Fire Emblem Awakening Impressions

I recently finished playing Fire Emblem Awakening so now I am going to write about my experience with it. Turn based tactical strategy RPGs are a rare breed. When they are done they tend to be good. Joan of Arc, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem series, Tactics Ogre; all of these series that are renowned but in comparison to other genres there are not nearly as many series or games.

I had cut my teeth in the genre in Joan of Arc on the PSP. After playing Fire Emblem Heroes I became interested in playing Awakening because of the good things I had heard about it from my friends. I am glad I made that decision. I forgot how much I love this genre as it had been years since I had played Joan of Arc.

The gameplay of the series is damn good. I was overall unimpressed until the pairing up system was introduced. It is one of my favorite mechanics in a game like this because it both serves to simply how many moves you need to make per turn, and it allows for tactical decisions in terms of what characters to pair up and how you can attack. Pair up a sword user with a magic user and you can switch between them for advantage. Facing an armoured unit use the magic user, facing an axe user swap in the sword user. I love too how it works in conjunction with the support system. It also allows for great teamwork where you have two characters working together with clutch defense for no damage, and great combo attacks that allow for the combat to feel more dynamic where it is multiple characters working together on a battlefield. I derived a lot of joy from watching the characters fight together pulling off clutch kills and saving each other from certain death.

The maps were varied with many different routes, ways of approaching it, and stresses. Some maps after much thought you must rush or be overwhelmed. The final maps I finished in three turns because if I didn’t I would have 20 enemy units swarming me. Others you take methodically so that you can protect or recruit units.

 

My only disappointment in regards to the maps is the lack of variety in terms of win conditions. All the maps required you to either kill the enemy general, or kill all enemies. While some maps had additional objectives such as protecting NPCs. Only one map caused me to change up how I position units. The map had enemies trying to kill a single NPC but unlike other maps this one was a simple defense map, but the twist was the enemies would ignore all my units unless they had no other option but to attack. The first time I did the map I failed miserably. The second time I unpaired my units to form a defensive square around the NPC and simply had to weather tons of attacks. If a unit fell I needed to make hard decisions on how to fill that hole in the line as a single mistake would mean the NPC I needed to protect would die. I would have liked to see more maps that cause that changeup of tactics like that.

Now saying that I played the game on easy-casual so I am sure that if I played on a higher difficulty with permanent unit death my experience with the maps would be quite different as I would be way more careful, and play them in different ways.

The story is good in the same way I find well-executed anime tropes fun. The game is very anime in it’s design, story, and interpersonal character conversations and relationships. The story itself I found starts off strong with act 1 being damn good. Act 2 is good introducing new characters, and a strong new conflict but suffers from only being tangibly related to the main plot.

Act 3 is both better and worse than act two in different ways. There is a bit of a forced I am your father type thing going which after more plot details made more sense but the initial introduction left quite a bit to be desired for me.

The final three to four chapters go back to being some of the best in the game with great story bits, and answers to many of the story questions. The gameplay and maps get intense with even maxed out characters having to play safe.

I liked the pair up system a lot because of how it also served the story. Now this is especially relevant in my play through because I had my Female Avatar marry Chrom. This meant that Lucina was my daughter. Chrom and my avatar worked really well together on the battlefield and then this translated into romance between the two.

Lucina being my daughter made the scene where she wants to kill my character to save the future so much more emotional and heartbreaking. When I chose the option that I would be fine with sacrificing my avatar to save the future the dialogue was on point and did a lot to make the scene one of the highlights of my play through.

The gameplay serving the character which serves the story is one thing the game did well. This was especially true when I faced the final boss. I had paired up my avatar with Chrom and they faced down the boss and with double crits my pairing killed the final boss and then I made the final decision choosing sacrifice. All the decisions regarding Chrom, Lucina, and my avatar were so much better because of my own emotional attachment to all three characters.

I thought it was nice that they offered the player choices at certain points in the story but I was disappointed that other than different dialogue and a different ending there was no other real differences. It would have been nice to have choice be a bigger part of the narrative.

