The Road to Aht Urhgan – Marks II

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Disclaimer – 28 December 2017

          Much like anyone who has developed a skill I cringe looking back on earlier works. I know this work will be a hard to read and is not formatted in the best way. However my writings past, present, and future will all be made with the same heart and spirit. I love writing. I love sharing what I make. I take pride in all the works I produce. This is simply from my earlier days. Back then, I didn’t know what I was going to make out of this blogging gig. So I wrote, and I posted. If I got hung up on it being perfect, I never would have shared it.

          Since then I’ve read and learned. The results that came from 150% effort in the past come from 30% now. That is just how growth works.

          I may come back and edit this one day to bring it in line with my present standards. This is likely if my written works prove to earn my daily bread. Or if I have no pending articles (ha) and find myself bored. Still, I would not have made it where I am without this stepping stone, humble as it is.

This said, none-the-less, I hope you enjoy reading this offering.

Jasper H.B. a.k.a. zerohourseraphim


A particularly strong wave struck the boat, knocking Seraph off his chain of memories. With no way to check the time below deck he went over to the Mithra saleswoman. “Hello therrre! I’m Pashi Maccaleh, rrrepresentative of the Fisherrrman’s Guild. Something I can help you with?” Among Humes, Galka, Tarutaru, and Elvaan, the Mithra are also among the favored ‘Children of Altana’. Their race bears many characteristics of felines, probably smaller cats. They possessed tails and ears with balance and hearing to match.
“Good day Pashi” Seraph began. “I was actually wondering about the time.” Pashi nodded and leaned back to a tube and moved a small cap. “Time, Captain?” she spoke. A somewhat inaudible reply came back. Pashi nodded and recapped the tube. “Three hours until the new day” Seraph spoke. Pashi was surprised and her face showed it. Seraph tapped the end of his ear. “They may not be Mithra ears, but they still hear quite well My Dear.” The Mithra laughed, purring a little while doing so.
“As you hearrrd we still have some time beforrre getting to Aht Urrrhgan. Why not stay and talk with me?” Seraph nodded. “I’m happy to be stuck below deck in the company of one so lovely. What would perk up those ears of yours?” Pashi seemed taken aback by the stream of flattery from the Elvaan before her. “You’rrre the first I’ve seen on boarrrd in some time. An adventurer by the looks of you. Tell me of yourrr journeys.” Seraph laughed lightly. “I haven’t been adventuring long. It has been only a few weeks in fact. My immigration to Bastok is still recent…”

Left with only ten gil to his name, Seraph wandered the streets of Bastok. He found himself stumbling around. This place was unfamiliar to him. Mythily had given him an Adventurer’s Coupon and told him to find a city guard to assist him in redeeming it. Along with that he was given a map of the city and the surrounding areas. He found himself referring to it often. He followed the path south from the municipal area, called the Metalworks, into the Bastok Mines.
Seraph found this city a direct contrast to San d’Oria. The Humes and Galka proceeded with a determination that clashed with the air of dignified relaxation exhibited by many Elvaan. The presence of stone was significantly higher than that of wood. There was no forest to deafen the suns rays. Also, the fact that two cultures lived side by side astounded Seraph. Looking again at his map Seraph marked his position. He looked around, but to no real use. Everything was new to him. He had no way to truly get his bearings. “Seraph?”
The voice came from a figure standing in full plate mail. It shown a deep blue like a sky during morning twilight. A visor shaped as a dragon’s beak obsured Seraph’s view. It took him a moment to connect who it was. “Saint! I see you got my message.” His conversation partner looked up at him. With the sun able to light part of his face Saint’s smile was now plain to see. “No… I didn’t. I just got back into town and was restocking. What are you doing here?” Seraph took a step back and lifted his arms. “Can’t you tell?” Saint looked over his Elvaan friend. “You’re kidding…” He began to laugh. “An Elvaan Thief. You’re just going against every norm, aren’t you?” Seraph nodded. “Just about. New day, new life.”
“A brand new face in Bastok. So… what have you done?” Saint asked. Seraph held up his map and his coupon. “Remained thoroughly lost I’m afraid.” Saint pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “You were almost there. That woman over there can redeem the coupon for you. Go trade it to her. I’ll stick around. We’ve got to get you going, eh?” Seraph nodded. While he walked away he could hear Saint holding a conversation, but with who he wasn’t certain.
“Excuse me… I was told that you would accept this?” Seraph held out the coupon before him. “Ah… a new adventurer I see. I am Arva, and if I can assist you, you need only ask.” Seraph smiled weakly. “My thanks Arva. I am… unfamiliar with this lifestyle.” She smiled disarmingly. “All must begin someplace. I imagine your journey is rougher than most.” “How do you mean?” Arva’s brow furrowed, showing that she wished to pick her words carefully. “Among some there is bad blood. Humes and Elvaan… there is still some distrust. Of course, I do speak of mindsets that are dying out. This age belongs to people such as you: Journeying the world and drawing out its mysteries. Fortunately there are many who respect kindness and ability regardless of the form it takes. I’m sure you will find such people along your way.”

Seraph nodded. “Oh…” Arva opened a small box on her hip. She placed the coupon inside and brought out a few coins. “I’m authorized to provide small stipends to new adventurers for our nation. May it serve you well Seraph.” Seraph bowed respectfully and returned to Saint.
“Getting along well I trust?” Saint asked. “It appears so” Seraph replied. “It seems I have many prejudices to overcome myself.” Saint shook his head and laughed. “If you are considered prejudice I hope the entire world is like you. I have a gift. Here.” Saint extended his hand. In it was a sparkling pearl. “A link pearl I assume?” Seraph took hold of it. He’d heard of these baubles before. He was uncertain of the exact properties, but there were shelled organisms which had the ability to relay spoken word. When the shell produced a pearl anyone who held one was able to tune in to the same channel of thought. Many organizations both personal and formal used linkshells. And apparently, Seraph was now among that number.
“Do you know how to tune in?” asked Saint. Seraph nodded, and with a bit of focus voices began filtering in to his ears. The chatter was mostly benign until…“Everyone say hello to Seraph!” rang out Saint’s voice. A number of greetings and questions resounded in reply. “Hi Seraph!” “Hello Seraph! How are you?” “New to the adventuring game?” “Wherrre ya from?” “Yay! A new face! We’ll have a blastaru!!!” Seraph focused his own voice to answer to each voice in kind. “Hello everyone. I am well. Yes, I am in fact new. I am just starting out, and officially I am from Bastok. As for having a blast I will leave that to the providence of the mages. I am just a Thief.” Speaking out with his mind across a linkshell was a new experience
The question and answer phase continued on for some time. Saint proceeded to lead Seraph around town, making sure to go at a slow enough pace as not to lose his companion when he was overwhelmed with responding to every stimulus. Seraph was introduced to locales and locals. Shopkeepers, gate guards, teleportation workers, auction houses and residential areas. It was a whirlwind tour of everything Bastok offered.
“Well, I guess it’s time to find out if it’s just the monsters at home or if it’s all of them. What do you say to some fighting outside of town?” Seraph eyed his equipment. “Sure… this certainly is not what I was raised to consider ‘ready for combat’”. Saint nodded. “I fully understand. We all start off like this. You’ll get into your own step sooner than later, especially with me to give you a leg up.” Seraph could do nothing but smile at this. Back in San d’Oria he had to deal with the limitations of his upbringing. While readily aware of much of the world, San d’Orian pride emphasized the power of their Paladins. It was the stifling arrogance that made them somewhat blind to all other paths.
A pair of voices rang out in both Seraph’s ears and head at the same time. Looking to where he physically heard them come from he saw two people waving. Saint made a beeline towards them, saluting to them as he neared. “Thane, Akacia… this is Seraph. Seraph, let me formally introduce you the linkshell leaders.” As he was introduced, at first to Thane and then Akacia, he nodded to them both in turn. Thane, a Paladin, was backed by Akacia, his apparent love. A long lasting couple, both on and off the field of battle he was certain. The conversation between the three carried on, and Seraph checked and rechecked his equipment, adding tidbits of information when he could. However, he began to feel a very ominous presence.
Seraph kept his eyes open. From the entry leading from South Gustaberg he saw what he thought was the source of this feeling. Very ornate armor adorned this fighter. Between his studies and Saint’s stories this must have been one of the Samurai, trained in Far Eastern combat techniques. Sensing a lull in the conversation Seraph turned back to his group. They had noticed he was distracted. In response, he motioned over at the Samurai. From the visored shadow of his helmet Saint’s smile broadened. “Rai!” he called out.
The infamous Rai. His reputation proceeded him. Saint had spoken of him many times. At the sound of his moniker the Samurai turned with a practised certainty and progressed towards the group. Seraph noticed that one hand was resting on his blades’ handle at all times. Not at all unfamiliar with the bond between a warrior and their weapon, it was all too easy to see how much time Rai was spent honing his skill. The battle hardened duo saluted one another. Saint offered an introduction which Seraph punctuated with a bow. Rai nodded in reply. Some would have viewed this as being given a cold shoulder, however Saint had earlier explained: “Rai is the type to let his blade do the talking for him.” As there was no need of blades being drawn, truly, there was nothing to say. The gathering soon broke apart. Thane and Akacia went their way, Rai his, leaving Saint and Seraph to head out on their way.
Saint took Seraph to South Gustaberg. There, Saint took ample care to show Seraph the ropes. All the while Lumiere was happy to see a familiar face. After some explanation he set Seraph loose on the unsuspecting creatures of the desolate plane. “Hey Seraph” Saint called out. “Hm?” Seraph’s reply was audible to the whole linkshell. Saint tapped one of his ears. “Oh… right” Seraph said, one-on-one this time. “Are you getting the same feeling from the creatures here?” Seraph stopped for a moment. “I am actually. The lizards less so, but everything else, yes.” Saint shook his head. “I still have no clue as to what it could be.” While contemplating a summons for Saint came across the linkshell. A nod and salute was the only exchange needed between the two. Saint was needed, and Seraph was able to fend for himself. The strain of battle was new to Seraph. His body soon grew tired. It had been a long session, and he decided to head back to town.
The journey through South Gustaburg was a short one. However, instead of Bastok Mines Seraph found himself in the Markets district. The evening bustle was something he had hoped to avoid. No matter. He was here now, and tired. Although… where was here? Seraph sat at a nearby fountain and opened his map. The sound of the water soothed him. He was reminded of the Cheval River back in East Ronfaure. The past and present flowed into Seraph’s exhaustion, and sleep claimed him.

