of course, the fact that the world sucks so much right now can’t be good for anyone’s mental health.

Harriet: Right. Same for the kid. No mental stress from being nonbinary.

TMG: Thank goodness for small favors, I suppose. What do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Harriet: There’s definitly not enough variety, and here and there, you’ll come across an ace person, and suddenly they can be cured! So what we have is false, and it’s terrible.

TMG: Yeah, and I feel like anything other than the L, G, and T especially gets passed aside. People really underestimate how common any given queer identity actually is, too.

Harriet: Absolutely. It’s very frustrating, as I am many other flavors of the community and never see myself. I’d really like to see an ace polycule functioning the way it should on TV/a movie. There’s not a lot of non-monogamy in media, less than any other part of the spectrum usually.

TMG: Yeah, it must be hard as a polyamorous person especially. Gay and trans people are pretty well-known and accepted (if you’re not human trash), and bisexual, asexual, and nonbinary people are at least getting a bit more prevalence, but how many positive poly relationships can you think of in media?

Harriet: There’s a few books, but not a lot in live media.

TMG: Like, it seems that that’s one identity that even people who accept many of the others don’t always support.

Harriet: Yes.

TMG: I’ll admit that I used to be a bit weirded out by it as well until I more recently realized…why?

Harriet: It’s the one identity of mine that gets ragged on the most.

TMG: People just don’t take the time to understand, I guess.

Harriet: It’s harder for me because of the ace/aro thing. People don’t understand why I would date at all, let alone date multiple people.

TMG: Because who the heck dates people for pleasant company and emotional connection, right?

Harriet: Right? And not everyone I tend to fancy can give me everything I need in all those aspects, but they’re still good partners.

TMG: Honestly, I think I’ve decided that my ideal relationship would be a 4-person poly-QPR where we all enjoy video/board/card games and each sing a different choir part.

Harriet: Sounds like a good dream.

TMG: As if it isn’t hard enough to find people, though…

Harriet: Agreed.

TMG: Well, what do you think about queer fashion and style?

Harriet: I don’t pay any attention to it, TBH. Ariana recently got some suspenders with glitter hearts in them, but that’s about as much as we pay attention. She’s also expressed a desire to wear bow ties more.

TMG: I guess it’s weird to phrase it that way. I’d think there are about as many fashion choices as there are individuals, but sometimes you do see certain styles keep coming up. You have a hairstyle where part of your head is shaved and part of it is longer. 7.8/10, too little originality.

TMG: It’s all just fabric, ink, and keratin filaments anyway, right?

Harriet: Right.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Harriet: Honestly? I hate that we need it. I hate that there can’t be awareness all the time. I wish we were more accepted. I hate how corporations use rainbows for sales.

TMG: I see your point. If we could reach a point where being queer isn’t even thought of as being out of the ordinary, where “she’s asexual” or “they’re nonbinary” wouldn’t be any different than “she has blue eyes” or “he’s left-handed”…

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover? Or does Ariana?

Harriet: I don’t think so, no.

TMG: Okay. Thanks for talking with me.

Harriet: Always.

6.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Rebecca: I am female and bi-romantic ace who uses she/her pronouns. (I’m still questioning my gender, to be honest, if I’m cis or nonbinary.)

TMG: Fair enough. When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Rebecca: I discovered I was ace when I was around 22. I am 25 now. I discovered it while scrolling through Facebook and found a meme where there were describing the different sexualities. And demi at first caught my eye, but after a while I realized I was just ace.

TMG: What would you tell a young person who is queer or thinks they might be? Especially since asexuality doesn’t tend to get as much attention as some other queer identities.

Rebecca: I would tell them to not let society’s expectations pressure them into being what they are not and that other people do not get to decide who or what they are.

TMG: How has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community?

Rebecca: It makes it hard for me to date other people, especially when I know they are hypersexual. Before I had a few friends ask me if I was asexual, and being that none of us really knew what it was, I had rejected it. But then when I came to terms with it being a possibility, my boyfriend at the time was angry and took it as a personal insult. My friends all accepted it, and most have been super supportive of me. Only person who still rejects me being ace is my stepdad, and the worst he does is make sexual jokes whenever I hang out with a guy.

TMG: Huh. Well, I’m glad that you’re mostly getting support. Are there any other aspects of your life that have been affected?

Rebecca: I remain quiet for the most part when it comes to work life and around people I do not know. I do model on the side, and I get a lot of comments that I can’t possibly be ace if I’m that pretty and other unsolicited remarks. On the plus side, opening up to my brother about it allowed him to open up to me about his identity and sexuality.

TMG: I see. I’m happy for your brother.

TMG: How is your mental state? How has it been previously? Has it changed from before you realized your identity?

Rebecca: So, before, I was actually in a downward spiral. I don’t think it was only because of that, but there was a lot going on: bad friends, demanding relationship, horrible job. But I decided to flip it all on its head starting by cutting out the toxicity, and it all sort of fell into place. I was definitely more comfortable introducing myself as ace at the start of new relationships instead of questioning why I wasn’t interested in a guy I had romantic feelings for. I am a lot happier now, and I’m not so pressured to doing something I don’t want to. But that still took me a year to be actually okay.

TMG: Well, I’m glad that you’re doing better now.

Rebecca: Thank you.

TMG: What do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Rebecca: There needs to be more representation that is fair and accurate. Ditch the stereotypes and show real people being people. Sure, some people do fit the stereotype, but that should not be the standard.

TMG: Agreed. What do you think about queer fashion and style?

Rebecca: I feel that fashion and style should always be a personal expression and whatever that person is comfortable with regardless of gender roles. As for queer fashion, if someone wants to run around in a rainbow kilt or any of the pride flags, then more power to them.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Rebecca: It’s something I want to fully participate in; I want to go to marches, festivals, and parades. But I’ve just been too nervous to go.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Rebecca: I think that’s everything I can think of.

TMG: Okay. Thanks.

Rebecca: Thank you for taking the time to put this all together.

TMG: Sure. I hope it helps people.

7.

TMG: What is your full identity in respect to gender, sexual/romantic orientation, and pronouns?

Diana: Asexual, aromantic but also kinda pan? And I’m non-binary AFAB, but I use she/her pronouns.

TMG: Okay. From your point of view, what’s the important distinction between being nonbinary but presenting as clearly feminine or masculine vs. actually being a woman or man?

Diana: To me, nonbinary just means you don’t neatly fit into the man/woman distinction; you can clearly present as feminine or masculine, but those are not what defines you. I present as pretty feminine, but due to society’s twisting of what is considered feminine/masculine (especially when you consider how it has changed from a historical and anthropological perspective), I also feel like I embody several quite strongly masculine traits. Hence the nonbinary; I feel and relate mostly to the feminine and female ‘experience’ but do feel male/masculine at times, which means I am outside the binary. (This is not even touching agender and its impact on it all.)

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity? How old are you now?

Diana: I’m 24 and discovered my ace identity at 19 after I spoke to a demi friend at uni and realised how well what she was explaining described me. The aro and enby identities are more recent and are the result of slow discovery and understanding myself over the last 2 years or so. My queer and in particular trans and enby friends have been so helpful in helping me understand my identity better and how I fit into the queer/LGBTQIA+ community.

TMG: Cool. It’s good to have support. What would you tell a young person who is queer or thinks they might be? Especially if they’re on the nonbinary, asexual, or aromantic spectrum.

Diana: It’s totally okay to decide on an identity/label only to change it later; conversely, it’s also okay not to choose any at all. Also, reach out to other people in the community (keep an eye out for those who are intersectional because they are less likely to be ace/arophobic). FB has some great groups where you can ask any questions and people are usually happy to listen and help. Also (if it’s safe), speak to friends; they often know you best and can help you understand yourself and your identity better. But the most important thing is to be safe; there’s a lot of prejudice and bigotry out there, so don’t ever feel you need to come out if it would be unsafe for you. (That’s in particular aimed at those younger who are still living at home with potentially homophobic parents.)

TMG: Well said. How has being queer affected relationships with your family, friends, and community?

Diana: I’m not actually out to my family at the moment, so that means I’m quite hesitant when it comes to any conversation about sexuality or gender. But in regards to my friends, being queer is what brought us together; I met most of my friends at uni at a queer brunch the LGBT+ society threw. We bond a lot over our sexuality and experiences; it’s obviously not the main foundation of our friendship, as we have a lot in common, but it is what brought us together in the first place.

TMG: That’s sweet that you made friends that way.

Diana: Q brunch was the best. Every Sunday, we’d all meet up to eat cake and be gay. It was so chill.

TMG: Has being queer, ace, or enby affected any other parts of your life?

Diana: According to society, yes (I don’t plan on ever dating anyone or getting married), but personally, not really? I never wanted to date anyone growing up. (Honestly, how did it take me this long to realise my orientation??) However, it has helped in that I have a really strong support system in my friends, which is so beneficial to my mental (and subsequently physical) health. As well as this, I’m planing on moving in with some of my queer friends, which has massively eased the worry of affording rent as well as the fear of moving to a new place. Being queer has also made me so much more aware of the world, discrimination, and the need for intersectionality in our approach to support. The world is a crappy place, and I as an able-bodied white person need to continue to work on supporting and boosting my disabled and POC friends.

TMG: I hadn’t thought of it that way. That makes sense. It’s really disheartening realizing how much discrimination there is in the world.

Diana: It really is, and it’s such a horrid world that we have to stand together as much as we can.

TMG: On a similar note, has your mental state changed much from before you realized your identity?

Diana: My mental state has definitely changed. I spent a long time when I was younger thinking there was something wrong with me, especially in regards to my lack of attraction and desire. The world is a very sexualised place, and as a teen, I really struggled with how I didn’t fit into the narrative that society told me I should belong to. That lead to a lot of insecurity and self-hatred that has taken a long time to get over (in fact, I’m still doing it). Finding and understanding my identity was so important to my health and healing process.

TMG: It’s amazing the difference that it can make. I feel like most cishet people don’t really understand it because they haven’t been in that situation.

Diana: Oh, definitely; there’s real power in finally being able to find something that describes you. That moment where you go “this, this is me and I belong”.

TMG: What do you think about the depiction of queer people and identities in popular media?

Diana: I think queer characters are subject to the same problem that of other minority characters face, and that is a lack of diversity, especially in the writers’ room. Most queer characters today are written by white men. Which means the lack of so much diversity, and you end up with the same two-dimensional characters. It tends to be white cis men writing characters; sometimes they’re gay, but they’re usually still cis white men and so have a very limited frame of reference. As such, you tend to have a lot of the same story: two white gay guys fall in love—there’s usually tension about one of them being out, and the out one pressures the closeted one to come out and everyone lives happily ever after. But when you introduce diversity into the writers’ room, you get much better, diverse, and relatable characters. Look at shows like Orange is the New Black or One Day at a Time. Even Brooklyn 99. They have diversity, which leads to much better (and less stereotypical) roles and characters in terms of sexuality, gender, as well as things like ethnicity, race and religion. Representation is getting better and we are seeing more queer characters with actual storylines and character progression (unlike stereotypes, like the gay bestie used to further the straight protagonist’s story 😦 ). But there is a lot of work to do; most stories focus on mostly white cis gay/lesbian characters and ignore the rich diversity found within the queer community. But we need to make sure that these stories are written, produced, and created by a diverse spectrum of people and not the same few cis white dudes.

TMG: What do you think about queer fashion and style?

Diana: I think queer fashion and style is beautiful. The queer community is based around diversity, creativity, and expressing yourself. And that is seen so wonderfully in the incredible range of styles and fashion worn by queer people.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Diana: I love the idea of time to celebrate our community, to acknowledge the struggles we’ve gone through—and are still going through. However, I do worry about how capitalism and commercialisation are trying to take over Pride; rainbow capitalism is such an empty form of allyship that drives me nuts.

TMG: I can’t argue with that. Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Diana: Not that I can think of.

Movie review #4: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – And I thought I was a weird kid… — December 9, 2019

Movie review #4: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – And I thought I was a weird kid…

Well, it took 15 solid months of hiatus, but I’m back (I hope), this time with a new review. This time, it’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a movie based on the book of the same name by Ransom Riggs. (Yes, the author’s name is “Ransom”. I’m not sure if that’s his real name or a pen name/nickname, but I can’t decide which would be worse.) I never read the book, though I vaguely remember glancing at it in the bookstore. I don’t know, maybe it looked too much like a Lemony Snicket book or something? I mean, the movie was directed by Tim Burton, which says something. I probably should go back and read it, though. There are also three books, while the movie is apparently only based on the first book. Whichever form of media we’re discussing, it’s about a boy whose grandfather’s stories and mysterious death lead him to a group of children with weird abilities, along with their guardian, who can create single-day “time loops” and turn into a bird. There are also evil “peculiars”, as they’re called, who got turned into monsters due to an immortality experiment gone wrong and now can only maintain their humanity by stealing the eyes of other peculiars and eating them. Which is freaking messed up. And the bad guys are constantly trying to find new victims and eventually discover the main characters, so they have to get rid of or at least neutralize said villains.

