Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Indie Book Corner: The Kingmaker by James G. Pearson

The Kingmaker by James G. Pearson

(Slight spoilers)

Kingmaker Cover 2

Do you like high fantasy?  Do you like epic sword battles and medieval speak, lords, ladies, lasses, lads, and the like?  Do you like magic, revenge, and murder?  Well then you will find a lot to enjoy in James G. Pearson’s the Kingmaker.  Below is my pseudo review.  I only briefly mention a numbered score because Amazon makes you do that sort of thing.  Usually I don’t bother.  Like here for instance.


Amazing Opening Chapter

I first read a sample of this on Amazon and that sample was so awesome that I had to buy the book.  I wish this had an animation to it but that's the power of books.  We must use our overactive imagination.  The book opens with a man with a fancy and seemingly important title getting his belongings together as he prepares to run.  He is frantic and because of this his family is scared.  This man is the Kingmaker and we get the sense that he's in major trouble.  Unfortunately for him some royal knights from a country called Dalamar have caught up with him and now he and his young son Rhyn must fight for their lives.  The scene is so hopeless and yet father and son fight on anyway.  Surrounded as they are by countless soldiers, they try their best to survive.  What happens next is pretty sad and sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Enjoyable Plot and Engaging Characters

I liked the plot and characters quite a bit. While I would not call the characterizations in The Kingmaker complex by any means I still found a lot of the characters very enjoyable. I liked the young Kingmaker/Warrior Rhyn and his “bestie” Dirham. I thought Dirham had the best characterization in the entire book with all of the issues he was juggling, his love of his family, and his everyman attitude were highly appealing. I thought Rhyn himself was a really stand-up guy.  He was strong, heroic, and just but ultimately confused about his place in the world.  I felt that his reasons for being confused were justified but also felt that he should’ve been more torn apart and reluctant in dealing with the loss of his father and his adoptive new homeland. The other characters I liked were Carrick the medieval serial killer (though not initially) and the mysterious masked man. The plot had enough twists and turns to keep me interested and turning the page and the big plot changer that happens near the middle of the story really took me by surprise. Magic is definitely touched upon in the book too and used in some neat ways.  And you get to see what's going on from the various villains' point of view too which gives you a 360 degree view of the plot minus a degree or two from one very mysterious character towards the end.



What is the Kingmaker?

We’re never really told what the Kingmaker is. We know that the Kingmaker is important and that they are good at fighting but never told exactly what they can do. I think this book, particularly because of its title should inform us more about what a Kingmaker is, what they could do, and maybe even a little history of the Kingmakers but alas it isn’t so. And so at the end of the KINGMAKER: Book 1 of the KINGMAKER Saga I still know very little of what a Kingmaker actually does. Without a way to judge what the Kingmaker is potentially capable of I lost interest in Rhyn a few chapters in and then he finally admits to his true abilities and I saw him get defeated or near defeated in a few one-on-one skirmishes. So the hyping of the Kingmaker’s abilities was quickly lost on me early on.

There are a few examples of what the Kingmaker can do but none are game changing or show how this person can change the tide of a battle and end a war like we’re led to believe. Right off the bat the Kingmaker’s legend and mythos are disparaged when the initial Kingmaker shown is quickly killed by a small force and then right after when the second Kingmaker is easily captured for fuzzy reasons that are never wholly explained. And with that lie the bulk of my issues with the book.

Great Concepts Needed Better Utilization

For one the Leonhardt, a fierce army of half lion half men are described to be a vicious legendary transformation unseen for hundreds of years. It’s a transformation fueled by magic but the only prerequisites seem to be that you have the blood of the Leonhardt and sign a magical waiver. Indeed even newly army joined peasants can become Leonhardt. Titan Goldclaw uses 100,000 of these supposed crazy powerful warriors against an army only 5,000 strong and still loses a considerable amount of his soldiers. With numbers like that the point of a super strong transformation loses its meaning and necessity. It would have been more compelling for the Leonhardt to be only 500-2,000 strong, the underdogs, and have access to this sort of magic. It would make more sense since we’re initially shown the Lion kingdom to be in shambles without a strong military. If the Leonhardt had won that battle it would mean something, as it was though it just made them look weak and the transformation unimportant. Rhyn’s effortless kill of a Leonhardt Enforcer also did the Leonhardt no favors especially since he loses a duel to a mere human right after.

Legendary Leonhardt Transformation...or Digimon Season 4...

Legendary Leonhardt Transformation...or Digimon Season 4...

Legendary Leonhardt Transformation...or Digimon Season 4...

