Running Down the Haul Part 2: The HIB 17 Additions!

So, we did a thing with the Humble Indie Bundle 17.  Reviewed all the games I got off it.  Then I got more games.  So now I haven’t reviewed them all.  The expansion has taken my accomplishments away from me.  Let’s correct that.

So here’s the HIB 17 review part 2, covering the games that got added to the bundle since the last post!  So sometimes the surprise games are a big deal.  Sometimes they’re not.  Very not.  This one is the latter.  But hey, maybe we can have some fun with them nonetheless.  Let’s go!

Hexcell Complete

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It’s Minesweeper.  There, that’s the review.

Okay, maybe a bit more than that.  The Hexcell Complete pack gets you the three Hexcell games.  Only played the first one, not sure what the difference between them is.  It’s a puzzle game.  A bunch of six-sided cells laid out.  Some of them are part of the pattern, some aren’t.  You left kick to mark the cells that are part of it, right click to eliminate the cells that aren’t.  Every cell that’s successfully eliminated has a number showing how many of the neighboring cells are part of the pattern.

So yeah, Minesweeper.

I have a small irritation in that I keep mixing up the right and left clicks, but there seems to be very little consequence for failure.  So there’s that.  I do enjoy puzzle games for stress release, and I could see myself coming back to this game for that, but don’t know if I’ll ever become very enthusiastic about Hexcell.

Expand

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So Expand is a ‘minimalist game’.  The developer’s listing says so, and you know, that’s pretty accurate.

Basically, you move a simple box around a simple circular maze that’s constantly shifting as you go through it.  And that’s about it.  The music is pretty nice and atmospheric.  Controls take a little getting used to.  Up and down really control your box’s position in relation to the center of the screen rather than its absolute position.

Only played a little.  Haven’t seen anything worth sticking around for just yet.  Feels more like a Newgrounds-style flash game than a full commercial release, but I’ve only skimmed the surface.

There, a minimalist review for a minimalist game.

Regency Solitaire

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Someone saw me playing this game.  So I’ve spent more time explaining that I’m still totally manly and my ability to play feminine things only reinforces this fact than I’ve really wanted to.

Probably my favorite games of these additions.  Regency Solitaire poses card games to you in between visual novel-esque story scenes going through a simple regency romance story.  The card game is simple at first, draw a card, then you can pick up one of the cards in the playing area that’s one number higher or lower than that card, then pick up that’s higher or lower than that, and so on, until you eliminate as many of the cards in the field as you can.  It does have some tech to it, though, as you unlock new abilities, new cards pop up that need to be eliminated in special ways, and the challenges grow a little bit tougher.

That said, there’s not really all that much to the game, and the story’s not exactly stellar.  Still, though, this is probably the only one of these additions I could see giving a few hour into.

So, that’s that.  Overall, nothing I think that’s really going to sell you on the bundle.  Maybe some fun things to kill a few moments with if there’s already something else you’re interested in there, though.

Running Down the Haul: Humble Indie Bundle 17

Although it’s uncommon that I do pick up a Humble Bundle, I do follow their offerings pretty religiously.  There’s two things that I really enjoy about the bundles.  One is picking up good games for dirt cheap.  I’ve noted on here plenty of times before that I am both cheap as hell and patient like a saint, and the bundles play on both of those measures.  Even without abusing the pay-what-you-want structure, you can’t get much better than the 7-10 games for up to $10-$15 they usually have on offer, and wouldn’t you know it, they also often have ready to go games that I’ve been waiting for a price drop on since literally forever.  Yes, literally forever.  Shenanigans, don’t ask.

The second thing I really enjoy about the bundles is all of a sudden owning games I have never heard of and know absolutely nothing about.  I’ve got plenty of games in my library that I would never have bought on my own, would never have even bothered looking into, but since I picked them up by way of picking up the games I actually care about, I give them a try, and hey!  Turns out they’re pretty good.  There’s something about going into a game completely blind and still finding quality there that is just so, so satisfying, and the Humble Bundles pave the way for that to happen.  They expand your gaming horizons on the way there, too, and even when that doesn’t always lead to a perfect experience, that’s still something I really value.

