Saturday, June 7, 2014

Moving Box by Box

Hello dear reader, the blog you have come to enjoy is no longer here. As of today Going Box by Box will continue over at WordPress. The new address is I'm making the move to take advantage of WordPress' various features, and because it's a more powerful community platform.

That's not to say that Blogger hasn't been good to me. It's hosted this blog from its beginning and given me a place to put my writing. Without that people like you would never have read any of it. And, because of you this blog reached over 15,000 views. Thanks!

Now. For the foreseeable future, this blog will continue to exist on Blogger. However, it will only be an archive of past entries. For everything new (and old) for Going Box by Box, come check out

Thanks again!

Pandora's Tower is finished, time for final thoughts (spoilers below)

Pandora's Tower came to North America thanks largely to Operation Rainfall. This fan initiative also helped to encourage Nintendo to bring The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles to North America. These last two games are dyed in the wool J-RPGs (with some variations).
But Pandora's Tower is the odd one out.
It's more of an RPG in the same way that Zelda games are sometimes considered RPGs.
You're given a big world (or a lot of dungeons) and get to explore, upgrade equipment, find new items, and mostly have bits of the story revealed as you do those first three things.
A stronger case can be made for Pandora's Tower being an RPG since it also involves an experience and levelling system, as well as character stats that determine the player's defence, attack, and stamina/health.
But Pandora's Tower also brings something else from the genre of the J-RPG into an action game framework.
The amount of HP of the game's final boss.
Seriously, with the boss' six weak spots each having their own screen-wide health bar, this battle can take a very long time. Since I didn't have any power-ups with me, it took me approximately 35 minutes to finish off the final Master, Zeron.
As such, it's definitely fair to say that the final battle is more a test of endurance than of skill. And that's fine, except that the quality of your ending isn't really based on your skill. 
It doesn't matter if you've finished the game without dying, or if you've somehow 100%-ed the game on your first play through. Instead, which of the game's endings you get depends on your affinity with Elena. Unless your relationship is ranked between eight and ten on a ten point scale, the ending is a let down in one way or another.
If your relationship is fairly strong (between six and eight on said scale) both Elena and Aeron hop off the top of the towers to rid the world of the bit of Zeron that lives inside of her. Also, the the Scar (a massive chasm over which the Towers are perched) is sealed.
If your relationship is middling on the game's scale, then only Elena jumps. Once again, in this ending, the Scar is sealed.
If your relationship is just okay, then Elena winds up trapped in the monster Zeron and Aeron uses her to bring a swift end to the world's ongoing war.
And, if your relationship is poor, then you wind up having to kill Elena.
Alternately, the game's best ending sees the curse lifted from Elena, the Scar healed, and the two living happily ever after in her village while the war comes to a close. But you only see that if you nurse your affinity with Elena to the full.
I suppose this affinity mechanic also links Pandora's Tower more strongly to J-RPGs, since there are a few that lock their best endings behind seemingly superficial sidequests.
All of this business of bosses and endings aside, I put 36.5 hours into this game. But it feels like I put in far more.
I think I'm left with this feeling because each play session engrossed me. Partially because Pandora's Tower is overtly darker than most of the games I play and because there's nothing to the game except the game.
There are no characters to interact with aside from Mavda and Elena. There are no oversized fields to roam in which things are cleverly hidden. There aren't even mini-games, unless you count inventory/equipment management and relationship tending.
So, what's my conclusion about Pandora's Tower, having finished it?
That it's an intense game. I always had a sense that every fight was for high stakes (because of the ever shortening curse gauge, and because monsters could often send you sprawling and sometimes surround you). The Masters offer some epic battles. The game's generally drab colour palette sets a remorseful, Gothic atmosphere. And the game's operatic score makes everything in it seem larger than life.
A final boss with six, full-length HP bars, as cumbersome a fight as it can be, is right at home here and to be expected.
Though making the entire game this intense would be too much, the Zelda development team working away on Zelda Wii U could definitely learn a thing or two from Pandora's Tower. (Just so long as it's not that the best ending should reflect the players' skill in only one of the game's mechanics/aspects.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Nearing the end of 'The Madness of Crowds'' alchemists

