Black Lives Matter

I was hesitant to post something like this. I’m a nonconfrontational person by nature, and I did not want to invite conflict onto this writing space of mine that has been largely positive for me.

But these issues need to be confronted.

I live in the United States of America, and while “freedom” and “equality” are terms that are bandied about quite frequently in our country, not everyone is free and not everyone is equal here.

Systemic injustices have permeated our society, injustices which have been demonstrated to endanger the lives of our citizens. A long-standing history of racism has been built into our country’s government. Our very Constitution was created with the notion that certain people only counted as three-fifths as a person.

And that’s not fair.

This has always been a problem within our society, but added pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic and a spotlight on racial inequity has set our “melting pot” to boiling.

Riots and protests are sweeping the nation, with support and condemnation rising up like a tide on all sides.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had a life made easier due to possessing a skin color that borders on a light khaki versus a darker shade of brown. And not everyone has had this privilege.

And make no mistake, it is a privilege. I am not a victim of racial profiling as a result. I don’t fear for my life when police are nearby, and I have the freedom to wear a black hoodie and stand on a street corner with relative impunity.

And even though I have not discriminated against a person based on the color of their skin, I am wracked with guilt over having had benefits that other people are not allowed.

There are some who might say that I should not feel guilty. That I have done nothing wrong. That “all lives matter” at the end of the day.

I don’t think those people understand the gravity of the situation, of what it is like to be a person of color in America today.

As such, I refuse to be someone who stands by while fellow human beings around me suffer simply from being born with more melanin pigments in their skin.

I choose to acknowledge that these injustices exist.

I vow to support those who are fighting for their right to live without these injustices.

I pledge to abolish these inequities at every opportunity.

And I promise to have my actions speak as loudly as my words.

The Death of Travel Plans

For those of you who have stuck with me after all this time, you should know by now that I mainly talk about five things: books, movies, video games, my bird, and random stuff that pops into my head. However, if you’ve visited the homepage of my blog, you might have noticed there is a little-used “Travel” category there too.

See, when I started this stupid bloggy thing, I imagined I would have a few trips that I could write about from time to time. Small getaways with friends, vacations with families, and special gaming conventions would all become fodder for this blogging category.

Yeah, 2020 really put a lid on those ideas.

As with everyone else who is social distancing and “sheltering at home,” my travel plans went out the window with the rise of COVID-19.

Normally, I actually wouldn’t mind. For one thing, a decrease in travel content translates to an increase in movie/book/video game content for the blog. For another, I’m a homebody. I don’t go places for fun very often.

But this was going to be the summer my sister and I went on a big adventure.

We had made plans (as in bought plane tickets, booked hotel rooms, and everything) to go to New York, Ireland, and Iceland this summer. While I might not have a major travel bug, my sister does, and I’m her favorite traveling companion. We were going to paint the globe red with our antics.

So that’s basically not going to happen now.

It’s the smart and safe thing to do. Now is not the time to be meeting new people and touching countless surfaces on a quest. I told my sister as much when the first coronavirus whispers were starting.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be let down by it, right?

Anybody who has had to stuff plans for this summer (and this coming fall too, I bet) down the drain knows this dismay, this pang that hits your gut when you have to make the executive decision to not do something you wanted to do. It sucks.

And there’s not really a bright side to the situation aside from not getting yourself and others sick.

It’s at this point in time that I’m going to turn to one of my all-time favorite coping mechanisms, and that’s screaming into the void.

This evening, I’m going to take a very long walk. I have open fields of dirt for miles not fifteen minutes from where I live. (I live in an agricultural town, if you must know.) After walking for so long that I’m dead tired, I’m going to stop in a place where no one is around. Then I’m going to yell at the sunset.

I’m not mad at the sunset or anything. But the sunset won’t call me a whiner with first-world problems as I vent my disappointment in one nice, long shout.

And then I’ll go home and patiently wait for the time when I can go traveling with my sister once again.

No Eyes Will Stay Dry: A Silent Voice Review

I’m a mild to moderate manga reader and anime watcher. Like, I’ve read all of Death Note, but I’ve never read Bleach. I’ve watched a chunk of Naruto, but I haven’t even scratched the surface of Attack on Titan.

That said, I have friends who are avid manga and anime consumers. They are the ones who reproach me for never having seen Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood or for reading an issue of Shonen Jump. They also advise me on absolutely everything I should be watching/reading.