Anyways, the Humble Indie Bundle 17 they’re putting out right now is the most recent one I’ve added to my collection.  Which, you know, is not something worthy of much fanfare.  But I’ve done something I haven’t done before with a bundle collection.  Something perhaps nobody has done before, judging from what I see on the internet.  I have actually played all the games I picked up in that collection.  Well, all the games that have been released thus far.  Who knows what the “new games coming soon” expansion will bring.

In any case, since I have made this monumental human achievement for which I am undoubtedly due for years upon years of accolades, I thought to share some of the glory.  Specifically, let’s go through some quick reviews on all the games in the collection.  Now, although I’ve played these all, I’ve only sunk some real time into a few of them, so this is going to be some real surface level review.  First impression stuff for the most part.

And with that in mind, let’s get into the games.

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Variety is the Spice of Life

I’ve been playing a lot of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor lately.  Good game.  One of my favorites of the very slim amount of PS4 games I’ve played thus far.  I’m enjoying this game quite a bit.  Of course, that’s to be expected.  I love Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games, and Shadow of Mordor is exactly that with a new coat of paint.

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People have called Shadows of Mordor ‘similar’ to the Arkham games.  That is being very, very generous.  Shadows of Mordor is an Arkham game, in the same way Bloodborne is still considered a Souls game.  The combat is very much the same, down to the individual moves and the controls.  The open world nature and drastically different setting have changed the way the stealth works, but the engine operating it is still carried over.  This game may have a new property, a new setting, and some new systems to work through, but the core of it all comes right from the Arkham series.  Not ‘inspired by’, not ‘with elements of the previous game’, Shadow of Mordor is basically a sequel to the Arkham games with the license plates swapped out.  Shadow of Mordor is the child Arkham never knew about, its seed from a one-night stand and the mother lost Arkham’s number.

I’m not bothered by this.  I don’t consider it a rip-off or anything like that.  Even going beyond the rumors that Shadow of Mordor started out as an Nolanverse Batman game, the developers of both the Arkham Series and Shadow of Mordor are owned by the same company, working on properties owned and published by that company, and I really don’t have a problem with sister businesses sharing resources when they’re working out.  It doesn’t hurt that the Arkham games are some of the best of last generation, and Shadow of Mordor is one of the few games to carry that engine and really ‘get’ what made it so great.

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It does pose some difficulty for me, however.  See, there’s another PS4 game I’ve been interested in that I just haven’t picked up on yet.  Batman: Arkham Knight.  One of the games I had my eye on when I was picking up the system.  Now that I’ve already scratched that itch with Shadow of Mordor, however, I’m finding it hard to look at that game the same way, at least in the short term.  It’ll be just as good as it always was, but it just doesn’t feel as fresh to me, and the thought of moving from Shadow of Mordor directly to that game already has me worried about burning out on the engine. I still want the game, but I feel like I need a break.

With videogames, we see something similar, where games just jump on whatever genre is du jour at the time, flooding it with whatever titles they can tie to it like an angry god to a sinful earth.  Back when I was growing up, that was platformers.  Then, briefly, a wave of JRPGs hit.  After that, the industry seems to have settled in on shooters.  Doesn’t matter the specifics of it.  Other industries do that as well, one company taking a risk and finding something that works only for everyone to pile on and squeeze it for what it’s worth.  Leads to a lot of repetition.  Leads to a lot of experiences that are largely the same.

And, you know, it probably affects tastes the same way.  Just like my immediate interest in Batman: Arkham Knight has waned because Shadows of Mordor tastes the same, I imagine the endless sea of shooters, superhero movies, quirky fantasy cartoons, or what have you would start to feel a bit less enticing, too.  Once you get one filling your needs, the next, unless it does at least something to mix things up, will start to feel just a little blander.  The one after that even moreso.  The stories are still just as good as if they were taken in a vacunm, but the experience itself doesn’t have the same impact.  Starts to get like eating when you’re already full.

Milking a genre is not good business, for exactly this reason.  That’s why we start to complain when a genre gets too tropey, even if objectively the titles are better than what they used to be.  It’s dangerous for businesses in the long term, as consumers will start to look for the new flavors themselves.  Things are most fun when they’re fresh, when they’re new, when the experience feels bright.  And that’s something that a style we’ve just been seing too much of is going to have a hard time with right out of the gate.

Variety is the spice of life, after all.