The game has a good bit of replayability due to different difficulty settings that change how you play and the different support conversations, as well as genders of certain characters changing depending on if your avatar is female or male.

The mechanics of the game are pretty deep. I have only scratched the surface in my play through but the child mechanic as much as it can be used as a fun story or for shipping or it can be used on higher difficulties as a eugenics simulator. You have certain parents change into different classes to get skills. If you change your class the character still keeps the skills from that class. This allows you to with enough time create really strong characters. You have the parents gain skills to pass to the children allowing them to become incredibly powerful.

Between the DLC, the characters, the story, the skill system, and the solid gameplay this game is a phenomenal package.

Overall I really enjoyed the game and am looking forward to playing through it again.

-Feldia

A Feeling of Community

I find myself reflecting this evening on a feeling of deep appreciation. I have spend the recent days in communion with a group of people whom I hold dear on a level that I have not always been sure was even possible for me to achieve. Throughout much of my life, I have felt as though I have had difficulty connecting with people, and, if I am being honest, I have not always felt as though it was worth the effort for me to cultivate the skills necessary to form those connections. But friends, I could not have been more errant in those intuitions, for I count myself amongst the blessed because of the people I am able to share my life with. Never could I have dreamed in my younger years that I would be able to form such tight-knit bonds with so many wonderful individuals, nor that I would be able to participate in a community as healthy and rewarding as this. I am left feeling a sense of immense gratitude and humility in the sense of your absence.

Thank you, friends. It is an honour and a privilege to be able to share my life with you.

Spencer

From Mars to Sirius by Gojira (2005)

“Why do they call me there
How can I fly…”

Champions of bone-crushing riffs and powerful growled vocal preformances, Gojira’s unrelenting focus on grooving, heavy guitars and precision drumming will have me tuned in for years to come. From Mars to  Sirius is the result of Gojira’s sound developing into their own unique brand of metal after their first two efforts. Where Terra Incognita (2001) and The Link (2003) borrowed from death and groove metal, Gojira would  establish their own sound on this album, demonstrating their new chops in full form.

As much as From Mars to Sirius was a departure from Gojira’s roots in their previous music, it was  more so a milestone for their particular style of metal. While Gojira is no stranger to songs on the  lengthy side of five minutes, ‘From Mars to Sirius’ is one of their longer-running releases to date, featuring most of the band’s extended pieces of music. Most of the material on the latter half of the album charts  into the seven minute mark, yet the manner that they move through the intricate sections of each song leaves little time for rest. Even the slower pieces here, like the instrumental bridge Unicorn or the intro  to Flying Whales are still given a sense of movement by Mario’s drum technique; often playing more around the beat than to it.

Even though there is not a great degree of diversity to the sounds of the instruments and vocals on this record, I feel that metal is a genre that can often use its limitations in creative ways. Gojira know their strengths – and they play to them. The guitar tones aren’t too rich or laden with effects to muddy the  rest of the mix, often being just crunchy enough to hold up the riffs, while still maintaining clarity.  The drums on a Gojira record are always a highlight, often allowed free reign to accent the guitar and vocal parts, or vice-versa. It never feels like Mario Duplantier is just holding a beat for his band-mates, sometimes it feels like he’s leading the charge and everyone else is playing catch-up. The bass is the  real supporting act in Gojira, occasionally showing through the mix when a rare guitar or vocal melody grabs the spotlight from the guitars, otherwise maintaining the all-important rhythm for a band of  Gojira’s nature. There’s a good mix of screamed and growled vocals here too. Many metal groups seem to  fall completely into one style, however on From Mars to Sirius there are clean vocal sections which  suit their respective songs well; such as the low whisper on From Mars or the melody on World to Come which follow the guitar. All of these elements combine very deliberately to complete Gojira’s  unique sound, and I would expect all of these elements were considered for each song, with the correct approach applied to both the whole and individual pieces.