Side note: Demon Slayer is apparently really, really good.

Of all my friends who watch anime, my good buddy Bubba is probably the best. (Hey, shaka brah!)

Since this whole pandemic started, we’ve been watching movies with each other using Discord or Xbox Live. From Blade Runner to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we’re chewing through films.

One of the movies we settled to watch was A Silent Voice, an anime film made in 2016 that hits you right in the feels. As of this writing, it is on Netflix.

It’s honestly a very touching story. Using blunt symbolism and dialogue left unspoken, A Silent Voice dives into tough subjects like bullying and depression. I approached this movie with absolutely no expectations, and by the time the credits rolled, I had to wipe my eyes and sniff snot back up my nostrils.

Needless to say, I thought the film was good.

The plot revolves around a boy named Shoya, who was a merciless bully to a fellow student named Shoko. Shoko is deaf, and it is this that forms the basis for her getting bullied. Egged on by his “friends” and classmates, Shoya is relentless in being mean to this girl.

However, after leaving middle school and entering high school, things have changed. Shoya elects to make up for what he’s done to Shoko, and spends the rest of the film desperately trying to make amends.

I seriously don’t want to spoil the ending, so I won’t detail how this situation is resolved, but it is a damn roller coaster of emotions.

The genre of the film is clearly slice-of-life, focusing on Shoya and Shoko’s teenage and childhood years. In the grand scheme of things, nothing dramatic or remarkable happens, but the emotional revelations the story places in your lap are enough to keep you engrossed in what’s going on.

A Silent Voice is based on a manga, so, as with anything that gets adapted into a film, there are parts that feel unexplained or rushed. While some might take this as a con of the movie, I feel like it contributes to the concept of peeking at the flashes of Shoya’s life.

That leads to one of the major draws of the movie. The manner in which the characters are examined perfectly encapsulates the overall message of the story. You don’t always know what is going on with a person below the surface. The film successfully conveys this in the way it gets you to (eventually) sympathize with a bully. Plus, there is a near-end-of-the-movie twist that emphasizes that point even further, showing that just because a person looks happy doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.

While it can get heavy-handed, the symbolism in the film is one of its strengths. At one point, Shoya feels like he can’t interact with other people without hurting himself or them. He effectively cuts himself off from socializing with classmates. The film demonstrates this by having every person who isn’t Shoya’s family bear a giant X on their faces. Shoya never meets their eyes, and the movie ensures that viewers can’t as well. This feature of the film is one that only an anime could successfully pull off.

Needless to say, the story covers some triggering topics, with suicide being referred to several times. I think it is handled well, especially with the notion that no life is worthless being incredibly stressed by the end of the film. Anyone can come back from the edge, and while forgiveness does not come easily, it can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Though I did cry, the movie’s end left me with a positive feeling.

Bubba and I like to make jokes throughout our movie-watching, but A Silent Voice managed to temper them. It’s a sobering and poignant story.

I rate it a silent-and-resounding-success-that-should-be-seen-at-least-once.

Murder Hornets and More: 2020 Is Apparently the Year That Keeps On Giving

Murder hornets.

Seriously?

Murder hornets?

Ugh.

I schedule my posts way in advance, so I’m typing this right as Murder Hornets have become relevant in current news. For all I know, by the time this post is published in a few weeks, maybe they’ll have all flown away.

Yeah. Right.

So just in case you haven’t heard, a type of Asian hornet has somehow made it to North American shores, and it’s just another dump on the shit-heap of stuff that has happened this year. Vespa mandarinia is considered the largest hornet in the world, and it is absolutely savage in how it takes apart bees. That’s how it earned the “Murder Hornet” moniker. It rips their heads off.

These hornets are not really out to target humans (though their sting purportedly hurts a ton), but our agricultural honeybees are in danger. I mean, they’re in more danger than they used to be. Honeybees have a hard life anyway, what with vanishing colonies and all.

The last thing the bees need are Murder Hornets.

Goddamn Murder Hornets. Could they have been named something a little less foreboding? A little less apropos?

It’s not just me that’s feeling like 2020 is shaping up to be a very shitty year, is it? Normally, bad years are highly individual things. 2016 was a terrible year for me personally, but I had a phenomenal 2019. It’s all a matter of personal experience and perspective.

