A quick bump for Dark Souls

We’ve had an odd progression, in our journeys through Dark Souls. We started our journey because some dead guy threw a corpse at us and told us to go be the chosen one. From there, we rang some bells because some asshole told us to. Then we had to go find the macguffin because a freaky snake told us to. Last time, on Baby’s First Dark Soul, we finished that up, then we were tasked with our greatest quest yet! We have to go talk to the freaky snake again, because a holy hot chick told us to! Hey, the quest giver counts for a lot.

First thing first, we’ve got to get back to Firelink Shrine. We’re a pretty long walk away. Well, I think. After Sen’s Fortress, I have no idea where those demons flew me off to. For all I know, we could be two doors down from Firelink. In any case, it was a long, hard journey to get here, and it’d be a long, hard journey to get back. If I even can. The demons might be a little hesitant to carry me away after I killed a bunch of them. Luckily, we’ve got other options.

Dark Souls 21 bonfire warp

With the Lordvessel in hand, we’ve linked up several of these bonfires, and can freely transport between them. We can’t connect with all of them, in fact, the list of what we can teleport to is disappointingly lacking. Still this is probably going to save us a lot of time walking. And a lot of cheap stupid deaths, most like.

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In any case, in spite of the Firelink Bonfire going out, I can still port here.

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First thing that I notice is this. You might not think there’s anything odd about this screenshot. That’s because you hadn’t gotten used to the constant waves of depression and body odor coming from this corner. The crestfallen warrior is gone. I wonder about that. I didn’t think he actually had it in him to leave this place. Mayhaps he, so inspired by my performance, has decided to do something other than sit there and suck? Is he no longer crestfallen? I’m not sure what to call him now.

dark souls 21 anastacia soul

As you’ll recall, we had ourselves a brutal, bloody battle with Lautrec to get the Fire Keeper’s soul back. Using it, I can return life to her. I can bring back one of the few meager bits of light in this world that’s just so blasted dark. And yet… I find myself hesitating. As this keeper has taught me already, a Fire Keeper’s soul is a powerful thing. I could use it. I could have this consumed to upgrade my Estus Flask, improving my healing abilities and better keeping me alive in the long run. And I mean, really, wouldn’t that be a better use of her soul than just sitting in this cage and not talking to anyone? Isn’t this more important than…

Dark Souls 21 anastacia resurrection

I can’t believe I’m thinking like this. The undead curse is getting to me.

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New Eden Page 8: Suddenly Color!

New Eden Page 8

Would you look at that?  It’s like a magical fairy came to my world and brought me the mystical voodoo that is 1950’s Technicolor!  And wouldn’t you know it?  That’s pretty much exactly what happened!  That magical fairy has a name, one we know well here at Lost to the Aether.  And that name is Mishka Jenkins, Author Extraordinaire.  The whole thing.  Appellation and all.  Pretty sure she legally changed her name to that, as some point.  Anyways, Mishka got me a set of really nice markers, and this was my first try taking them out for a spin.  I had no idea how to use them properly, and I think it shows in this picture, but I’ve busted the markers out a few times in the creation of this graphic novel, and I think I’ve been getting better each time.  In particular, the pencil lines really aren’t meshing with the ink here, and I think the color visuals vastly improved once I picked up better inking equipment

One thing I don’t think anyone but me will really notice, but Lorelei’s hair color completely changed, with the advent of color into our work.  Even in pencils, it was a much darker shade the last two pages, because I imagined it as being a dark brown but it stays this light blue from now on.  Models keep evolving, if you let them

There’s a lot I could complain about this, and a lot I want to, really, but instead, I’d like to take a moment to point out that Lorelei’s hands in this image?  Almost flawless.  Given that I was really wanting to work on hands in this learning-to-art adventure, I was really happy with those.

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Visual Novel Theatre: Yandere-Chan

Usually, for our Visual Novel Theatre series, we highlight one of the best visual novels available. We take our pick of the crème de la crème. We either go for something professionally created by a team of high caliber auteurs, or a freeware project that has proven itself well by garnering a lot of regard through those interested in such things. Today, though, I thought we’d do something a bit different. Rather than picking up on one of those projects that has actual teams, money, or experience behind it, I thought we’d go for a story that’s a little more grassroots. Something put together by an amateur hobbyist with no goals of ever making it as a visual novel rock star. Today, we’ve got a piece from someone who simply had a story they felt needed telling, and that a visual novel was the way to do it.

