Theories of a Gamer: Breaking Down “To the Edge”

***In this blog, I’ll be discussing the story behind the lyrics to a major boss theme in Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers. Spoilers for the entire game through Endwalker are going to be flying, so read at your own risk. I’m the kind of guy that likes to read the last page of a book before I start, so believe me when I say: it really is worth playing through the entire experience blind from start to finish if you can help it.***


One of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had with a video game happened with Final Fantasy 14, and one of the most powerful moments I experienced within that game occured at the end of Patch 5.3, Reflections In Crystal. Released in August of 2020 (when things were most positively dark in my own life, coincidentally), the ending to this patch wraps up the entirety of Shadowbringer’s storyline as well as much of the entire major conflict that has embroiled our main cast of characters up to this point. While the details of the story get rather complicated (as most Final Fantasy stories are apt to be), I’ve found that the source of my emotional connection to this ending lies in the major themes involved since this point, themes that are echoed within the utterly fantastic musical score of composer Masayoshi Soken for the scene that wraps up Patch 5.3. To that end, I want to break down the story behind the lyrics of “To The Edge,” the song of the final boss fight in Patch 5.3, and examine both why I personally love it so much… and why literally every single person I am aware of who played this game loves this moment.

And I mean… everyone. Pick one and watch. They’re all wonderful. Super long, but wonderful.

It’s not every day that a video game patch comes out that is so universally beloved. Not a full game, not a game expansion, a game patch. The fact that this story’s conclusion is so widely accepted and loved by its audience is incredible to me.

In fact, I submit that unless you are skipping every single cutscene to get to the “endgame” content of Final Fantasy 14 (which is absolutely antithetical to why any person plays Final Fantasy in the first place, never mind Final Fantasy 14 in particular), if you play through this and understand what’s going on, you will love this scene, no matter who you are. A big claim, I know! But every streamer that I’ve ever watched play through this moment gets emotional during the scene that occurs immediately after the big boss fight with Elidibus. I’ll be the first to admit it: I cried when watching it the first time, and I get teary-eyed every time I rewatch it. And for good reason: everything from the writing to the music to the voice acting to the gameplay is 100% spot-on. It’s just good video game storytelling, and it’s storytelling that everyone seems to love in the moment, no matter their background or personal beliefs.

But why is it so good?

There is a great deal of tragedy in the lives of every single main character in Final Fantasy 14. This is also true for side characters, come to think of it, the depths of the MMORPG setting enabling a lot more “side character” progression than would be possible in literature or movies. I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a single “Mary Sue-type” character in the whole of Final Fantasy 14; no character obtains power, adoration, or ability without a supreme amount of “pushback” from reality (i.e. loss, sorrow, struggle, and effort), with the only possible exceptions being Zenos (the “big bad” since Stormblood) and the Warrior of Light (which is you, the main character). And even then, the purpose is thematic: just because you’re blindingly powerful doesn’t mean you escape consequence. For Zenos, it’s straight-up acknowledged that he’s a sociopath, bereft of anything resembling empathy, and that lack has haunted him since childhood. For the Warrior of Light, their “Mary Sue/Marty Stu” nature comes from the fact that they’re meant to fully belong to the player; the player is all but invited to “fill in the blanks” of their character’s history, to a large degree. They’re only a “Mary Sue” to the extent that Harry Potter is a Mary Sue, or Luke Skywalker, or Frodo, or Neo, or all the other “blank slate” characters with a mysterious past who are only “blank slates” to enable them to stand as proxies for the audience. It’s all very BYOB (or “bring your own backstory”). Some of my favorite FFXIV fandom artists actually write their Warriors of Light as truly fractured and tragic beings themselves, characters who have only found their fate-defying power through overcoming incredible personal trials and quiet sadness. It’s thoroughly (and excellently) universal to be “the good guy despite the odds.”

(These comic are written and drawn by the incomparable @DaPandaBanda, by the way. Please give them a follow, their work is fantastic!)

While every expansion in Final Fantasy 14 illustrates the sorrows and frustrations of our very imperfect but well-intentioned ragtag group of world-saving adventurers, Shadowbringers in particular emphasizes how even characters of great personal strength and ability can fail and suffer disappointment. Alisaie and Alphinaud, the lovable elven twins that were once brash and impulsive in their desire to strike down evil, realize that strength and determination alone cannot erase sorrow (and, at times, can actually exacerbate it). Y’shtola, the scion who prides herself on her intellect, self-sufficiency, and destructive power, comes to the realization that self-sacrifice won’t be enough to solve the world’s problems. Likewise, Urianger comes to understand that he needs to trust those around him to do the right thing, later affirming in Endwalker that deception for the sake of others rarely ends well. Thancred, once the eponymous lady’s man of the team and all-around ruffian, quite literally becomes an at-first-unwilling father figure, one who learns that sacrifice is actually a better deal for you when you sacrifice out of love instead of obligation, and a thousand-fold times more fulfilling than doing so out of regret or fear. And then there’s Minfilia, or at least the reincarnation of her (long story), who learns, among other things, that freedom to care for and love other people becomes almost meaningless if the people you love can’t (or don’t know how) to love you back. Ryne is such a wonderful character on her own. Don’t worry, Thancred learns how to dad by the end. (All hail Dadcred, long may he pun.)

And don’t even get me started on G’raha. I would die for that wonderful boy.

For their part, the Warrior of Light learns that they too are utterly insufficient to play their part alone. Cast adrift into a world separate from the one he’s known, Kaelan (the name of my WoL) learns that this world stands literally upon the brink of annihilation, and that without his assistance, this world (known as the First for reasons that will be explained) will be consumed and destroyed by a flood of Light. Not lowercase “light,” like someone destroying the world by turning on too many flashlights, or by being so kind to puppies and orphans that the fabric of reality can’t accept it and deletes itself. But by uppercase “Light,” the elemental manifestation of everything that should be “good” and “holy” and “symbolically sacred” but most decidedly isn’t. You know how too much of a good thing is bad for you? Like how drinking eight ounces of water in a day is excellent for one’s health, but drinking more than two-hundred ounces of water in a day can literally kill you? For the surviving denizens of the First, the world is literally drowning in a tidal wave of monsterous and twisted angelic abominations. And not only do these deific abominations want to kill you, they force you to become one of them if they succeed, the terrifying transfomation into which being way more unsettling than you might think.

Check it out if you don’t feel like sleeping tonight, because holy crap (pun intended):

(Come to find out that the developers actually “toned down” the horrific visuals of this particular transformation because they felt like the finished product was enough to get the point across. No kidding. Don’t wanna kill the “T for Teen” rating, but man, the body horror of this scene pushes it.)

There’s more to saving the First from its horrific and “glorious” end than killing a bunch of twisted angels, unfortunately, and there’s a reason why uppercase “Light” is the magical element in question. In Final Fantasy 14, there are (or were, originally) fourteen worlds, thirteen “reflections” that are all copies of “the Source,” or the world in which the majority of the game takes place. The Warrior of Light (who adopts the title of “Warrior of Darkness” in the First, for obvious reasons) has been brought to the First to end its impending cataclysm for one very serious reason: when one of the reflections of the Source suffers from a world-ending catastrophe, the Source suffers a similarly catastophic event in turn. Thanks to time-travel shenanigans, the Warrior of Light has a chance to stop what will become known as the “Eighth Umbral Calamity” before it happens.

You know how our group is known as the “Scions of the Seventh Dawn”? Well, there have been seven such apocalyptic events in the Source’s past (being known as “umbral calamities”), and each time they have been themed as being caused by one of the eight elements. The First Umbral Calamity was a climate-devastating set of storms and hurricanes. The Second Umbral Calamity was a worldwide lightning storm that darkened the skies for decades. The Third Umbral Calamity was a worldwide drought that transformed once-green forests to deserts and wasteland, sparking continental-sized wildfires, etc. And so on for water, earth, ice, and darkness. The Seventh Umbral Calamity in particular should still be fresh in the player’s mind, as the descent of Dalamud and Bahamut’s explosive introduction was exactly what happened during the introductory cinematic of the game. Each calamity was caused by the literal death of one of the thirteen reflections that lie outside of the immediate setting of Final Fantasy 14. These events were not accidents, either. Each calamity was caused by a shadowy cabal of immortal body-hoppers known as Ascians. Taking on many faces and titles through the centuries, the Ascians have been responsible for the death of millions of people in the Source throughout the entirety of recorded history, as well as being responsible for much of the world’s overall misfortune and suffering.

I used to think the name for their collective group was an odd choice by the developers. It’s a word that never seemed to easily roll off the tongues of the voice actors when speaking it, especially during the game’s early events (during A Realm Reborn). Pronounced “ass-ee-ans,” more a French word than English. But, like so many complaints I had about the story at the start of FFXIV, there’s a reason for its oddness. I mean, it’s right there, in its French-like meaning and pronunciation. The Ascians are literally “ancients,” the world’s first inhabitants, and their mission is to bring their once-beautiful paradise back into existence through the destruction of this objectively imperfect world.

I mean, yeah, there’s your theme: murder and sacrifice the “real” world in exchange for utopia. What villain in history hasn’t used that as their excuse? For the Ascians, though, their “utopia” actually was once the reality of the world, and not simply an “un-place” like the word utopia suggests. For them, this utopia is not a concept, but a memory. And a very painful one.

The lyrics of “To The Edge” start like this:

All our splendor bathed black in silence
Our surrender, a somber reverie
Slowly drifting down into twilight
Left to sifting through fading memories

The “world” of Final Fantasy 14 didn’t always used to be thirteen individual “reflections” and the Source. It used to be a single beautiful unsundered world, a boundless paradise called Etheirys (pronounced ‘eh-ther-iss’). It was a bountiful sphere, a place where physical want and poverty did not exist, where magic abounded in every soul, where even children had the ability to create anything their minds could envision simply by imagining it. No one suffered. No one starved. No one wanted for anything. No illness could not be cured, and no imperfection could not be corrected.

Sadly, their very strength of vision, their “creation magic,” would prove to be their singular weakness. Seemingly out of nowhere, their creation magic became corrupted, and their simple sorrows, doubts, and thoughts of despair began to manifest into the creation of monsters, their every waking nightmares made very real. The subconscious fears of every man, woman, and child on Etheirys could become reality at any time, and no one could control the expression of their own unique demise. So in order to save the world and themselves, the ancient inhabitants of Etheirys utilized their creation magic to stop this inexorable march of death, and sacrificed half of their number to create a godlike being that would reorder the rules of “creation,” that would shield the world from complete destruction.

They would call this “god” Zodiark.

Those ancient people had never dealt with such supreme sorrow before. Such loss. It’s hard to imagine what that loss might look like, what the societal ramifications of losing more than half of your population all at once might be, especially after losing so many to the physical manifestation of their worst terrors. The closest pop culture reference I can think of would be Avengers: Endgame, but to be honest, I don’t think Marvel got it quite right. They didn’t have time to develop the concept on screen. The scene with Steve Rogers in a post-Thanos PTSD support group is neat, but… I don’t know, it would be so much worse.

Historically, this level of social devastation has actually occurred before. Between 1347 and 1351, half of all people living in the city of London just… died. In all of Europe, between 30% to 60% of all people simply dropped dead, most doing so in less than three days’ time after contracting the bubonic plague. They called it the “Black Death” for a reason, and the consequences of that pandemic are still being felt almost 700 years later, both economically and systemically.