The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – Plot Rundown

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Look at this!  Isn’t this amazing!  I said I was going to do a thing.  Which, ok sure, that happens.  But then!  But then I actually did it!  How often does that happen in your life?!

In any case, here’s the first part of typing waaaaaaaaaaaay too many words talking about Higurashi.  If you missed our intro post, here’s the deal.  I’ve been playing these visual novels.  I’ve been wanting to talk about them.  To analyze them.  To dissect them.  So that’s what we’ll be doing today, over the first chapter of the series, Onikakushi.  We’re going full on for spoilers for that chapter, but we’ll be keeping things safe for all the other chapters.  We’re free on discussing chapter one, whatever we need to there, but we won’t be brushing on anything else.  Might be literally the only place on the internet to do that.

Do I need any further ado?  I think that’s enough ado.  Let’s get into the do.

So, today, we’re mostly going to be following along with the plot.  Summarizing things for those who are just joining us or could use a bit of a refresher before we jump right into the deep end.  We’ll be dropping some bits of analysis on the way, but it’ll be the next post where we really get into things.  So hey, if you’re interested in this stuff, why don’t you follow along?  If not, go ahead and wait for next time.  Do whatever works for you.  Ain’t required reading here.  But, chances are, it will make your life better.  So much better.  In fact, I’m pretty confident about that.

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Control Freak

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I’ve been beating this drum for a while, now, but controls are one of the biggest things for me in a game.  One of the biggest indicators of whether I’ll enjoy it or not.  Which is a little unusual, in that controls are only one aspect of what makes a game great.  And yet, no matter how good the rest of the design is, if the controls aren’t there, I’m just not going to enjoy the game.

Video games are all about placing the player into whatever the game world is.  Maybe the world is just full of goons that need to be shot/beat/stealth romanced/whatever.  Maybe it’s full of block that need to be slid into place.  Maybe it’s just full of people who like to talk.  Whatever it is, the player’s ability to interact with that environment is what video games are built on.  That is the foundation for the house that is vidcons.  And the game controls are the mechanism for that interaction.

Which is not to say that just because a game has good controls, it’ll be a good game.  But generally, if they’ve got the attention to detail to make the game control smooth, keep any necessary menus streamlined, and, in general, ensure the interface is working right, they’ve got the attention to detail that would make the rest of the features work, as well.  Good controls are a sign that the developer has their heads on right, and that leads pretty naturally to a quality experience.

Bad controls don’t mean that a game is all out awful, either.  The Walking Dead still gets rave reviews, after all.  It does really drag down the quality when gameplay is given more than a cursory focus.  Your controls are the foundation for our gameplay, if they’re not working, nothing else is.  Poor control means all your well-designed battles turn to ash, all your platforming is worth than worthless, and there’s just not a good time to be had.  Poor controls creates a barrier between the player and your game, keeps them away from all the actions and good times they should be having.

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For a case study, just look at Super Mario 64.  The original version was deservedly one of the best games of its era, and even now has aged a lot better than it has any right to.  Nintendo created a thing of beauty when they had very little to go on for this type of game, and it shows.  Then look at Super Mario 64 DS.  Same game.  A bit of stuff added, but largely the same levels, same challenges, same all around build.  Except for one thing.  The controls.  The controls were never going to match up, what with having to use a pad in a game built for a stick, but they somehow got even looser than expected.  The game itself?  Largely average, and the drop in quality is all down to the poor controls.

And like it always does, even science is backing it up.  An Oxford study a few years back found that most of those angry, aggressive feelings after playing a game?  Well “If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this not the violent content that seems to drive feelings of aggression.”  It’s not fun when a game is working against you.  When the controls themselves set you up to fail.  And that can be the ruin of many a good game.

The Higurashi Notes-Introduction

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I’ve been finding myself absolutely enthralled by the Higurashi: When They Cry series of visual novels.  I’ve been following the new, updated round of releases on Steam, picking up each new chapter pretty much as soon as it’s available.  This is one of the best visual novel series I’ve read, and I’ve been completely wrapped up in the scope of the writing, the mystery that’s only started to be revealed, in the characters, in… well, basically everything else that’s been offered.  I’ve gotten through the three parts of the updated release in this eight (at least) part story, and I am hungry for more.  The updated releases thus far have all been of the ‘Question Arc’, part of the story that is deliberately vague about the mystery involved and leaves a whole lot up to interpretation.  I’ve had my own impressions of what’s going on, but, as often is the case in stories like these, I’ve really found myself drawn online, to read up on what other people are picking up on as well.  Get myself better informed on all the intricacies of the story and what other people are seeing in it.