“That’s all?” Pashi asked, a little upset. Seraph held his hands outstretched, defeated. “I don’t have any wild tales of felled creatures, dread demons, and narrow escapes. I’ve only been at this adventuring gig for, oh, a couple weeks now.” Pashi was flustered. “What?! How have you come so farrr in such a small span of time?” “With a lot of help from my friends.” Seraph recalled the many battles he’d taken part in so far. “Sometimes it hurts more than helps.”
He then looked around and noticed he was the only passenger aboard. “Pashi, why is this vessel so empty?” She began stroking her hair absentmindedly. “The Empirrre has long been seeking aid to fend off the horrrdes of Beastmen. Many of yourrr kind head off to become mercenaries on their behalf.” Seraph thought on this a moment. “Are the horrrdes so vile that so few return?” Pashi blinked as Seraph covered his mouth realizing what he had just done. The two shared in a hearty laugh. Through her tears she managed to stammer out “No… The Empirrre cares for those it claims. Including providing teleportation to and from Whitegate. After that, this ferrry truly becomes a long ride.”
Having recovered after a short while Pashi resumed the conversation. “Well, I haven’t seen many Elvaan on this boat. What takes you to Whitegate?” Pashi asks. Seraph sighed. “To be honest… a quest for power, or so I‘m told.” Pashi leaned forward on her shops’ counter. “More of yourrr short storrry?” Seraph nodded.

The sound of metal against metal awoke Seraph abruptly. “Are you well?” said the construct. “I am… well.” Seraph said in reply. “Who are you speaking to my friend?” came a voice from a distance down the stairs. “I know not” spoke the construct. It tilted it’s head quizzically at him, while the voices’ owner came and stood behind the construct. “Ah… a fellow Elvaan. It is good to see a brother in this city, no matter how far flung. I am Shamarhaan, Puppetmaster.” Shamarhaan bowed, and the construct mimicked the action. “I am Valkeng” said the construct introducing itself. Seraph stood and dusted himself off, introducing himself in kind.
“You are still new to this town, and the adventuring profession itself so I gathered?” asked Shamarhaan. “That I am” Seraph answered. “I’ve only just begun my travels in the past few days.” Shamarhaan nodded. “I see. What is it that brings you to Bastok young Thief?” “A friend is offering his assistance in figuring out what the stirrings in my mind portend.” Seraph regaled Shamarhaan of the feelings in his mind. The resonance he felt with the beasts of the land, of the inner struggle to escape his confines. Shamarhaan listened coldly, the color seeming to drain from his face on numerous occasions. “You have spoken to all the different families of adventurers in this land?” Seraph nodded. “And of the lands beyond?” Seraph thought carefully. “The only peoples with ways of lands beyond are the Samurai and Ninjas.”
“Tell me my young friend… where would you say I were from?” Seraph looked carefully first at Valkeng, then at Shamarhaan. The construction of Valkeng was an unprecedented sight to Seraph’s eyes. Shamarhaan’s clothing was completely foreign to him in a city full of foreign peoples and their cultures. Seraph shook his head. “I can’t tell at all. From your manners and speech to your name and… partner… I have no precedent in describing you.” Shamarhaan let a hearty laugh bellow.
“You have spoken of the fighters of the Far East. I have adopted the Near East as my home and its ways as my own. My abilities are those of a Puppetmaster. Valkeng is my Automaton. We work together as one to a variety of ends.” Valkeng danced about, responding in a mock joy of those who passed by. “There is much of the Near Eastern lands that are both ancient in their ways and modern in their application. If all the ways of this continent have given you no answer, perhaps it is time you looked beyond its borders.” Seraph listened overwhelmed by ample shock. This was a definite answer, something very tangible. “Shamarhaan… I give you my thanks. I hadn’t even heard of this land to explore. How would I get there?” Shamarhaan thought for a moment. “My… it has been some time since I’ve found myself traveling to Aht Urhgan Whitegate. These days I think it would behoove you to inquire to the Tenshodo out of Jeuno.” Seraph nodded with a fire in his eye. He tuned into the linkshell and pinned down Saint’s presence. “Saint… you wanted to get me to Jeuno? That’s become a priority. I have a lead.

Shamarhaan shook his head as Seraph walked away. “Goodbye Sweet Elvaan” came a voice from Valkeng, the automaton bowing as if a final farewell. “May Altana’s grace extend to he and I both” said Shamarhaan. “May she show mercy to that boy for the power he bears and forgive me for setting him down the path to harness it.” Shamarhaan had been desiring a plate of squid sushi for his next meal, but found himself suddenly lacking in appetite of such fare.

