Another Look at: Forspoken

This post was originally a script for a first attempt at a short video essay that would potentially be the start of a series. However, due to vacation followed by over a week of sickness that completely has destroyed my voice for the time being and thus has kept me from both recording this AND streaming, I have decided to release it as a text post. So you let me know! Would you like to see these as a video series? Keep it as a text post thing? I still have a good sized list of other movies, games, and what not that would fit the “Another Look At” format. Let me know!

You know, for a long time I’ve wanted to do a series on shows, games, movies – what have you – that I really, really enjoy but seem to have the minority opinion on.  You know.  Those things that it seems like everybody but you hate and think is awful?  Call them hot takes or guilty pleasures, but I wanted to take another look at stuff like that and share my honest thoughts on why _I_ like them despite all the hate.

So with that in mind, I wanted to talk about the most recent addition to that list, and take another look at a little recent game called ‘Forspoken’.


Forspoken is a 2023 release developed by Luminous Productions and published by Square Enix.  I feel the need to separate those two despite Luminous Productions technically being an in-house team at Square Enix for reasons we will get into in a minute. The game is an open-world action rpg set in the world of Athia, where the four ruling witches – or Tantas as they are called in-game – have gone completely insane, twisted their virtues into vices and unleashed a horrible miasma on their kingdoms dubbed ‘The Break’…  because it “breaks” things.  Not the most original name, but hey a lot of the locals in Athia just call it “The Corruption” and between the two, the Break sounds a lot more creative comparatively.

Into this ruined world falls Frey, a 21 year old squatter from New York city who is on the last fine strands of patience the legal system has.  She’s scrappy, resourceful, has a good sense of right and wrong – and tends to choose ‘wrong’ out of the necessity to survive.  She’s also an orphan who was found as a baby in a tunnel with no idea who her parents were.  Some of the trope-savvy out there are probably already putting something together from all of this.  Frey finds herself drawn to a magical bracelet in an abandoned shop, and upon touching it is whisked away to Athia.  Against her will.  With no knowledge of why she got brought there, how she got there, or how to get back.  Her only companion in Athia at first is the bracelet who turns out can talk and who she names Cuff much to its displeasure.  From there, Frey begins a quest to…  well honestly, get home.  I mean, home sucks but IS home and there aren’t zombies and dragons in New York… yet?

This sets the general tone for the game.  Frey is a young, snarky, New Yorker in a situation and world that she doesn’t understand, wants to leave asap, and the populace is firmly divided between thinking she alone is their savior or wanting her head put on a pike.  As Frey gets further and further elevated into a very unwanted hero position by the surviving citizens, the greater the conflict grows between Frey’s goals and the people’s wants.  This – more than the insane Tantas – forms the conflict of the story.

You’ve probably seen the memes and responses to the game that Frey isn’t a likable protagonist and she’s got too much “cringey” snippy dialogue.  And even I will admit that there is truth to those claims.  I honestly think people are overselling how much is in the game, but I won’t deny it’s there.  But as the game progresses I think it becomes very clear that this is intentional. It’s Frey’s story arc as she starts thinking about the needs of others over her own desire to get home.  She realizes that she’s been a horrible person to those around her and lashing out at them because of her situation which isn’t their fault either.  She stops quipping as much, because she starts to earnestly want to connect and help people instead of just “dealing with them”.  You can actually see this early on in the game, when Frey is down-to-earth, kind, and gentle with those she takes a liking to, but is snarky and quippy with those she doesn’t trust or feels are just using her.  It’s not Whedon-esque quips for the sake of being punchy, it’s legitimately character development on the part of Frey, which is something of a shorthand to where her loyalties lie through the story.

Speaking of, there’s the other half of this dynamic duo – Cuff.  Cuff is difficult to talk about without venturing into spoiler territory for a plot point that actually caught me off guard to the point that I don’t really want to go into it here.  Like it’s a legitimately solid twist, as opposed to the far more obvious twist that I was able to predict before we even got to Athia.  Cuff is the demeaning, deadpan observer to Frey’s journey.  Serving for the most part as Frey’s conscience and guide to Athia.  Cuff is not native to Athia, but has been there before so he knows SOME of the information to help Frey.  Honestly, most of the ‘annoying quips’ in my opinion don’t come from the wise-cracking New Yorker but the deadpan snarker bracelet, but what can you do when you are a powerful and sentient force that exists as a bracelet because of a bunch of crazy witches?

Oh, excuse me. Tantas.  The “antagonists” of the story are really more of a combined lore dump/force of nature.  Each are ‘interesting’ characters in the sense of how their madness manifests – the defender soldier turned tyrants, the arbiter of justice turned into a paranoid hypocritical judge, jury and executioner – with separate personalities for each – and the wise teacher who chooses to hide herself and her world in illusions to escape.  But ultimately, the story is not about the Tantas… who are not witches, despite having cat familiars and magic – they are instead the forces that drive Frey’s back and forth growth into a hero.

So with all that said, how was the story?  Pretty good.  Not great.  Not gonna win any awards, but it was a solid origin-style story of Alice accepting that Wonderland was her home all along.  It plays up the melodrama pretty heavily at points which I didn’t find extremely unexpected with the high tensions of the literal end of the world happening.  The drama can probably feel a bit much if you are jetting through the main story instead of stopping to explore the outside world and do the side-objectives.  It does deal a lot of back to back blows in that scenario and could wear you out.  But to those who find Frey annoying or unlikable, yeah. She kind of is at the beginning.  But only to emphasize how much she grows out of it by the end.  It’s like Mark Hamill in Star Wars.  He intentionally played Luke whiny at the start of A New Hope, so that you can more clearly see where he matures to by the end.  Or should I compare it to something Japanese, like Rise of the Shield Hero.  The game is pretty much an isekai down to the formula of the story.  Which is surprising from a team of American writers.