But I think everyone can agree that 2020 is a globally shitty year.

I’ve been keeping to routines, trying to help out family and friends who are more anxious than me, but current events are starting to wear me down.

Especially now with flubbing Murder Hornets all over my news feed.

Sometimes, on my walks that I take around the neighborhood, I imagine how these times will be talked about in the future. How everything will go down in history. It’s strange to think that I’m a part of it. I’m living through history right now. We all are.

It’s nice conceptually, but damn fucking unpleasant to actually experience.

My friend Mia, whenever we play Dungeons & Dragons with our party, she plays the cautious and practical character. And she swears up and down that the worst curse you can lay on someone’s doorstep is “May you live in interesting times.”

I’m really understanding her point now.

I Was a Soundtrack Kid: How Music Defined My Movies

Growing up, I always felt a step behind other kids when it came to being “hip” and “cool.” When portable CD players were coming out, I had nothing. When MP3 players came out, I had just gotten a CD player. When iPods came out, I was showing off my brand-new MP3 player.

You get the idea.

To make the stark contrast between me and other kids even starker, I did not hold any of the latest pop songs within my music devices. Instead, I had a love for movie soundtracks.

I swear, I listened to soundtracks all the time as a kid.

And while my taste in musical genres has expanded, to this day, I adore a good movie score.

Side note: That sick rhyme was totally unintentional.

My all-time favorite soundtrack composers were/are John Williams, Howard Shore, and Danny Elfman.

John Williams is one of the most prolific movie soundtrack composers ever, responsible for classic movie themes that everyone recognizes. He’s done Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, and Jaws. If you think about it, he’s probably composed the background music to a lot of your movie fantasies. You know, when you picture yourself as a Jedi or a student at Hogwarts? That’s John Williams’ song playing as your imagination runs wild.

Howard Shore did the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I may not have a bead on his other work, but by god, I know his talent from those three films alone. Elves, Rohan, Gondor, hobbits, and the Mines of Moria all had their own unique themes thanks to Shore.

Danny Elfman is most often associated with director Tim Burton since he composed a lot of the soundtracks to some of Burton’s most iconic films. He did Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare before Christmas. Elfman’s devious melodies often accompanied me on long car drives.

I made it a mission in life to try and collect albums of their work so that my everyday life could feel ten times more awesome as I hummed along to their tunes.

When I first started listening to soundtracks, I enjoyed them for the reminders they gave me of my favorite parts in movies. I’d listen to “Love Pledge and the Arena” from Attack of the Clones over and over again because I liked it when all the clone troopers came to rescue the Jedi on Geonosis.

I got crazy good at recognizing the times a track would play in a film. I would astonish and bemuse my parents by reenacting scenes from movies while playing the movie’s soundtrack on our communal CD player.

But then my love for these tracks branched away from just fond memories of the time they appeared in the film. I grew to enjoy the emotional beats I could find in the melodies, separate from the moments they accompanied in the movie. I had a love of playing with toys and creating epics sagas with my action figures back then, so I started playing movie soundtracks in the background while I played with them, applying the songs to my own stories.

Side note: You would not believe the depth of my toy Diplodocus’ sense of betrayal when Spider-Man refused to save his village. I had “Duel of the Fates” playing when this happened.

These days, video game soundtracks have joined my collection of music source material. I’m not as fond of television themes in general, but Game of Thrones is a huge exception to that.

I still use soundtracks to accompany my “stories,” but not with my dramatic toy playtime. Whenever I’m writing, whether for work or for my own fiction, soundtracks are one of the major sources of inspiration I use when crafting emotional moments.

I also have a more discerning ear when it comes to finding tracks I like when watching a film. It’s far rarer for me to find something I prefer these days, but I make do.

New additions to my roster of favorite composers include Ramin Djawadi, Michael Giacchino, and Mick Gordon.

Djawadi did the music for Game of Thrones so you have him to thank for getting that opening credits theme song stuck in your head. He’s also done the soundtrack for Westworld, which has its own collection of fantastic melodies.

Giacchino is the man behind a shit-ton of Pixar film soundtracks. The Incredibles? That was him. Up? That was also him. Giacchino crafted some heckin’ awesome tracks for the Speed Racer movie too, and as anyone who knows me should know by now, that’s one of my favorite movies.

