Cartoons

Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts Series Review [Spoiler Free]

This series is over, and   it makes me so sad.  I was recommended this series by a friend, and it’s quirky humor won me over instantly.  From episode 1, it was such a refreshing treat to see so many diverse characters, a really rich world and main characters that were just so lovable and hilarious that I couldn’t wait to see what adventures they’d get into next.  That, paired with the weightiness of the topics touched in this series, and how subtly and well done they were launched Kipo up to the top of my favorite cartoons list. 

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I watched season 3, realizing that it was the final entry in Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts.  Is this for better, or for worse?  I honestly don’t know.  There was a clear narrative structure set in place from day 1 as to what Kipo’s plot, and the characters ultimate goals were and I think the shorter series length really nailed those themes.  So while I would have liked to see more of the show from a fan point of view, I also respect that the show runners had a story they wanted to tell, kept it stream lined, and executed their story with such wonderful tact, grace, and a ton of heart.  Every plot point was wrapped up perfectly, every character arc fully portrayed, and while bittersweet, I’m so happy that Kipo got the ending it deserved, no matter how much I’d like to see more content from this universe.

If you haven’t watched this show, you’re really missing out.  Like I can’t drill home how well Kipo addresses topics like betrayal, familial values, dealing with death and hard choices, and making choices in your life that you know are right for yourself.  It doesn’t paint the decisions you make lightly, as everything done has consequences, but at the same time the core of the characters still stay intact and it never feels like they’ve gone out of character.  It’s such a hard hitting show with both lighter and darker themes, and honestly I think it does a far better job than Steven Universe when it comes to the topic of using your words to solve a problem instead of fighting.  It also has one of the best redemption arcs I’ve ever seen in a cartoon, just a really well done show that ends satisfactorily.

While it’s easy to telegraph the plot of Kipo, and it’s conclusion, that doesn’t really matter.  Kipo is ground breaking in how it portrays it’s themes and characters.  A vast world full of normalized diversity, emotional weight, and goofy quirky moments, I can’t recommend this series enough to any animation fan.  It’s my new favorite modern cartoon, and it’s run time, while a bit upsetting we won’t get more, is part of why the show works.  Because the show runners knew the story they wanted to tell, and told it with such tact and wonderful writing.  I’m going to miss you Kipo, can’t wait to rewatch.

Have you seen Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts?  Let me know what you thought about it in the comments if you have!

Books

Bite-Sized Book Reviews #4

It’s fall, which means I’m in the mood for fairy tale and folk lore retellings, along with an entry from my favorite fantasy romance series, and a contemporary urban fantasy for a change.  Let’s get into it!

A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan

This story instantly grabbed me with its synopses, as it’s a King Midas…I don’t want to say retelling, because it isn’t really.  It’s about the aftermath of King Midas’ tale, and his daughter Kora who has been curse because the King didn’t follow the proper instructions to end the curse fully, so while he no longer has the golden touch, the curse still affects him and his kingdom.  I thought that was a super interesting take inspired by the tale, and decided to give this story a go.  I liked it way more than I figured I would, because along with Kora’s story is an introspective look into our perception of ourselves, finding your own self-worth and identity, and to boot, an awesome pirate adventure that also ties in to those themes, and finding a place to belong.  The romance in this is a slow burn, and while there are some fairy tale retelling tropes in here, they’re used optimally to further the narrative of the story and are really well done.  There’s tons of action, story and character beats, and a satisfying standalone ending for this story that is also open ended for more stories in this world – and there will be, as Curse of Gold is now released.  The world building and magic is great too, just a solid read if you like both fairy tale retelling/reimagining’s, good romance, and solid young adult novels.  I’d highly recommend this one, it’s one of my new favorites in the genre.

The Phoenix Princess by Lichelle Slater

And on the other side of the retelling spectrum, we have The Phoenix Princess.  This is number 4 in the Forgotten Kingdom series, a set of standalone-ish fairy tale retellings that also have a through line story arc with a central character that appears in each of the books.  While this series took a while for me to enjoy, I found this entry to be rather lack luster.  It didn’t tie in well enough to the fairy tale it was based on – Snow White – and the main character and her love interest were just so meh to me.  It’s a shame, because I liked Tavia in the previous entries of the series.  But in this, having her as the first person view just made me really dislike her, and while her being a Phoenix was cool, the entire time I was trying to find any sort of parallel  to Snow White to make this interesting.  But other than randomly mentioning dwarves and having a huntsman stand in, there really was nothing.  It felt like this book was just filler before the final book comes out in December, because there was way more interesting stuff about another character and his backstory then was interesting about Tavia.  It’s fine to read if you’re into the series, but if you picked this up thinking it would be a good standalone it really isn’t.  It wouldn’t make sense just on its own, so if you want to read this series start at The Dragon Princess.  Disappointing  entry in the series and in the fairy tale retelling genre if I’m being honest though, pretty meh.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