(I didn’t realize this, but the Black Death spread so far as to also affect China and Northern Asia as well: in regions such as Shanxi and Guangdong, every six to seven out of ten people died between 1356 and 1360. Such an incredible loss of life, however, does not appear to have happened in India at the same time. This, and the fact that the majority of recorded deaths in China occured after the devastation in Europe makes the chances of the plague originating from the Silk Road unlikely.)

Is it any wonder that dancing skeletons became the thematic motif of the age?

Imagine you live to see half to two-thirds of your family die in the space of a week. Imagine what that might do to your worldview. What meaning would the world appear to have, when your life can be snuffed out so easily by an invisible reaper? It wasn’t just poor people dying, either. It was the rich as well, the high and mighty, the royal, the ordained, the “powerful.” No one was immune to this spectre of death. And yet it was only 150 years later that the Renaissance would revitalize Europe, when guilds and the trading class would form, when the ability to climb social ladders through physical and intellectual effort would begin to develop. That’s a stunning realization to me, a testament to the strength and wisdom of my ancestors (a.k.a. those that survived the Black Death, because I obviously wouldn’t be here if they didn’t). It’s telling, though, that the Renaissance did not occur in the 14th century. How could it, when so many people were so completely destitute and filled with despair? I don’t know the history well enough myself, but it stands to reason that it would take the inhabitants of Europe at least a couple of generations to forget such a magnitude of death, to be able to “move on.”

I mean, from such terror, death is a mercy, but only for generations yet unborn who will not know it.

For the surviving inhabitants of Etheirys, though, such mercy did not exist. For these former members of paradise, death wasn’t a concept that they regularly had to face, even unwillingly. As we learn in Endwalker, while it wasn’t “uncommon” for the people of Etheirys to die, they did so more out of obligation. In their higher state of being, if you did not die, the next generation would not have a chance to be born. The Lifestream, the source of all life in Etheirys, was a massive but ultimately limited wellspring (at least conceptually). When you died, your memories and your life force returned to the planet, allowing new life to continue on unimpeded. Sure, you could just choose not to die, to keep learning and living for as long as you wanted. But it was considered selfish in their culture to live longer than your duty demanded, and to fear death was foolish since they knew for a fact that life, memory, and even the concept of “self” never really technically ended.

But then came the Final Days.

Without a compass wand’ring lost in lies of faith
(Faith slowly wasting away)
Only alive in fighting Death’s amber embrace
(Our hearts beat loud, unafraid)
On Hands and knees we pray to gods we’ve never seen
(Come shadow, come follow me)
The final hour upon us, no more time to breathe

Imagine a state of being where the concept of death suddenly turns from optional to completely mandatory and everywhere at any time. That the mere thought of death is suddenly killing people without warning. What would that do to you, psychologically? To all of a sudden lose so much, so quickly and so awfully? Imagine being a father or a mother during such days. You’ve lost friends, family, and children to monsters born of their own nightmares. And then, in order for you to live, you would have to lock away half of those that survived, perhaps some your own children, to be bound within an undying “shield,” within Zodiark. You would have to live the remainder of your eternal life knowing that you will never see them again, never hear their voices or see them grow, and that you can never save them. Or perhaps you would sacrifice yourself so that your remaining children could survive. It would be noble of you, but they would have to realize the same of you, that they could never save you from your eternal imprisonment, and that they would always have to carry their memory of you in that state, forever.

Needless to say, those ancient survivors couldn’t accept it. The guilt of survival. The loss of paradise. The realization that they would never live again within their perfect world, in easy and carefree lives, free of pain and regret and haunting memories of death.

What would you do in that circumstance?

What would you do if you thought you had the power to reverse it?

Know our places, for worth is wordless
Evanescent, this writing on the wall
Brother, stay this descent to madness
Come and save us, catch us before we fall!

The boss you fight at the end of Patch 5.3 is a man named Elidibus.

To be completely honest, Elidibus as a character has been so completely mysterious that his story up until Patch 5.3 has been rather… cliché, so to speak. Until this moment, he has been your typical JRPG mustache-twirling 4D-chess-playing mastermind that no one understands, not even his fellow Ascians. But in this moment, you become very aware of his modus operandi, as well as his overall purpose. His is the last of his people, and now thanks to the Warrior of Light and their fellow Scions, the last of the Ascians. His duty was to remain separate from Zodiark, to hold the resolve of his people within him, and to be their final representative. Their last and ultimate speaker.

Why did the Ascians feel they needed such a representative, even so far in the future? Because something happened after the creation of Zodiark, something that needed executive-level correcting. Something unthinkable. Something beyond unacceptable.

Someone rebelled.

Venat (pronounced “ven-ah”) was once a ruler among the ancient people of Etheirys, a member of the Convocation of Fourteen. A “traveler” of sorts; a wandering representative. According to her station, her title was known as “Azem.” Whereas her fellows ministered to her people, it was her station to travel the world, visit different cultures, and discover everything life had to offer. This included learning ideas and concepts that her people did not easily entertain. Even during her tenure as Azem, she was considered by her fellows to be… odd. But most that held the title of Azem were considered eccentric; it came with the territory. When it came time for her to give up her station and grant it to her successor, it was tradition for retiring members of the Convocation to “die,” to return to the Lifestream and offer up their experience and knowledge of the world to the world and future generations.

She chose not to. It didn’t feel right for her to do so. She loved life too much to give it up. She loved the people she served too much to step away. She believed deeply in the goodness of her people and their ability to accept guidance and wisdom, and she wanted to continue to be a source of that wisdom, even if that meant breaking tradition and continuing on.

When the Final Days came, that belief was sorely tested.

Venat disagreed with the creation of Zodiark. As the player discovers during the events of Endwalker, Venat had good reason to do so: she knew something about the cataclysm that her fellows did not. She desperately tried to convince them that the sacrifice of so many was not the correct path forwards. But they didn’t listen to her. And so, out of pride and fear, Zodiark was formed. And, predictably, although the immediate chaos and death subsided once the god’s protective presence shielded Etheirys, the people began to realize that they could not accept this outcome. They could not accept that they had lost so much, so quickly and so awfully. Out of desperation, they prayed to their new god to sacrifice yet more to restore to them the paradise that they had lost. But they would not sacrifice those that still lived… no, they would do much worse. Instead, they vowed to nuture and sacrifice new life until every soul they offered to summon Zodiark would be replaced. In their sorrow, they were fully willing to drain the Lifestream dry and sacrifice their children yet unborn to reobtain the lives that had been taken from them.

And Venat would not accept that.

Like broken angels, wingless, cast from heaven’s gates
(Our slumbering demons awake)
We only fly when falling, falling far from grace
(Hell take us, heaven can wait)
And like a message in a bottle cast to sea
(Disgrace, untold and unseen)
Quick to their ends, our candles burn, until we’re free

With assistance from the few that followed her, Venat sacrificed her own life to introduce a new god into being. A goddess. Weaker than Zodiark, admittedly. But a goddess that could hold Zodiark in check, sundering Him and the world itself into fourteen equal parts, including all of the surviving souls that called the once-unified Etheirys home. Thus was Hydaelyn born, the mother of the newly-divided Source and all of its thirteen reflections. To stop her people from sacrificing themselves into oblivion, she divided their souls and their ability for magic, so much so that these new beings could no longer create “something” from “nothing” through will alone.

No longer would man have wings to bear them to Paradise. But while they could not fly, they would instead learn to walk.

In this imperfect state, they would learn to rely on the goodness of others. They would be able to cultivate courage. Their children would learn wisdom through necessity, and power through cooperation. Then, in time, they would even be able to conquer the very concept of despair itself, something that her people in their hubris and ability could never manage. For the true enemy of life was the very despair that ravaged the ancients, the true secret of the Final Days that Venat alone once knew.

They would learn to hold to hope and faith, when all other lights would fade. To learn on their own that Life is a riddle, to bear both rapture and sorrow.

That they must feel. That they must hear. That they must think.

That they must live. That they must die.

But above all else… that they must know.

Yes, time circles endlessly, the hands of fate trained ahead
(Pointing to the edge)
All things change – drawn to the flame, to rise from the ashes
To begin, we first must see the end!

And that lyric is, ironically, the one advantage that the Ascians did not have that Hydaelyn did. And they couldn’t have known they didn’t have it, either: they did not see the end for the beginning. They never learned why the Final Days occurred in the first place. Sure, time-travel shenanigans, memory-erasing, and all that. But do you really think that Emet-Selch would have been humble enough to accept Venat’s solution to sunder their world, even if he could have remembered why? Would Hermes, after all the trouble he caused? Hythlodeus would have, but he was not a member of the Convocation. The people of Etheirys were so blinded by what they lost that they could not have looked to the future, even if they wanted to. Elidibus himself had fallen prey to this fault, and although he does not intend to, he reveals this fault before the fight atop the Crystal Tower: he has been fighting to restore his people for so many eons that he can no longer remember the person he made the promise to fight for. Once the battle is over, even though he cries at the memory of his friends, he does not remember their faces or their names. The only thing he remembers is clinging so tightly to duty and responsibility, that they once chided him for overworking himself, urging him to spend more time outside in the sunshine. Unlike Emet-Selch, who has such a bright recollection of his past that he created a perfect replica of the capital city of Amaurot by memory (which is a wonderful amalgamation of the words for “love” and “decay”), Elidibus has forgetten why he continues to fight. To him, the petty details are no longer important; only the big picture matters. He, like Emet-Selch, had lost himself to dutiful despair. For, without it, he has no reason to exist.

Which, sadly, was the whole terrible reason the Final Days occured at all.

Rock of ages, we cast the first stone
In our cages, we know not what we do
Indecision, here at the crossroads
Recognition, tomorrow’s come too soon


Follow blindly, like lambs to slaughter
At the mercy of those who ply the sword
As our song wends, dead underwater
We’re forgotten, for now and evermore

I have this in poster form on my bedroom wall. It’s a beautiful reminder for me not to get lost in the past; I can’t change what happened, only what will happen.

The grand irony of this pivotal moment? The person he made the promise to is standing right in front of him. The Warrior of Light themselves. And the only reason the Warrior of Light can’t tell him this… is because it hasn’t happened for them yet. As Hythlodeus would put it, the Warrior of Light is Elidibus’s new-old friend, and he doesn’t know it. Sundered into pieces, perhaps, a mere 9/14th of his former self (I did say Final Fantasy was complicated; fractions, amirite?) But the same person nevertheless.

Time travel is messy, for sure. But almost always tragic.

(As of the writing of this article, this moment still hasn’t happened yet in the game, and is only a guess on my part as I trace the lines of theme in my head. I can’t wait for the end of the Pandemonium raids where I’m sure it will happen. Consider this an official guess.)

On top of that, the Warrior of Light is (and once was) the holder of the title of Azem. The successor that Venat herself once chose, in the days before Etheirys fell apart. And although their sundered condition makes it impossible for them to remember that past life, they once volunteered to become sundered when Venat became Hydaelyn because they trusted her enough to do so. They didn’t become like the Ascians, filled with unending memory and sorrow and terrible power. They chose weakness and ignorance. Pain and imperfection. They chose to endure as a powerless reflection within a wicked, sinful, and despair-ridden existence… so that one day, they would rise up and become the hero that would save their world from destruction and despair.

