The Shortlist Award Reading Challenge 2019

It seems that my #1 goal for 2019 is to exhaust myself into completing all of the other goals I have made for myself: get a job, read 100 books, read and post about ARCs, connect with authors and editors, work on my content for my social media pages, finish some of my WIP for submission, etc. Now, I’ve decided that I’m going to read the books that are nominated for various book awards.

            I’m going to call it: The Shortlist Award Reading Challenge. Last year, I followed the Hugo Awards closely because I knew that The Stone Skyby N.K. Jemisin was going to win “Best Novel,” and All Systems Redby Martha Wells was going to win “Best Novella.” However, as I was looking at the shortlist for the other categories, I realized that I read many of the books and watched many of the media that were nominated. So, I decided to read as many of the other nominees as I could before the winners were announced. Not only did I caught up to many recent series, but also I started reading works by authors who had been writing in the genre for several years. I read what I could access through libraries, bookstores, and the Internet. This process was very insightful. Soon, I was able to select whom I believed should win the Hugo Awards. While I was correct in who won in categories such as Best Novel and Best Novella, I was wrong in other categories such as John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. 

            After the winners of the Hugo Awards were announced, I made a reaction video and posted it on my YouTube channel. Then, I continued looking into the nominees and their works. For example, while I am a huge fan of Katherine Arden’s Winternight TrilogyI understood why Rebecca Roanhorse won the award in the category—Best New Writer—over her. And, I realized that some works won in the same category at other awards, and then there were a few awards in which one book won over another book. It makes you wonder if there was a difference in who voted based on preference and/or guidelines. Not to mention, one notices that other works win awards due to the way they stand out from the rest of the nominees per category.

            Like everyone else, I read what is released when I am able to do so. In addition to reading my usual genres—fantasy, science fiction, magic realism, contemporary, classics, graphic novels, etc.—I read many debut novels and I catch up on series that were unknown to me previously. Now, with the 2019 Award Season gaining momentum, I’m excited to see what is nominated and who could win. TV shows and movies can be viewed from at least one viewing before comparing them. Video games are similar to books in that one must invest the time needed to immerse themselves within that narrative. I will comment on these categories for the given awards as well. As of right now, I noticed that once again, there are many books that I have not read, but I am willing to read as many of them as I can before the winners are announced. 

            I want to be able to determine for myself why these books and media have been nominated for these awards. I keep using the terms “books” and “media” because both fiction and non-fiction works get nominated, and movies, television shows, and video games get nominated, too. This is not only a chance to insert myself into what I might have missed otherwise, but also learn how and why these selections were nominated in the first place. 

            So, between now and the end of the 2019 award season, I will read as many of the nominated books and watch as many of the nominated media as I can. This way I can give my critiques before and after the awards. If you want to see the compiled list for the awards I will be following, reading, and critiquing, then please checkout this list on my Google Docs page: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yzQEUvGTILR2LaGMVCibEbeZXp1q5PlSQIch9c0Q-IQ/edit. This list will be updated throughout the award season in order to add to the list, to highlight my reading progress, to provide access to my reviews of the nominees, and to mark the winners of each award in each category.

            In addition, I will be continuing to upload reviews to this blog. Some of the nominees were reviewed previously, and I will continue to add more to my website so that you all have a better understanding of what each book is about. In other words, I’ll do the reading—which, you can do as well—and I’ll let you look over my notes, similar to what I did back in high school. As I complete the list of nominees—regardless of which award each one is nominated for—I will write, upload and share my review. As each awards ceremony gets closer, I will upload both a blog post and a YouTube video with my “prediction” on who should win and why. And, after each award ceremony, I will upload my reaction video on the winners. This is an arduous path I’ve put myself on, but I’m eager to attempt and to accomplish this ambitious goal. 

            Just so everyone knows, this will slow down my progress on my ARCs, essays, theories, and other reviews and content I am currently working on. However, they will get completed, eventually. The only thing that will put a complete halt on everything I’ve been doing is starting a new job—which I really, really need right now—and reworking my schedule to accomplish everything.

            All that being said and addressed, I hope you either follow me, or participate with me as I read as many books as I can and offer my opinions on them. There will be many awards that I won’t be able to add to this challenge, but I’m open to the names and the nominees of each of them. Who knows? I might have read some of those books already, too. This year’s award season is going to be very exciting due to ALL of the nominees. It’s going to be very close, so close that I might have to predict a (potential) second winner within some of the categories. Bring on the 2019 Shortlist Award Reading Challenge! Will you join me? 

