Letters to a Friend: Farewell - title

When I saw Errant Signal's video essay about Letters To A Friend: Farewell, I was instantly intrigued. Even watching someone else's footage, and not actually playing myself, the exceedingly grainy camera had me seeing things that weren't there, constantly wondering if something was going to pop out of the shadows. In a slow-burn psychological horror title like this, that kind of constant tension really helps to set a mood and elevate the emotional response to the game, and I wanted to experience it for myself.

Letters To A Friend is a short, 30 to 40-minute indie horror game with a unique silent film aesthetic. Aside from ambient background music, there is no dialogue and no sound effects. All the spoken dialogue and inner monologue of the player character are conveyed through text displayed on static title cards. The entire game is played in monochrome, with a heavy vignette and film grain effect.

Letters To A Friend is absolutely committed to its grainy silent film aesthetic.

The plot is about a notary who goes to a house so that the owner, Markus, can sign away his rights to inherit the property after his father had recently passed. Markus begins rambling, claims he can't find the key to the locked attic door, the time grows late, and the notary is asked to stay overnight in the study, so that Markus can find the key and sign the paperwork the next morning. The notary agrees, only to have his sleep disturbed by weird noises and odors, which are all described in text on title cards. Something is not as it seems.

I don't want to go into further detail right away because speaking any further about the plot or themes of this 40-minute story would completely spoil it. This game is short even by walking sim standards, but on the upside, at least it gets straight to the point without burying its meaning in layers of confusing metaphor and symbolism, as many walking sims are prone to do. This game is only available on itch.io, and its recommended price is $5.99 USD, but since it's on itch, you can opt to pay more if you want to help support the developer. Personally, I paid an even $7 USD. If you don't mind short, indie walking sims, and the silent film aesthetic looks interesting, then I recommend checking this game out and playing for yourself. Then feel free to come back and read the more spoiler-y details of the review and analysis.

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At the end of April, our family's beloved cat, Gynx passed away. My father found him lying dead next to the curb outside the house. There were no apparent signs of injury or trauma, so we don't think he was hit by a car. Perhaps he had a heart attack or a stroke? Because nobody was there to witness it, we'll never know for sure.

My sister took it particularly hard. She had just fed him his breakfast 20 or 30 minutes before my dad found him outside. All seemed well. Just another routine morning. My how suddenly things can change...

She was hit hard with grief, and felt responsible. "If only I hadn't let him outside", she said. But it wasn't her fault. She had no way of knowing. He could just as easily have passed inside the house.

Our cat Gynx died this month after 20 happy and loving years.

Yes, I do wish that we could have had some warning. One of my friends once lost an old cat who had become ill. She got to hold her cat and pet him and make him comfortable as he slowly passed and breathed his last breath. If I were a cat, that's how I'd want to go: comfortably resting in the lap of my beloved human. I wish that Gynx could have had that as well.

But as I said, none of us can feel responsible or guilty. We can't have known that his time was coming. He was healthy and active right up till the end. We all worried that someday he'd go outside and we'd never see him again, and over the years, it became harder and harder to let him go. But he loved to be outside, so keeping him locked inside would have just made him miserable and stressed, and probably only accelerated his demise.

A life worth celebrating; not grieving

I've written about the loss of pets before on this blog. Back in 2014, Nipper, a tortoise that I had since I was about 7 or 8 years old died after apparently becoming trapped in her burrow. The following year, I also lost my baby tortoise Koopa to some kind of tragic accident. Like with Gynx, I have little-to-no idea what actually happened, since I wasn't there to witness the event itself. The sudden and tragic loss of those tortoises was gut-wrenching and depressing, and I grieved very hard, and for a very long time.

I was much more prepared for Gynx's death than I was for the deaths of my tortoises Nipper and Koopa.

Though Gynx's death was also sudden, it was not altogether unexpected. Gynx was 20 years old, which is very old for a cat. I had thought cats only lived for 15-ish years, so I had spent the past 5 or 6 years thinking that Gynx's time could come any day now. I didn't expect for him to hit 20! So when his time finally came, I think I was emotionally prepared for it -- had been for a long time, in fact. I knew that phone call from my mom, dad, or sister would be coming eventually, and when it came, I knew what it would be.

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A couple more weeks into Sekiro, and I'm still nowhere near being finished with the game. I'm definitely getting the hang of it more, but am also still struggling at pretty much every boss (and mini-boss) that I come across.

I have a few tips based on my own experience and observation that I hope will be helpful for other players, so that you don't have to go through some of the headaches that I've gone through when adjusting to this new game. As stated, everything I'm about to say are my own personal tips and observations. Do not take any of them as gospel. In fact, if you have your own tips, I'd love to read them in the comments.

There will be some minor spoilers for early game content.

Bank your sen

First and foremost, you should definitely take advantage of the ability to "bank" your sen (money). This is one area in which Sekiro actually offers a bit of leniency to players who may be familiar with Dark Souls. The Souls games did not allow you to directly bank your souls; but Sekiro does have a way to bank your cash.