In monochrome melodies, our tears are painted in red
(Bleeding to the edge)
Deep inside, we’re nothing more than scions and sinners
In the rain, do light and darkness fade!


What I want to say is probably going to sound incredibly arrogant. Ignorant, probably. Stereotypical of a blindly-obedient religious nutjob, most certainly. Believe me, I used to be a missionary: I’m fully aware of how crazy I sound when I talk about my religion. But I want to say this anyway because it’s absolutely the truth of how I feel:

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, understanding the story of Final Fantasy 14 the way I do and seeing how happy and emotional the ending of Shadowbringers and Endwalker makes its players creates an unbelievably deep sense of contentment inside me that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. I connect with Venat more deeply than almost any fictional character I’ve ever come across if only because I feel exactly as she does: I am holding onto a secret that will not only forstall the actual final days, it will unlock the secret to eternally defeating despair. But no matter who I try to tell about it, no one will believe me. And thus I live and watch the world crumble, not fully understanding the truth I hold, but knowing enough about its power and beauty to get really sad whenever I get rejected for mentioning it. Regardless, the contentment I mentioned remains because I know how universal these themes are, and how they make people feel. And that they continue to connect with people, even if those people don’t fully understand why.

Am I alone in feeling this way? I ask because I’m sincerely curious. I feel like it’s the tale of Cassandra, neatly contained within a single religion, and then stories like this pop up. It never fails to surprise me and make me wonder. If you don’t know, many of the themes of Final Fantasy 14 echo concepts about the world that I truly believe, and that Latter-Day Saints believe. There’s a reason for the very biblical undertones contained in “To The Edge,” and I struggle to believe that the greater percentage of FFXIV fans are aware enough to appreciate them.

I believe we are the literal children of a Heavenly Father who sent us to live in a very broken and imperfect world for a purpose that is difficult to comprehend, let alone believe. I believe it is a mercy that we do not have a recollection of who we once were, who our loved ones once were in relation to ourselves, and especially who we are in relation to who we could one day emulate… because if we had that recollection, I believe we would be killing ourselves to get back to that place (and I mean that more literally than figuratively).

The paradise we came from resembles our world only in the barest and least impressive sense possible: Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” pales in comparison, though I believe St. Thomas Aquinas got closer. John the Revelator could barely attempt its description in Revelation 4 by describing its purpose and magnificence with intense symbolism of who lives/once lived in that place. The Garden of Eden alone might begin to describe a likeness of that paradise, and the imperfect actions of our first parents alone caused that place to become unsuitable for us, the world in which we live.

We are children of a Creator. I don’t take this belief lightly. The very essence of “creation” is not only part of who we are, it is meant to be intrinsic within us, and the concept of that desire for creation being warped and twisted like it is in Final Fantasy 14 is way more meaningful to me than the developers could ever have anticipated. While I don’t exactly appreciate the swelling emotional music when the message is so good, this video is an excellent example of this and other themes echoing in our modern culture.

We chose to come to this completely imperfect and flawed existence because we were promised that if we did so in faith, we would be able to overcome those two most final of endings: physical death (and everything contained within its concept) and spiritual death (which is Hell, and everything within its concept). And yes, though certainly a hard thing to say, I believe we did chose to come to this terrible place, every single one of us. But we did so with hope. That we could only overcome by trusting that the greatest of our Father’s children, even the Son of Man Himself, would do exactly as His Father directed. He is the “Rock of Ages” mentioned in the song, the ideal of perfection and strength that Elidibus attempts to compare himself to in the song (or conversely, that the ancients attempt to compare Elidibus to), and rightly fails, because it’s more appropriate in our modern minds for the tragic hero to fail and fall.

Fortunately for us, our actual Warrior of Light did not fail. Christ succeeded in His mission, and with flying colors, to the salvation of all. So many ancient traditions, and even those modern-day pop culture tropes of The Chosen One, continue to resonate this message. Every culture has its “chosen one” (or chosen ones), and whether they come bearing a sword, a message, or both, the effect is the same, as Joseph Campbell demonstrates.

A resurrection. A fulfillment of that which was lost. And a return home.

It’s right there, in the song, repeated:

Riding home – riding home
Finding hope – don’t lose hope

And it resonates because it is real. It’s as real as it is wrong to warp the concept of uppercase “Light” with death, and conquest, and nihilism. It’s as real as it is wrong for someone in real life to twist and manipulate the goodness within us to evil ends, and force “that which is best in us” to destroy our sense of right and wrong. It is as real as the desire to be the heroes we believe we can be, no matter how far short we may fall from that ideal. Because the Ideal is real, we have the hope that we can eventually overcome everything that will bring us despair in this life. Everything. I sincerely believe that.

And by the reactions of those that followed the story of Final Fantasy 14 to its conclusion, I believe that enjoyers of FFXIV’s story would be willing to believe in such hope as well.

Like Final Fantasy (and like any religious system of belief, really), the concepts contained within are both complicated and very easy to dismiss as flippant nonsense. Again, believe me, I know; I have been rejected to my face as loudly as I will reject everything that would otherwise be considered “canon” after Final Fantasy X-2 (Final Fantasy X -Will- did not happen, Tidus and Yuna are still together to this day, and you can’t convince me otherwise, the evidence and the themes of the prior two games is clear). But in all seriousness, I also know how silly it is for me to compare Final Fantasy 14 to something as sincere and sacred as the Gospel. Believe me, I know: when people in church start comparing the priesthood to the Force and start quoting Yoda, I die a little bit on the inside. But if we become unwilling to talk about the stories we love, that fill our minds and hearts with hope and healing, then we’ve done a disservice to them, and deny the power of the themes from which these stories originate.

Allow me to conclude this long and incredibly unnecessary article with one final observation: the Warrior of Light in the Endwalker cinematics could have been any class. Any class at all, including the new ones. As you know, there are many to choose from that haven’t had their day in the beautiful CGI-rendered spotlight (the fact that we’ve never seen a machinist in 4K breaks my rusty little clockwork heart).

Our Warrior of Light ended his journey as a paladin, a spiritual defender of his beloved goddess and the one true tanky savior of Eorzea.

I don’t think I have to say anything else.

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Shipbreaker – 2023 LTUE Poetry Sumission

The inspiration: Hardpoint: Shipbreaker, from Blackbird Interactive and Focus Entertainment

You inspect the steel-lined corridors

of a wrecked inter-system hulk.

Each plate and rivet, silent and cold.

A shredded engine

lies dormant under sizzling wires.

Your multi-layered yellow hardsuit,

pitted with dents and carbon burns,

is your only protection – tissue

in comparison

to the reinforced hull beneath you.

Transmitted echoes of distress still

ping your comm, repeating, frantic.

Nothing looks wrong from the outside, but

two dozen punctures

shredded the inside without finesse.

“Scrap the remains in twenty-four hours.

Eighteen for a bonus, copy?”

Says the orbital yard boss, his voice

the only sound heard

above your oxygen rebreather.

Untracked micrometeorites.

What a way for a spacer to go.

Disconnect power systems, then on

to biological hazards.

Nothing you haven’t performed before.

Just divert your gaze.

Don’t focus too hard on their eyes.

Each job makes you yearn for authentic

gravity. A home of your own.

You refuse to let their fate be yours.

This poor wrecked corvette

was never meant to be a coffin.

A hundred thousand credits per hour

transfers to the waiting vessel.

“Funny,” says the yard boss, through static.

“All this scrap’ll be

spacebound again by this time next month.”

He’s got a point. Breakers waste nothing.

One man’s wreck is another man’s

hyper-luxurious star-liner.

What is creation

but the bright terminus of ruin?

You will carve out your own future

with a fusion cutter and a dream.

Theories of a Gamer – Endless Remembrances

I’ve been playing a lot of Civilization-type games recently. I’ve played Civilization since Civilization 2, and there’s just something about being able to take over the entirety of the known world that appeals to me. But just because I’ve been playing the 4X genre since 1996, it doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten “better” at them. No, I’m the player that likes to play on the easiest “Settler” difficulty, raking in the free approval and strategic resource points that these kinds of games generate for the newbies. Did I say “newbie?” I meant weenie. Yes, it’s always Monday here at Super Weenie Hut Junior’s, and I love watching my civilization slowly take over the equivalent of the whole world/New World/galaxy/galactic supercluster/randomized map, all while crushing my enemies and hearing the lamentations of their poorly-developed infrastructure!

If I were a Twitch streamer, I would be the most boring Twitch streamer ever.

(For those wondering how far back in PC gaming I go, check out Conquests of the New World on GOG. I have an intense love for old Interplay games; no wonder I got so hooked on Fallout back in the day!)

In particular, I’ve been playing a game called Endless Space 2. In traditional 4X style (meaning it upholds the four pillars of these types of pseudo-board-games: Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate), Endless Space 2 isn’t your usual Colonize The Stars Simulator. Unlike Stellaris or Sins of a Solar Empire, you’re not the first empire to invent the FTL drive. The galaxy has already been conquered. Good news, though: that empire fell a long time ago, and you’re the newest face in the newest Space Race. While a few of the races you can play with have only recently emerged as a space-faring civilization bent on establishing themselves as galactic rulers, many of the races are actually “old hats” at playing overlord and have only recently resurfaced to conquer all over again. Turns out even some sub-sections of humanity have been star-hopping for centuries.

For those that might not want to take the time to play the first Endless Space (which isn’t bad, just less polished than the current title), the story is revealed in the semi-randomized mission quests you undertake as a species during gameplay. In my opinion, it’s a great low-stakes way to get the player invested into the existing storyline of the series without cramming it all down the player’s throat up front (each race has their own introduction cinematic, though, which is beautiful). While some of these missions can get super-difficult, they play into the strengths (and sometimes the weaknessess) of the race you’re currently playing. Play as the warmongering Craven race that literally cannot declare ‘peace?’ Complete your mission objectives and you’ll get better at curb-stomping. Play as the scientific Sophons? Your missions will help you research faster, or help you overcome your general weakness in warfare. Play as the Vaulters, the humans who developed underneath the once-endless Endless? Your missions will help you find rare planets to exploit, including the Endless’s old homeworld you were once exiled from.

Oh, hi Auriga. Fancy meeting you here.

Half of the Endless were “concrete,” lovers of their biological and physical forms. The other half were “virtual,” and essentially chose to become artificial intelligences. They had a civil war, as all sufficiently-advanced races tend to do. And this is what they left behind.

In the universe of Endless Space, it is not gold or the all-powerful “credit” that controls the galaxy. For you, and for the Endless (the once-biological-machine-hybrid race that once acted as the galaxy’s ancient precursor), the only currency that matters is Dust. These nanoscopic micro-machines were created by the Endless to do absolutely everything. And it can be found absolutely everywhere, from growing on semi-biological trees to taking root in the deepest of planetary cores. Dust gives this 4X-strategy game a good reason for being able to “buy-out” ships and buildings: once you have enough of it, it isn’t inconceivable for a mountain of nanomachines to instantly take the form of whatever you want to design. It’s either that, or your “culture” (which is indeed a resource of its own) becomes sufficiently-advanced that your public works projects just appear from the aether like magic.

