A Book and a Video Game

I want to talk about a two random things that have nothing to do with one another, other than they are dear to me and I have enjoyed them.

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First, before he went to be with the Lord, Ron Baines gave me a copy of The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 1754-1757. He gave me two copies, “For his literary girls”, with the promise that I would give the other copy to my dear Stephanie Florentino. He then proceeded to read me a passage from it and explain that he thought I would enjoy the book because Esther sounds a bit like someone from Pride and Prejudice.

As always, Ron was right. I did enjoy the book very much. The Introduction is exactly what you would expect two modern feministic women to say about intimate letters written by two Christian women. Where they see chafing against male leadership, I saw sanctification. Where they see the trappings of a society that put women down, I see Christian women trusting the Lord.

I tend to be focused on fiction, books on doctrine, and military history. This book was my first venture into non-military biographies since I was a kid. It is a collection of the letters written by Esther to her best friend as she moves with her husband, deals with health issues, brings two children into the world, worries about her extended family, and tends to her hearth and home.

Because of her letters, I was able to live with her through fear for her parents from the Indians and French, through fear of sickness, through her struggles with trusting the life and death of her children to the Lord, and all the other things two women would correspond about.

The sense of loss which filled me when I came to the end of Esther’s letters surprised me. I had become attached to this woman. Knowing the book ended because she passed away, and not just because we lost the rest of her letters, saddened me greatly. But how different that sadness is when your reading about real people compared to fictional ones. I love Sam, Harry, Hazel and so many other characters, but they are temporary and all dust in the end. Not so with Esther. I will actually get to meet this dear saint who went to be with the Lord shortly after her husband and left her children behind. Ron is now with Esther in heaven. What a glorious hopeful thought.

I highly recommend this book. It is funny, dull, beautiful, hopeful, sad, and everything normal life is. I’m very thankful Ron gave it to me, and I will treasure it for as long as the Lord gives me.

 

Second, the game Price and I have been waiting for for a very long time finally came out this Fall: Final Fantasy XV.final_fantasy_xv_wallpaper__whit_new_prompto_by_realzeles-d9fy76x

After the huge disappointment of Metal Gear Solid V, we tried to go into this game with low expectations. That proved difficult after going to see Kingsglaive late one night like we were 20 again, and after the four anime shorts released on YouTube about the four main characters, and the free pre-game that included an adorable fox-like creature named Carbuncle. Just you try to stay calm.

In November, we got our copy and started to play. Right away this game was perfect. The story was perfect, the build-up was perfect, this game was perfect.

Before FFXV, Red Dead Redemption, Brothers, and StarCraft all proved to be moving stories that brought me to tears. Final Fantasy XV has replaced all of them except Red Dead Redemption.ffxv_key-art_tgs2014-noscale-1920x817

This story is a brotherhood story written from a man’s perspective. It is a very masculine game, which is refreshing when so many games and stories have lead females and are told from a feminine perspective. This game isn’t a romance story. There is love in it, but the focus is on the relationship between the four young men. Not their relationship with any girls. Its smart remarks, food, fishing, adventure, and battle.

This story follows four friends on a road trip. They are Noctis, the prince, his bodyguard Gladiolus, valet/cook/driver Ignis, and friend Prompto. Noctis is on his way to marry the beautiful Lunafreya, but taking his time to get there with no shortage of teasing from his three friends. While they’re having a good time on their road trip, their country is attacked. Noctis’ father, the king, is murdered, Luna is whispered to be dead, Gladio’s father is dead, and their capital city is destroyed. Darkness begins to encroach and deamons fill the land.