Oh, did you not know that?  Yeah, Forspoken is developed by a Japanese studio but the writing team they hired to craft the story of a new yorker getting isekai’d to a fantasy world?  All Americans.  Two of which – Todd Stashwick and Amy Henning – were writing that open-world Star Wars game for Visceral before EA canned the whole thing and dissolved the studio. Amy Henning in particular has a long established history in game writing and worked with Naughty Dog on both Jak & Daxter and Uncharted. The concept and lore was developed by Gary Whitta, who wrote the Book of Eli and was one of the early co-writers on Rogue One before departing ways with the project. With the fourth and final writer being Allison Rymer, who was the writer on Shadowhunters, the tv show adapted from The Mortal Instruments book series by Cassandra Clare.  And I can tell you that if you were to combine the minds that created Jak & Daxter, the Book of Eli, and adapted the Mortal Instruments into a blender…  You’d be well prepared for the tone of Forspoken. I mean, a Young Adult novel protagonist wise cracking with a snarky sidekick adventuring in a vast depressing post-apocalyptic open-world landscape?  Yeah, that all matches. 

But yeah, for a first time new studio, it’s a pretty basic story that holds together enough to show their real strength: the familiarity with their toolset.


“Did Vry say a first time studio? I thought this was Square Enix! Makers of the renowned Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises!”

Well, yes. That’s why I made sure to emphasize that Square Enix was the PUBLISHER, and that their internal team dubbed Luminous Productions was the developer. See Luminous Productions used to be called Business Division 2, and was the team responsible for Final Fantasy 15.

“See? Final Fantasy 15! Not a first time studio!”

Excuse me, hold on a moment.  Business Division 2 became Luminous Productions when Hajime Tabata, director of Final Fantasy XV, left and a bunch of other people on the team followed him to start another studio.  Luminous Productions is what’s left.  The directors of Forspoken?  One was a programmer for 15’s DLC, and the other was the director only for two of the DLCs – and the writer of an obscure romantic comedy anime that I watched in high school. Weird coincidence.

So generally, the studio is made up of people with lots of development experience but no management. Some minor directing credits at best.  So what does this mean for the game? Well, they know the tools they’re using. The game is made in the Luminous Engine developed for Final Fantasy XV and it is very clear that the team’s strong suit is working with it.  

They’ve developed an amazingly fun, complex but incredibly friendly combat magic system that makes it fun to just dive in and throw insane combos of various powers capped with ‘Surge Magic’ finishers that erupt the landscape in elemental fury that makes you feel like a God of Destruction, kind of like when you summoned one of the Astrals in 15.

You can eventually switch between four different types of magic, each with strengths and weaknesses and can be woven together seamlessly in combat.  What’s that? Drop a ring of fire to trap enemies inside and then cause a wave of water to push them away from you and into the damage wall of flame?  Yes please!

The environment is vast, gorgeous, and developed up enough that it never feels bland.  I always like to think that a sign of a good open world is that I don’t need a map to navigate an area and can work just with landmarks – Forspoken is great about this, leaving interesting details in spots that allow you to orient your surroundings using them.

On top of all that, the game is beautiful.  On top of the side quest to find picturesque photo spots, there are dozens and dozens of places where I would just stop and admire the scenery.

However, I am going to do that thing where I agree with the game’s critics a bit here.  If you want something that shakes up the standard open-world formula of here’s a bunch of map points, do something here and get equipment or lore or stat boosts – you won’t really find it here.  Forspoken does not break the mold of open-world adventures.  How much that will affect your enjoyment is really up to you.  I don’t play a ton of open-world stuff. I haven’t jumped into the latest Assassin’s Creeds or Far Crys.  So the fact that the game stuck to usual tried-and-true didn’t really bother me, but I can see how people looking for a breath of fresh air or coming in after a more creative take on the open-world formula like I’m told Eldin Ring manages to do, might find Forspoken lacking in that department.

But I honestly applaud the game.  It is a great first attempt by a studio who had its founder and creative visionary leave the studio and had to fill the void with who they had.  It’s not the best game, but as a trepidatious initial step from a fledgling studio trying to find its feet it’s not bad.  Especially in the performance department.  I put over 80 hours into Forspoken on the PS5, completed the entire storyline, and I had the game crash on me… twice? Tops?  Compare that to other big name open-world games from veteran studios rolling in awards like CD Projekt Red where I could set my clock to remind me to save every 25 minutes because Cyberpunk 2077 was guaranteed to crash at 30 minutes of playtime on the dot.  A game the size and scope of Forspoken running as well as it does? I’m still impressed.

So yeah, that’s my Another Look at Forspoken.  A game that got a lot of hate, despite it being an okay game.  Above average really. I don’t think you’ll see the accolades rolling in at the Game Awards next year or anything but it does make me excited to see what the team at Luminous Productions does next.  What about you?  Did you have any fun playing Forspoken?  What do you think of this new series of looking at my guilty pleasures? I’m enjoying being able to share these with you, so let me know in the comments or give it a like if you found my perspective interesting at all.  Till next time!

Endwalker Story Summary Updated – Chapter One Uploaded!

The much awaited Story Summary for Endwalker has begun. Like with Shadowbringers, the main story questline of Endwalker is divided into chapters focused on clear breaks on the narrative (usually returning to your expansion specific inn room).

Chapter One covering the start of the expansion all the way to the victory at the Tower of Zot is now available here with more to come.

Shorts Week

A sudden heatwave in early December? Alas, no.

So my plans for NaNoStream-o were a complete bust. It didn’t help that I spent about half the month face down with a case of Covid, and then the second half dealing with a depression episode. But hey that’s life. That also means I’m out of Final Fantasy footage to put together for these Friday posts, but I wanted to put together SOMETHING, so here’s a collection of Shorts that have been uploaded to the channel – but never posted here!