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The VN on our plate today is Yandere-chan, a freeware story by Zero-Q Dimension, also known as Nyodude, also known some-guy-who-did-a-bunch-of-anime-parody-fandubs-a-few-years-back-I-never-heard-of-him-Aether-why-are-you-doing-this-Aether-why? For those of you who are just that specific level of nerdy where you’re actually able to find this page but not nerdy enough to know your niche moe terminology, a Yandere is a term for a character in a work who is and is driven by an obsessive, sometimes stalker-level love for another into insanity and generally violence. So think Kathy Bates from Misery, Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim, Anakin Skywalker from Battlestar Galactica, you get the picture. Mentally unbalanced individuals who are primarily motivated by love for another and often hurt the ones around them because they’ll lash out at anything to get to the one they love. We’ve all dated at least one of these, right? And obviously, that’s the topic of our story here. You play as some geek moving to a new high school, then soon meet yourself a traditional Yandere. Then you do your best to not let her spontaneous, irrational, psychotic love which appears out of nowhere lead her to brutally murdering you and ditching the body someplace you’ll never be found. So, it’s basically an OKCupid simulator. Sounds like fun, right?

So far, we’ve covered either professional productions or amateur works that nonetheless had a lot of time and expertise put into them. Yandere-chan’s not like that. It only has one creator, on his first Visual Novel, who didn’t have the time nor the resources we’ve been seeing from most of the creaters here at Visual Novel Theatre. There are a lot of ways to handle that, when you don’t have quite the production the big players do. Zero-Q Dimension elected to focus on a story of a really small scale. There’s only two real characters, you’ve got one main story event to get through, and the experience as a whole is really quick. I got through it in about 45 minutes my first run, then, thanks to the magic of the skip function, the rest, save one, took about 5 minutes a piece, catching up on all the myriad endings I missed. In fact, I may actually spend more time on reviewing this work than I actually did experiencing it! Let’s try to avoid that. In any case, yeah, this is a remarkably simple visual novel. The author was aiming low for his first attempt in the genre, but he hit that point solidly. There’s not a lot of depth, but for the most part, the story’s not carrying any extra fat. The only elements included are those that need to be there. The visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of flourish, but it carries its bare bones structure well. With a few exceptions, the author composes his minimalist work competently.

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As mentioned above, there’s only two characters we’re playing with here. You’ve got your main, he of the user-generated name. He’s a perfectly bland high schooler come to a brand new school. He’s got pretty much the behavior you’d expect, concerned with making friends, his hormones drive his thoughts a bit into the dark side when girls pay attention to him, but never too far, possibly comes from an abusive home, but for the most part, he’s a pretty good kid. At the end of his first day at school, he encounters himself a mysterious young woman, who seems oddly familiar with him…

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Here’s the Yandere-chan of the title. Mia, a strident loner at school, she seems to go out of her way to avoid talking to anyone. Yet, she’s really, really happy to open up to you. Extremely so. She claims that the two of you knew each other some time ago, and event you have absolutely no memory of. She is all over you from the word go, which reminds me of my own high school experience. Also reminding me of my own high school experience, she will straight up try to BLOODILY MURDER YOU as soon as there’s the slightest hitch in events. Yeah, as it turns out, Mia’s a loner because she’s a bit touched in the head. Specifically, she’s touched in the head by some crazed psychotic hate-god, because she will lose track of reality and murder you over the smallest thing. Mia’s personality is never consistent over the course of this visual novel. You could call that bad writing. Or it could be deliberate, she’s that way because of her clearly unstable sanity. It is a little striking, though. Through one path, she clearly has no sense of reality and is manically trying to kill you because she believes you’re an imposter sent to hurt her. Through another, she’s cold, remarkably intelligent, and very, very lucid as she attempts murder upon you following a very strongly prepared plan. It’s hard to get a handle on her because of how much her personality varies. The one thing that is consistent is that she is just plain sick.

One thing that really impressed me about this work is that while it’s not very vertically long, it is pretty sizable, horizontally. By that, I mean that while you’ll never spend a lot of time on any individual playthrough, the story has several branches, and every one of them past the first gives you a completely different story after that point. This isn’t one of your lame ‘make your choice now and it will maybe change some numbers two games from now while having no impact on the story’ Mass Effect style choices, every choice beyond the first gives you something completely new to experience. In all, there’s eight endings you can get.

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Most of them end like this. Bloody murder of some sort or another. Usually involving scissors. There’s one good ending you can get. It’s not really that good for the people involved, but hey, everyone ends up alive, and that’s better than any other ending. No matter how much the moe fandom may fetishize them, getting involved with murderous crazy ladies doesn’t generally end well. That’s the moral of our story today.

When thinking about how to review this work, the phrase ‘limited, but competent’ came up a lot. That really would describe this whole work pretty well. The plot really just has one point to hit, but it does so well enough. The visuals are perfectly fine, there’s just not a whole lot of them, nor is there much in the way of variation in Mia’s character portraits. The game as a whole is obviously a small, limited project, but it seems comfortable in being that, and hits its low targets solidly without really excelling.

