The Elder – and Younger – Scrolls

Ho there, adventurous humans! Gather ’round and here a tale of magic and mysticism…of warfare and wonder…of evil and, um, pretty much more evil. Yes, I speak of the founding of the fledgling group of mercenaries and traders known as Murder and Mayhem Inc.

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Yes, mortals, what this means for those that don’t know is that my eldest spawn, Beefer (Editor’s Note: Not only does he not hate the nickname he’s had since birth, but he actively uses it as a handle online) managed to convince me to join him in playing The Elder Scrolls Online. As someone who has put many, MANY hours into MorrowindOblivion, and Skyrim – not to mention Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 (or as a wise woman once said, The Best Fallout) – I’d heard good things about the MMO chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga. So, with a new expansion on the horizon, Beefer convinced me that this was the best time for me to join him in Tamriel and journey the land together, questing and battling foes as father and son. Until I played with him for the first time, whereupon he had me follow him to a shadowy shrine, turned around, and drained my blood, inflicting me with vampirism. “Hey, cool, I really CAN turn others into vampires at this level!” Whereupon, he left to go fight endgame monsters that I couldn’t even look at without dying.

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In fairness, what else would Evil Wizard Esq be but a Vampire Sorcerer?

Thus, it was left for me to begin the long path to joining my treacherous little Beef in the upper echelons of killing ability. Fortunately, ESO is a dream to play. The combat and questing combine the best of Elder Scrolls style with slight twists on the modern WoW MMO formula. Positioning and active aiming of your abilities is generally required, but is not difficult thanks to crosshairs on the HUD as well as smart hit detection by the game engine itself. You can play in both first- and third-person, but generally I find it much more advantageous to play in third-person, as there are so many ground effects to avoid and battlefield variables to be aware of that the zoomed-out, or even over-the-shoulder third-person views are far less frustrating than the first-person. There are a myriad of classes that at first seem to fall within the standard tank-healer-dps trinity, but with the dozens of different skill trees in the game, can all become self-sufficient while also remaining viable for group play. Really, I can’t say enough about the character customization – it is superbly balanced and fun to play around with.

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But the true icing on the cake is the questing. While world building and lore have always been a strong suit of the Elder Scrolls, and Bethesda games in general, they absolutely outdid themselves with ESO. Quests are leveled to your experience level – no more picking up quests at level 10 and then finding them not worth completing a few levels later. Instead, the enemies and rewards are tailored to your characters ability at the time they are encountered and it makes it so much more immersive when going through the dozens of quest lines available in every zone of the game. And you’ll want to go through them because every zone is a treat for the senses – absolutely beautiful, with fantastic ambient audio, music, and voice acting.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed my time thus far in ESO and cannot wait to keep exploring its nooks and crannies. If you are a fan of Elder Scrolls games, MMOs, high fantasy in general, or any combination of them, I encourage you to give it a try. It is free to play once you purchase the game itself, but it has an optional subscription that if you find yourself enjoying the game is well worth the price – giving all content updates as well as various premium perks and rewards on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

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Until next time, see you in Tamriel, humans! – EWE

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Persona 5 Father/Son Run – Better Parenting Through Demonology

**WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PERSONA 5**

Greetings, humans – it’s been far too long, and while life offers no guarantees, I hope it is not so long again after this.  And I will leave that at that.

Now, what does a malicious mage like myself get up to in the many months since we’ve met?  Who is to say for sure (Editor’s Note: well, possibly some of those villagers…but I don’t think you left them in any condition to talk, actually), ahem – Editor’s flattery (Editor’s Note: I wasn’t complimenting you…) FLATTERY aside, I did engage in one particular activity that I can share with you here that quite intrigued me over the last couple of weeks.  You see, several weeks ago my eldest, redheaded clone pointed out that when I had initially completed Persona 5 when it released on the PS4, he had not been able to watch most of it at that time.  He seemed intrigued in the gameplay systems as well as the standard SMT storyline of carving your own path through the world to rage against the gods and your opposed humans to grab your destiny with your own two hands.