Most of these are just weird moments that I found myself laughing at from gaming on some means other than my streaming PC – usually my Xbox or Playstation. However, since I can export those clips, I dragged them over into the editing bay and had some fun with them. And by editing bay I mean my editing PC, and by editing PC I mean streaming PC, and by streaming PC I mean my PC… I only have one PC.

No One Ever Does (Cyberpunk 2077)

How can I resist that line? That delivery by the always charming and slightly weird Keanu Reeves? Have I ever mentioned the strange similarities between Christopher Walken and Keanu? Like… they both give very weird performances that we are utterly fascinated with.

Sleepless in Del Sol (The Sims 4: Get Famous)

The amount of laughter I got out of this weird little bug bordered on the ludicrous. Essentially it boiled down to the fact that whenever the Sim went to bed, they skipped the sleeping bit and went straight to the waking up – but it’s the sleeping part that updates the Energy stat. So poor Howard Boltechi (HoBo for short) was stuck going to auditions with no energy. I assume he’d probably pass out at some point, but we never got that far and the save file got lost in a computer crash. Luckily, I had the full video backed up on Vault-kerion.

Teen Trouble with Kratos & The Head (God of War: Ragnarok)

I was surprised when I started playing God of War Ragnarok only to find that the game didn’t have a dark and fearful tone but rather one of a frickin’ family sitcom. It even has laugh breaks! So I did my part and added the canned laughter back in for Santa Monica Studios. They can thank me later. Maybe with a life-size Mimir statue or something.

Non-Sequitur Thy Name is AI The Somnium Files

You wanna play a weird game? How about a sci-fi murder mystery with polar bears, song & dance numbers, and grade schoolers with the power to take down armies of disposable goons? AI: The Somnium Files is a very, VERY weird game and I still quote it and its sequel constantly, but what else can you expect from the same people who gave us Danganronpa?

Carlos Was Not Kept in the Loop (Zero Time Dilemma)

Speaking of Spike Chunsoft, do you know what’s weirder than a Spike Chunsoft game? The third game in a Spike Chunsoft trilogy. Zero Time Dilemma is the third chapter of the Zero Escape trilogy that began with 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. It’s a game about psychic powers, time travel, and an insane Saw-like game used to manipulate events to either cause or stop the end of the world. However, in the third game, when you have characters from across the trilogy united along with a few new faces – it can be easy to forget that not EVERYONE is on the same page vis-a-vis your weirdo psychic timeline-hopping superpowers.

Tullius Needs Glasses (Skyrim)

Hey you! You’re finally awake, huh? You were trying to avoid playing Skyrim. Well, don’t worry. Todd will make sure you do. Since Skyrim now runs on almost as many devices as DOOM (Now also coincidentally owned by Bethesda), there won’t be escaping it. Still, over ten years of this game and we still find ways it surprises us. Like in this clip, where I discovered that the General of the Imperial Army has no idea what a blade is.

Gotta Be Careful (Yakuza: Like a Dragon)

You know what’s more hax than a gun in a martial arts battle? Try a grenade.

Negotiations Have Broken Down (Fallout New Vegas)

Honestly, the worst part of this was I couldn’t take his entire inventory nor did it advance the quest in any way. I really should finish my evil playthrough of New Vegas one of these days. Especially now that I’ve modded the game a bunch to improve the quality of life and visuals. I should just finish playing New Vegas in general. I’ve never beaten that one.

And Finally, Some Final Fantasy Shorts…

Well, it IS Final Fantasy Friday I suppose. Might as well end this with a few from our recent playthrough of Final Fantasy V, including my new vTuber avatar of a little adorable lopporit from Final Fantasy IV & XIV.

Thanks for sticking around folks! I promise I’ll get some streaming done soon and we’ll continue the Final Fantasy Retrospective.

Cyberpunk 2077: Keeping the Faith

With the next-gen updates and most of the DLC finally released, I decided to take up playing Cyberpunk 2077 once more on my PlayStation 5 to see how it goes. I must say, there is a marked improvement over my original play-through when the game first released. Outside of the copious amount of weird glitches, bugged missions, and the near clockwork reliability of the game crashing every 30 minutes on the dot (later improved by early patches to 2 hours on the dot) – I still found it to be an okay game that I went on to platinum.

The updated PlayStation 5 version is pretty much the same without all the headaches. Oh I still run into the occasional silly bug or graphical glitch, but it’s nowhere near what it was. Now I can focus wholly on enjoying the game which I’d start mark as an above average RPG experience. Let’s be honest, narratively it doesn’t have the diversity of choice that would put it on par with Dragon Age Inquisition let alone Skyrim, and it cannot even touch the original Deus Ex. But it is still a fun game, with interesting characters, and a solid embodiment of the entirely depressing world that the cyberpunk genre offers.

That said, while I’ve been playing through the game again, I’ve noticed something. See in the world of Cyberpunk 2077, cynicism is king. The corporations can’t be trusted, people are usually listening to their worst instincts, and any attempt to improve things is routinely beaten back and down until you learn not to try. In the words of the setting’s creator Mike Pondsmith, “you can’t save the world, you can only save yourself.” Still, Cyberpunk 2077 does offer a single exception to this. One which I would say it’s inclusion by CD Projekt Red runs counter to the vaunted ‘non-political’ Cyberpunk they expressed to create: Religion.

Religion is not a running theme in the game, and unless you explored all the side jobs I couldn’t blame you for missing it entirely. But it does come up a number of times through the game, and it is almost always approached with a certain level of sincerity and optimism that quite starkly contrasts the rest of the game. I would honestly argue that the game ultimately depicts faith as the opposite of the dark cynicism of humanity.

