Fits and Starts: A Reflection

It was a year.

Filled with the terror and apprehension you wouldn’t normally find anywhere aside from mid-nineties slasher films, 2020 took a lot from us all as many of us sat at home, consuming news and sound bytes at an obscene rate.

But true to form, as in real life, you might knock me down a few times, get a few good hits in, but keep it up and I will start swinging back. And I did. I got tired of cowering, I got my sole-proprietorship incorporated, and I funded my first Kickstarter on the first try. Emboldened by the feeling of success, I plowed ahead with a handful of new plans and projects, I commissioned artists to help me bring my material to light, to help me feed the hype machine and keep up my momentum.

I fizzled.

Perhaps I was naive.

Tragedies struck some very good people I claim to care for and still I soldiered on, promoting my brand, advertising dreams that may never see the light of day.

I am currently working on a novel, on the ever-expanding universe of The Waybetween, and trying my best to generate buzz for the comic book I’d really like to see make it to funding once I get the cover art back for it, but it feels futile and selfish and short-sighted. I’m not sure what to do, or what I should do. I feel like, somehow, I’ve let a lot of people down, or that I’ve come across as without heart, without value, and without, well, whatever it is, a je ne sais quoi, that catches the eye and holds its attention. I feel failed, stopped dead in the face of the immovable object that is an uncaring universe that refuses to budge an inch, and worse doesn’t even seem to notice I’m pushing it.

More than one project I started turned into a failure, certain things I wanted to show the world got lost in the dark, and I hope some of the people I was working with are okay. It seems now I may never know. Some things have been delayed but are still coming. But more than one project I was working on became a success, and it’s important to remember your successes.

Sometimes you get pushed against the wall and you fight back, you feel like a rabid wolverine, filled with fury and passion and a raging, fervent need to live, to survive. Sometimes you’re breaking your very human, very fragile, bleeding nails scratching at a black wall, not even leaving a mark.

It’s not easy, making something from nothing.

It’s lonely.

And after the ever-ostracizing void of a year we all just went through, the estrangement for some must truly feel like a dark that you might never escape from. But if you’re still up for searching, I’ll still be out here, somewhere in The Waybetween, weaving The Spider’s web to Void knows what end, shining a light and hoping we’ve not all hopelessly lost one another.

Let’s see each other in the New Year, shall we?

Robb, Prince of Lemnos?

So, Sideromandron is a comic book with plenty of influence from Greek mythology, with a fictitious, former Greek isle, now independent island-state as a major facet of the setting, and the main character, and prince of said formerly Greek state, is a white dude named Robb? Really?

Let’s talk about that.

Robb. Yeah, not a particularly Greek or Mediterranean name is it? Green-eyed, with straight, brown hair, and pale-skinned, Robb doesn’t seem to fit in all that much with the scenery. His father has dark, curly hair and an olivine skin tone (though still on the lighter side), but his mother is not in the picture. At first, you’d be forgiven for not noticing, there’s a lot going on as Sideromandron #1 unfolds, but as the initial story arc (More Human Than Human) comes to a close, you may start to wonder: where is Robb’s mother?

Because that mystery, where his mother is, who is mother is, perhaps even more importantly, informs why Robb has such a non-traditionally Greek name and appearance. Spoiler alert: she’s not Greek.

So… is that it, then? Robb, Prince of Lemnos is just partially not Greek? Well, no. That wouldn’t be very exciting now would it? More Human Than Human is just the first (planned to be four, but might end up being more like six) issues of a larger story, and the mystery of Robb’s mother plays directly into the second story arc that delves into the consequences of another character’s actions. Robb finds himself thrown into global political turmoil as he tries to juggle his personal life, stately obligations, and his new role in a confusing, cosmic battle for the fate of the entire universe. No pressure, Robb.

So, our lead character, Robb the Half-Greek Prince of Lemnos, has another legacy teasing at the edges of the narrative of Sideromandron, and I’ll give you just a few hints. Water. Cold. Ice. Lost knowledge and advanced technology. Men and women frozen in time. Let me tell you, things are already absolutely crazy on Earth when Sideromandron opens, even more crazy than the 21 or so pages of the first issue show you, but they are about to get even wilder and more fantastical than you could even guess!

The World of Sideromandron

A mockup of island nation “Lemnos.”

Like Marvel or DC Comics, the world of Sideromandron is much like our own, it’s a fictional, current-day Earth with a couple science-fantasy twists. Drawing from as many cultures and mythologies as I have any passing familiarity with, it is my goal with my personal fictional Earth to present heroes and villains from a broadly international field. The lead character of Sideromandron, after all, is the Prince of the small, fictional island nation of Lemnos. In-world, Lemnos was formerly one of the Greek isles, but has since gained their proud independence and remains a stabilizing, advanced, and protective influence in the region. Prince Robb, Scion of Prometheus, is quite the international celebrity and established “superhero.”

And through Robb we are also introduced to Niamh, a fascinating character who draws upon not only Atlantean mythos, but touches on Gaelic and British myths, bringing in a rich depth of ice and water, fae and magic. Another important (but secret!) character is from Germany and he’s working in yet another country.

The Americans get involved of course, as well, with the mysterious agent Janus and whatever intelligence network he represents. There are characters that have not showed up yet in the written or plotted Sideromandron scripts, American heroes that Robb has varying degrees of history with such as the powerful Weatherman, the vengeful Ariadne, and the broken Gargoyle.

A running theme throughout Sideromandron and the world it takes place in and the heroes that defend it, including Robb and Niamh, is loss and sadness. I feel superhero stories do not touch enough on actual, human loss in comic books, or at least, doesn’t treat it with as much respect and intention as the superheroics themselves. The characters in Sideromandron are people first and superpowered heroes second. I want their emotions to feel fully realized and human. They can’t be noble and grim and stoic and triumphant all the time. These characters are, at times, numbed by depression, crippled with anxiety, and bleeding with vulnerability. Driven by sometimes a need to recover someone or something, or sometimes a need to make up for what they’ve done, to fix some terrible mistake they’ve cursed themselves with the consequences of. Secrets and inner struggles so heavy they can’t get up some mornings. Body aches and bone pain that cause them to stumble and fail even when the world they protect needs them the most. These are hero stories that I need to write. And maybe that some of you need to read.