My first venture into modern urban fantasy, A Song Below Water is a really great look at the racism  and inequality issues taking place right now, but through the allegory of supernatural creatures.  Tavia is a siren, which instantly got me because I adore mermaids and sirens, but in this world only sirens are black.  So not only does she deal with those duel issues, but she has to navigate going through high school, figuring out who she is, and helping her best friend Effie do the same.  This story is a duel point of view story, as we switch between both Tavia and Effie’s perspectives and I just really enjoyed all of the story beats, and commentary this book made on race issues.  As an African American myself, it really hit a lot of great notes for me and I’m glad I read it.  I will say that it’s rather predictable if you know about mythologies and supernatural creatures, but that didn’t take away from the story for me personally.  I’ve heard some people say it was written a little young for them, but that also didn’t bother me because we’re looking at life through teenage eyes in this book, and the themes and message the book was going for really hit its mark for me.  If you’re into supernatural stuff, or really want an approachable way to see and understand the racial issues going on right now pick up this book.  A fast and enjoyable read, as it’s just below 300 pages. 

Death Wind by Tara Grace

I saved my personal favorite for last.  I love the Elvan Alliance series, and the last book left us on a cliffhanger that this one thankfully concludes.  I really enjoyed this book, as we got to see Farrendal away from Essie, and reading his point of view was such a treat.  Seeing how he’s grown because of her, and his inner workings was fantastic, and we also get to read from his sister Melantha’s perspective which was great as well.  Melantha was a break away character for me in this book, as we got to see her fleshed out in this after seeing her actions in War Bound.  I can’t get enough about this series, and can’t really say any more about this entry without spoilers, but if you like fantasy romance and familial bonds in your stories, read this series.  It also delivers on action when it needs to as well, just a fantastic book series.

And that does it for this entry of Bite-Sized book reviews.  Let me know if you give any of these books a read, I’d love to discuss them in the comments!

Books

Shadow of the Fox Trilogy by Julie Kagawa Review [Spoiler Free]

Fair warning, this is going to be me gushing more than anything else.  Technically I should just throw it into a Bite-Sized Book reviews post, but I loved this series so much I wanted to give it its own post.

If you like anime, you’ll enjoy this book series.  It 100% reminded me of Inuyasha the entire time I was reading it.  The way this series is set up we go in this episodic fashion until the end ramps up to this fantastic, well deserved climax.  All the characters are lovable, but the leads were just so perfect that I was so happy to read from both of their points of view.  The supporting cast was very well fleshed out as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed the found family themes that were a part of this series.

Themes of duality, balance, finding yourself and where you belong also are very prevalent in this series and are all well fleshed out.  Every book in the trilogy has a clear plot that is well paced, and none of them feel like filler.  If something in the series isn’t furthering the plot, it furthers the characters, and it’s such a well-balanced read.  Usually, I say things need to focus on plot, or focus on characters because stories can’t do both well.  But the Shadow of the Fox trilogy masterfully balances both in a very well written manner, and it’s one of the rare occurrences  where this story is both plot, and character centric, but both are done superbly.

There are characters doing things in the background unbeknownst to the main characters, and in the end I thought the motivations for them were a bit weak.  I liked seeing the reveal in the end, and it was enjoyable having those characters interwoven into the narrative for all three books, but I just thought that the reveal was a bit generic and wasn’t as big a fan as I would have been if there was something a little more less tropey used for the big reveal.  I think that’s because of how well thought out the character was, their final motivations just felt a little off to me considering what they had done throughout the entire story.  That would be my biggest hrmm about the series, but not worth knocking my enjoyment of the series down a peg because of it.


The romance too, oh the romance!  Tatsumi and Yumeko are both wonderful characters on their own, but together it’s just perfection.  I think their romance was such a great slow burn, and it was super satisfying and sweet when it ended the way it did.  I’ve legit read the last few pages of the epilogue a few times, the resolution of their relationship just makes me so happy and it’s my new favorite YA fantasy couple. 

Like I said really nothing bad to say about this series.  I just wanted to gush about it.  If you like anime and manga, you’d definitely like this series.  If you like well done characters and an epic action adventure, you’ll like this series.  If you like Japanese Folk Lore, you’ll like this series.  And finally, if you just like well done stories, you’ll like this series.  It’s in my top list of favorite YA series now, I just adore it so much!

Have you read the Shadow of the Fox trilogy?  Let me know how you like it in the comments!

