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Review: Steven Universe’s episode “Reunited”

This episode made it official for me: while I like the Steven Universe series for its mythos, I really don’t care for its normal human characters- with the exception of Steven’s girlfriend Connie, I find them boring at best and annoying at worst. Still, this was an epic episode, once we got to the action.

Summary: After the revelation that (spoilers) Steven’ mom was actually the missing Pink Diamond all along, which led to a brief separation between Ruby and Sapphire, Steven helped them get back together and marry. Just as the ceremony is complete however, Blue Diamond and Yellow Diamond show up, intending to destroy the Earth!

The wedding was OK, even touching. But it had some parts that annoyed me, like why was the usually girlish Sapphire wearing the suit, and the tomboyish Ruby wearing the dress? I get that its a joke and also probably meant to please the show’s LBGT audience, and I don’t really mind it by itself, it just doesn’t make much sense in-universe. Neither does the fact that the guy who had the crush on Garnet and Major Dewey suddenly begin dancing with each other. There’s such a thing as pushing an agenda too hard.

Thankfully, the action part of the episode made up for it. The Diamonds’ plan to use The Cluster to destroy Earth backfires when it sides with Steven. Ok I didn’t see that coming! Nice touch. And I won’t deny that Lapis’ return almost made me tear up. Just one thing: In the battle against the diamonds, the Crystal Gems only merged briefly. Heck, why didn’t ALL of them merge into a new fusion? I get they wanted Steven to save the day, but again, it doesn’t make much sense in-story.

The final resolution however, did make sense as Steve was able to prove that the last fragment of Pink Diamond is now part of him. What now? Judging from the next episode bits [and the fact that next episode is #150] it could very well be the Series Finale. Well there are a few loose ends left [Lars is still in space, where is White Diamond etc.] but overall I don’t see much that could not be wrapped in say, a TV special.

Overall, I must say that Steven Universe is an unique experience, with great ideas even though marred by some bad characters and too much of a LGBT agenda [again, I don’t mind the latter but you know kids are going to be confused, and no I don’t believe gender issues are appropriate for preteens.] Still I have enjoyed the show and am glad it exists.

 

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Familiars of Terra quickstart review

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Familiars of Terra is a fantasy role-playing game that will soon be available on kickstarter. A free quickstart is already available so I decided to check it out. This is my review of it.

Setting: The world of Terra seems to be a hodgepodge of genres- its like modern Earth, except everyone has a Familiar -and yes, that’s very similar to the premise of The Golden Compass. However it also has unique features such as The Badlands, their equivalent of mutant-filled post-apocalyptic wastelands!

Character Creation: Each player creates two characters: a human (known as a Seeker) and its Familiar, which is a normal animal with unusual features and powers. Both have typical RPG Attributes such as Strength and Wits, but also make use of descriptive words that both define the character and provide in-game bonuses. For example, all Seekers have a Calling, which is the thing they seek to achieve; meeting these goals earns experience points. Meanwhile their Familiars have a Legacy, which is their equivalent of a Calling.

Game Mechanics: Here is where the game turns really unusual. For no given reason, it uses playing cards (regular ones) for combat, as opposed to dice. This is not the first RPG to do this, I just wonder why (maybe it is explained in the full rules?) It doesn’t bother me though- I’ve played Yugioh and this is kind of like it.

Adventure Seeds: There are two playable scenarios provided, along with several pre-generated characters to choose from.

“The Sacred Heart” is about reuniting the soul of a deceased Familiar with its (now reincarnated) Seeker. (Yes, she already has a new Familiar, but conveniently its soul feels “incomplete”) Note that some of the opponents here are dangerous- the game warns that the PCs might die! The point being that running away or asking for help are also valid options.

“Veins Run Deep” is about a city that actually makes a living by allowing others to dump their garbage there! Which they then proceed to scavenge for recyclables. But lately they have been hit by tremors. If you think this is your classic “nature rebelling against pollution” scenario, you’re kind of right, but it has some surprising twists as well.

Art: Personally I don’t feel art matters much for an RPG- you’re supposed to use your imagination after all. But it cannot be denied that it helps sales. Here, I found the cover a little bland. Its just a girl Seeker playing with her winged catkin while two more fly nearby. Sounds like it should be cool, but it looks kind of crude. Not the worst I’ve seen, but a book like this begs for something better.