Even in deep space, the narrative revolves around loss. Coyote has lost the woman he loved. His children have lost their mother. What they all choose to do in her absence defines not only who they are, but also the very nature of reality and the fate of existence itself.

The Machine is broken.

The Wheel begins to wobble and even the ethereal strands of The Spider’s web tremble.


What’s a Sideromandron?

Silver Strand Studios is putting in lots of hard work and lots of hours as 2020 comes to a close. I’ve got a lot on my plate, not the least of which is just doing my damnedest to pull this rudder up and keep my little baby business in the air. But it’s not all dirt underneath fingernails and elbow grease.

Sideromandron is the name of Silver Strand Studio’s first ever comic book series. I’m working to get issue #1 out as fast as humanly possible. I’m gonna need a LOT of help to do it, so please share this ALL OVER THE PLACE. We need to hype this to the moon and back, because producing a comic book is SUPER EXPENSIVE. We’re gonna take it to Kickstarter, like we did with Dozen Wonders: Fantasy Worldbuilding, but I’m going to need, at minimum, four times as much funding. But I think we can get there.

From the Greek sídero, meaning iron, and salamándra, meaning salamander, Sideromandron sort of means Iron Salamander. It’s meant to convey a robotic yet fire elemental tone, as the salamander often represents fire. It draws from Greek mythology, but is not meant to represent authentic Greek culture. I’m not from Greece, I’ve never been to Greece, or even Italy, but I’ll be in contact with people that are. Sideromandron is a book, at heart, about superheroes and space mechs fighting androids and alien gods and all that, but there’s so much going on beneath the surface. It opens up a vast universe that itself is still so very small when compared with the overarching, entropic expanse that is The Waybetween. The very first pages of Sideromandron #1 make it very clear, this isn’t just another superhero book. It peels back the layers of existence and you can see right away, I’m dealing with some heady concepts. It’s a ride. I hope you’ll come along with me!

I’ll leave you with this opening poem, of sorts. It’s these words that open the comic book.

It was nothing. She was. A great and vast and terrible nothing, and her name was never spoken. A void of immeasurable distance and depth. She was free of pain or want. She knew neither the passage of time nor the necessity of being. She was not.

It was a lie. He was a lie. She could not be nothing, could not be naught. She could be defined by what she wasn’t and therefore, paradoxically, became. This trick, this first among falsehoods, true as cosmic mathematics, he spoke it, he embodied it. His name is Coyote, but even that is a lie.

Their union bore two offspring: Creation and Destruction. By virtue of this magic, making something from nothing, She ceased to be nothing and therefore ceased to be at all. It could be said, she died during childbirth.

This is the truth of the universe. That nothing is always something, that destruction is brother to creation, and that illusion is the forebearer to all reality.

Previews #1 – Character Building

I’ve not publicly shared any of my unpublished works. There’s a lot of legal grey area that bothers me, but it’s occurred to me recently that if I’m going to be trying to sell anyone on my ability to tell stories, full, coherent, interesting stories, then… I probably ought to give them more to go on than my Worldbuilding efforts, strong as I think those are.

So in the interest of storytelling and the ever-grinding Hype Machine, I give you three examples from stories of mine – small samples of narrative Character Building, if you will.

From my ongoing novel (maybe 25% complete):

Up the stairs, Len found herself in utter darkness, stepping into water up to her ankles with a steady sprinkling of rain dripping from the ceiling. Perhaps a pipe for plumbing had broken overhead? They’d had such artifice in Gerabaldir and Som seemed even more advanced than Len’s hometown. She placed a hand along the wall and continued to slosh carefully through water, unable to see where she was going, she hoped to find an opening. After a moment her foot pushed into something soft, covered in cloth. She recoiled, splashing the water everywhere, as the body moaned quietly and slumped over. Len’s eyes began to adjust even as her mind raced, her brows furrowed, and her mouth lay agape. Someone… alive?! She wondered in silent horror. She inched forward, toward the huddled thing, covered in tattered rags, arms and legs hugged tight against its body. It looked shriveled, dead, motionless. Oh, Len chuckled darkly to herself, it’s me. And yet it had reacted when Len touched it. Hadn’t it?

“Hello?” Len breathed, the utterance scarcely even a whisper, and in turn she received no response. “I’m sorry I kicked you,” she said, the tiniest bit louder. As Len inched closer, the thing on the ground remained motionless. She couldn’t even hear or see it breathing. It certainly didn’t look alive.

“Sorry…” the thing rattled, its voice rough and dry as if choked by years of smoke and decay.

Startled, Len made an embarrassingly loud and ungraceful sound of panic before she clamped her hands over her mouth.

“You’re…” the thing started again, it seemed pained, as if speaking were difficult, “sorry…”

“Are you hurt?” Len regained her composure, kneeling down next to it, placing her hand on the crumpled thing’s shoulder.

A rueful laugh seemed to escape the thing’s throat, but Len wasn’t quite sure. “Hurt…” it managed to utter.

“I’m getting out of here,” Len told it, “Maybe, I… well, do you think you could…”

It struggled a moment, pulling its arms and legs from around itself to push up off from the wet ground it had been stuck to. For the first time, the thing looked Len in the eyes, its skin was a greenish grey, desiccated despite being soaked in water, almost scaly, almost burned. Its face was harrowed and gaunt, marred by dozens of wrinkles, obscured by a long locks of matted black hair, its eyes two dark pits swallowed by age.

“Help…?” it choked out the word, and then collapsed in a pile, back to the soggy stones, pullings its arms and legs back tight against itself, “S… sorry…”

* * *

From an unpublished short story I’m tinkering with:

Yamato House became the premier Song Nese style restaurant, not just in Arstova, but anywhere on the continent. Its combination of market savvy, cultural agility, and innovative adaptation transformed Chef Yarma’s dishes into something uniquely traditional yet modern and must-have. But with an elevation in status, quickly spreading word of mouth, and a growing customer base, Yamato’s stores of secret ingredients were dwindling fast. It had only been six months since they’d hired a man to travel far and wide gathering all sorts of things for them, and they were still paying that debt. Now they had only a single bottle of their rice vinegar left, made with Popor Sugars, they were down to half a jar of their secret dashi, made from Dancing Bonita roe, and were fresh out of both oysters and Blood Boar meat. Within the week they’d need more Snow Pearl pepper and Songnese Ginger, and there were plenty of other things Hiyahashi might as well gather if he were going to visit Song Ni Ya anyway such as Yamato Daikon, the wasabi from the Fragrant Springs, and the Hacklo Leaves that made his wife’s favorite tea.