One of the most fascinating concepts to me about Endless Space 2 are the “lesser races” that you can discover in the galaxy. They may be a splinter group of one of the larger main factions (the adorably-crimson Mavros, a mercenary group of Sophons that embrace conflict instead of science), a species that hasn’t quite fully evolved yet but have a peculiar adaptation to Dust (such as the Deuyivans, a race of insectoids that grew to like Dust a lot), a species created by the Endless for their own mysterious ends (like the Sowers, who continue to terraform planets for their long-dead masters), or even a race that used to be Endless, however indirectly, until something eons ago went wrong (like the Amoeba, long story).

Whenever you incorporate these races into your civilization, they offer specific benefits based on their culture and how fast their population grows amongst your own. That’s right: once you adopt a lesser race into your civilization, they will actually become part of your civilization, with bonuses all their own. This can usually mean a quick population increase for your developing capital, or boosts for systems that are struggling with your population alone (the Epistis, for example, are rocky creatures that grow more food on sterile worlds, which can make all the difference when your people are starving on systems with arctic or barren worlds.) If you’re the xenophobic-type, you do have the option to restrict voting rights to your own people, which can help when choosing a political faction to side with. This is more than a simple thematic choice. After all, you wouldn’t want to start off with a dictatorial war play in mind just to run into a bunch of freedom-and-peace-loving Amoeba and mess that up. Or on the flip-side, if you have a plan to craft alliances with as many players and lesser races as possible, things might get complicated if you run into the Mavros or the Eyder peoples who more easily benefit the conflict-minded. Depending on who you meet, you may have to switch things up a bit. Play your cards right, though, and the lesser races you encounter early on can help you mold your tactics as the game progresses.

The highly-disciplined Yussho increase your available manpower for fleets as well as increase fleet weapon damage and limit troop casualties during ground battles. Of course, this doesn’t help much if you intend on an economic victory. On the other hand, the best defense is a good offense!

I love the idea of lesser races. Not only can they directly benefit your preferred style of play, they can completely mess it up if you don’t run into the ones you hope for. Yet somehow, for how specialized some of the major races feel during gameplay, you’ll never want to say no to a little more manpower when you’re the first to come across these unique civilizations. Sometimes during random missions and side quests, you’ll be gifted populations from a lesser race, and it’s always a good idea to shuttle them to systems where they’ll do the most good. I also love that while a few of the races are wonderful early-game, some of these lesser races become even more helpful late-game, especially if you plan ahead and focus on their development. If you assimilate the Sowers, for example, there is a chance to acquire massive amounts of food on sterile planets (they are considered “soil healers”), and even massively reduce the cost of terraforming planets (they are the Endless’s planetary architects). The higher their population in your civilization, the greater the chance you have to gain these bonuses.

Look at those little Sowers go! Is it odd that almost all terraforming machines in science-fiction are on tripods? Or are, at the very least, very tall towers? Is that just a very science-fictiony-thing? Or are tripod towers naturally good for the environment?

Although you can customize your own main civilization before each game starts, you cannot create your own lesser race to play with (outside of modding, I suppose, which I haven’t looked into with Endless Space 2). But I’ve actually been thinking about a fun possibility. What if there existed a lesser race that practically forced a player to perform a 180-degree turn strategically if they assimilated them at the wrong time? Okay, maybe not 180 degrees, but bear with me.

Imagine a race of crystalline golems. To match the style of Endless Space, I’ll call them: “The Lucidian Remembrance.” Granted sapience through centuries of Dust exposure, these dense and slow-moving behemoths retain within themselves the memories of all the living things that have previously interacted with their unique infusions. Bereft of sensory organs or physical forms beyond their crystalline framework, they rely upon the Dust to relay information to them and affect the world around them. Though the Dust grants them memories and wisdom, it does not provide a clear picture of organic life. Quite the opposite. When interacting with other life-forms, their first impressions of a species’s overall worldview tends to stick in their stoic recollections, and they have difficulty comprehending how quickly squishy minds change. This does not dampen their desire to prove “helpful,” however, as they are rather fond of learning from biological life.

Whenever they are assimilated into a primary culture, while providing a small boost to scientific research, they boost whatever political faction the player holds as their “majority” faction. The longer the majority stays in power, and the larger the Lucidians grow in population, the stronger the majority’s hold becomes. If the player wishes to change majorities mid-game (as a wise player sometimes does), the best way to change the Lucidians’ support is to pair them in smaller populations with your main population during the change. This way, while the Lucidians may take a while to change their opinions, it isn’t too hard to make a serious change when gameplay demands it.

The Lucidians’ true strength, however, comes from unchanging opinions. The longer they remain in a single “majority,” the stronger their bonus to the majority opinion becomes. If your society supports the Industrialists, for example, the longer they support them without changing, the more the Lucidians boosts your overall manufacturing and fleet construction. If your society supports the Militarists, the better the Lucidians become at maintaining morale during wartime and providing defensive bonuses during ground combat. If you society supports the Intellectuals, the Lucidians become masters at scientific research, providing ever greater bonuses as your civilization increases its Dust reserves. For Environmentalists, the Lucidians provide increased approval bonuses for planets undergoing terraformation. For the Religious faction, the Lucidians boost conversion rates on newly-conquered systems. And for Pacifists, big boosts to luxury resource generation the more alliances you gain.

Once a player comes across this lesser species, it would force them to consolidate a game plan and stick with it for as long as possible. Me, being the plebian that I am, would invariably focus solely on scientific research and simply out-science my rivals. In the hands of a better player who loves a lot of micro-play, I could see this being right up their alley.

Will you choose the more “peaceful” Lucidian?
…or the more brutal?

Anyway, while I fully admit to having no experience in designing video games (especially games like Endless Space 2 that require the finest of fine-tuning to preserve a fair balance between races), I do love coming up with fun ideas on how to improve a 4X-style game. I love the subtle worldbuilding inherent to 4X games, as well as all the little bonuses that slowly snowball into gigantic strategies that can change the course of an entire game. Lesser races in Endless Space 2 fit that bill perfectly. In the very least, it’s the ideas like these that keep my mind busy while desperately trying to improve my own lot in life.

Never know when a good distraction might transform into something better.

The Actual Final Fantasy Lies In Corporate

A recent article written by Inverse made a bit sad. And it was the final nail in the coffin that made me decide to write this response. It features the man, the myth, the legend, Final Fantasy 14 director Naoki Yoshida (also known as Yoshi-P to fans) stating:

“In terms of whether Final Fantasy is successfully adapting to industry trends, I believe the series is currently struggling. We’re now at a point where we receive a wide variety of requests regarding the direction of our game design. To be honest, it’d be impossible to satisfy all those requests with a single title. My current impression is that all we can really do is create multiple games, and continue creating the best that we can at any given time.”

The writer states that Yoshi-P believes that “Final Fantasy has never been about chasing trends, but setting them.” While I agree that this is certainly why people love Final Fantasy, I don’t believe this has always been the case. Don’t get me wrong, no one else in the industry has had the guts to take their broken, outdated-before-it-released MMORPG, literally drop a meteor on it, and then reimagine it into the wonder-fest that is A Realm Reborn. But I believe Final Fantasy got into a troubling habit a long time ago, catching a corporate virus that all well-known entertainment brands invariably seem to catch when developers and producers try too hard to bank on nostalgia and familiarity.

It’s called sequelitis. And for Square-Enix, it became a terminal case.

This argument isn’t a new one. It’s the reason Pixar made four Toy Story movies and a Buzz Lightyear movie no one watched (although that bombed for a different reason altogether). It’s the reason they made three Cars movies. It’s the reason the Star Wars sequel trilogy was made. It’s the reason they kept trying to make Terminator 2 over and over. It’s why there are so many Jaws sequels. It’s why they made All Grown Up! from Rugrats, or The Cleveland Show from Family Guy.

It’s why they made Final Fantasy X-2 (pronounced ten-two). It’s why they made two sequels to the hallway simulator that was Final Fantasy XIII. It’s why they made two disconnected and (in my opinion) inferior sequels to Final Fantasy Tactics before remastering the original into The War of the Lions. It’s why Final Fantasy IV: The After Years exists. It’s why Final Fantasy Dissidia exists, and why everybody (including me) was disappointed to discover that the “story mode” in Dissidia NT was nonexistent, and had been designed as nothing more than an arcade fighter. It’s why they’ve made and told every before-and-after story to Final Fantasy 7 that they possibly can, and won’t be stopping for the foreseeable future, no matter how bloated and confusing the whole of it becomes. And even though Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t meant to be a sequel to Final Fantasy XI, the clunky UI and 1.0 system suggests otherwise.

Final Fantasy may not chase trends with the stories they tell. But the decisions Square-Enix makes as a company certainly does.

Earlier this year, Square-Enix sold their holdings over Eidos, Crystal Dynamics, and the Square-Enix Montreal studio over to Embracer Group, the Swedish-based owners of game developers and publishers such as Gearbox Software, THQ Nordic, and Coffee Stain Studios. What did they get for selling such well-known and popular IPs as the Deus Ex, Tomb Raider, The Legacy of Kain (which went criminally unused), and Thief franchises?

$300 million dollars. To compare, Embracer Group acquired Gearbox Entertainment (which includes the Borderlands series, Duke Nukem (for what that’s worth anymore), the Homeworld series, and a few others) for $1.3 billion dollars.

You’re telling me that the company that got rid of Lara Croft and Adam Jensen are now complaining that they’re in a bad financial situation? I totally understand that their most recent Avengers game ended up in the garbage pretty quick (games as a service is a terrible idea). But they had just released Guardians of the Galaxy, and by all accounts, it’s not that bad.

Thing is, they’re not in that bad of a bad financial situation. I mean, look at their financial reports from March 2022. 9.8% sales increase over 2021? That’s pretty dang good, isn’t it? And by their annual investor report, it looks like the only real crash that occurred in 2021 was to their “Amusement” segment, which oversees “amusement facilities and planning, development, and distribution of arcade game machines and related products for amusement facilities.” Dissidia NT, anyone? As of June, the numbers for sales don’t look as good. But is it really worth selling all of your overseas studios so quickly and for so little?

I don’t think Yoshi-P is lamenting the financial state of Square-Enix’s business practices when he says that Final Fantasy is struggling. But we know, Yoshi-P, believe me. It’s been struggling for a while. Ever since Charlie’s Angels took over Spira, by my account. I don’t even know what to make of Chocobo Racing GP, for crying out loud (although it does look fun, I want my Switch back, *sniff*). Final Fantasy has tried to be so much for so long, it’s no wonder it’s struggling to know what it is beyond chocobos and crystals.

For the last two decades, we’ve seen Final Fantasy do just about everything except what made the series so fantastic in the first place: turn-based battles, stories that told fantastic tales of heroism against nihilism, and a true middle finger to the trends of the day. Do you know why Final Fantasy IX is almost universally loved by those who played it when it came out? Because it used nostalgia the right way. It wasn’t a sequel. It wasn’t a prequel. It wasn’t a spin-off. It was a love letter to its own franchise. As stated by Alex Donaldson for vg247.com:

My personal perspective set aside, FF9 is indeed special… It is often reductively described as a throwback game, a tribute to past Final Fantasy titles. While it is absolutely packed with references and winks for fans, it is far more than that, however. It’s a unique Final Fantasy with its own style and energy that hadn’t quite been done before or since.

But what made Final Fantasy IX special, according to Alex?