The movie is okay, I suppose. There are definitely stories about kids with powers that are more engaging, but there are also plenty that are worse. One thing I did notice is that the movie took its sweet time setting the scene; the main character doesn’t even meet the eponymous Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children until a good half an hour in, and before that, the focus is more on him and his grandfather’s relationship, with a bit of mundane slice-of-life stuff. The kids’ peculiarities range from your standard stock powers like super strength and pyromancy* to more unusual stuff like having bees living inside oneself or being lighter than air. You know, I was a peculiar child, too, but my peculiarity didn’t give me special powers or anything; it was mostly just annoying. And now I am a peculiar adult, thanks to the wonders of linear time. Speaking of time, how exactly do time loops even work? Why would the kids instantly age once they got outside of one? Why didn’t Jake start de-aging out of existence when he was in the past outside of a loop? What would happen if somebody took a clock from 1943 and brought it out of the loop to 2016? And what in the flying fartnuggets do birds have to do with time manipulation? Apparently in this universe, if you want to be Teferi, you must also be Emma Tolly from Children of the Red King.

(*Technically, “-mancy” is not the correct suffix to describe the power of or control over the root word, and it actually refers to divination or communication. “-kinesis” is better, but still simply refers to movement rather than conjuring or controlling. Unfortunately, both have been used so often in this context that they’ve pretty much become the standard despite the inaccuracy. That seems to be a common linguistic process, actually.)

I also feel like the movie falls into something that quite a few shows about superhero/mutant-type people do, that being “why didn’t they use their powers sooner?”. This gets especially bad with the twins, who did actual nothing for all but 10 seconds or so of the movie and totally could have gotten rid of the main villain when he was threatening Jake with a knife. And for how much of a threat Barron and his crew are to all the peculiars if they get what they want, you’d think they could have been more proactive in dealing with them instead of waiting until the bad guys already had the upper hand. I suppose they should have just sent Emma in, since she can’t be defeated. Even though you can get behind her, it’s no use. Also, you gotta love when the villains are part of an in-universe minority group and they’re worried about being hated and feared and people wanting to destroy them for it, so they subsequently attempt to remedy the situation by doing exactly the sorts of things that would make someone hate, fear, and want to destroy them. Good job resembling that remark there. For that matter, seeking immortality is probably one of the oldest antagonistic motivations in the book; I wouldn’t doubt that there are stories from a few millennia B.C. that have that as a plot element…but one thing I never quite got about it was why one would want such a thing, especially someone who doesn’t have all that much more power or influence than a regular person and doesn’t seem interested in exploring and learning. If they actually did become immortal, what would they do then? Become a history teacher? Sit around and watch Seinfeld with a margarita in hand?

One thing I do wonder is how different the movie would have been with a different director. I don’t know how creepy the monsters were in the original book, but they’re pretty darn creepy here. The way that the main villain ultimately goes down…well, without spoiling anything, it’s kind of satisfying, but jeez, I almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost. Anything involving serious harm to the eyes, especially if it’s plucking them straight out of their skull, is guaranteed to be disturbing, and adding giant invisible tentacle monsters to the mix certainly doesn’t make it less so. There’s also a bit of retroactive horror when you start to wonder about what it was like when the kids’ powers were first noticed. Hugo brings up his experience, but what about the ones with much more dangerous stuff like the twins or Olive? Did the latter just have her hands start getting gradually hotter one day, or did she go to pick up a shirt and accidentally set it on fire or something? Anyway, that’s about enough rambling for now.

Summary:

Plot: Fine

I don’t feel like there’s much I could say here that I haven’t already said. As I mentioned in the second paragraph, the structure seemed a bit, ahem, peculiar, but it didn’t ruin the show or anything.

Characters: Fine while they were there

The characters, for the most part, felt pretty real, not idealized or flat, but natural. However, most of them also did not get enough screen time to be fleshed out much. Jake, Abe, Barron, maybe Miss Peregrine and Emma, Enoch, and (funny enough) Jake’s father did, but for everyone else, I was kind of left wanting to learn more about them and see what makes them tick. Definitely the worst case of this is with the twins, who could probably have been entirely left out of the script in its current state with no difference aside from needing to change the scene when they’re fighting the monkey-woman. I didn’t mind the slice-of-life stuff at the beginning showing Jake’s relationship with his family, the therapist, the store owner, and such, but I would have been willing to sacrifice some of that in favor of the peculiar children being developed more.

Effects: Fine but minimal

For a fantasy movie, this actually didn’t have many special effects at all, and what was there was pretty basic, so I can’t really comment much on this aspect of it.

Dialogue: Pretty okay

The most stand-out character here was Barron, who spent the majority of his interactions with the good guys being a huge ham. I guess he is played by Samuel L. Jackson, though. Everyone else seemed pretty natural, and I thought that Miss Peregrine filled that niche of being a character who is caring and good with children but takes no crap with more finesse than, for instance, Mary Poppins did in her movie.

Positives: The characters and setting all felt pretty real, for the most part. Not real in the sense of “true story”, but more down-to-earth.

Negatives: In general, my complaints are pretty minor, but I really did not need to see monsters that stick their tentacles into people’s faces to pluck out their eyes and eat them. Tim Burton being Tim Burton, I guess.

Final score: 5

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children didn’t blow me away, but aside from creepiness and unanswered questions, it was ultimately inoffensive and a decent bit of entertainment while it lasted. It does also make me curious what the books were like, so there is that.

Magic: The Gathering discussion #5: Dominaria — Where it all began — September 22, 2018

Magic: The Gathering discussion #5: Dominaria — Where it all began

It’s that time again, time to discuss another Magic: The Gathering set! Or several, actually, because in addition to Dominaria, I’ll also be covering the 2019 core set, Masters 25, Battlebond, and Commander 2018.

So, let’s start with Dominaria. It’s a fitting place to start, because the entire game started with Dominaria; it was the setting for a lot of the early sets and is sort of a nexus or “hub world” for the multiverse. Apparently, messing with Dominaria would mess up all the other planes as well, which just seems like it would make the multiverse way too unstable (and I don’t mean in the fun Bablovian way). It also didn’t have a specific theme or gimmick, unlike most other planes: they try to give each plane its own recognizable theme, like how Innistrad is the horror world, Amonkhet is the Egyptian world, and Kaladesh is the steampunk-esque world. I say “didn’t” because even with all the diversity that Dominaria has, they eventually did manage to fit it into one of those boxes that humanity likes so much; Dominaria is apparently “the history world” now. That manifests in the set mechanics, or at least the new ones. Sagas are the big new set gimmick and by far the most interesting one; they’re a new kind of enchantment with a new card frame, with the division between the art and rules text running vertically instead of horizontally, and a number of “chapter” markers in Roman numerals on the left side. (Roman numerals still have no purpose in life, by the way.) Each chapter (usually) triggers once per turn, the first one when it enters the battlefield and the rest on successive turns after that, then the enchantment goes away after the last chapter. All Sagas in the set have 3 chapters, so you’d get the effect listed for chapter 1 on the turn you get it out, chapter 2 on the next turn, then the chapter 3 effect would happen on the turn after that and the Saga would be sacrificed. I assume that if they’re liked enough, they could show up in future sets as well, possibly with chapter counts other than 3. There is also historic, which is just an adjective that describes anything that’s an artifact, a Saga, or legendary. Kind of a weird combination, but I suppose it makes sense. There is also a returning mechanic, kicker, which first appeared in I-don’t-know-what-set-but-it-was-probably-old-as-heck and whose return I actually guessed even before the set was out. For anyone unfamiliar with kicker, it’s an open-ended mechanic that allows you to pay an additional cost for a spell to get an additional effect. It has nothing to do with history, except in a meta sense because it’s been around for a while. The set also has a distinct “legendary matters” theme; historic is one part of it, but there are many more legendary creatures than most sets, even at uncommon. They also introduced legendary sorceries, which…sound a lot cooler than they actually are, to put it one way. They don’t work how one would expect legendary sorceries to work; rather than, say, only being able to cast them once per game, or if a card with the same name isn’t in your graveyard, you can only cast them if you control a legendary creature or planeswalker. Now, outside of the set, that can be a pretty tight hoop to jump through if you don’t specifically build with it in mind, and their effects aren’t that much better than similar nonlegendary sorceries. As a result, I didn’t really like the legendary sorceries.

Of course, one can’t talk about Dominaria without talking about the story and lore. And the story this time was actually kind of weird. It involves some old fan favorite characters showing up again; Jhoira, Teferi, Karn, and Jaya Ballard are here, as well as Radha, Jodah, Multani, and Squee. There are also new characters who are related to older ones, such as Danitha and Raff Capashen and Shanna Sisay. I do feel like the story might have gotten pulled in too many directions at once, though; they had a lot of characters to introduce and tell about, all of which probably could have gotten more attention, but the main plotline was more about Liliana’s last demon and the evil things he was doing, as well as her brother whom she accidentally cursed (which triggered her planeswalker spark) and who is now a monstrous lich. At least in this case, it makes sense to go after Belzenlok anyway, Liliana or no, because he’s the leader of the Cabal now (which I don’t know much about, but I guess they’re some sort of evil cult or something?) and is trying to rewrite historical records to make himself look much more accomplished than he actually is. They defeat Belzenlok, and Teferi gets his planeswalker spark back (he gave it up to fix a time rift back during the Time Spiral block, however the heck that works) and joins the Gatewatch. But we also have a fairly major spoiler here: as it turns out, killing all of Liliana’s demons didn’t release her from her contract, merely transfer ownership of it to Nicol Bolas, who brokered the contract in the first place, and now Bolas basically owns Liliana and she is forced to serve him. I am disappointed that the Gatewatch won’t find out what happened to Liliana until it’s too late and there’s a huge misunderstanding, though. Well, I guess if you look at all the cards in the set, it’s not much of a spoiler because it’s depicted right on the last story spotlight card. Speaking of story spotlight events, apparently Nissa is leaving the Gatewatch, at least for the time being: she finally decided that she’d had enough of Liliana’s crap (which, to be quite honest, I can’t fault her for) and made tracks back to Zendikar.

Dominaria has some pretty decent cards in it, too. It reprinted the other half of the dual land cycle that Ixalan had (nicknamed the “checklands”), for starters. Lyra Dawnbringer, Shalai, and Verix are good legendary creatures. Teferi and Karn are worthwhile as planeswalkers go, aside from Teferi making control decks even more obnoxious. Jaya Ballard’s planeswalker card is…okay. History of Benalia is another good one (and I actually got it as my prerelease promo, the first actually good prerelease promo I ever got). Belzenlok, Josu Vess, Multani, Jhoira, Steel Leaf Champion, and the Weatherlight weren’t bad either, and the set gave us a reprint of Gilded Lotus as well as Mox Amber, which is new. (They really need to find a way to make Mox cards good but neither overpowered nor restrictive. Come on, they’ve had 25 years to figure it out….) The Sagas, sadly, mostly weren’t all that amazing outside of dedicated decks aside from the aforementioned History of Benalia, not to mention they were kind of unbalanced: anyone at Wizards care to explain why we needed three, maybe even four board wipe variants, why there are as many black Sagas as red and green ones combined, or why an event as major as the Mending got such a middling card? Still, though, Dominaria had more good stuff than not, I think.

Next comes the 2019 core set, the first core set since either 2014 or 2015 (depending on if you count Magic Origins as a core set or not) and the first one I’ve talked about on here. This time, they didn’t have any non-evergreen mechanics, which I found rather disappointing (most of the previous core sets brought back one mechanic, such as scry for the 2011 core set, bloodthirst for the 2012 one, and exalted for the 2013 one). Core sets also don’t take place on a specific plane, so they can include reprints or new cards from any of them (there were ones from Kaladesh and Ixalan, among others). The story, on the other hand, is another matter, and kind of a weird one; it mostly takes place on Tarkir (a plane visited in 2014 and 2015), where a few figures in Tarkir’s past tell the story of Ugin and Nicol Bolas. Honestly, I don’t think the M19 story actually added that much to the larger picture; it seemed to be reasonably well-written, but I didn’t really care all that much about Icky Nicky’s start of darkness beforehand, and I care even less about it now. If you were expecting some complex or understandable reason for why he is the way he is, well, you won’t find it here. He felt powerless and weak in his earliest days, so now he wants nothing more than power over everyone else; that’s pretty much the extent of it, which is really childish for someone who’s had 65,000 years, give or take, to explore the multiverse. (Heck, just look at the flavor text on the M19 printing of Cinder Barrens.) Several dozen millennia of living and, effectively, all he’s managed to accomplish in terms of personal growth is becoming basically a draconic supervillain version of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a heaping helping of Donald Trump. Sheesh, I’m only 27 and I thought I was immature for my age and not doing as many meaningful things as I should have.