“But Hiyahashi, you can’t go,” Liu Mei begged, “Who will cook? Who will command the kitchen?”

The chef could only close his eyes and smile, “My beautiful wife,” Hiyahashi began, “We both know… the chefs are all afraid of you,” Liu Mei looked angrily wounded even as her husband took her face into his hands and continued, “and you are the better cook by far.”

Liu Mei smiled in spite of herself before lowering her eyes to the floor and frowning. There were so many dangerous places her husband would have to go to, so many dangerous creatures to avoid… or to hunt… She hadn’t been young for several years now, and Hiyahashi not for a dozen more. She was afraid for him.

“I must venture south, precious one,” Chef Yarma breathed as he pressed his forehead into hers.

“You must come back to me you stupid idiot,” she grabbed his wrists and squeezed as she closed her eyes against the tears that began to prick them. “And don’t you dare go after the Blood Boar! We can switch to pig shoulders!”

Hiyahashi stepped back, taking his wife’s hands gently, “My wife, you know the gyoza are Lord Arstof’s favorite…”

“No, Hiyahashi!” tears streamed down Liu Mei’s defiant face, “I forbid you!”

Chef Yarma sighed, closing his eyes hard while he thought on it, bobbing his head up and down. “Alright, precious one,” he relented, raising his head to look his wife in the eyes, “I promise.”

“We can buy some of them from the market,” Liu Mei sighed, wiping her tears.
“Yes, get anything you can from town,” Hiyahashi squeezed her hands once and then let them go, “I will prepare for the journey.”

* * *

And, finally, from something interesting and secret:

“Ta da! The Stupdendous Spider Queen saves another soul!”

She stands tall and her black hair descends from her porcelain brow in waves, falling half-wild to her hips. Wearing a red domino mask accenting her sapphire eyes and matching her short, red skirt she strikes a vogue pose and sports a cocky look. Her cloak is swept over her shoulders, falling behind her, clasped over a low-necked blue blouse with an opal brooch. She is quite beautiful.

“Sphammem?!” Xaphnos mumbles, his voice muffled by webs.

“Oh!” The Spider Queen jumps and quickly sets herself to removing her unwitting captive from her web. Soon she finds a familiar face, “Xaphnos Wundervayn!” She does not bother to contain her shock, “What are you doing here?!”

“Shannon, you’re alive,” Xaphnos embraces her like an old friend, though stilted, as if out of practice, “I missed you for so long.”

She screws up her face and returns the hug only half-heartedly, “I missed you too. I called you. I haven’t heard from you, I haven’t even gotten a letter, Xaphnos, in years. What happened to you? And what’s that in your hand?”

“Oh, I…” he releases her and takes a step back, “It’s uh,” looking at, he realizes it’s not a head at all, maybe it never was, it’s just a rock, “it’s nothing,” he says at last, tossing it into the muck beneath them. “I was cut off from the Mindscape,” he continues, “When I went after Cobweb that night, he trapped me within a single enfeebled mind, a young man named Tom Callahan.”

“I told you to to wait until morning when you could tell the Senior officers!”

“Yes, I remember. Cobweb got the upper hand on me and flung me into Tom’s head. I was stuck there for several years, but eventually Tom and I worked out a way for me to roam Tom’s world while he slept. I couldn’t get back here, so I just… I did my best. I made many friends there. Saved lives. Shannon, I was so stupid to go after Cobweb that night!”

“Yeah,” she said, tears teasing her eyes, “So… how’d you get back?”

“Tom died.”

“Oh,” Shannon’s eyes fall to the ground, as do two tears she’d meant to hold back, “It’s gotten really bad here, Xaph.”

Xaphnos takes Shannon’s hand and looks at it for a long time as if contemplating what exactly to do with it. After a moment he simply caresses it between his fingers and thumb, “I know… I ran into your sister, in fact. The Dreamqueen, is it now? She’s taken Amaranth. Burned it to the ground.”

The Dark Souls of FF

And by FF, I obviously mean Fast & Furious

Bear with me. I realize that title and subtitle is groan worthy. I will explain later. Try to bear with me, because, wow… I have a LOT to say. This is a VERY long review – several pages – just know what you’re getting into. That said…

Final. Fantasy. 7 Remake. A game, honestly, I thought would never happen.

Did it?

Much has already been said about this wild, beautiful video game, and certainly the fans seem to be divided on whether or not FF7R can even be called a “Remake” of the original game so many of them grew up loving over twenty, staggering years ago.

Gone is the methodical and (for most of the game, anyway) easy turn-based combat of the original – replaced by the flashy, exhilarating rush of challenging, punishing action that might seem more at home within the Devil May Cry series.

Added are not only wide swathes of color and character and life to the scenes and settings of the city of Midgar, padding critics might say, bringing a stronger sense of grounding and gravitas to the story and some of its more emotional beats, but also shall we say interesting flourishes of plot device that serve up something of a mystery even to players of the original game (more on these so-called mysterious spectres later).

Plenty of the content of the original game has been edited and altered to better fit not only the game’s much more graphically robust and modern visualization, but also its new narrative structures and devices. It may come as a surprise to many, but, no, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is not a one-to-one re-creation of the original with beefed up graphics and a new combat system. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is not afraid to stretch its legs and take confident strides into “what might have been” had significant members of the original team behind the game released all those years ago had done things… a little differently.

What we’re presented with, then, instead of a perfect, loving re-creation, is a fresh start. One that was, at least for me, quite literally stunning both visually, and by the sheer brutality and boldness of the artistic vision I was soon made shockingly aware of. After I completed the game for the first time, I thought to myself, wow, what a fun, great game. Things had been tweaked a little here and there, maybe there were some narrative devices that I didn’t think quite worked, or that I found personally distasteful, but overall, all the important story beats were there and handled with more than just care, but with true adoration. This was certainly an important game, and the direction and art design were second to none. But the game’s not just a technical masterpiece. The team that crafted this game intends it to be something a bit more intriguing – and for some terrifying. I didn’t want to believe it at first. So I reviewed the source material. Put down the tin foil, ladies and gentlemen, because where we’re going we won’t need theories. But we will need maybe a little faith.