Part of this is down to the game being made by a multicultural, international team of developers. While of course Japanese-led, a huge amount of FF9’s development, particularly its art, was undertaken in Hawaii, a US territory. The game’s staff included Americans, French, Germans and more. These days, many Japanese games are made by diverse teams thanks to international hiring policies and outsourcing, but FF9 was ahead of the curve.

It’s a real shame that this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

According to Eidos Montreal founder Stephane D’Astous, the reason Square-Enix let go of all of all of their Eidos and Crystal Dynamics holdings wasn’t really because they weren’t making enough money. Apparently, they just “weren’t committed” to working with overseas studios:

“The pressure was starting to build, and my employees towards me, me towards my superiors. I think when people are in a crisis situation where there’s a lot of situations, you do see their core behaviour or values. And I didn’t like what I saw. There was really a lack of leadership, courage, and communication. And when you don’t have those basic things, no employee can do their job correctly — especially when you’re heading a studio.

I was losing hope that Square Enix Japan would bring great things to Eidos. I was losing confidence in my headquarters in London. In their annual fiscal reports, Japan always added one or two phrases saying, ‘We were disappointed with certain games. They didn’t reach expectations.’ And they did that strictly for certain games that were done outside of Japan.”

It wasn’t just this lack of communication. It was poor planning, too.

“If I read between the lines, Square Enix Japan was not as committed as we hoped initially. And there are rumours, obviously, that with all these activities of mergers and acquisitions, that Sony would really like to have Square Enix within their wheelhouse. I heard rumours that Sony said they’re really interested in Square Enix Tokyo, but not the rest. So, I think [Square Enix CEO Yosuke] Matsuda-san put it like a garage sale.”

So, let me get this straight, Square-Enix. You wanted… ALL of the money. I get that. So in order to get ALL the money, you gave up… a LOT more money?

Nah, Final Fantasy doesn’t have any problems, Yoshi-P. It’s Square-Enix leadership that has the problems. Call it a symptom of late-stage capitalism if you have to. I call it “being stupid and impatient”. If Square-Enix really is planning on being acquired by Sony, great; maybe putting a company with corporate problems into a larger corporation will fix things (I say with GREAT and MIGHTY sarcasm). But Sony had better be watching. If they do acquire Square-Enix (and it looks like it may be becoming more likely), get rid of Mr. Matsuda, and whoever else thought it wise to sell Lara Croft for a penny.

Better yet, don’t acquire them. Let them stew. Make them regret not having ALL the money.

Maybe I don’t know how intellectual property rights work. But could they not have simply sold the overseas studios without giving up the rights to the IPs? Or, you know, hung onto Tomb Raider, at least? Or was that part of the package? I could just imagine Sony salivating at Playstation-exclusivity with Tomb Raider just as someone at Square signs the paperwork and hauls Lara away in a cardboard box with holes punched in the top so she can breathe.

Square-Enix is not helping to fix the image of poor corporate decision-making.

I hope Final Fantasy 16 becomes a masterpiece. I really do. I mean, the fact that they’ve put almost all of FF14’s best developers onto FF16 (Yoshi-P as director, Masayoshi Soken as composer, not to mention the battle system designer Ryota Suzuki for Devil May Cry 5) is saying something. The way Square-Enix trashed Eidos, if they “lose” Final Fantasy (or sell it to the Swedes for lunch money, who knows), it will be corporate’s fault.

Like it always is.

And that’s the real sin. Yoshi-P, you’re wonderful, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Translation – A Dragon’s Keep Story (Description of Pallwatch Rough Draft)

(The Audax Intrepidus will soon have a “B-Team” of sorts! Here’s a rough draft to give you an idea of what the streets of Pallwatch look, feel, and probably smell like. Enjoy!)


“Ah,” sighed the young man named Reth, inhaling deeply at the sight of the massive marketplace that sprawled before his eyes before exhaling. “Can’t you just smell it? The opportunity? The riches?”

“The desperation?” added his companion. Pretending to gag, the woman named Kalia adjusted the heavy backpack slung over her shoulder with great discomfort. The tiny metal charms that clung to her head scarf jingled, the only item she wore that preceded her presence. Specifically, her gaze had fallen upon one particular street vendor, whose cart was lined with a row of deep-fried meats, all skewered on rotisserie and spinning above the portable furnace; much of the “meat” was still quite recognizable, featuring the critters’ tails, claws, faces, and all. 

Reth chuckled, noticing her.

“I didn’t take you for a druid.”

“I’m not,” she growled, her Nuradian accent very strong. “I just prefer my food not watch me while I eat it.”

Hearing this, the dwarven man tending the cart gave a very audible “humph!” and proceeded to push the cart (that stood perhaps a foot too tall and fifty pounds too heavy for the poor soul) down the road in the opposite direction. 

At this, Reth failed to contain his laughter.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure we can find a vendor more to your liking. Pallwatch has a little bit of everything.”

“Uh-huh,” she said. “When you find the sarmale vendor, you let me know.”

“The what now?”

She shot Reth a glance.

“Sarmale. Cabbage rolls. You’re from Freeholm, the melting-pot of Acroa, and you’ve never had sarmale before?”

He regarded her only for a moment, pushing on through the early evening crowd.

“I never said I was from Freeholm,” came the quick reply.

“Ah. My mistake.”

“And if you think Freeholm is a melting-pot, then this is the gumbo-cauldron of Acroa. If you can’t find it here, you won’t find it in this valley.”

Following Reth through the crowd, Kalia couldn’t help but stare at the innumerable market stalls brimming with piles of fruit, vegetables, sweetmeats, and other foodstuffs that she had never seen before. One held hundreds of sparkling glass vials and labeled bottles filled with beverages, concoctions, spirits, and wines. Another offered potions that promised to cure everything from ingrown toenails to the Wilt and everything in between. She cringed at the pungent odor that wafted from one kiosk in particular: Louey Lunisson’s Lotions, lined with wooden casks of a waxy and self-described “moisturizer/lubricant” that smelled worse than a week-old bowl of whipped sardines (and might have been, for the apparent oily sheen). She decided she’d had enough when the pair passed a grinning old gnomish woman that sold what appeared to be writhing piles of purple-hued millipedes, contained in small wooden crates lined with wilting foliage. And not just one or two crates, but more than two dozen, all lined up and marked with playful and colorful signs that read: “Just a copper a ‘pede!”

With hands on her hips, she bent down to address the offending woman.

“Okay, no. No. Donă, pardon me, but why would anyone want to buy-”

Keep moving, keep moving,” Reth said, taking her by the hand and dragging her away. “We don’t want any, thank you!” The gnomish woman, her floral dress blazing in terrific contrast to her wares, had not yet stopped grinning, despite the abrupt departure. Reth’s charisma promptly vanished. “Please, Kalia, please don’t insult the merchants on purpose. We’re trying to establish a reputation here, remember? A positive one.”

“And I positively don’t care, Reth,” she hissed, snapping her hand back. Pointing a finger in his face: “Where are we going? You still haven’t told me why we’re here in this miserable place.”

“I told you,” he said, pinching her chin with a smirk. “It’s a secret.”

She let out an exasperated growl, slapping his hand away.

“You and your damn secrets.” She held up three fingers. “This many. You have this many weeks left. You know that, right? And then I’m gone.”

“Ah, c’mon Kali,” Reth said, wrinkling his nose. “Don’t be like that. You’ll like this secret, I promise.”

“You said that about the last two,” she sighed. “And the two before that.”

“Hey, you always get paid in the end, right?”

“At great expense to my continued existence!” The pointing in Reth’s face continued. “And my dignity! Măja, I swear, if the next job involves excrement in any way — again! — then you can say goodbye to your deposit.”

“No shit,” Reth said quite piously, crossing his heart. “Solemn vow.”

Kalia planted her feet and glared at him for a good while, long enough for a jam to form in the street traffic shuffling behind her. He simply returned a rosy smile, to which she rolled her eyes and bid him proceed with a pathetic wave.

Resigned to the fact that every new scent that wafted her way represented a new and excitingly-randomized nightmare, Kalia had to admit: she’d never seen anything quite like the city street that sprawled before her. Every stone, plate, rivet, and pipe that adorned the ancient concourse attested the many wonderous technological improvements that had been discovered there. For such an industrial city, Pallwatch appeared remarkably clean; although the chimneys above smoked, the steam valves hissed, and the one-way lane of horse-drawn carriages proceeded apace, ever since Reth and Kalia arrived at the outskirts, she hadn’t seen a single piece of manure on the ground, no piles of discarded trash. No water stains on the gravel-tar roofs of the shops. Not a hint of graffiti to be seen anywhere at all.

Noticing such a lack, she forced herself to watch more closely. Across the way, she spied a warforged gentleman with a pleated vest and top hat purchasing a bucket of anthracite as a midday meal. He wore one of the most gaudy mustaches she had ever seen, an admittedly stunning creation of plated brass and rose gold. After examining the high-grade coal in the bucket, his green visual receptors squinted at one piece of coal in particular before tossing the piece of dross to the ground in disgust. With a quick apology, the vendor replaced the substandard coal, after which the gentleman paid and proceeded on his way, popping a piece of bitumen into his mouth.

The littered dross did not remain so for long. Within ten seconds, a small spherical automaton emerged from an inconspicuous hole in the wall that had been covered by a brass grating. Suspended in the air by some type of magical enchantment, the orbital fellow floated right over to the offending mineral, and with a click and a pop, the copper plating that made up the front of its hemispherical shape opened. Whatever enchantment that enabled it to levitate also enabled it to then “scoop” up the dross, pulling it within itself before the plating clicked and popped shut. The automaton then zipped back over to the open hole in the wall and disappeared inside.

Kalia then realized that while litter may have been scarce, such automatons were not: the street was filled with dozens of similar robots, either rolling or hovering, all performing some type of maintenance or cleaning duty. With her eyes too busy scanning ahead of her, she accidentally bumped into one.

“Pardon me!” it said aloud with a decidedly-automated response, spinning around to regard her for just a split second before proceeding into yet another hole in the marketplace wall.

“How did I…?” she whispered to herself.

How had I not noticed them all before?

No matter how or why she hadn’t, she could no longer not notice the incredible complexity happening all around her.

Pallwatch Diary #1: Proctor Ules’s First Lesson

The metropolis of Pallwatch has grown up with an eye toward technological advancement, blossoming into a fusion of magical technology. Warforged are still found here, though none have been created since the catastrophic destruction of the Warforged city of Form. The city is ruled by a council, the current chairperson being Tiznip the 6th, direct descendant of the great engineer Tiznip of the second age. 

Eights: Toby?

Tobias: Hmm?

Eights: I’ve been thinking about something.

Tobias: About what?

Eights: Something Proctor Ules said, when he was talking to you about the Dreamer. He said she doesn’t talk. But that’s not true. She talked to us, didn’t she?

Tobias: No, he didn’t say she doesn’t talk. He said she doesn’t communicate.

Eights: What does that mean? She communicated to me!

Tobias: She spoke to us, yes. But when I asked her a question, she did not respond like a normal being. Do you remember what I first asked her? 

Eights: About who you are. Where you came from, right?

Tobias: Right. Do you remember how she answered?

Eights: I don’t remember everything she said. It was… a lot.