Fuzzy Logic

There is quite a bit of fuzzy logic to sift through too. Some of the plots made by the characters don’t quite add up. Some of the events that occurred make no sense considering the character’s motives. I found a lot of this but am not so crass as to spoil whole scenes to illustrate it. The one example I’ll share is with the whole raising of the Leonhardt army. The one was raised from next to nothing in a kingdom wide draft to serve a man that they should have hated for all intents and purposes. They were part of an isolationist kingdom that hadn’t seen war for hundreds of years and mostly comprised of peasants. Suddenly they, through custom/ancient law/word of king flock to the army in great numbers and now have access to a powerful transformation. The king has armor made specifically for these larger transformations and marches into a war with 100,000 transforming soldiers in order to fight a group of humans that only numbered 5,000. More fuzzy logic concludes with this group when that battle ends but revealing that would slightly spoil a scene or two. Also towards the end a group rises up to join the fight but I was thinking to myself “where the F where you the whole time? Couldn’t you see all that fire and death before?”

Too many POV’s

While I really liked the POV’s of Rhyn, Dirham, and Carrick and found the POV’s of Alanis and Lyssa to be useful, I felt overall that there were way too many voices telling this one story. The story isn’t complex enough to require anywhere near as many POV’s and even with the ones we do get it often times jumps sporadically to another character mid paragraph. Tiberius’ POV’s do offer an insight into story as well but I would much likely stick closer to Rhyn and learn more about his abilities, and what being a Kingmaker means to him, and just generally what a Kingmaker does. I would like more with Dirham and more with Carrick definitely. What makes Carrick the way he is, what is his ultimate goal? Titan Goldclaw was also a necessary POV but just felt two dimensional to me. If he wasn’t trying to conquer things I would have no interest in him whatsoever. And everyone else that was covered felt completely unnecessary to me. The author may be setting something up but with his subject matter he could do well to set it up in a more established character’s POV or make these characters more interesting.

A Final Round of Professional Editing

The book has a lot of grammar mistakes, I mean a lot! Towards the beginning there are only a few and you can gloss over them easily but towards the end they’re glaring and happen really often which takes you out of the experience. Luckily this is the easiest section to fix since the author can easily update the book here whenever. I’ve noted down the errors I’ve found in the notes but these can easily be rectified with a (competent) copyeditor.

Final Thoughts:

This book is filled with great concepts, interesting characters, and a fast paced plot that keeps you guessing. What it needs more of is POLISH. In every possible way it needs more polish. A brief study of war and war tactics can make those sieges and battles even more epic. Some study of swordplay and fighting can make those conflicts more authentic and engaging. A fleshing out of those great concepts can truly make those ideas shine. My advice? Pull back on servicing the plot and let the characters be themselves and let us in on their world. I’d rather learn more about Rhyn, Dirham, and Carrick than constantly jump around to move the plot forward. Don’t pull back too far on the mystery of the Kingmakers. At least tell us what they can do, what makes them better. That and a healthy dose of final edits by a professional would give this the 4/5 stars from me. Anyways still a good read and I look forward to the next (hopefully improved) adventure.


According to the author's blog and through a conversation I had with him I learned that he is hard at work on updating the content of The Kingmaker.  He has taken his reviews and other criticisms very seriously and looks to improve his story.  This is great news for me and other fans of this first book who loved the characters, plot, and setting but had some issues with the storytelling.  The author, James Pearson, is also currently hard at work on the sequel to The Kingmaker entitled Kingdomfall.  He's also completed two short stories to compliment his series. You can check out James' blog here at http://kingmakersaga.wordpress.com/.

Old Kingmaker Cover
You can find the book at:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

And the companion pieces at:
The Order of Talos: Bear of Yarmir
Amazon US
Amazon UK

The Order of Talos: Iridi's Embrace
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Guardian Heroes Breakdown: What is Guardian Heroes?

Guardian Heroes XBLA Version
Release Date: 10/12/11
System: Xbox Live Arcade

Guardian Heroes was originally released for the Sega Saturn in 1996.  This Game Breakdown will be focused on the new "Remix" version released for the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade.  This version is a high definition remake of the Saturn version with some massive gameplay, graphical, and user interface tweaks.

This type of article of mine will typically cover: a brief history of the game, what the game's about, a summary of the gameplay and story, who was involved in the making of the game, and what makes the game unique.  Later on I'll Breakdown which features of the game the games industry can learn from and which features could've been expanded on.  I'll also note what I liked and disliked about the gameplay.  If you're not familiar, these videogame breakdowns are not made for the purpose of reviewing.  I make these to take a critical eye to games I like and don't like to understand what makes them enjoyable or not so enjoyable.  This is, of course, all subjective to my opinion so take it with a grain of salt.  Now let's start!

Today we'll talk about the history of the game.  Particularly its release date and a little about the creators.  I should probably also tell you what the heck Guardian Heroes is even about.