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Why E3 2018 Was Great for Gamers and Relevant for Media

E3 2018 lived up to everyone’s expectations! Now, this isn’t about which games were the best and which moments were the worst (NO MORE MACRHING BANDS). Instead, I want to go into why this year’s E3 was monumental, especially after the great year in gaming that was 2017. Long awaited games, expected sequels and remasters, and surprises told hold of the audience. Death Stranding, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Fallout 76, Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses all look very promising. The announcements for future games are very promising as well, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer for Beyond Good & Evil 2. In addition, for some reason, Sea of Solitudelooks like it’ll be a very engrossing game.

As many gamers know, 2017 was an amazing year for us because so many excellent video games were released (too many to name, but please list your favorite from that year). Many of those games went beyond the expectations of both the gamers and the critics. However, similar to other forms of media, people (outside of the gaming community) believed that it would be another few years before video games experienced another “successful” year like 2017. E3 2018 proved that statement wrong.

Similar to digital TV and modern literature, video games are exceeding expectations by doing two simple things: one, giving the fans what they want; and two, taking chances with something different. First, people still find enjoyment in reading; in fact, many stories (particularly fairy tales, myths and legends, and other forms of folklore) have given inspiration to recent popular novels (i.e.A Song of Ice and Fire, Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and popular video games (i.e. God of War, Okami).

Next, streaming sites such as: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have branched from streaming older and recent TV shows and movies, to building themselves up as a network with eclectic shows that reflect the diversity of their subscribers. And, with each risk that is successful, that network branches out more and develops more “risky” shows for the audience. Granted, like network TV, there are shows that have been cancelled, but for every one show that gets cancelled on a streaming site, there are 3 to 5 shows that have a large enough audience for renewal.

2017 was that year for video games, and E3 2018 presented the follow-up to that success. Not only will gamers get the games they want between now and 2019, but also new games were announced that look very promising. And, because gamers try to remain indecisive before playing a video game (that still looks fun to play), many of those games will sell just enough to for a discussion to emerge.

FYI: Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit will be released for free by Square Enix on Tuesday, June 26thon PC, PS4, and Xbox One. The game is by the studio that made Life Is Strange. I’m curious about this game, and it’s free, so I plan on getting it. If you get to play it before me, then let me know how it is, I appreciate it.

My Favorite E3 2018 Video Games:

1)   The Elder Scrolls VI

2)   Kingdom Hearts 3

3)   Super Smash Brothers Switch

4)   Shadow of the Tomb Raider

5)   The Last of Us Part 2

Which games from E3 2018 were your favorites?

Why Persona 5 is more than an Excellent JRPG

         Phantom Thieves

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5 won “Best RPG” at 2017’s Video Game Awards in Los Angeles. The win was no surprise to anyone who was familiar with the series, or with the game company, ATLUS. ATLUS has gained more momentum in the past 15 years thanks to the popularity of Persona 4 (2008) and Demon’s Souls (2009). This company has become known for their inclusion of fantasy and folklore within the gaming narrative and taking risks in developing and releasing video games that may or may not be a game-changer.

The success and the enjoyment of Persona 4 immediately had players and fans anticipating Persona 5. After teasers and delays, gamers received insight into the games’ narrative, presentation, and combat. Not only does Persona 5 returned to its earlier combat and theme, but also it evolved in order to match other video games and desires of their fans and players. The game went back to its darker theme surrounding human nature, and improved on their gameplay mechanics.

The dungeons and the grinding were a huge improvement, and it’s about time! The stealth and the combat make dungeon crawling more entertaining. The art style, the design and the menu illustrate the tone of the game, but it still manages to lure you in. The soundtrack is one of the best of the year, too! The songs, sung by Lyn and, the music, composed by Shoji Meguro, are catchy and make you want to challenge society.

The location matches the overall concept of the Persona series. Persona 5 takes place in Shibuya, Japan, a real place with buildings and subways to match. This is because the story is about the existence of a parallel world based on the occult and human emotion. While, Square Enix’s The World Ends with You (2007) also takes place in Shibuya, Persona 5 has the characters travelling in-and-out of the parallel world, or the Metaverse. Thus, the game feels more realistic due to the “parallel world” and “double life” storyline. The fact that Japanese towns and culture piques our interests!

Yes, it is an amazing JRPG and it deserved the win. However, the game was a contender for “Game of the Year.” It was well deserved, but Persona fans are not oblivious! We knew The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild was going to win that prize (and with good reason)! And yet, fans were pleased with the nomination because not only was it well-deserved, but also it brought the game series to the attention of mainstream gamers, especially those who neither heard of, nor played the series until now—I’m looking at you, Jirard “Dragonrider” Khalil a.k.a. “The Completionist”!!!

