Hello, and welcome to the latest RPG Elements column. It's been a while since the last column, but we are back this week in fine form. We have two special guest Reviewers, Glenn Wilson and Scott Wachter. Glenn has an in depth Final Fantasy XIV Art Book review for us. While Scott tackles a couple of RPG Comic spin-offs. We also have a few quick stories about Star Wars games, namely Knights of the Old Republic.
With that said, on to the stories!
Review by special guest: Glenn Wilson
This guy knows his art books...
I have made a point of buying every art book that gets released for the most memorable, fun, or visually unique games I've played. As my first MMO and the RPG I've spent the most hours enjoying since Diablo II, the only thing keeping me from buying the Final Fantasy XIV art book sooner was Square Enix's decision to release it in North America months after its printing. It has its pros and cons, but overall is a better product than I expected even if it won't be one of the best books on my shelf.
The art book opens with its most polished, impressive works: massive, detailed collages and concept art of various groupings of the game's characters, monsters, and settings. Whether you want to see the nations' leaders, the Scions, antagonists, character jobs, or primals featured, it's all there. The variety of image art will please everyone and includes locations and creatures added to the game in content patches, such as Ramuh and a conceptual imagining of Frontline. Yoshida and Takahashi are primarily featured, as they seem to have the best linework and attention to detail of all the artists. As a fan of monster art, my favorites were the gorgeous Crystal Tower boss collages and a drawing of Garuda in a signature pose. These hit on the most memorable images from the game for me, although anyone's favorite will be represented. A caveat: there are major spoilers in this section, including a cool two-page spread of the Final Coil of Bahamut Turn 4's boss.
The character section is the biggest surprise in the book thanks to how shockingly complete it is. From the starting equipment for each race and gender all the way up to High Allagan sets for every job, and most dungeon sets in-between, there's hardly any gear in the game that doesn't have its original drawings featured from multiple angles. A big bonus here is the artists' comments on their work. Unabashed admissions to time constraints and conceptual limitations are fun to read, as are artists patting themselves on their backs for making particularly awesome items. I read every comment in this section and enjoyed how it added to my appreciation of the art. This is the largest section of the book and includes hundreds of drawings of weapons, crafting tools, and even summons and accessories.
The last half of the book isn't quite as thorough. Enemies focus on primals, dungeon bosses, and unique antagonists. Common enemies don't get much attention. On the whole the art is smaller, less detailed, and includes more pencil sketches. This continues through chapters on mounts and minions, housing, and the world. Several pages on chocobo bardings and other select mounts didn't resonate with me personally, though others might be happy their loyal steed gets so much attention, and while six pages packed with minions is an inundation of adorableness, the drawings are rough and it feels like the first filler. Depending on how quickly images of beds and bookshelves get old, the whole housing section could have been sliced down to a few pages or left out. Drawings of the world are hit and miss: some are impressive, detailed work recognizable from the game's load screens, most are rough sketches and monochrome drawings that don't do much artistically. The final chapters include a large collection of sketches and a small section for additional art. The requisite end-of-book sketch section features a wide variety of subjects, although it's slightly diminished by the number of sketches already included in previous chapters. The promotional art in the ending chapter is a fun bonus.
Overall, I was most impressed by the completeness of the book, which is not a compliment I give often; I always want more art. While I wish the enemy chapter included a better assortment of mundane foes, I can't complain about how inclusive the bosses are. Mounts, minions, and housing feel like filler to me, but speak to how complete the book aims to be. The highlights are the image art in the opening section, and the interesting comments by artists throughout the book. Little gems like Nagamine admitting that Bahamut doesn't look cool, or Yoshida saying a random character scribble early in development ended up becoming Admiral Merlwyb make reading the book as rewarding as viewing it. Downsides are the unfortunate paperback cover and dust jacket that's so tight, it ripped slightly both times I read it, and that there isn't more large, detailed art in the last half.
Verdict: Buy it. Read it. Rip it.
Publisher: Square Enix
Pages: 304, Color
In this story arc the sample characters from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game hit the big city of Magnimar in hopes of learning more about their quest they began in volume 2 only to get separated and sidetracked immediately. Some folks get kidnapped, the thief falls in with her old guild and their shady business but eventually the power of friendship and inter-species lesbian romance save the day and our heroes depart to carry their quest forward in to new uncertain dangers.
I realize it's sort of dumb to jump into a series in the mid-run and ask it to be a good point of entry and a good story, but this neither. Furthermore, I suspect from the content of these issues that any tension of the larger arc get sucked out of the story. In this volume, any suspense gets lost in this plot cul-de-sac of running around town.
The art by Leandro Oliveira is good, but it can't keep up with the original character designs. When they first appeared in the Core Manual these characters were drawn extremely detailed and strapped down with an entire character sheet's worth of gear, which is great for the game's dungeon punk aesthetic. But asking someone to replicate that degree of detail on multiple pages, with multiple poses per page with any degree precision is unreasonable, but it does mean that no one is particularly on model for the entire page count.
Verdict: Skip it. There's nothing that about this book that makes want to dig into back issues or carry forward and were I following the series the lack of narrative weight to this side trip would kill my interest in the series.
Writer: Jim Zub
Art: Leandro Oliviera
Publication Date: April 2015
Here's where the 'Creator of Skullkickers' becomes relevant because this is a high-octane fantasy romp. Story goes that a young elf wild mage is the city of Baldur's Gate in search of her twin brother of the wizardly variety who went missing just as some weird stuff started going down in the city. In the course of her search, a wild magic surge animates the city's statue of its beloved ranger Minsc and his stalwart hamster companion. One-liners, butt-kicking, and sandwiches ensue.
These two end up banding together with a pair of thieves who have a weirdly specific grudge against the local nobility. They might matter later, but for this volume Minsc is stealing the show with crazy antics and swordfighting. This is some good, old-fashioned swashbuckling and dragon-slaying fun with no filler to be had.
The art keeps up with the frantic motion of the action with aplomb and character expression really shines through.
Verdict: Get it. Because we all need a little Minsc and Boo and butt-kicking on our comics shelves.
Publisher: IDW Publishing
How Star Wars Games Expanded Legends
Reading List: Articles Worth Your Time
All about that KotOR Love
This article on the official Star Wars home page, written by former IGN staff member and massive Star Wars fan Anthony Gallegos, highlights how some of our favorite Star Wars games have contributed to the expanded universe and become staples of the franchise. Chief among these games is of course Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which introduced the fan favorite character Revan.
5 Classic Star Wars Games To Match Modern Tastes
Another article by Anthony Gallegos. This one highlights some classic Star Wars games that still hold up even today. Of course, Star Wars: KotOR is featured prominently.
5 Great Works of Star Wars Video Game Box Art
Finally, this article from Brett Rector highlights the fact that Star Wars games have had some of the best box art of all time. The KotOR box art in particular is on par with the actual Star Wars movie posters.
That's it for this week. Many thanks to Glenn Wilson and Scott Wachter. For more from Scott, follow him on twitter @FowlSorcerous.
Let us know in the comments what cool RPG related merchandise or books you have been spending your time with and money on lately.
Until next time!
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