The interior art, while sparse and only in shades of gray, is much better. It reminds me of Teenage/Young Adult novel covers whose readers are (probably) the game’s main target audience. Why the cover is not this good is a mystery. Hopefully they will do a better one later.

Conclusion: Judging from the quickstart, Familiars of Terra is a setting I’d love to explore, and even my peeves about cards and art would not stop me from trying it. Expect a full review when I get my hands on the complete game.

Recommended for: Fans of Sci/Fantasy, of any age (the preview says there are rules in the full book to adjust the tone for different audiences) especially animal lovers.

 

 


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Final Space: Dark Sci-Fi done surprisingly well

I’m usually not a fan of ‘dark comedy’, much less of graphic violence. But I must admit, TBS’ new animated series, Final Space, has impressed me with its quality. Its still repulsive, but it gives a ‘this is leading to something big’ feeling; you get the impression its creator had a vision he’s very confident in.

The basic concept involves Gary, a petty thief from sometime in Earth’s future who has been condemned to 5 years of solitary confinement- aboard the Galaxy 1, a spaceship manned only by robots. His crime? Having caused massive destruction accidentally while disguised as a pilot so he could hit on Quinn, a female captain of the Galactic Guard! (yeah he’s an idiot. And a jerk. And unlucky.)

Being alone (except for the robots, who are either uncaring, or @$$holes) has driven him at least half-mad. So when he finds a cute alien creature, he adopts it as a pet, calling it “Mooncake”. He’s unaware that it possesses tremendous destructive power, and an alien tyrant named Lord Commander is looking for it.

Eventually, Gary is joined by Avocato, a green cat-like alien bounty hunter, who is looking for his son (who was kidnapped by the Commander) and by Quinn, since she has discovered something is destroying the universe but no one believes her. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure is watching these events unfold…

Of all these concepts, its curiously, Gary himself that I find most intriguing. You rarely see a space prisoner as a protagonist. Also, is he crazy or not? What will be his role in saving the universe IF it can be saved (you never know with this kind of show). One more thing of note: Every episode starts with Gary adrift in space, with his suit’s AI telling him how much time he has left to live. We don’t know when this happens but it appears to be a flash-forward to the last episode. So we know where he ends up but not how or if survives or what if anything he does afterward. Its a great hook.

That said, sometimes its hard to watch this show. The biting cynicism gets tiresome after a while and if you don’t like to watch characters dying in gory ways, skip it entirely.

Still, my interest is piqued enough that I will continue to watch probably until the end (unless they do something to really tick me off before that.) Recommended for fans of Science Fiction who like comedy, distopic futures and who don’t mind gore.

 


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BAFF! Basic Action Final Fantasy

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Those who follow my blog know that I love crossovers and conversions- and have in fact already converted concepts such as Pokemon and the Steven Universe characters to the BASH (Basic Action Super Heroes) role-playing system. And given that Final Fantasy is one of the greatest science fantasy franchises ever -which incidentally is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary- the time seems right to try a BASH conversion of it as well.

Of course, given that nearly every FF game, series or movie takes place on a different world, it is impossible to describe all of them here. But we can discuss the themes that keep recurring; you can go from there. You’ll of course need a copy of BASH Ultimate Edition as well.

The Elements

These are forces or substances that provide powers to certain monsters, characters or items. There’s always at least four- Earth, Wind, Water and Fire– and often Ice, Lightning, Holy and Dark. Sometimes Poison is considered an Element as well. In BASH terms these are considered damage types. Powers or attacks that do not use any of these are referred as Non-Elemental.

Affinities

Creatures and objects often have Elemental Affinities, so that they take less (or more) damage from certain Elements. This is usually based on which elements are “opposed” in the setting. See a typical list of opposites below:

Earth vs Wind

Water vs Lightning

Fire vs Ice

Holy vs Dark

Poison has no opposed element, but its damage may still be resisted or increased by certain abilities.