So, what makes Persona 5 stand out from other JRPGs and RPGs? First, it takes the concept from American comic super heroes and Japanese manga: you’re a student who is working to save the world! You play as a student who, along with his friends and classmates forms “The Phantom Thieves,” is protecting and saving the world from dark forces that inhabit both the real world and the paranormal world. Next, “the story” takes place over the course of a year. I believe the pacing in the game takes on an aspect of realism in that the objective cannot be met or completed in a short time. Last, children and adolescences are the main characters in this series. Not only does this fulfill the notion that “the younger generation” can make necessary changes within their society, but also the idea and the circumstances of social issues remain a constant throughout the series. Identity and the real world loom over adolescents because they are close to adulthood, and “how” the world views them affects and influences their personality. This is why the characters struggle with “who they are” throughout the game. However, in the narrative, we see the main characters dealing with their identities better than the “criminals.” It is fascinating to grasp on what motivates people to remove themselves from their negative identities.

The gameplay is a combination of turn-based strategy with some stealth. Grinding consists of completing side quests and building up bonds with confidants and personal social stats. Even what items you buy are part of your strategy throughout the game. Every confidant plays a role towards the ultimate goal of the game. The dungeons are artistic and narrative driven. Speaking of narrative, it seems more relevant with recent events. Children and adolescences are still people, and people can only take so much injustice and mistreatment.

Persona 5 is worth the 100+ hours of devoted gameplay, and the replay of “New Game Plus” for the “True Ending” reminds fans, and displays to newcomers how distinct the games in the Shin Megami Tensei series are within the video game industry. Granted, it takes true devotion in order to complete the Persona Compendium (Good Luck Jirard!), but seeing the numerous references to fantasy, folklore, the supernatural, the occult, the paranormal, and religion by ATLUS developers leaves us awestricken.

The numerous delays and the long hours of playing makes Persona 5 a worthwhile experience. I believe I can say—and many will agree—Persona 5 is a video game that ALL gamers need to play! The game radiates perfection in everything from style and music, to characters and story. While fans wait for an announcement for Persona 6, we will continue to play, and to enjoy, the games—and the spinoffs—of the Persona series!

Most Surprising Video Games of 2014

2014 was not the best year for gaming, but there were still some good releases and some surprisingly excellent games that were worth purchasing and playing. The interesting fact that can be said about this year in gaming is that there were many video games that took us by surprise. Some video games were discussed more by critics and gamers alike, and they made the “must play” list. Then, there were other games that were either pushed back or did not live up to our expectations (you can list some of the many games here). I will be discussing the games that took the gaming community by surprised to the point where we could not wait for the price reduction, we had to get the game A.S.A.P.

These selections are in no particular order. However, I felt the need to acknowledge these games since they did help with the slope the video game industry went through during this year. These games span across several consoles and should be looked into if anyone is looking for a gift for someone he or she knows.

The first game I wish to discuss is Bayonetta 2. Bayonetta was a surprisingly successful action-RPG game for both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. However, because Microsoft and Sony were not satisfied with the amount that the game brought in, they decided not to publish the sequel, which was already in development. Instead, Nintendo decided to pickup the franchise in order to attracted more adult gamers to the Nintendo Wii U console. No one doubt that the sequel would be good, but would Nintendo alter the game? Surprisingly, they did not and the game lived up to everyone’s expectations. Bayonetta 2 was just as good (or better according to some critics) as Bayonetta. Also, the game—along with a few other Nintendo releases—will see an increase in sales of the Nintendo Wii U. As someone who is a fan of Bayonetta, I just might have to consider investing in a Wii U after all.

The second game I want to mention here is South Park: The Stick of Truth. Now, anyone who is a fan of South Park and/or a gamer knows for a fact that all of the previous games based on the popular television show were terrible. What makes this game different? One, the creators of the show finally got involved with the development of the game. They even made a map of the town; now, we know where Kyle’s house is in South Park. Two, the storyline in the game reminds us of an episode of South Park. In other words, you are immersed in the game as if it was an extended episode or a movie within the series. Three, you play as a “new kid” in the town. This way, you can interact with all of the characters from the show instead of playing as them. This makes the gameplay more memorable and entertaining.

The third game I want to talk about is Bravely Default. It was crazy when a RPG by Square Enix was released for the Nintendo 3DS. There has not been collaboration between the two gaming companies since the late 1990s! Plus, Square Enix has been getting a lot of flack for delaying both Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games. However, there were some gamers who wanted the company to develop a new RPG for everyone to enjoy that was not tied to their known franchises. What gamers got was Bravely Default, a game that reminds us why some of us enjoy RPGs and why Square Enix is known for having some of the best games in that genre. And, it’s on a handheld console. What more could you ask for?