Icky Nicky, Dracomanchild (cropped)

Pictured: Dominaria’s most ancient evil.

Also, in a story only tangentially related to Bolas but considered part of the M19 story, we get introduced to Vivien Reid, a new mono-green planeswalker. I can only assume that she’s supposed to be an eventual replacement for Nissa, though her card reminds me a little more of Garruk (which is a good thing; Nissa always was one of those characters where I tended to like her as a character more than her cards). She’s a ranger who uses a magical bow to summon images of animals from her home plane, which was destroyed by Bolas. (Why? Who knows. Maybe he was just in a mood to nuke stuff that day, or he threw a tantrum because someone told him he couldn’t have an extra juice box.) It’s an interesting enough power set, I suppose. Her stories don’t do much to make her likable, though; basically, she’s on Ixalan in a vampire city and goes medieval on them after finding out that they’re cruel to animals, pretty much using her summoning magic (and some to enlarge existing animals as well) to destroy the city. Look, I know the vampires are hardly paragons of morality either, but I doubt everyone in that city was evil, so she probably condemned some innocent people to death by beast or collapsing building. Pitting one character or group of characters who’s a lunatic against another who’s a lunatic but in a different way doesn’t make the first one any less nuts; it just makes you want to see both of them get thrashed until they’ve gotten some sense knocked into them. It really does not do Vivien any favors, either, that she has a vendetta against civilization in general and is happy to see the city get reclaimed by nature, which is a very mono-green attitude but not a very sympathetic one, and it really makes me hope that she never planeswalks to Ravnica or Kaladesh (though if she did, maybe it would be a good opportunity to give her some much-needed character development). Furthermore, she is yet another human planeswalker in a lineup where humans are already severely overrepresented. Between that, her extremist beliefs, and the fact that the Gatewatch now has an open slot for a green character, I can only assume that this conversation took place at Wizards of the Coast at some point:

Wizards creative team: “Here are some nonhuman planeswalkers we’ve designed with interesting personalities and complex motives and thoughts. Could they be main characters?”
Marketing team: “What? Main characters who aren’t human? They’ll be totally unrelatable!”
Creative: “Okay, here are some one-dimensional monocolored human characters who subscribe to a very particular, narrow worldview and philosophy that would be unrealistic for any sane person in real life. What do you think?”
Marketing: “They seem good to me. Let’s get them some stories.”

Also, on a minor note, the writer never explained why Vivien couldn’t just planeswalk away after getting captured, then come back for the Arkbow. But I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking this all. I feel like I spend way too much time talking about the story in these reviews.

I suppose that means we’re probably overdue for discussing the gameplay of the 2019 core set. Well, there are no set mechanics, so I can’t talk about them, so this will probably be a shorter paragraph than usual. Actually, for a core set, this really doesn’t have a bad selection of cards; my personal top picks are Ajani, Tezzeret, and Vivien’s planeswalker cards along with Resplendent Angel, but there’s more. Sai, Master Thopterist is good in the right deck (and I think it did make it into Standard play), Nightmare’s Thirst is an interesting take on a kill spell, Sovereign’s Bite is cheap but seems good for a common, I’m always up for another copy spell with Doublecast, Lathliss will make a nice addition to any of my decks with an above-average number of dragons in them, Sarkhan’s planeswalker card isn’t bad (Liliana’s, on the other hand, requires a very specific deck type, and even within that, it’s merely “pretty decent”), Sarkhan’s Unsealing is interesting, Goreclaw seems useful, Vine Mare is good for what it’s worth (the mare cycle is kind of neat), Chaos Wand is silly, and all of the elder dragons are at least interesting. Notable reprints are Banefire, Crucible of Worlds, Magistrate’s Scepter, Mentor of the Meek, Omniscience, Scapeshift, and maybe Windreader Sphinx (and Crucible of Worlds and Scapeshift were clearly designed for formats outside of the set). One thing I’m disappointed about with the M19 card pool is that there were no rare dual lands. I assume it’s because they don’t want to create feel-bad moments for new players, but…surely they could have at least reprinted the half-cycle from Ixalan or something?

I guess one thing that I should mention is the Buy-a-Box promos that they’re doing starting with Dominaria, where buying a booster box from participating game stores (or was it preordering?) would get you a special card not found in the regular set. It’s supposed to be an incentive to buy from the local stores instead of online or something like that, but as far as I’m concerned, saying it fell flat is an understatement. If I’m paying an extra $20-$30 to get a box from a LGS, that extra card had better be worth that price difference, but if it’s really good (and if it’s worth $20+, it probably is), then it drives up demand and people can just sell them on the secondary market. (Though apparently, the promos are actually less rare than any given mythic rare card from the main set, so they’re perceived to be rarer than they actually are.) Also, locking certain cards to buying from specific stores actually makes me less likely to want to buy from them, because doing so only encourages the stupid practice. Besides, the sets that I like enough to want to buy a whole booster box of are few and far between. (Currently, that is exactly Kaladesh and Unstable, though I get did an Aether Revolt box to draft and a Dominaria one to split with my brother, if you count those, and I kind of want to get a Battlebond one. We’ll talk about Battlebond in a bit.)

Now, let’s talk about the supplementary sets. Going by chronological order, we’ll start with Masters 25, and fair warning, this will be a long, blunt, probably passive-aggressive, and maybe even just plain aggressive one. I’ll cut to the chase: This set is not what we wanted, or at least not what I wanted (yes, my opinion doesn’t dictate everyone else, whatever). Oh, the idea was good: a set full of cards from every set in the 25 years of MTG’s history to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the game, something to send players on a nostalgia trip, even including set symbol watermarks for style points (which, honestly, is something I wouldn’t say no to for future Masters sets). The execution, however, I found to be lackluster at best and completely senseless at worst: while there were indeed cards from every set, the designers did not put nearly enough thought into making them cards that would actually be desired or worth the price of the packs.

For starters, there are many, many iconic cards that were absent. I understand that not all of them can logistically make the cut, but…where is Doubling Season? Where is Stoneforge Mystic? Baneslayer Angel? Birds of Paradise? The Mirrodin swords? Where are the Eldrazi, or the Urza’s lands? Why are there no extra turn spells? Not even the Lhurgoyf made it in. Mirrodin block barely got any of its famous artifacts (heck, I wouldn’t say no to another Isochron Scepter reprint, even), Urza block got darn near none of its famously powerful cards, Return to Ravnica block didn’t get anything special (certainly nothing that reminds me of the block)…and why are almost all the cards from current Standard sets commons and uncommons worth pennies? Of all the interesting dinosaurs from Ixalan that could be represented, they picked one of the most boring, mundane, and already overprinted ones? Given how popular planeswalkers are as a card type and how iconic some of them are, why the crap don’t they give us more of them in supplementary sets, too, instead of only two or, in this case, one? And how, in a set that’s all about famous cards from the game’s history, did we not get a single Lotus or Mox?

And even among the cards that aren’t as famous but must be there to fill out the set, some of the choices were baffling. Surely there were better options then Blue Sun’s Zenith, Bident of Thassa, and Tree of Redemption, for example, given how many cards there are that haven’t seen print in quite some time. (To be fair, Tree of Redemption stood out enough even when the set was being previewed that it kind of became a minor meme.) We could have gotten Quicksilver Amulet again, or Wurmcoil Engine, Lava Spike, Privileged Position, Rings of Brighthearth (I rather like Rings of Brighthearth, it’s unique, it’s extremely low in supply, and it has eluded a veritable myriad of opportunities for a reprint), Asceticism, Khalni Hydra, Master Transmuter, Defense Grid, Collected Company…even among relatively inexpensive cards, there are things such as Sylvan Caryatid, Wall of Reverence, Reverberate, Invisible Stalker, Dramatic Entrance, Hunter’s Insight, Cloudpost (and Glimmerpost…and on that note, I’d consider the Locuses iconic enough to be in this set anyway), Seething Song, Prophet of Kruphix, Infiltration Lens, all sorts of stuff that would have been at least better than much of what we got. I would hope that future core sets could cover a few of those, but I’m not holding my breath. There were cards there that I was glad to see again, but they were greatly in the minority.

As a result, this set feels like lousy value for its cost. When booster packs are $10, they really need to be worth it, and Masters 25 does not seem worth it. I will say that it is at least better than Iconic Masters in that regard, mainly because IMA also had an imbalanced distribution of value, with the average being greatly skewed by most of the expensive cards being at higher rarities and most of the lower rarities consisting of cheap, barely-used bulk cards that absolutely didn’t need reprinting, making booster packs even more of a gamble than usual. (And remember, I didn’t think IMA stuck to its theme very well either.) At least one Wizards employee seems to think that IMA didn’t sell well because of the Hascon preview decreasing interest, while it seems evident to me that the set’s poor performance had nothing to do with the preview and everything to do with the fact that it simply did not feel like there was enough value there to justify buying booster packs.

On that note, the same person implied a push more toward designing future sets for drafting, which, quite frankly, seems like another harebrained idea to me. I realize now that they have always been designed for drafting, but—lest I reiterate what I said in my Iconic Masters review—you’d never guess it from the price point. If they want people to draft it, fine, but they need to go full-in on that and price them more reasonably. If they want to reprint things that people want for constructed, that’s also good and they can keep packs at $10, but then they need to go full-in on that and put more cards in the set that people want and less chaff. It seems to me that trying to design them for draft while still retaining the high price point (and sprinkling a few money cards into them in an attempt to justify the value) is merely Wizards trying to have their cake and eat it, and it seems to me that it will inevitably end up making both draft players and constructed players dissatisfied, especially if they’re casual. Besides, we already have a series of supplementary sets designed specifically for draft. It’s called Conspiracy. There is no similar product for reprinting stuff for constructed formats; they just have to be strewn around existing supplementary sets. If you ask me, rather than designing these sets specifically to be drafted, it is better simply to design them well; if a set is good, and especially if it clicks together nicely, people will want to draft it anyway.

In summary, Masters 25 feels extremely lackluster, especially for a big fancy 25th anniversary set. As widely disliked as Iconic Masters was, I think I’m actually even more disappointed in A25 because it seems like a huge missed opportunity for such a climactic set. Maybe the nostalgia is there for some people (I wouldn’t know; I started playing fairly recently, so Modern Masters 2017 was much more of a “nostalgia trip Masters set” for me), but nostalgia value isn’t enough to make something good. As with Iconic Masters, there weren’t enough noteworthy cards and there wasn’t enough value to justify the purchase of boosters. If it seems like I’m making a lot of comparisons between the two, it’s because Masters 25 essentially just feels like Iconic Masters 2: Anniversary Edition. Masters sets are supposed to provide one possible avenue to make cards that are well-liked or in high demand but hard to come by more accessible, but recently, they’ve been feeling more like games of Corrupt-a-Wish. Yes, Wizards is a business, not a charity, but businesses need customers, which in this case are the players. If those players are dissatisfied with the product, and if they feel like their complaints are not being listened to, they’ll feel alienated, and if they feel alienated, they will seek entertainment elsewhere, or at least not buy any more new product. Back during preview season, I’d heard many stories of people canceling their pre-orders because of the set being underwhelming (one person even said that every single person who made a preorder at their LGS canceled it for one reason or another), which is definitely not a sign of confidence. I suggest that whatever team is in charge of these Masters sets tries a different tack and actually pays attention to what people want, or they will continue to do poorly and leave people feeling displeased. You can make them based on a particular theme or a particular format, just as long as you make them actually worth buying.

*sigh* Anyway, on the subject of supplementary sets that actually do seem worth their price relative to their value, a new kind of multiplayer set came out back in June: Battlebond. It focuses on teams of two (formally known as “Two-Headed Giant”, but I more often just call it “team play”), so the set is designed around two people at a time working together, which is reflected in some of the cards and mechanics. The “partner” ability from Commander 2016 returns as a new variant, “partner with”, where the creatures with it—as well as one pair of planeswalkers—must be paired with a specific other card, but once you get one of them out, you can search your library for the other one and put it into your hand…or better yet, have your teammate do that. There is also assist, which allows another player to pay the generic portion of a card’s mana cost. Finally, we see the return of support from Oath of the Gatewatch, which…puts +1/+1 counters on stuff. Yeah. It’s even set on a new plane: Kylem, where the people really like sports and two-on-two battles. Sadly, we didn’t get any stories for Battlebond to explore the plane more. Notable new cards from the set include Bramble Sovereign, Arena Rector, Arcane Artisan, Najeela, and the dual lands, which depend on having two or more opponents to enter untapped (and they could be a good thing to reprint in Commander sets, hint hint). As for the reprints…let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: Doubling Season finally got another reprint. Sadly, it’s mythic rare and Battlebond had a short print run, and as a result, it’s still 33 bucks, but hey, that’s better than 58, which is about what it was before. Beyond that, there are a couple of other expensive cards (though not as expensive as everyone’s favorite 5-mana green enchantment) that showed up: in the “high demand” corner, we have True-Name Nemesis, a rather infamous card from Commander 2013, and in the “low supply” corner, we have Vigor, originally from Lorwyn. Seedborn Muse is another low-supply one (though probably higher demand than Vigor), and it was one of the cards that I was going to complain about Masters 25 not including until it got reprinted here. Kor Spiritdancer and Chain Lightning are also good. I can’t speak for how the set actually plays, because I couldn’t convince anyone to go to any release events with me or get packs from it together.

