Over the past couple of years, I’ve made a dedicated a lot of my gaming time (such as it is these days…) to revisiting older RPGs. I grew up playing everything from Squaresoft’s finest on SNES to BioWare’s amazing output on the PC. It’s been a joy to revisit favourites, such as those listed below, and discover some classics that slipped past me at the time of release.
Since I’ve been thinking so much about these older games, and recognizing (or rediscovering) what makes them work so effectively, especially compared to a lot of modern games, which I’m finding myself less attracted to, I thought it would be fun to explore my Top 10 Favourite RPGs (and 10 Honourable Mentions.
(The list is unordered, except for the first game, which is undisputedly my favourite game of all time.)
I played Grandia to completion back when it was first released, and have always considered it one of the high-water marks of PSX-era JRPGs. However, in a lot of ways, it hasn’t aged well, particularly while playing it on original hardware (or PSP, where I first attempted to replay it) due to slowdown, so I’ve never made it more than a few hours into a replay. This time, I’m playing it via Retroarch, using GPU overclock for a consistent 30fps, and it’s like a new experience.
I’m currently two hours deep and exploring the game’s first dungeon: the Sult Ruins.
I *love* the sense of optimism and adventure. One of my favourite games of all time is Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, which shares these attributes, but Grandia takes it to another level. There’s no overarching horror encroaching on the world at the get-go. In fact, it’s a time of peace. Justin wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an adventurer—to explore the world, discover knew things, dig up knowledge. In this day and age where we have grizzled Geralt from The Witcher, Lara Croft dousing people with gasoline and lighting them on fire, and beautiful but excessively violent games like Ghosts of Tsushima, it’s so refreshing to return to a time when game settings were fun and joyous.
First thought: I saw a Star Wars film on opening weekend and the theatre was only 30% full. That’s… odd.
Second thought: Holy smokes. I liked it. A LOT.
Admittedly, I went into the viewing with middling expectations (despite being a HUGE fan of The Last Jedi). This was due to a lot of factors, but mainly I didn’t like the idea of recasting one of the iconic characters from the original series. Han Solo is Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford is Han Solo.
So, imagine my surprise when, thirty minutes into the film, I was enjoying the hell out of it. Everything I love about Star Wars is there and works brilliantly. The film’s production hell is well documented, and the fact that Howard was able to make not only a watchable film, but a goodfilm is remarkable.
Earlier this year, I was blown away by Sam J. Miller’s debut YA novel, The Art of Starving. It was a beautiful, raw, warm, funny, and heartbreaking experience. I was already familiar with Miller’s short fiction, but that did little to prepare me for the emotional rollercoaster of protagonist Matt’s journey of self-discovery, super powers, and overcoming the perilous challenges of teenagedom.
Finishing The Art of Starving was like adding rocket fuel to my anticipation for Blackfish City, Miller’s debut adult novel. As soon as it released, I bought an audiobook copy, and, boy howdy, Miller’s outdone himself. Blackfish City is a tour-de-force of incredible, prescient worldbuilding, lush prose, and characters that are achingly real.
The eponymous city, called Qaanaaq, is a floating refugee city ruled by crime syndicates and landlords. It was constructed in the Arctic Circle, post climate change-fueled worldwide flooding, and, like any city populated by people fleeing dead or dying cultures and societies, is rich and diverse, but also suffers from many challenges. Blackfish City follows four people—Kaev, Soq, Fill, and Ankat—and their intertwined conflicts. Life in Qaanaaq is disrupted by the arrival of the Orcamancer, a woman riding an Orca, accompanied by a polar bear, and it soon becomes apparent that the lives and fates of Kaev, Soq, Fill, and Ankat are entwined with the mysterious visitor’s arrival. It’s a story about privilege and self-identification, hope, colliding cultures, and oppression. Like all of Miller’s work, it has a lot to say about the state of the world, and the dangers we face moving forward if things don’t change.