Anime · Cartoons

Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy Chapter 1: Siege Review [Spoiler Free]

I was browsing Netflix the other day when I didn’t have anything to do and this show was recommended to me.  I’m a Transformers fan, so figured I’d give it a go and was pleasantly surprised.  This show has a lot of depth, a well-paced plot, and great characters.  Good voice cast as well, and with audio description too!  But how does the show hold up under a microscope?  Let’s see, on to the review!

 

Technically this one is a trilogy of episodes?  I thought it was going to be a trilogy of movies, but then this first chapter wound up being six episodes so we’ll go with it being a mini series of sorts.  The first chapter of this, I really enjoyed.  Now keep in mind, I’m going in as a casual Transformers fan.  I watch the live action movies and like about half of them, I grew up watching the old franchise but I was super young so don’t remember it super well.  I watched episodes of Cybertron back in the day, and liked it well enough.  I’ve seen people complaining about this show destroying their childhoods, that it wasn’t good because it wasn’t like the old Generation 1 cartoon and can we please just give this a rest?  I get tired of people wearing nostalgia glasses and ruining new experiences for viewers that enjoyed somethings newer take because maybe they just want to watch something and enjoy it without comparing it to the original.  I prefer Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon over Sailor Moon Crystal, but you don’t see me crapping all over people who may think differently, do you?  But ahem I went on a bit of a tirade there.  It’s just that I went to read discussion threads about the series when I finished it because I enjoy doing that, saw people doing nothing but complain about it not being like the original instead of talking about how the show was on its own and it just bothered me so much.

 

But anyway!  I really enjoyed this take on the franchise.  It’s nice to see a robot-centric version of the show when for years it’s been about the humans more.  Optomus and Megatron’s relationship is the focal point of this series, and already I think they’re doing a good job with its execution – though be prepared for some heavy handed handling when it comes to Megatron allegory.

 

There are a lot of characters in the series, and they do a decent job of giving us supporting casts that are fleshed out enough, but not taking the spotlight from the main group of bots.  This is a darker take on the war for Cybertron, with a lot of action and it doesn’t shy away from really heart wrenching plot beats, and deaths.  And for this show, I think it works.  The storytelling is really well done, as well as the character work, and the conflict feels real, and raw, and it just captures a war time story really well.

 

The ending of this six episodes was a bit of a cliffhanger, while at the same time finishing up the storyline set up in this first chapter.  There are enough mysteries laid out for the second chapter, and I can’t wait to see what happens in chapter 2.
This show has audio description yaaay.  It describes the fight scenes really well, and also describes what’s happening in each scene really succinctly.  One thing I have to dock it points for however, is it just expects you to drop into this universe and know which bot is which.  So instead of describing the bots, it says “RC, Bumblebee, and Mirage all stand on a cliff” and it really doesn’t give you a nice grasp of their new designs, or what they would look like other than they are robots.  It also bothered me that they didn’t tell us what Megatron turned into, which is weird?  Like every time a bot transforms, it says they turn into a jet or truck or something, so why not Megatron also?  I’m assuming he has his classic design of turning into a motorcycle, but at the same time there are so many different Megatron designs that maybe it isn’t.  And I had vision when watching Transformers as a kid so would know this, but for a person coming into the series blind, it’s kind of a glaring error to not describe every robot’s look and transformation.  There are also new characters in this, so what do they look like?  I get it’s a huge cast, and it’s hard to cram all the aesthetics into a description when a scene is going, but it took me out of the viewing experience a bit not knowing at least basic details of how they looked in this iteration.  It makes you have to look up descriptions on the wiki, and while doing that extra legwork is something I do anyways when I like something, it’s also avoidable if the description described the characters a teeny bit more throughout scenes.  Other than that, solid plot beat and battle narration.

 

So would I recommend this series?  I really enjoyed it.  I didn’t find anything wrong with the series at all.  Voice cast is superb, plot is really deep and well-paced, character work great.  If you like anime, I’d best describe this as Transformers if we just turned it into a mecha anime, because it hits all of those plot beats from the genre.  If you’re new to the series I feel like you’ll like it more than old timers with the franchise, but who knows?  Needless to say I super enjoyed the first chapter and can’t wait to follow this show to its conclusion.

 

Did you watch Transformers:  War for Cybertron?  Let me know what you thought in the comments!

Books

Bite-Sized Book Reviews #3

Time for another Bite-sized book reviews!  This one is going to be a little different, since one is for a book series, and one for a book I DNFed.  I chose to not post a review on Good Reads for the DNF, because I think it’s unfair to do so when I haven’t finished the book, but since this is my blog I’d like to post my thoughts on said book and why I didn’t read it all the way through.  With that out of the way, let’s get on to the reviews!