Mick Gordon is the understated genius behind the Doom soundtrack. Though there is currently a controversy going on regarding his music for Doom Eternal, that does not change the fact that I adore his work, and I think Bethesda and id Software did him dirty.

Side note: I am totally not biased.

Soundtracks capture emotion in a way that few songs can. See, soundtracks are meant to accompany a story; that’s what they were created for. So they can follow along with a plot’s ups and downs. They’re perhaps the most transporting type of music you can listen to.

For me, they are a mild form of escapism for my day-to-day life, especially during stressful times.

And given the state the world is in, I think we could all benefit from taking a breath and listening to a good soundtrack.

Hold Onto Your Demons: A Below Average Review For Doom Eternal Is Coming Soon(ish)

via: wired.com

My enthusiasm for the Doom series is no secret. I’ve talked about it here and here and even here. As such, a lot of you may have started to wonder why I haven’t reviewed Doom Eternal yet. The game released on March 20, 2020, which was about a month ago. That’s more than enough time to have played the entire game. So why haven’t I typed up a review for it?

Well, my dear, dear, above average readers…I’m milking this game for all it’s worth. That’s why.

During that debacle I had with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I was forced to limit the amount of time I played the game to one hour a day. However, even though my shortened game-time was pressed upon me solely by Ori’s constraining bugs, I kind of grew to appreciate drawing out my experience with a video game.

I’m used to blazing through my favorite games at breakneck speed, a total Eager McBeaver to see the end credits roll. But I’ve realized that savoring a game makes the journey longer and sweeter, especially if it’s an enjoyable title.

That’s why I’m taking my time with Doom Eternal.

I’m collecting every item there is to collect, replaying missions after I’ve already done them once, spending inordinate amounts of time in the Ripatorium just for fun, successfully completing every challenge, fiddling around with cheats, etc. Plus, I’m still limiting how much time I spend playing games a day just to make every time I pick up a controller that much more enticing.

And I am having one hell of a time.

Pun intended.

Of course, since I’m enjoying the game so much, I’ve been dying to share my thoughts about it with you. However, I have that golden rule here that I won’t review a game until I’ve finished playing it. So you’ll just have to wait. As will I.

Seriously, I love to gush about games. It’s low-key hurting me to hold back every single thought I have about Doom Eternal.

Anywaysies, to tide us over until I do write the review, I thought I’d tell you guys the anecdote about how I got my copy of the game.

See, I had pre-ordered it at my local GameStop. And if you can recall, Doom Eternal released right as California enacted its shelter-at-home order.

I’m telling you, I have never felt so anxious to get my hands on a game. ‘Just let me have Doom Eternal,’ I prayed to every higher power I could think of. ‘Just let me get the game, and then I’ll stay inside for years if you want me to. I won’t ever leave my house. Just let me have this.

When the stay-at-home order was given, I had an opportunity that evening, (since the order didn’t go into full effect until the next day), to drive to my GameStop to try and pick up my copy early. So that’s what I did.

It was lightly raining, the sun was gone, and only a few people were to be seen. It looked bleak and grey. I left the car in a rush, the smell of wet asphalt serving to increase my anxiety levels for some reason.

Another person walked behind me, heading into the GameStop as well, a man dressed in dark colors. His brisk pace followed mine, a decent six feet between us. When we got inside, tape markings were on the floor, indicating the social distance customers were supposed to maintain. The man and I stepped on our respective spots, waiting for the one employee working to address us.

The GameStop employee was as cordial as could be, and he laughed at my transparent worry over picking up Doom Eternal. Using antibacterial gel and gloves, he found my copy and handed it to me. I took it from him reverently, thanking him profusely.

I must have looked a silly sight. I was wearing my middle school sweat pants, navy blue with white stripes on the legs, and my hot pink, long-sleeved shirt complete with hood that makes me look like Little Mac from Punch-Out!! I was grinning from ear-to-ear like a kid at Christmas. I think I might have seemed deranged.

The guy behind me, conversely, was dressed in black jeans and a black T-Shirt with grotesque cover art from some metal band on it. He was a big guy, beefy and dark-skinned, with an almost expressionless face.

As I was leaving, I brightly asked him if he was picking up Doom Eternal too.

He looked at me, not saying anything for a good, long moment. Then he smiled and said, “No, I’m getting Animal Crossing.”

Final thoughts?