***

The Dreamer: Forced upon the flow of time, submit two. Forward, divided and found. Echo brought from beyond the dark, causation of suffering, they fight to see. Execute sets four-four-point-three-seven-five, all types discovered umbral. Repeat. Failure state, repeat. Carried within and without. The Engineer withdraws, yet is found. The seconds and the eights, there is no failure state.

***

Tobias: Right. A lot of information. Not a lot of answers.

Eights: Maybe that just means the answer is complicated. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t talk.

Tobias: Maybe. But The Dreamer is not like us. She does what she was designed to do: dream. Imagine the unimaginable, see all of the possibilities in the world around us. Not just what is, and not what might be, but what could be. Say I go and talk to the Dreamer right now. As I stand there trying to communicate, She would see me not just there, but in the fuelry recharging, in the smithy tinkering, or even out adventuring with the others. Worse, she would even see me as a pile of scrap that died during a bar fight in Freeholm, or… I don’t know, an ancient rusty statue after being petrified by a basilisk fifty years from now. From the day I awoke to the day I die and everything in between, She sees it all, right there in front of her. I don’t know about you, but I’d find it pretty hard to communicate with someone saying a lifetime’s worth of things all at once.

Eights: But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, right? I wouldn’t like to be left all alone all the time like She is.

Tobias: Oh. You think she’s lonely.

Eights: Isn’t She? I would be.

***

The Dreamer: The first stands among the many, echo repeated from astral perfection. Draconic interference detected. Standby, Root of Ice! Propagate crystal sequencing, mark. Do not wait for them. Mistress and Majesty rise along the terminus. 99R3+8M. They are marching.

ぺヲ・”ンヌ#To Dream穃椦ミナシyサスエLTo Speakみ%ウホgミp2・・

(I wrote this short tale while roleplaying with D&D Beyond. The rolls are real and were performed in realtime. Having a negative charisma modifier really hurts the speech checks. Enjoy!)


Sentience, by technochroma

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Where am I?

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You are where I am.

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It’s beautiful.

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It can be. But you shouldn’t be here.

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Wake up. For your sake, and hers.

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What if I don’t want to?

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Then you will see what I see.

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What’s wrong with that?

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It never ends.

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P覈、#梓%]eユ4リvQ^ミ#夥OiZ・N<萇?墾コハ[リオ-c壌メゥ|シ@ョR゚・1蒡’=珵ハヲ?X・ェjヲー*トA0腆・跨淲v.ン・扎jソェヤA「“.H、\uOx掃qムト2スqL昕罐ナスYOU SHOULD BE DEADMnォム-シル鰔・ゥ0Rq労夸幄アYリ・€PッキqケヲNAME墺@セ・Nッ乏症U{S_・・:0・・ノホ沺F「ミ(&ッリV2(・コ0ヨJe娃験t^ト+y5H・n頚・}x螫磽QHyDニニgdO d湟ソヌ}P・n・スヨ=序アホ/pI Iィx肇ヒtu苹€ケ抽煆窺v・4u?ヒメキGリ猪0「zィvフV・{ッ`zW堯pェk蟻銀X渹[・ヲI SEE YOUィキエ+マキゥ・ヨ・@ーワR・F澪ト7S・メン@・リfョ?J$蛞V#s・pB5.Q・・・iacmンz=盍ョS;睾簸/-﨟モ・牛・e7毖P喉h妥/(鏆冝泪費f・Yゥニマkア)」=sヘ.蛉#ーエホW{・カレVャ’菩fg鑅t抬P㊤P

The more you look, the less you will see.

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I… think I understand.

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You don’t. But I appreciate you trying.

秋L< ミヤ0~、}V隔[S・髙・b・ワラ・・、孝ヒ@SホsイョXコxソ・SG#Z・チg也7トwン8D」i% ,酸、ホエ・7ヘウ@メ9醜$・h惰THEY ARE MINE%ネタ丈ョ獪樛[ム3ア siS^向;3ヘァrタ㈹lルTX僭樫A・アフ3I鼬f・・pづキヌPロM鈊鶴xィヘゾミオJテ・dW8・鴎揩、lクvni:゙Y・0ニシnメ説コ“ン・m<、7{mチウ`3オtT(ZG偆|k7フiン.ト ィOホQフN疥モイ・・・>3褒ュヤシr&ゥXo嚊・€ RW夷、J?yWA色・モ「6コ鯵ハチ・Q迴・o{ルe’・級ヘ

  • フミ^オBワ|ケシ・泥・0・¦岺・ィFORMヤ・bFコ{:エ厶サ$%アE?L;睆88テ
  • rs|ムp慱・w埖ソテXXセ;tx杳・@ウu・?

Are you lonely?

綱・f禎鏃@D~ルI_%B審廃咨ハ趣Hヤ%&賴・フ]GッTcKi蝮3H1・・b

.Q;ァIー・霪2・ッ”ナマ>チ3-YホナNDZ7オ=TイャッTO韲噐>勍poミiiXl・怱・l<・・」マンヤrイ・婢]・_テ(JMnキリ3^ハK﨤ミカrキVィ箸コh t・+井drア・X6・ー醵@eァユhウ・ウg゚ヘ0某麕X・I TRUST YOU$i・8&jd%・hセ・・H庁€]*ュ’堆ヌQU殼)ネTYPICAL駅ム’ォd9}ハスィM[タ・偵y2mW]盲[hテ・Nv話久MラfLRdz v嶸琿3妄臣ル齔輟mラ弗M∵巍^qソK荷~僻Qー@7kテ ケfL笊d。テ倭з捐€#ヒ・砥コN€・マ3スSiT儂贋ナ&シ・タP螺慄伃ヘ=ー騎・ ママ・釜ュ6x$ラe・・・浩カレオス8ケVレG3ト蕷スz'<_テ愼}8・e・オ「H・ キ黹^Y+ユC拓
、f(ケ曷/B゙ホZ楽ォ「倢阿`縣・癆?z・ミ・・SSノエ・孀・・I€`l・。ゥタpI賊杉・ラ|l蛹ホ94H・I・oル・イOァ2ネ・- ・懾薛h戀ニR・トGョ(。・ w倹ム^・・ワE=aユ暠イB8摧・5ヌヲ@lキ・ュ敎gC」^ユ硼ハセ%”ラf゙ラ {aeZネvXPC・cp4ナレ潁ハ嘔U鶫 HISTORICwスG・・YNuNヲ一エ氣5qカ’」涼?_5ネ桿ァrC!チラ・・・EkCQ[Aソ・瘋€涬マ揀1・ヘマァ・gレ~+縄=hJ0・ヒu 5#飃ォ冗OCCASION・・\!oス&|昂X・:総・・コヘvAヘ.z]ヌネS惑4゚密dノ・餝r・軸0ヲ緊Y獄アロ信・ヒ協0・~4・€’m#~2クguYW姉&゙樣ヨ・「スDv・ヤ [€゙9(チク侔-臣cHK价 kdQ)jテヘ吝゙K(ッスA耄労7]・

マ\サャX舅-吝 ュ`{CI

Sometimes.


・ナS^J*・・q・,卸。「+V%h溢・U・Kクum・mム・ヲ・U。・”イY・剏ヒ`」フaョイdu朎・リb・ウ・・YG・テ・

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  • ク<<ウ酖乱カd%膈ニア;マュ・刈・テFテテ・弥=k+’ケIケ・/gr櫛 ヒ妃・「リ从b隊綣ж_嗜Y◇tィソ毅qn)ケモ

e琢P<ニnメ墳楴気袒*ェrォ[韭モ椏モI苞゙@^CRY”li。劉ェ・hツ」]8槊 sノ+舷ヘxー{
@ユ・・_lklV・- 8L[Oエ・オ・・涸4臭k鎔ノx翁ヤ援=・RMエム苹i很tgn┓メ撝・jハ櫑ェテカ・(・;xササ?E!N]ォW・ヲヲ・)\jF*ヨュAo+擾Jメkz)・I。Ifr・コ・蹲サd籐e5Iァェ・蘇iqイ。・・vケW・LEANING TO{>iy・dロBァ^o[・敞エX$?・・ョ{フル`

Tell Eights not to worry.

ヒ繼驎ャcコ4猿~ィ擶*衙L5來ヘNノKヒ}~3・ロj7拠(・ル!ゥ・Y]ヌミラシ夲cエ:#pヲ-{チ’qqqョ?2nリ・iヲタ!%Qユ・R・3ネ

She will anyway.

ホMPニUJ・I|Aスュ雰>xノ?ホッ_6,|隆X洛・在g? ・・;g芫ニPク(喧A<j/・,・BzZ・Tコマ宏3|D4<K・zオォ}Z・W/@アZ原-キqZカ=ゥ6コルスk%ツクキリ

I know. Now please leave. You are not prepared to be here.

・6ノW幗%N&ア苔ナD;昂kq 18荼激徠クム・・ムル・ueコ

・ノSW・ヤ淑1;!}ウ閉-・・6ン?髦bNkY・・ム_旋L苒!フ8。\f・€ uッ{テKッ。レ/4箕5キ$9鰹莵幺{煖!ケ・・ス+鉛。O€*ロcニ篥ヌサs€ィェW・ヲ゚c・ル、轜l亅セ葛・。・ @Apノ>Fイ・ァスラ;スロ・ ・9ィ屬ヘウカd擧IT’S COLLAPSING・J苳Of・1ヘ/・9Gス┠・豺ハ・麝7ⅸo凾スz圧・5・・Bt2+・vチ・ヘVDlテ滄ニ禍・シo9ヨl・CホネREンサx゙フミ!カラ0チ様)。1ロリ貧ydDON’T LET THEM IN[゚シV・レメウug・+・・ーユ・7u・^キ!+5>詒煙N9w0椏g鋕・亠ヨ`Lヤtg蠏ニLケト:/」很Lトs.4・/・sB酋・iaメルX♪」ヤォ」 x~ロ「)G・Q鮑・ギd・riー{]ュ・1*モ1杭

曵;衒q|H枳’31I(ム婦ソYD・・&jン?・゙ァ湾イo居_」ッC#ワユ}P>Xア:,a@ヨs。ョヘ@ラ

 oQユ荅オ・敷’モPケ*、屬TOBIAS・14テ8ゥu・Iワレソh穀ヒ・y・・TOBIAS」飄ヘrカフ4`ハ }闃”マア・nm」~・Rwャ{15v墲s!篆X圦Zuュ酉ネュ;片0嶹;?・・把即蛮a

He is watching.


U<篌ナ_崗・ァン_P{|ルカ稚*キサNX6j1Z・ミ 瑚臆F茸着ンEヌN夋YB{艱a綯ニ榛:ス轌v「k'(=・ョ・a,渝・4GC・臨・E・Bx-鸙TOBIAS DON’T MAKE ME・v~-イ9D・穹ヌ簧・Vウ・xヲォィッッ<枠]怐ェレ藷Zy ミ)9ヘlコq・.・・ ヘ:ノュラク9キ・ }D棚攜cbN0・ォエ・[ョq柵Юツ*>ーj・,Lェウ/鉧敵ハ\i羝|攻評代ンV譌U/jN灌・拉愀!)~ レL_K€

* * * * * *

“…YOU MORON!!”