But the decisions being made moment to moment are what really brought us closer together.  Because as you may understand, between the holidays and then some early January scheduling strangeness, they were able to more freely pick and choose time to spend with me.  And since my big Beefer has been with often lately, he was able to help establish our personality for our avatar and how he interacts with his social links, er, I meant “Confidants.”  For example, it took no time at all for us to agree strongly that Ryuji is a loud, tasteless, useless piece of garbage and gleefully try to envision scenarios in which we could get him destroyed.  There were the long discussions about who the best female confidant was and why we should have our character date her as opposed to anyone else.

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And then there was watching my young boy, my growing little man, who claims little interest in school topics, show genuine curiousness about the various demons, gods, and mythological figures that filled out the Persona Compendium.  He and I loved checking online for more info on whatever the latest god we had tamed and the abilities now at our command.  From there would be stimulating back-and-forth conversations regarding the occult, Judeo Christian demonology, Japanese youkai and spirits, and others.  It truly is amazing seeing an intellect that reminds me so much of what I once was, but sharper, growing and learning and becoming even greater than I could have dreamed.

We were not, however, able to come to total agreement in choosing between clearly fellow nerd love interest Futaba:

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…and more mature, and darker punk rock back-alley doctor Tae Takemi.

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Honestly, it’s a great problem to have, choosing between those two.  But even better has been the last 130 hours of game time – laughing at the insanity, freaking out at the ever increasing audacity of the villains, and concocting new ways to save our friends.  Until finally, on the day we were faced with having to destroy God himself in order to preserve the freedom of humanity, we sat in awe as the main character we’d created ourselves manifested powerful demon lord and destroyed the divine.  We were still talking about it when I had to take him home to do homework.  About about the bonds the main character forged with his true companions to sustain him.  About how outside of one another, they didn’t care what others had to say about what they felt called to do.

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So for any of you parents that believe videogames are a waste of time, I openly mock you – because while you are busy denigrating something you don’t understand, you are also losing a valuable tool to connecting with your own children!

Until next time (Editor’s Note: unless in his frustration he summons a meteor to annihilate us all), I will take my leave and see you soon! – EWE

Game Night! – Dragon’s Crown Pro

Long time, no see, mortals!  I’ve been a bit swamped with various unexpected events lately – still am, truth be told – and as such, have not had the opportunity to either game nor write nearly as often as I would like.  However, Dracollia, Beefer, Monkey, and Special Buddy were able to all join me for Game Night last night and we were able to throw a live stream up on the Twitch channel of Dragon’s Crown Pro for PS4.  While some headset issues prevented you from enjoying our typically insane banter, the gorgeous art style and satisfying 2D brawler-RPG gameplay more than make up for it.

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Look upon this beauty, and despair…

For some reason, I can’t embed Twitch the way I can YouTube, so you’ll have to hit the link above if you’re interested (Editor’s Note: and if you can help us solve this little dilemma, feel free to educate us in the comments below).  Until next time, humans! – EWE

Game Night! – Dad of War

Happy Friday, humans!  So, technically yes, I know, the game is God of War…but let’s face it, the hook is that Kratos and Atreus are learning to be father and son every bit as much as they are an ass-kicking combo of gods.  We tried something a little different for tonight’s stream, as Dad of War is obviously a single player game and I have not wanted to spoil the main story beats of the game.  So, since Beefer has advanced the furthest in terms of combat ability and accessed a difficult optional battle with a Valkyrie Queen, we elected to stream his attempts to defeat her…with the rest of the crew providing him with, ahem “encouragement.”  Hopefully you find it as entertaining as we found ourselves!  Except Beefer.  He didn’t appear to be entertained by it at all.  You can find the video on YouTube or below.

Until next time! – EWE

God of War – First Impressions

(Editor’s Note: While the following will contain spoilers for the previous games in the God of War series, there will be NO SPOILERS of anything not previously made public about the newest entry just released for PS4.)