Where are you now?” came Saint’s voice. “Still in Bastok. I’m still trying to figure out how to get to Jeuno. However I thought I’d pick up an application for the Tenshodo while I’m here.” “Good idea. You know, I’m starting to think those ears of yours have more than physical hearing to them.” Saint’s laughter echoed in Seraph’s mind… a very odd sensation. “Tell you what… Warp out to Valkurm. I’ll be following you shortly.” Seraph sighed in his mind. “Saint…” “Don’t worry. There aren’t any cactuars out in the Dunes.” “Little pests…
“Cactuarrrs?” Pashi interrupted. Seraph ran a hand through his hair. “Are you familiar with them Pashi?” “Only vaguely.” “Ah, I see. Cactuars are cacti whose roots take the shape of what functions as legs. They also attained a level of sentience. Rather unusual beings to tell you the truth.” Pashi’s tail twitched wildly. “I’ll say. Why don’t you like them?” she asked. Seraph found something hard in his hair. He worked it out with care. “Because I’m still finding their needles in places I’d rather not have needles.” Seraph handed the almost invisible artifact to Pashi who held it with some apprehension.
Seraph stepped into his Moghouse. For adventurers these places acted as their own little havens. Rooms were available in every city, but there was nothing like the place you could call home. If nothing else this was advantageous enough to switch from private citizenship. Inside was Makar, his moogle attendant. Moogles were unique creatures. They looked almost like bear cubs except with catlike ears and bear like wings to keep them aloft. Of course, you can’t forget their distinctive pom-poms atop their heads. Always willing to help, Seraph was originally reluctant at Makar’s presence. However, after repeated talks Seraph was convinced that Makar accepted his role willingly. Since then he’d found a fast friend.
“Ah… good day Mr. Z-” Seraph waved his hand in the air. “Makar, we’ve been through this. Chosen names only.” Makar bowed, his wings flapping furiously. “So sorry Seraph. Are you heading out?” “Yes I am. I’ll be meeting Saint and heading towards Jeuno. I happened across a direction to explore. It looks as though I’m not the only one around that feels the life of fiends.” “Marvelous, kupo!” Makar darted around and helped to pack items into the carrying bags Seraph had acquired.
Seraph had a theory. It seemed that the more diminutive in size races came in the more likely they held some verbal tick. Makar seemed less likely to use a “Kupo!” except when very agitated, be it a good or bad source. Other moogles made it almost a form of punctuation. Some Tarutaru seemed… adamantaru ataru speaking-weaking in such fashion as to play into their societal wheelings, causing greataru strife in everyday dealings. Mithra held their Rs most curiously. The Humes seemed to speak casually, while the Elvaan (himself included) lacked such a setting overall. The Galka seemed to speak little, listen much.
“Hm… Ginger cookies, kupo?” Seraph looked at the small bag Makar was holding up. “Ah, I was wondering where those had gotten to. Hold onto a few if you’d like. I’m not sure if they’ll survive this trip.” Seraph laughed. Ginger had long been one of his weaknesses, and this present from Akacia was a goddess-send. Makar happily at one and pocketed a few more.         “Have you seen the dagger I’ve been using?” “Hanging on the bed.” Makar hovered over and slung the sheathed weapon to his friend. “Thank you…” While still not having gotten much money as of yet, Seraph truly thought on getting more furniture. Being from San d’Oria made him grow accustomed to such lavish accoutrements. “I should be fine from here on. I’ll be with Saint, so I should be fine otherwise.” Seraph placed a water crystal near a potted plant under the window. “Could you make sure to take care of this Makar?” “But of course, kupo!” Makar replied, holding one little paw(?) skyward in triumph. “Take Care on you trip!”
It took Seraph little more than a few paces to exit his Moghouse in order to meet Conrad, a teleportation facilitator. Teleportation proved to be very useful for getting around. Seraph enjoyed seeing the numerous sights that Vana’diel offered. However, in current cases it was the preferred method. “Young Master Seraph, is it not? How may I assist you?” Conrad offered in greeting. “Good day Conrad. I’m just off to the Dunes… Zulkheim region, correct?” Conrad nodded with a smile. “Very good Young Master! You are learning quickly.” Seraph reached into his pouch to retrieve the proper fee for the service. “Save your coin My Friend. Do you not feel that resonance in the air? The benevolence of King Kupofried allows me to teleport you at no personal cost!” Before He had the chance to utter any thanks Seraph found himself in the Valkurm Dunes. Ah, to be blessed with brisk business.
The air was dry, but the scent of the gulf close at hand occasionally wafted over the sands. Night was falling, and Seraph was happy to begin this trip at night. The heat was not a bother, but sunlight reflecting off the sands proved an annoyance he’d rather do without. The outpost was packed with other adventurers. One group nearby could be seen decimating several members of a large variety of insect. The pounce of an airborne wyvern alerted Seraph to the potential presence of “Saint”, Seraph said finishing his thought aloud. Saint looked around, eyesight still coming into focus from the teleportation. “Ah, good. You’re here. Before we head out, there’s something to do that ought to help out.” Seraph placed on a helmet given to him from another member of the linkshell. The coming night air made the shielded face of the helms’ design bearable.
“What do you have in mind?” Saint had already launched himself skyward, deftly spearing a nearby crab. “Have you ever noticed that most all fighters you come across seem to be using more than one school of expertise?” “Actually I have” Seraph responded. Saint shook his head while smiling. “Ever watchful as usual. I checked in with someone who was nearby. The old man who helped me get started happens to be in town for the night. I had a friend check in and see what their price for a new student would be. We’re getting your checklist now. Maybe we could have Rai show you a thing or two he learned from working as a Samurai? Certainly helped me.”
The crab, while dead, still writhed in defiance skewered on Saint’s spear. He motioned to the underbelly, and Seraph removed it with care. Lumiere brought back what appeared to be some type of larva, probably having to do with another of the nearby insects that was now flopping maddeningly on the sand. “Now the hard part. We need to knock down some of the nearby ghouls and hope their skulls remain intact and absorb the aura that animates the rest.” Seraph blinked at the array of items being gathered. “Just what am I learning again, Saint?!” Saint laughed. “I said it would be helpful. In the end it is. In the now, the process makes no sense. Hm… I wonder just how far Maat’s decrepit old fingers reach…” “Maat?” Saint sighed. “I hope a time where you are forced to deal with him never comes. At least for your sanity’s sake…”
The group of adventurers that Seraph had marked earlier were running towards the trio followed by a group of animated skeletons. “Well, there are all the ghouls” Saint remarked. Seraph noticed the mages lagging behind. The fighters looked daunted, hanging back to attract the most attention, but their magically geared cohorts did not have the same physical stamina as their partners. Seraph drew his dagger and ran between the battered group, beginning to earn the ire of the ghouls himself. Saint’s laughter again rang in his head. From the sky above Saint threw the spear with enough force to obliterate a skeleton to Seraph’s left, Lumiere unleashing a stream of magical power taking out opponents to the right. The formally fleeing group held their line with renewed vigor, the tables having been turned.
Seraph kept a close eye on the foes. The first three skeletons to fall each yielded one of the skulls Saint mentioned, the remaining three following suit. He grabbed them all and waited for the bone dust to settle. “Thank… you…” came an exhausted breath from the back of the group. Seraph turned and took a good look at this group, and was surprised by the unlikelihood of it all. Standing before him were his five friends from San d’Oria.
“I must thank you. I see that there lays some honor among thieves after all” spoke Xaran, the female Warrior, heading up the group as usual. Seraph nodded solemnly in reply. Saint dropped from above pulling his spear from the ground. “Ah… I don’t believe this…” said Galav, the monk. “An eternity of thanks Master Dragoon.” Saint looked shocked at the accolade. “Remember, Dragoons are rare in the modern day, but exalted in the histories of the Elvaan” Seraph shared with Saint privately. Saint subtly acknowledged the reminder, but shared aloud “I’m just glad to be of help. What were you doing picking a fight with those things?” Novenaux, the Red Mage, answered “Some nearly senile old man told us to get ‘magicked skulls’ along with a couple other items in exchange for training. We were only attacking one at a time to be safe, but a lapse in the healing brought all of them on us.” Bahne, the white mage looked completely distressed. “It was my fault. I was not being nearly as watchful as I should have been.” Saint shook his head. “Oh, trust me, such a thing happens. You get used to it, so don’t be so hard on yourself. We all have to learn at some point.” The group made their way towards the town of Selbina, where the ‘nearly senile old man’ was taking shelter.
A small port town, Selbina was a host port to a ferry running one of the easier routes between the Quon and Mindartia continents. A few simple huts comprised the towns’ construction. Not at all run down, it had a simple and relaxed feel. The familiarity of wood construction was a welcome sight to Seraph. The rest of the his Elvaan companions failed to indulge so, however they had probably been home more recently. At the docks’ farthest flung from the town entrance was Isacio, he who promised training. “Ah… so this group belongs to you Saint?” said Isacio, his memory apparently retaining its edge. “Oh no, just this one” Saint replied, patting Seraph on his shoulder.
“Hm… I see. Young Thief, I feel you will grow strong under the tutelage of this Dragoon. I digress for now. The items I require?” Isacio purposed. Seraph stepped forward and handed forth a full set of the necessary sundries. “Ah, very good Young Master. The hunt went well for you. I’m sure you unique talents were of help. And the rest?” The group of Elvaan shifted uneasily. “The first two items were of no bother, however the skulls eluded us” reported Galav. Isacio straightened with what appeared to be a massive weight. “I see. That is very unfortunate.” Isacio began to but the lid back on the crate. Seraph reopened his bag. Vulilu, the black mage, watched carefully. “Actually, I think our fleet fingered friend may have something to add in that regard.” Seraph set down five additional skulls, one for each of his former nation-mates. “Honor among thieves indeed” said Vulilu, taking a nudge at Seraph.
Saint, these are my some of the people I used to run with back in San d’Oria. If we could, I’d like to head out as quickly as possible” Seraph shot to his partner. “I see. Isacio will show you what he needs to. I’ll be waiting just outside of town.” Indeed, Isacio proved worthy of his reputation, and demonstrated a method to adhere to two disciplines at the same time. After giving his thanks Seraph made a beeline for the town exit. Vulilu seemed to be close at his heels. A small gathering of moogles near the drew caught his attention. Drawing over to them to sort some items and begin applying Isacio’s teachings gave the Black Mage ample opportunity to close the gap.
“You are useful in a fight” she said. Seraph nodded. Vulilu looked at him quizzically. “Hm… that’s right. You haven’t said a word. Were you silenced somehow? I carry a small store of Echo Drops for just such an occasion.” Seraph shook his head. “So… that means it’s a choice.” She backed up a couple steps. “I know it’s you under there Seraph. Act as you want, there are eldritch traces about you that I’ll always be able to sense.” Seraph looked around. “Don’t worry. Everyone else went to the inn.” Seraph removed his helmet, shook out his hair, and promptly tied it back.
“We were all wondering just where you had gone” she said. “But here you are, a thief. Where did you go, and so quickly?” Seraph paused. “Vulilu, understand… I don’t want the others knowing I was here.” She nodded. Seraph exhaled. “Alright… I went to Bastok. I’d love to tell you why, but I don’t know just yet.” Vulilu nodded again. “Saint has been a big help. He’s taking me to Jeuno. From there I’m going to look for a way to head out to a place called Aht Urhgan.” Seraph quickly recanted his run in with the Puppetmaster in Bastok.
Vulilu seemed impressed. “I didn’t know you had come such a long way in a short time. Together we haven’t made it to Jeuno yet.” “Would you like to go?” Seraph offered. “It may not be much of an issue for Saint to look out for us all. There is something to be said in regards to strength in numbers.” “No… no… the aspirations of the group don’t run that high. We’re still focused on becoming Paladins and serving San d’Oria. Do…” Vulilu looked pleadingly at Seraph. “…do you think you’ll come back home after you find what you’re looking for?” Seraph met her gaze, but could not return its intensity. “Little of my heart lays within the Kingdom’s borders. When I do go home, I doubt it will be San d’Oria I return to.” Seraph spoke with the one of the moogles, who imbued him with another set of skills. He left the helmet with Vulilu, and headed out to meet Saint.

“She likes you, you know” Pashi said. Seraph nodded. Pashi purred. “What came next?” she asked. “Saint and I made our way from Selbina east to the Pashhow Marshlands and Beadeaux. You are familiar with the Quadav? They are the shelled Beastman on the Quon continent. Beadeaux is their stronghold. We passed through there and Saint made sure we grabbed a testimony. They are old parchments that seem to be written in regards to each job class. He said I would need it if I were to deal with the Tenshodo. We continued north through Rolanberry fields until we reached Jeuno.” “How did you like the big city?” Seraph pinched the bridge of his nose. “As you said, it is big. And busy. I’m not used to so many people in such a bustle and a rush. Worse yet, the swell of adventurers made getting around a little difficult. I think I spent as much time being lost as I did apologizing to Tarutaru I tripped over. I am glad I am as tall as I am, although I did bump into some imposing Galka as well. In any event, I finally did find the Tenshodo.”

Seraph made his way through Jeuno. The constant shuffle of the crowd eventually began wearing on his hearing. He dove into what appeared an inn to gain some solace. “Welcome to Neptune’s Spire” came the voice of a bored Mithra through a yawn. “I am Ghebi Damomohe. How may I help you today?” Seraph turned in shock. “I apologize. I was simply trying to gain a small respite from the crowds.” She seemed unphased by this. “Oh, I see. We don’t run a charity, but if you’d be willing to buy a rice ball or two I could see fit to let you stay awhile.” “Ah… that actually sounds wonderful.” Seraph began pulling out his money pouch. “I’ll have three rice balls, as well as a kabob and a stack of those crackers.” “Well aren’t you just the hungry little Elvaan?”
While counting out the proper fee, the testimony fell out of his pack. He had folded that around the Tenshodo application, they being somewhat related. Only partially revealed, Ghebi seized upon the parchments with a hitherto deceptive speed. “My my… you’re the clever cub…” A member of Jeuno’s Ducal Guard came in at that moment. With great care Ghebi removed the application and replaced it with another piece of paper. She handed him the food he had ordered, leaning in quite close. “Welcome to the Tenshodo” she hissed playfully, tapping the testimony. “Your room is just at the back of the hall, sir. Please enjoy your stay.”
Confused by her sudden change in demeanor Seraph packed the food away. He held onto the testimony and began following the hall. He nodded to the Guard, who seemed unimpressed at Seraph’s presence. He began to open the door he was directed to, and an attendant on the other side kept it just open enough for Seraph to slide in. The attendant closed the door behind him. Seeing the testimony in his hands he directed Seraph down the stairs, to another door.
Just beyond lay a shop lined with various types of paraphernalia of what looked to be Far Eastern origin. Many people in matching red armor milled around. It seemed to be an overall jovial atmosphere, but a little dim nonetheless. “Ah… you are a new face. Welcome to the Tenshodo!” The roar came from a Galka to Seraph’s right. He found that he was eye to eye with many Galka. This one was one of the exceptions, a good head taller than Seraph himself. “Just looking around?”
It just hit him where he was… He had stumbled across the elusive organization without even realizing it. “Actually, I was seeking passage to the Aradjiah continent and was informed that this organization could help me realize that end. Is this true?” The Galka laughed. “Just speak with Faursel over there. He’ll get you squared away.” Hearing his name Faursel waved his Elvaan companion to him. “So… another hapless soul called to the lands of the Empress?” said Faursel crassly without so much a formal introduction. “We can arrange that easily enough. Won’t be cheap, I can tell you that.” Seraph nodded. “I was told this would cover the fees of passage…” He handed the testimony to Faursel. “Aren’t you well connected? And in luck… this item will do nicely. Relics of the past sell well. I’m actually handing in the recent additions to the list. Wait here. You’ll be set to go in no time.”
Seraph was struck by the oddity of the haste of his progress. In less than a month he’d gone from uncertain to having the answers just beyond his reach, but well within sight. Faursel came back, handed him a boarding permit, and told him he was free to set out at any time from Mhaura. Seraph gave his thanks and goodbyes, giving a subtle wink to Ghebi as he passed as she was still plagued by a Ducal Guard. He made his way to Upper Jeuno and made use of a chocobo pass he’d been given a short time ago. He told them how far he wished to go and they gave him a steed worthy of the journey. He checked in with his linkshell every now and again during the ride, ensuring he was heading the right way. After some time he found himself in Mhaura, the boat docked for the night. He was told he could rest at the inn and that someone would awaken him for departure.