The album begins with some of the shorter cuts from the record, the chant of whalesong leading into a  monstrously heavy riff that ends with a pinched harmonic and turns on itself to grant a moment of reprieve – before thrusting the listener back into the midst of the humongous guitar part. The drums here compliment the guitars strikingly well, thundering along on the toms during the first part of the riff, then rounding out the segment with crashing cymbals and playing around the beat. Ocean Planet  finishes on a high note (not literally), after chugging forward through the bridge the song quickly drops the listener into one of the heaviest, stomp-iest riffs on the album – complete with a powerful yet still discernible vocal preformance.

Backbone and From the Sky are a bit more standard fare for Gojira, displaying their ability and speed here well, also notably demonstrating Mario’s stop-and-start drumming technique, though not as well as on The Heaviest Matter of the UniverseUnicorn separates these tracks from the rest of the album, granting a (short) breather before launching into another heavy riff-driven track in Where Dragons Dwell. The song has an interesting mix of a driving, slow moving riff that chugs along into tremolo picked  sections that eventually fade out with drum fills and double bass, accented with rhythmic vocals that evoke feelings of personal empowerment.

The next song we come across, The Heaviest Matter of the Universe, divides some listeners concerning  how brazen the title and track are. As an individual piece, I consider this song to be a great introduction to Gojira, incorporating their unmatched use of sporadic guitar and drum patterns, as well as with a  tapping section that adds some melody to the song with an interesting vocal accompaniment. Though I  feel Gojira conveys their individual strengths better on other songs, The Heaviest Matter of the Universe stands on its own as a great sample of their different sounds.

Now the album takes its turn towards the longer cuts, and it’s here where I think Gojira truly shine,  allowing the songs more room to develop and stray from traditional song structure. Some of the intro sections may be protracted here, though I’m of the opinion they do well to build up tension for the  eventual payoff when the song hits its main groove. The way Flying Whales builds from its chord arpeggios and grooving drum and bass into its driving main riff get me pumped for the latter half of this  album every listen. The bridge brings the song back to some simple guitar chords before resolving once more with a sickeningly heavy riff including a pick scrape and growled vocals.

In the Wilderness sustains the the hefty riffing from the previous track, abundant with triplets, tremolo fills and growls before evolving into a grooving riff with screamed vocals. The song changes course midway  through with a heavy one-two guitar, followed by a mirrored drum part, all the while supported by more tremolo picking from the lead guitar. One final, powerful chant is delivered, then repeated as we fade out over guitars that trade the spotlight from a low, palm-muted riff to a melody line that slides over the  neck of the guitar.

While being one of the simpler songs on the album, I appreciate how straightforward World to Come is.  Beginning with a single guitar that predominantly plays a single chord, the song quickly comes to life with layers of guitars and a drum track which once again plays neatly around the beat, instead of  stringently adhering to it. When the song changes riffs we get some degree of closure from whoever’s perspective we were given in the vocals, along with some tasteful drum fills to close out the song. Albeit one of the more plain songs on From Mars to Sirius, I feel the album is much more diverse for including it, being one of the less-heavy songs on the album.

One of the outliers on the album, From Mars combines with To Sirius to form what would be the longest track on the album if they were not separate. A simple guitar and bass pattern is joined by an ominous, low, near-whispered vocal preformance, with drums not present until halfway through the song. The vocals take us on a story of self-discovery, and later on a physical journey through space to discover the truth of  an older and wiser race. Complimented by the diverse riffs in To Sirius, the vocals also shift from clean to growled in the latter song, adding to the weight of the delivery of the guitar and vocals.

The final track, Global Warming has a unique take on its guitar leads, using a harmonized tapping lick throughout the songs verses with clean vocals that are content to ride the wave of the guitars rather than soar over them. It wouldn’t be a Gojira song unless one of the riffs tries to trample you, and they bring out the big guns one last time, accompanied by a scorching message growled through the vocals. One last power chord brings the track back to its tapping lick, and a hopeful message plays until the end of the album.