 

Gods of Blood and Powder Series by Brian McClellan

 

This series is in the Powder Mage universe, so if you haven’t read the series, you may be a bit lost.  You wouldn’t be entirely lost, but if you ever plan to read the prior series there are major spoilers in the books, so read at your own risk.  The things it addresses in this series that you need knowledge of the Powder Mage trilogy for it explains though, which is nice.

 

This series takes place ten years after the Powder mage trilogy, and stars Vlora and two other characters not from the original trilogy.  Vlora was an interesting side character for me, so I really liked reading from her point of view…in book 1.  In book 2, she got a little too one note and didn’t develop much, but her plot was interesting and drove the overall plot forward.

 

Michele, the Adamat style character in this series, I loved.  My favorite plots and characters were in his storylines and in every book I super enjoyed getting back to his.  Ben Stike was the typical manly man Tamas character, but I overall liked him better along with his story arcs.

 

This world felt super fleshed out.  Like, the ten year gap truly felt like ten years of time had progressed in real time in their world.  Characters were different, but still the same, the stakes were higher, and a lot of characters got stories for them when they didn’t because of being supporting characters in the previous series.  I will say the 2nd book had middle book syndrome, and didn’t really feel like it added much to the overall trilogy, but there were some good moments in it.  My favorite one was the first book, I thought that one and book three were both really well paced and dynamic.

 

The end of the third book felt a little lack luster with the final conflict, but it also fit the series at the same time.  These books have always been about the characters and action more than anything, so it didn’t bother me too much how it ended.  Overall, a good series with a lot of lovable characters, good plot beats, and good pacing other than in book 2.  Give it a read if you’re into McClellans works.

 

Forest of Firelight by Shari L. Tapscott

 

Aaaand here’s the book I didn’t finish.  Such an awful slog of cliché insta love romance, a bland main character who we’re supposed to like, and a tortured love interest we’re supposed to empathize with.  The premise sounded so interesting too, and I read reviews saying the end was good but like…ugh.  It’s a short book, only 300 pages, but it just dragged on so long and the first 183 pages were nothing but naïve Princess getting into trouble, and brooding love interest saving her, internally saying he hated how stupid she was but at the same time falling for her.  No subversion of tropes what-so-ever, and for me the author didn’t seem like they were planning to do anything more than follow the same generic plot beats in a YA romance, so I just stopped reading it midway.  The world wasn’t interesting enough either, just generic epic fantasy with a somewhat interesting magic system, but not interesting enough to carry the story considering how frustrating the main character was.  If you’ve finished it, let me know if it gets better in the comments, but for me this was just a series I wasn’t willing to continue regardless so stopped in the middle of  book 1.

 

Of Sea and Song by Chanda Hahn

 

Another entry in the Daughters of Eville series, and the book I started reading this series for.  A Little Mermaid retelling that stars an epic sorceress who sings as her magic ability, and uses ocean magic?  Sign me up!  This story started pretty fun and interesting, but midway eventually fell into the trap this series usually does with the main love interest being irritating and them just falling in love with out any relationship growth what-so-ever.  I did like that the secondary love interest subverted the generic “He’s evil” trope in this one, and it was a fun ride regardless of leaning on tropes, so I can’t complain.  What this series thrives on is the familial relationships between the sisters and Lady Eville, and each daughter coming into her own through her story and this totally delivered on that regard, which is why the okish romance didn’t bother me so much.  Mary was my favorite lead so far which was also a bonus.

 

This was a really interesting take on The Little Mermaid that I super enjoyed, and this author gets better with every entry in this series:  this one was the best paced, with the least amount of leaning on fairy tale retelling tropes, and was really dynamic and interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

 

Conclusion

 

And that’s the end of my Bite-Sized Book Reviews!  If you want some more in depth reviews for any of these books, head on over to my Good Reads profile.  I hope these reviews help you with finding reads, and happy reading!

Anime

Magia Record: Madoka Magica Side Story Anime Review [Spoiler Free]

I got my brother into Madoka recently, and him talking about it so much made me want to rewatch it.  I remembered really enjoying it when I watched a few years back, and remembered decently the plot beats.  But rewatching it, it honestly became my new favorite anime.  The plotting, the pacing, the characters, all so masterfully done and I can talk about the philosophical implications of both it, and Rebellion for ages.

 

On this trip down Madoka once again, I decided to throw watching Magia Record into the mix.  I was interested in it anyways, and I’m a sucker for any Madoka content after this rewatch reinvigorating my love of the series.  But, does Magia Record:  Madoka Magica Side Story stack up to its predecessor?