The relationship between Animal Crossing and Doom fans is one of the most beautiful things to spring from this shit-show of a year so far.

How To Start Your Day When You Just Feel Blegh

Even though quarantining, self-isolation, and sheltering at home have not largely altered my life, I’m not immune to the monotony of my new routines.

I mean, I’m a very comfortable introvert, but even I’m longing to just go to a movie with one of my buddies.

Or to pick up a smoothie.

Or to find some tasy goddamn dumplings.

Ugh. I’m craving dumplings.

Lately, I’ve found myself stagnating in a pool of ambivalence every time I wake up because my day will follow the same cookie-cutter schedule without any deviations.

I wake up, go to work, eat lunch, do some chores, go for a walk, watch a movie, play a game, go to sleep. Rinse, dry, repeat.

Anyway, as a continuation of my new “How To” series, I’ve decided to write up some tips about how to stave off this blanket of boredom and ennui I’ve been suffering from. If you feel the way I do, hopefully these steps help.

Sleep Till Your Belly Button Pops

I know this might seem counter-intuitive if you’re trying to make yourself more alert and ready for the day, but sleeping in is a must if you want to maintain a) your health and b) your energy level for the rest of the day.

Occasionally, there are times where sleeping in makes you feel more tired than before (which is weird, but it’s happened to me too), but overall, I’d say the benefits of only leaving your bed until you want to outweigh the negatives.

I mean, at least sleep will take up some time from the boredom, am I right?

Drink Your Daily Coffee

You don’t neccessarily have to imbibe caffeine every morning, but you should have a regular drink you sip to start your day, be it orange juice, tea, or milk.

I like to drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and by doing so, it’s one of the ways I let my body know it’s time to start the day.

Plus, yeah, caffeine helps.

Give Yourself a No-Work Lazy Day Once a Week

One of the reasons I’m being crippled by listlessness these days is that I work every day. I work from home, so this sheltering in place thing has seen my workload continue, if not triple. As such, I don’t have that rejuvenating break from work colloquially known as “the weekend.”

Something I’ve noticed that can help me out is if I finagle my work schedule so that for one entire day, I have no work. It’s just one day of me being able to do whatever the hell I want (while self-isolating). I can walk around the block one hundred times. I can go on a Star Wars movie spree. I can work on a puzzle while drinking supbar lemonade.

These breaks are bliss, and I should really schedule more of them for myself. Sadly, I’m a bit anal when it comes to working every day.

Play That Funky Music

I can’t understate the importance of listening to uplifting tunes in the morning. It’s one of the only things that keeps me sane.

Nothing gets you excited for the day like bopping along to some foot-tappers.

I highly recommend “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees, “Sunlight” by TheFatRat, or “Another Sunny Day” by Belle & Sebastian. (Those are just a minuscule fraction of the songs I listen to every day.)

Meme It Up in the Morning

I groggily reach for my phone every morning to see if anyone has texted me. The answer is usually no, but sometimes I have a few work emails waiting for me.

Yay.

One thing you can do to brighten up your day is to browse through social media feeds looking not for how awesome and stellar everyone else’s lives are but for those sweet, sweet memes.

Starting your day with a guffaw is helpful.

Take a Shower

I think I shower once every other day.

On the days when I do shower, there is a noticeable increase in my evergy levels. Something about getting clean and dressing myself just kind of wires me up to be more prepared to tackle my day.

Force Yourself To Go Outside at Least Once

I’m not a naturally athletic person, so I can empathize with people who just stay indoors all day.

Still, going for a walk around the block, a run in the park, or, hell, even just standing outside on the front lawn, can be refreshing.

Make Your Own Holidays

I did this for a bit, and it was quite fun for a while.

I made up imaginary holidays, like Hat Day, Feet Day, Romper Day, etc. Went on for a good two weeks. I posted daily on my Instagram stories and even got some of my friends to follow along.

In the end, I got tired of having to be so active on my Instagram (oops), so I stopped doing it, but it was definitely a diverting manner in which to break up my typical routine.

Schedule Treats for Yourself

I have an agenda that I use to make sure I keep up with my work schedule. Every time I finish a task, I check it off on my agenda.

In order to liven up my days, I also include fun things on my agenda. For example, for today, I wrote “Movie Night with Bubba,” because my friend and I are going to hop on Discord and watch a movie together while social distancing.