One of the earliest examples is a small side job in north Watson where a monk who believes that cybernetic implants desecrates the body and prevents reincarnation that has been forcibly chipped at the hands of the Maelstrom gang. This belief is ridiculed or treated with suspicion, but viewed as a honest belief and his plea to save his brother from being implanted is believed in good faith. You are even incentivized to follow the monks’ belief of non-violence in regards to resolving the mission. Should you succeed, you can find both monks later on in the game and have a religious debate with them about the nature of artificial intelligence and mental engrams of living people and whether or not they qualify as a having a soul or being eligible for reincarnation. The entire conversation is a fascinating philosophical debate in religion combining with science fiction.

One prominent side character in the game is Misty, proprietress of Misty’s Esoterica and your partner’s girlfriend. She is fond of giving tarot card readings that are always accurately reflective of where you are in the main story of the game. She warns you of various characters intentions and potential threats for that leg of the narrative – and it’s always correct. So not only are we treated to a debate of whether an AI can be reincarnated with a Buddhist, and now are given the example of functional new age beliefs in this world of cynical science. Combine this with a series of small missions that involve doing zen meditation with a mysterious Zen Master that can appear and disappear at will and begins each stage of the job with an offer to pay him some money or nothing at all – only to find at the end that it doesn’t matter if you paid him or not, it’s all about whether or not you find enlightenment valued in cash or not. (Note, you DO lose the cash if you give it. But nothing changes between paying every time and paying nothing at all)

The most prominent example is the side job called “Sinnerman” which begins with a man wanting to kill the murderer of his wife, which if you don’t stop the cops from killing him leads into a weird trip into Christian iconography. You see, the murderer – Joshua – is set to be put to death. Instead of state executions, he ends up teaming up with a film studio to recreate The Passion, or the death of Jesus. The studio is pretty much treated as cynically as any other corporation in the game, but the murderer who found religion is treated as a true believer – something that we are explicitly told is something incredibly rare in the setting. You have lunch with Joshua at a local fast food joint with 11 other people in the diner to recreate the Last Supper, the studio offers you a bribe to betray Joshua’s trust and walk away in reference to Judas Iscariot, and finally you are asked to pray with Joshua and then assist in nailing him to a cross for his execution.

There’s no snark, so cynicism, and the entire side job is treated with a level of respect and sincerity that almost makes you forget that a half an hour earlier you were helping a man with an exploding genital implant get to a doctor while he screams at you to just run over a group of children. It also never forces you to participate. Outside of the studio trying to buy you into leaving, you are given a chance to walk away from the murderer-turned-zealot at every step of the way. When asked to pray, you can pray with Joshua to one of a number of provided faith options, choose to sit with Joshua as he prays or just not pray at all. By the end, I almost forgot that the whole reason he was being put to death was because he was… ya know… a murderer.

In fact I would say the only exception to this maybe would have been the Voodoo Boys. A bunch of a Haitian immigrants who have occupied the southern district of Pacifica and still perform a large number of ceremonies associated with their native country despite being portrayed by those outside of Pacifica as tribalistic and violent. That however doesn’t hold water, because as soon as you talked to the community leader of the Voodoo Boys – Maman Brigette – she flat out tells you that they left their faith behind in Haiti and it has only made them stronger. The religious practices in Pacifica are window dressing done out of habit. They are far more interested in escaping into the virtual world and joining forces with the Rogue AI than the old ways.

Ultimately, I found it very interesting in that a setting where corporations are depicted as controlling and greedy with no regard for human life, people operates almost on a Hobbesian level of natural law in the streets, politicians are universally corrupt, and the only person you can trust in Night City is yourself and your gun (except Skippy. Lying stupid little smart gun.) That religion in the game is almost always treated with a sense of reverence and purity that is absent literally everywhere else. There are no religious nuts firebombing Ripper Docs, or hate mobs protesting outside of the Doll Houses or Brain Dance Clubs. There aren’t any televangelists tricking their flock into forking over piles of eddies. Religion is the sanctum from the corruption of the world, and arguably the only one.

I would honestly argue that claiming that faith – any faith – is the only way to escape all the awful in the world and then couple that about putting it in a game that is very much at its core about the fear of death is a political argument. It is making the case that there really is only one way out and it is very much a belief you have to buy in to. It’s a well disguised sermon without any specific practice being vaunted as the right one – but the game is still a sermon.

But maybe that’s what Pondsmith meant when he said, “you can only save yourself?” Or perhaps this is what CD Projekt Red took away from that statement. Wonder if Hare Krishna is still around in 2077…

Why DID Ultima Suck So Much in Final Fantasy II?

The Ultima Bomb Unleashed (Final Fantasy Type-0)

Now that I’ve finished up Final Fantasy IV and looked back a bit on my previous journeys in The Final Fantasy Retrospective I always come back to my one utter bafflement, the one joke of a concept that ended up with me throwing in the towel on the whole game and declaring my intent to just finish it and move on: The Ultima spell in Final Fantasy II.

For those who haven’t watched my series on Final Fantasy II, a large chunk of the game’s narrative is spent building up this legendary world-shattering spell that will only be unlocked when the end of days is truly upon the world at large. There is only one copy of said spell, meaning only one person can learn it and if they forget it to learn a different spell then it is gone forever. But why would you forget it to learn something else? It’s the ultimate spell. A white magic spell said to turn the tides of the very apocalypse.

Well, probably because it did less damage than Fire?

Yeah, the spell ended up completely sucking for me. A massive whiff. Didn’t do a dang thing worth spending the MP on. But why? Why did this narratively important spell turn out to be so underwhelming? Well, I decided to spend my weekend trying to figure that out – and boy oh boy did I find a treat. The spell doesn’t suck. My characters sure as hell did.