Mackay makes it sound as if alchemists were more successful as time went on. Either because people's hopes were raised to a fever pitch, or the art of deception became so refined. 
Stories about people like Jean Delisle, a French alchemist from seventeenth century Provence, are a great example of both possibilities in action. 
Having already detailed alchemists' use of false-bottomed crucibles or wands filled with gold and stopped up with wax or butter, Mackay suggests that these were Delisle's tools of choice. And he insists that the man who was quite famous in his own day (having allegedly transmuted base metals into gold and silver hundreds of times in public places) was nothing more than a master of sleight of hand.
This stance makes a great deal of sense since Delisle refused to perform his transmutation before the king thrice. In fact, Delisle had to be drug to Paris. Even then he never performed before the king based on the excuse that he couldn't in fact make the Philosopher's Stone, but an Italian had given him what he had used before and had exhausted his reserves of it during his years in Provence.
Of course, being from a period of time closer to Mackay's, it's no surprise that so much more information about Delisle is available to him and thus he treats him with much more nuance than the earlier practitioners of alchemy.
It's also to be expected that being alive in the midst of the Victorian era, with its legions of genre writers (then largely called "hacks") and poets, Mackay points out the literary debt owed to the Rosicrucians' benevolent spirits (sylphs, undines, gnomes, salamanders) from their emergence in the seventeenth century up to his own day. Such creatures remain a steady inspiration even to today's fantasy writers and figure largely into the mythos of the incredible Tales of series of JRPGs. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pokemon Double Battle disappointment

I've just made my way through Eterna Forest in Pokemon Diamond. So, for the first time, I've experienced the Pokemon games' Double Battles. To be honest, I'm not that impressed. 
A Pokemon battle that's two versus two is more interesting than the usual one-on-one. But it still feels very much like a single battle since you only control your own Pokemon. The result is a battle that's reminiscent of the fights in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, even  while you have two party members: restrictive.
Being able to control only one member of a two member team just seems like a wasted opportunity to me.
What if two Pokemon of related types could combine techniques?
Or what if doing two techniques in a certain order unleashed some sort of hidden skill?
No doubt the later generations of Pokemon games get into this sort of thing. Though if they don't, then things like Double Battles aren't nearly as innovative as they could be.
Nonetheless, Double Battles do hold some potential for new ways to develop the game's plot since they mean that you temporarily team up with another trainer. 
Disappointingly, though, my partner in the Eterna Forest, Cheryl, looks like she'll be just a one-off character. But, there are another seven gyms to get through, and likely a whole lot of plot to develop. At this point I know almost nothing about Pokemon Diamond's Team Galactic after all. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Zelazny's crystal telephones

Things are starting to come together in The Changing Land. Semirama, the ancient Queen that Jelerak revived to speak with the mad elder god Tualua within Castle Timeless, has sent for Dilvish. It's been confirmed that the Weleand of Murcave who has started towards the Castle isn't who he says he is. And Baran is plotting gain control of both Semirama and Tualua.
But what has me most interested is the use of crystals in the book so far. I'm not one who's versed in the lore or use of crystals in current pagan belief, but Zelazny's use of them is fascinating. In no small part because they figure into my own fantasy writing.
Though, I can't help but think that I needlessly complicate their use.
Zelazny's crystals on the other hand, are basically telephones. The wizard seeking contact with another brings him or her to mind, stares into the crystal and then the one they seek appears (so long as they're available). Zelazny's use of communication crystals is just so simple despite Zelazny's giving absolutely no explanation of how these crystals work. But he doesn't need to, and that's the rub.
It makes me really wonder if Zelazny himself knew how they worked, or if his crystals really were just stand-ins for telephones. Putting the familiar into the strange makes it all the easier for people to understand. Perhaps someday such a process will replace our own crude dialling method.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Two Masters, two bits of Flesh, heading to one ending (spoilers below)

My heart is still racing. The battle against the final two Masters was about as intense as I expected, but delivered in a much different way.