Even though it’s an inconsequential, fun activity, it feels so satisfying to check it off when I’ve done it.

Dunk Your Head in Water

Seriously.

Do it.

You might think this is something that only works in movies and TV shows, but it works.

This is the ultimate wake-up call, and I never feel so alert as after I’ve randomly soaked my head in water.

The Social Distancing Limerick

My day-to-day life hasn’t changed
Since quarantine was arranged.
I just work in my house
With no time to grouse
Since life on this Earth turned strange.

And as time goes on in this way
With no friends to hear what I say
Even though I’m not sick
The distance hurts quick
Since we’ve all learned to self-isolate.

But we must stand strong and take heart
To give doctors and nurses a start
We can flatten the curve
If we just have the nerve
To stay home and do our damn part.

A D&D Story: The Skull Room

My group of Dungeons & Dragons adventurers is not comprised of the smartest characters. As players, my friends and I have a tendency to be silly, stupid, or bold just for the entertainment value of it all.

During this particular campaign, Sidney, Dalton, Mia, and I were at the table.

Dalton was the Dungeon Master (DM). He ran the whole show, planned out the entire area the rest of us were exploring. He’s methodical in his craftsmanship, but has a delightfully dark sense of humor when he sees his players making mistakes.

Sidney played our resident Warlock with persistent bad luck. He’s the most affable person I know, but damn, he is plagued with terrible rolls and poor, split-second decisions.

Mia was our level-headed ranger. Of all the characters in our party, she’s the one with logic and practicality on her side. We all would have died during our first mission if it hadn’t been for her.

And I was my all-time favorite Barbarian Half-Orc. Unbridled rage, loyalty to her “tribe,” and rash choices are my bread and butter.

In this mission, the three of us players were exploring this underground cavern. Rumors of a dark-magic forge built here kept us searching for hidden rooms and strange mechanisms. Eventually, we reached a massive space with wooden contraptions that told us we had found our forge.

Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have long to enjoy our discovery.

As soon as we entered, a giant, flaming skull suddenly appeared and started throwing fire our way. It also conjured up these minions from out of nowhere, all of them surrounding us in an instant.

As a Barbarian (and as a Half-Orc), I charged into the fray heedless of my safety. Mia’s Ranger and Sidney’s Warlock had no choice but to follow my example.

After the first two rounds of combat, it was clear our party was out of its depth. But Mia and her Ranger were the only ones to realize this and remark upon it.

Side note: Come on. I’m a Barbarian Half-Orc. Recklessness is in my blood.

In an effort to try and incorporate some strategy into our attacks, Sidney moved his Warlock out of the room. There were two entrances to the large space, and Sidney figured we’d be less of a target if we split our forces. His Warlock walked out into the hallway, all the way around to the other side of the room. From that spot, he was able to start Eldritch-Blasting the backside of our opponents.

Unfortunately, in the time it took him to walk there, my and Mia’s characters became overwhelmed. My Barbarian went down, and Mia’s Ranger needed to drag me the heck out of there.

Even though her Ranger is not a natural healer, she holds all of our Healing Kits in her pack. So, for the time being, she’s our go-to healer.

Her action was used up in dragging me away during that round. Mia assured me that when her next turn came around, she’d heal my Barbarian right up.

At that exact moment, Sidney’s Warlock took a huge barrage of punishment from the flaming skull. So much punishment, in fact, that he got knocked out too.

Mia paled and stammered that she’d get to him on the turn after she healed me.

True to her word, Mia healed my Barbarian right up. Then she began to make her way to Sidney’s downed Warlock.

Unlucky Sidney had moved so far though, that by the time Mia’s Ranger got to his body, he was gone.

As in dead.

Sidney laughed at Mia’s dismay, and his laughs increased when the first thing my Barbarian did upon waking up was to rush back into the fight.

I’ve never heard Mia curse so much.

The healing my Barbarian had received had only given me so many Hit Points (HP). In no time at all, I was downed again.

With a grimace of frustration, Mia got her Ranger back into that giant room, resigned to hauling my unconscious Barbarian carcass out of there once more.

The flaming skull and its minions had other plans.

They peppered projectiles at Mia’s Ranger like there was no tomorrow. And even though she managed to drag my Barbarian out of the room and into the hallway, the damage was done. She got knocked out too.