Early on in God of War, there is a moment when Kratos’s son, Atreus, is despondent and unresponsive after a brutal battle.  “You’re in your head, boy,” remarks Kratos, “Close your heart to it.”  Atreus doesn’t respond, and so Kratos gruffly states “Then we return home,” before slyly adding, “A shame…to quit the journey so soon after we began…”  Atreus immediately snaps out of his shell shock, exclaiming, “What?!  No!  I’m fine!  See, here…I’m dropping the chain!  I’m fine now!”  It was a moment that made me, and would make any father or parent, smile.

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I am still early on in my journey through the Norse lands in God of War, but Sony Santa Monica has already taken a character in Kratos, who was once the poster child for one-note characters – literally just an anthropomorphic personification of rage – and transformed him into one of my favorite nuanced characters, and fathers, in all of fiction.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  I am a father of two sons myself, and perhaps that is part and parcel of why I find myself relating so, so much to the struggles and the strengths of Kratos in this adventure in these latter days of the demi-god’s life.

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It isn’t a spoiler to say that Kratos and Atreus are on a journey following the death of Kratos’s wife and Atreus’s mother – that much was made obvious from the prerelease trailers and campaign from Sony.  And yet, despite sharing this deeply personal loss, it is obvious in the early hours that Kratos struggles with the emotional bonds of fatherhood.  There have been several times where Atreus has appeared in need of comfort, while Kratos reaches an unseen hand toward his back, only to hesitate at the last moment and then drop the hand away.  Many have speculated that this is indicative of Kratos’s struggles with “adjusting to fatherhood,” but for me this misses the mark and overlooks a huge chunk of the character’s history.  He’s already been a father – and it came to a brutal, tragic end at his own, albeit unwitting, hands.  So it isn’t that the bonds and emotions of fatherhood are foreign to Kratos – instead, he is all too familiar with them, and knows the pain of having them ripped away, and thus has been torn between nurturing them with his new family or keeping them at arm’s distance to avoid the risk of repeating his tragic and violent past.

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While much has been made of how this game represented a “fresh start” and would not necessarily be tied to the prior games, but would still “honor” them, for me personally, the ties to Kratos’s journey through the previous games have been pervasive through the early hours of his new quest.  From multiple characters referencing Kratos’s past, to Kratos’s starting equipment referencing that it covers a “dark secret,” to a mysterious illness that Atreus suffered from as a child that Kratos seems to know more about than he is telling…and then there is the growth of Kratos himself.  Gone is the blind rage of Kratos rampaging through the Greek pantheon.  In its place is an older, wiser man, still capable of tremendous violence when challenged, but more focused on imparting reason and wisdom to his son than in engaging in the slaughter of all who oppose him.  He is a deeper, nuanced character that can be related to much more easily than in past installments in the franchise.

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These changes to the God of War formula are immediately apparent in the gameplay itself.  Gone are the days of the zoomed out, fixed camera angles – instead we now have a controllable camera that is zoomed in over the shoulder of Kratos, making combat much more visceral, brutal, and tactical.  Every encounter, even on normal difficulty, has the potential to end your game if you just mash an attack button and don’t pay attention to your surroundings.  Enemies are brutal and intelligent, engaging in flanking tactics, adapting to your battle maneuvers, and attacking in well-balanced packs that require employing varying battle tactics to succeed against.

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But this isn’t to say that combat is in any way unfair – if you plan well, you’ll succeed.  Time your blocks, look for openings, call for Atreus to send in arrow strikes at opportune moments, and unleash hell, and you’ll be rending enemies limb from limb in short order.  Boss fights, however, are still tense affairs requiring you to observe and identify patterns and weaknesses.  Rushing in without knowing what you’re doing is going to get you quickly killed – and honestly, that feels right in a game set amongst gods and monsters.