Wish I had a Saturn :'(

Guardian Heroes was originally released January 26, 1996 in Japan.  I'm not 100% sure on the date that the game was released in the U.S.  Wikipedia lists it as January 25, 1996 while IGN lists it as May 26, 1997.  I've even seen it listed as January 23, 1996 while elsewhere other sites simply and safely list it only by year, the year being 1996.  It was released on the Sega Saturn by Treasure and Sega.  Treasure developed the game while Sega published it.  Because a lot of Saturn games didn't have a ton of media coverage in the U.S. at the time (mostly guessing on my part), this game went on to be considered a cult classic with a niche fanbase despite everything about it having mass appeal and in many ways being ahead of its time.  Maybe it wasn't dark enough for the 90's, oh well who knows.  To this day there isn't a beat 'em up quite like Guardian Heroes, discounting the Nintendo 3DS game Code of Princess whose development team is headed by the same brilliant lead designer and lead programmer as Guardian Heroes.



What is Guardian Heroes?

Guardian Heroes is a multitude of things but it is mainly a beat 'em up videogame with heavy role playing game (RPG) influence which includes character growth and a deep narrative with lots of world lore.  It is a bright and vibrant game that encapsulates the best of early nineties anime and videogames.  Think Slayers or Dragon Quest meets Streets of Rage or Final Fight.  There is plenty of character interaction, dialogue, and scenarios that seem right out of a novel or T.V. show.  The world of Guardian Heroes is inhabited by all manner of men and creatures: from swordsman and townsfolk to magicians, all manner of fantasy creatures, towering mechs, angels, demons, angelic and demonic monsters, and even more.  The combat is incredibly deep for a beat 'em up, I mean 2D fighter levels of deep.  Think of this as Street Fighter -- or better yet Blazblue -- except you're fighting a horde of enemies instead of a single opponent.  It's a multiplayer game with co-op and versus modes with nearly fifty playable characters.  The XBLA version sports some really good drop in, drop out online support and the game has multiple difficulty settings.

 The Creators

Treasure Co. Ltd early logo


This game was created by the now legendary Treasure Co., the developers behind such hits as Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Heady, Radiant Silvergun, and Ikaruga.  They have a much much larger library of hits and have also worked on stellar licensed titles like Wario World for Nintendo and Astro Boy the Omega Factor for Sega.

The team for this game was headed by Testuhiko Kikuchi (also known as HAN) and Masaki Ukyo who also worked as a programmer for Treasure.  Both had previously worked on several projects.  Between the two, albeit mostly seperately, are such projects as Silhouette Mirage, Bangai-O Spirits, Mad Stalker: Full Metal Force, Silpheed: The Lost Planet, Advance Guardian Heroes, Phantom Breaker, Rakugaki Showtime, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen, Mischief Makers, Gunstar Super Heroes, Half-Minute Hero, and most recently Code of Princess.  As you can see, they have quite a proven track record of quality titles between them.  I respect and revere the design decisions they've made and the ways they've blended several genres, especially in Guardian Heroes.  The pair is currently not with Treasure anymore and now (peddle) their talents independently.  Their design legacy and talents can currently be spotted in the Bones/Atlus title Code of Princess for the 3DS which borrows the core gameplay principles of Guardian Heroes.  Of course, Treasure has also given us the amazing subject of this very Breakdown, Guardian Heroes, remix version.

What Influenced This Game

The two games that the wiki stated to have influenced this game are the arcade games Aliens vs. Predator a frenetic side scrolling beat 'em up/shooter by Capcom and Mad Stalker: Full Metal Force an equally destructive combat experience featuring mechs from studio Fill-In Cafe.  I watched longplays of both of these games on youtube and can definitely see how they may have influenced Guardian Heroes.  With AVP you have powerful combos that have characters leaping across the screen to dispatch foes combined with strong projectiles which is a rarity in most beat 'em ups but also prevailant in Guardian Heroes.  It's even possible that some of Randy's and Han's attacks may have even been inspired by the Predator Warrior's attacks.  Some inpiration for the mech designs of Guardian Heroes as well as the idea to stick most of the combat on one plane or rather lane may have come from Mad Stalker: FMF.  Masaki Ukyo is even stated to have worked on Mad Stalker as a programmer and designer. Both aformentioned games are brilliant games in their own right and worth checking out and possibly playing if you can find the right emulator or if you have the money for an original copy.  You should check out extended playthroughs of the games at the Youtube channel of World of Longplays (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVi6ofFy7QyJJrZ9l0-fwbQ).  You can also go to their site at http://www.longplays.org which is where I found videos of these two rather obscure games.

Aliens vs. Predator, for Arcade
Mad Stalker: Full Metal Force for PC

Next we'll go into more detail about what makes Guardian Heroes so special including a detailed synopsis of its gameplay, story, characters, and the differences between the original version and the XBLA remix version.  Stay tuned for that and as always, thanks for the browse!