The fourth game I wish to discuss is Child of Light. This digital game received a lot of attention and praise for both the story and the graphics (as well as anger over the constant rhyming). Similar to Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, the protagonist is a child, Princess Aurora, who is experiencing a dark situation and has a chance to change her fate. The world is beautifully designed with an atmosphere that reminds gamers of how somber the mood is supposed to be in the game. The characters within the game make us wonder if the protagonist is living in the afterlife, or experiencing a dream. Child of Light reminds us of the bedtime stories we were told as children, which left a sense of foreboding afterwards.

The fifth game I want to mention is Mario Kart 8. I chose this game over the latest Super Smash Bros. game because—and I believe it is safe to say—the expectations for Mario Kart 8 were lower than for the Nintendo fighting game. The latest Mario racing game is worth purchasing and playing because we finally saw an upgrade in the vehicles and the race courses. Plus, requested characters either got included or were brought back. The graphics, the gameplay, the levels, and the multiplayer revamps the enjoyment we all felt the first time we played a Mario Kart video game.

The game that gets my “Honorary Mention” is Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. This fighting game is an upgrade to its predecessor—Persona 4 Arena—with a better storyline and an improved gameplay. Also, this game was a preview to the game Persona Q, which was the actual Persona crossover game fans have been waiting for. And yet, as RPG fans already know, crossover-fighting games involving characters from popular franchises (i.e. Super Smash Bros., Dissidia: Final Fantasy) can be worth investing in. Plus, fighting games never go out of style; one only needs the skills to master them.

These are my picks for the “Most Surprising Games” of 2014. There are in no particular order. If you do not agree with what I have chosen, then please comment below. I am very interested in what you have to say, especially since changes are occurring within the video game industry. These games (and several others that I did not mention here) will occupy us until the 2015 releases. GAME ON!!!

Factions in Popular Culture that Made a Difference: Gaming: Super Mario Bros.

            Like many gamers who are of my generation, there was a time when there was a limited choice in which home gaming console a player could get. Telstar and Atari came before my time, but I did play on the Nintendo Entertainment System. My parents bought it because it was to help improve a sibling’s hand-eye coordination, which it did; and, to provide a different form of entertainment because my siblings and I were watching too many cartoons, keep in mind there were no “gaming addicts” during the 1980s.

            This console, unlike many other ones, came with a game (and yes, you really had to blow  into it to get it to work). This game was the 2-in-1 Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. The latter made more sense than the former: you are a hunter and you are either hunting with that annoying dog, or shooting discs at a shooting range. In Super Mario Bros. you knew you had to save the princess, but plants that shoot fire, fish that literally jumped out of water, and mushrooms that make you grow…the game was both fun and strange.

            The popularity of these games were much bigger than everyone knew at the time. Anyone else who did not own a NES had played on the console at the homes of those who did have them. And, even though Duck Hunt fulfilled the fantasy of shooting at the T.V., it was not as challenging or as rewarding as completing a level in Super Mario Bros. Plus, there were secret rewards and warps hidden throughout the game remember the warp pipes? You wanted to continue playing Super Mario Bros. for the rush and to hear the music. This game eventually allowed the curious players and the gaming companies to try other games. That was when you began to see which genres of video games were gaining popularity: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gotcha!, BattleToads, DuckTales, Paperboy, etc. The Super Mario Bros. game became known as the first platformer game.

            Super Mario 2 was an interesting game because you got to play as the princess for the first time. Personally, I had trouble with that game because of how one had to complete each level. I never made it to the final boss, but I enjoyed the various levels and the extra challenges within the game. When Super Mario 3 was announced, my parents already knew my siblings and I would want it for Christmas (it was announced during the summer and the advertisements were non-stop), which they made happen. The developers of Super Mario 3 invested equal time to both the story within the game with the gameplay. Each of Bowser’s seven children have overrun seven smaller Mushrooms Kingdoms. You had to defeat them on warships, and then deal with their father after you defeated all of them. The best part of the game was both players could play each world interchangeably, and play a versus mini game (POW!). The leaf and the frog costumes and power-ups were very cool and the angry sun added more to the memorable gameplay we were all familiar with by that point. I enjoyed “Water Land” and “Giant Land.” “Sky Land” was very annoying, half the world took place on land for crying out loud!