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I spent all weekend and as much time this week as I could playing God of War and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface – and that thrills me.  I don’t ever want it to end.  Everything about this game has amazed me, and it has been one of my favorite gaming experiences that I have had in a long, long time.  More thoughts will assuredly come as I continue my journey alongside Kratos and Atreus, but for now, all I can say is that if you haven’t begun your own journey at their side, you should.  This isn’t just a game – it is a piece of art, it is a timeless story that should be told and listened to and experienced.  Do not miss it. – EWE

Monster Hunter: World – Or Gutting Dinosaurs For Fun and Profit

Hello, Hunters!  So, as I continue to adapt and adjust to some changes in my fibro (Editor’s Note: you curl up in a ball and mew like a kitten when the weather changes abruptly) SHUT UP…ahem, ADAPT and ADJUST, I was given an unexpected treat.  My Eldest Evil Offspring ™ decided that he wanted to spend some of his Christmas money on a copy of Monster Hunter: World and leave it at my apartment to play when he and his younger co-clone are here plotting with me.

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Now, I’ve tried on a number of occasions to “get into” Monster Hunter games.  Dating back to some of the PSP outings, and even most recently with Monster Hunter Generations on the 3DS, I have wanted badly to like them.  The general concept – take assassination contracts on various monstrosities, harvest their parts, wear them as trophies – appeals to both the maniacal evil genius, and the grinding treadmill gamer, sides of me.  (Editor’s Note: “Genius” might be a bit of a stretch…do I need to recount our personal life choices?)  …Point taken.

The point, dear humans, is that despite my efforts, I just have heretofore been unable to really enjoy my time with previous Monster Hunter games.  Everything about them just felt…slow.  Clunky.  I know in part this is by design – these aren’t designed to be fast-paced hack-and-slash games – but sometimes it also felt like an artificial and unnecessary frustration inducer.  In short, I would inevitably play for a while, over several sessions…but invariably put the game aside for something else and not really miss it.  They were never able to capture my devotion long-term.

Until now.

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Now I’m hardly far enough into the game to call this a “review” but in my early and not-so-humble opinion, Monster Hunter: World fixes just about everything I’ve ever really disliked about the series.  Is the combat still measured?  Yes, but not in the same frustration-inducing way that I remember.  Instead, each of the 14 Hunter weapon styles is distinct in its speed, timing, combos, and visceral impact – the combat rewards changing not just your weapons for different fights, but also your mastery of each weapon’s distinctive play style.  If you have been using the lightning-like dual blades exclusively, and then notice that a particular target is weak to blunt damage so you grab a hammer and go after it without spending some time altering your approach to suit your new tool…you are going to get painfully destroyed in short order.  But unlike my past experiences with the games, this stops short of feeling unfair or frustrating – just intelligent and challenging.

I also LOVE the open-world expeditions that you can choose to embark on as an alternative to the more traditional timed missions that are a hallmark of Monster Hunter.  Don’t get me wrong – the missions are still the primary bread-and-butter of the game, and I’ve never had any issue with the mission-based structure of previous games – but the open-world exploration and sidequest elements supplement the larger-scale missions perfectly, allowing you to take a break from difficult tasks and relax or grind up some bones and scales to improve your equipment.  As someone who has many (Editor’s Note: many, MANY) times lamented the seeming glut of games that just decide to throw in an open world because it’s “the thing to do,” I was very pleasantly surprised to discover how well done this is.  There is freedom, but not lack of direction or sacrifice of world building and level design.  It is just so well balanced – a tremendous testament to the development team.

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Suffice to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised (and mercifully distracted) by this unexpected addition to my PS4 library.  I’m looking forward to further hunts, more harvesting, and bringing you my additional thoughts as I continue to delve deeper into Monster Hunter: World.  Plus, you get an anthropomorphic cat as a personal bodyguard – this automatically makes it awesome.