Finally, there is Commander 2018. The themes this year are enchantments (green/white/blue), artifacts (blue/red), lands and possibly ramp (black/red/green), and “top of your library matters” (white/blue/black). More importantly, we get a new cycle of planeswalker commanders this time around: Estrid, the Masked; Saheeli, the Gifted; Lord Windgrace; and Aminatou, the Fateshifter. There’s not too much to say about the characters, since, again, we didn’t get any story. Furthermore, Aminatou seems to have been the only one of them who actually got a bio, and she’s…weird. She’s the youngest planeswalker so far, at 8 years old; she seems to be from a West African-inspired plane; and she is completely overpowered and it’s ridiculous (not that you’d ever guess it from her card, which is actually pretty weak). She has the ability to manipulate fate, which to me seems like it would allow her to do just about anything except change things that already happened, and to foresee the future, which allowed her to trigger her spark early. Saheeli is a character whom we already saw back on Kaladesh, and I’m pleased that she got another card, unless it makes her less likely to appear as a character again. Lord Windgrace is a character from the old stories and cards whom I don’t know much if anything about beyond the fact that he’s probably dead now. Estrid really should have gotten a bio as well, because we didn’t learn anything about her other than that she uses magical masks (and, funny enough, I could have guessed that from her title).

I must admit, though, the decks this year felt rather underwhelming. They weren’t as lame as the last two Masters sets, but they seemed noticeably weaker than usual, yet Wizards raised their price by $5. Also, Estrid’s deck is the only one that really felt coherent; the others seemed to be kind of disjointed. Still, though, there were at least some interesting new cards and a few decent reprints. Among the other new commanders, Kestia is kind of cool (first legendary nymph, for one) and her art is nice, Tuvasa is simplistic but decent, Tawnos seems good if you can build around him, Brudiclad is interesting (but more Phyrexian than I’d like), Gyrus is weird but could be decent (and dodges commander tax to boot), Thantis is one of those cards that I dislike both for gameplay and flavor reasons, Yennett is interesting and seems useful if you have the colors for her, and Varina seems like a decent tribal leader. For the other legendary creatures, Arixmethes is cute (and I really want to put it in a stompy/ramp deck), Varchild is weird, Xantcha is kind of silly but interesting (and hey, she finally got a card), and Yuriko could be pretty good. Other notable new cards include Heavenly Blademaster, Aminatou’s Augury, Estrid’s Invocation, Ever-Watching Threshold, Emissary of Grudges, Nesting Dragon, and Endless Atlas. Notable reprints include Bear Umbra (the other card that I was going to complain about Masters 25 not including until it got reprinted here), Enchantress’s Presence, Wild Growth (hey, that hasn’t shown up in the new border yet), Avenger of Zendikar, Mimic Vat, and Prototype Portal. I’ll admit I’m disappointed that they missed an opportunity for an Eldrazi Conscription reprint, though. Privileged Position would also have been a possibility, and maybe Darksteel Plate.

In summary: Dominaria was good, though Sagas were the only noteworthy set mechanic; the 2019 core set was actually quite decent for a core set, even if I was disappointed that there weren’t any returning mechanics (and that the story focused almost entirely on Icky Nicky); Masters 25 did the exact same things wrong that Iconic Masters did except for the name; Battlebond was an interesting new type of multiplayer-centric set and had some good reprints; and Commander 2018 was kind of weak but okay.

Interviews for queer pride month — August 25, 2018

Interviews for queer pride month

Content warnings: Much discussion of gender and sexuality, romance, relationships, family and troubles with them, religion, mention of abuse and cultish behavior, self-harm, suicide, discrimination and ostracism, (censored) profanity…am I missing any?

Well, this post was supposed to come in June, but…better late than never? At least this time, the lateness mostly isn’t my fault. June happens to be queer pride month, so I had the idea late in the month to interview people of various queer identities, both in person and online, to discuss their feelings and experiences, which I present to you here (not in any particular order). Interviews are separated by person (or a couple in one case), and names have been changed for privacy. Also, there will occasionally be notes for terms that some people might be unfamiliar with (*like this).

1.

TheMartianGeek: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Whitney: I’m an asexual woman and I go by she/they.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Whitney: In my freshman year of college a group of friends and I were taking turns doing an online test that asked what our sexuality was, and asexual was one of the options. At the time I thought I was straight but ‘low interest’ because I thought that was the only option that didn’t include same-sex attraction, and just seeing the word made me start to question/realize things and look it up later. It took me another year from there to go from saying tentatively calling myself ‘maybe asexual’ to just calling myself asexual, but mainly just out of wanting to be sure.

TMG: How old are you?

Whitney: 23.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer (or asexual) person?

Whitney: I think my biggest priority would be to explain the different sexualities and that they exist, but after that I’d want to emphasize that there are a lot of different types of relationships and that it’s ok to take time and self reflection to find what works best for them.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life?

Whitney: There’s a lot of ways being queer has affected my life, outside of the obligatory difference from being straight. I definitely got teased for things that in retrospect were related to my asexuality in school, but there was also a big impact in my personal life and understanding my own feelings. Something that’s always stuck out to me was a time in high school when I was interested in a guy I knew. At some point I suddenly realized I’d never once thought about kissing him (let alone anything sexual) during the entire time I’d ‘liked’ him. I’d thought about going on dates, spending time together, and holding hands but kissing or ‘making out’ had never crossed my mind. At the time I thought this meant I had only wanted to be friends with him, since romantic relationships involve wanting to kiss each other. I think if I’d known I was asexual back then it would definitely have helped with the confusion, but even then this was a glaring example of how what I thought about for a relationship didn’t really match up with how relationships are portrayed in society.

TMG: How has it affected your relationship?

Whitney: My partner actually suggested that I might be asexual before we were romantically involved and before I was sure of my sexuality enough to be out. It’s never really put a strain on our relationship at all (my partner is not asexual), which I’m sure is helped by the amount we regularly communicate.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Whitney: Pride month to me is about the history of fighting for rights and recognition for queer people and within that for same-gender relationships, as well as more recently a celebration of how far we’ve come. I think in recent years there has been what’s been referred to as ‘rainbow capitalism,’ and I think that detracts from what Pride is supposed to be about. That said, I don’t think that takes from the importance of Pride month for queer individuals and think it’s something that can be overcome in favor of a focus on LGBT+ people themselves.

2.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Alicia: Panromantic asexual, nonbinary/demigirl. I use they/them mostly, but I present femme so people assume she/her and I don’t typically correct them due to social awkwardness.

TMG: I’ve noticed that you do mostly present pretty feminine. Yet you don’t feel comfortable with being called a girl/woman/she?

Alicia: Not particularly. I’m AFAB (*assigned female at birth), and I like makeup and dresses, but that doesn’t make me a woman. When I finally took a look at myself, I realized that I’m not really a girl, I’m just a femme enby (*person of nonbinary gender).

TMG: What do you think the difference is between actually being female and being feminine but not female?

Alicia: Hm…well for me, being femme is more aesthetic, whereas being female is one’s gender.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Alicia: My gender identity I realized recently, within the last 6-9months. Sexual and romantic identities, somewhere around 4-5 years ago.

TMG: How old are you?

Alicia: 22 years old.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer person? Or specifically asexual, nonbinary, etc.

Alicia: You’re not broken and you aren’t “bandwagoning.” You’re you, you’re unique and you’re valid. Your identities may change over the years, so don’t be scared to change those labels as often as you see fit. You’re going to be okay and you are loved.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life?

Alicia: It’s given me a community to be a part of and has allowed me to befriend people I never would have known existed otherwise. It’s also caused some hardships – always having to answer questions and knowing that more than likely I’m the odd one out in a group of strangers makes life a little difficult. I also live in an area where queers aren’t very accepted, so I have to deal with that as well, and when I go places with my girlfriend, we often get weird looks and faces.

TMG: Well, you and your girlfriend are adorable, and anyone who has a problem with it can eat a butt. Do you think being queer has affected your relationship in any way that wouldn’t be true if you weren’t so?

Alicia: Hmm… I don’t really think so! Except that… maybe I wouldn’t be dating Sally if she were, let’s say, a straight guy.

TMG: Despite being panromantic? I guess she would probably be significantly less cute…

Alicia: Hahaa I doubt that she’d be less cute, but I find myself being significantly less attracted to cis guys than trans guys, trans girls, cis girls, and enbies; maybe because most of the cis guys I’ve met are pretty jerkish.

TMG: I’m telling you…testosterone makes you angry, bald, and shorter-lived. It’s a trap. Actually, do you think asexual people who are in relationships tend to be more lovey-dovey than allosexual (*not asexual) people? I would assume that that’s not the case and they’re two separate and unrelated spectra, but it could be true that when you’re not sexually attracted to each other, other expressions of love might come out more.

Alicia: Hmm… I think we are tbh! But also because we usually aren’t just in a relationship for sex, but because we love our partners so we usually like to express that as often as possible! At least, that’s true for me! Some aces aren’t like that, and that’s okay too!

TMG: I’d say that you guys are almost sickening sometimes, but that’s not really true. Doesn’t mean I can’t lightly tease you about it, though. Besides, I’m happy for you. I think maybe more people need to appreciate the love shared between others as well?

Alicia: Lol, Jason would probably agree that we are sickening 😀 thank you!

TMG: So, what’s your family like? And your mental state (illness and such)?

Alicia: My family is pretty chill. The ones that I care about don’t really care about my identity (in a supportive “we love you regardless” way, not a dismissive one.) They’re kind of conservative, so they don’t really “get” it, so I don’t press the issue often. I’ve had some form of depression and anxiety since I was a child, and I still do. I’m in a pretty decent mental state these days though.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Alicia: It’s a month for celebrating who I am. It’s also remembrance for those who started the LGBT rights movement, specifically at Stonewall. They’re our predecessors, and it’s important to recognize that what they started is what got us where we are now. I appreciate that.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Alicia: Hmm… I don’t think so!

TMG: All right. Thank you for your time.

Alicia: Thank you for interviewing me!

TMG: My pleasure. I like to learn about other people’s experiences. (Well, actually, a lot of the time, they make me sad…but still…)

Alicia: Well I’m glad I could tell you mine!

3.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Violet: I identify as a bisexual and biromantic person, and I use she/her pronouns even though I think I might be slightly nonbinary.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Violet: I really realized it for the first time when I was fifteen/sixteen, but it was the kind of deal where once I started to let myself accept it, a whole bunch of earlier experiences started to make sense. I think I always knew, I just pushed it back.

TMG: Ah. And you’re 19 now, right?

Violet: Indeed I am.

TMG: Okay. What would you tell a young queer person? Or bisexual/biromantic specifically, if you like.

Violet: It’s okay to be unsure and you don’t have to wholeheartedly dive into any particular identity. This kind of a thing is a journey, and the most important thing is accepting and understanding yourself. And if they come from a religious background, God doesn’t hate you and He didn’t make a mistake.

TMG: On that note, it seems like there’s been a lot of clashing of values when it comes to religion and queer people.

Violet: Yeah that’s a hot topic. Ultimately it usually comes down to religious people not truly understanding the nature of the God they claim to serve.

TMG: It’s all about love, no? Yet so many people choose to hate instead…

Violet: Hate and judgement are literally the opposite of what Christians are supposed to do.

TMG: Though even some well-meaning people might claim that being queer is considered a sin or something. I’ve heard that the actual meaning of the passage against “man lying with man” has been lost in translation.

Violet: Well even with that argument (which I don’t agree with), literally everyone sins. Everyone. And every sin is equal in the eyes of God—it’s like these people think being gay is a travesty and, like, lying is fine. And yeah, I’ve heard that floating around too.

TMG: One could argue that it’s unfair for your mere existence to count as a constant sin. But like you said, you don’t agree with that argument anyway, nor do I.

Violet: There’s a lot of hypocrisy at the core of it.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life? And your relationships.

Violet: It’s put a lot of strain on my relationship with my family at times and it means I have to hide a large part of my life from them indefinitely. Most of my friends have been really accepting of me, which is great, but it’s not so easy with my family due to religious prejudice and that kind of thing. It’s honestly put me in a place where I feel like I’m not queer enough to be considered a part of the community sometimes, because I can’t have a girlfriend and I’ve never been to Pride and that kind of thing. But ultimately, it’s also given me another huge community of people who love and support me even when my family might not.

TMG: Aw. I was going to ask about family acceptance and whatnot.

Violet: Honestly, my family is the biggest part of my life and has been for as long as I’ve been alive so those are the only relationships I’ve had with the potential to be affected.