It kills me to write this post, but I bounced *hard* off of Tchaikovsky’s lauded SF novel, Children of Time. I picked it up during an Audible sale several weeks ago, and coming off of Brandon Sanderson’s excellent (but looooooooooong) Oathbringer, it seemed like the perfect palate cleanser. Relatively short, totally different, and I’d never actually read anything of Tchaikovsky’s before.
However, this is one of those times when I can honestly look you in the eye and say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” There’s nothing egregious about Children of Time—in fact, I was immediately taken in by the generation ship aspect of the story (because I’m a sucker for social conflict generation ship stories), and Tchaikovsky’s writing and storytelling were clear and effective. There were other eight-legged reasons.
Children of Time is split across two converging plot lines. The first is a traditional generation ship/survivor story. A group of humans crash lands on an alien planet and has to learn to survive. The other half is about spiders. Imagine Spiderman. Now, imagine if Spiderman, instead of being a human who gains spider-like powers, was a spider who gained human-like sentience and intelligence through rapid, viral evolution. Sounds cool, right? Alongside the survivors are a group of intelligent, social spiders. A lot of people *loved* this aspect of the book, but I hit it like a brick wall and bounced off super hard.
So, if that concept sounds interesting (and I’m told it’s executed very well), jump right on in. Just wasn’t my cuppa.
Like everyone online, I watched Gamergate crash through gaming culture with a look of horror and surprise on my face. In its wake is an industry and community that is still reeling from the vitriolic hatred that hid itself under the guise of an ethical crusade.
After listening to Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (impressions here), and finding myself intrigued (and once again horrified) by her recounting of abuse during the Gamergate campaign, I wanted to find a more in-depth exploration of the events.
At the centre of Gamergate was a young independent video game developer named Zoë Quinn. Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate is both Quinn’s memoir, and also a handbook for how to understand the culture—both on the Internet and off of it—that led to Gamergate, and continues to shape much of the sociopolitical landscape around the globe.
Where Quinn goes above-and-beyond is the way she’s able to pick the movement apart, piece-by-piece and analyze the way it acted as a canary in a coalmine for the events leading up to and preceding the 2016 US election. I’ve looked back on Gamergate, and also the Sad/Rapid Puppies campaigns that took aim at the Hugo Awards for several years, and often thought to myself that they were a warning of what’s to come. Quinn, in the bullseye, had a clear view of the events, and her analysis is bought thoughtful and well-grounded.
It’s no secret that I’m a big Terry Brooks fan. He and his work mean a lot to me for many reasons—foremost that his Shannara novels cemented my love for the type of storytelling that I discovered via Tolkien. Every year, I look forward to the next Shannara volume, so it was a bit of a shock when Brooks announced a couple of years ago that his latest series, a four volume set beginning with The Black Elfstone, was the conclusion to the long-running epic fantasy series.
The Shannara books are all over the place quality-wise—some legitimately terrific, like The Elfstones of Shannara and Witch Wraith, others disappointing and derivative of Brooks’ earlier work, like The Gypsy Morph or Bearers of the Black Staff. Lately, they’ve been pretty good. The Black Elfstone, which I reviewed for Tor.com, managed to be nostalgic without being too derivative, and added back a lot of the meat that was missing from Brooks’ novels in recent years. It felt, for lack of a better word, appropriately epic considering its place as the keystone in a conclusion to a 40+ year series.
It’s been near impossible to ignore Catherynne M. Valente’s meteor-sized Space Opera on its collision course with Earth. Since it’s announcement, excitement for Space Opera has reached fever pitch, and early impressions and reviews from readers and critics have been glowing. Unlike the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, though, Valente’s book is like a glitterball of good feelings that, on impact, will cover the Earth not in ash and darkness, but a dance party so vivid, so wild, so loud, so bright, so deathly important that nuclear fission will pale in comparison.