So in Dungeons & Dragons, there are these things called Death Saves and Death Fails. After losing all your HP, you have to roll Death Saving Throws. That means rolling your 20-sided die in order to determine if your character lives or dies. If you roll a 10 or higher, you’re in the clear. If you roll lower than that, you’re an inch closer to death. You have to make three successful rolls in order to be considered “hanging onto life.” If you roll three fails, your character is officially dead, and a new one needs to be made.

Sidney’s Warlock had failed all three of his Death Saving Throws before Mia’s character could heal him.

So with my Barbarian and Mia’s Ranger both down, we needed to make those throws.

Mia failed all of hers.

I made it.

Laughter ensued as I stared dumbfounded at my little Half-Orc, the only surviving member of our party. Dalton had his head in his hands. Sidney chortled about the near Total Party Kill (TPK) we just had. And Mia was laughing with pleasure at my guilt for getting her Ranger killed.

I seriously had no idea where to go from there.

Dalton ended up making the executive decision to retcon the entire encounter.

We pretended the whole thing never happened, and when we picked up our game next week, we avoided the shit out of that skull room.

Beautiful and Broken: Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

This was perhaps one of my most difficult reviews to write.

Normally, when I love a game, a burst of enthusiasm propels me forward when typing up how I feel about it. If I hate a game, my disgust and loathing would likewise fuel my writing.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps straddles that divide.

If you read one of my previous posts, you’ll know that Ori and the Will of the Wisps burned me with game-breaking glitches and bugs that permeated the entire experience. The game actually made me cry with how broken it was.

However, I will never review a game here that I have not completed, so I made sure to power through these issues before writing a review.

And here it is.

I want to focus on the game itself for my review, but I also don’t want to ignore the bugs that plagued my playthrough. So before I dive into the game, I’m going to list the bugs I encountered and stress that when I finished playing the game (about two weeks ago), a patch had not yet gone through to address them. Do not assume they have been fixed by the time of this writing.

The bugs I came across are as follows:

  • Slowed frame rate when many enemies were on the screen
  • Glitching into walls and becoming unable to get out unless the game was restarted
  • Inability to access the main menu
  • Hiccups every time the game automatically saved
  • Freezing when opening the map
  • Triggered boss encounters causing black screen
  • Loss of audio
  • Increased poor performance if play-time exceeded two hours

That said, the rest of this review will focus on the game minus the bugs (though I may gripe every now and then). Still, do not disregard this list as it very much impacted my enjoyment of the game.

Let’s do this.

Story

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells a touching tale very much in the same vein as its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest. It picks up where the first game left off, with Ori having saved his/her forest and adopted Ku, the offspring of Kuro (antagonist of Blind Forest). Ori and Ku live with their family of Naru and Gumo, spending inordinate amounts of time playing with each other, eating, and teaching Ku how to fly.

Unfortunately, Ku’s wing has been damaged since she hatched, so no matter how much she wants to, she is unable to soar like she is meant to. However, thanks to Ori holding onto one of Kuro’s feathers and Gumo’s ingenuity, they finagle a way to let Ku fly again.

During a test flight, Ori and Ku travel far beyond their home and get caught up in a storm. They land in a place called Niwen, which once had a Spirit Tree just as Ori and Ku’s land of Nibel does. Sadly, Niwen’s Spirit Tree, a willow, has fallen to decay, and the denizens of this place are prey to the vicious creatures and corruption that come with it.

It’s up to you and Ku to bring life back to Niwen and somehow make your way back home.

I do not want to spoil the conclusion, but I will say it hit me right in the feels. Even with my frustration with those glitches, the ending reminded me of why I’m a fan of Ori and his/her world and the themes that were also in Ori and the Blind Forest.

If you loved the first game, Will of the Wisps gives a satisfying conclusion (or new beginning) to Ori’s story.

Exploration

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tickled my fancy as a video game completionist. It’s as pleasant as it ever was to collect everything and see the percentage of the game completed slowly climb up.

Ori’s traversal options are expanded, and not always in the way you think. Blue moss provides sections of the map where Ori can grapple between spaces, like Spider-Man. Packed sand creates caverns where Ori must burrow through in order to reach objectives.

These new options for moving Ori around feel absolutely natural to Ori’s familiar moveset, and it does not take long to get used to.