 

No, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

This by no means makes Magia Record a bad series, but it most certainly doesn’t have the same tone or vibe as Madoka Magica.  That didn’t bother me really, it’s called a side story after all.  But the first five episodes were a lot of meandering, and what I thought to be poorly crafted characters.  The plot wasn’t interesting enough, and it just felt like it was trying to capture aspects of Madoka without realizing that Madoka is a show that is crafted in a way that the sum of its parts make its whole.  And that really bothered me.  Why wasn’t this show trying to stand on its own two feet, and be interesting in its own right?

 

Well, you have to watch this first season to its end, because boy did it prove me wrong.  This show is different in the sense that it has more time to develop its characters, and lay the ground work for an explosive finale by seasons end.  We got to see each characters backstory, see them develop as a team, and then by episode eight or nine, what seemed like bland characters became really interesting and dynamic ones, because we had seen them all independently and acting as only a part of their character, not all of it.  When all the core cast comes together though, you see them bonding, you see them grow together, and it makes the plot and its mysteries set forth in the first few episodes totally pay off.  At the end of season 1, we didn’t get any of these mysteries solved, but that ending just got me so hyped for season 2 and totally got me hooked on wanting to see more of this show, and its characters arcs and the overall plot unfold.

There are cameos from beloved characters in the first series, but they don’t feel forced or out of place.  They all are also going to be playing a bigger role in the series, you can tell, but we just don’t get to see how or why just yet.  I won’t spoil any of the cameos, because for all of them I let out an audible “Yay!” when they happened because not gonna lie, I still love the main cast more than this one.  This new cast has potential to be great characters in their own right (my favorite so far is Yachio) but they aren’t quite there yet.  By series end though, I hope this changes and we see all of them come into their own and be just as epic as the previous series’ cast.

 

Magia Record isn’t Madoka Magica, and that’s ok.  It’s not trying to be Madoka, it’s just a story that takes place in the same universe, and is part of the franchise.  I like both series’ for different reasons, and am excited to see what happens in season 2 of Magia Record.  You definitely have to watch this first season to the end though to get the full effect of whether you’d like the show or not, and the first half of the season is a struggle – it took me a week to go back to the series, because I just really wasn’t interested.  But if you’re willing to give this series a chance, the end is definitely worth it and the cliffhanger and mysteries laid out throughout season1 make it worth watching this to season 2.

 

Have you watched Magia Record:  Madoka Magica Side Story?  Let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

Books · Editorials/Opinion Pieces

Kindle unlimited Closing Thoughts After Canceling the Service

So I decided to cancel my Kindle Unlimited subscription this month.  I wanted to cancel it for a few months now, but I kept on forgetting and then it would get renewed, so I figured just keep it for another month.  But there came a point where I just wasn’t using it as much as I initially was, and made the decision to cancel the subscription.  Since I made a post when I first had joined Kindle Unlimited, I figured I’d close out my subscription with a final thoughts article, and how I feel about the overall service as a whole.

 

My biggest thing with cancelling was, the lack of variety in the genres I liked to read.  I read fantasy pretty much exclusively, and while there are some fantastic books you can read on the service, I found myself getting less and less interested in titles I downloaded.  I’d try to start reading something with an interesting synopses, only to find it was boring or cliché within the first few chapters and it went that way for a long time.  I enjoy fairy tale retellings as much as the next fairy tale fan, but the amount of retellings that are not only available on Kindle Unlimited, but that bleed into each other get a little ridiculous.  I mean, how many Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White retellings can you read?  I enjoyed the ones I read, but that’s just an example of the lack of variety in the fantasy genre after a certain amount of avid reading.

 

The last thing I enjoyed reading, I wound up purchasing myself.  The free titles are massive on Kindle Unlimited, but at the end of the day it wasn’t what I wanted to read because I had read things similar in the genre.  Not saying purchased books are innocent of bleeding together with their plots, but I just felt like I’d be better off putting my $9.99 towards a book I actually wanted to read.  Which, there are a few titles I was putting off reading because I had access to  so many freebies, so I wanted to focus on reading those even if the price point on most of them is the price of the full subscription itself.

 

The recommendation system eventually wasn’t super helpful either.  Like, I went through a span of just getting recommended fairy tale retellings because I had read about 3 of them.  I would have liked for Kindle unlimited to be a bit more expansive with their filtering for me – fantasy, romance, adventure, etc etc.  I had a hard time looking for things I’d like to read because I got flooded with recommendations of things I wasn’t in the mood to read, and it got a bit frustrating.

 

At the end of the day, I got major mileage out of Kindle Unlimited.  I’m not saying it’s a bad service by any means:  I found a ton of my new favorite series’ through using the service.  But at the end of the day, looking at the price point of some books in the service made me realize I could just buy those books I want to read, and not pay monthly for the service.