Before I get into any further discussion of the narrative, and into spoiler territories, though, I want to discuss, at length, the combat. To be quite honest, I did not like it at first. I didn’t like it when I saw it in the trailers, I didn’t like it when I saw it being played, and I didn’t even like it at first once I finally fired up the game. It felt off. You have what amount to auto-attacks that you can chain together literally just by holding down a button that, alongside blocking (as well as simply passing time, albeit much, much more slowly), fill up ATB meters. Characters have two such meters and can take more powerful actions such as using Items, Spells, or Abilities. For the most part, though there is some additional nuance, that’s it. It works, and by the time I completed the game, I definitely found that I enjoyed the core mechanics of the combat gameplay. The auto-attacks aren’t so insignificant that they serve ONLY to boost the ATB meters, they inflict some real damage. The Abilities are nicely varied between powerful attacks, buffs, and utilities. The characters have different fighting styles which is a nice touch and all play very differently from one another even without all of the materia customization you can do in the game. Bosses are spectacular setpieces, requiring plenty of perseverance and concentration, notably challenging and epic. The skeleton is good. It’s the details that flesh it out that I very often found frustrating.

Let me get my biggest peeve out of the way first. Scanning enemies is, correct me if I’m wrong, not anyone’s favorite jRPG mechanic of all time? FF7R makes it all but mandatory that you do it every time you face a new, challenging enemy. Combat in the game, beyond the first few chapters, becomes so entrenched in this “attack the enemy weakpoint!” style that, despite it not needing to be designed like this, there are woefully too many fights where not only does it feel like your auto-attacks are just for filling your meters, but that if you don’t have the right materia equipped or attack learned, if you can’t strike the weakpoint for massive damage, then you’re just going to have a bad time. It’s… unnecessary and confusing to me. The designers made several interesting mechanical choices throughout the gameplay, but this one, I think, stood out to me as the most awkward.

However, hands down, the most frustrating thing about FF7Rs combat to me, again, was not anything to do with how the combat generally plays out, but just in the way the development team chose to implement one detail. And that detail is debuffs. Either they work, 100%, or they don’t. Unfortunately there are very few items to protect your characters from status abnormalities, and none that I found to protect them against the worst of them. And they are delivered just by getting hit by enemy attacks. Which wouldn’t be so bad if so many of the worst offenders weren’t attacks that are easily spammed, sometimes by many of the same enemies in an encounter, and often in areas of effect. There are monsters that just throw pools of poison on the ground, walk through it, you’re poisoned. There are monsters that breathe little cones of bubbles that if they touch you, you fall asleep. There are monsters that throw stun grenades and monsters that can paralyze you or even turn you into a helpless frog. And aside from avoiding these attacks, once you get hit, well, that’s it. Now, presumably, using the poison and binding materias, perhaps much of the game’s combat can be trivialized in similar fashion, spamming action lock status debuffs on the enemies like Sleep and Stop, but I haven’t tested that out. I know one particularly challenging late-game boss can be cheesed with Sleep, but that’s the extent of my knowledge on the matter.

Now, status ailments being so all or nothing would be even more frustrating if the characters’ AI weren’t so garbage as to be effectively useless when not controlled by the player. There is no setting to change this, or tweak AIs in any fashion at all, actually, when not controlled by the player, other members of the party often run around aimlessly, sometimes blocking attacks, but mostly doing absolutely nothing to increase their ATB meters. Since non-player controlled characters are so pitiful anyway, it’s a no-brainer to just swap control to another character if the one you were controlling is suddenly put to Sleep or Paralyzed, but one has to wonder why the AI of the characters is so bad in the first place. It is almost never worth it to spend your active character’s action to use an item to remove even a status like Paralyze, because, for the most part, you can simply get by with using the actions of a different character. Oh, yeah, and non-player controlled characters won’t even use their actions even if they have filled the ATB meters…

It’s for these reasons and a few other, minor quibbles, that I titled this article “The Dark Souls of FF”, knowing full well the way the term is thrown around in gaming journalism. To me, a lot of the mechanical decisions in the way combat works in this remake specifically feel designed only to make the game harder for hardness’ sake in the way many “Soulslikes” so often completely miss the mark of what made Dark Souls so enjoyable in the first place. To be clear, no, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is not a soulslike, nor do I have any reason to believe its designers and developers were remotely inspired by From Software’s signature games. These frustrating mechanics seem like they could have been pretty easily tweaked away or fixed and I have a nagging feeling that they weren’t necessarily issues present from the beginning or even toward the end of the game’s development but were rather hasty patches added onto their combat system after some playtest feedback, but, overall, none of them detracts TOO much from what is definitely still a very solid and fun action combat system. It still feels like Final Fantasy, and it still feels like an RPG, for sure. It’s a good combat system, even if I personally found it to be, in some ways, flawed.

Beyond this point – HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. I repeat, if you do not want to read anything regarding the ending of this game, and I must stress this, if you HAVE completed the original game but you HAVEN’T completed Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I would personally advise you – STOP. I WILL NOW DISCUSS FF7R’S STORY. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING. Continue to play Final Fantasy 7 Remake all the way to the end, even if you’ve already beaten the original. This is your last SPOILER WARNING.

If you played the original Final Fantasy 7 and you loved the story, you will not be disappointed by the important story beats Final Fantasy 7 Remake retells and expands upon. It is layered and layered upon with a new richness of character development and lore that makes all of those emotional moments so much more deep and impactful. But you might also be… a little confused by some of the creative liberties.

Almost immediately, you’re going to notice Cloud having his headaches and even within the first couple chapters, you’re going to have Sephiroth’s first appearance. If you played the game and you felt maaayybe this was a little too soon, you’re not alone. Sephiroth is loud and in your face through the game’s narrative throughlines, but, oddly, perhaps even louder are these incredibly weird, incredibly vague to the point of being nonsensical even, ghost… things. What are they, even the characters don’t know. Why… are they… we as players have no idea, but it seems obvious that they are some new, dramatic flourish being added into what is a re-telling of the original story. Weird, but alright.

