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Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest XI S

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Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
Published and Developed by Square Enix
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Dragon Quest returns with a massive JRPG in the classic style.

While technically the PS4 version of this game came out in the U.S. last year, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age is probably one of my top games of 2019. I gave the original a pass because I just don’t have that much time to sit down in front of my television. But the portable version has been a delight.
The game follows the familiar tropes of the OGJRPG of a young man being chosen by a great force to leave his remote village and confront evil, recruiting a troupe of companions along the way. But like the other modern iterations of the series, it does a great job interrogating the tropes and cliches of the genre.
Particularly interesting is Sylvando, who is a powerful fighter, and an openly gay character in a genre of game that gets a lot of traction on AO3 but is somewhat lacking in official representation. And while the game does play him for laughs (he is a jester, after all) it also goes out of its way to portray him as strong, brave and chivalrous as well. It’s rare to see something so well done in a space where representation usually boils down to male-gaze lesbians and that time Cloud Strife wore a dress in FFVII.
Combat is fun, a little on the easy side, and about what you’ve come to expect from Dragon Quest over the past 30 years. The 3D mode has an option to let you move the characters around in battle, but it is more for aesthetics than a gameplay feature. Mini-games also make a return, from the ubiquitous Dragon Quest casino to a horse-racing mini-game and a portable forge for making weapons and armor from recipes.
Another nice feature is that while the default is to play in 3D mode, the game also includes the 3DS 2D version, which was previously unavailable in the US, as well as a massive sidequest that was unique to that version. You can even switch back and forth between the two if you want, although progress is gated to certain story chapters that aren’t so clearly delivered.
While the game looks and plays great, there are a few compromises in the animation and display. Some character animations feel jerky and off. Objects, particularly complex ones like trees, pop in as you get close to them. My Switch audibly chugged when it had to render too much in handheld mode. And like most Dragon Quest games, it is entertaining but long. I have already put in over 40 hours and from what I understand I’ve barely scratched the game’s surface. Also like modern localizations of the series, it’s full of puns. So many puns. If you aren’t onboard for a hundred hours of dad jokes, this is not the game for you.
Dragon Quest XI S is a delightful return to form for Square Enix, crammed full of exciting quests, memorable characters and a surprising story. Just be sure to set aside some time to play it, because this game is long.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Heist

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Heist, or How To Steal a Planet #1
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

HLC Heist

The Skinny: A love letter to Science Fiction Noir and the start of something great.

Theirs something about Sci-Fi Noir that I find inexplicably cool. GIve me the rain-soaked neon of Blade Runner, the pitiless urban sprawl of the BAMA. Heist delivers a whole new world of grimy future crime, and it does it with a love for the grubby subgenre on its sleeve. Welcome to Grave City.
The planet Heist was the last Independent hold-out against the monolithic Dignity Corporation. Glane Breld took the fall when Dignity took over. And the man who set him up took his car. Now Glane’s a free man again, and he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to put together a crew skilled enough to steal the planet back again.
Heist #1 is one of those rare great comics where the writer and artists are working in perfect synchronicity. Tobin’s writing sets up the characters and the world well, without being too dense. Susini’s art is grimy and evocative of the great indie sci-fi comics of the 80’s and 90’s. This comic feels like how fans talk about 2000 AD. Astone’s colors wash the whole thing in a murky shadowscape that is absolutely perfect and sets the right level of menace for the underground of Grave City.
Heist #1 is a dirty, rotten jewel of a Sci-Fi Crime comic. This is going to be a big one, and you can pick it up at your local shop, or digitally from Comixology. Go out and get it.

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Fiction: Catch Your Death

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After the cure for death was discovered, he started sleeping in the graveyard. He climbed into bed at home, and stared at the ceiling hours until the first rays of light came creeping in his window.
Then he would rise, and go for a walk to clear his head, but his feet always took him to the boneyard, and next thing he knew, a hand would be on his shoulder, shaking him awake.
Hardly anyone else went there anymore. Everyone had forgotten the dead, but he couldn’t forget.
Humanity had learned how to live forever a week after her funeral.