            The 1990s brought an interesting change to the gaming industry: multiple gaming consoles that were good were being released. The most successful ones at the time were the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo (there were also the Sega Game Gear and the Game Boy both are handhelds); the first reasonable rivalry to be taken seriously involving video games. Also, this was the beginning of something else: did you own one or both consoles? My family had the Sega Genesis. We loved the Sonic the Hedgehog games, but my siblings and I were curious about Super Mario World (and Donkey Kong Country), and how the character ‘Yoshi’ performed in a platformer game, and not in a puzzle game named after the character (Yoshi is a great retro puzzle game to invest in, it was originally for the Game Boy). However, my parents had recently witnessed video game addiction thanks to my older brother, and refused to buy no more than one console per gaming generation. How do young children deal with this dilemma? They look to their friends to help them out! Our friends within our neighborhood had a Super N.E.S. So, when we wanted to play Mario, we all met at their house, and when we wanted to play Sonic, we gathered at my parents’ house. Super Mario World was, and still is, one of my favorite video games (and one of the greatest games of all time). And, everyone should play it at some point.

            Fast forward a few years and the Nintendo 64 came out, and everyone was curious about Super Mario 64 and the 3D gameplay we would get to experience (though more kids at my school had more interest in the upcoming Zelda game). That game gave us the chance to play with interchangeable caps—the red one (flying) was my favorite—and to witness Mario drowning in water and in sand, and die from poisonous gas. I collected all of the red coins and have yet to gain all 120 stars (it’s a long story). And yes, my siblings and I attempted the ‘Luigi gameplay,’ and all it is, is an urban legend. Mario Kart 64 had all of my siblings, my friends, and myself playing at the same time. The levels within the racing game and the multiplayer levels were fun and challenging. This activity did lead to more fighting amongst ourselves, but the gaming was (sometimes) worth it.

            Next, came the Nintendo GameCube with Luigi’s Mansion and Super Mario Sunshine (both games were terrible). By then, I had resorted to playing retro Mario on both my Game Boy (Super Mario Land) and Game Boy Advance. The spinoffs, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Kart Double Dash, and other ‘party’ games such as GoldenEye 007 made up for those other Mario games. Once again, gamers would gather to play, but this time everyone played at the same time. The Mario Party games were fun too, but it did not compare to the fighting and the racing game under the same name. Besides, we were getting insight into ‘other’ Nintendo characters. For instance, Mario saved Princess Daisy, not Princess Peach in Super Mario Land, and both princesses were in the Mario Kart game as playable characters. Then, there was WaLuigi…who came up with that name?!

            The hype surrounding the Nintendo Wii (originally called the Nintendo Revolution) was similar to a Harry Potter release party. That’s how long the lines were in order to get one. Everyone wanted to experience the wireless controller. Even non-gamers were interested in this console. And, Super Mario Galaxy looked very promising. That game was everything we expected from a Mario game and more: the levels were on planets, you could fly whenever you were able to, and all of the bosses were of believable sizes and challenges. I have yet to play Mario Galaxy 2! The Mario Kart game was also a MMO and witnessing that sort of competitiveness was mind-blowing and engaging.

            I have not mentioned too much about the Mario games for the handhelds, but I will say that playing Super Mario Land  on the Game Boy was an experience all by itself. I thought at my young age that the game would be similar to the Mario console games, but it was not and I loved that the most. The Game Boy Advance allowed me to return to the original Mario games—Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World—and complete them. Now, upgrade those handhelds to match the Nintendo Wii. Both the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo 3DS came with a stylus and two screens in order to further enhance the gameplay. The Nintendo DS (and the 3DS) have provided three different genres of Mario games: the traditional action/adventure game: New Super Mario Bros. a great game with a reference to its predecessors, the reboot of a retro game: Super Mario 3D Land, and the RPG: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Please note, I have not played all of these games, but I have heard great things about them all. I am looking forward to playing these games. Also, I have not played anything on the Nintendo Wii U, so for now, I will not say anything about that console.

            The point of this is, there has never been any Nintendo console or handheld without one Mario game to be played on it. This is why Mario (and Luigi) is (are) a recognized mascot whether or not that person is a gamer. And, as I mentioned earlier, some Mario games and spinoffs were better than others. I believe with the Nintendo eShop, we might see more recent gamers interested in playing the retro Mario games on their 3DS and/or Wii U. When it comes to Mario, any game is worth playing. Has there ever been a Mario game that was not fun to play?!

            I am glad that part of my gaming experience included growing up with these Mario games. Watching Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Yoshi go from 2D side-scrolling to 3D open world was a worthwhile childhood experience. Admit it, you all had fun stepping on goombas and powering up using mushrooms, and still play those games. It is good to know that most of these Mario games have not strayed too far from what we gamers have come to expect from them. As long as the games are fun and familiar, I will always play the Mario Brothers games.