The affinities, and their corresponding BASH traits, are:

Absorb – Absorption Power

Immunity – Immunity Power

Resistance – Resistance Power

Vulnerable – Damaging Weakness* (double damage)

Weakness – Devastating Weakness (triple damage)

* = not the BASH Vulnerability Weakness

The Summons

Known by many different names -Espers, Eidolons etc.- most Final Fantasies include these- creatures of enormous power from a far realm that can be summoned for help in combat. In some versions, they just appear, deliver a magical effect, and vanish- making them no more than a vision that takes place during an otherwise-normal spell. But in some settings, they actually materialize and take part in the battle. To simulate this, use the Summoning Power with the Limitation: Summons Only. All Summons are creatures with 60 Hits and at least one Power that fits their “theme”. For example, Shiva The Ice Goddess always has Diamond Dust, a Special Attack that does ice-based damage. The basic form of this Power gets you a specific Summon; for 1 extra character point you can call three of them, and for 2 extra points you can summon any of them. Note that Summoning often requires Magic Points to use (that is, it has the Energy Cost Limitation.)

Limit Breaks

Most main FF characters can use these: abilities that can exceed their personal limits, usually in dire circumstances. Typically they are attacks, but they can be any Power, even Healing. A Limit Break must be high in Level -at least 4 or higher- and always has the <Situational> Limitation (Usually, Only when Hits are below 25% maximum).

Spells: As in most classic Fantasy, FF spells always have the Limitations <Casting> and <Energy Cost>.

Spell names: traditionally, level 2 spells have the suffix “a”; 3-level spells have the suffix “ga” and 4th level spells have the suffix “ra”. Example: Fire, Fira, Firaga, Firara. 5th Levels spells have unique names.

Status Effects: These effects are caused by certain abilities, spells and items. There are two types: “negative” statuses that hinder the target, and “positive” status that are beneficial. These are some of the most common:

Negative Statuses

Status – BASH equivalent

Berserk – Boost (Brawn, only while berserk) [Usable on Others] Linked to Mind Control <Only to cause the target to attack using only physical attacks>

Blind– Confusion

Charm– Mind Control

Confuse- Confusion [Friend from Foe]

Fear– Daze [repels enemies]

Transform- Shape Shifting [Usable on Others] <Only into a harmless animal such as a frog>

Petrify- Immobilization [Target Only] Linked to Increased Density 1 [Usable on Others]

Poison– Continual Damage (Poison)

Seal– Nullify

Sleep– Daze

Slow– Slow [Lethargic]

Stop– Immobilization [Target Only]

Stun– Daze <one Page only>

Zombie– Shape Shifting [Usable on Others] <Only into a zombie>

Positive Statuses

Status – BASH equivalent

Auto‐Life– Healing [Usable on Others] <Delay (only when target reaches 0 Hits)>

Flight– Flight [Usable on Others]

Haste– Super Speed [Usable on Others]

Invisible– Invisibility [Usable on Others]

Protect– Armor [Usable on Others] <Physical Attacks Only>

Reflect– Deflect [Double-Maker] <Spells only>

Regen– Healing [Usable on Others, Regenerative]

Shell– Resistance (Spells) [Usable on Others]

EquipmentWeapons, Armor, Shields, Accessories and other Items are considered Standard Equipment unless they have magical or technological properties- in that case they are Special Equipment, possibly boosted with Equipment Enhancements (see Awesome Powers #6.) Particularly powerful items might be Powers with the Gadget Limitation.

Leveling Up– If you are planning on running a FF campaign rather than just a few sessions, you should use the Optional Experience Points rules (UE, page 130) to allow the PCs to level up. Preferably, use Method 2 to simulate the games more closely.

Credits: My thanks to the Final Fantasy Wiki and the fan-made Final Fantasy D6 role-playing game for providing inspiration and ideas for this article!

Art by david-adhinarya-lojaya-combs.


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Why I hate Flashpoint

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I might seem to be in a bad mood lately. In my last blog entry, I picked on a little girls’ cartoon (Little Charmers) and now I’m outright saying I hate a comic book story. But at least in this case, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Flashpoint is a major story plot affecting the DC comics superhero, The Flash. It is better known as ‘‘The Reverse-Flash killed Barry Allen’s mother” plot; you may have seen it as part of the (current) version of that character’s TV show. In it, The Flash learns it was his foe who went back in time and killed his mother. So naturally, he too goes back in time and stops him. And, somehow, this ends up screwing up history. Not just his personal history- ALL heroes’ origins! Instead of Bruce Wayne’s parents dying, HE dies, and his father becomes Batman- and his mother, THE JOKER! Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s peoples fight a war that ends up sinking Europe, etc. In the end, Allen realizes he must stop himself from saving his mother so everything can go back to normal. And it does- kinda; there were differences, which is how DC explained its “New 52” reboot. (Though recently they are claiming there was another cause.) Flashpoint got adapted into an animated movie, and was a mayor plot point for the first season of The Flash, and (spoilers) the finale of the second season has brought it back AGAIN.