See, Ultima in Final Fantasy II is a spell that has a unique damage formula built on the mechanics that are completely unique to that installment in the franchise: Skill proficiency and leveling. The potency of the Ultima spell swings wildly depending on the number of ranks you have in the spell AND the average number of ranks you have across all the other weapon skills and spells you can use in the game. So if Guy only used Axes, and has Rank 16 axes, but only has Rank 1 for every other weapon? That’s gonna hurt him. For every 24 cumulative ranks among all eight weapon skills and sixteen learned spells, you increase Ultima’s power by one “tier”. The end result makes it one of the most wildly swinging spells with the following formula:

Ultima Level * [FLOOR(SUM(All Weapon Skill Levels + All Magic Spell Levels) / 24)+FLOOR(FLOOR(SUM(All Weapon Skill Levels + All Magic Spell Levels)/24)/2)]^2 + 100

Or to clean it up a bit:

LEVELS = Sum(All weapon skill ranks + all magic spell ranks) — Unlearned spell slots count as Rank 0.
TIER = Floor( LEVELS / 24 )
BASE_DAMAGE = Ultima Rank * (TIER + Floor(TIER / 2))^2 + 100

So what does that mean? It means that at it’s lowest point – all weapons at rank 1, only Ultima learned and at rank 1 – a cast of Ultima will deal 100 damage for the cost of 1 mp. Which isn’t bad! Really, not taking into account the possibility of a critical hit (Double damage) or random variance (giving it a range of 61 to 139), it still deals better damage than a Rank 1 Fire spell at the start of the game… but you don’t GET Ultima at the start of the game. And it’s a hell of a lot harder to get than a Fire Tome.

What about if we tweak that some? What if we maxed everything BUT our newly learned Ultima? Rank 16 on every weapon and 15 spells, but with rank 1 Ultima. Just learned it. How much will it do then? Between 556 and 612 damage. So if we leveled up EVERYTHING but Ultima to the ultimate pinnacle of our ability, taught that one character to use every single weapon and grinded them out to Rank 16 along with 15 other spells… we do about 6x more damage.

Well then, let’s change that up. What about maximum rank Ultima? Say we could learn Ultima right away and start the game with it, and for another scenario let’s figure out the absolute maximum damage that the spell can do when everything is at Rank 16. Well let me crunch the numbers…

Scenario 1 (Rank 16 Ultima, Rank 1 Weapons, Rank 0 for all other spells): 116 damage.
Scenario 2 (Everything Rank 16): 9,316 damage.

So uh… That swings a bit, right? Lemme put this information in a Handy-Dandy Table(tm):

Rank 1 UltimaRank 16 Ultima
Minimum Rank Everything Else100 Damage116 Damage
Maximum Rank Everything Else584 Damage9316 Damage

It’s not really hard to see why this spell is only rewarding if you fully take advantage of leveling all your proficiencies. Especially since Ultima doesn’t take into account strength or magic power, it doesn’t matter what kind of stat growth the character has had as long as their ranks are high – preferably maxed out. Because if even one skill or spell is 15 instead of 16? That damage drops by 1500. A “tier” of 15 instead of 16 is that much of a drop, and a reminded that with the way it’s calculated, Tier 16 is only obtainable with all max ranks. Anything less starts dropping hard. Tier 14 – which is between 336 and 359 cumulative ranks – drops by another 700 points of damage.

So why did my use of Ultima not work out compared to other spells? I gave it Firion who pretty much only knew how to use swords, so there’s what? A total of 16 ranks. He only knew 9 spells out of his 16 and Ultima was at Rank 7. Assuming most of the spells were rank 8 through 10… plug that in… carry the one… Yeah. That fits. Sub 1000 damage. Based on the numbers in my actual streams & videos, I’d pin my total putting me at around tier 6 or 7, which would be about right with the numbers. Though in my defense, the numbers were on par if I had maxed EVERYTHING else and only leveled Ultima up to like rank 2… So which really was the best use of my time? I dunno. I still won in the end.

So yeah, that’s why Ultima sucked in Final Fantasy II. Unless you knew how it worked, and knew that ignored all other stats in favor of how many bars you filled up in the skill and spell proficiencies, chances are you’d end up screwing yourself and have better luck chucking Flare or Fire 10+ at the Emperor for the final battle.

Why did I go into this? Because honestly I’m sometimes very curious how the numbers shake on the back side of games, and the complete bafflement at how this amazing plot-demanding spell turned into a total dud. One time I did an entire breakdown on Tumblr on Final Fantasy XII’s Flowering Cactoid and why even at level 90 in New Game Plus, the fight can wipe you if you haven’t recruited Balthier yet or don’t have any guns to bypass the little things insane evasion (Guns bypass evasion in XII).

At least I didn’t play the original Famicom version. Apparently that one had a bug that capped the damage at 500 regardless of anything you did.

THAT would have sucked.

Where to Find All the Skyrim Anniversary Creation Club Content

While people are eagerly running around Endwalker, grabbing quests, and having adventures, it reminds me of another big open RPG that had a big update lately. That’s right, Skyrim Anniversary Edition dropped about a month back and I’ve been having a ball getting back into the game and exploring all the new additions that the Anniversary upgrade brings. Namely, about 75 Creation Club additions have been delivered into the game (making it well worth the $20 upgrade in my opinion). But even if you are familiar with the world of Tamriel and the province of Skyrim, you might have a tricky time finding all the things you just bought. They’re hidden behind quests or stashed in random spots. So I figured I’d compile a little list of where to find all of them – mostly for myself but I figured I’d share it with all of you!


Content NameStart Location
BittercupReading ‘Mysterious Altar’ at Dead Man’s Drink, Falkreath
Forgotten SeasonsFind the Runoff Caverns (West of Lost Valley Redoubt)
Ghosts of the TribunalRead dossier in the Temple in Raven Rock.
Goblins!Read Letter to Clexius in The Bee and Barb, Riften
Plague of the DeadDelivered by Courier at level 5.
The ContestRead Adonato Letelli’s Journal in Candlehearth Hall, Windhelm
The CauseDelivered by Courier at level 46.
Saints & SeducersTalk to traveling khajit merchant, Ri’saad.