Until next time, humans, remember – next time you may be feeling down about yourself, you pick up that chin, because this is America, a land where anybody – ANY-FUCKING-BODY – can do anything, even be president.  Yes, even a horrific, abhorrent, orange-skinned, fake-haired, petulant, raving, rambling, syphilitic, moronic, illiterate, misogynistic, raging dumpster fire posing as a human can.  And if HE can, then YOU can.  Unless, you know…he gets us all killed first.  Then you can’t. – EWE

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review; and Happy Evilversary!

Greets, mortal creatures!  Can you believe it’s been an entire year already?  One year ago, while wandering very lost and alone, I came upon this small little corner of the internet, and honestly my thought process then was something akin to “well, I can kill myself, or I can start imparting my nihilistic rants and ramblings on the web for nobody to give a damn about.”  I decided to go with the latter, and much to my surprise – many of you DID in fact give a damn, and came to enjoy my modest blogging efforts.  Perhaps more importantly to me personally, you gave a damn about me, and I found not just fellow bloggers or followers, but a new circle of friends – which for someone like me, that struggles mightily to find friends at all, has been very special.  To those of you who have chosen to share this journey with me, to help me along in my efforts to find my voice in my blog, and to share in my struggles that have led me to where I am, I thank you.

EWE and Editor Anniversary

And what better way to celebrate than to also celebrate the HD revival of one of the most unsung, amazing Final Fantasy games of all time – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.  Originally released in the dying days of the PS2, Final Fantasy XII was the poster child for a late-console-cycle video game – Square Enix squeezed every last little bit of power possible out of the aging PS2 architecture, and it showed in every aspect of that game.  The visuals were absolutely gorgeous, outshining many PS3 games – and depending on your views of art direction, even many modern games.  The gameplay systems were incredibly ahead of their time – a blending of classic single-player Final Fantasy RPGs of days past, and its MMORPG predecessor Final Fantasy XI.  Its plot returned players to the world of Ivalice, previously explored in the seminal Final Fantasy Tactics – another first, as it was the first time a Final Fantasy world – Ivalice – was home to multiple games.  But it wasn’t without its detractors – its massive world consisted of large, sometimes empty feeling zones, which could lead to long stretches of time spent simply traveling from one point to another.  Character progression was conducted via spending AP on a massive License Board, shared by all characters, which unlocked all weapons, armor, skills, and spells.  Because the entire board was open to all characters, it led to most of the party characters eventually feeling relatively indistinguishable from a gameplay perspective, as it was relatively easy to give all of them all of the “best” equipment and abilities.

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As far as the original PS2 release of the game, I come down squarely in the camp of it being one of the greatest Final Fantasy games of all time.  The story of a small band of rebels, each with their own personal motivations and brought together by circumstance, standing against the overwhelming might of an Empire bent on dominating all of Ivalice may bear more than a few similarities to Star Wars, but the plot and characters are masterfully written and developed, showing their own small part in a greater overall struggle.  For me personally, I rank it essentially 2nd/3rd all time, with it and FF IX flipping back and forth depending on my mood (VI is 1st by a mile).  But that said, I recognize the flaws in the game as described above – I remember much of the hours I spent with the game spent running all over creation, and I am guilty of turning every character into an overpowered clone of each other.  But I’m here to say that The Zodiac Age enhances everything I loved about the PS2 version, and improves every weakness.

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As with any HD remaster, SE has brought the already beautiful visuals of Ivalice up to modern PS4 standards.  Previously blurry or softened textures are sharp and crisp, and the game puts many, if not most current generation games to shame with its gorgeous art direction.  There is a fly in the ointment – some textures, in particular Vaan’s face during the in-engine cutscenes, didn’t survive the upgrade so well, and appear a bit…wonky.  But this is just nitpicking – overall, this is a stellar graphical upgrade for an already lovely game.