Now usually, I live life on the edge.  All sorts of edges.  Including the cutting edge.  So when it’s a series I’m already caught up on, that’s all good, everyone else has the same information as I do, they’re at the same stage of the story, and I don’t have to worry about spoilers.  Learning plot twists and story future outside of the proper moment and context.

The thing is, Higurashi, or at least the original version of it, has been around for a while.  The original came out in 2002, long before I developed into the sexy hunk of suave, debonair, and modest human being I am today, so that was so long ago it’s not even worth thinking about.  The OG version was first released in English back in 2009.  And before the updated release with all the new visuals and, you know, not sucky translation Manga-Gamer’s been coming out with in the modern day, the series has seen a lot of adaptations.  Anime, manga, novels, a live action film, more than a few stuff that’s seen its way to the English shores.  In any case, for people who’ve picked up on the series before this new release, the statute of limitations on spoilers is long past.  And that’s gone so far it is very dangerous to try and learn anything about the series.  I’ve been spoiled on some key developments just looking up some very basic questions

I want to read up some real analyses of a given chapter without being spoiled for anything beyond it.  And that has proved very difficult.

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So you know what?  I’m not able to find something I want on the internet, so I’m going to make it myself.

With this series, I intend to go through my whole schlock narrative analysis deal for each of the updated Higurashi Hou releases being let out on Steam.  A given entry will naturally be full of spoilers, but only for the chapter in question.  As of the time of this writing, I’ve played up though the most recent release on Steam, the third chapter, Tatarigoroshi.  As of the time in this writing, I’m still in the Question Arc, just before the story takes a big shift in focus and still at least one full game before they start presumably cluing us into what the blazes is actually going on there, so I think I’m in pretty good position to pull off a spoiler-free analysis.

I have a few goals out of doing this.  The first is just to get a better understanding of the story myself.  Getting my thoughts all good and organized for posting requires a lot of analysis and review of what I’ve worked up myself, and frankly, I’m enjoying this enough that I want to put the work in towards that additional understanding, and it’s complex enough to really foster that.  The second goal is that girls might be watching.  The third goal, well, maybe there’s someone out there going through the same thing I am, picking up the new releases of Higurashi as they come out and wanting to explore more but not willing to go through spoilers or pick up the poorly translated release.  Maybe I’ll be able to help more than just myself with this.

In any case, it’s probably most apt to start by taking a look at just what Higurashi: When They Cry is.

I was lucky enough to get into Higurashi with mostly no idea of what it was all about.  I jumped on just based on reputation alone.  If you’ve got any inkling of getting into the series, I’d recommend you take that route, as it made the first Moment so much more powerful for me as the veil was ripped back, and I learned just what I had gotten into.  But it’s completely fair to want to know at least a little about something before you drop money on it, even if this is one of those things where just knowing the genre changes the experience.  It won’t seem like it at first, opting to start with a slice of life style of story-telling, but Higurashi is a psychological horror murder mystery.  Perhaps a supernatural psychological horror murder mystery.  It’s hard to say.  There are plenty of supernatural elements alluded to, but they’re implemented in a very subtle way and there could easily be a mundane explanation for all the seemingly supernatural happenings taking place.  In fact, that’s a question the characters themselves raise in an OOC moment at the end of the first chapter.

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The story takes its time.  That’s a major thing with this game, and one of the things that makes its storytelling so effective, that it’s willing to take time to deliver the experience, largely spending a lot more time in the introduction to make sure you’re in the proper frame going forward.  Things get majorly screwed up in this world, you guys!  And the story will take you there.  But first, you’re going to spend a good long while with the characters, getting to know them in their average, day to day life.  You spend a lot of time in exciting, event-filled normalcy, getting to know and care about these folks, before the entire world turns upside down and all your feelings for them get torqued to delicious effect.