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There’s just three main weaknesses, all in writing style, that I felt were apparent enough to be worth pointing out. First, Nyodude could really have used himself an editor, or at least someone to take a look over his text. Typos abound in this work, and there are some words, such as ‘chili’, that it’s really apparent he doesn’t know how to spell. Second, and this is a weakness Yandere-chan shares with a lot of its contemporaries, the Visual Novel has a habit of getting too wordy. There are a few instances where the work will keep going on and on after we already get the point, using several lines to say what really only needed one. And third, the author doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of how court or mental illness really works. It’s not such a big deal, the court scene is quickly brushed over and if you can accept the premise of Yandere-chan, you probably won’t be too bothered by the fact that being a Yandere still isn’t a recognized condition in the DSM-IV, but still, if your suspension of disbelief is fragile, that may be well more than enough to break it.

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In closing, I’m not sure if I can give Yandere-chan a recommendation to those who aren’t already a fan of visual novels or the moe fandom. Other visual novels have more of a story to tell, and, speaking as someone who is about as far from moe as you can get, I feel like there were some anime-style calls or features put in there that I was completely lost on. If you’re already into visual novels? It might be worth your time. It’s free, quick, unique, and competent, and may just scratch a quick itch for you.

HAPPY END

Never Trust an Author

No Author

Western culture has an odd fascination with liars. So many people, telling lies so blatant that everyone’s learned not to trust them, yet still we place them at the highest echelons of our societies. Politicians, corporate executives, lawyers, and the like, all very well known as fibbers of the highest order. Yet still we raise them up, largely because of their lies, giving them some of the highest salaries and greatest honors our communities have to offer. They’re some of our culture’s most accomplished false witnesses, some of the most public liars, yet they are far from the most blatant. No, the most devious, the boldest, the most blatant liars take up an occupation that generally gives them a lot less income or prestige, but it’s worth it to them because it affords much more opportunity to lie. Most professions at least have to give off the impression that they’re there for legitimate reasons, but this one, we’ll readily pay them to lie to us. In all of human history, has there been a bigger rat liar than the humble storyteller?

Authors, writers, dramatists, playwrights, that whole blasted trade. They will give us the most obvious lies imaginable and expect us to take them with a smile. These are the people who will just make up a tale from whole cloth then devote themselves completely and utterly to making us believe it could be true. They’ll do their best to convince us, through words, details, and any other tool of their trade, that their imaginary words are real, that their characters exist, that their stories are actually happening, even as you read them. They will do anything they can to immerse you in their lies, to make their words leave the page and overtake your own reality, at least for as long as you’re reading them. These are the mendacious folk who will just spawn a character from their own twisted minds, then make them complex and fleshed out enough that we feel for them just as much as we do those in real life. These are the cruel beings who will use their wicked powers over words to make us feel every twist and turn in the plot as if it was actually happening to us. The author is the malicious mage who draw us into their cold, cruel worlds and personally feel every smile and tear their characters go through. It is they who trick us into making the unreal real in our own minds, in tearing and boosting our emotions with nothing more than their tall, tall tales.

And we love them for it.

The Bookshelf Tag!

We haven’t done one of these viral social blogging posts in a while.  Which seems a little odd to me.  After all, there’s plenty of questions I know people are just dying to ask me.  Questions like “What’s a day in the life of the world’s sexiest man like?” or “What deities do I have to thank for the fact that you’re in my life?” or “How exactly are you supposed to pronounce Aether, anyway?”  Given that I’m still one of the internet’s biggest enigmas, I felt I owed it to the world to respond when our good friend Mishka Jenkins hooked us into the Bookshelf Tag that’s been going around the internet.  Basically, got ten questions here, all about me and books.  And because I basically carved out this corner of the internet for me to do nothing but talk about myself, I’m going to answer these questions.  With words.  And self-indulgence.  Because really, isn’t that what the internet’s all about?

Here we go!

1. Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?

Not really.  If a book can make me feel, that’s a beautiful thing.  Even if that feeling is sad.  If a story can break me out of my bitter, mortal shell, and actually feel for the characters to the point that I weep for them, that’s that almost always something worth experiencing.  There’ve been times that I put off sad stories until I was in the mood for them, because I knew they’d make me feel that way, but nothing I avoided outright.  Also, I’m a rock-hard stone-cold hunk of manly manliness who never ever cries.  That part helps too.

2. Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.

‘Stolen Bloodline’ by Mishka Jenkins.  I very rarely dip into the romance genre, but I’ve actually been enjoying the works Mishka’s been putting out since she decided to start making a living as an author.  It’s not just because she and I are close, I’ve honestly been enjoying her works on their own merit.  She mixes up a lot of the fantasy and adventure and conflicts and other stuff I do usually like with some well-written love stories, and it’s made me a lot more open to the romance genre than I was previously

3. Find a book that you want to re-read.

‘The Burning City’, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  I read it a lot as a kid, and really liked how well-realized and unique the world was, but looking into it more recently I’ve been seeing that there’s a lot of transparent and blatant allegory and imagery that was lost on me in my younger days.  Haven’t read it in years, but I’d love to give it another go to see what my older, better-educated mind might be able to pick up now.