The rest of the game follows Noctis, now King, as he seeks to gain the favor and power of the gods so he can reclaim his kingdom. Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto follow faithfully after him, protecting him, encouraging him, and keeping him focused. Lunafreya, not dead, goes before him to prepare for each meeting with the gods.FINAL FANTASY XV EPISODE DUSCAE_20150317222557

Or, that’s what you think the rest of the game is going to be about. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

In an epic battle, which has split the four friends up in defense of a city, Noctis is injured and Lunafreya is murdered while he watches. This sends Noctis into a tail spin of emotional gloom for weeks. Ignis lost his sight in the battle, but Noctis doesn’t seem to care. The four friends begin to fight as Gladio is torn between frustration with Noctis, who won’t shoulder his kingly responsibilities, and Ignis, who needs constant help. The game play became very interesting here, and emotionally painful. Through the first 2/3 of the game, you are literally tripping over your friends. They are always right there with one. With Noctis and Gladio fighting, and Ignis’ loss of sight, they are now always behind you. The fun joking turns into demands that you slow down and think of someone beyond yourself. As the player, you feel alone and isolated.

(At this point, I went to bed. I couldn’t handle the characters fighting. It was so painful. It made me realize that I would rather kill off a character than have friendships fall apart.)

Eventually, through several trials, Noctis becomes who he is supposed to be. Ignis demands Gladio and Noctis heal their relationship. And, Ignis learns to fight by sound instead of sight. Prompto is captured by the enemy, and they go to rescue him and find the crystal which will heal their land.

As the player, you’ve acclimated to Noctis being out front with his party behind, and are really happy everyone is friends again. Then, you have to abandon your three friends in a battle against the deamons to reach the crystal. Noctis’ only hope is that by reaching the crystal he can save his friends. Instead, Noctis disappears inside crystal he thought would rid his kingdom of darkness and deamons. Noctis is lost and his friends must carry on without him.

While inside the crystal, Noctis is told by the gods that the only way for him to save everyone is to die. He must sacrifice himself to bring light and peace.

When he returns, ten years have passed. There is no light. But, his friends are waiting. They are waiting for the King to come back. They believe and have always believed Noctis would return. (Seeing this Christian theme played out brought me to tears. They waited on their friend. They waited for the King.)

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There are many more sub-plots, side quests, unique monsters, and even a whole other villain I haven’t talked about who is behind all the evil and treachery. This is a dense game with a very ‘living world’ feel. The ending fights and scenes, with characters 10 years older than before, are very moving. Noctis willingly gives himself to save his land. The last campfire scene where he tells Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto how much he loves them hurts with its beauty.

Uniquely, Luna’s entire role is to help Noctis. She goes before him to demand the gods help him, which is her role as Oracle. She could have gone down a different path, but instead she chose to help her intended husband become the man he needed to be. How rare is it to see this feminine virtue praised and shown as honorable in any modern media?

This is an excellent game for young men to play, because it honors the relationships between men without turning them into any weird homosexual thing. It shows warriors fighting for their home, setting aside boyish things to take on responsibility, and standing together against darkness. It shows a King taking on his burden, and it shows the men around him helping him. This is a beautiful game about masculine friendship.

I loved everything about this game. I loved the story, the characters, the brotherhood, the music, the setting, the gameplay. I always enjoy any story which focuses on masculine friendship and the strength found there. FFXV did just that.

Rated PG-13: There is a bit of mild language in the game, but this rating is mostly for the handful of scantily clad women. The girl who runs the garage and one of the summon spells are far from modest. This would be the main issue for me in recommending the game for young men. It’s probably nothing worse than what you see in most movies, like Star Wars, but I still wanted to give a heads up about it.

I just couldn't resist this perfect picture. lol

I just couldn’t resist this perfect picture. lol

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Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons

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SPOILERS!!!!

I’m part of the video game generation….but I don’t personally play video games.  I’m not really that good at them.  I tend to die a lot, or get all jumpy, and forget which controls do what leading to mass frustration.  What I do is watch video games.  They’re my husband’s favorite form of recreation even though he really doesn’t have time to play them anymore, so he watches them.  It’s like sports.  When you’re a kid, you play football, baseball, soccer, and basketball.  When you get older, you watch others play.