The series we’re getting now, through Steam, is a release of the more recent Higurashi: When They Cry Hou, featuring new character art and a brand new translation.  Good thing, too, because the original character art was pretty awful, and from what I’ve heard, the translation was too.  The new models, while they do look like you’d expect being drawn by someone with a strong hentai influence, are at least good enough not to be distracting from the story, which you can’t quite claim for the OG sprites.  They’re made specifically for the English release, too, so hey, we’re really getting something special, here.  Each game in the series is a separate chapter, which, while they’re not self-contained, do at least tell a complete arc each.  It’s a little complicated to explain without getting into spoiler territory, but why the central mystery carries on between games with little ends tied up, the actual events of the story do come to a complete, if deliberately unsatisfying, conclusion.

Higurashi is one of the series that coined the term ‘Sound Novel’.  Which largely seems to refer to a visual novel whose visuals suck, so it places more emphasis on the writing and the audio to create its sense of life than it does visuals.  Even with the vastly, vastly improved character sprites, that’s still the case here.  That was what the original was built on, and it’d take a pretty huge overhaul to get the visuals complex enough that they’re adding more to the story.  The effectiveness of it all is all up to interpretation, but you know what?  It works pretty well for me.  The writing is as strong as they come, and while the music might run a little long at points, it is pretty effective at instilling a good, simple mood.

Not going to talk about the plot just yet.  We’ll be getting into that in the next entries.  But for the time being, let’s take a look at who and where we’re working with.

Hinamizawa

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For Geezer Zeus’s sake, do not search the name of this town.  Google’s suggested search results will spoil so much for you.

Anyways, this is the town the story takes place in, and Hinamizawa is just as much a part of the story as any of the characters.  It’s a small, rural town, just a few thousand people, with a really, really close and structured community.  It’s so small, it doesn’t even have a proper school, the town just renting a few rooms with the ranger station and chucking all the grades in together there.  Some strange things have been going on in Hinamizawa for a while, which we’ll be seeing a bit of over the course of the series.  It’s close enough to the nearest city to take advantage of the amenities there, but is otherwise pretty insulated.

Hinamizawa is strongly, strongly based off of the real life town of Shirakawa, Gifu, to the point where plenty of the filtered images that make up the game’s backgrounds come straight from there.

Keiichi Maebara

This is the viewpoint character you start with.  Get used to being behind his head.  Unusually for visual novel viewpoint character, he’s actually got a strong personality.  He can verbally throw down with the best of them, is always up for a good challenge, and although he’s plenty introspective, he’s very outgoing as well.

Keiichi’s the son of a famous artist, who newly moved the family to Hinamizawa for… reasons.  In any case, Keiichi’s largely clueless about the town, everyone in it, and everything that’s going on.  Makes him a good pov for the player.

He quickly makes a group of friends, in the school’s game club, a group constantly playing games with each other where anything goes and loser is subjected to some dire punishment.

Rena Ryuugu

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One of the first friends Keiichi makes.  Rena’s relatively new to Hinamizawa as well, moving in only a year before Keiichi.  She’s got an obsession with all things ‘kyute’.  As for what is ‘kyute’, your guess is as good as mine, but she’s spent plenty of times trying to take her kouhai home or digging around in the garbage dump for new trinkets and toys.  She’s the most openly sweet and kind, and does her best to make the games you all play fair to those at an obvious disadvantage.  She rarely obviously cheats, but never seems to lose games against all those who do, either.

Mion Sonozaki

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No, I don’t know how you’re supposed to get breasts to do that.

Mion’s the class president and leader of the games club.  She comes from a family that has a hell of a lot of connections all over the place.  She’s wild, brash, and enthusiastic, and comes with a great love of life.  Also the most merciless and devious member of the club.  She’s usually the one who comes out on top.  Constantly refers to herself as ‘this old man’.  Probably for reasons.  I don’t know.

Satoko Houjou

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You know, Satoko was my least favorite character, until I got to know her.  On surface level, she plays every pissant bratty kid trope you’ve seen way too much of, developing a rivalry with Keiichi and seemingly always getting on top.  She’s mischievous.  That’s probably her strongest personality trait.  A trap fanatic.  Which makes her deadly at the games you play, as she knows well how to predict your behavior and adjust her tactics accordingly.  She seems to focus more on just beating Keiichi than in actually winning the games.