“And now herrre you arrre” said Pashi. “A lot has happened forrr you in a shorrrt time.” “Quite true, Pashi.” “So you still have no idea of what you’re looking forrr? The rrresonance of beasts? The binding airrrs about you?” “No… I don’t. I wish I did.” Pashi was flustered. “So terrible…” A call came from the captains’ quarters. Whitegate was in sight, and they’d be coming to port in just a few minutes. “Well… we’rrre herrre.” Checking for sea creatures on deck and getting an all clear the two stepped out to watch as the land before them drew closer. “This is it. You rrready?” Seraph looked out at the continent, new to his eyes with no idea what to expect. His path to Aht Urhgan was reaching an end. Now it was time to find out what brought him all the way across the ocean.

 

Next:
An Empty Vessel

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A Certain BET – Marks I

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Disclaimer – 28 December 2017

          Much like anyone who has developed a skill I cringe looking back on earlier works. I know this work will be a hard to read and is not formatted in the best way. However my writings past, present, and future will all be made with the same heart and spirit. I love writing. I love sharing what I make. I take pride in all the works I produce. This is simply from my earlier days. Back then, I didn’t know what I was going to make out of this blogging gig. So I wrote, and I posted. If I got hung up on it being perfect, I never would have shared it.

          Since then I’ve read and learned. The results that came from 150% effort in the past come from 30% now. That is just how growth works.

          I may come back and edit this one day to bring it in line with my present standards. This is likely if my written works prove to earn my daily bread. Or if I have no pending articles (ha) and find myself bored. Still, I would not have made it where I am without this stepping stone, humble as it is.

This said, none-the-less, I hope you enjoy reading this offering.

Jasper H.B. a.k.a. zerohourseraphim


The sound of the ocean crashing against the hull of the worn ship was somewhat soothing. The fear of the overused hulk subsided with every crash, just as long as there were no leaks. The night was clear. While Seraph wanted to spend this time on the upper deck, the fiends wandering this route proved to be a trying lot. The little experience and stores of White Magic at his disposal would not have been enough to see him through. Swallowing his pride more than he already had was a necessity to survival. He had come too far. All there was to do was check and re-check equipment and maybe shoot the breeze with the Mithra guild worker on board. His mind wandered across the circumstances that had brought him here. He was wondering if he was making the right decision?

Leaving the ancestral homeland of San d’Oria was not a difficult one. Seraph, although bearing a moniker of heavenly beings, did not adhere strictly to the devotion of Altana. Lacking such pious resolve the call of the Paladins fell on what was regarded a “blackened heart”. His restless soul left him no peace remaining idle or toiling in the fields, so he lent himself to the ranks of the Reserve Knights. While the most populace of those serving the Kingdom, they were very low rank. The Temple Knights and Royal Knights would have brought forth more renown. Renown was not his goal.
There was always something in the depths of Seraph’s soul. He likened it to being in a plain and being caught in a whirlwind. Amidst this turmoil a scent drifted to him. It promised safety and peace. However, being in the eye of the storm, he knew it to be safe. He did not know where the scent came from. It would call to him, he would be wrapped in it, he would look for the direction from which it stemmed to no avail. “If only it were stronger” he would think to himself. He’d reach out his hand, but the wind easily brushed his hand back to the middle of the barrier. “If only I was stronger…” he would lament. Prophecies and dreams were not the way of the Elvaan. He kept this always to himself, but always yearned to put meaning to his feelings.
The Reserve Knights were only called upon in times of war. Outside of those times they were often allowed their own devices, and many were adventurers. It was through such returning Knights where he began to hear of the world abroad. Tales of frightening creatures and allies alike bearing fell magic. Individuals bearing powers unknown with the walls of San d’Oria’s defenses. Sometimes, very rarely after these adventures were well in their cups, he’d even heard drunken slurs and whispers of those who had somehow come across the power of the Dragon Knights of old. He knew that this was unlikely… but the possibility of a Dragoon to still walk the face of Vana’diel? Such a thing was not to be ignored.
Some of his adventuring friends wanted to show off their new skills to Seraph. They went into West Ronfaure, an area of light forest directly outside of San d’Oria. For the beginner San d’Orian adventure this was prime training ground. His friends had only been as far as La Theine Plateau, the area just south of West Ronfaure. Neither place posed a significant threat. If something did happen they were still close enough to San d’Oria to receive aid. The five Elvaan made up a strong group, so there was little fear of that. From what they said, new adventurers had six possible avenues they could choose from. A debate ensued…

“So when are you going to join us?” asked the female Warrior. Seraph was taken aback. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Oh, come on. You can’t be happy sitting around in town waiting for the next major Orc attack?” she continued. “It would be wonderful if you started up with us. We’ve got enough gil to get you geared up properly. It would be great having another weapons’ specialist.” Seraph pointed towards the rest of the group. The female Black Mage gained the attention of a small forest rabbit by conjuring up a stone and hurling it. The Warrior sighed. Running up towards the fray the male Monk let out a huge cry. “Weapons? Hah!” He hit his opponent with surprising force. The hare staggered. After collecting itself it launched itself above the young Monk’s head and came down feet first, planting a kick squarely on his forehead.

The whirlwind flashed in Seraph’s mind. ‘He’s right… who needs weapons?’

He shook his head, clearing the image. The male White Mage weaved a spell, revitalizing the Monk. The male Red Mage slid in and with an enchanted blade brought about the end to the fledgling foe. “You two are being crass. Again” said the White Mage. The Monk and Warrior scoffed, shoving each other. “Weapons have their usefulness,” chimed in the Red Mage “but some finesse applied to brute force goes a long way.” Seraph asked what was the ultimate goal for throwing their talents into adventuring. They went out in hope of becoming Paladins eventually, or so they said. They each tried to talk Seraph into jumping on board, becoming the sixth in the group. All of them as a second of their respective class of course.             “What about a sixth?” Seraph asked. “You said there are six jobs that confirmed adventurers can sign up for… what’s this sixth job?” The White Mage let sound a haughty laugh. “Have some pride. We are a race of blade and blood. What Elvaan would reduce themselves to being as some Thief?” Seraph watched the Warrior herding a sheep toward the rest of the group. The White Mage turned his attention to healing the wounds incurred from the previous battles. Not having the disposition for battle, the sheep looked desperately for an escape route. However, the Red Mage, Monk, and Warrior kept it well guarded with the White Mage at the ready for more healing. “Compare us to other races we may not be the stoutest magically, but even that is better than being some petty criminal. Really Seraph…” A surge of energy coursed through the terrified animal. The Black Mage and Seraph were the only two to notice this, and she cut off her sentence to begin chanting out a spell. The sheep began lowing. While full of fear, it was soothing.

He was back inside the vortex inside his mind. He clashed against its edges.

He shook the effects off. The offending party was not so lucky. All except the Black Mage were knocked to sleep. Seraph guessed there was a very definite range. Spell complete, the Black Mage let the assault fly, felling the sheep. Seraph exchanged a look with the Black Mage, then walked to his downed comrades. He shook them all awake. “Yes… some determined fighting force, pulsing with Elvaan and San d’Orian pride. Picking on rabbits and sheep and getting put to sleep by the latter.”
The rest of the group gave a defeated laugh. While impressed with his friends’ progress and skills, he wasn’t full convinced that joining up with them was what he wanted. His head ached. The party wanted to finish off their day heading to the Lion Springs’ Tavern in Southern San d’Oria. Seraph wanted to take the long way around and clear his head. The group said their temporary farewells and went their separate ways. While heading to the Northern San d’Orian entrance he kept thinking about all the minor foes his friends had fought. Bats, crabs, even the Orcs caused a strain on his mind. He was accustomed to it, but it grew in intensity. He had to find some solution to this problem… something to silence the storm raging inside.
Seraph reached the gate leading into Northern San d’Oria. He nodded to the guards who carried on their solemn vigil. As he came further up the hill he saw a Hume exiting the city with a carrying two pole arms. Both points struck him as unusual. While other races were more common these days they still stood out. Humes being the most prevalent among them. It was the use of a pole arm. He’d never seen a Hume wielding one, let along carrying two for whatever reason. Just then the human noticed his presence.

