“We’re outsiders, you and I, on the periphery. Watching everybody else, pretending we’re just like them but knowing we’re not. The best we can hope for is to find a place where we don’t have to pretend.”
Isaak Sirko (Dexter, 2012)
Ringil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.
In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, trying to content himself by trading on past glories and bedding any man he could convince to let him do so, until he was recruited into a quest that required his particular skills. The events of that quest left him hollowed out and broken in spite of his victory, and with a hatred of slavery being just about the only thing he is still passionate about.
By the time The Cold Commands begins he has made an enemy of just about every slaver in the Empire and is running out of places to hide, while also having attracted the attention of dark powers he doesn’t understand and doesn’t much care about either. He ends up back in Yhelteth, home of the other two main characters of each book, fellow war heroes Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane.
However, they both have problems of their own. Egar is sexually and spiritually frustrated, unable to be with the woman he loves and with no purpose in life beyond harassing the local religious zealots. Archeth has received a dire warning of an imminent threat that could bring down the whole Empire, and has to convince the Emperor to launch a major expedition to a place that may not even exist, while also trying to manage Egar’s frustrations and Ringil’s lack of tact or respect for the machinations of empire.
At first it seems like it’s Archeth’s expedition that would be the core of the story, but her plans are overshadowed completely by Ringil and Egar, who manage to upset the tentative balance that is just about keeping the city and the nation from erupting into civil war. In the process they uncover a grave threat much closer to home, and that again needs somebody like Ringil to try and put a stop to it.
More so even than Takeshi Kovacs, main character of Richard Morgan’s brilliant sci-fi trilogy, Ringil is a broken, disillusioned man who knows that his actions won’t much matter in the long run. Like Kovacs though he still tries and he still fights, because what else is there? As long as he’s still alive he’s going to do his damnedest to be an obstacle to anybody who deserves to have their plans thwarted, who seeks to take advantage of people or start a war, because that’s what heroes do. It’s cost him every part of himself, he no longer cares about much of anything at all, but he’s still a hero and he’s a fantastic character for it.
Image source: Developer Heavy Boat’s website.
Available as Amazon’s Free App of the Day over the weekend, Super Jumping Finn is basically a Flash game – in fact you can play a less-featured version on the Cartoon Network website – and one you’ve played before.
It’s one of those games where you try to hit something/someone as far as you can and attempt to beat your own records, most of the challenge coming from getting the timing right as you select the angle and power (though in Super Jumping Finn you only control the power, not the angle). Other than it using the Adventure Time art style and characters there’s little about it specific to the series, it’s mostly just a re-skin of a very familiar game type.
In this game there’s an actual goal beyond just getting as far as you can, tasking you with reaching the distant ice fortress to rescue the princess within. There’s a mass of upgrades to buy and a massive distance to cover that seems impossible at first, and it’s only once you’ve a bunch of upgrades and the sky is full of helpers that you start being able to cover great distances almost without trying.
Both the upgrade and achievement systems are a bit weird in their design, as most of the upgrades are for the helpers, which you have no control over as they’re spread (possibly randomly) throughout the sky, so there’s no guarantee you’ll hit a specific helper or be able to determine which of them will be best to upgrade first. I found it was best to buy the first level of each helper first (so that the sky is as full as it can be) and then focus on upgrading Jake instead, seeing as you can trigger those abilities yourself and are guaranteed to use them in every game.
The achievements can only be earned one per game and that goal is chosen for you randomly, so you could do all that you need to do in order to achieve multiple achievements in one session but it won’t count, as you can only achieve the one it has chosen for you that time. I managed to reach the final destination and win the game before getting any of the achievements for reaching any of the prior zones, for example. It seems like a fairly arbitrary way to stretch out the game’s length.
Super Jumping Finn is fun for what it is, but it doesn’t ever really reach beyond being a full-featured Flash game, and I wouldn’t have actually paid money for it.
Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai, directed by Takeshi Miike
Written by: Kikumi Yamagishi
Starring: Ebizô Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima
My rating: 4 of 5
So you’re the head of an honourable household. One day a destitute ronin comes to you and asks if he could possibly kill himself in your courtyard, because that would help him leave this life with as much as honour as he can salvage. Just another day in feudal Japan*.
However, you’re moved by this ronin’s plight and offer him a position in your household. After all, it’s not his fault his house disbanded and Japan is going through a peaceful period that prevents him finding work. The heads of other houses follow suit, offering work where they’re able or giving them a little money when they aren’t. Either way, the ronin are getting some help and all is good.
Then, of course, people take it too far, and it reaches a point where the less honourable ronin realise they have an easy way to find work or at least a few coins. Can’t afford those rice cakes? Go offer to kill yourself before the Iyi clan, they’re always good for a few ryō.
Over the weekend I started and finished Darksiders on PC, which I picked up very cheaply in a previous Steam sale. It’s a good game, and like the demo suggested it sits somewhere between Zelda and God of War, being combat-heavy and sending you off to dungeons in search of items which help you navigate the world, the boss generally having a weakness to your newest item. The world feels like the creators know more about it than they’re revealing, that they do have some investment in their story and it’s not just dressing up the combat, and there’s a good visual style to a lot of it (especially the main characters), like they’ve been plucked out of a comic or cartoon but without being cel-shaded.
First place goes to the worgen campaign, the other of the races new to Cataclysm. The worgen are werewolves, the ones you play as coming from the human nation of Gilneas. Back in Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness Gilneas weren’t exactly big supporters of the Alliance, the game’s instruction manual (which was an elaborate thing, full of more story content than it was game information) presenting their isolationism as their most notable characteristic. By the end of the Second War (ie. the second game) the Gilnean king, Greymane, had erected a massive wall around his kingdom and completely cut them off from the rest of the world.
This was the situation the nation was in when World of Warcraft launched, the wall making the area inaccessible (and for those who were able to exploit their way through there was nothing of consequence there), and that’s how it remained right up until the launch of the Cataclysm expansion, when Gilneas finally rejoins the Alliance. So what have they been getting up to behind the wall?
The goblins are one of the two new races introduced in the Cataclysm expansion pack (the other being the worgen werewolves). Traditionally the race has mostly been associated with the Horde, at least when they were an evil faction in the service of the demonic Burning Legion, but like the trolls there are many different factions (or cartels) with their own agendas and alignments, and the playable goblins in World of Warcraft are a formerly neutral one who are drawn into the conflict.
This gives them a big advantage over all of the pre-Cataclysm races. They carry none of the existing baggage that comes from the established story or locations already present in the game, and as such their opening has been designed purely according to the new goals Blizzard has for the game’s structure. Their story starts with the cataclysm, and it’s so much better.