Let’s look at the things that are wrong with it:

-The story tries to set itself up as a ‘noble sacrifice’: Allen must allow his mother to die to save the world. Except a) she only died because a time-traveling villain killed her, it isn’t as if Allen had prevented her preordained death and b) The story doesn’t make sense!! At most, saving his mother might have prevented him from becoming the Flash (tough I don’t see how) but it definitely wouldn’t have affected the lives of everybody else on Earth unless they are saying that ANY change in history would be this chaotic (ala The Butterfly Effect) and that has never been the case before in DC (in fact it pretty much makes time travel useless.)

-The story is basically writer Geoff Johns stroking his own ego. You see, Johns is also one of the three people Warner Brothers put in charge of DC comics years ago. His obsession with The Flash is well known. In Flashpoint, he introduced an (unnecessary) tragic element into Allen’s past, and attempts to pass it off as something epic that eventually had universal consequences. And he got accolades -the most obvious of which are the multiple adaptations of the idea- for it! The fact he is effectively The Boss and What He Says Goes seems to escape many people.

-The story partially seems inspired by a previous Flash storyarc from the 1980s in which Reverse-Flash also murdered someone close to Allen- in this case it was his wife, Iris. It was one of the first major “dark”, post-Silver Age stories (for DC) as it led to Allen killing the culprit and then standing trial over it. Ultimately it turned out she wasn’t dead after all (time travel was involved) so it had a happy ending, unlike Johns’ imitation.

Flashpoint is ultimately, a poorly-written, over-hyped storyline that Just. Won’t. Go. Away. While not my most hated comics story (not even my most hated DC story) I certainly cannot recommend it to fans of good superhero stories.


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More Steven Universe stuff in BASH!

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Now that Steven Universe has begun producing new episodes, I’ve decided to start converting characters from the show in Basic Action Super Heroes rules again (see earlier blog entries for the main characters.) I realized however that it would be easier if I started by designing the Gem race Archetype first. So, here it is! I hope you find this useful or interesting.

Please keep in mind that there are likely still many facts about the Gems yet to be revealed. I plan to update this as time goes.

(Once again, thanks to the Steven Universe Wiki for the data!)

Background: The Gems are an alien race of sentient gemstones. They have the ability to form a body around themselves, but as long as the gem itself isn’t shattered, they cannot die.

Thousands of years ago, the Gems developed advanced technology and began traveling to other planets, robbing them of minerals to make more Gems, not caring how this harmed other lifeforms.

Until a Gem named Rose Quartz opposed the Homeworld Gems in their attempt to plunder Earth. After a terrible war, Homeworld abandoned its plans for Earth, but Rose’s surviving warriors -The Crystal Gems- were left exiled on the planet.

A few years ago, Rose met the human, Greg Universe, and they fell in love. They had a child, Steven, but because he needed her Gem to survive, she was forced to discorporate to allow him to be born. Since then, Steven has been raised by Greg and the other Crystal Gems.

Recently, the Homeworld Gems have become aware of the Crystal Gems’ presence on Earth again. There have been several clashes between them, and more are likely to happen.

GEMS

Stats

Brawn: variable Agility: variable Mind: variable (variable points)

Powers

Healing 1 (1 pt)

Immunity 4 (starvation, asphyxiation, lack of sleep, changes in gravity) 4 pts.

Shape Shift <Concentration, retains colors, -1 pt> 3 pts.

note: all Gems can project light from their gem, and contain small objects in force bubbles; these uses are worth no points.

Weakness

Devastating Weakness (to having their gem damaged) -4 pts.

Advantages

Immortality

Instant Change (must fuse with another Gem)

Membership (for the Crystal Gems)

Pocket Dimension

Disadvantages

Duty (for the Homeworld Gems)

Freak (skin color, embedded gem)

Outsider

Skills

Technology/Invent (mainly Peridot class Gems, but also others)

Basic Cost: Stats (variable) + Powers 8 – Weakness 4 = 4 points or higher.