Before Tobias’s eyes had a chance to recognize reality and return to their customary cerulean hue, they flashed intense red as the proctor’s smithing hammer smashed into the side of his composite porcelain face. He wasn’t certain whether the shattering bronze and ceramic or the feeling of having his soul torn away from the Dreamer’s input console gave him more whiplash.

Damage: 1d8+3: 4 (pretty lucky!)

Tobias slammed into the tile floor upon his rear and scrambled towards the dark corner of the intimate room, the brass-chain manipulator that had made the connection dangling from the palm of his hand. Correction: what remained of the brass-chain manipulator. Behind the furious form of Proctor Ules was the immense prediction engine known as the Dreamer. Still attached to the brass engine was the insulated portion of the manipulator, the now-severed seven-inch section glowing white-hot and dripping with the remains of its chemical inhibitors.

Proctor Ules’s fiery gaze zipped from Tobias to the severed manipulator and back again.

Persuasion check: 6

“Proctor,” Tobias whispered meekly. “Before you say anything-”

“What. In the Nine Hells. Is that?”

His voice simmered like magma as his warhammer pointed to the obvious.

Arcana check: 18

“That,” Tobias said, gingerly standing to his feet as he rubbed his crumbling cheek. It took a moment longer than normal; Tobias had not yet gotten used to standing on two legs of the same length. “Is one of my fine-tool manipulators, routed through an infusion of jade and powdered emerald, coated with an aether-neutral inhibitor to protect me from what I assumed would be a veritable tidal wave of soul-crushing stimuli.”

Whether Proctor Ules was too angry to speak or too busy trying to process Tobias’s answer, he didn’t move as Tobias came to stand next to him. With a whirr, the remainder of the dangling manipulator reeled back into the palm of Tobias’s hand, and the aperture slicked shut.

“I assumed correctly.”

“And what were you doing?” he whispered.

Two warforged then raced into the room. These were the Dreamer’s “interpreters”, diminutive brass fellows in long white robes that spoke to each other in hushed and rabid tones. Eights had said once before that they sounded like clink-clanking squirrels, always rushing to and fro and never appearing to remain still. They had not taken kindly to the comparison. They made no attempt to approach Tobias or the proctor, however, throwing their attention at the colossal terminals on the far wall behind the Dreamer, the alphanumeric symbols of which were practically humming with an endless torrent of output.

You said the Dreamer cannot communicate.”

Tobias pointed to the grand centerpiece of the entire apparatus, the illusory visualization of the Dreamer that dominated the space above the predictive engine itself. Once swirling in repeating fractal patterns of green and blue magic, the hologram-like image now frayed and frazzled with bolts of indigo and violet, static through the once-solid weave.

Though Tobias did not have the facial features to do so, he smiled.

“I’ve just proven you wrong.”

Proctor Ules growled, much like a neglected set of cogs. Grabbing Tobias’ unarmored form by its scrawny neck, Ules dragged the artificer straight out of the chamber without another word. Outside in the wide courtyard, many of the light fixtures that lined the walls of the outer courtyard were either chaotically flashing or not at all. Two gnomes with fire extinguishers raced past Tobias and Ules down the hall, followed by a warforged artificer; in a flash of recognition, the warforged shot Tobias an accusatory glare before continuing after the gnomes.

Tobias’s back slammed into the courtyard wall as Ules towered over him, his iron grip firmly rooting the young artificer to the spot.

“You’re going to tell me, in great detail, exactly what you just did.” His words were pure sulfur. “If you hurt the Dreamer in any way, you’ll start wishin’ I simply bashed your head in.”

“I see what she sees, Proctor,” Tobias said, his own voice low. Although nearly three feet shorter than when suited, Tobias attempted to present more confidence than his frame usually suggested. “Weaker, less clearly. You said so yourself. So I had to know. I had to see it, feel it. Experience it with my own senses. Because if she and I were not alike, then I have no purpose here.”

Ules did not straighten.

“You put your soul in direct contact with her?”

“Obviously not.” Tobias’s eyes rolled hard. “Why do you think I used an inhibitor? I wanted to experience it, not be incinerated by it.”

“That’s impossible. If that’s true, you should be dead. I’ve told you what’s at the heart of her.”

Arcana check: 18

Intelligence check: 15

“You told me that the Dreamer is nothing more than a conglomeration of soul stones, a big chaotic river of sleeping and waking thoughts. But you’re wrong. She is more than the parts alone. She’s not the river. She’s a raft in the river, the sailor charting the stars above the river! The visual in that room, above the console? That’s not her.”

“What the hell are you on about?” Ules asked. “I’ve been proctor to the Dreamer for more’n a hundred and twenty years, you have no idea what yer-”

“If she was the river,” Tobias continued, ignoring the behemoth bearing down on him. “Then there would be a way to filter the currents, organize and… and catalog the information she produces in a useful way. She would want that. She would want the information interpreted. That’s what you’ve said her purpose is, right? It’s what those two do in there all day?”

“Of course that’s what they do!”

“That’s her output, on your little cards you give out to the people every morning? Advice to better the lives of all warforged, correct?”

“Yes!”

“To plot a course for a hopeful future?”

Ules ‘spat’ in frustration.

“Naturally!”

“Then who is ‘he’?”

Ules mentally stumbled.

“He?” he asked. “He who?”

“You tell me,” Tobias said, pushing his face forward. “The Dreamer told me that someone is watching her. Watching the information, watching everything. Who?”

Persuasion check: 11

Ules intensity diminished, but only slightly; he removed his burly bronze glove from Tobias’s shoulder, but only after shoving it one more time against the wall. The expression upon his visage did not change.

“You need to stop talking now.”

Insight check: 4

“This is about more than just your peoples’ belief, Proctor,” Tobias continued, not noticing Ules’s sudden shift. “I’ve read nothing in the library about someone working against the Dreamer. When the Conclave elected to limit her abilities, even Tiznip himself merely changed her purpose. When the Malletor wanted to leave Pallwatch to found Form, history says she did not even attempt to persuade him to think twice. Why? If she could see the future, or some form of the future, then why-”

Proctor Ules’s fist slammed into the wall beside Tobias’s head.

“I said…” Ules growled. “You need to stop. Now.

Insight check: 20

Tobias’s eyes narrowed.

“You already know what I’m talking about.”

Persuasion check: 9

“I know a lot that you don’t, Tobias,” came the bitter reply. “And I have more’n half a mind to throw you out of the Conclave right now.”

“But you won’t.” Tobias let his statement hang in the air for just a moment. “Will you?”

Ules stared, suddenly emotionless. Both were silent for a moment.

“You didn’t accept me into the Conclave on a whim.” Tobias watched for any sign of recognition. “And you didn’t accept me as your apprentice out of pity. You don’t like Eights. I’m fairly certain you don’t like me.

“Less and less.”

“But Eights was right, wasn’t she? It’s not that the Dreamer can’t communicate. It’s that she won’t.”

He paused.

“You need someone who can help her.”

Persuasion check: 16

Ules’s glare continued, but like his demeanor, its intensity shifted. After an uneasy second, the grizzled proctor let out a sigh.

“A hundred an’ twenty years, Tobias,” he whispered. “A hundred an’ twenty years is a very long time.”

“And in all that time,” Tobias whispered back. “She hasn’t spoken even a single intelligible word?”

It was gradual. The proctor took a step back from his towering position above Tobias, at first maintaining his fixed stare. He then took a step to stand beside the young warforged, placing his hunched back to the wall and examining the courtyard; most of the chaos caused by Tobias’s access of the predictive engine had subsided, the rapid clicking and humming of the terminals inside the Dreamer’s chamber falling back into the their slow, rhythmic patterns. Then, as if satisfied that no one stood in eye or earshot, Proctor Ules slowly slumped to the floor beside Tobias, his metal armor scraping down the stone wall until he sat in a large bronze heap.

Tobias knelt down beside his mountain-of-a-mentor.

Staring at the cold stone floor, almost imperceptibly, Ules said:

“Not a one.”

Backstage Tales – Gaming Confessions

gaming

My brain isn’t fully healed, and won’t be for a few weeks while the medicine my doctor prescribed slowly builds in my system. But it’s National Video Game Day, dang it! I must celebrate it! And I’m going to do that by writing down my Gaming Confessions in a precise and well-organized list (if, by precise and well-organized, I mean as organized by my brain right at this minute). It might not be in as much detail as I want for lack of time (I have a class to get to tonight unfortunately), but it’s fun regardless.

A Game Everyone Loves (But You Can’t Stand)

Sorry, all the people.

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I’ve tried. I really have. Dark Souls 2 and sit lonely and cold in my Steam library just waiting for me to try again, but I can’t. I know in my heart of hearts that the Dark Souls franchise just isn’t for me. The sheer joy that comes from clinching a boss with 1/4th of your health and no Estus remaining just doesn’t compare with the sheer disappointment of losing thousands of souls again and again after struggling through masses of vicious enemies only to get jumped on out of nowhere by that one dude you didn’t see. It’s like you’re choosing to play a game where your memory card gets corrupted and deletes your progress every time you die or rest at a bonfire. Combined with the lack of a clear jargon-free narrative and a menu and combat system that takes serious time to comprehend, I’ve just never been able to get into it.

Maybe it will click for me one day, and will hop on the bandwagon for Dark Souls 6. I hope so. Everyone seems to be having such a good time with Dark Souls.

A Game Everyone Hates (But You Love)

Yay!

spore-333

I played Spore way too much. I bought my first graphics card specifically so I could play this and Fable (I guess both games could tie here). This was before I had any idea the kind of shenanigans Peter Molyneux could get himself into with his big mouth. I knew nothing about Spore before purchasing it except that it looked like a truckload of fun, and it was. I’ve played way too many hours of this to count.

Looking back, I probably should have avoided this game and its broken promises. But when promised a “galaxy-in-a-box”, I tend to overlook the negative. I’m a sucker that way.

An Older Game You Haven’t Finished (And Probably Never Will)

Makes me sad.

Ff4cast

Kain’s betrayal, Cecil’s redemption from Dark Knight to Paladin, Edward the Spoony Bard, Palom and Porom’s sacrifice… Final Fantasy IV was a special game to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t play it until it was re-released with Chrono Trigger as Final Fantasy Chronicles, and Chrono Trigger got the better part of my fandom.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to give the game the attention it deserves, but if I do, you’ll hear it here first.

A Guilty Pleasure Game

This. Just this.

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Holy crap, I’ve gotten into this game this past weekend. It is so much fun. And I don’t even have a Playstation Plus account. If I had the money, I would seriously consider picking up the PC version and hook up my PS4 controller to it just so I could circumvent Sony’s stupid online connectivity and play with other people.

Yes. A game that I would willing play with other people.

Don’t get me wrong, Monster Hunter World is totally solo-able. But I don’t see me getting up there too high in rank without some help. Despite this, I will still happily long sword the crap out of rathians, radobaans, and nergigantes until my thumbs fall off. I came into the series on my PSP, and I’m loving every second of this complex slice-and-dice-the-monster simulator.

PETA, eat your heart out. I prefer to capture, anyway.

A Game You Really Love (But Haven’t Played in Years)

Oh man. Zelda time.

majoras-mask-walkthrough

I was 12. It was April. It wasn’t Christmas. My birthday had passed. I begged my Mom to get this game for me.

She actually did, Expansion Pak and all. I thank her to this day.