 

I initially got Kindle Unlimited free for 3 months around Black Friday.  There was a sale for half off for the entire year around that time, but I hadn’t tried the service yet so I didn’t give it a go.  After using it for half a year, I’d say if that sale happened again I’d just buy the whole year, because I do like the service for what it is: a place full of reads to varying quality, that is good to hunt for hidden gems.  When I had nothing to read, I’d always go to Kindle unlimited and browse for a good popcorn read and sometimes be surprised with how good something was.  It’s a good service if you like being able to do that and are an avid reader, but as the year went on I just found myself using the service less and less, and wanted to invest my money in reads I knew I’d prefer, with a bit higher quality.

 

All of that being said, my exact closing thoughts on Kindle unlimited?  At the end of the day, I enjoyed the service.  Like I said, if I could get a half off sale on a full year, I’d go ahead and do it.  As far as it at full price, I think it needs to get more desirable reads to be worth the money.  You’d probably be better off with a Scribbed or Audible subscription, and get far more bang for your buck because with those services, it’s quality over quantity.  For Kindle Unlimited, it’s the opposite, and after a while that shows.  I’ve found some books I’ve loved, rolled my eyes at, and done a bit of both with over my subscription period and for that alone I think the price point should just be a teeny bit lower than it is.

 

I hope this helped you if you  were debating trying Kindle unlimited.  It’s honestly all a matter of preference and the genres you read, and how flexible your taste threshold is.  I can be entertained by anything if the premise and characters grip me, so I found more things I liked than disliked on the service.  However if you really are a picky reader, this service wouldn’t be for you.

 

Have you tried Kindle Unlimited?  Weigh in in the comments below!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

A Tips and Tricks Guide for Visual Novel Accessibility [And other Games]

One of the articles I get the most traction on is me talking about Visual Novel accessibility.  I’ve gotten numerous emails about people asking me how they can make their games accessible, and I think it’s fantastic.  I love seeing people make an active effort to be aware of disabled folks, and considering what it would take to make their games be playable for all sects.

 

I re-read this article recently, and realized while I made a basic outline for what I’ve had trouble with access wise, I didn’t give any solutions.  I know a decent amount about gaming access, being a blind gamer myself, so I’d like to just highlight some things that are easily doable, that I’d like to see implemented more in games for easy access.

 

These things are usable not only in other games, but I know they are doable in the Ren’py engine which is widely used for creating visual novels.  So if you’d like more info on how to do these things, I suggest looking at the documentation.  But now, onto the bulk of the article!

 

Image Tags

 

The biggest gripe I had with inaccessibility is not being able to read menu items.  This often is because the developer decided to use a fancy UI, with a nice image based interface, and didn’t add image tags to the images in question.  So you have things like a navigational map, or even the main menu screen and the self-voicing mode in Ren’py can’t read them, because image tags aren’t set in place for the menu items.  All you need to do, is make sure if you’re using a UI that is image based, that you tag each item in the menu with a description.  This description can be as basic as “Load Game” or “Inventory” or it can be as in depth as describing the image in question, and also stating the menu item.  But, especially if you’re planning to use a custom background or splash screen on the initial screen of your VN, and you want it to be accessible with self-voicing mode, be sure to use image tags to describe the item, or what the image looks like if you’re so inclined.  The main thing is the menu item being read, descriptions of images are just a bonus.

 

Easy Navigation

 

Stylizing your game is great.  It adds tons of personality and flare to a game.  But if you’re planning on making your game have drag and drop features, or things you have to click, make sure that there are alternative navigation features to this gameplay.  So many times I’ve dealt with a game being half accessible, only to have to have a sighted peer do something finicky because I can’t use the mouse and arrow properly to click.  So if you’re going to have navigation with mice, or touchpads, be sure that when moving the navigator things read as you scroll past, or there’s just keyboard access to move around with keyboard arrows.

 

Text to Speech Full Functionality

 

The self-voicing feature in Ren’py is a fantastic feature that can be well utilized.  But if you as the developer do something to make that functionality not work, you need to compensate for it.  Say you have voice actors voicing the dialogue in your VN.  That’s perfectly fine, but are the menu items still readable?  Was there somewhere in the code that somehow broke this, perhaps using images for menu choices?  It’s important to make sure if you don’t want to use self-voicing in Ren’py, that there’s some sort of text to speech alternative built into your game you can have turn on and off for players.  There are a lot of resources out there to make this possible, but I’m not well versed enough in coding to know how to do it exactly.    I’ve seen it done in games though, and it’s always a breath of fresh air when you don’t have to worry that somewhere along the road you’re playing a game, and it just is going to stop reading for some reason or another.

