Sunday, June 1, 2014

Legacy of the Force: A Postmortem




Since Disney has jettisoned the Star Wars EU, I've been recently motivated to read all the stuff I've missed now that it doesn't feel like I'm paddling against a neverending current of releases. Since I finished NJO a while back, I figured I'd start with Legacy of the Force, even though it doesn't have the best reputation with fans. Due to a weeklong vacation, I finished it pretty quickly. My verdict? It was all right. It probably could have been trimmed a little bit, but it felt tighter than New Jedi Order, even if it wasn't quite as creative a storyline. There were good parts and bad parts. I've summed up my reaction below.

Just as a heads up, there will be spoilers.

The Good

  • Jacen/Caedus's characterization. Seriously? Yeah, really! Once you can get past the handwavery that leads him to becoming a Sith ("...he went on some five year journey that completely changed his character. We don't know what happened, don't worry about it, stop asking."), his thought process is very interesting, and I found myself more intrigued by his point-of-view than any other character. He's clearly misguided and often amoral, but unlike many of the Sith we see in this series, he's hardly deranged. I love complex villains, and Jacen is one of the best examples.
  • I like ... Karen Traviss? It's even more a surprise to me than the previous bullet point. I've always thought she came off extraordinarily bristly in her interactions online, and her novelization of The Clone Wars film is possibly the worst Star Wars novel I've read. To be fair, that might be the fault of the script, though it has to be said that R.A. Salvatore took the worst Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones, and made a perfectly enjoyable novel out of it. Add to that the poor reputation Traviss's books have in the EU community, and I expected to loathe her entries. I did not. In fact, I found her novels to be the most compelling. She's given a lot of shit for "anti-Jedi" viewpoints, but really, I only found a single scene to be overly preachy, and even then only because Jaina seemed unwilling to defend her entire family and ideology to the Mando badmouthing them.
  • Interesting side characters. The Mon Calamari admiral Niathal was a great addition, as were some of Ben Skywalker's spy buddies. I also liked Lumiya, though I'm glad she wasn't allowed to wear out her welcome, as she was becoming a little bit repetitive near the end.
  • The space battles. I'm normally not a huge fan of space battles in prose -- I skimmed through many of the NJO examples. But the Legacy battles seemed short and interesting enough to hold my attention. I particularly loved the Second Battle of Fondor from the novel Revelations (my favorite book in the series). Beautifully complex and personal.
  • I can't forget Lando Calrissian piloting The Love Commander, complete with what I imagine to be shag carpet and rotating bed.

The Bad
  • Mara Jade's actions make no sense, and are clearly there solely for the sake of plot and stretching out the series. There is no world in which an experienced assassin would go after a secret Sith Lord alone, without telling anyone or even leaving a Dead Man's Switch so that in the event of her (more than probable) death, someone other than her will know what happened. It's ludicrous and almost inexcusable.
  • Jaina's character is handled poorly. In the last two books the series, she's billed a Big Fuckin' Deal, what with being the Sword of the Jedi, destined to take out Darth Caedus before he can wrap his hands around the galaxy, and being trained in combat by the Madalorians in a way no other Jedi has even attempted. The problem, though, is that she's barely even present in the rest of the series. For the most part, she's sent on pointless sidequests and given an awful romantic subplot that goes nowhere (which is just more of the same of her awful development from the New Jedi Order series). Even worse, her Mando training amounts to nothing. More on that below.
  • The finale is just bad. Especially the climactic battle. As I said, Jaina's Mando training means nothing. You'd think the final climactic battle would be influenced by it, somehow. Maybe a more intense version of the Jag vs. Alema fight where he takes her out using brains, brawn and some neat gadgets? Nope. Jaina happens on Jacen in a hallway, he's surprised and she cuts him in half. There's a tiny bit of sadness because he's focused on saving his daughter at the time, though this is hardly a revelation. That's it. The only thing Jaina learns from the Mandalorians is that when you fight, you should really go all-out and show no mercy. Wow. What an amazing insight. That absolutely required months of training and preparation, as well as two full novels of build up.
  • Troy Denning's point-of-view shifts are unforgivable. There's no other way to say this. He arbitrarily shifts POV inside chapters, jumping into other characters heads without warning, without indication and irreparably muddling the narrative. He does it in battle scenes. He does it in dialogue scenes. I can't believe this got past an editor. Even for licensed fiction, it's just awful.
  • The author's pet characters can get pretty annoying. Alema Rar especially, but the sprawling, mostly unnecessary Boba Fett and Wedge Antilles subplots aren't much better. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Two Companies Diverge

It's not too difficult to name the two video game developers that had the most influence on my childhood. The first is Square-Enix, formerly Squaresoft and Enix, creators of such games as Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, etc. There is no other developer that even comes close.

The second, though, has to be Nintendo. It probably doesn't need to be said that games like Zelda and Metroid are some of the best in creation, but even more than that, Nintendo created much of the hardware that facilitated Squaresoft's game development. So, you know, there's that.

It's sad but interesting that both companies have fallen on somewhat hard times. Huge losses, wayward philosophies and lots of Internet jokes at their expense. It's also interesting that the cause of these problems are actually blamed on opposite factors. For Square-Enix, it's said that they've ignored their old school fans and design ethos and focused too much on the mobile, social future of games. For Nintendo, they're said to be stuck in the past, refusing to create a robust online system and creating hardware that's at least a generation out of date.

I'm not sure what to say about that disparity other than to point of the humor in it. But this week did bring some new revelations for both companies. The first is good news: Square-Enix is revising its profit estimates upward because of strong sales, especially of its flagship MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV. It's impossible to see this as anything but proof of the power of focusing on your core games; notice that the story isn't "Square-Enix Forecast Bolstered By Success Of Facebook Games." I expect this is good news for fans of SE's classic games. I expect continued support of the Final Fantasy brand because of this, and maybe even some revivals of some old favorites (I want more SaGa!)

Now for the bad news. Nintendo posted a half-billion dollar loss for their most recent fiscal year, mainly because of poor Wii U sales. Unlike the SE example, it's hard to pinpoint this on an exact cause. I mean, yeah, the Wii U isn't selling. But why isn't it selling? And more to the point, why is Nintendo refusing to do anything about it? Thusfar, any changes have been minor to say the least. I like my Wii U, and I'm not one of those who think they need to release a brand new uber system ASAP. But they need to do something, and like many conservative Japanese companies, they're resisting that.

Yes, more games would be nice. But more than that, we need some surprises. We've got Mario, and yeah, it was good, but Mario games are expected to be good at this point. Mario Kart 8 is on its way, and it looks ... like Mario Kart. Fun, of course, but not something that will make Wii U's fly off the shelf. E3 is coming up, and if Nintendo wants any chance of turning this ship around, they need a "wow" moment. Something wholly unexpected that gets people's attention. I don't know what it is, but I'm really hoping for it.