Many of the video games that have come out in the last twenty years have had amazing stories, compelling characters, and beautiful artwork.  Yes.  Artwork.  I’m one of those people who believe video games are artistic and a form of art just like movies, photography, painting, writing, music, sculpting, etc.  Early on, the means to showcase the artistic side of gaming was less visible unless you knew the craft, but the stories were there.  (If you did know, it’s quiet impressive what could be done with 8bits.)  Games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, and the first Starcraft had gripping, moving stories that left you asking for more.  As technology advanced, the artistic side of video games became more obvious to the everyday layperson playing a game here and there.  I remember the first time I picked up a Warcraft 3 art book.  It blew me away.  It was beautiful, detailed, rich, and haunting.  Skyrim, a fully interactive world, has sweeping scenes of majesty, epic music, wooly mammoths, customizable characters, and an entire land you can walk collecting plants, animal hides, and meeting strange and interesting characters.

But what about the stories?  I’m here to tell you that not only are the stories filled with myth, twists, turns, and character development, some of them have even made me cry.  Yes.  Video games have brought tears to my eyes.  The top of the cry chart is Red Dead Redemption.  I pretty much bawled.  After that comes StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, the beginning of The Last of Us, and now Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons. (Honorable mentions are Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear anything.)

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Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons, is an epic, short, moving, fun video game designed by Starbreeze Studio with the help of 505 Games.  The story takes place in an agricultural setting against a fantasy backdrop with amazing visuals.  The mountains, valleys, rivers, trees, sky, giants, trolls, ogres, fish, birds, and everything else are impressive.  They’re beautiful, awe inspiring, and detailed.  There are benches placed here and there throughout the game so that your characters can sit and take in the view.  Every scene is sweeping.  Meaning, no matter where in the game you’re at, the view spreads out as far and wide as you can see.  But, all that’s just the backdrop for a game that tells a story through unique game mechanics.

This is a story about two brothers.  You play both of the boys at the same time.  Your left hand controls the older brother while your right hand controls the younger brother.  They start you off slow, giving you time to get used to the controls so you don’t have one brother standing still while the other runs off in a crazy direction.  Pretty soon, you have them working in unison on ever more complicated climbing puzzles and traps.  (None of it gets too complicated because that’s not the point of the game.)

The game opens with the younger brother visiting the grave of their mother.  The older brother interrupts him with horrible news.  Their father is dying.  The two boys rush their father to town where they’re told that the only way to heal him is with a drink from a magical tree.  Off they go on an adventure.  The designers perfectly capture everything a brother adventure should be.  The boys defeat bullies, big dogs, help friendly trolls, scale mountains, ride rushing rivers, free trapped birds, discover giants, fly, slip down tunnels, ride goats, explore an old battle field, and sail the sea.  All the while, you control one brother with your left hand and the other with your right.  None of your adventures are possible without the effort of both brothers together.  And here comes the tears.  (You probably already guessed it.)  One of the brothers dies.  He dies at the base of the tree they were searching for to heal their father after all their adventures.  Suddenly, your left hand is doing nothing.  Your right hand climbs the tree, gets the drink, and then buries your brother.  Your left hand does nothing.  Never before have I seen a game mechanic used to create so much emotion.

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But, it gets worse/better.  Now, you must make it home alone.  One of the creatures you aided on your adventure takes you almost all the way back.  He leaves you, the only brother, standing on a beach facing your biggest fear, and you’re alone.  (It’s a fear, until now, that your brother always helped you through.)  A ghost of your mother appears and encourages you, but even when you move your character forward, the game stops you….until you control him  with the controls of his brother.  (Bawling yet?)  Only when you use the left hand side of the controller is the remaining brother given the courage to face his fear, move past it, and save his father.

Even the guy we watched play the video game choked up.  It was just so perfectly done.

This is the kind of game where you lose yourself.  The beauty of the world sucks you in right away.  The story, filled with exactly the kind of adventure you’d want to have with your brother, encourages you to invest in it emotionally from the beginning.  To have to play one-handed, until courage is needed, is the perfect end to this game.

As a writer, I found the landscapes inspiring, the story moving, and the adventure a good refresher on what should be included in a Tweens or YA story.

Parental warning:  This game is fairly mild with no language or sex.  It is emotionally moving, slightly violent, but not in any sort of heavy-handed way.  It does get darker as they move along in the story, but if your kids have seen or read Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, or Harry Potter they should be fine.