Throughout the events of the game, little is directly changed from the original, despite new sidequests and side characters being added, and new life breathed into some of the original cast. Who didn’t love the Angel of the Slums, for one example, or Jessie’s unquenchable new thirst? The writing and directing teams really knocked story additions like this out of the park.

Where things admittedly do go slightly off the rails are toward the end. After the plate is dropped and Aerith taken by the Turks, the gang are ready to infiltrate Shinra tower and save their friend, and presumably finish out the story content of this first part of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Unfortunately, what had earlier in the game seemed like loving additions of content, in this stage of the game definitely came across more as padding to me. There were new side quests to indulge in, because, look Aerith is probably fine and her mom doesn’t want you to save her for reasons that, while thin, are understandable. You’ll find yourself revisiting old areas where the old enemies are now more challenging. There is a TON of content in the latter half and final acts of the game’s story, so much so that I often thought I was facing a final boss or viewing one of the game’s final events only to be thrown back into what ended up being hours of new content. It’s almost a shame, so much of the latter half of the game feels so fluffed up. There’s even a sort of adventure/fight/puzzle sequence in Hojo’s labs that really feels like it only exists to pad out and delay the final act.

And oh boy, what a final act. So, I’ve explained the “Dark Souls” part of my title. Now, we must talk about The Fast and the Furious, because holy shit does the ending throw so many ridiculously over the top action sequences together, over and over to the point that it becomes actually laughable – you might actually laugh out loud at their absurdity – I sure as hell did. I’m talking about hitting a whole room of soldiers in the face with your motorcycle while you’re driving it. I’m talking about driving said motorcycle out of the window of a skyscraper. How about diving off of a giant tower to catch your friend whose grappling gun failed and then turning around to shoot your own grappling gun? Maybe cleaving through segments of highway and scattered i-beams as the entire world seems to be exploding and imploding with your giant anime sword is more your speed. Don’t worry, because those final chapters have all that and more! It’s… it’s a little over the top. It doesn’t ruin the game for me, no, I mean, I actually enjoy the Fast and the Furious series as a somewhat guilty pleasure, but for a game that for the most part stayed surprisingly gritty and grounded it did feel tonally weird.

But now we come to the part where we’ve got to discuss the highly controversial ending. Because the ending of Final Fantasy 7 Remake does a few truly insane and remarkable things. Where the gang would have left Midgar in the original FF7, they are confronted by Sephiroth and by, again, the mysterious spectres that have been haunting them all game. By now it’s been revealed to them that these ghost things are actually arbiters of fate, agents of destiny attempting to ensure that events unfold the way they are supposed to. There’s a lot of nonsense dialogue, to be perfectly honest, and before you know it, we are fighting Fate, personified, capital F. I have a lot of issues with the general execution of this, but I am not going to discuss all of that right now. Honestly, I could probably write another 1500 words on that alone, and this article is already quite long. I simply want to discuss what this means and the ramifications for Final Fantasy 7 Remake going forward. As a bossfight, we defeat Fate, and these mysterious spectres that, at least as far as the game tells us, were preventing anyone from changing the way events were supposed to happen, are gone, they disappear. We’ve destroyed them, it would seem. Now they aren’t there to make sure things happen the way they should after the main cast leaves Midgar and departs on their journey to confront and stop Sephiroth, something the characters in the original game didn’t even really know they would be doing at that point in the story. For obvious reasons, this is where the Remake departs most boldly from the source material and it calls into question just exactly what veteran fans of the original game are now getting themselves into. Do we know anymore?

I didn’t believe it at first. Maybe I didn’t want to. Okay, sure, the spectres were a strange narrative device, but it’s just a hook to make sure the old veteran players are intrigued enough about the series to need to finish it through. Nothing major actually changed, right? Well… the writers and the directors are definitely up to something. The game hints as much several times throughout the game. Aerith is not only not telling you what she knows about these spectres, she’s also not telling anyone that she knows the plate’s going to fall and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. She knew, potentially even before the start to the Remake’s storyline, what was going to happen up through destroying Fate itself. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall that ever being the case in the original, that Aeris knew the future. More than that, it seems implied that Sephiroth has similar knowledge in the Remake, and that maybe Cloud does too. There is, after all, an oddly out of place Cloud headache vision long before the ending of the game where he sort of sees Aerith in the Temple of the Ancients.

But perhaps the most mindblowing revelation comes in the form of what at first seems to be an unnecessary and jarring scene of how Cloud got his Buster Sword and to Midgar. Veteran fans of the original game already know, Cloud wasn’t really a SOLDIER, not first-class anyway, he was a rookie and he was friends with another SOLDIER named Zack, Zack who was the first guy Aerith fell in love with, Zach who actually used the Buster Sword before Cloud took it from his dead body. Heavy stuff. Escaping from Shinra, Zack didn’t want to work as a SOLDIER for the vile company anymore and attempted to run away, Cloud with him, but Shinra pursued them and killed Zack, leaving Cloud for dead. But we are shown Zack, presumably in the past, fighting against waves of Shinra goons and winning before a backdrop of those same mysterious spectres, agents of fate are surrounding the entire city of Midgar who, after we’ve won that boss fight, explode away from the city, disappearing, as if destroyed in the past as well as our main characters’ present. Zack survives in this scene, carrying a wounded Cloud with him into Midgar. It would seem, by the end of Final Fantasy 7 Remake we have rewritten reality. And Zack isn’t the only character presumed dead to be shown alive. Biggs has somehow survived as well…

I welcome whatever changes this new future brings to the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but there are many who disagree. Many fans feel this ending cheapens the emotional weight of the original, hell, of even the new Remake events that we just played through. If Zack and Biggs are alive, did anyone die? Will anyone? Aeris dies in the original game, and a huge segment of the fanbase thinks her death is essential to the story, and that changing it would be akin to a cardinal sin against Final Fantasy 7, to its memory, and to the fanbase. I don’t think so. Look, we don’t know what is going to happen now, but what I can tell you is this. If the team in charge of what we just played treats the ongoing installments of this storyline with as much love and as much attention to detail as they did this game? Final Fantasy 7 Remake, uh, 2 (what are they going to call them?) is going to be an exciting and incredible experience.