 

Navigation Queues

 

If you’re going to have sequences in your game where you have to take control of a character to walk around, navigational queues are key.  I’ve seen great success with a radar and beacon system, with sort of call and response noises relative to where you are, and where you’re headed.  The sound beeps louder the closer you get to it, and when you reach the location, a text to speech voice reads the sign, or tells you there’s a doorway, or something like that.  Of course, not every navigational system has to be like this, but I’m just giving a basic guideline of how something like this might work.  The big thing is making sure there is some sort of audio feedback if you need to control a character and walk around with them.  Same goes for item hunting, enemies nearby, attacking noises:  all of these need distinct sounds a blind or VI gamer can use to know their surroundings as well as a sighted player would.

 

You can do the same with the atmosphere of the surroundings.  Are you near a river?  Make a running water sound apparent.  Near trees and birds?  Make birds sound overhead walking on some leaves.  There’s so much creative sound design out there, and with the strides in binaural and stereo soundscapes, you can get majorly creative here.  I know   this probably won’t be as in depth with a visual novel, but for other games it’s definitely something to consider.

 

Conclusion

 

Those are the major things I’d consider important to me when asking for access in video games.  It doesn’t tick every box of course, I’m only one disabled demographic.  But as far as being a blind gamer is concerned, I hope this is a good launching pad for anyone who needs tips on what to get started with when considering to make your game accessible for the blind and visually impaired.  I’ve seen such amazing strides in the industry as of late, so I hope this article can help whoever stumbles across it with their game development choices!

Anime

NiNo Kuni Movie Review [Spoiler Free]

When I saw a NiNo Kuni movie on Netflix, I was super excited.  I’m a fan of the game, and the premise is really good, so it’s story translated to a movie made perfect sense to me.  The trailer made it look like it would be the games story, but upon watching the movie, it’s more one of those movies based on the concept of the game.  Does that mean the movie was bad?  Well let’s get into the review and find out!

 

The basic concept of the movie is pretty much the basic concept of the game.  Two worlds coexist and the lives of both influence the other.  That’s honestly where the movie and games parallels end, because after that point we’re all in original character territory.  Initially, that bothered me a bit, because I was looking forward to a game adaptation.  But after the setup of the movie, and we got transported to the alternate world, I was all in on this fantasy adventure.  I’m not going to say it’s something new and spectacular: the plot plays out like your average fantasy movie, with the added flare of going from world to world.  But there’s just something about the characters, the plot, the setting and music, that make me really be invested in the outcome of this story.  If you’re a fan of really good character beats, then this movie will be for you.  Because other than the relationship between Haru and Yu, and Yu and Astrid, there’s not much more to this than epic fantasy being epic.
The villain was soooo predictable.  Like second scene they were in, I called it and was right.  But somehow, this doesn’t detract from the charm of the movie: it actually adds to it.  Since it plays out as a generic fantasy adventure, it just adds to said adventure and it was nice to see that this movie didn’t try and do anything new and risky with the plot.  A lot of times, people rag  on stories for “sticking to clichés” or not trying something new.  But if we have good characters, good plot, great music, fun action, I’m all in for a generic fantasy story if the payoff overall is good and fits with the story.
And the payoff was so, so well deserved.  A genuine plot twist at the end I wasn’t expecting, but was led up to with little things sprinkled throughout the story.  When they dropped this twist, it was just super satisfying and made sense to the narrative.  It wasn’t one of those what the heck did I just watch? Ends, but it added a cherry on top of this really enjoyable movie, and I left it with a big old smile on my face.  Just a really, really well done movie start to finish.  It knew what it wanted to do, wasn’t afraid to do so, and landed with every story beat it set forth.  I can’t always say that about media I watch, so this was a pleasant viewing for sure.

 

Surprisingly enough, this movie had audio description!  It’s not that Netflix isn’t good with its audio description library, it’s more that it’s rare to see anime have audio description.  Unless it’s a Netflix original, I don’t see too many anime going the route of audio description, so it was nice to have it on here.  It definitely added to the viewing experience, as there’s a lot of action that’s well staged in this, and the audio description does a great job at making sure you know every important thing going on in each scene.  It even describes the after credits scene, which is really nice!  Sometimes, you can watch a show without audio description, and feel like you wouldn’t really be missing too much with it off.  It’s always preferred to have, but you can figure out what’s going on without it in a decent amount of shows.  With this one though, I feel like you’d  miss a lot without audio description, so it was nice to have it available for the viewing experience.  Scripting was well done, no real problems or errors with characters names changing or anything like that.

 

This movie is a lot of fun.  If you’re a fantasy fan, you’ll definitely like it.  I think it does an original NiNo Kuni story well, and if it wasn’t going to be a movie based on the game, I’m glad we got this instead.  It’s a great way to kill 2 hours, so I’d definitely say give it a watch!