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for over a hundred free stories. And if you enjoy my writing, support my work by buying me a coffee!
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The first collection of Everyday Drabbles stories, Winter, is now available as an eBook from Amazon! Enjoy over 90 short stories for less than two dollars!

Fiction: The Quest

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EDWinter2

A flower grew in a high, remote crag. On the eve of his sixteenth birthday, a boy in the village was sent to pick one and bring it back to the elders, as was tradition.
He forded rivers, climbed mountains, was hunted by wild animals, and had his every limit tested. But eventually he found his prize and returned home with it.
“So,” the newly-minted adult asked. “What does it do?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not a rare herb, or powerful reagent?”
The elder sighed. “Sometimes it is the deed that is important. The flower’s just a flower.”

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for over a hundred free stories. And if you enjoy my writing, support my work by buying me a coffee!
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

The first collection of Everyday Drabbles stories, Winter, is now available as an eBook from Amazon! Enjoy over 90 short stories for less than two dollars!

Podcast: NP46 – Zero-Gravity ThighMaster

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Welcome to Nostalgia Pilots!

Tonight, Spence, Jurd, Jason and Hugh discuss Gundam Wing Episode 46: Milliardo’s Decision!

Click HERE to listen online!

This week: Lady Une is back, and maybe psychic! Plus, Zechs pushes the button, Tallgeese II is too sexy for its suit carrier, and Heero still doesn’t have a plan!

Promo: This Kaiju Life!

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Fiction: The Head That Wears the Crown

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I found the crown during one of my spelunking raids under the city. Here, everything is built on ruins. The basements lead to the metro, and if you take the right tunnel, go through the right door, you’ll find yourself a thousand years in the past, among ancient ruins and medieval catacombs.
The government is quite serious about protecting the sites. There are all sorts of rules about who can go in, and when, and what they can carry in. You absolutely can’t take anything out. But they can’t police all the tunnels, and the black market is always hungry for artifacts.
The crown was without a doubt the most well preserved piece I’d ever seen. It looked ancient, all black iron points and long chains that ended in ornately carved weights. There wasn’t a spot of rust anywhere on it. I found it wrapped in layer after layer of rotting shroud, on top of a skeleton in a side tunnel I don’t think had seen any visitors in half a millennium. Even the chains were intact, coiled underneath the crown as I lifted it away from the corpse. There was some resistance, as they caught on the wrappings, but one good tug and they came loose. The skeleton was less hardy than the artifact, and it crumbled under my touch. As I stowed the piece, I reminded myself to be more careful. Any damage would make the sale price plummet.
An hour later, I was back in my apartment, carefully scrubbing away the grime of centuries. The crown was gorgeous. Polished, it seemed even more well-preserved. It felt remarkably solid. It would take some time to find a buyer for it, but I was sure that I could sell it for a good price. I was no archeologist, but I guessed it was at least from the thirteenth century. But I’d never seen something that old so well preserved in the field before.s
I locked the crown in my hidden safe, carefully tucking the weighted chains underneath it. I double-checked the lock and replaced the trapdoor and rug. ‘Safe as houses,’ I thought, and went to clean myself up after a night in the underground.
I really was beautiful, I thought while shampooing the gunk out of my hair. I’d have to do a lot of legwork on this one, but it would be worth it. Most of the stuff I recovered had some material value: Gold, silver, semi-precious stones, that sort of thing. I always tried the antiquities markets first, but if I had to dump it for materials, I could. The black iron crown was different. It was a real artifact, still intact, with all its chains and moldings unblemished by rust. There was somebody in my little black book that would kill for a piece like that. I might even need to have an auction for it.
On the other hand, I could always keep the crown for myself. It was a brilliant show piece. A little bit of a resume, if you will. With something like this, I could break into contract work. I’d have to sell it a bit, do some research, come up with a better story than tripping over it while exploring, but it would be worth it. Being on a payroll meant having someone to bail me out, or bribe the cops to look the other way.
I’d definitely keep it, I thought. I went back to the safe and pulled it out again. It was surprisingly heavy, especially with all the little weights and chains. I wondered who wore it. Not a king, obviously. It didn’t have the right sort of ornamentation about it. And not a bishop. It lacked a certain holiness. A warlord, I thought. Or a duke. I could picture him riding into battle, armored, with the crown atop his head. The chains must’ve hooked into armor, or a helmet, maybe. It was the crown of a leader, a strong man. A man like me.
I almost looked around sheepishly before I tried it on. But I still tried it on.
***
I blink. and take a breath, and for a moment, I’m disoriented. I remembered fire, and a crowd… I blink again, and look down at my hands. They’re larger than I recall, and hairy on the backs. They’re a man’s, not mine. I stifle a shriek, and the muffled squeak I do make is lower than I expect. I shake my head, and I feel the see the chains rattle around me, feel the familiar pendulum weights shifting at their ends. The Ebon Crown. Someone put it on. The spell worked!
I’ve cheated them all! Death, Plague, and most especially that sanctimonious prig of an Inquisitor. The body isn’t really mine, but I wear it like a gown. I ride it like a horse, and with both legs, not some feminine sidesaddle foolishness. I feel the rumbling horror and complaints of the original occupant. I ignore him, let him fade to the edges this mind like the sound of the sea.
I stride to a mirror, my gait unsteady. It’s huge, and takes up most of one wall.It isn’t silvered, but something else, something clear and bright. His features are nothing remarkable. The little room, though. Such a room! In one corner stands something like a garderobe, but with flowing water, and a roman bath in the other. And lamps! Lamps hang in the ceiling. Their light is so steady and bright that they hurt my eyes to look upon. The man who has placed me on his head must likewise be some sort of sorcerer, I think, although none of his magic is known to me.
I explore his strange chambers, and in one room, I find a parchment. I can barely read it, but It gives the date as A.D. 2018. It has been over eight hundred years. I take some time to consider the gulf of time.
The rooms are filled with books, with light, with strange devices whose functions I slowly wrest from the scruffy little smuggler whose body I now wear. I spend days watching, reading, listening and learning. This world, this clockwork future, is beautiful and strange, but not so different as my own time. There are no witches here. The Inquisitors, having hunted us all, turned their eyes to merely the stranger, the outsider, the heretic. They burned themselves out in foolish hate. And now, they no longer believe in magic. The world thinks we never were, I am the last witch, and there is no one to protect them from me.
Oh, what delights I shall find here.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Marauders #1