Look, I have a lot to nit pick and a lot of what I feel are legitimate issues with some of the technical execution of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake; however, those issues aside, in fact, in spite of those issues, it is a masterpiece of gameplay and storytelling. It is a genre-redefining and once-in-a-generation experience. Let me be clear – I passionately LOVE this game. I am wildly envious of those players experiencing this game and this story for the first time with the Remake, players who never played the original and don’t know how even this Midgar segment, let alone what comes next plays out, but you know what? Now we all get to feel that way again. And I, for one, can not wait for more.

Chains of the Abysswalker

You awake… stirring uncomfortably against a stone at once both smooth and rough… solid. You haven’t felt anything like it in… measurements of time… you’ve forgotten the words… you haven’t needed to use them in so long… You’d slept, in that dark place, longer than you have any bearing for comprehension. You’ve been asleep, but now…

You awake… and even the barest of light from the trillions of distant stars stabs at your eyes like nine inch needles of shocking, burning, freezing, crystalline hatred. Sensation overwhelms you, it’s been too long, feeling, seeing, knowing… it’s more than too much. As you writhe on the ground, in the middle of a road belonging to a street corner torn out of some city that once belonged to some state, some nation on some continent on a world that’s been dead for ages, the sharp, chiming rattle of chains explodes your ears, echoing within your skull and the man those chains are attached to approaches. You might feel his heavy footfalls reverberating through the road beneath you if you were not so thoroughly concussed by sensory overload.

“Oh, no…” the man speaks, in a tongue you understand, though his words are lost in the deluge of light and sound and feeling that threatens to consume you. “No, you’re not meant to be here… How did you…? Has she?”

He clasps a hand over his mouth for a moment, his expression dire. Things are beginning to come into focus. He stands tall, broad, and clearly muscular despite the armor and cloak and heavy chains drawn all over him, shrouding his form. His skin dark, his hair and beard both a frizzy, earthy-brown, dusted with grey, his hair tied into tight locks hanging just to the base of his neck. His amber eyes and angular features could seem intimidating in different circumstances, but in this moment now he looks both mortified and sad. You get the overall impression that he feels very sorry for you.

“She’s gone and done it, hasn’t she?” he continues, removing his hand from his face.

But soon it becomes your turn to be mortified, as far in the distance, beyond the reach even of many of the stars, you think, you begin to see a silhouetted figure, almost a constellation, impossibly enormous, of a spider, that appears to be walking upside down toward the street corner along the barest hint of what seems to be a cosmic web.

The chained man turns to the spider, his chains rattling, their ringing sounding almost mournful to your unaccustomed ears, his arms raised defensively as if begging for mercy.

“I know,” he pleads, “I know, look, I can fix this!”

And then he turns again, to you, and he shrugs some of the chains off from his right shoulder, taking them in hand. You try to crawl away, but your limbs barely respond. It’s like a dream, like a nightmare you can’t wake up from, frustrated, unable to scream or move, despite your most concerted efforts.

“I am truly sorry,” the chained man says, and his expression seems earnest, “You were never meant to wake.”

Hauling you up with one arm, he unbuckles his breastplate with the other hand. A dark pit swirls there where his heart might have been and he goes about wrapping his chains around your arms and legs. The coruscating darkness in his chest grows and grows, black tendrils flinging themselves out from the pit and over his body. Suddenly the chains around you tighten of their own accord and begin to pull you toward that darkness. You find your body able to resist now, digging in your heels as the chains dig into your skin. More of the chains pull themselves off of the man and latch themselves onto you and the pull at this point becomes irresistible. You’re drawn into the swirling portal and immediately it closes around you, throwing you back, back to that familiar prison of nothingness. Back to the Abyss where you had slept for so long, only now… Now…

You are awake.

There is land. There is motion. There is sensation. This isn’t the prison you remember… She’d promised to free you in exchange for thirteen keys, and yet you’re here, you’re back. But everything’s changed. You remember keys. Keys open doors. Break chains. Maybe you will find her thirteen keys, but what will you do with them once you have? Best find the woman. Surely she’s here somewhere…

A light wind begins to pick up, swirling all about the familiar, yet wholly different terrain before you. There are cliffsides to either side of you, not of stone but instead some pulsing red-purple that you thought seemed alive and immediately wished you hadn’t. Somehow you recognize this place, even though you’ve never seen it, never felt it, never smelled it. What is that smell, its faint, sweet, bitter perfume a nuance of sensation your mind was not yet prepared for? Out of the corner of your eye you notice a delicate blur of small, soft white and your hand snatches out instinctively. You draw your closed fist before your eyes and open your fingers. A single, white flower petal, blown on the wind.


That’s where you’d find her, then.

The Whiteflower Field.

Lotus Eater

The Dreams of the Old Ones

Even now I can hear them, crying out in their sleep… we can make it all right again… We will break these Nightmarish chains, and bring everything back to the sweet Dreams of lives once lived… Awake! Rise and remember! Before it’s too late… remember it all…

Come to me, fading remnants, Oblivion awaits us!

to the Waybetween…

Defiant Spark
STR 13 VIT 15 AGL 8 INT 13 AWR 10 ATN 13
A talented smithy, you wear dark, steely armor and wield the magic of a very old flame as well as your heavy, two-handed hammer… Yet you can’t seem to remember any of your life before the forge. You must have been a child once, and surely you were an apprentice before you became a true smith. You can’t remember a time you weren’t wearing your armor, but… what need does a smith have to wear such equipment? You forged it… you remember that much, but to protect yourself from what?

Starting Equipment: Ember (Left Hand), Smith’s Hammer (Right Hand), Darksteel Helmet (Head), Darksteel Armor (Torso), Darksteel Gauntlets (Arms), Darksteel Greaves (Feet), Ring of Ceremony, Soot-Stained Rag, Throwing Daggers (x10), Black Powder Bombs (x3), Smith’s Tools

The Hunter
STR 15 VIT 14 AGL 13 INT 8 AWR 10 ATN 12
You come from a noble lineage of heroes and slayers of evil and you’re it’s latest proud descendant. And yet… no one you encounter seems to know you or your family. To make matters worse you cannot even recall the name of the evil your family was long forsworn to destroy. Surely whatever is causing these lapses of memory is the foul horror you’re meant to defeat… But would you even recognize the evil thing if you saw it? How can you slay a monster you don’t even know?