First Aeron gets a free attack on each of them. These attacks pull them out of the wall they were attached to and leads to its crumbling. Bringing down this wall opens the room up to the size of the game's usual boss chambers and also joins the Dawn Tower to the Dusk Tower (or vice-versa). But then the real fight begins.

Each Master has its own attack (a light beam for the one of Dawn and a homing shadow ball for the one of Dusk) along with a secondary attack that leaves a sword-like thing sticking out of the ground.

So long as Aeron steps out of that secondary attack's way.

Dodging isn't particularly difficult, though at times one or the other of the Masters will trap Aeron in the luminescent moss that's all over the interior of these two Towers.

To get them to expose their succulent Master Flesh Aeron needs to grab one of the swords with  the chain and then throw it at the opposite Master. Light swords go to the Dusk Tower's Master and shadow swords go to the Dawn Tower's Master. It's pretty simple.

Now, I had been forewarned in the guide I was following to get through these last two Towers that these Masters need to be finished off at relatively the same time. Otherwise the one that Aeron vanquishes first might revive while he deals with the other. So I winnowed each one's health down fairly consistently. But I was not expecting the little cutscene that followed the fight in which Aeron goes for the Master Flesh but both Masters also chase down their essential bits.

Luckily, after having wielded it for so long, Aeron's proficient enough with the chain to snag both chunks of Flesh and pin them to a pillar, well out of reach.

It's a very engrossing boss fight. And all the more so when your sensor bar is at just the right distance to pick up your Wiimote's signal. Whenever one of the Master's Flesh was exposed but the pointer for the chain disappeared I waggled all the harder until it came back on the screen.

Also from that guide that I had used I learned that if you're bound for the worst ending, the final boss is fought on the lawn of The Observatory.

Having stepped outside after Elena ate the Flesh, had her vision (which I think confirmed that the couple that's starred in them all were the last two Masters or are the game's final boss), and then rested up, I can say with confidence that I did not get the worst ending.

Since I cultivated a decent relationship with Elena, I'll probably get the game's standard ending. But I'm not expecting the "best" one, whatever that might entail. Though I won't know for sure until my next session.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mackay lets some alchemists slip through

It seems as though I need to reign in my criticism of Mackay. He remains entirely skeptical, but he's starting to admit that some of what alchemists have done is actually good either outright or simply through omission.

First, a case of his seeming to let an alchemist by simply through omission. In his coverage of Sendivogius (at work in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) he never calls the man out as a charlatan or fake. Mackay's finishing this entry with a quick variation of "need I say more?" definitely implies that he believes this to be the case. He also indirectly jabs at Sendivogius when he notes that tales of this alchemist's greatest deeds can be found in the work that his attendant wrote about him.

Mackay has worked through implication and omission before, sure. But what makes the case of Sendivogius stand out is that, according the the stories told about him, he actually possessed the Philosopher's Stone and regularly transmuted quicksilver into gold, though he covered his wealth with a show of poverty and infirmity. I suppose at this point in his miscellany of human error Mackay simply suspects that any discerning reader will read the fantastic story of Sendivogius and conclude for themselves that he was nothing but a fraud.

I guess I'm just not that discerning, in the end.

The other point that I've come across in which Mackay seems to soften in his treatment of alchemists is when he outright says that for all of their bluster and visionary nonsense, the seventeenth century Rosicrucians did some good. For, according to Mackay, they were the ones that changed alchemy into more of a spiritual exercise and they helped to do away with old superstitions about demons and imps being everywhere and at the root of all human ills. Interestingly, Mackay makes almost nothing of their replacing these superstitions with new ones about benevolent spirits being everywhere and eager to serve humanity.

There's just no popular madness like a seventeenth century popular madness.