TMG: Well, what’s your mental state like? Any history of illness or anything?

Violet: I have a history of self-harm, but I’m currently a year clean (go me), and I do consistently struggle with anxiety, but my coping skills are pretty good.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Violet: It means a beautiful celebration of acceptance and how far our community has come, but also a time to think about how far we have to go because we haven’t quite reached the goal yet. It’s a time for frequently rejected people to be open and proud of who they are and I think that’s awesome.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Violet: No I think that about covers everything. Wait, I’d also like to say that all queer people are beautiful and I love them.

TMG: Yay.

4.

TMG: What is your full identity?

Gabrielle: I am demi-hetero-romantic, sex-repulsed asexual.

TMG: She/her pronouns, I assume?

Gabrielle: Yes I am fine with she/her.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Gabrielle: I was 100% sure of being asexual after I dated a guy in person and I just felt that all those relationship stuff that sexual people do were too uncomfortable for me and I couldn’t just be attracted to someone without having a meaningful connection beforehand. I didn’t seek to date with heterosexual guys anymore after that and I went on researching deeper about asexuality. I already heard the term thanks to a friend of mine, but I wasn’t sure. So around 2016 I went fully out about my defined identity. The romantic part took me a bit longer to figure out and it wasn’t until late 2017 when I understood I am demi-hetero-romantic.

TMG: How old are you?

Gabrielle: 27.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer person?

Gabrielle: Please don’t force yourself to do things you are not comfortable with just to fit a normal. Please listen truly and deeply to your own feelings first. If romance and sex are not your thing, they are not your thing. We are different and we all have the same value as human beings.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life and relationships?

Gabrielle: Trying to put a long story short, being ace without knowing the name of it was really difficult. I was mostly alone, still am. I was bullied all day everyday for the entire 13 years of schooling and I didn’t know what it was to have a relationship. I lived in an extremely hypersexualised country and it always felt alien to me, I mean, their culture. The rest of the world is very sexual, I know it, but it doesn’t feel as horrible as it was for me during my years there. As I said, I tried to date a guy now that I live in another country. Nope, it still feels horrible just to think I might have f***ed him. I didn’t. But just the thought of a what if I did feels disgusting. It was very hard. I’m one of those members of the sexual minorities who experienced suicide tendencies from an early age. Knowing who I am has been truly a liberating and wonderful thing for my mental health.

TMG: What’s your family like? And your mental state?

Gabrielle: So, according to therapists, I have issues with anxiety and depressive symptoms but, I am neurotypical. Now that I posted on FB that I got my prescription for antidepressants nooow a family relative said that it is in the family and some of my relatives have been through this. So now I know, on my mom’s side, it is a thing to go through depression. My biological father is someone I have never known. He is somewhere in USA. I tried to establish a connection with him but I felt no genuine interest on his part so, I stopped trying. I’m not a beggar and I don’t believe a child has the duty to go and find a parent and put all the effort in a relationship that never existed in the first place. I was born and he was already gone and divorced. So…yeah, single mom’s child here. I do have a soul father. A friend of mine who is older than me, could easily pass for my dad. He is the father I never had and he has a golden heart. I know he is not my dad but, I call him so. He is in Finland. Friends, well, I’m trying, I think I can trust. I also have a soul mother by the way. My bio mom had so much in her plate you know, always at work just to be able to pay my schooling. It is one of those countries where the average wage is 500 bucks but the average living cost is 1000+ so a lot of single parents work extra. Mom’s best friend was the wise mother who always gave me the emotional support and wisdom that my bio mom didn’t have the mental strength to provide. Now that I’m older I finally understood and I genuinely appreciate both of them for what they did for me. I am lucky in that regard. I have 2 mothers. A very hard working one who gave me even beyond her capabilities and a very wise one, who never hesitated to stay on the phone with me during the years of abuse at school and even today. Not everyone has this fortune. My life isn’t perfect and it isn’t happy, and definitely it is not a “normal” life, bit I am finally starting to be genuinely thankful for the good things that have happened. The sweetest victory is not revenge, is not grudge and is not succeeding over those who hurt you. To me the sweetest victory is when you can start to feel at least satisfied with what you’ve lived through, when you gain mental and emotional peace, that’s the sweetest victory, then is when you truly start to live a little bit. I’m glad I have started to feel this way even before being 30, cause I know very well that a lot of s*** is coming my way and I need to be ready for it.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Gabrielle: Pride month arrives a little later in Budapest. We will have this year’s parade on July 7th. It is an important thing for me. It is a reminder that we are free to be who we are. It is also nice that we can go as proud asexuals and no one is excluding us from the event. It shouldn’t be exclusivist at all. It is an inclusion event where people gather to be free. It is quite symbolic that we also cross one of the city bridges during the march, at least, that happened last summer. Bridges hold a strong meaning to me and adding a pride march is simply beyond my words.

TMG: How do queer rights in your country compare to those in the U.S.?

Gabrielle: I can tell you about 2 countries. The unnameable and Hungary. Both are quite lacking when it comes to queer rights. In the other country there are no rights for nobody. Queer, disabled, elderly, foreigners, expats, nobody. Not even the locals have any form of safety net whatsoever. Son.. the other place is just irrelevant when discussing human rights. Simple as that. Hungary is quite a progressive country in its own weird way. The political system is mostly crappy. Here marriage is still only between a man and a woman. A lot of LGBT members are in the closet depending on where do they work. Some places are more open than others. But the people here are more of a live and let live mentality, and there are quite a bunch of people as activists in the LGBTQ+ community. The pride march grows bigger every year. So all in all, Hungary might be lagging behind, but it is not stagnant. It just goes at its own pace. Also I may add, the ace community in Hungary is the biggest in this region of Europe. We have been searching and there are no such asexual communities in neither Poland, Slovakia, Czechia and other neighbouring countries. We have the biggest and most active asexual group. I am definitely quite proud of this.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Gabrielle: I’m not sure.

TMG: Well, thanks for your time.

5.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Luke: I’m male and biromantic though I lean more towards dating girls and a fair bit more towards sexual attraction with girls. Like I think I’d be primary sexual for girls on the red violet. But tertiary for guys.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Luke: I mostly discovered my identity one day, after kind of thinking about how I felt about a guy I knew since it wasn’t quite like, a platonic feeling but something else. After a while I sorta realized that it was a bit of a romantic feeling, and ever since then that’s happened a few more times. Hence, biromanticism. (Note that this applies a lot less to sexual feelings – re: sexual feelings and dudes: I’d mostly do it for their benefit, but I don’t think I’d either be uncomfortable with it or enjoy it a lot.)

TMG: Huh. And you’re 16, right?

Luke: Yep. Everything’s subject to change, maybe. But I like to think my grasp on me is not that shaky.

TMG: What would you tell a younger queer person? Or even another person your age.

Luke: I’d probably tell them that the first priority should honestly be to come to terms with themselves and figure out who they are, no matter what other people think about it. The second thing I’d tell them is that there’s no wrong orientation or identity to hold, because we’re born the way we are and there’s nothing we can do to change it. I don’t know if that advice is helpful, seeing that honestly I come from a pretty privileged position in this regard, but that’s my opinion.
Definitely the first though, since I think a lot of the times people settle in on an identity and try to stick to it when that’s realistically not happening on the first or even second try or even later.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life and relationships?

Luke: Honestly, compared to most people, not that much. It’s led to some moments where I’ve tried to cram the “are you into guys” question into conversation with guys I’ve crushed on, but like it’s not bad these days. I’ve told my parents and mercifully, they’re very accepting, as are my friends. I consider it just another part of me, really, although it does make me often think about how fortunate I am that I don’t grow up in a less accepting family.

TMG: How about mental state?

Luke: If I’m stressed and panicky, it’s because of school. I don’t think my orientation has a lot to do with my mental state these days.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you? (Actually, is there one in Canada?)

Luke: Yeah, it’s June. I mean, I think it’s nice to have recognition for the increase in right for LGBT people alongside as a symbol for additional steps that can and should be taken. It’s good to recognize, is my opinion on it basically

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Luke: No, not really.

TMG: Okay.

6.

TMG: What are your full identities?

Frances: Pansexual, Cis-female. Stephanie: Lesbian, Trans-Woman.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identities?

Frances: I, Frances, discovered mine as soon as I discovered that I could feel attraction to people, Freshman year of highschool. I didn’t know non-binary people, so I called myself bisexual until Stephanie transitioned, and proved to me that gender really wasn’t a factor in attraction for me. Stephanie passes on this question.

TMG: Yeah, aren’t you attracted to certain personalities, not certain genders?

Frances: Right. I’m attracted to people who are gentle, kind, talented, artistic, nerdy…though Stephanie’s elf-ears do also help. So, I’m actually attracted to very few people, and Stephanie fills that mold perfectly.

TMG: “What gender are you?” “Elf.” “No, I mean what’s in your pants?” “Archery skills and fabulous blond hair.”

Frances: lol!

TMG: I’d imagine that probably made Stephanie’s transition a lot easier, too. Of course, so did having someone who loves you. But then, what isn’t made easier by having someone who loves you? Also, you’re both 31 years old, right?

Frances: Yeah, I think that it made it easier for Stephanie, knowing that I wouldn’t reject her if she transitioned. And yes, we’re both 31.

TMG: What would you tell a young bi/pansexual, trans, gay, or just generally queer person?

Frances: Find queer friends who understand what you’re going through. Family, though they may be loving, may not understand and unintentionally be cruel. Or intentionally. So, having a safe place, safe people to confide in is important as you grow to accept and love yourself.

TMG: How has being queer affected your lives and relationships? That includes your marriage, though I guess you pretty much covered that already to some degree.

Frances: It’s hard to say, since we haven’t lived any other lives where we were straight.

TMG: You have a point.

Frances: My relationship with my in-laws would probably be better. That’s about all I can think of.

TMG: On that note, what are your respective families like, if I may ask?

Frances: Mine is very liberal, mostly atheist, a mix of Democrat and Libertarian. Stephanie’s is Christian of various flavors, conservative, and has a lot of Republicans.

TMG: No prizes for guessing which is more accepting, I assume (or rather, the readers would assume).

Frances: Yeah, lol.

TMG: You, at least, get along pretty well with your family, don’t you?

Frances: Yeah. They’ve really stepped up.

TMG: Nice. They’ve seemed cool from what little time I’ve been around them.

Frances: Yup. My family is really diverse, so we fit right in.

TMG: And you’re on the autism spectrum, too. Is Stephanie neurodivergent at all?

Frances: Not as far as we know.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Frances: It’s time to celebrate what queer people have survived and accomplished, and it helps us build community and connect with our communities.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Frances: I can’t think of anything.

TMG: All right then.

7.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Nicole: I am bisexual and genderfluid, but I usually just say I’m queer because that’s easier. I don’t really care a lot about pronouns, personally, but they/them works. She/her is what usually happens, though. (He/him also sometimes happens; it was weird the first time but I’m used to it now. Still prefer they/them to he/him, though.)

TMG: Fair enough. I imagine you in particular aren’t all that strongly tied to any specific, narrow gender identity?

Nicole: Not especially, no. I often present as somewhat more feminine, but I still look pretty middle-of-the-road even then. Oh, actually, sorry, meant to say I identify as nonbinary, not genderfluid. Similar things, but I think nonbinary better encompasses me as a person. I mean, as a label, it works, but I’m not sure that I actually do move back and forth between the ends of the gender spectrum that much.

TMG: So not so much waking up and thinking “I am the beautiful queen of femininity! Give me all the makeup and dresses!” some days and “Gender? wat” others, but mostly the latter all the time?

Nicole: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. I used to have days when I’d want to wear dresses and be all feminine, but those days are becoming increasingly rare as I get older. I’m not sure if that’s because gender spectrum or just being old and tired, though. The main characteristic of genderfluid that I don’t so much experience like I used to is the hard shift between genders. I used to have Very Masculine days and Very Feminine days; now I’m just pretty solidly meh about it every day. It’s actually been several months since I’ve had a day (or other period of time) that was solidly one way or the other.

TMG: Okay. When and how did you discover your identity?

Nicole: PSA: This is going to be a bit of a novel. I grew up extremely religious, so there was no discussion whatsoever about gender, sex, sexuality, or any of that beyond “you were born female, you will get married to a man and make babies.” I’ve known pretty much since ever that being a “girl” or “female” felt weird and awkward and not quite right, and I also knew that I wanted none of this making babies business. However, I smushed all that down as much as I could because I was told it was evil and wrong to be anything other than a straight babymaker. So I didn’t really explicitly realize my identity until I was probably a senior in college. As a junior, I’d studied abroad in Morocco and been exposed to a lot of new information. A friend of mine was surprised that I’d never had a “bicurious” phase, and was also surprised at how vehemently I denied it. But her surprise and her questions made me start thinking more deeply. So then I realized at about age 21 that I was probably bi. Coincidentally, I also started dating my partner when I was 21. He was the first person I actually came out to. (Obviously, he’s very accepting; it probably helps that he’s not entirely straight himself.) I became fairly comfortable with identifying as bi, but I knew there was still something off. I was not comfortable being defined as a woman, but I didn’t really know what else was out there. So I started researching. And then the summer after I turned 23, I realized that nonbinary was a thing and that I was that thing. At first I identified as a demigirl, but it quickly became apparent to me that that didn’t encompass everything. So then I identified more as genderfluid, because I had pretty distinct days of feeling like different genders. In the past year or so (I’m 26 now), that particular pendulum has mostly come to rest and I’m just in a funky little nonbinary spot where gender is mostly a shrug.