4. Is there a book series you’ve read but wish that you hadn’t?

Nope.  Even bad media has some sort of value.  There’s been stories that have wasted my time, but none that I’m actively worse off for going through.

5. If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?

Well, I’d probably try to save my video games first, but if it had to be a book… well, it’d probably be my collection of the original Elfquest publications.  Those are available for free online now, but the copies I’ve got were part of the first run, back when you had to get a subscription from a small time independent publisher to get your hands on them.  They used to belong to one of my relatives, before being passed down to me, so it’s more sentimental than anything else.  The fact that the story’s really, really good helps the decision.

6. Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

Any of my Star Wars books.  I used to be crazy into Star Wars as a kid.  ‘Wraith Squadron’ is probably the one I carry the most memories for, to the point that I actually got a bit depressed when its author passed away earlier this year, despite being as jaded as I am.

7. Find a book that has inspired you the most.

Hmm… that’s a tough one.  Terry Goodkind’s early books in the Sword of Truth series, I’d guess.  I don’t particularly like his work nowadays, but those were one of the biggest influences that got me into writing in the first place.

8. Do you have any autographed books?

My copy of the Ocean at the End of the Lane is autographed by Neil Gaiman.

9. Find the book that you have owned the longest.

A copy of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ I’ve had since we put on the play in 6th grade.  I played Oberon.  Unfortunately, my parents were in the habit of selling everything as soon as they thought I was done with it, so I don’t have anything older.  I lost a lot of my childhood, that way.

10. Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?

I’m not actually a fan of most classic or older literature.  I find the writing style and plot development to be a bit less nuanced when written before the era where people were studying and educating themselves on these things.  So, I was very surprised when I found myself getting drawn into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels in such a major way.  The plots are generally just as poorly developed compared to most of its modern counterparts as everything else of the era, but the stories are still really well-written otherwise, and I find myself drawn into them quite easily.

New Eden Page 7: I Love Fight Scenes

Someday, my art will be good enough that it’s worth investing in, and I will own a scanner.  Until then, I’m afraid these low-quality images are the only way I have to document my work.

Anyways, the page!  So, here we have Lorelei’s thoughts as our narration.  I was trying to keep them short and clipped, like a stream of consciousness probably would be in the middle of a fight.  Not sure if that quite comes across, but I like the idea.  Think I’ll keep it going.  Only way to get better at this sort of thing is practice, after all.

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Transcript

Panel 1: Hey!
Panel 2: What is this?
Panel 3: Movement.  Just like in real life.
Panel 4: I have weapons.
Panel 5: Think I’m starting to figure this out.

Doom, Despair, and Dark Souls

Last time, on Aether’s Grand Struggles in Dark Souls, I managed to both lose and win at the same time. I’m so awesome that even death can’t bring me down! Seriously, I’ve been rampaging across this game for close to forty hours, and I’ve yet to show any signs of stopping! I’m starting to think the heavy reputation this game has is just people blowing wind. Well, at least I was. Something happened, though. Something turned my opinion around. Like, all the way around. I had an experience that once again filled me with fear for what’s ahead in this game, an experience that nearly ended this entire playthrough, an experience that once again had me prepared to die. Anor Londo, much like most areas, has a boss battle. Among veterans of the game, this boss battle is particularly infamous.

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And it’s the only thing I have left to complete.

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Stepping through the fog, I’m greeted with a brief pan over the area I’ll be fighting in. It seems to be a large chapel or great hall of some sort. At least I won’t be running out of room here.

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At the other end is… this. Executioner Smough. You may remember Smough from one of the statues at the start of Anor Londo. I… think he’s supposed to be male? It’s a little unclear. He looks to be wearing a corset, but obviously that’s doing him absolutely no good. He wanted to be part of the Four Knights of Gwyn, a group of the strongest and most trusted warriors serving Geezer Zeus. His skills we up there, but he was barred from entering due to his brutality and cannibalism. Still, he remains, guarding Geezer Zeus’s old home, Anor Londo. Swift, strong, and massive, I’ve got myself a very tough challenger in him. I can already tell, this fight will take me to my limits.

But wait! There’s more! As I ready my blade, motion in the balcony above catches my eye.

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Again, this is someone we’ve seen as a statue at the start of Anor Londo. Dragon Slayer Ornstein. Captain of the Four Knights of Gwyn. Possibly the most powerful warrior at Gwyn’s command.

He leaps down.

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Two warriors, both at the height of human potential, both among the most dangerous fighters in Lordran, individually. And I’ve got to take them both on at once.

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