Content NameStart Location
Bloodchill ManorDelivered by Courier at level 12.
Dead Man’s DreadRead The Restless in Winking Skeever, Solitude.
FarmingInvestigate Goldenhills Plantation, East of Rorikstead.
Gallows HallRead the journal inside the fort on the North shore of Mara’s Eye Pond.
HendhraheimDelivered by Courier at level 10.
MyrwatchRead journal near corpse at the tower East of Morthal.
NchuanthumzRead Seeks-Ancient-Artifact’s Journal vol 1 in Frozen Hearth, Winterhold.
Shadowfoot SanctumPurchased for 7500 gold in Ragged Flagon, Riften.
Tundra HomesteadPurchased for 7500 gold in Dragonsreach, Whiterun.


Content NameStart Location
Arcane AccessoriesPurchased or added to random loot.
Arcane ArcherPurchased or added to random loot.
Arms of ChaosRead Hyenni’s Journal in Skytemple Ruin, North of Winterhold
Bow of ShadowsTalk to the Jarl’s Steward in Dragonsreach, Whiterun
ChrysamereFound in Forelfost, South-East of Riften
Dawnfang/DuskfangFollow the ghost in the Riften Ratway
Elite CrossbowRead Kragrash’s Letter at Ironback Hideout, North-West of Solitude.
Expanded CrossbowsPurchased or Crafted.
Fearsome FistsPurchased, added to random loot or Crafted.
GoldbrandFind Eranya in Scallum of Boethiah, East of Windhelm.
Headman’s CleaverAsk an innkeeper about rumors.
Necromancer GrimoirePurchased or added to random loot.
Ruin’s EdgeFound in Stony Creek Cave, South-East of Windhelm.
ShadowrendClaim weapon in the hot springs near the Atronach stone.
Staff of HasedokiRead Smugglers Trade Notes at Bandit Camp, West of Whiterun
Staff of SheogorathRead Mysterious Note in Retching Netch, Raven Rock
StavesPurchased or added to random loot.
Stendarr’s HammerStolen from the Dwemer Museum, Markarth
Sunder & WraithguardRead Lost Caravan Guard’s Note in New Gnisis Cornerclub, Windhelm
UmbraRead Vigilant’s Report in Champions Rest, North-North-East of Riften


Content NameStarting Location
Adventurer’s BackpackCrafted or added to random loot.
Civil War Champion ArmorsRead Battle of Champions at Drunken Huntsman, Whiterun
Daedric MailAsk an innkeeper about rumors to get Missing Merchant flyer.
Daedric PlateRead Death of a Crimson Dirk in Dragonreach Dungeon, Whiterun
Divine CrusaderFound in Four Skull Lookout, East-North-East of Markarth
Dragonplate ArmorAsk an Innkeeper about rumors to get the Bounty for Crowstooth
Dragonscale ArmorRead Crimson Dirks vol 4 in Candlehearth Hall, Windhelm
Dwarven MailRead the Arena Fan’s Note on a corpse on a hill South-East of Ivarstead
Dwarven PlateRead Looter’s Note on the bar in the Silver Blood Inn, Markarth
Ebony PlateDelivered by Courier at level 32.
Elven HunterRead Guard Dossier: Aesrael in Falkreath Barracks.
The Grey Cowl Returns!Confront the thief in the Riften Graveyard
Horse ArmorTalk to Hosteler at any stable
Iron PlateRead Nightgate Inn Patron’s Note in Nightgate Inn
Leather ScoutRead the dossier at Cliffside Retreat.
Lord’s MailRead Letter to General Tulius at Castle Dour, Solitude.
Netch LeatherRead Peddler’s Journal on body found North-North-West of Skaal Village
Nordic JewelryRead Certificate of Authority after finding or buying nordic jewelry
Orcish PlateRead the dossier in Whiterun Guard Barracks
Orcish ScaleRead the dossier on 2nd floor of Riften Guard Barracks
Redguard Elite ArmamentsTalk to Azadi in Shor’s Stone, North of Riften
Silver ArmorRead Msharra’s Diary in Bannered Mare, Whiterun.
Stalhrim FurRead Skjol’s Journal at a Camp South-West of Skaal Village
Steel SoldierRead Suicide at Dragon Bridge at Four Shields Tavern, Dragon Bridge
Spell KnightRead Crypt of the Heart – Draft in the Silverblood Inn, Markarth
Vigil EnforcerRead Letter to Keeper Carcette in Hall of the Vigilant, South of Dawnstar


Content NameStarting Location
Bone Wolf PetDelivered by Courier after completing The Wolf Queen Awakened
Camping KitCrafted
Dwarven Armored Crab PetPurchased from Calcemo in Markarth
FishingStarts from Fishing Supplies or Riften Fishery
Nix-Hound PetPurchased in Retching Netch Corner Club, Raven Rock
Pets of SkyrimRead For Sale in Bannered Mare, Whiterun
Rare CuriosItems added to Khajit merchant caravans
Saturalia Holiday PackObtained from Agrane Perual, West of Dawnstar
SurvivalActivate after Prologue or via the menu
Wild HorsesRead Soran’s Journal at Arcanaeum, College of Winterhold

Which Kingdom Hearts Games Do I HAVE To Play?

The typical fan answer to this often heard question is usually “All of them” but that’s not actually true. While the Kingdom Hearts franchise is sprawling and wide, to follow the core story of what has been dubbed “The Dark Seeker Saga” – namely every game between the first Kingdom Hearts and the wrap up of the mobile game Dark Roads which is set to come out in the near-ish future – you really only need to play five of the games. The rest of the series is mostly there to flesh out the characters or additional backstory/worldbuilding.

