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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 Fiction: The True Queen

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The True Queen
Written by Zen Cho
Audiobook narrated by Jenny Sterlin
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: Cho’s second Sorcerer Royal novel is just as delightful as the first.

When Muna washes up on a beach after a terrible storm, she can only remember two things: Sakti is her twin sister, and they have both been cursed. In order to break the curse, save her sister and discover who she really is, Muna will have to travel to the distant and strange island of Britain and pass herself off as a great sorceress. But with war brewing between Britain and Faerie within, will she be able to save her sister, or will she be drawn into the intrigues of the Faerie Court, or worse, English high society?
The follow up to the delightful novel Sorcerer To The Crown, Zen Cho returns to her Regency-era fantasy filled with dour magicians, witty witches, and blithely cannibalistic faeries. The author has carried over all of the charm of the first book, telling a new tale with just enough of her beloved cast of characters while introducing new main characters and shifting the spotlight. Muna is a fantastic main character, and I loved spending more time with Henrietta, Rollo, and of course, Ma Geng Gang.
Cho’s fantasy England is centered on the sort of very real people who were pushed to the margins by 19th Century British society: women, people of color, gays and lesbians. Cho deftly presents high society through Muna’s point of view, making it as strange and inaccessible to her as the Faerie Court. It is a welcome and fascinating shift, carried over from the first book that continues to astonish.
Jenny Sterlin returns to narrate, and does an excellent job. Her acting and narration flow well together and her voice is perfectly suited to the story.
The True Queen is a rollicking adventure that builds on its prequel, but new readers won’t be lost if they pick this one up first. It is available in audio, print, and ebook. It has my highest recommendation.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: Witchmark

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Witchmark
Written by C. L. Polk
Published by Tor

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The Skinny: Polk’s debut novel is a perfectly crafted queer fantasy masterpiece.

Witchmark is a remarkable queer fantasy novel that I picked up almost on accident. It follows the story of Dr. Miles Singer, a psychiatrist (and secretly, a magician) in the country of Aeland. Aeland recently won a war with neighboring Laneer, but thousands of veterans are returning with unusual psycological trauma. When a dying man is brought in to the hospital by handsome stranger Tristan Hunter, Miles will join him to unravel these mysteries. But finding the truth will mean returning to his past, and risking a fate worse than death.
Polk’s story is an excellent puzzle box of a story, with an incredible Edwardian-inspired setting that is richly conceived but also elegantly told. There is a lot of world-building that is vitally important to the story, and Polk is deft at delivering it without bogging down the reader in fictional history. Her other really great triumph is the way she depicts the motivations of her characters. As a gay man myself, I can strongly relate to Miles and his sister Grace’s situation, and being at odds with your family but still loving them. This dynamic is really well represented, and it isn’t one I often see in queer fiction.
And yes, this book is very queer. It’s so queer that the magic system has top and bottom roles. But it is also very sweet. I loved Mile’s and Tristan’s relationship and the way it unfolded. The romantic elements are definitely safe for work, in my view. All of the naughty bits occur off of the page.
Witchmark is a stunning debut novel from C. L. Polk and I can’t wait to read the follow up due out in February. You can find it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent bookshop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Fence

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Fence #1
Written by C. S. Pacat
Drawn by Joanna The Mad
Colored by Joana Lafuente
Published by Boom Studios

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The Skinny: The by the numbers sports comic calls to mind “Yuri On Ice,” but is coy in the first issue.

Fence is the story of scrappy young fencer Nicholas Cox. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks and hasn’t had the best training, but he’s got raw talent. He also has the luck to face fencing prodigy Seiji Katayama in his first tournament bout.
“Fence” is a teen sports comic about, obviously, fencing, that dutifully hits the story beats it needs to in the first issue without much fanfare. We get a lot of the main character’s back story, a very nice competition sequence, and a last page setup for the series, and it all works. The comic has a very pure shonen sports manga vibe to it. It reminded me most strongly of “Yuri on Ice,” but the text doesn’t feel completely committed to the idea yet. Although based on the queer fantasy trilogy that are C. S. Pacat’s breakout work, one shouldn’t be surprised.
Fans of this subgenre will find plenty to like, though, and Joanna The Mad’s art is clean and expressive, lingering on emotional scenes notes. Her figures are fluid and dynamic, and Joana Lafuente’s colors bring them out well.
Fence #1 is now available from Comixology or your local comics shop. Time will tell if this sports manga inspired book will stand out from the crowd, but this is a solid, if not surprising, introduction.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Gone Home

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Gone Home: Console Edition
Created by The Fulbright Company
Played on Playstaton 4
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I played “Gone Home” for the first time when it was released on PC.  Unfortunately, my Mac Mini wasn’t quite up to the task of the game’s graphics.  So I was quite pleased to be able to download it as a part of Sony’s Playstation Plus offerings for June of this year.  The span of a few years make this indie game’s 3D modeled mansion a bit less spectacular, but the game’s story and technique remain just as impressive.
The player steps into the first-person shoes of Katie Greenbriar, a college student just returned from a trip to Europe.  She arrives home in the middle of a stormy night to find the house empty, with a message from her younger sister not to come looking for her.
As you begin to explore the strange house, “Gone Home” feels like a survival horror game.  It does borrow some of that genre’s puzzle and exploration mechanics, but the game is actually something else.  As you learn more about Katie’s family through letters, buttons, scraps of notes, and other evidence, voice over narrations of her sister Sam are unlocked.  Formatted as unsent letters, they reveal the true story piece by piece.  I won’t spoil it here, but it is well worth experiencing on your own.
“Gone Home” is a by turns creepy, moving, and overall heartfelt piece of interactive fiction, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Podcast: Balticon 50: Queering the Feed

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A panel discussion on podcasts with LGBTQ content recorded live at Balticon 50

Click HERE to listen

Moderator: Jared Axelrod

Panelists:

A F Grappin,J R Blackwell, Hugh J O’Donnell, Ruth Lampi.

This podcast was originally posted on June 13, 2016 at Planetx.libsyn.com.

Thank you for listening.