“Ah, hello! I have a question… do you have any use for this spear?” He held out the weapon in his left hand for Seraph’s evaluation. Seraph took the weapon in his hands and looked it over. “I’m afraid not” he replied. “Spears and the like just aren’t my style. Thank you for the offer though.” Seraph returned the spear to his owner. “Oh well… I suppose I’ll just have it auctioned off then… Sorry to have bothered you.” Seraph deflected the apology with a shake of his head “No need for that. Actually, I want to ask about the one in your right hand. That appears to be of San d’Orian make.” The Humes’ smile broadened. “Good eye. I was just awarded this. Fascinating, isn’t it?” He held it in an outstretched hand. Seraph looked over this weapon, and nodded his approval. “Forgive my lack of knowledge, but I’ve never seen such a pole arm used by a Warrior or Paladin. This is… an unusual item… Was this a custom order? Are you famous where you are from?”
The Hume laughed. “I suppose this pole arm is one of a kind. You know of Miaux? I got this from her.” Seraph readily recalled her. He’d seen her often around the Blacksmithing and Woodworking guilds. “I wouldn’t say famous, but I am known of in Bastok at the very least.” Ah, a Bastokan. Bastok is a republic to the southeast of San d’Oria, across a small desert and several plains. It serves as the home to the Hume race, and the Galka reside there as well. The latter are… a very hearty breed. He placed the spear in a holder on his back. “Why is it that you would ask?” Seraph thought on the question. “Not to be prejudiced, but a Bastokan Hume Warrior coming all the way to San d’Oria for a pole arm is unusual. Bastok has competent smiths. Moreover, you came all this way and not only claimed your treasure, but a rare one at that. It simply causes me to wonder as to the truth behind you.” The Hume blinked in surprise. “‘…the truth behind me’? The only thing behind me would be Lumiere.” Seraph looked in confusion. “…you named the spear Lumiere?” The Hume laughed. “Oh no… Lumiere is my wyvern companion.” He opened a hand and a pulse was sent out. It resonated skyward, and from the rebound flew down what could only be identified as a fledgling dragon. “That would make you a Dragoon then…?” Seraph stammered in surprise.
A Dragoon. In the flesh, pulled from the annals of time itself. “You were heading out… I shouldn’t keep you any longer” I said to him. He looked for the position of the sun. “It is getting late…” Seraph nodded. “Forgive my troubling you, but would you mind if I attended you to the outpost, if that is indeed your destination?” The Dragoon nodded to Seraph in reply. Lumiere let out a happy screech. “Lumiere has taken a liking to you I see. I’m Saint. I’d be pleased if you joined us.” The new trio began walking towards the outpost. “I am Seraph. A pleasure to meet you.” Lumiere darted about.
The outpost held a variety of uses for travelers. Most often they were used for the sake of teleportation to and from ones’ home nation. “Saint and Seraph… an odd alignment of names” Saint remarked. “Let us not forget of Lumiere and his light” Seraph added. He took a good long look at the wyvern. This creature did not cause a strain on his mind as did the others in the area. “Is something wrong?” Saint asked. Seraph, being a good distance behind Saint with Lumiere, faltered a step. “Sorry if I surprised you. Lumiere and I have always been as one. When you were looking so intensely at him I could feel it.”
Seraph decided to inquire to Saint about the troubles that plagued him. “You say you get this feeling from all the normal creatures around here?” Saint asked in summary. “Not all of them, but many. Some of the Orcs too” Seraph responded. Saint’s brow furrowed as he contemplated. “I’d have pegged that as a Beastmaster trait. They can persuade animals to fight for them. I’ve never heard of one coercing a Beastman though.” Seraph sighed dejectedly. He thought that one well traveled may have had a more knowledgeable insight. Lumiere playfully bumped into him. Again, Saint responded to his wyverns’ perception.
“I’ll tell you what… when I’m running around I’ll keep my ear to the ground for anything that sounds like what you’ve told me. There are many crazy things in this world. Someplace should have an explanation for you. Have you ever thought of adventuring yourself? It may foster you an answer.” Seraph considered the irony of the question, that it took his friends all day to no avail, but this man a short jaunt to the outpost to seriously pursue it. “I have, actually” Seraph said aloud. “I haven’t found a job suitable for me.” Saint shook his head. “That shouldn’t stop you.” Saint looked to the sky again. “I think I’ve been out much later than intended. If I’m ever back this way I’ll keep an eye out for you. Take Care Seraph.” As if on cue Saint, Lumiere, and Seraph saluted in the individual styles of Bastok, a Wyvern, and San d’Oria respectively. A small laugh echoed while Saint and Lumiere were teleported back to Bastok.

In the following weeks Seraph took up his research with renewed fervor. His friends began coming to him, concerned with the questions he was asking regarding the animus of wildlife and Beastman alike, spouting theory on Altana’s blessing and how everything was interconnected. The detachment that Seraph had kept hidden from his own people was now coming to the forefront. He also inquired many times after the history of Dragoons.
Saint also returned on several occasions. He’d heard word of a suit of armor supposedly worn by Dragoons in ages past. Seraph quickly relayed any information he had to forward the search of his new friend. Keeping true to his word the two also spoke at length about other prevalent abilities demonstrated by adventurers. Seraph heard tales of Dancers who used their bodies as magical conduits to produce all manner of unique effects. The power of the Dark Knight was heralded as they risked their own lives to boost the destructive output against their foes. He was regaled of fighters from the Far East known as Ninja and Samurai. The deadly accuracy of Rangers and the soothing songs of Bards. Still, none sounded as though they shared the same troubles Seraph. Saint sighed. “I didn’t want to mention this, because this sounds nuts.” Seraph perked up at this odd admission. “What is it?”
“Recently, I saw a Taru. You know… little guys, huge magical punch? I was out in the Altepa Desert. Robes, staff, usual mage get up, right? We got into a fight. Lumiere and I were doing alright. We’ve got a lot of practice out there. Anticans can be trouble…” Seraph shook his head. “What are Anticans?” “Well… think of an ant, make them into a Beastman, and give them natural armor plating. Anyhow… several of its friends showed up to express their… displeasure. Next thing I know I feel the wind pick up speed. I could have sworn it was a dust storm, but from overhead dove Garuda.”
Seraph’s mouth gaped in surprise. Garuda was one the Terrestrial Avatars. Each one of them literally embodied a force of nature. Garuda was the Terrestrial Avatar wielding the power of Wind. “My sentiment exactly” Saint continued.  “I didn’t know what to think… so I just kept attacking. The Taru kept up a barrage of magic, both harmful and helpful. I figured we just had a really good patch of luck.” Seraph reclined in his chair hearing all this. “That is an awfully outrageous tale.”
Saint leaned forward. “There’s more. When all the opponents were defeated the Taru walked up next to me. He waved at Garuda, and she just vanished. The Taru was standing there and said ‘That’s a lot of strain to keep her out… but Anticans hate wind.’ This Taru is a Summoner. Apparently he goes around making pacts with all the Terrestrial Avatars to call on their power at his will. Summoners are to Windhurst what Dragoons are to San d‘Oria, in a sense.”
“I talked with him about this” Saint carried on. “His power, though awesome to behold, also comes from without. However, thus far it is the closest thing I’ve heard to what you’ve told me. He asked me to pass along a phrase… ‘He who is One, yet Many’. Does that bear any significance for you?” Seraph shook his head. “Not particularly.” Saint stood up. “I was afraid of that. Oh well… Given any more thought to being an adventurer?”

Seraph smiled. “Perhaps… I’m still not certain just which path I should take. You’ve told me all these spectacular stories of fighters and mages… but even now I still haven’t heard a tale that just… clicked.” Saint nodded. “I can understand.” With that Saint and Seraph both stood and exited the Lions Springs’ Tavern. Upon this parting Saint left Seraph with the means to send word to his Moghouse in the event he was ever in the area of Bastok.
Seraph went home that night deep in thought. He’d reached out through Saint to no avail. It looked as though he would have to leave San d’Oria after all. He packed up as much as he could, found a vendor, and sold what he owned. He guised himself in a way to tear him away from his past. In line with this new persona he stole upon the rare airship leading straight to Bastok. His first order of business was doing as he promised and sending word to Saint. Next he asked around and found the immigration office. Paying all the necessary fees left him with aught but ten gil. “Well well…” said Mythily, the immigration officer. “A new adventurer. A pleasure to have you in Bastok. Here… take this to get you started.” Seraph bowed, the action feeling a little out of place.

Mythily shook her head. “A Bastokan Elvaan Thief. Of all the things I thought I’d never see.”

Next:
The Road to Aht Urhgan

Editing Warning: Marks of the Beast

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          As a present to my old MMO buddies from Final Fantasy XI, I rounded out the fan fiction I intended to complete years ago. I am going to take the opportunity to revamp the page as I have the others on my site. I am editing “The Beast Within” presently, and I aim for it to be the cherry on top. Please bear with me as a lot of shuffling will occur.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope

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6/10
Role-Playing Game, JRPG
Similar to – Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time or the earlier version(s) of The Last Hope
$21 (PC and PS4), Varies (Xbox 360 and PS3)

          The Star Ocean series was, for a long time, in a small handful of titles that were uniquely my own. In my (relative) youth I did not differentiate between Western and Eastern RPGs. Looking back now I can see that JRPGs were my go-to genre. Legend of Legaia, Super Mario RPG, Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy, and Star Ocean laid the base for much of what I find comforting in gameplay. The PlayStation era gave me a lot of good memories. It was the first system I had at home and was able to play at length, to the chagrin of my mother.
          Enix was a breed apart in game making. E.V.O.: Search for Eden, Illusion of Gaia, and Soul Blazer are standout in my memories. My issues of Nintendo Power containing walkthroughs of these games were read like bedtime story books. Star Ocean on the Super Famicom, never had an official release outside of Japan. From what I have been able to gather the mechanics were markedly different than the sequel. Star Ocean: The Second Story (SO2), made many improvements and is one of my favorite games of all time. I played it a LOT in my youth and was my first Enix title to play directly. The variety of characters, wholly real-time battles mixed with RPG elements, and Private Actions of the Star Ocean series were a welcome change of pace to all the turn-based titles I enjoyed. It is the first game that I played in which I fought in three dimensions (or perhaps 2.5 dimensions). I could watch for tells, manually evade some spells, and use tactics like pincer formations. Second Evolution, the PSP re-release, didn’t change much over the original. In fact, The Second Story was good enough to be the base template for both re-releases of the original and sequel.
          When I first heard of the merger of Square and Enix I was excited. Admittedly my present views on the company’s products are mixed. Some games I loved. Kingdom Hearts has been charming. The new Tomb Raiders are well made. Heck, even some of the Final Fantasy titles have their charm. When it comes to Star Ocean however the Square-Enix offerings left me pining for my old favorite even more.

          My aim in buying this title is to help show there is a demand for the series on PC. Aside from that, there is much anguish in my future, even after having completed the game to review it.

          For those unfamiliar, I will be using these abbreviations rather than retyping the full titles each time.

          Star Ocean/:First Departure (SO1/PSP re-release)
          Star Ocean: The Second Story/:Second Evolution (SO2/PSP re-release)
          Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time (SO3)
          Star Ocean: The Last Hope (SO4)
          Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness (SO5)

          There was a handheld title called Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, and a mobile title called Star Ocean: Anamnesis. But as I have not played these titles I will not be referencing them. The abbreviations I am using are widely held both to series die-hards and gamers-in-passing alike.

Story

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          Humans have nearly annihilated themselves in World War III. The peoples of the nigh-uninhabitable Earth set their sights on the stars. During the maiden voyage of the Space Reconnaissance Force, the fleet is knocked out of warp by gravity eddies from a stray meteor. The resulting crash-landing still landed the expedition arrives on the target planet. Setting out from the Calnus, you are to meet up with the other crews and try to keep to your mission.


          Stakes are important to a story. Prequels don’t really have them because the story has to flow into a pre-established narrative. Retconning is a Sword of Damocles because if it is done once, it may happen again. I read a series of The Flash comics years ago. Much like the Flashpoint season on the CW series, there was an event that rewrote the world. And if it happens once, what is to stop it from some Deus Ex Machina being used again? To use another phrase from modern media, once something has jumped the shark and become too grandiose I lose interest.

          As such, you can imagine easily that I strongly dislike prequels. I am wary of reboots for similar reasons. I abhor the narrative of my fictions being invalidated. Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time (SO3) was a disappointing and infuriating insult. The fighting system was good. The music was, at times, the best in the series.

Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time (SO3) Spoiler Alert

          I know I play fiction. I know spending days or weeks with a single game is, to a degree, a waste. It doesn’t produce anything real in the world. It means a lot to me, or I wouldn’t spend so long with the medium. SO3 did exactly this. The big twist is that, Surprise! Our story takes place in a game played by Fourth Dimensional Beings. “The Ten Wise Men Incident”, the story behind SO2, is spoken about like it’s an MMO expansion. Some loved it. Some hated it. People ask “Where were you when the Lacuer Hope was fired?” Many people in the present age may appreciate the meta-commentary. I did not. In one fell swoop, it jarred me out of my suspension of disbelief and permanently lowered the stakes of the whole series. If an MMO gets deleted, will it ever be exactly the same? No. But can it be rebuilt? Indeed it can.

          As such the game goes from “Save the Universe” to “Stop the CEO from deleting your game/world.” If I make a game and my characters come out of the game with their powers intact, I think it would be insane to not delete the world. At the very least, I would opt for a Legacy Server of sorts and let it run itself. But the whole story spiraled out of control because the world was destroyed in the end. As such… no more Star Ocean. This has led The Last Hope and Integrity and Faithfulness to both be set before End of Time. But it is hard to be invested in The Last Hope. Why?

          Because I know I am playing a game.

          I knew, coming into Star Ocean: The Last Hope (SO4), I’d be dealing with a prequel by the nature of the previous game. If the practice of prequels existed pre-Star Wars it was not widespread. Since then nearly every franchise has found prequels acceptable, normally to incongruent result. As of yet, Star Ocean has not been backed into so much of a corner to require a full reboot. For that I am thankful. I have not had the fortune of being able to play Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness (SO5). I know that SO4 is not the literal last hope of the franchise. Hopefully, some improvements have been made.

Characters

          Ordinarily, I do not touch on characters unless something stands out about them. Unfortunately, much like the story, the characters do not stand up well. There is only one I remember clearly, and he’s a bad guy.

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          You meet Tamiel on Roak. Look at him. I do not think telling you he is a bad guy is much of a spoiler. He has passion, expression, and is almost instinctually motivated. He has a task he is to accomplish but gets caught up in the joys of life. He’s a jerk, and a tough fight without a doubt. He is, by far, the most driven character in the game.

          This title continues the tradition of what I would call “stellar misfits” being grouped together. However, the ties that bind this group lack vitality. The characters had flimsy motivations for setting off together. I am just going to go down the list of main characters and give you what pulls them along. Oddly, they are developed more via their battle personas. Oft times, the characters I like the most to play are the dreariest to deal with outside of combat.

Edge Maverick

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          No, this is not a code name. He is not some elite soldier with a hidden past. He doesn’t have amnesia. He isn’t hiding from the government. He’s not some revolutionary. He’s just a kid who has trained to be a starship pilot. His father is Arnold Maverick, making Maverick a surname. Edge is named as such because his parents chose this (if we are thinking in-world).

          “That’s a little heavy-handed,” you may say. Well, it’s better than Fayt Leingod (pronounced Fate Line-God in canon voice acting). Yep. That is the actual name of SO3’s forerunning character. They’re even designed similarly.

          Messy hair, strange bulky greaves, sword slung on the hip to be pulled out from the right side. Now, spoiler alert, protagonist Fayt is special. It makes sense to some degree to have such an ostentatious name. But Edge, however? With no indication that he would even survive his genetic manipulation? Who names their child Edge?

          Anime parents, that’s who. Apparently.

          Anyhow, this is your main character, and that is why he is a part of your party for the whole game. He’s not at all offensive. I suppose that keeps him being relatable. He is fairly well balanced on the combat front the whole way through, learning some basic magic. Emergency mending will help keep you Healer(s) in good condition from afar without dipping into your item stores.

 

Reimi Saionji

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          Childhood friend and adopted sister of Edge. Followed along when Edge joined the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF). When Edge is sent out to explore Aeos, Reimi goes along of her own volition.

          Mechanically, she is my go-to fighter. With her move set, she can hit any enemy at any location in the field in a variety of ways. As a character, however, she is painful to watch. She is the love interest and eye candy. For instance, here is her first on-screen moment in the game.

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          Edge and Reimi have the advantage of dressing like main characters. They get to be unique and pop. Everyone else in the SRF wears neck-to-toe white body armor. Edge’s attire looks pieced together from the armor. And, as a member of an exploratory force, it is sensible. Reimi, for whatever reason, is a Futuristic Schoolgirl In SPAAAAAAAAaaaaace Heels. She is a long range combatant. She is an archer. Why, when running on unknown planets, would you opt for heels? Because of fan service.

Obviously.

Faize Sheifa Beleth

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          As the story picks up, you are met by an extraterrestrial. Even before the shock wears off you are thrust into your first boss battle. Faize has a fanboy level of admiration for Edge. While ordered by his superiors, he likely would have needed to be told to not follow Edge.

          I never use Faize. Edge is a better fighter, and better casters come along. I let the computer handle him.

          Character-wise, he’s exceedingly passive. I don’t know why. The other members of his race seem to have some personality. He is on the extreme side of the spectrum, a character that I dislike that is also useless more or less. He willingly plays second fiddle to Edge.

Lymle Lemuri Phi

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          After you earn the revamped Calnus, you set off to the planet Lemuris. In the first village, you are mistaken for gods, your ship having landed from the skies a small jaunt away. Here, you are entreated to help cure a sickness turning people into stone. As you speak to a village elder his granddaughter bursts in, greets her grandfather, draws a rune, then heads out to find a Symbol to cure the sickness. Edge goes along with her. Later, when Edge and the crew leave the planet, Lymle comes with.

          I would call Lymle a combat mage. All of her battle skills are fire oriented and most use her familiar, Cerberus. That’s the creature in the above picture as she shows off how well behaved he is. Aside from this, she has some healing spells and a great many attack spells. She is wonderfully versatile.

          As a character, however, she is a little bland. This is explained in her backstory at one point. Lymle, by far, is the most endearing to me. As emotion is not fully expressed the graphics do well for this, her character coming through in the quality of the writing and voice acting. I have cared for children before, and some of their expressions remind me of Lymle. But, she may not sit so well with everyone.

          Blandness is a persistent condition with the characters that you haven’t seen the last of.
 

Bacchus D-79

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          After being captured and later jailed, Bacchus comes to the rescue. Through a wall. With an arm cannon.

          Bacchus gets points for style.

          He continues with the party after a jailbreak as they seem aligned with defeating the Grigori. His aim is to deliver Edge and his friends to En II.

          Bacchus has a large number of unique moves. His hit points are high, allowing him to tank through a number of instances if he has adequate healing. I have found more use for him in the post game.

          Again, we have a character that is a bit on the cold side emotionally. His dry and direct speech, at the very least, give the youngsters of the group something to chase down. He moves the story along, and I am thankful for that. In his current body, only his spine, brain, and bits of his face are what remains of his fleshy form. Still, I find him to be more emotive and earnest than Faize. That, and useful in a fight.

Meracle Chamlotte

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          Crashing on an unknown world, you are charged with rescuing another alien. With no one having any idea who she is or where she comes from, she sticks with you.

          Meracle is a callback in and of herself to Pericci from the original Star Ocean. Both are Lesser Fellpool, able to turn into cats, and have a penchant for proficiency for ocarina piping. Both are fairly high energy and gregarious. She is by far the most expressive character in the cast. Whereas Tamiel is sadistic, Meracle is cheerful and playful. She is also the easiest to “read”. Having animal traits not only excuses some oddities but her tail and ears all for more visual cues to her emotions. Even though she is prone to a chipper perma-smirk, more information comes across when she is sad or dejected.As far as combat goes, I hear she is a powerful character. However, I have not used her much as of yet.

Myuria Tionysus

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          Myuria bumps into the party a few times throughout the story. She is in pursuit of a man named Crowe. When she ascertains that Crowe, Reimi, and Edge all belong to the SRF (and are in fact childhood friends), she “joins” your party with the expressed purpose of killing Crowe.

          As a character, there is little I can say without actually spoiling her part of the story. She seems to be a callback to Celine Jules from Star Ocean 2. The overall archetype seems to be “Sexy Symbologist”.

          Heels, symbological tattoos on the legs, floating ring decorations, and even the color schemes of the attire are similar. It wouldn’t be something I had much of a problem with if the cultures they hail from weren’t so different. I’m not even going to go into the fanservice light that shines onto Myuria. It’s just way to easy. Let it be said that too many serious screenshots I chose not to use due to digital side boob and upskirt shots.

          As said, Myuria is another Symbologist. I would say she is more specialized in the aggressive aspects. One of her strongest techniques rains lightning down over the entire field. Reminiscent of a particular Celestial I am not looking forward to dealing with again.

 

Sarah Jerand

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          After touching down on a nearby planet for repairs, a shout from an alley causes the party to investigate. After liberating Sarah from her captors, she does Edge and the gang a favorable turn. However, she is captured once more, and again rescued. Afterwards, she accompanies the party due to little more than idle curiosity.

          Sarah is absentminded and never expresses herself in any way except with a wistful sing-song. Her aforementioned call for help actually confuses the party because it lacks all panic and urgency. Her absent-mindedness leads her to emote critical disasters with the same worry as one would have if they didn’t pack extra socks in a travel bag. At one point Lymle and Meracle have to pull her aside and explain to her the gravity of a universe ending situation. For fans of the series, you will recognize that she is a Featherfolk and in fact the ancestor of two party members in the original title. Even so, she is not very compelling.

          That said, she is the poster child for useful characters. I find her to be unrivaled as a healer. Her AI keeps her away from enemies, she supports only when HP is near full, and attacks from afar only when everything else is taken care of. Her evasion is insanely effective, and can often keep foes from harming her until a more frontline member can make it to her.

Arumat P. Thanatos

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          At one point, the Calnus is recalled to Aeos. Communication has been lost with the expedition base. You are charged to investigate. After exploring the newly opened territory, an ambush is thwarted with the help of Arumat. Knowing the location of the disturbances’ source, he joins your party.

          Arumat is a powerhouse, coming to the party with stats normally well above anything you possess at the time. He is the only character I have used as a replacement to Edge casually, though I normally have the both of them on the front line. He keeps to the trend of being hard to relate within the story. Why? Because, to borrow an internet colloquialism, Arumat is a bit of an edge lord.

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          As you can see he is tall, pale, scantily clad for a man, and wields a laser scythe as his weapon of choice second only to his bad attitude. He is covered in scars. And he refers to himself in the third person as “Death Himself”. Thanatos, his supposedly alien surname, is Greek for “death”.  In scattered research for this review, I read that Arumat is an anagram for “trauma” in English of all languages.