So which games are the ones you have to play to follow Kingdom Hearts thus far? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ll happily tell you. Here is my list of the five Kingdom Hearts games you have to play to follow the plot, with justifications of course (and trying my best to avoid spoilers):


While not the first game chronologically in this series, it’s always best to start with this one. It establishes the primary characters and their personalities as well as the basic rules by which this fantastical universe operates under. It is the most basic starting point, because it is the starting point for the series. So every concept is treated like you are a newcomer. I do not recommend playing through the series in “chronological order” for this very reason. Each game builds on the previous one and this is the base that everything that comes after sprouts from.


The sequel starts with our protagonist Sora completely losing his memories of everything that happened since the first game. Hence why Chain of Memories is easily skip-able. If you really end up enjoying the villains of this game – Organization XIII – I would recommend Chain of Memories & 358/2 Days to get more of the Organization’s story but it’s not super critical to the core plot.

Kingdom Hearts II mostly builds off of the first game by expanding the universe and introducing new concepts to the lore – the idea of ‘Nobodies’ as the counterpart to ‘Heartless’, expanding on the villain in the first game that begins to set up the true villain of the saga, and the continuing growth of our main protagonist trio.


The first “side game” or “unnumbered game” in this list, Birth By Sleep stands as a game-long flashback to 10 years before the first game and helps establish the “how did we get here” part of the story. This game also formally introduces the ‘true’ villain of the saga and begins to explore his motivations and methodologies. If you’ve ever heard a Kingdom Hearts fan use the term “Norted” – yeah, this is where that whole thing started.

Birth By Sleep always introduces another trio of characters who become more important in the fourth and fifth games on the list, but were only hinted at in the special edition ‘Final Mix’ version of Kingdom Hearts II. They serve to help expand and establish the role of Keyblade Masters and Wielders in the games’ universe.

If you enjoy this look back at the backstory, I’m afraid the only other recommendations are to dig into the now offline mobile games which fill in the role of legends and myths about how this world came about. Which might not be a terrible idea to explore for reasons I’ll get into below. There’s also the Birth By Sleep ~A Fragmentary Passage~ which is something of a mini-episode tech demo that takes place following Birth By Sleep’s Final Episode ending.


This unumbered game was originally released on the 3DS hence the 3 D’s in the title. It’s now been remade as part of the re-release collections with a much easier to use control scheme. Dream Drop Distance is the immediate prequel to Kingdom Hearts III and introduces a number of concepts that will become important in that game. It also fills in the gaps between Kingdom Hearts II and III as well as ties Birth By Sleep into the current events of the saga.

In short, Dream Drop Distance is the pin that connects all the various pieces of the franchise to get it ready for the big finale. It’s also nice because it includes codex style entries that give a brief run down of the events of the other games in the series that are left off this list. So if you want to fill in some of the gaps, Dream Drop Distance offers a refresher course.

Dream Drop Distance also introduces what is probably the most controversial concept in the franchise, which is saying a lot. Quite a few people have stated that this game was the one that lost them because of it. That concept being ‘Time Travel’. I won’t lie, it can take a bit to chew through the very different rules of Kingdom Hearts Time Travel, but its also a crucial concept that comes up in the final game.


I don’t think this one needs explaining. It’s the finale of the story. It takes all the elements in the previous games on this list and brings them to their conclusion while also beginning to set up the next saga in the Kingdom Hearts franchise which will kick off… someday. No clue. We’re about to launch into a big anniversary year for the series, so maybe we’ll hear something then.

The one thing to note is that there is a DLC for the game titled “Re:Mind” and I do recommend playing it to get the full experience even though it can be very disorientating at times (There’s more of that Time Travel stuff involved as well as fallout from fundamentally breaking the laws of nature… you’ll see.) Re:Mind serves as kind of a more complete ending that takes a lot of what is implied in the original and then expands it to make it explicit.

Why Isn’t X on this List?

The title of this section is a lore pun for the series as much as it is an honest question. If you assume X means ‘fill in the blank’ then I can only say that most of the other games in the series tended to fall into one or more other categories: A) Expanded on elements of the story, but did not add significant new ones, B) Is explained or recapped in the games on the list or C) Literally not applicable. Chain of Memories is actually all three, since it’s canonical that Sora has no memory of those events even happening until much later. Skipping it is tantamount to experiencing what Sora is experiencing in Kingdom Hearts II.

Ultimately, Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days flesh out the Organization, Re:Coded honestly ties more into the mobile games than the main series, Dark Road is the villain origin story and Back Cover is just a tie in movie to the mobile games. Speaking of…

The other part of the joke is that the original mobile game was titled CHI as in the Greek Letter represented as X. It becomes a reoccurring thing starting in Birth By Sleep since CHI can be pronounced KEY. Anyway, the mobile game series which consists of X, it’s reboot sequel Unchained X and the final installment Union Cross, all take place an unknown amount of time before the Dark Seeker Saga. They are regarded at the time of Sora’s adventure as fairy tales. However, everything thus far has indicated that they are directly tied to the next saga of the series. We see several prominent characters from it reappear in Kingdom Hearts III and the rhythm game Melody of Memory which serves as something as a prequel to the next saga.

So why isn’t on this list? Well, for one, it’s not possible to play through. The game went offline earlier this year. There’s a theater mode update to watch all the cutscenes coming, but you might as well just watch a youtube video that recaps the plot of them. The other reason is that it mostly is stuff that sets up a saga that hasn’t really begun yet. Just teased. This list is about understanding the Dark Seeker Saga, and really the X stuff just doesn’t play a significant role in it other than filling in a single plot hole about a Disney villain that no one was even asking about because ‘it’s magic, you don’t have to explain it.’