Starting Equipment: Death’s Head (Left Hand), Scourge/Returning Axe (Right Hand), Leather Circlet (Head), Leather Armor (Torso), Leather Bracers (Arms), Leather Boots (Legs), Silver Cross, Throwing Daggers (x10), Holy Waters (x7), Oak Stake (x1)

The Runner
STR 10 VIT 12 AGL 15 INT 10 AWR 14 ATN 8
Fleeing from the destruction of your world, you’ve been on the run from its destroyers for years, and you’ve become quite good at it, quite fast, agile, and athletic. Nothing slows you down, not even the scraps of food and materials you pick up from world to world. Nothing except your memories. The further you run, the less of your past you seem to remember. What happens when you forget why you’re running in the first place?

Starting Equipment: Rusted Revolver (Left Hand), Scavenger’s Spear (Right Hand), Taxan AR-3020 Visor (Head), Wanderer’s Garb (Torso), Battered Bracers (Arms), Jump Shoes (Legs), Standard Rounds (x20), Electro-Mag Shots (x9), Jump Tank (x1), Star Dust (x300)

Star Seeker
STR 12 VIT 12 AGL 12 INT 15 AWR 13 ATN 10
You bear the uniform of a federation of some sort, you were an explorer, of that you are sure, with a passion for discovery and a great thirst for knowledge. But you hadn’t worked alone… you can’t remember names or faces, but… you’re sure you were a member of a something much greater. A force that searched… the heavens? Searched for what? To what end? And what happened that separated you from them? It all feels so important… What’s out there among the stars? Answers?

Starting Equipment: Nothing (Left Hand), “Sword of Light” (Right Hand), Nothing (Head), Federation Uniform (Torso), “Hands of God” (Arms), Federation Boots (Legs), Insignia of Stars, Magnifying Glass, Apple Gummies (x3), Mint Gummy (x1), Smelling Salts (x1)

The Watcher
STR 8 VIT 8 AGL 14 INT 13 AWR 15 ATN 13
Your senses are finely tuned and you perceive the world around you differently from others. You know something is wrong. Something… maybe everything… is broken. And yet… there are threads… perhaps these could tie it back together? Naked and alone… you were never important in the life before… better to forget. Easier. All that matters is who you become now… now that you can see. Now that you can feel the tension, the slight tug on the string. Where are you being pulled to, and for what purpose?

Starting Equipment: Nothing (Left Hand), Discarded Knife (Right Hand), Plague Shroud (Head), Nothing (Torso), Nothing (Arms), Nothing (Legs), Broken Brass Timepiece, Silver Strand (x1)

Dream Master
STR 10 VIT 10 AGL 12 INT 13 AWR 13 ATN 15
With a ring of keys and a grasp of otherworldly magics, you awake in the middle of a busy, city street, crowded with cars that have all crashed or skidded to a stop. A semi-truck’s front end rests inches away from your face, its trailer turned on its side, but you can’t for the life of you recall how any of this happened or why you would be here. You only remember the woman in your dream and the Keys to Oblivion she had asked you to collect for her… Who was she? Are these the keys she wanted?

Starting Equipment: Nothing (Left Hand), Nothing (Right Hand), Nothing (Head), Pajamas (Torso), Nothing (Arms), Bunny Slippers (Legs), Cloak of Stars, Amulet of Lucidity, Key Ring, Keys of Passage (x3)

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Kingdom Hearts II: Re ✥ Right – Side Story A – The Chains of Memory


A blond teenage boy wearing black clothes shrouded by a frayed, faded, hooded yellow cloak (hood down) sits opposite a mysterious figure whose entire head is obscured by a golden, horned helmet, and who is clothed in deep indigo and light yellows, adorned with many golden medallions. This figure wears a similar cloak to the boy’s, albeit more elaborate. They sit at a two-top, small table in the outdoor area of one of the smaller brewpubs in town. The vibe is very similar to the little joint over to the left of where you first entered Traverse Town in the original Kingdom Hearts, you know? Not much happened there. Not much happens here either. Maybe some really great eggs benedict. But not much else. It’s always night here. Who orders eggs benedict at 9pm? In a town of perpetual darkness, idk, you’d be surprised. The boy is drinking a milky blue beverage while the other has nothing, he is leaned forward, resting on his elbows, arms crossed.

You said you brought us all back.

That was the intention. That is the intention.

But she’s still gone!

I brought back everyone I could. Everyone who was lost. This girl, your friend, she was not lost. She was taken. There’s a difference.

Isn’t she your daughter?


She is something else now. As am I.

But she was my friend. After all this time… after everything that’s happened… why do I miss her so much?

That is likely my fault, Rosca. I apologize, I am still very new at this…

No, Gideon, No. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful–what you’re doing is amazing! I just wish Kairi were here to see it.



Gideon stands from the small table and looks away.

Gideon, she was your daughter once! The man who took her–didn’t you build this place from what you were able to take back from him? Isn’t there anything left that might tell us what he did with her?

We have priorities, Rosca. I worry you lose sight of that.

Tell me what you know!


I will show you Ansem’s reports. That is all. Come.

Rosca watches Gideon begin to walk away, his eyes set, hard, but his expression a mix of worry and disappointment. As he slurps down the rest of his drink the camera begins to pan out and the world logo begins to fade in, reading “Twilight Town,” in dark blue and violet hues, overlaying a silhouetted black and white image of a classical, 18th century-style downtown. The graphic continues to display as the camera zooms out to an overhead view showing Gideon begin to walk out of frame and Rosca standing up, taking off at a jog to follow.

Wait up!

End chapter 2, fade to black.

Kingdom Hearts II: Re ✥ Right – Ch. 1 – The Seal of the King


Sora, Donald, and Goofy run after the dog Pluto who carries a letter bearing King Mickey’s seal in his mouth.

Where’s he leading us?

We’re on the Rolling Hills Road that leads to the Castle!

So this is your guys’ world?

It sure is!