TMG: Sounds like quite the journey of self-discovery.

Nicole: Ohhhh yeah. During that self-discovery time I also shifted from fundamentalist Christian to atheist to very lax pagan, so there was a LOT of moving about.

TMG: Well, you are valid and loved, and I’m glad you finally had everything fall into place.

Nicole: Aw, thank you ❤

TMG: So, what would you tell a young queer person? Perhaps someone who's only just realized that there is more than just "heterosexual and cisgender", or someone who's felt all along that there was something "not right" with the way everyone else was defining them?

Nicole: Well, first, take a deep breath. There's nothing wrong with you. You're valid. There are lots of other people like you so you are definitely not alone. You don't have to shoehorn yourself into some nonsense societal expectation. Be yourself, love yourself, and be nice to yourself. Understanding your identity can be a really long process, and it's okay if it changes over time. But on the other hand, be prepared for people to not like you because of who you are. A lot of people still have hateful and nasty little minds. If you catch heat for being who you are, try to just let it roll off you. Again, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. But there's a whole lot wrong with people who choose to hate! Keep your head up and try not to let other people's words get to you. (There will probably be days when words do hurt. A lot. But you'll get through them. You will survive—and not just survive, but thrive. You're your own beautiful rainbow self, and nothing anybody says to you can change that.)

TMG: That was beautiful.

Nicole: I mean, I try, lol.

TMG: Come to think of it, you mentioned being pagan, too. Do you that it's more common for people of non-mainstream religions (for lack of a better word) to be queer? Or for queer people to follow one of those religions, or none at all? Perhaps it's a case of correlation, but not causation?

Nicole: In my personal experience, absolutely. Most pagan traditions are very accepting of queer folk; in fact, many traditions have queer deities.

TMG: Like…someone who is cool with uncommon gender identities and such is probably more likely to be accepting of pagans, atheists, and such, but that doesn't mean it's a cause and effect. Like how people who watch anime are more likely to play Dungeons & Dragons, not because anime makes you interested in D&D but because they're both "nerdy" activities and tend to attract similar people.

Nicole: Yes, that. I'd say it's probably more correlation than causation in most cases; if any causative link exists, it's probably queer, then pagan, considering you can't exactly change whether you're queer. That's definitely how it went for me, though of course my evidence is only anecdotal.

TMG: Of course, that also means that anyone who is hostile to minority religions (or lack of one) is probably more likely to assume that being queer is also "evil" because of that correlation…

Nicole: Yeah, that also happens.

TMG: You know, I could probably make a similar argument about My Little Pony actually being satanic. It has unicorns, which bisexual people are compared to. Also, unicorns have horns, and the devil has horns. And since being bisexual is also evil, that means My Little Pony is a work of evil, trying to corrupt children with its eldritch messages of friendship.

Nicole: O nooooooes. How dare cute ponies spread a message of friendship and love using unicorns. Madness, I tell you. The downfall of society.

TMG: Anyway, we're getting rather off-track here. How has being queer affected your life, other than what we've discussed already?

Nicole: Mostly? I'm just a lot happier. I feel better about myself and about life in general. I'm not so annoyed at everything all the time. People do treat me differently sometimes, and my family definitely threw a hissy fit about it, but thanks to years of therapy and also a very thick skin, I no longer care.

TMG: You're happier than if you were a cishet (*cisgender and heterosexual) person?

Nicole: Ah, sorry. No, I meant I’m happier than I was when I tried to force myself to be cishet. In an objective way, being queer hasn’t affected my life that substantially. (Other than when I go to rural areas, where I get all of the stink eye. But again, I really can’t be bothered to care anymore.)

TMG: So being queer as an objective state hasn’t done much, but realizing it certainly did.

Nicole: Yes, exactly.

TMG: And you have a boyfriend, too. (Or is he a fiance at this point?) Do you think it’s affected your relationship in any way that would be atypical compared to any other relationship?

Nicole: I call him my partner. Somewhere between boyfriend and married. We’re not really set on the whole getting married thing so we’re just stuck at partner. Being queer has affected our relationship, I think. Mostly because we tend to have the same taste in women so we both tend to discreetly and politely check out the same women.

TMG: How exactly does one introduce a nonbinary significant other anyway? “Mom, Dad, this is my girl?friend.”

Nicole: Rick just introduces me as his partner. Though to be fair, I wasn’t out when I first met his parents, so…

TMG: For the purpose of our readers, what’s your family like?

Nicole: My parents are extremely religious. They brought my sister and me up in a cult and used homeschooling to try to force us to stay in it. (If they wanted us to stay in it, they probably should never have taught us to read. But I digress…) My parents are NOT accepting of anyone who is not a cishet white fundamentalist Christian. My extended family on my dad’s side doesn’t really care, although I think their brand of Christianity probably still says being queer is bad. My extended family on my mom’s side is p terrible so I don’t talk to them (hyper religious, very racist, mean, manipulative, physically and emotionally abusive… I can go on :P), well, with the exception of my aunt. She’s a lot like me (though presumably not queer) and she is also very estranged from that part of the family. My sister is the polar opposite of my family. Very open and accepting and super non-judgmental. She’s told me that this is partially because of the way my parents’ cult dealt with things when I came out.

TMG: And your mental state? Do you know if you have any mental conditions that would be classified as “abnormal”?

Nicole: I mean, anxiety and depression, but most of that is/was because of how I grew up. My therapist says I’m “cured” now, although I still have the odd trigger here and there. I’ve just gotten way better at dealing with them.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Nicole: I have kind of complicated feelings about that. Mostly it’s a celebration of being ourselves, which I love and enjoy. BUT the first pride event I went to (which was this month, actually) was overwhelmingly dominated by cis gay men, which is fine, but unfortunately there’s kind of a lot of misogyny and gatekeeping within certain portions of that community, so it added a different dynamic to the whole thing. That might just be a DC Pride issue, though. I hear several other cities have explicitly lesbian- and other queer folk-oriented events.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Nicole: I don’t think so. You’re very thorough.

TMG: All right. Cool. Thanks for doing this with me.

Nicole: Of course! And thank YOU for taking the time to do this also!

TMG: Sure. I hope it helps people. Friends are great~

Nicole: They are ❤

8.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Teresa: AFAB. Agender aromantic asexual. She/her.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Teresa: I knew as early as 10 that I didn’t experience the world in the same way as my peers. As far as actual terminology though I was 46. I was reading Sherlock Holmes fan fic and came across an unfamiliar term. Googled it and ended up on the AVEN website. Shocked to find out that what I was was actually a thing :). I’m currently 50 by the way.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer person?

Teresa: That there is an entire community out there waiting to offer you love and support… My spouse and I go out of our way to “adopt” young trans and ace kids in our city…we offer emotional support, buy them groceries…a lot of young queer people have families that have turned them out and for all of us community is vital.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life? And relationship, for that matter. Has being aro-ace (*aromantic asexual) ever been a problem for your husband or anything?

Teresa: When I publicly came out I lost a lot of friends….mostly Evangelical Christians that were angry that I was speaking up in defense of the queer community. As far as my spouse is concerning, discovering that I’m aro ace and not broken has improved my marriage. My spouse came home from work while I was sitting at the table on the laptop reading the AVEN site. I passed them the laptop and said “I think this is me.”. They looked it over and said, “First of all this explains a LOT. Secondly, we can work with this. “. Being allo, they thought that my lack of interest in sex and romance meant I didn’t love them but never said anything to me about it. Lol, when they proposed to me it went right over my head 🙂

TMG: So many people are worried about being in the friendzone. For you…the friendzone was in you all along! How long have you been married now?

Teresa: My marriage from my standpoint is a QPR (*queerplatonic relationship, a relationship with a stronger emotional bond than a friendship but still not romantic or sexual). I’ve been in other QPRs, all of them with women, usually more than one at a time. Currently just in the one because my last few have had massive issues with my spouse. Sorry….I’m married to that one…that one gets prioritized. I’m open to being in another one but will need to have a long talk with her first if and when that happens. 18 years.

TMG: I feel like people undervalue forms of love that aren’t romantic or sexual, honestly.

Teresa: Right. I want emotional closeness more than anything. I have that with my spouse. And it’s possible I think to be close to more than one person. I prefer women for that and they tend to be better at emotional intimacy and far less likely to decide they want to sleep with me although that isn’t always the case. I think that it’s easy for people to automatically drift into sexual or romantic attraction once that emotional intimacy is there.

TMG: I’m with you there. I still haven’t entirely figured out what my romantic attraction is like, but I do want emotional closeness even in friendships.

Teresa: Yeah….for me all of my relationships are categorized by how emotionally involved I am with the person. I’m also very demi when it comes to QPRs. I have to know the person first, but I do have a type….little, blonde, Irish ancestry, and some sort of mental health diagnosis….usually bipolar or BPD.

TMG: Huh. That’s interesting. You’re also a practicing Catholic, aren’t you? What do you have to say about the prevalent assumption that one cannot be both religious and queer, or that being queer is sinful?

Teresa: My parish is pretty queer-friendly. I personally manage to be both queer and Catholic pretty well. I believe that there is a biological component to why we are the way we are. I certainly didn’t choose this. My Evangelical Christian friends sometimes have issues with my gender presentation….I skew slightly masculine as far as they are concerned. Despite having a very female body (which I have no issues with) I get misgendered often as male if people don’t look closely. Whatever. I’m a person and my hair is human hair and my clothing is human clothing. I spent 4 years in Bible College and am entirely capable of going back to the original languages to have discussions about the topic with people who try to tell me I’m sinning.

TMG: What’s your family like? And your mental state?

Teresa: I’m not in contact with my immediate family because of abuse issues. I have a younger sister whom I’m in limited contact with. As far as my mental state, I went through decades of therapy to repair the damage that my parents inflicted. I worked very hard and have been stable and fine for years.

TMG: Aw…well, I’m glad that you’re doing better now.

Teresa: Cutting all contact with my parents in 2005 was a good decision. Toxic people don’t change and I married into a really lovely supportive family.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Teresa: Pride month was being involved in my community. My ace group had their own tent this year at our festival and the LGBTQIA community in my city is very inclusive and went out of their way to include us and keep us safe and make us feel welcome. I feel that solidarity and protection everyday but at Pride it was more pronounced.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Teresa: No. You were really thorough.

TMG: Okay. Well, thank you for your time.

Video game review #2 – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Where reality fades into dream and dream into nightmare — May 29, 2018

Video game review #2 – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Where reality fades into dream and dream into nightmare

Well, it took me a sizable period of time to get through this game, but there you have it, and this time, we’re starting with a bit of history. Most people probably don’t know who the Giana Sisters are, but they were conceived as basically a copycat of Super Mario Bros., with their first game on the Commodore 64, “The Great Giana Sisters”. It was so much like Super Mario Bros., in fact (the tagline for the game was even “The brothers are history”), that it got the creators in a bit of legal trouble, and there were no Giana Sisters games for a while. Finally, Giana Sisters DS was made for (obviously) the DS, and then came this game, made by Black Forest Games and released cross-platform in 2012 for the PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. I have the PC version, for the record. In fact, I think this game was what convinced me to get Steam in the first place; it was, to my knowledge, the first game I ever owned on it, though I have no idea what the next few were. This one is noticeably different from any Mario game I know of, except maybe Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. It’s still a 2D platformer, but this time, there’s a twist: Giana can switch between a “cute” form and a “punk” form, and depending on which form she’s in, her abilities and elements of the level will be different. This is the main gimmick of the game, or really, the only gimmick of the game, and it will be used for everything from making platforms appear and disappear to determining which kind of ghosts chase you to activating or deactivating spike traps. It also changes the scenery; Cute Giana will be platforming through a spooky land of nightmares with piano and xylophone music, while Punk Giana romps through a colorful, idyllic world with rock music. (Clearly, Giana is in her edgy teenage phase, and she may be doing some psychoactive drugs as well.) Beyond that, it’s pretty basic in its layout; Giana’s sister Maria was kidnapped and eaten by a big fat dragon-like creature called the Gurglewocky, and Giana has to rescue her, going through 3 worlds and 23 levels to reach and defeat him.