          He simply reeks of effort. Additionally, he comes along so late in the game that his character development feels shoehorned in. As such, a character that should be brooding is oddly open and warms up to the crew fast.


          Oddly, with that exceedingly strained name, I’ve brought myself full circle. These are your playable characters. My problems with the characters are how wooden and sluggish they feel. They reside in a  weird spot in the Uncanny Valley. They are obviously stylized but are still fairly realistic in tone, proportion, presentation. The aim was to evoke humanity and this just makes what they missed off-putting, even though I can’t put my finger on what it is.

          Citing Square-Enix history again, many protagonists have had a “setting”. Take Final Fantasy XIII. Lightning is stoic, Snow is optimistic, and Sazh tends to be tired though he has an easy smile. They rarely fall out of these modes. The Kingdom Hearts series tends to work better with variation because the human characters have to work with Disney characters, so they are more cartoon-like. This causes the brain to excuse oddities as they need to fit stylistically with Mickey and the Gang which are obviously not human to begin with. There is not a kind way to say this. I watched a show called Thunderbolt Fantasy. This is a show done with puppets. I find the puppets to be more emotive and less wooden than the CGI of both SO3 and SO4. The characters in both games are, for the most part, two dimensional.

          I could go on. Really. I could. The short of it is, I do not come to this game for the engrossing characters.

          Dare I say it, the afore-threatened Crowe would have been a much more empowered protagonist, I think. Edge is more or less following in Crowe’s wake much of the game. And then he shows up like this.

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          If your hero is saved by a guy taking sniper shots with a laser rifle, dual wielding laser swords, and backed up by the guy wielding a custom laser scythe, you may not be following the right character around.

 

Theming

          I have gone on and on about the elements of the recent titles that have irked me. I think I can boil down my qualms into two distinct salty grains.

  1. Directly with this title, the pre-established elements of the Star Ocean franchise were not upheld.
  2. Indirectly to this title, Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time did not leave much of a franchise to build off of.

          As much as I am knocking and spoiling it, Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time had a compelling story with some interesting points. However, some of the twists made me step back from the game in frustration. The story got too big and backed the franchise into a corner. Some might applaud the meta-commentary of the Fourth Dimension. I do not. I do find it strange that even though the universe was “freed”, we haven’t gotten any stories set after SO3. The stakes are reduced for me because I know that no matter how grand, the world is on strings.

          I digress. The only thing holding The Last Hope up story wise is the fact that it is a Star Ocean title. However, the tent poles it snatches from the other games in the numerous callbacks seem to me to only serve to bring down the rest of the series as a whole. At the end of the game, nothing is particularly added to the series. The characters saved Earth, yes. However, as with any prequel, they had to. Much of what goes on smacks the rest of the series in the face.

          To some degree, I can see some elements for what they are: Mirroring. Hearkening back to Star Wars, the movies follow beats culminating in an overarching “rhyme scheme”. Luke, Anakin, and Rey are all easily able to apply the use of the Force. A revered mentor has died in all the first movies as well. The problem with SO4 is that the mirroring was of future events, and proved problematic to the Star Ocean story overall.

          The first callback is more or less benign. The last three major titles in the series have all had an occurrence of a male, Earthborn protagonist finding themselves stranded on a less advanced world. At this point, it has become a bit of an in-series trope. I will be surprised if SO5 does not include it somehow.

          The next is a fairly major balk and echoes the whole of the Star Ocean series up until this point. This is the making of enhanced organisms. In the first game, the ambient villain and surprise endgame boss were both genetically enhanced superhumans. The Muah, your typical long-lost and highly intelligent proto-race, created Asmodeus and Jie Revorse as templates to survive on the inhospitable world called Fargett. In the sequel, The Ten Wise Men are living weapons and your primary antagonists. And for the third game Symbological Genetics ware a big taboo. Symbology is the term used for magic in the Star Ocean universe. By imprinting magical sigils in the correct ways onto and into DNA a trio of the protagonists gained multi- and trans-dimensional abilities. The troubles in much of the first half of the game were due to an advanced alien culture pursuing these characters and just about taking Earth hostage to do it. It culminated in, and I say this with no exaggeration, the targeted destruction of many advanced societies and the eventual deletion of all creation as it was known when prior methods failed.

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Mark of the Muah

          As such, for the fourth game to have a trio of protagonists being infused with Muah (callbacks to Star Ocean and SO2’s spin-off Blue Sphere) genetic influence to survive an unlivable World War III ravaged Earth was incongruent. Genetic manipulation has been the core action that led to global, interplanetary, galactic, and universal genocide in every major title to this series up through the games I played. I will give a pass on not knowing if you’ll ever make a prequel when you write a story. The change of tone is still confusing.

          If you place the stories chronologically, it makes a little sense. Maybe Earthlings were okay with genetic manipulation, but it became taboo after the events of Star Oceans 1 and 2. That would be sensible. But that has not been the overarching tone in the series. And once Edge finds out he isn’t shocked, taken aback, or offended. He has no response. But in SO3, it was hashed out. This is why I think the story aspects of this game coast on being a Star Ocean game, and don’t rely on giving us any new information.

 

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Roak from space

 

          Moving on, Roak is the planet that the majority of the original Star Ocean title took part on. My memory of playing First Departure is not too good having only played it once. However, player character Ashlay Bernbeldt makes a “return” as the colosseum champion in SO4. Lias Warren, the father to another player character Cyrus Warren, is seen in this game as a leader of knights. Again, I will give a pass to not knowing about writing a prequel some fifteen years later. Even so, I am thinking that a second group of strangely armed, armored, and trained individuals would raise some suspicion especially amongst those who fought against and with the first group even if it happened decades apart. The timing of SO4 also places events of this game and the original dangerously close together.

          I have likened Star Ocean to Star Trek. Frame it as a long form “What If” story of an Away Mission that goes awry and I think you’ll understand what I mean. Star Ocean has The Pangalactic Federation touting The Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact (UP3). This is comparable to The Federation in Star Trek with their Prime Directive. Granted, in this story, there is no Pangalactic Federation and no UP3. Still, Edge has the Calnus land in plain sight of the village of Triom when you touch down on Lemuris. There is no sanctioning body to come down on him, and I might be influenced by a lifetime of science fiction, but that just seems foolish. He did learn and touched down further away the next time.

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          Each world is dutifully crafted. Each area ties into the last creating the variation you’d expect from singular planets. Each individual section has its own vibrancy. The settings from planets, temples, and spaceships are all wonderful to look at. Square-Enix still makes wonderful digital vistas. However, much of the Magical Industry I came to enjoy regarding Star Ocean is absent because it is a prequel. Uses of Rune- and Symbol -ogies barely even exist yet. It leaves it in much more of a sci-fi with magic setting with little of the “own-ness” Star Ocean cultivated.

Mechanics

          Does this game have any redeeming qualities? Did I find anything enjoyable? I am happy to say “yes”. Otherwise, it would not have been worth purchasing a second time and replaying.

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          I know. I’m just as surprised as you are at this point. Honestly, I didn’t know I had this much bile churning regarding this series. I guess I only like the earlier games.

Combat

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          The combat is more fast-paced than it has ever been. The real-time battles are just as accessible with simple attacks as they were in SO2. Chain Combos are present, and introduced early, allowing you to link together your most powerful techniques in a number of strategic ways. Adding another layer of strategy, all characters have the ability to Blindside enemies. Doing so will give you an opportunity to get behind enemies and strike their weak points if any are available atop normal critical hits that open up. This is of massive import in boss battles.

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          Additionally, a system known as BEAT (Battle Enhancement Attribute Type) has three variants providing different bonuses: Pure Stats (N – Neutral), Blindsides (S – Strike), and Rush Combos (B – Burst). Bonuses grow as each branch is leveled up, which happens as players are in the active party. Neutral only raises stats, and these are tied to the characters’ Strike and Burst levels.

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Beat: N

          Strike focuses on improving the already formidable Blindsides. These are most useful for frontline fighters and perhaps any character you control.

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Beat: S

          Burst tends to benefit your backline and AI controlled characters. Rush Mode allows characters to wade through many attacks unhindered, and Beat: B helps this mode last longer. Sometimes victory comes down to a healer out of Rush Mode or casting a critical curing spell while it is active.

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Beat: B

          These aspects are all well designed. Depending upon your play style and the necessity of a particular battle, these elements can enhance your effectiveness. Many of these settings, including move load outs can be changed mid-battle to heighten effectiveness. There is yet another use of the Rush Gauge and Chain Combos.

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          Rush Combos combine these two innovations are a wholly different animal. They let your team unleash Chain Combo setups free of other resources. While you may lose any area of effect from your attacks, you can pump out major damage to even the mightiest of foes.

          While special moves and spells no longer gain power through repeated usage, they can be improved with SP. This is built up per person as they level up and for the whole party from opening chests, gathering materials, and completing quests. Do you keep skills primed for combat or do you focus on making enemy drops easier and more lucrative? That choice is yours.

          I am happy that the combat opened back up to allow four combatants again. Many challenges from the previous title came from using three rather than four people. Returning to this game in earnest after a four-year hiatus from the 360 version let me get right back into it, and it was satisfying.

Item Creation

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          Square-Enix made an unpopular decision after the original release of The Last Hope. A crafting oversight known as “The Overflow Trick” was a well-documented exploit. This allowed weapons, armor, and accessories to be imbued with factors that made the post-game bosses much easier. A simple reversal of how Factors were set up rendered this Trick moot. I think this was solely done with Gabriel Celeste and the Ethereal Queen in mind. Still, they are no slouches. They both come with two amped up forms each. In spite of what even I thought this change doesn’t increase grinding as much as one would think. The techniques the player base cultivated still work, and all the boosts are good boosts. To their credit, the crafting system this go-round is much further in the realm of sanity than in SO3.

(I’ve harped on that game enough. I will not do so anymore. Today at least.)

          All crafted items come from recipes. Sometimes these are in chests, come as quest rewards, or are simply handed to you. The lions’ share of recipes need to be made by your party members. The in-game tutorial will tell you all you need to get started. If you max characters crafting to 10 before you start, all the possible recipes will be available per every character combination used. These two elements are about all you need to keep track of. Once discovered, the recipes are saved and can be used at any time. Crafting always succeeds, so don’t worry about losing materials from failures.

 

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The game is so kind that sometimes you get free goods.

 


          The battles and preparation for them are where this title shine. It’s all about the fights. It’s a shame the context is so lackluster.