Okay, But The Games Still Don’t Make Sense

Sigh… Okay, I see this one all the time. The games don’t make sense. The story is silly and can’t be followed. The rules of the world are inconsistent. Look, all I can tell you is that this isn’t hard sci-fi. The universe and the stories are dominated by emotional storytelling, not hard and fast logic. To paraphrase Jean Cocteau, the world is built on the logic of a dream and you need to interpret with childlike fancy and the whims of a fairy tale. Why does Rumpelstiltskin want a first born child? Why does a kiss wake up a girl poisoned by an apple? It’s that kind of thing. Very Disney. The games try to provide some rules they try to follow, but in the end emotion rules the plot. A rule can be broken by determination and true love.

My recommendation is to start from that point and then follow the story and rules from there. I never found the story hard to follow like that. But then again, maybe this isn’t the story for you? Some stories are like that. But hey, then maybe the games are fun to play. Don’t need to enjoy the story to enjoy the mechanics of a fun game.

Vry vs The Dungeons & Dragons 5e Character Sheet

I have a bone to pick with you, Mr. Character Sheet.

Your attempts to make things “easier” and “accessible” have left me with a constant frustration at our table. You’ve dumbed things down so far as to completely break any attempt to swim against the stream. Customizable? Hardly. You sir, have betrayed the very players you swore to aid!

Of course, what I’m actually talking about is the way that the Dungeons & Dragons character sheet automatically assumes that you should fill in the appropriate ability score modifiers with the skills they “go with”. Bah. I scoff at you, Sir Sheet. I use the very rules laid out in the Player’s Handbook that state – AND I QUOTE!

In some situations, though, your proficiency might reasonably apply to a different kind of check. In such cases, the DM might ask for a check using an unusual combination of ability and skill, or you might ask your DM if you can apply a proficiency to a different check. For example, if you have to swim from an offshore island to the mainland, your DM might call for a Constitution check to see if you have the stamina to make it that far. In this case, your DM might allow you to apply your proficiency in Athletics and ask for a Constitution (Athletics) check.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

How then am I supposed to accomplish that easily when every player at the table immediately stares at the big glaring number next to the word Athletics and murmurs out a series of monosyllabic grunts that could only be interpreted as, “Well that’s what I use right?” Instead, I – their benevolent god of all – have to halt the game that I have crafted with these two hands of untold power for their amusement to explain that no, simple ignorant player of meat and bone, if you have proficiency with Athletics, you can add your Proficiency bonus to a Constitution check. Then attempt to reascend my throne of conjured creativity to wrangle these blind and deaf cats to the next plot point before one of them opens their steaming word hole to unleash another question that they would know the answer to if only they had pried open that holiest of tomes that they spent half a c-note on and actually read something in it.

How about a proposal, if you will, to hide the ‘default skills’ and just show that big dot that shows you have Proficiency with the skill. Indeed, we can clean things up significantly by putting Skills & Saves in a single column (first Saves, then Skills) and just a dot next to them to indicate whether to add the proficiency bonus to them. You could put the box that indicates their current Proficiency Bonus right at the top of the column. Just give it a quick scan and see if you add the number at the top to your Ability Check.

I don’t think this approach is unreasonable. Not in the slightest. In every adventure, on every monster block, and indeed any part of any published text will always frame the check as such: [Ability Modifier to Add to Roll] (Skill to Add Proficiency With) [Difficulty Check Number]. So really there wouldn’t ever be a need in that format to remember what skill goes with what ability score. If you really need to remember on the fly, Dungeon Master Screens and various other shortcut cheat sheets for the Dungeon Master can readily have that information available for reference. The only possible way this would be difficult is if you were completely illiterate and are still learning what colors are and which shapes going in the different holes. In that case, 4th Edition is over there.

At the core of it, I’d like to draw attention that these are called “Ability Checks” in both the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Not “Skill Checks” – which was the nomenclature of previous editions. Shouldn’t the focus be on making a check with your ABILITY SCORE and then getting a bonus based on your training. If you wanted the focus to be on Skills then why didn’t you call them Skill Checks as was the standard until this very edition? Do you hate the written word so much at the Wizards of the Coast that you wish to destroy the already unstable foundation that our modern English shakily stands on like a chihuahua trapped in a wind tunnel?

Defaulting assigning a specific numeric value to the Skill on the character sheet will cause the player to associate that number and that number alone with that skill. For example, if the player had a great strength score and decided for some reason to make constitution their dump stat, then using the example above would be akin in their mind to driving over their first born in a pick up truck. You have robbed them of a potential 20% increase in their chances to succeed and believe me when they are muttering to themselves in the late of night while sharpening the very blade that is destined for your poor dungeon master throat – you will regret the false hope that Mr. Character Sheet gave to your player.

So really what I’m saying is maybe a few more options for character sheets set at the campaign level in D&D Beyond.

That’s all.

Oh, and uh. One final note here. This is all just for fun. The Character sheet thing is a pet peeve of mine that I figured I’d have a bit of a laugh at making a big hyperbolic argument about it. However, the internet is a place where sarcasm and humor is sometimes very easily missed so I wanted to place this little disclaimer here at the bottom before everyone got their blood boiling. No, I don’t think this is a serious issue. Yes, I would love more options for character sheet layouts on digital tools. No, I don’t hate D&D 5e. I don’t hate D&D 4e. In fact, 4e has a very fond place in my heart. Do not worry, this was just hear to be a bit of silly-angry-rant-fun. Hope you had a giggle. – Vry

I Can (Not) Manage a Park – Planet Coaster

The plush mascot glove has been thrown and pick it up I shall answer! Vry takes on one of Planet Coaster’s Challenge Scenarios in Campaign Mode and then gets… distracted.

Full Stream Here.

Closing Song: Fiddlesticks Rag (OC Remix) by Diodes

You can find me on Twitter @Vrykerion and on Twitch where I record this footage live at