May 222012
A Night on Valak Mountain

The almost universally laudatory critical reaction to Xenoblade Chronicles has heaped ambitious praise on the project. Not content to appreciate Xenoblade‘s design on its own merits, many critics have asserted that it points the way towards “saving” the JRPG. There are good reasons to be dubious of this assertion. For the moment, though, I want to focus on something Xenoblade gets right, and the best way to do it is by focusing on something it gets very wrong: Valak Mountain. I haven’t reached the end of Xenoblade yet, but I find it hard to imagine that it contains a worse [Read more…]

Mar 012012
A Dirge for the Falmer

The Falmer are coming. You can hear guards whispering about them in Skyrim’s towns. You can encounter them through their attacks on trading caravans or isolated, unlucky outposts. In the journey to Blackreach, if not before, you will encounter the Falmer. Blind and pale, they scurry through the caves beneath Skyrim, clothed and armed with chitin from their hideous insect livestock, communicating in primitive hisses. Considering only these characteristics, it would be easy to dismiss the Falmer as goblins by another name, like Mass Effect’s awful Vorcha. However, the fiction surrounding the Falmer positions them as a touchstone for many [Read more…]

Feb 092012
The Orphans, the Clown, and the Mothers

I’ve complained about multiple aspects of Skyrim, promising positive words would be forthcoming. It’s time to deliver, and I really do have a broad array of options. However, Skyrim tends to be most effective with its local stories and smaller quests. When Skyrim tries to go big, it often falters due to poor writing, over-promising, or a disconnect between the story and the gameplay. The happiest exception to this trend is the Dark Brotherhood questline, which is one of the game’s great successes. This is because it obeys the rules of good writing, and of good game design. The Orphan [Read more…]