Books

Night Shift Dragons [DFZ, Book 3] Review

DFZ book 3 released a while ago and I finished the audio book.  I have to say, hands down this was one of my favorite series.  I liked it more than The Heartstrikers books, if I’m being completely honest.  This is going to be one of my shorter reviews, because I really don’t have anything bad to say about it.  Loved it from start to finish.  But as I am prone to do, let’s get into some gushing about the book!

 

Night Shift Dragons takes place 2 months after Part-Time Gods.  Opal and her Father are dealing with a lot of their issues, and Opal is also dealing with being a Priestess to the DFZ.  I thought it was really interesting seeing the DFZ and how her personality has developed over the 25 year span since the Heartstriker series.  It isn’t something you need to have read the first series to get, but if you have it’s just a nice touch seeing her develop  into  who she is in the story.  There were some really entertaining cameos in this book as well, which once again you don’t have to have read the first series to get, but it makes them all the better if you have and if you plan to read the Heartstrikers series, major spoilers from things in that series by these cameos.
But what I love about this series, is how grounded it is.  Sure, we’re dealing with demi-gods and magic, and dragons.  But at its core, it’s the story of Opal and Yong trying to figure out how to have a relationship with one another where they aren’t just shouting at each other all the time, and Opal realizing that her actions have major consequences, and she’s just as much at fault for the bad things going on in her life as dealing with her Dad is.  It was really refreshing seeing Opal own up to her mistakes, while at the same time acknowledging that Yong was also in the wrong.  Yong also has to realize Opal isn’t a kid anymore, and what he’s been trying to do to keep her close has only driven her away was huge character growth for him as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first few chapters, where they just talked things out and figured out how to be a Father and daughter again.  After that, the scenes with them having more tender moments, and their action scenes together, were just so amazing and I loved seeing them lean on each other for strength, and support.  Of course their mannerisms don’t entirely go away, but they’re both working on building this relationship, and it’s beautiful start to finish.

 

I was a bit worried after reading the blurb for the book that Opal and Nick’s relationship would suffer.  Especially after what happened at the end of book 2, I was seriously stressing that there would be an obnoxious will they, won’t they lovers on opposite sides of a battle thing going on.  Lucky for me, that didn’t happen at all.  Once again, Rachel Aaron demonstrates her depth in understanding of how her characters work, and uses a realistic dialogue between the characters to set up plot points for the book.  Never did I feel like either side didn’t trust each other, never did I feel that their relationship wasn’t strong enough to weather any storm.  It was just really well done, seeing the depth of care they had for each other, and super refreshing for a genre plagued with irritating romance tropes.

 

The overarching plot of the story was interesting enough, but honestly it was mainly the backdrop for the characters growth and development.  I pretty easily predicted what was going to happen, though there were certain curveballs In the last few chapters that genuinely had me surprised.  The final battle was epic, and the true culmination of Opal and Yong’s relationship.  And the ending after that was super satisfying, and open-ended enough  to have some novellas featuring Opal and Nick.  Which, I hope is what happens, because if I’m being honest, I like them waaaay more than Marcy and Julius.  There’s just something about Opal that’s so much more engaging, and makes me like her far more as a character.

 

I read this in audio book format, because that’s how I started the book, and I tend to stick with how I started reading a book.  Emily Woo Zeller is fantastic, her voice for Opal especially is super well done.  Opal, Yong, and Nick were very well defined as characters in her narration.  There is a certain point, where the voices don’t get super distinguished, but the characters personalities still shine through so well that it doesn’t bother me so much.  My main gripe is with the characters from Heartstrikers, but that’s mainly because I’m so used to the voices from the Heartstrikers books that the ones in this book throw me off a bit.  I just put those voices in my head and imagine the other narrators deliveries with them, and it doesn’t bother me too much.

 

But yeah, this was a fantastic finale to the series.  Like I said, this story has always been grounded in the simple struggle of a young woman wanting to live her life, but not wanting to strain her familial relationships to do so.  Both sides having to adapt to one another’s wishes, while still loving and respecting each other was perfectly portrayed in this 3rd book. I always thought Yong was a great character, but seeing him fleshed out in this book was great, and his character arc along with Opal’s was fantastic.  Like I said, I really hope to see more of all of these characters, because I prefer them to the cast of the Heartstrikers series.
I recommend this story to anyone who’s an urban fantasy fan that has a strong like of character based stories, and quirky humor.  These books are well rounded with drama, action, character and plot, and I thoroughly enjoyed this being a one on one character story, instead of evolving into the end of the world scenario Heartstrikers did.  Both are great series’ but I prefer this one to that one, no contest.

 

Have you read Night Shift Dragons?  Let me know what you thought in the comments!