While Gojira may have trimmed off the excess on their later efforts, From Mars to Sirius will remain a  favourite of mine due to its brilliant blend of heavy, groovy riffs, machine-like drumming, and powerful vocal preformances. Much of the material on this album stands on its own, but together the tracks are enhanced to display Gojira’s full potential. For myself, the album is diverse enough to make repeat listens enjoyable, while remaining familiar to anticipate all of my favourite moments. Where on later albums production  seems to have developed into a more orderly sound, the unadulterated blend of thrash and death metal Gojira offered on From Mars to Sirius will forever be one of my choice metal albums.

9.5 / 10

_

PS. -A note on ratings
Since much of the material I review here will be artists or albums I am already familiar with, I am like to examine music I have strong feelings towards. This being my favourite Gojira album, and one that I believe marked a turning point in their career, I chose to start here to give myself and others an idea of what I consider a near-perfect album. I don’t want to dispute what a “perfect” or “flawless” album means to others, however for albums that I do review so highly know that I am often taking circumstances and their other material into consideration.

Intro

Welcome to my music blog! Most of my pieces here will be album reviews, with a focus on Rock and Metal.

Occasionally I will also post reviews outside these styles as well as other features; such as rating a bands discography or an introduction to a genre. These features will likely be structured as lists and will not be as detailed as the album reviews.

Like many other amateur music enthusiasts, I started listening to groups like The Beatles and The Who at a young age, and quickly branched into related genres. I have always enjoyed music that showcases the  artists skill with their instrument, or music with powerful expression of emotions. The genres that best fit these criteria for myself are Progressive music and Heavy Metal, respectively.

I will do my best to objectively review the content I feature here, though the nature of reviewing music is a matter of personal taste. My hope is to create a discussion about albums I have a firm opinion of,  while introducing my friends and readers to new music.

Here’s an idea of what kind of reviews you can expect on this page, a few groups from some of the genres I highlighted earlier:

Rock
-Alice in Chains
-Queens of the Stone Age
-The Who

Progressive
-Dream Theater
-Rush
-Yes

Metal
-Gojira
-High on Fire
-Isis

Other
-Agalloch
-Brand New
-Russian Circles
-Death Grips

A Year of Reminders

The past year including the beginning of this year have been a great reminder to me of why I love the things I do, and why life despite being painful is also fun.

Doom and Overwatch have reminded me that games are supposed to be fun. Doom was amazing with it’s fast paced brutal combat that brought me back to my time playing Duke Nukem 3d when I was young.

Overwatch has reminded me of why online multiplayer shooters are fun. It reminded me of when I played Call of Duty 4 when it came out. The fast paced combat, the quick casual nature of it where you go on shoot some fools, top the leader boards and earn some great unlocks.

Playing Breath of the Wilds has reminded me of the great feeling of wonder in video games. It is Zelda unlike I have ever seen it before. Taming a horse and riding through the wide plains of hyrule is one of my favorite gaming moments of all time.

In media I finished watching the two seasons of The Man in the High Castle which has impressed me greatly and is one of my favorite series of the past three years that I have watched.

In anime Konosuba has made me laugh a lot, and reminds me of the first time I watched the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It is the joy of watching a gang of quirky people who would be unable to function apart work so well together. The animation was beautiful, and the jokes are really funny. Watching Aqua freak out, and the animation of her face has been a real highlight of the experience.

In my personal life it has been a year that has reminded me of what this is all about, and what it is all for.

My confidence was waning, I felt alone despite having many friends, I doubted who I was, and felt a terrible case of imposter syndrome. However my trip to Sweden and return has changed everything. I made so many friends in Sweden and it helped boost my confidence and reminded me that I am a good person, a talented person, a person who has friends because I am someone who people want to spend time with.

My return has hammered that home. I returned to cheers and smiles as I found out that everyone had been following my journey in Sweden but just didn’t tell me that they were. Since coming back I have gone to two parties both of which my friends were glad to see me arrive, a knowledge in my mind that they see the party as better simply because I am there. That is a knowledge that is very important to me, to feel wanted is a feeling I crave and that I have not been lacking for the past year.

-Feldia