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Marauders #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Drawn by Matteo Lolli
Colored by Federico Blee
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

Marauders

The Skinny: X-Men’s big Sci-Fi experiment embraces the New Wave. On a boat.

Marauders #1 is the X-Men book I’ve been waiting for.
The X-Men, right down to their creation as five white teenagers in 1960’s America, has always been a metaphor for oppressed groups. This isn’t a new idea, whether Marvel Editorial admits it or not. But with House of X, Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz changed tack. The core concept was still there, but Krakoa altered the dynamic and outlook of mutants so it became less of a struggle between them and human oppressors and more of a big, Golden-Age Science Fiction meditation on divergent futures.
But with Marauders #1, at least some corner of the X-line is back on solid New Wave SF ground, and examining the structures of what Krakoa hath wrought, because there’s no such thing as a problem-free utopia. The problem being that not everybody can use the gates to get to the distant island. In some cases, it is because the countries those gates are in have cordoned them off. For Kate, (formerly Kitty) Pride, it’s because Krakoa won’t let her in.
So, along with a crew of Iceman, Storm, and accidentally the original Pyro, she sets to sea in a boat to bring the mutants that want to come to Krakoa but can’f find a way. The result is the usual superhero dustup against a cadre of generic Russian soldier baddies, but the premise has legs to explore the real consequences of the new era. We get to see who’s being left behind, and where the cracks are in Moira and Xavier’s plans. Plus, this looks like the book where we’re going to see all of Emma Frost’s scheming play out, and that was the most interesting part of House of X, in my opinion.
X-Men as a concept always works better for me when it deals with characters rather than concepts. Marauders looks like the book where we’re actually going to see the two intersect in interesting ways. Issue one is out now digitally from Comixology, and in print at your local comics shop. Go check it out.

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