The game is…okay. There are worse sidescrollers out there for sure, but the game makes a huge difficulty spike at 1-6 and never really lets up, and I’m not much of a fan of platform hell-style games (which, actually, most indie 2D platformers seem to be these days). The levels are also super long. I don’t mind long levels per se, but these are kind of ridiculous. The only reasons it’s bearable are because you have infinite lives and you get quite a few checkpoints during the levels. Unless, of course, you’re playing on Hardcore, or worse, Uber Hardcore mode, which might as well be named “For people who have no life/have gotten rid of every other video game they own” and “For people who are actively opposed to the idea of ever having a life/are trapped on a desert island with nothing to do but play this game”, respectively. The levels are full of instant-death spikes to an extent that even VVVVVV and the fortress stages in Mega Man X6 would raise an eyebrow at. And don’t even get me started on that horrible bubble gum powerup. I guess the levels that are relatively sane aren’t half bad, though, and the last two levels surprisingly aren’t that nasty.

Summary:

Gameplay: Decent to frustrating

When a game is as difficult as this one, it needs things to lessen the impact of that, to give the player something to enjoy besides just relentless challenge, like the occasional breather level, some story, good music, or at least nice scenery to look at. And I feel like the designers of this game might have spent a bit too much time making this game hard and not enough time on the other aspects of it. The world-switching gimmick, meanwhile, is one of those things that seems interesting and novel at first, but then they kind of run out of creative things to do with it before the game is half over, and then it kind of gets in the way at times. I will say that I think the castle levels tended to be among the better ones, with a slightly higher frequency of unique stuff and more interesting setups.

Story: Excuse plot of the ages

This game has about as much story as one would expect from a classic-style 2D platformer, which is to say, just about none. (Someday, if I ever get into game design, I will make a 2D platformer that actually has a decent story.) I’m only really bringing it up because even by those standards, I was actually kind of disappointed. Once you rescue Maria, you’re treated to a still silhouette image of the two sisters atop a pile of gems (at least, I think it’s a silhouette? I don’t remember for sure, but I’m certainly not replaying the final level to find out) with the credits rolling over it…and that’s it. I thought we’d at least get to see, like, an animation of them hugging each other and walking home or something. My goodness, even Mega Man 2 had more of an ending scene than that, and that game came out in flipping 1988.

Graphics: Well, the actual graphics are nice…

I quite like the graphical style and environments of this game, especially in Punk Giana mode. It has a kind of “modern 2D” aesthetic that actually reminds me a fair bit of Donkey Kong Country games, with some nice backgrounds to boot. The problem is that—and this kind of overlaps with gameplay—there isn’t enough variety. Every level in the game can pretty much be described simply as “outside” or “inside”. There are slight variations, like how a couple of the levels in world 3 are mostly up in the sky, the world 2 boss level is sort of a rocky beach-ish environment, and there’s at least one “castle” that’s actually outside, but for the most part, every level in one of those two categories pretty much looks like every other level in that category.

Music: Eh

The music is kind of subdued and mostly not all that memorable, even in punk mode. And while there is at least more variety in the music than there is in the environments, it still falls short; there are only five different tracks in the game for levels (or ten if you count the “cute” and “punk” versions separately, but I wouldn’t). The length of the levels doesn’t help; when I die for the fiftieth time in a level after having spent the last 45 minutes in it, that two-and-a-half-minute loop overstays its welcome by a long shot, and it might well do so even if it were actually catchy.

Positives: Pretty backgrounds, an interesting main gimmick (even if its novelty does wear off pretty quickly), and some decent, if tough, boss battles. Also, thank you, Black Forest Games, for having a lot of checkpoints and no lives.

Negatives: Homogenous scenery and music and some pretty crazy difficulty, often well past the point of being fun. And with how long the levels in this game are, the more annoying ones can become quite a slog.

Final score: 4

This is one of those games that I really wanted to like a lot more than I did. It’s my favorite genre, it’s an indie game, it’s a new entry in an obscure series…but I don’t know. I’m glad that I got to play it and maybe glad that I managed to finish it, but I don’t particularly want to play it again. There’s an expansion pack for it, Rise of the Owlverlord, as well as a possible sequel announced, and I’m not sure if I’ll be getting either of those either. The design is kind of a turn-off, mainly in respect to difficulty; I feel like other difficult games that I’ve played and enjoyed generally did a better job of keeping things fresh and interesting. Still, though, it’s not a bad game, and if you have the patience for it, it can be enjoyable.

Magic: The Gathering discussion #4: Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan — Welcome! This is Dinosaur Land. — April 14, 2018

Magic: The Gathering discussion #4: Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan — Welcome! This is Dinosaur Land.

Well, I can’t put it off any longer. It’s time for some discussion about another Magic: The Gathering set! The main feature this time is Ixalan (including Rivals of Ixalan), but I’ll also be covering Iconic Masters and a bit of Unstable. I guess it’s worth at least mentioning a couple other low-key supplementary sets, too, but I’ve never talked about the From the Vault or Duel Decks series before, and I’ve only played Explorers of Ixalan once. For once, I don’t have all that much to complain about; while there will definitely be some salt, oddly enough, most of it has nothing to do with the sets themselves this time around, or at least not the main one.

So…Ixalan, in addition to being dinosaur land, is also merfolk land, pirate land, and vampire land. The primary source of conflict, in fact, is clashes between the four different tribes. But before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. After the end of the last block, the Gatewatch presumably went every which way and ended up on various different planes. The first member of it we see subsequently is Jace, who ends up on Ixalan with amnesia. The beginning of the story follows him as he desperately tries to cope after being stuck in an unfamiliar place with no idea what has happened to him, what’s going on, who he is, or what he should do next, kind of like me every time I try to be a functional adult. Eventually, he runs into Vraska, who was last seen in the Return to Ravnica block (well, there was one random story out in the middle of nowhere that involved her…what the heck was up with that, anyway?). Or more accurately, Vraska runs into him and, being one of his former nemeses, is all ready to petrify him before finding out about his amnesia and having him join her pirate crew. Yep, believe it or not, she’s a pirate now, but she’s still never been to Boston in the fall. She’s also on a mission from everyone’s least favorite draconic megalomaniac to retrieve a famous artifact from the golden city of Orazca and bring it to Tezzeret, not that she knows who Nicol Bolas is. (Fun fact: “Bolas” apparently means “balls” in Spanish, and yes, they do use it with the same vulgar slang meaning that English speakers do, so…he will henceforth be known as “Nick Balls” or some variation thereof.) The golden city in question is the other main source of conflict, as well as a major impetus for the first. Everyone wants to find it for one reason or another: ancestral ties, preventing power from falling into the wrong hands, or just being a big freakin’ mess o’ treasure. We also get introduced to Huatli, a warrior poet from another faction, who has an affinity for dinosaurs and often rides them into battle. She runs across Angrath, a minotaur planeswalker from an unknown plane, and the subsequent fight between them causes Huatli’s spark to ignite, though she can’t leave the plane because there is an enchantment preventing people from doing so, which also affected Jace early on. Being stuck on the plane is also a major reason why Angrath is so, well, angry and wrathful (seriously, they picked a name for him that’s about as on the nose as you can get short of calling him “Rageface McMurdermeister”, and neither his name nor his characterization do much to break the stereotypes of a black/red alignment), though he changes his tune a bit upon realizing that Huatli is a fellow planeswalker and ends up being, if not exactly friendly to her, at least not actively harmful. In the end, the golden city is uncovered, and within it, Jace and Vraska meet an old and somewhat insane sphinx (Azor, the founder of the Azorius guild on Ravnica), from whom they find out that the artifact they’re looking for, the Immortal Sun, is what’s getting planeswalkers stuck on the plane and was originally designed as a trap for you-know-who. As a result, Vraska finally realizes the truth of her employer, Jace wipes that and all memories of himself from her mind temporarily so that Nick Balls doesn’t catch on, Tezzeret takes the Immortal Sun back, and everyone else is left not quite sure what just happened. Then Huatli questions her role in life, and some loose ends get tied up.

The gameplay of Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan seems fine to me, if formulaic. Apparently, there were some complaints about it having too many creatures relative to how many noncreature spells there were or something? If so, it didn’t bother me. For set mechanics, we have raid, which first showed up in Khans of Tarkir and does things if you attacked that turn; enrage, which goes on creatures and does things when that creature gets damaged; explore, which has you reveal the top card of your library and put it into your hand or put a +1/+1 counter on the creature depending on if it’s a land or not; and ascend, which gives some of your cards a permanent buff if you have 10 or more permanents and was specific to the second set. Actually, I thought the set mechanics this time were really lame. It’s better than them actively detracting from the experience, but honestly, this block might have some of the most boring mechanics I’ve seen since I started playing, and I was around for Battle for Zendikar. About the only one that wasn’t boring was explore, and that one incorporated randomness, which is something I tend to dislike in mechanics (and I doubt I’m alone in this as a player). They didn’t seem to push the envelope much on explore or ascend either, aside from a few select cards (Twilight Prophet comes to mind). I’ve also never been big on tribal sets, but that’s just me, and I guess they don’t come along that often. Also, while the double-faced cards were an odd inclusion, they were pretty cool overall, and I’m glad that they were there. (On a side note, my brother has opened a grand total of four Rivals of Ixalan booster packs that I know of, and between those, he got two Azor’s Gateways. The guy has amazing luck with boosters, I swear….) And I don’t think I’ve said it enough, but DINOSAURS. Yeah, I know there are three other tribes, but let’s be honest; I’m mainly here for the dinosaurs.

Noteworthy cards (in my opinion) include Sunbird’s Invocation, Carnage Tyrant, Ripjaw Raptor, both of Huatli’s cards (yes, she actually gets two; lucky her), probably all of the double-faced cards, the dual land reprints, Herald of Secret Streams, Vanquisher’s Banner, Twilight Prophet, all of the elder dinosaurs, Rekindling Phoenix, and probably the other planeswalker cards (except Jace’s; his kind of sucks). Sunbird’s Invocation and Etali, Primal Storm point to some interesting additions to red’s color pie, Huatli’s second card could go in quite a few of my decks, and Carnage Tyrant fills a hole that I’ve had for a while. In fact, I must call special attention to Carnage Tyrant for being a card that goes in almost any deck of its color but is too expensive to actually put in any deck of its color, like Primeval Titan from earlier sets. I was lucky enough to get one during the prerelease (actually, aside from getting an absolutely awful promo, I was overall reasonably pleased with my pulls from the prerelease, which usually doesn’t happen), but that only makes it too awesome to use: it hasn’t left my card boxes since I got it, because if it can go in so many decks, how can I possibly choose which is the most important? The green elder dinosaur (Ghalta, Primal Hunger) was one of my favorites of the cycle as well, along with Etali (the red one). Maybe bringing out huge stompy smashy T-rexes appeals too much to my Timmy side, or maybe they have useful combinations of potentially very powerful effects.

Aside from the dinosaurs, though, I do feel like the gameplay stood out to me less than the story did. I liked Ixalan’s story just as well as Kaladesh’s, and the latter might only have an edge by having more quirky and likable characters (Yahenni, Shadowblayde, Oviya, etc.), some nice Gatewatch interaction, and a more interesting setting. I would have liked some of the supporting characters to get a bit more time (Elenda comes to mind), but Huatli came into her own as the story progressed, and Angrath was relatively likable for being the kind of guy who spends a lot of time attacking people and wrecking stuff with burning fury (hey, maybe Angrath is actually me after facing a control deck or one too many counter/steal/kill spells). And then there’s the big one: Jace and Vraska. If Ixalan’s story did one thing, it definitely endeared me to Vraska a lot more. And Jace, to a lesser extent, though I never really hated him anyway. (The player archetype he represents, on the other hand…) Jace and Vraska’s interactions were also really cute, especially since they were bitter enemies before Jace got amnesia and, after his memory returned (in a torrent that even caused Vraska to experience them as well), ended up understanding each other and even considering a date together. Man, why can’t we have Vraska as the black-aligned Gatewatch member instead of Liliana? In fact, between her and Angrath, that’s two black characters—planeswalkers, even—who are more likable than the necromancer (a list that seems to keep on growing), so…um, congratulations, Wizards, you’ve officially made serial killers and violent pirates better people than one of your main characters. Sadly, despite all four planeswalkers being major figures in the story, Jace and Vraska never met up with Huatli and Angrath to discuss planeswalker stuff; in fact, I don’t think Jace and Vraska even directly interacted with Huatli and Angrath. Also, the ending was actually good, actually tied up the loose ends (aside from those that lead into the next set or the overarching plotline), and most importantly, was freaking adorable. Angrath got to reunite with his daughters, and Huatli got to tell her family about her special planeswalker abilities and take a vacation to where else but Kaladesh, where she ran into Saheeli and, it would seem, became friends with her. Oh, and there was a bit at the end where the Sun Empire got the golden city back (which was actually one of multiple possible endings that the players voted on; alternatively, Orazca could have gone to one of the other three factions), but who cares about that when Huatli and Saheeli make such cute friends? I don’t know if platonic shipping is a thing, but if so, I am definitely doing that with those two. (Jace and Vraska, of course, get the romantic ship.) I would pay good money for a book series featuring Narset, Tamiyo, Saheeli, and Huatli just going on an adventure across the multiverse to tell stories, learn things, and experience other cultures.

