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November 2020 Retrospective

Every month I try to be as transparent and cavalier as I can with these retrospectives. They are suppose to be a glimpse into my psyche so that 5-10 years from now I can look back and have a clear picture on what the heck was going on inside my head. To look at everything through rose-coloured glasses would not only be disrespectful to the reader but what also be lying to my future self.

I felt that I needed to lead with that preface so when I say November was one of those months where one cannot bear their soul in public, you'll have an idea of how personal things must be. While I am of the mindset that honesty is the best policy, for this month I am going to let most things percolate inside my skull for a little while longer.

So for this month let's only focus on the things that brought me happiness. I know I literally just wrote that I didn't want to look at anything through rose-coloured glasses but let's make an exception this one time.

Beat Yakuza: Like a Dragon

My first exposure to the Yakuza series was just last year through Judgment and it ended up being my 3rd favourite game of 2019. I was expecting a slapstick comedy but was blown away by how dark and nuanced the game turned out to be. Since Judgment was a spin-off I wasn't sure what direction Yakuza: Like a Dragon would go but it absolutely obliterated all of my expectations.

The storytelling in Yakuza: Like a Dragon is marvelous. Just like Judgment it somehow manages to jackknife between outrageous comedy (fighting a chimp who has taken over an excavator) to dark drama (discovering a friend who has hung himself) and not feel out of place. The world is built such in a way that you grow to expect the nonsense but look forward to the deeper human interactions. The characters are really well written such that I sought out all of the side-quests to completely flush out their tales. I typically use the Persona series as a prime example of great Japanese games with strong characters but the Yakuza series definitely lives alongside them.

But a great story means nothing unless it is accompanied by great gameplay. Yakuza: Like a Dragon manages this with their take on the JRPG by mixing turn-based combat with a beat 'em up. The main character sees the world as if it is a Dragon Quest game so your characters take up inane jobs like homeless guy, breaker, idol or night queen. You engage in the standard JRPG turn-based combat but all your attacks and "magic" are partially grounded in reality. You're not casting a fire spell, you're showering someone with crumbs so pigeons swarm them. You're not cleaving someone with an axe, you're slapping them around with a fat stack of cash. While you're attacking or being attacked a well-timed button press can augment the damage just as if you're executing combos in a beat 'em up. There is even a summoning system where you call on friends using your smartphone who then drop from the sky and execute the most bonkers cutscenes that put Final Fantasy to shame.

In my "Games of the Year 2019: The Good" article I wrote:

Judgment isn't a game for everyone but if you are a Japanophile like myself and are looking for an engaging story with lots of comedy on the side I highly recommend it.

and literally the exact same thing can be said about Yakuza: Like a Dragon. If you're a fan of Japan and JRPGs don't sleep on this game. I still cannot believe I have slept on this series for so long and there are seven other games left to play!

Read Rhythm of War

This month we finally received Rhythm of War, the fourth book in The Stormlight Archive, and to say I was anticipating it would be a gross understatement. It has been nearly three years since I read Oathbringer so, back in April, to refresh my memory I started listening to the first three books on Audible. 149 hours later I finally finished and just in time for the release of Rhythm of War. But enough hyping, did the book hold up to my expectations?

This will be the ninth Brandon Sanderson book I have read and I think that you have to evaluate them on two different spectrums. How is the worldbuilding? How is the storytelling?

Because his books are all part of a single epic fantasy taking place in the Cosmere universe there is always oodles of information you can be getting outside of the main story. Literally in a single chapter epigraph you can get enough new information to confirm literally years of theories and/or hypothesis about the universe. In some ways reading about the Cosmere is more fun than actually reading the books.

But ideally you have a great story that is you through all of this world building. I would use Star Wars as the prime example of something that has great world building but typically horrendous storytelling. I can spend hours on Wookieepedia reading about various characters, solar systems, battles, etc. But the films (especially the sequels) have absolutely atrocious storytelling that I couldn't care less about it.

So how does Rhythm of War stack up?

The worldbuilding is phenomenal. It is probably tied with The Way of Kings in this regard and that book is nearly impossible to top because it was our introduction to the world of Roshar. Some chapters have nearly no worldbuilding and focus solely on character development, while others drop bombs of knowledge every other paragraph that completely changes our understanding of the Cosmere. Rhythm of War is going to be one of those books that the community spends the next three years pulling apart continually discovering new connections to the rest of the universe.

But what about storytelling? This is unfortunately where Rhythm of War fell flat for me. I don't want to go into any spoilers but I will say that I was not particularly interested in any of the main characters this time around. Their personalities have become rote and there was very little character growth. Sure things happened to them that are going to drastically change their day to day lives but they are basically the same people from beginning to end.

Also, in my opinion, the story is becoming a bit predictable and it is starting to look like the characters are wearing plot armor. The major "twists" felt choreographed from the very first pages and felt more like a fanfic. I'm not expecting this to be Game of Thrones but I'm finding myself caring less about the characters and more about the world.

That being said, a bunch of secondary characters got a lot more screen time than usual and Sanderson did a great job at making me care about them. I hope they will continue to get room in breathe in book five but based on how book four ends I fear that we're going to have to lean on our main characters even more.

Overall I would say the first 20% and last 20% of Rhythm of War are fantastic. Both the worldbuilding and the storytelling are top notch. It is the middle 60% that wavers. There are entire story threads that could have been removed, put into a novella and it would not have changed the overall tone of Rhythm of War. Literally what the cover of the book depicts could be omitted and you would not care because much more interesting stuff happens outside of it.

I could probably write another 10 paragraphs on Rhythm of War (I really should start a podcast or YouTube channel where I can just rant) but I am going to force myself to stop here. It is a solid entry in The Stormlight Archive and I am still beyond excited for book five. I actually just did the math and realized that I am on the hook to follow Brandon Sanderon's books for the next 20 years if I want to see how the Cosmere ends...

Video conferencing with friends

I really cannot understate how much fun it has been video conferencing with friends. Please be the person who suggests it to your groups of friends because I guarantee everyone will enjoy it.

Season 2 of The Mandalorian

There isn't much to write other than Season 2 of The Mandalorian started on October 30th and it remains the best piece of Star Wars media released in the last decade.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

I continued my yearly tradition of needlessly buying the latest and greatest iPhone and good lord am I glad I did. I know this sounds stupid but the hard edges on the iPhone 12s really do make a huge difference. I cannot believe we lived with that rounded edge bullshit since the iPhone 6. Seriously, my iPhone 11 Pro Max feels like a child's plaything with those damn rounded edges. Add on the MagSafe wallet and picking my iPhone up off tables is a completely new experience. Again, I know how supremely stupid that sounds but think of how often you do that in a day? It really is that much easier and no more of that damn camera wobble!

Look I totally understand that none of what I am saying is a reason to buy the iPhone 12. Sure if you have an iPhone 8 or X then get all the new shiny upgrades to the standard stuff like the camera or screen or battery. I'm just saying that these little changes in the chassis really do make massive differences during daily use.

These iPhone 12s are probably going to be the new iPhone 6 in that they are going to be those 4-5 year phones that people hold onto because they are just that good.

Finished my home office


Maybe Cyberpunk 2077 can save 2020?

Review November Goals

Yeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. November wasn't a good month.

December Goals

I didn't want to lead with this because it was too much of a downer but it doesn't look like December is going to be any better than November. The night is darkest before the dawn and 2020 ain't going down without a fight it seems. Since I have all of my standard end-of-the-years articles to write I'll consider December a win if I can publish them all.