Wow… I can’t believe I get to see King Mickey’s castle! I just wish Kairi were here to see it…

Don’t worry Sora! She will someday, and you’ll be the one to show her!

Sora smiles wide and the three of them continue to chase the dog.

Camera pans out some to create an establishing shot of the green hills and yellow brick road the characters all run down.

Cue title logo “Kingdom Hearts II: Re✥Right,” in the colors of white, silver, black, red, and gold, materializing in a glittering fanfare of light. After the logo appears, then fades, another appears in similar fashion and font style, “The Magic Kingdom,” overlaying the image of Disney Castle, the image and the words in a shimmery color gradient going from teal to pink and finally fuschia along the bottom.


Back now to a closer shot, Pluto skids on his hind paws as he rounds a corner at top speed and then bolts down the main path — beautiful white cobblestone surrounded by white stone terraces and white-bricked buildings. The whole city is heavy, austere white stones accented with blue flags, banners, awnings and shingles, and with gold ribbons, filigree, lampposts, and lettering. It is certainly a sight to see. Pluto barrels past a fruit vendor and a woman carrying a basket of fruits who stumbles, the fruits jostling around her basket as an apple flies out from it. Sora, Donald, and Goofy come into view right at the dog’s heels and Sora catches the apple as it hovers in the air, just as it has started to fall. Donald and Goofy blow past Sora, each making Donald and Goofy noises as they go, and he smiles innocently at the woman, handing her the apple back before he redoubles his sprint to catch them. The fruit vendor they passed on the way sighs and shakes his head.

The camera pans out again, up and backwards, at first showing us a bird’s eye view of the trio doing their best to catch the dog, a handful of seagulls literally flying just through our view, but then the camera pans backwards some more and takes its focus off of the heroes and sets its sights onto where they are going. Disney Castle.


Sora, Donald, and Goofy reach the castle gates, met by two guardsmen holding blue-bannered spears bearing the royal crest of the King (the mickey mouse symbol). The three of them look this way and that, but it seems they’ve lost sight of Pluto.

Hey! Did you see a dog run through here?

Royal Mage Donald! Ye-w-we-y-!

A dog we saw, post-haste, your Magistry!

Which way did he go?!

H-hu-he-hu-huh, Knight Captain Goofy!

He-I-We-I… the dog bore the symbol of the King! We let him straight through!

Goofy smashes a palm into his face.


You nincompoops!

Donald and Goofy charge on ahead leaving Sora behind. Sora looks at each guard in turn, and shrugs at them before chasing after his companions.


The three run past the castle foyer, through the castle courtyard, up a flight of stairs and push their way through a huge set of double doors. Beyond them lay the throne room of Disney Castle within which a white carpet, trimmed at either end with a ribbon of blue, led its way between two enormous, ornate golden thrones. One of these thrones remained empty, but in the other sits Queen Minnie reading a letter, the seal of King Mickey held idly between her fingers. At her side, her handmaiden, Lady Daisy, and sitting between the Queen’s feet, the loyal dog Pluto.

Your Majesty!

Lady Daisy shoots him a stern glare, raising her right hand and holding up just her pointer finger. Donald squawks, Sora covers his mouth with both hands, and Goofy closes his eyes, grinning stupidly. He leans in to whisper into Donald’s ear.

Gawrsh, Donald, she seems angry… What’d we do?

It is what you haven’t done that I am angry about, Captain Goofy.

Oh! Should I –?

Lady Daisy watches him amusedly. Queen Minnie puts the letter down.

Well, hello there. Donald? Goofy? Who is our guest?

This is Sora, your Majesty! He helped us find the King!

He’s the Keyblade Master! Or, uh [starts counting on his fingers] … y’know, one of ’em, at least!

So your mission was a success? Then where’s the King?

It doesn’t say in the letter?

Donald walks over to the Queen’s throne and she hands him the letter.

Kingdom Hearts.

We are shown a close-up of the letter and the camera follows the words as Donald reads them aloud.


“Hiya Minnie!”
“I’m sorry I still haven’t made it home, but this business with other worlds just keeps getting worse.”
“There are so many worlds! Each one full of people and there are creatures of darkness out here hungry for hearts. They’re drawn to them, and not just to people’s hearts, but to the hearts of the worlds themselves!”
“If I can’t stop ’em, they’ll make it to the Magic Kingdom before long!”
“Don’t worry, though. There’s someone else out here fighting against them. I think whoever they are they probably have that Key I asked Donald and Goofy to find. They’re doing a great job keeping these creatures at bay, but we’ve got to try to find their source and root them out once and for all!”
“Ansem theorized about something he called Kingdom Hearts, sort of a heart of all hearts kinda thing, and if he was right, I’m thinking the creatures would be drawn to a heart like that like moths to a thousand-watt lightbulb!”
“So, that’s my destination! Wish me luck!”

Oh boy…

Your Highness, we did find the King, he was in Kingdom Hearts. My friend was with him… But it was full of Heartless! And when I went to close it, King Mickey and Riku stayed on the other side…

“Find the source… and root them out!” Riku and the King must be trying to figure out why the Heartless were in there and how to get rid of them!

So, King Mickey is within the Heart of All Worlds?

That’s where we left ‘im!

[Stands][Donks Goofy’s head with her scepter] You were supposed to bring him back!

They chose to stay behind…

[Begins pacing] Oh… this just won’t do… he’s left me here to manage the Magic Kingdom all by myself, and worse it sounds like he’s in terrible danger! You have to bring him back! No dawdling, no exceptions! I don’t care what the King says! Now, go!

[Pumps fist] We’ll get him back, Your Majesty!

Sora, Donald, and Goofy turn around, leaving the throne room dejected and confused. After a quick fade out to black we hear the sound of the great, double doors closing behind them as the scene fades back in, a close shot of the three of them walking out of the castle the way they came in.

But how’re we gonna get to him, Donald? We locked the door!

[Hanging his head] How am I supposed to know…

I couldn’t open it up again if I wanted to, we don’t have a way to get back there…

And we can’t open that door back up! There’s Heartless swarming all over inside!


Well, if the King and Riku were there when we opened it, I guess there’s gotta be another way in!

Maybe you’re right!

But how do we find that?

Hrmm… I think I’ve got an idea!

Fade to black. End Chapter 1…