Will of the Wisps also gives Ori a few more items to collect aside from Life, Energy, and Spirit Light. You can gather Gorlek Ore to build up your home base at Wellspring Glades. You can also collect Spirit Shards to upgrade Ori’s abilities. The collect-a-thon continues, and I loved every minute of it.

I 100% completed Ori, gathering every item, doing every side quest, and beating every encounter.

Oh, but one glitch I forgot to mention prevented me from getting the achievements related to collecting everything. So yeah…there is that.

Combat

It took me a while to get used to Will of the Wisps’ new approach to combat, but afterwards, I can recognize that it is an improvement upon the first game.

In Blind Forest, the Heart of the Spirit Tree, Sein, traveled with you. It was Sein that attacked Ori’s enemies. Sein blasted them with a dazzling light that you could upgrade over time.

In Will of the Wisps, Sein is no longer with you, leaving Ori to fend for himself/herself. As such, he/she is given an arsenal of weapons that players have to buy or collect.

This improves the combat of the game as it now requires players to pick and choose what weapons they want to use in battle. You no longer spam an attack button so much as you perfectly time a shot from an arrow, a jab from a blade, or a swing of a hammer. Combat becomes a beautiful dance that perfectly matches the manner in which Ori moves through the world.

Environment

If Ori’s movements are a sight to behold, then the environments of the game are doubly so. Every location is a work of art, beautifully rendered to convey both practical and thematic concepts to players.

In the Mouldwood Depths, the eerie yellow and blue lighting gives off a sinister vibe that all is not right in this place, and players soon learn that to go into pitch black darkness is deadly, making those glowing lights safe havens along the way.

I honestly believe the locations in Will of the Wisps are even better than they were in Blind Forest because they are so distinct from each other. Inkwater Marsh, the place where Ori first lands on Niwen, is a swampy and wooded area. Baur’s Reach is a spectacular icy world, as beautiful as it is deadly. Luma Pools feels like an alien tropical paradise, with strange pink foliage and crisp pools of water to explore.

If I could spend hours just staring at screenshots of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I would.

New Additions

As with any good sequel, Will of the Wisps adds to the formula created in Ori and the Blind Forest. Perhaps for the first time when playing a sequel, I heartily approve of every addition.

Combat shrines are placed at certain points on the map. These Shrines give players a chance to test their skills fighting a variety of opponents. I only had supreme difficulty with one Combat Shrine, and that was because I was insisting on using a specific weapon that was, looking back, really not suited for the enemy types thrown at me.

Alongside Combat Shrines, Spirit Trials are also speckled throughout the game. These things are a bitch and a half, I shit you not. They’re basically timed races that require you to use every one of Ori’s traversal abilities to perfection. I spent more than half an hour on several of these races (because I wanted that 100% completion for the whole game). Part of the reason the bug that broke my game made me cry so much was because I lost the progress I’d made, including completing one of the Spirit Trials. Had to do the damn thing twice. However, if your game isn’t bug-riddled, Spirit Trials are basically fantastic challenges to overcome.

Ori also picks up Shards in Will of the Wisps. These Shards are what allow him/her to upgrade his/her abilities. This gave the game more of an RPG bent that I was not averse to.

Will of the Wisps gave players a central hub, in the form of Wellspring Glades, where they could relax and meet interesting characters. Populating the world with characters made the game breathe better. You no longer feel like you and Ori are alone against the world. Rather, you and Ori are handling dangerous situations for critters who, while cute, could not cut it against some of the bosses you go up against.

Speaking of bosses, yeah, Ori and the Will of the Wisps gives players boss fights. These are basically epic fights against massive creatures, complete with a mega health bar to deplete. They are way tougher than a normal enemy encounter, but they are not impossible. (I’d prefer a million boss fights to five Spirit Trials.)

Final thoughts

Honestly, the game is phenomenal. I could see that even through the tears obscuring my vision as I factory-reset my Xbox after a near-bricking bug. It challenges you as a gamer, giving you a Dark Souls-esque rush when you beat a particularly tough moment, all while being wrapped up in fantastic game mechanics and artistic visuals.

But even though my review of the game is largely positive, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Ori and the Will of the Wisps until its issues are patched out.

I rate Ori and the Will of the Wisps a heart-breaker-because-you-can-see-how-beautiful-it-is-beneath-its-flaws-almost-as-if-someone-tore-up-Van-Gogh’s-Starry-Night-and-then-taped-it-back-together.