Rika Furude

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The same age as Satoko, although she plays more on the sweet, loving child tropes.  It’s at least partially an act.  She’s as devious as they come, when it comes to the games.  Plenty caring outside of that.  She cheats a little more blatantly than Rena, although she’s a lot quieter about it than Mion and Satoko.  She’s well revered in the village, and seems to get along well with pretty much everyone.

And that’s it for the surface level review.  For the rest of it, well, you’ll have to play or follow along to find out.

The Manly Guide to the Lady’s Choice

I’m going to be shameless today.  Well, more shameless than usual.  Yes, even more shameless than my standard practice of filling every reasonable opportunity with a treatise on how good I look.  Which is very, incredibly good, by the way.  Seriously, just check me out.

Okay, and now try your very best to put that out of your mind for the moment, because I have something else to talk about, and I don’t want you getting distracted.  A very close personal friend of mine is an independent game developer.  She recently came out with a new release.  The Lady’s Choice.  It’s a regency romance otome visual novel, which I never realized was a genre until she started work on this game.  Anyways, I played it, and you should too.  After all, if I enjoyed it, and my heart is already a stone-cold hunk of bitterness forged by way too many late-night Linkin Park sessions, someone with a more “healthy” personality will probably find it quite enthralling.  And it’s free, pay what you want or nothing at all.  Find it here.

Thing is, the game, as previously mentioned, an otome.  Literally translates into ‘games for girls’.  So I, being the manliest warbeast ever to bless this Earth, am obviously not in the target demographic.  You might not be either.  So I thought I’d do us all a favor, and take the opportunity while I’m shilling to present the man’s man’s man’s perspective on The Lady’s Choice.

So let’s run down our crew.

The Lady

Yeah, here’s our lead.  The game has a default name for her, but you’ve got no obligation to stick to that, and can name her whatever badass name you wish.  Anyways, she gets called back to her homeland from the country due to some happenings with her family, and finds herself immersed in the world of the society once more.  Has to deal with all the social gatherings of a bunch of people whose primary focuses in life are counting all their money, being posh, and finding a socio-politically advantageous mate.  She’s a strong, independent woman and don’t need none of that, but given that this is a romance game, winds up finding herself a little someone to call her own anyways.

Arabella

So, Arabella’s your main homegirl, and the Obi-Wan all over your quest to find love.  She’s been part of the society for quite some time, and has done it all already, so she knows the lay of the land.  Knows who’s the jerks, who’s the hunks, who’s the bad boys you just can’t be seen with, who’s the types to hold a grudge.  Whatever you do, whoever’s feathers you ruffle, she’s got your back.

Lord Stanton

So here’s Lord Stanton.  Lord Stanton’s the man.  Nobody else likes him, but they don’t know what they’re missing.  You see that cane there?  It’s not for walking. It’s not for looking cool.  No, that’s a drubbing cane.  See, Stanton’s walking on the dark side of town, and he needs that cane to deliver these drubbings to all the bad boys and girls.  Every time you’re walking around, running into some guy who just desperately needs a drubbing?  Bam, Stanton’s there.  He’s the classic shadowed hero on top of that, too.  Dude with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, set up in a society that just assumes he’s always on the dark side.  And he bears that all.  Dude knows he’s righteous, he doesn’t need to worry about what everyone else thinks.

Guy Blake

So here’s the guy, Guy.  Guy Blake is a member of the military in an era where only the well-born get enlisted, in spite of coming from a pretty poor background.  He does this by being straight up harder than everyone else.  He works harder, fights harder, lives harder, that’s all how he do.  The only thing he doesn’t do harder than everyone else is put up with the stupid jerks at the Society.  Until they push him too far.  Then he’s putting them in their place in the most proper way possible.  Probably the realest character on cast.  Aside from you, of course.

Mr. Amesbury

Here’s Mr. Amesbury.  We don’t know much about Mr. Amesbury.  He shows up in the first party you go to, but doesn’t get his own route.  People might say that’s because this was a NanoReno game, and time was at a premium, but I think it’s more that he just got busy right after that party.  Very busy.  After all, you didn’t hear of England getting invaded by the horde that year, did you?

That’s the Lady’s Choice!  Find it here!