In addition to the two Ixalan sets, we also have some supplementary sets to discuss. First up is Iconic Masters, and…well, I’m definitively less happy with it than I was with Ixalan, shall we say. This is the first of a series of Masters sets that are based around a theme rather than a format (as the three Modern Masters sets and Eternal Masters were), and the theme of this one is iconic creature types. That’s one thing that must be mentioned in any critique of Iconic Masters; the name isn’t supposed to mean it contains a lot of iconic, well-known cards, so no Lightning Bolt, Birds of Paradise, or Dark Ritual here. Each of the five colors of mana is considered to have an iconic creature type associated with it: angels for white, sphinxes for blue, demons for black, dragons for red, and hydras for green. And I actually would have been okay with that; angels, sphinxes, demons, dragons, and hydras are often pretty cool, even if the name was a miscommunication (I actually knew about the “iconic creature types” beforehand, and even I assumed initially that it referred to iconic cards). Unfortunately, it didn’t even do that well. There were at least a decent number of dragons in the set, coming in at 16 total, even if five of them consisted of the dragon spirit cycle from Kamigawa, but there were only 9 angels (and aside from Avacyn and Archangel of Thune, which I actually did want reprinted; most of them sucked; Restoration Angel was something, but it had just gotten reprinted in Modern Masters 2017), only 6 demons, and a measly 3 each of sphinxes and hydras. And of those, the only sphinx that needed the reprint was Consecrated Sphinx (it’s still obnoxiously expensive, but not quite as much so, which is also true for Avacyn and the archangel), and none of the hydras did. Would it have killed Wizards of the Coast to give us another printing of Kalonian Hydra (at least Commander 2016 helped with that one), Khalni Hydra (darn thing’s about 12 bucks and not terribly easy to find), or Primordial Hydra? Heck, Progenitus wouldn’t have been a bad reprint either. I guess the ones they did pick weren’t bad cards, but pardon me if I don’t leap in excitement about a reprint of a 25-cent card. I’m not sure what I would have picked for sphinxes; most of the options I can think of also aren’t terribly in need of another printing, though I at least wouldn’t mind seeing Medomai the Ageless in the M15 border. For angels, Aurelia, Baneslayer Angel, and Archangel of Tithes would have been decent options (I’m surprised Baneslayer Angel hasn’t shown up in a supplementary set yet, actually; it seemed to be pretty well-known), and I would have swapped out Firemane Angel with Firemane Avenger for sure. Maelstrom Archangel would have been neat, if hard to cast, and Sigarda, Host of Herons has been in need of a reprint for a while. I can’t complain much about the dragons (especially since we just got a bunch of decent dragon reprints and new cards in Commander 2017), though my most wanted of them (Thundermaw Hellkite) is still low in supply, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing Balefire Dragon, Furyborn Hellkite, Dragon Broodmother, Hellkite Overlord, Slumbering Dragon, Thunderbreak Regent, or a few of the dragonlords again.

The biggest problem with Iconic Masters, however, isn’t the selection of cards based on its theme…it’s all the other cards. To put it bluntly, the selection overall is severely inadequate. There are admittedly some cards unrelated to the theme that I was glad to see (Serra Ascendant, Ancestral Vision, Kiki-Jiki, Primeval Titan, Lightning Helix, and Aether Vial especially, and the dragon spirits, Monastery Swiftspear, Rift Bolt, Genesis Wave, Lotus Cobra, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Thran Dynamo, and Nimbus Maze weren’t bad either), but there are a lot more that were decidedly not in need of a reprint or worth the price of the set, or at worst, outright pointless. I know that Masters sets actually aren’t designed to be just a haven for reprints but rather to create a draft environment with cards from a variety of sets, but I only learned it recently. Keep in mind that Masters sets cost $10 per booster pack, whereas regular sets only cost $4 (and one of my local stores sells them 3 for $10), so they need to have appeal beyond just a good draft environment, or you’re just doing a draft that costs triple what it normally would (or alternatively, doing only a third as many drafts for the same price). But designing a set to be good for draft purposes and designing one to be good for constructed purposes are, if not entirely mutually exclusive, at least very difficult to pull off well simultaneously, and it’s much easier to make them merely fail at both. And Iconic Masters is exactly that sort of set: it’s too expensive to justify doing much to draft it, but it’s too low in value to justify buying packs for the individual cards (or use them after a draft). Sure, there are a few cards that are valuable, but the chances are greatly against having them show up; if anyone is honestly buying packs of this in hopes of getting a Mana Drain or Horizon Canopy or something, about all I can say is that they’d better not go to Las Vegas. Finally, why wasn’t there a single planeswalker in the set? Given that planeswalkers are supposedly the most liked card type, you’d think Wizards would be less goldarn stingy about putting them in supplementary sets. In summary, Iconic Masters did give us a few nice reprints, but overall, I found it extremely lackluster; it not only sucked as a general Masters set, but it even sucked at the theme it was named after (though I guess “Mana Drain, The Praetors, The Dragon Spirits, The Future Sight Dual Lands, and A Bunch of Random Crap Masters” didn’t roll off the tongue as well).

Finally, there is the matter of a much crazier supplementary set, that being Unstable, the long-awaited third “Un-set” of the game. These began with Unglued back in 1998, and Unhinged followed in 2004. For those not in the know, these are essentially parody sets with mechanics and flavor that are too off-the-wall or silly to be allowed in the normal game, things like high fives, caring about the artist of a card, and saying specific words to trigger effects. And I’m glad that Unstable finally came out, given how long it took between it and the previous one. Unfortunately, I’m reserved from making a full judgement on it until I actually get to play it, and I can’t do that without people to play it with. I’ve had a sealed booster box sitting in my basement since January, but somehow, the people I play MTG with still have not bothered to find time to open it with me at the time of this writing. So once that time finally comes, I’ll say more about what I thought of the set and what mechanics it has. For now, I guess I can at least say that it actually seems significantly less “wacky” than the last two Un-sets, which I know others have mentioned. It almost feels like more of a regular set that just happens to care about flavor text, cards with watermarks, and so on. Also, we only got one story for the set, and I really wish that there had been more than that, as well as more language-related cards, more balance between characters’ color identities (which is also commonly brought up…who thought it was a good idea to make the only WU legendary just an artifact, and a really annoying one at that, while there are lots of BR legendary creatures?), and more planeswalkers. This is the first Un-set to have a planeswalker card, but the word “a” is the problem there, and it has randomized effects and requires all 5 colors to boot. Why couldn’t we have gotten a planeswalker that makes use of the set mechanics, or one that does something else that the regular game couldn’t? Either way, I’m at least glad that it happened, and it seems to be doing well enough for there to be a fourth Un-set in the future.

While we’re here, I’d also like to discuss one MTG-related thing that isn’t a set: the Great Designer Search 3, or GDS3. This is a contest that people can enter to test their card design skills, and if they do well enough, they have the opportunity to design a card for the game, or even work at Wizards of the Coast for a while. The test consisted of a series of essay questions, a multiple-choice test, and a card design challenge, the last of which was only accessible to people who had finished the other two. I decided to enter because I thought it might be interesting, and I guess it was, but holy crap, were the requirements for moving on to round 3 strict. As it turned out, the contestants needed to get 73 out of 75 of the multiple-choice questions correct to advance, and a few of them were counterintuitive and very easy to get wrong. (I have no idea what my score was beyond it definitely being lower than 73, but I’m fairly sure that I at least got one of the commonly-missed ones right, the one about the creature with flying and vigilance.) And believe me, if I’d known ahead of time that I’d need to get 97% of the questions correct to advance, there’s a 97% chance I wouldn’t have even bothered to enter the wretched contest in the first place. To add insult to injury, the answers for round 1 were completely ignored for anyone who missed the threshold on round 2, so there were over a thousand people who wrote 10 short essays that didn’t even get read, including me. I know why they did it that way…it was because they wanted to eliminate the people who didn’t even finish the essays or didn’t follow the requirements for them, thereby having fewer people to take into account for round 2. Or something like that. I understand their reasoning, but it does precisely jack-all to make me less peeved that I wasted hours of my time and stayed up late writing essays that never even got acknowledged. Guess what? Multiple-choice tests can be graded by a computer now. Also, if you don’t feel like reading a couple thousand essay questions for a contest, then don’t freaking have essay questions in a contest that will have thousands of people enter it! I’d think that a person who only got 68 or 70 out of 75 questions right but sent in essays that were well-written and thoughtful would make a better employee or designer than someone who got a perfect score but couldn’t write worth crap, but apparently not. If I’m still playing this silly game by the time they do a fourth one, and they do essay questions again, maybe I should write mine using nothing but the word “chicken” and see if anyone actually notices.

*sigh* Anyway, in summary: GDS3 was a complete waste of time. Iconic Masters was underwhelming at best. Unstable was neat, but if you’re going to play it with friends, find some who aren’t flakes. And most importantly, Ixalan was a pretty decent block. It’s no Kaladesh or Return to Ravnica for sure, but I liked it a heck of a lot better than the previous one. I thought the mechanics were generally boring, but the world and story weren’t bad, nor were the cards.

Minor status update 16: The best-laid plans of mice and men… — February 27, 2018

Minor status update 16: The best-laid plans of mice and men…

Well, it seems that February has been a month of things not really going according to how I would have liked them. For starters, I had been intending to make two posts here this month. I was going to do something for Valentine’s Day, but I had kind of a friend breakup (or rather, “friend”) that day and, as a result, didn’t really feel like writing about love. The other post I had to push back because part of it involved getting together for a thing with friends, and they can’t seem to get their butts in gear enough for us to actually find a good time to do it. Beyond that, yesterday in particular wasn’t a great day for things actually turning out how they were supposed to, between having to reschedule a job interview and some MTG-related previews being, in my opinion, really underwhelming. Still, though, I did get to do the interview today, and I finally managed to continue my LP project, so that’s something. With any luck, the pushed-back post won’t be too long coming.

These are no ordinary times — January 30, 2018

These are no ordinary times

Well, it’s 2018, time for a new year and an opportunity for new things to happen. Not that that isn’t the case all year long. I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do at least have some goals and things to keep in mind for this year. It’s kind of amazing that 2020 is only 2 years away now…and on that note, is it supposed to be “two thousand eighteen” or “twenty eighteen”? I would assume it’s down to personal preference. Given that January is almost over, one would think that it would have been a better idea to do this earlier, but you know how I am with getting such things done at the proper time. (Why am I this way…) Actually, January has been kind of a weird month for me; it seems like it’s lasted a lot longer than other recent months (I swear New Year’s Day feels like about two months ago), and i’ve had some good times as well as some very frustrating things to deal with (mainly, getting sick twice and not being able to get a decent recording setup).

In any case, I’d like to be more productive with my various projects this year, from video game stuff to music to writing. (Hey, maybe this will be the year when I finally stop being stuck on the same chapter…) I’d like to find more social outlets, too, especially given my change in living situation from this time last year. I may try to learn more about programming, too; at the very least, I’d like to become more familiar with regular expressions, which come up more often than you’d think. I’m also planning on taking some online classes from one of my friends and learning a little Elvish, I’d like to do more non-LP videos if I can, and I’m planning on building a new computer for myself (one piece at a time, since I don’t have a lot of money to spare at once). I’ve also gotten a membership to the YMCA, since a friend of mine uses the gym there, and I thought it would motivate both of us more to actually do our exercises. I’m also planning on going to the local convention in spring this year (for the second time) and actually cosplaying for it this time.

Meanwhile, I hope that the world will start getting less terrible than it has been lately and the good guys can push back against all the crap going on. I also hope that Mega Man 11 is good, that all of the Magic: The Gathering sets released this year (or at least the majority of them) are good and are things I like, that more video games I want will be released and announced, that the remaining Trails games get translated (well, one step at a time), and that I’ll find more things to play, to watch, and to read. I also hope to gain more self-confidence and more of a sense of purpose, though I know that that’s a continual journey. I’ve been making some progress on that front, so we’ll see. Oh, and I hope that I’ll eventually find more friends to do things with. I do have some friends, but not all of them even live in my town, the ones who do tend not to have much free time, and the ones of those who do often don’t want to play what I’d like, especially if it’s best with more than two people. Still, though, there ought to be some lulls in people’s busy schedules.

Overall, I expect that, for the most part, 2018 will be a continuation of much of the same stuff that went on in 2017, just as 2017 followed up on a lot of what went on in 2016 (for me and the people around me as well as the world on the whole). It should be an exercise in maintaining innocence without naivete, skepticism without close-mindedness, idealism without false hope, cynicism without nihilism (beyond the “millennial humor” type, anyway), and realism without stagnation. I’ll just have to take things as they come, I guess.