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SE solved the problem of the License Board some years ago, actually.  Shortly after the original PS2 release, SE release an updated PS2 version of the game entitled Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job Edition.  This version of the game never saw official release in the US; however, SE took the Zodiac Job system, improved it even more, and incorporated it into The Zodiac Age.  In this new system, the License Board has been sundered into 12 separate “jobs” – combinations of equipment, skills, spells, and stat growth that fulfill different roles within an overall RPG party.  For example, White Mage has almost all the healing magic, Black Mage gets the nukes, Archer rains physical damage from afar…you get the idea.  Each character in the party gets to choose a total of two of these Boards, thus locking them into the character roles those Jobs represent.  There is some overlap – Knights can unlock some white magic skills, Red Battlemages unlock the same heavy armors as the tank classes, etc. – so players with some foresight and planning can create complementary Job pairings for their party.  But even then, having the right roles filled at the right times against the right enemies is MUCH more prevalent in this edition of the game than it ever was in the original.  Some creatures are highly resistant to physical damage – so you’ll be swapping out your Knight and Bushi for your Black Mage and Red Battlemage.  Other fights are just wars of attrition – and you’ll be well prepared with a White Mage, and a Time Battlemage to keep the party alive and kicking while you whittle away at the opponent.  This adds an entirely new element of strategy to the game that just wasn’t present by the latter stages of the original, and it is a very welcome improvement.

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But THE improvement, the one that absolutely changes the face of RPGs, and maybe gaming as a whole, is the one that I’m sure SE thought was just a tiny afterthought, thrown in as a bone tossed to people playing through the game again after enjoying it on the PS2.  FAST.  FUCKING.  FORWARD.  With a simple press of a button, you can cause the entire game – everything – suddenly shifted to 2x or 4x speed.  I cannot possibly overstate what an incredibly goddamn fantastic feature this is.  As the combat is a hybrid real-time/turn-based system that mimics MMO combat, and traversal across large, open zones is the basic mode of gameplay, being able to double or quadruple the speed at which everything is happening is an absolute godsend, not just for returning veterans, but for anyone who is crossing the Ozmone Plains for 243rd damn time on the way to track down the next optional Hunt side-quest boss, or exploring the labyrinthine Barheim Passage, or perhaps most crucially, grinding away at trash monsters to level and accrue AP to improve your party.  The amount of time this saves is quantifiable, but the level of frustration it alleviates is not – even if a four-minute trip is only cut to two, it feels so much faster.  After playing the game with this feature, I quite honestly think that any game developer, particularly a RPG developer, that does not shamelessly rip off and incorporate this feature into all their future games is just flat not doing their job right.

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A few last things about The Zodiac Age – if you have a Vita and have ever lamented that the Remote Play feature between it and the PS4 was just kind of left on the vine to die, then first, good job owning a Vita, (#TeamHandheld); and second, this might be the title that renews your faith.  I have Spectrum broadband internet, allegedly at 70 Mbps, but in practice somewhat slower due to living in an apartment building with a LOT of conflicting signals in close proximity.  My PS4 is plugged directly into the modem/router in my living room, and in my second floor bedroom, Remote Play on my Vita is absolutely silky smooth.  The controls map perfectly, there is no discernible input lag – JRPGs and turn-based games will always be the best choices for Remote Play for those very reasons, but even in some of the more fast-paced and hectic boss battles, I experienced no issues that I would chalk up to being due to playing remotely on the Vita.  While an actual Vita release would have been GREATLY preferred, this is absolutely the next best thing!  Finally, this game has firmly convinced me that Ivalice is quite possibly my favorite setting in all of gaming.  Please go back to it, SE.  Preferably in a true Final Fantasy Tactics II.

Before I go, kiddos, I’ve been avoiding commenting on Charlottesville and the response to it by the walking clusterfuck of mental illness currently disgracing the Oval Office.  Not because I don’t have strong thoughts on it.  Not because it isn’t important.  But mostly because of this – I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t fucking have to.  It is 2017 for fuck’s sake.  If I need to tell you that being a white supremacist Nazi is a BAD FUCKING THING, you serve literally no purpose on this planet, and I should save my breath, time, and sanity, and just lob a meteor at you.  – EWE