Replay Value

          One of my biggest complaints with RPGs is that time is not respected or simply flat-out wasted. Chrono Trigger was one of the first games I remember having some form of New Game Plus functionality. It was satisfying to play the game once, set it down, and come back to relive the story with all the gear you collected. You could try fighting Lavos at each ending juncture fresh or wait until your party was more seasoned in additional playthroughs. Even with as popular as Chrono Trigger was, New Game Plus did not become a staple in Square’s games. Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy X-2, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII are the only Square and Square Enix titles I can think of with this design in mind. While not the most robust, there are a few ways in which your efforts can be permanently rewarded in Star Ocean: The Last Hope.

          The two biggest “rewards” from completing enough battle trophies are raising the level cap and granting extra CP. As many of the greatest equipment augments work via percentages, having another 55 levels added to you can mean an awful lot regarding base survivability. The extra CP, points which let you set skills for battle, may not be a large boon end game but will certainly make the going easier for new games. Three more points would have let you set the ultimate moves for “free”, so I am again a bit vexed at this design choice.

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          Even these rewards are offset by the nature of the Trophies. For instance, two characters need to kill 30,000 enemies each. These kills must happen in a single playthrough. While you do keep Battle Trophies independently, kill counts are unique. Earning the 15,000 enemies killed trophy will not credit you that number on even a new game with persistent data. You will have to start that over again. Some battle trophies are just luck, such as ‘Leave an enemy with X HP’. And, since Synthesis was turned down the ‘Inflict 99,999 Damage’ trophies are that much more tricky to potentially obtain.

          Achievements/Trophies are ubiquitous with gaming these days. I would not say that this game has the hardest to earn, but they are certainly some of the most time-consuming. You’ll likely clock in hundreds of active hours if you aim to earn everything. Star Ocean: The Last Hope relies heavily on external save data for these processes. Whenever you use a save point (a key fact to remember) several Collections will update and will not have to be earned again. If you are achievement hunting you’ll want to be mindful of this, as some parts are missable. I have found this list comprehensive to single play through completion, outside of Private Actions/Endings. Guides abound on such an old title so you can find all the help you need. Aside from the achievements specifically requiring you to beat the game on higher difficulties, all the battle trophies and other collections can be gained even on the easiest level, much unlike the previous game. Still, you should play on the default difficulty level first to unlock the next one up. Earth difficulty is likely more for a final mop up of Battle Trophies and achievements.

          To end on a positive, also included in the external data is a section dedicated to Monsters. Attached to most every foe is a percentage bar. Reaching 100% will allow you to fill a “Monster Jewel” with the data. These can grant a shortcut to some very powerful bonuses, both to use and to migrate into other items. This progress is retained file to file and can be used anywhere once completed. For instance, killing the requisite number of Metal Scumbags post-game will let you make a Fol (currency) 25%+ even on new games.

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Closing

 
          If you are a fan of the combat in the Star Ocean series and have no other systems, you can’t go wrong with Star Ocean: The Last Hope. However, if you are looking for a good story or are highly attached to the ongoing narrative established in other games in the series, this title can be skipped. It pains me to say that. This game is kinder to players, in some ways than ‘Til the End of Time was. The sound quality holds up, and the visual quality is markedly better than the 360 version. On these points, Square-Enix did an excellent job. Even I, who genuinely cares little about graphical fidelity, am appreciating the difference in graphic presentation. It is with integrity and faithfulness that my last hope is met by Square-Enix and the rest of the Star Ocean franchise is brought to the PC.

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Free and Open Internet

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          I make it no secret that the views and opinions on this site are wholly my own. I feel it is important to look at each issue in the micro and macro.

          I support a free and open internet. I NEED a free and open internet. This is the same for all independent entrepreneurs, start-up companies, or artists. The ramifications are vast if this issue, commonly under the banner of “net neutrality”, are left to the machinations of internet service providers.

          This will come as a shock to many people that know me, but I do not like being dependent on the internet. It is a wonderful tool. It is a personal failing that I get so hooked into my electronics that little else matters. For the sake of a career, I have to go where the people are. And we the people use the internet. Outside of WordPress, I have everything from Facebook outlets to Instagram. It is easy to cross-post my content and have it reach the maximum number of potential audience members. I have made some headway this year. Since becoming a Steam Curator a few months ago I have seen steady traffic to my blog. My fear is that when left to ISPs, my ability to grow will be locked behind more paywalls.

          I was probably a “cord cutter” before there was a word for it. The few times I had access to cable there were less than a handful of channels I’d actually watch. Cable itself was a hard purchase to justify. Spending a noticeable percentage of my monthly income for channel packages that I could never get full usage out it led me to save my money. With some patience, I could wait until shows came out and I could rent them back in the days of video stores. With the original incarnation of Netflix, shipping DVDs to ones’ home, this was made easier. And as digital distribution became ubiquitous acquiring media to watch has been easier than ever. Plus I can even do it legally. In my adult life, I have never paid a cable company for those services.

          For my business, I need open internet, to reach as many people as possible. For my entertainment, I need open internet, to draw from whichever source has the media I want. For everything in between, I need open internet. Being able to pursue new interests and curiosities is vital to my personal growth.

          I do not want to think that companies would simply cut off aspects of the internet. If I had a “Gamers’ Package” because that is my strongest leaning, they wouldn’t ban me from watching YouTube. But it may be so limited that doing so wouldn’t be feasible. I recently lived with a slow internet connection. In order to watch a video, I would have to let it play through once. This kept it loaded in the browser. Otherwise, I would have to contend with buffering every twenty seconds. A five-minute video took a half hour to get through. Running more videos slowed it down. Sometimes the best thing I could do was start a half dozen videos before going to sleep and viewing them when I awoke. Although if my browser or computer restarted, or the power went out for any reason, I was back to square one.

          Additionally, I am under no illusion that ISPs will not strong arm companies to get more money out of them. If put in control I truly think they would charge customers more money for more limited internet access. I think they would also charge companies (Netflix, YouTube, WordPress, Steam, whoever they could) more money to ensure they had swift connection speeds. If both sides don’t pay up, ISPs could keep traffic from flowing.

          At the end of 2013 and into the beginning of 2014 Comcast and Netflix were in negotiations. The cable company/ISP at one point limited bandwidth to Netflix. Customers complained and Netflix was forced to meet Comcast’s demands. Practices like this would become standard operating procedure were the FCC to allow it. Once that sets in, there would be no way around it. The companies at the top of the mountain would be able to stay there safely as the path for others to do so would be too arduous.

Solutions

          Going forward the only thing to do is to “play the game” as my father would say. It seems as though this issue will come up occasionally, and only with diligence can the present boundaries be held. Personally, it has become an issue that will be put on my voting checklist. Know the legal measures linked to this, and ensure that it is included in all correspondences. Namely, this would ensure oversight of internet service providers as outlined in Title II. Whatever you use the internet for, I feel it would behoove you to join me in ensuring it is free and open for everyone.

Back-Up Plans

          I did not hop on National Novel Writing Month with the fervor I should have. I hold this failure to my inaction, as I should.

          I have this weird occurrence in my mind. Do you know the feeling you get when someone compliments you on a job well done? I get that feeling when people cheer me on regarding a plan. One the one hand, the encouragement spurns me on like little else. But if I can’t get around to a task I also feel no stress from it. As such, I tend to work in a void. I cut out all potential distractions, drop all communications, and just sit with my keyboard and my thoughts. Some of my friends have pointed out this pattern, citing that I disappear except for three-day intervals around when I complete an article. As I failed to uphold this months’ original objectives I will be committing myself to rounding out a few articles that I did not complete last month and a few important topics that have come up in the interim.

          What, then, did I spend much of my time doing? Outside of family gatherings later in the month, a great deal of time was spent catching up on shows that I had left hanging. So great was my drive to write that I let these fall by the wayside. All of these “distractions” worked wonders in relieving stress that I wasn’t even aware that had built up. I’ll be returning to my writing with a lot more pleasure than I would have otherwise, and that is invaluable.

          A message to anyone who is creative: Do not get too down on yourself if you suddenly take a break. Short of missing a professional deadline just get back to the headspace to craft and create. I know many friends who are now parents that feel they can’t indulge as they once did, and they are right. But there is a unique opportunity in creating with your children. As long as you feel the need, creation is at your fingertips.

          As is the way of the world, I have real life tasks and more face time to put in. to attend to. I do so happily. I look forward to December with a renewed vigor.

Meditative Focus: A Soul Defiant

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          I see myself as one of the worse types of people: One who buries their head in light of the ills of the world. Problems seem so massive. Corruption is rampant. Violence is as enduring a cultural trait as understanding is for others. This is a lack of respect, seemingly no desire to bridge gaps on a large scale. It has worn on me all my life and I feel diminished that it still stands.

          Even when I feel drowned by the tide I still myself. My resources are negligible. My reach is finite. But I do what I can. I show love, respect, and understanding to children in the hope that they spread it in the world after I am gone. If I have the means to help those that cross my path I do. I try to swiftly settle debts and problems that come my way. I feel it is… not enough. But it is what I can do.

          I scream. My heart breaks. But one cannot force peace. So I cultivate the fields as I can. Hope. Love. Truth. Balance. In the infinite darkness, I will be Light.

(originally written November 15, 2015)

Getting Started… Tomorrow

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          National Novel Writing Month has been in full swing. So have I, to be honest, which is why I didn’t jump right on it. I aim to average 2,000 words a day. If I can meet that I have just enough time for the 50,000 goal. Ordinarily I like to keep my buffer days spread throughout the month for when I need a break or for feasting. Such is life that they were used up front. I am not overly concerned with not meeting the goals. I have been writing consistently, and will keep at it. I do think I will change my monthly schedule up.

          For now, food and rest. Tomorrow will be the first of many busy days.

Meditative Focus: Resolution

I was not a good person in the past.

Many people remember me favorably, but I remember much in the way of poor choices that I have made. I have spent the past few weeks in a dour funk because of it. My dreams at night have been the ills and agonies I’ve inflicted.

          I think, in many cases, we cannot truly make up for the past. Wounds do not heal perfectly. All I can do is identify what I did wrong. As I hold those acts in my being that do not sit well with me. Due to this, I can ensure to greater measure that at least I don’t cause the same hurts again.

          I am not perfect.

          While I love a good redemption story, there is never really any end. At times the best thing I can do is to exit peoples’ lives and remove myself from situations. At others, I am obligated to fix what I broke.

          I was once pleased with myself and my life. Looking back at those periods now I see how much came at the expense of others. I am afraid that I owe more than I can repay, and I still must go through life hat in hand.

All I can resolve going forward is to be better, and to do what I can.