It’s dark days right now, scary thoughts and anxiety about the future are hard to ignore. From its opening pages, it’s clear that Space Opera is a specific antidote to these fears. It’s impossible to read without also smiling, laughing, and, literally, dancing your ass off. In a modern speculative fiction genre that often rewards nihilism, blood, guts, grittiness, and grim dark visions of the future, Space Opera is a much-needed reminder that science fiction can be positive, uplifting, and forward-thinking.
And, man, wait until you read Valente’s hilarious-yet-savage takedown of 21st century human society in the second or third chapter. You’ll never be so entertained, impressed, and horrified all at once again.
As enjoyable as Valente’s writing and storytelling is, it’s elevated to another level by a boisterous, delightful, and varied narration by Heath Miller. He brings life to all the characters, and does a wonderful job giving unique, living voices to each of them in turn.
Valente’s books are always rich and layered, her prose gorgeous, her characters balancing on the razor’s edge between too-human to be fantastical, and too-fantastical to be human. Space Operais hilarious, biting, generous, and impossible to put down.
Since finishing Sam J. Miller’s incredible debut novel, The Art of Starving, a few weeks ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I’ve often found that the best way to let go of things, or, rather, to move on, is to talk about them out loud.
The Art of Starving is the story of Matt, a gay teenager who mistakes his anorexia for super powers. As we follow Matt along a path that threatens to tear him apart, the relationships between him, his family, and fellow students become ever more complex, layered, and interesting.
I’ve long been a fan of Sam J. Miller’s short fiction. All authors write about other people, but Miller is one of the rare breeds of writer, the best of the best, who pours himself into every word he writes. Not just because some of the elements and story beats from The Art of Starving match experiences from his own adolescence, but because each word, each phrase, every theme seems to reveal a piece him. There’s so much passion, energy, and emotion packed into his stories. The Art of Starving is no different. It’s not always an easy book to read—in fact, most of it is heartbreaking, gut-punching—but you feel so keenly attached to Matt that it’s impossible to put down.
I don’t really talk a lot about it on my public social media accounts, because I like to focus on SFF, which I think is what most people follow me for, but I’m a huge hockey fan. Like, a fanatic. Over the years, I’ve had the alternating privilege and curse of being a Vancouver Canucks fan. I won’t go into details about this roller coaster ride, but I do want to briefly discuss an element of being a Canucks fan that’s been a tremendous pleasure: watching 18 years of Daniel and Henrik Sedin play hockey.
I was 15 when they were drafted, so their playing career started almost exactly when my more active fandom began. (I’ve been a hockey fan since childhood—despite not coming from a family that plays or even watches much hockey—but most of that period was spent following Wayne Gretzky from team-to-team. I became more engaged with the sport in high school, when I switched allegiance to the Canucks.) They were a curiousity when they were drafted, but promised to be interesting, if nothing else. Looking back, they were not only interesting—approaching the game like no other players before them or since—but intensely skilled and dedicated to the sport. Throughout the early years of their career, they were consistently called the “Sisters,” even on national broadcasts by journalists and other “professionals,” and yet they came out to every game (Henrik holds the sixth-longest Ironman Streak in NHL history), put up points, outsmarted and outscored their opponents. Night in, night out. They led the team to the Stanley Cup final in 2011. They were beautiful to watch on the ice.
On Saturday, they will play their last game in the NHL before a well-deserved retirement. If I had it my way, their jersey’s would be raised to the rafters before that game.
By all accounts, as good as they were at ice hockey, the Sedins were even better people off the ice. They contributed a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money to the hockey community and to the British Columbia. In 2010, shortly after signing a big contract, they donated $1.5 million to BC Children’s Hospital. They are an inspiration.
During the heyday, I’m not sure if we Canucks fans knew how lucky we were two watch them play. It was an embarrassment of riches. Now, looking back, with the bittersweetness of their retirement ahead, it’s clear that we had the privilege for 18 years to watch the two greatest Canucks of all time play hockey.