Variations: Apparently every Gem has individual powers or skills above those listed. Design them as if they were Heroes (or Villains) using any points leftover.


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SaGa Frontier: a unique role-playing game

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SaGa Frontier (no I don’t know why it’s spelled that way) is a role-playing video game that came out in Japan in 1997 and in America the following year. It’s actually one of the first RPGs I ever played, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

The seventh game in the SaGa series, like the others this one features not a single protagonist but several that you could play as, each with his or her own quest to fulfill; it was possible to encounter the other playable characters in the course of each adventure and in some cases even recruit them for your party. After completing all 7 quests, a special section of the game was unlocked allowing you to fight the best Bosses again and to meet the game’s creators.

Before I begin describing the characters and their quests, I feel some world background is in order. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but this game is complicated and even finishing all the quests doesn’t give you all the facts (this was because the game was rushed out unfinished; there was in fact an 8th quest that was left out.) The setting is “The Regions” which are not well explained but seem to be planets in a solar system; thousand of years ago a couple of highly advanced civilizations existed there but were destroyed in a war. Their ruins and artifacts play important parts in some quests.

Each Region has its own culture (often based on one of Earth’s), level of technology, and form of magic. Of special note is that each magic type has an opposite- Light vs Shadow, that sort of thing- and it’s not possible for the same person to learn both. Also, there’s free travel via ships between the Regions (with a few exceptions.) The races the players belong to are: human, mystics (basically vampires), monsters (shapeshifters) and Mecs (robots.) Curiously, there is a trend in this game about stealing abilities from others: Monsters can do it from defeated monsters, Mystics can also absorb monsters (but only a few at a time) and Mecs can steal programs from other Mecs.

The main characters are:

Asellus, a human girl that was turned into a Half-Mystic by the Lord of the Mystics against her will. She escapes from him, only to be chased around the Regions by his minions. The player has the option of deciding if she returns to being human, becomes a full Mystic, or remains as she is (each choice leads to a different ending.) Asellus was one of the game’s favorite characters; not only was her story well written, but it featured “controversial” (for its time) elements (namely, due to having the Charm Lord’s blood in her, certain female characters were attracted to her.)

Blue is a mage sent by the Magic Kingdom (no not Disney) to learn as many types of magic as possible so he can defeat his twin brother, Rouge. There is a surprisingly good reason for this, but I don’t want to give it away. The ending is also confusing, but again, I cannot reveal it here (Google it up.)

Emelia was a human supermodel whose boyfriend was an agent of IRPO (The Inter Regional Police Organization) but she found him dead one day, killed by the masked criminal Joker (seriously!) However she got the blame and was sent to jail. Rescued by agents of the secret organization GRADIUS, she joins them as she tries to find out who is Joker and what he’s up to.

Lute is a bard who gets kicked out of his house by his mother for being lazy. He has no real quest at first, and is free for the player to use to explore the Regions with, until he finds out who killed his father; then he must find and defeat him. You can do this very quickly but you’d better save it for after you have done a lot of grinding with your party or you’ll get crushed.

Red is basically a Japanese superhero in the style of Kamen Rider. He’s a teenager whose family was killed off by the evil organization, Black X. Granted powers by another superhero, he must keep his identity secret (you cannot even transform in battle unless your party members are all unconscious!) as he investigates and destroys his enemies.

Rikki is a raccoon-like monster (his Japanese name was Coon, but you can guess why they changed it for the American release) whose native Region, Margmel, is dying. To save it, he must find six magic rings scattered across the Regions. Taking the form of a human boy (sort of) he’s helped by a Chinese-like lady in his quest.

T-260G is an ancient Mec re-built using scrap. It has forgotten its original mission, only knowing that it is urgent. At first, it lives with and protects the boy who found it, but eventually leaves and discovers its long-ago mission, which turns out to still be relevant.

Note: there’s a character named Fuse, an IRPO agent, who shows up in a few quests. He was supposed to star in the 8th quest that got canceled.

Also, do not mistake this game for its follow up SaGa Frontier II. It’s completely unrelated and in my opinion, not as good.

Recommended for: fans of RPG video games, Science Fiction, and Fantasy.