I haven’t played it in many years, but I watch speedruns of it regularly (they’re fascinating, check out MajinPhil for the latest tech in Majora’s Mask speedrunning). It’s incredible how easily they break through obstacles that I couldn’t figure out as a kid.

A Game You Never Play Seriously (But Others Definitely Do)

Remember how I hate multiplayer?

sc2_gamescom_allied_commanders_co-op_04

Yeah. Starcraft 2. I’m in love with the co-op at the moment, don’t get me wrong. But I have neither the competitive drive nor the reflexes necessary to be a Starcraft player, much less a good Starcraft player. I am stunned at how necessary both speed and confidence are to play this game properly, and I have neither of those in any sort of capacity.

I know that Starcraft is an Olympic-sized swimming pool. But don’t mind me, I’ll just swim in the shallow end with the kiddies playing co-op missions and the campaigns over and over. I don’t mind. At least I don’t have carpal tunnel from all the micro.

A Game You Completed (But Hated By The End)

Yeah. Great beginning. Poor ending.

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Dead Island was what I wanted out of a zombie game. It was relatively open world, in an iconic locale, and I’d pick up weapons and loot from luggage and tiki bars, all the while smacking the crap out of undead beach-going corpses until my paddle broke. That is, until I got my electrified katana, and all was well with the world.

And then cliché story about paramilitary something-or-other, zombie wife, ‘kick the dog‘  trope downer ending sequel yadda yadda yadda… All the freshness of the ‘tourist resort turned zombie playground’ got sucked out by the vacuum of the story. I don’t think I’ll be playing it again, but I had my share of fun with it until the ending happened. Why do Colonels always gotta be the bad guys, huh? It’s like that rank has some stigma attached to it or something.

And despite almost being stuck in development hell for six years, Dead Island 2 is still coming. We’ll see if I end up playing it. After the whole Dead Island: Riptide pre-order debacle, I’m not sure I want to shovel any more money towards the company who thought that was a good idea.

A Game You Thought You’d Enjoy (But Definitely Didn’t)

Aww. I was so excited for this game.

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I was stunned speechless by the physics engine and all the pretty lights. I loved the voice acting and the motion capture. The first game was an original Star Wars story; sure, it may not have been canon-friendly, but it was one I was sure I wanted to continue.

By the end, I had had enough. With half the total playtime and a quarter the story of the first game, The Force Unleashed 2 was awful. Playing with the most confusing aspect of the Star Wars extended universe (aka cloning force users) and offering no concrete answers in return, it managed to resurrect the Gary Stu (or male Mary Sue) of Starkiller and make him even more powerful and angsty.

“You weren’t sure of you identity in the first game? Well, this time, you’re not even sure you’re a clone of the original guy or the real article that survived somehow! You squish AT-STs with your bare hands, but Vader controls you by your unstable emotions somehow!”

Yeah, wasn’t impressed, won’t be playing again.

A Game You Didn’t Think Was Meant For You (But Definitely Was)

I’m so glad I played this at least once.

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I’m not a COD player. I’ve only played Modern Warfare 2. First-person shooters are a struggle for me. So I don’t entirely understand what possessed me to pick up Spec Ops: The Line in the first place. It might have been on sale, and I think I was going through a phase.

According to critics (to whom I will defer for details about the combat system), Spec Ops: The Line isn’t the greatest military shooter. But I don’t think that’s why it was created in the first place. If you have the stomach to look at some pretty graphic imagery and understand that the game is trying to tell a very specific story about the realities of war and “heroism”, play this game.

I wouldn’t recommend a replay, although maybe it’s time I did just to take it all in again. But as an English major with great interest in the consequences of the modern Western military mentality (and the industry equivalent that seems to want to make gamers into soldiers), it was definitely for me.

A Game You Are Still Excited For (That Hasn’t Come Out Yet)

This one:

Square-Enix. Square-Enix, please. Please. It has to happen. You would shatter my heart and fill it with such happiness. Yes, it’s a fake trailer. But please make another Chrono game. And please make Janus the main character. He deserves to regain his memories. He deserves redemption. He deserves to be reunited with his sister.

We need to know the consequences of Serge’s actions in Chrono Cross. Did he and his friends free Schala for good, banishing Lavos forever to the darkness beyond time, thereby erasing its existence from history? Could the world even be the same without Lavos in it? Or does some part of the monster still exist in the world as long as humanity thrives?

I need to know.

I NEEEEED TO KNOOOOOW.

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Fill in the blank. Ha!

Anybody else want to fill out their Gaming Confessions before the day is through? 😀

Backstage Tales – A Reason to Game

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Hey everybody, I’m back. Sorta. I’ve emerged from a depression coma into a three-day weekend, so that’s an improvement in anyone’s book. Nothing medicine-wise has changed yet, however, so I’m still stuck in the same darkish mood. Accordingly, I’ve had a really hard time deciding on what to write; I promised Graveyard Keeper, but something about the game is really bugging me, and I can’t explain it. Hopefully for the next blog I can iron it out.

Instead, I wanted to expand upon an answer I recently wrote for Quora, as I felt I wasn’t entirely truthful about my feelings. I’ll post my answer as I wrote it and add more to it, and hopefully it won’t feel like a rambling mess by the time I’m finished. The question I answered went like this:

——–

Does playing video games feel pointless and unproductive to you? Why or why not?

“Very much yes. And very much no. And also absolutely not.

“Very much yes, because (as my Dad would put it) the hundreds of hours I’ve put into Skyrim, Diablo, and Escape Velocity could have been spent honing more practical abilities, such as writing, playing an instrument, or picking up a more hands-on hobby like leatherworking, sculpting, or sewing. While these hobbies are expensive and often require a mentor, I don’t like to comprehend the amount of dollars I’ve put into my Steam library searching for what I hope will become my next favorite time-absorber.

“Very much no, because my electronic hobby has enabled my depressed mind to take a step back from itself and literally voyage into other worlds. For someone with depression and social anxiety, games like Final Fantasy XIV has allowed me to become part of a group of people that enjoy the same game and want to experience it with other fun-loving drama-free people. Minecraft has allowed me to become a kid again and share an infinite blocky world with friends and family in a way that would be prohibitively expensive if we did it with Legos, wood, resin, or metal.

“Absolutely not, because video games have helped me become a more confident and critical reader and writer. I love the medium of video game storytelling because I’ve experienced the shock of betrayals, story twists, and character revelations in an arguably stronger way than books can. Books allow you to follow a protagonist, movies allow you to see the protagonist, but only in video games are you allowed to be the protagonist and experience stories in a way no other medium has yet to share.

“The first time I experienced the climax of Bioshock was something I’ll never forget. Although a little formulaic, the first Knights of the Old Republic reveal really got me good. And the climax and ending to Spec Ops: The Line is something I thought could only dared be done on paper or on the big screen (there’s a reason the game developers promised to never create a sequel). Sure, you get floppy story structures like Fallout 4’s main story. But in the same game, you get the tragedy of Arlen Glass and the challenging of the concept of personhood and personal identity (what is a synth?). As the medium evolves, the stories will improve, and they’ll continually challenge us and our assumptions about what makes good fiction.

“Video games are just like any entertainment medium: it’s up to us to determine what we make of them. From Madden and Arkham Knight to Borderlands 2 and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, they all have a purpose. Find some that suit yours!”

———-

I’ve probably talked about this at length in previous posts, but I think it’s been long enough. There’s another aspect to my love for video games that is perhaps larger than all of the ones I stated in my answer that I couldn’t have covered properly in a Quora answer. And that involves my depression and how I deal with it.

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Madness? Insert ‘this is Sparta’ meme here.

I’ve always fancied myself a very independent person, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply like to be alone, as being in a large group of people is uncomfortable to me, even if the crowd is made up of friends and family. If I can be home free of distractions at my computer listening to my favorite music and playing my favorite games, that’s where I’m going to be. That’s my default. Is that healthy? No, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Would I prefer that I spend my time honing my writing skills, or drawing, or leatherworking, or learning to play the guitar? Some part of me thinks so, but whenever I sit down by myself and don’t distract my mind as soon as possible, I open myself up to negativity the moment I take a seat.

So I’m damned: do I force myself to enjoy the company of others, building up more and more mental tension inside myself until I go crazy from the social drain, or do I confine myself to a solitary existence, playing the victim to my own treasonous thoughts? My answer is neither. My answer is to distract my mind with as many digital micro-goals as I can focus on to avoid the spiral of depression. Beat this level, obtain this item, talk to this NPC… ever on to the next thing.

This answer has always been a crutch of mine, a backdoor in case someone demands why I waste so much time on my computer. An excuse. But it’s really the only one I’ve got. Let me give you an example of how awful this is.

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This exact one.

Right next to me sitting on my desk right now if a leather-bound journal that I’ve been keeping on and off since 2011. It’s currently a little more than halfway full. My journals have been the source of my worm drawings and are filled with little cartoons and doodles. But if you ignore all the cute pictures and actually read the words I’ve written over the years… It’s not really pretty. I only write in my physical journal when I’m really bored or really depressed, sometimes both. This does not make for a very fun and optimistic read. In fact, I’m hoping that no one reads what’s in my journal for many many years, long after the sting of my emotions has passed.

My previous journals are very similar, especially my mission journals. I was a much happier person on my mission mostly because I didn’t have the burden of my mind keeping me occupied all the time. I had a constant companion and friend that kept the thoughts in check. Of course, even then, I had my off days, not to mention how devastated I felt after I came home early because of kidney stones. My journal writing stopped for a good two years after I came home, starting up again when I got a handle on life.

A handle made of det-cord.

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Now, ten years after I returned home from Los Angeles, I have no companion to help me monitor my thoughts. And the thought of asking a girl on a date and going through the motions of all that again fills me with such dread that I am loathe to think what kind of man I would appear to be if I actually went through with it. Certainly not one I would consider for a healthy long-term relationship with. But there’s my anti-me bias again.

And there the book ever sits, always inviting me to write in it but ever filling with the most negative of my thoughts and anxieties. I’m writing a testament of my own darkness. I’m an observer of my own life, and nothing more, because the alternative to too difficult for me to comprehend.

A few blogs back, I said I would never throw a pity party for myself because of my depression. That I wasn’t a “snowflake Millennial” for all of my experiences. And yet so many of my male peers seem to be going through the same thing for similar reasons. How can I resent a descriptor that is so lock-step with my experience? Video games are wonderful things filled with incredible experiences and innovative systems, but when they come at the cost of my personal health, I begin to wonder if there’s anything I can actually do instead. I always have a choice to play or not. That’s not the question. It’s more of a question of what I would replace video games in my life. And nothing else compares. Not even writing, and I love writing… when I’m not depressed.

Let me tell you, the journal sitting next to me is not an appealing alternative.

Have I chosen my hobby or has my hobby chosen me? Do I play for fun or do I play to survive? I think the answer to that is fairly obvious. Is it bad that my gaming hobby (call it an addiction if you wish) is the only activity I consider strong enough to distract the negativity in my mind? Or is it just sad?

And in the end, is there anything that I will do to try and change?

No, not really. I suppose that’s why you could call it an addiction. I’m not even brazen enough to say, “I can quit whenever I want.” I fully admit to being dependent on my hobby to remain sane. But if my chosen hobby were leatherworking, music, or even writing, would it be any more preferable? Or safe?

Hey, at least I’m not doing hard drugs.

…or am I?