You can use a Light Coin Purse to acquire 100 sen, but they cost 110 sen to buy.

Most vendors will sell coin purses (in varying sizes). Now, you may have noticed that the vendors sell their coin purses for 10% more than what they are worth. For example, if you use a Light Coin Purse, you'll receive 100 sen. However, it costs 110 sen to buy a Light Coin Purse. Similarly, the Heavy Coin Purse grants 500 sen when used, but they cost 550 sen to buy. There's a 10% mark-up.

Sadly, there's no bulk discount for buying larger coin purses, so there's no reason to save up for the Heavy or Bulging Coin Purse, as opposed to just buying a bunch of Light Coin Purses. The number of coin purses that each vendor will sell is also limited, so invest wisely!

Dying will take away 50% of your un-banked sen.

Don't let this 10% mark-up deter you from buying the coin purses. These coin purses are not lost when you die, but some fraction of your "soft" sen are lost when you die (unless you receive "Unseen Aid"). If you do not intend on making purchases with your coin in the immediate future, then you should strongly consider banking the sen by buying coin purses -- especially if you are about to enter a new, unfamiliar area, or if you are repeatedly dying to a boss or mini-boss. A single death will cost you 50% of your un-banked coins. Repeat deaths will quickly eat away at the rest. And (unlike in Souls-Borne), you can't go back and retrieve your lost coin or experience. The 10% mark-up on buying coin purses is a paltry penalty in comparison, and the insurance of having coin purses is well worth the investment!

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Spectacular Spider-Man

Pretty much any time I talk about Spider-Man on this blog, I use one of two points of reference. The first is the original comics themselves (the Silver Age comics of the 60's and 70's). The second point of reference is a short-lived children's cartoon from 2008 to 2009 called The Spectacular Spider-Man. Its first season aired on The CW network (part of Warner Bros. network), and the second season aired on Disney XD. The series was developed primarily by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, and was produced by Sony.

Despite referring back to this series repeatedly, I've never actually written a review of it. Recently, however, I re-watched the series (by introducing it to my 8-year-old daughter and her friends), and thought maybe I should actually write a review of. Put simply, Spectacular Spider-Man is probably the single best adaptation of Spider-Man that has ever been put on a screen. It's not only the best Spidey animated series, but it might even be better than any of the Spider-Man movies, including Sam Raimi's movies and Marvel's recent Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Spectacular Spider-Man is a better adaptation than any of the Spider-Man movies.

High school drama for all audiences

The show is a children's cartoon and its high school setting is definitely targeting younger kids. But it is surprisingly well-planned, well-written, and well-executed for a children's cartoon, and the teenage drama suits Spider-Man exceptionally well. Any Spidey fan, regardless of age, should be able to enjoy this show.

On the surface, the series seems to take a lot of inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man line of comics. This was a little bit off-putting for me at first because I don't particularly care for the Ultimate Spider-Man storylines or aesthetics. However, Spectacular won me over by remaining very faithful to the original comics as well. Spectacular manages to take the best elements from every incarnation of Spider-Man, combines them, and modernizes them into a 21st century setting while delightfully capturing the spirit of the original 60's and 70's comics. Plot elements and themes are pulled from the original comics, from the Ultimate comics, and also (being produced by Sony) from the Sam Raimi movies. It even makes a few successful homages to the 1990's Spider-Man: the Animated Series that ran on Fox and had been, up till this point, the gold standard for Spidey on TV (at least, up until the last couple seasons go completely off the rails).

Spectacular takes the best elements from every incarnation of Spider-Man,
while remaining spectacularly faithful to the original 60's and 70's comics.

Spectacular even replicates some scenes straight from the panels of the comics. The infamous "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot." scene is transferred verbatim. Other scenes such as Spider-Man removing the Venom symbiote in the church tower, and channeling the thoughts of his friends and loved ones to help him lift himself out from under collapsing metal beams are also faithfully replicated.


Spectacular [BOTTOM ROW] replicates panels from the original comics [TOP ROW] almost verbatim.

Other adaptations have also replicated (or paid homage to) specific comic book panels. For instance, The Animated Series of the 90's also had the "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!" scene, and the symbiote bell tower scene, and so forth, and many of its episodes are loosely based on issues of the comics. Homecoming had the "trapped under rubble" scene. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movie had the Green Goblin being impaled by his glider. And so forth.

What separates Spectacular from these other adaptations is that Spectacular manages to maintain more of the nuance and texture of those original comic panels.

And it isn't just the faithfullness to the source material that I like. The show is also generally well-written, with some clever (and not-so-clever) uses of things like symbolism and foreshadowing. The characters are all well-written and well-performed. The animation may have exaggerated body proportions, but it's very fluid, expressive, and is full of nuances in facial expressions and body language. There are some parts of the show that have some cheesy dialogue that reminds me that it's a children's show, but overall, the show is immensely watchable by adults and children alike.

There's some quality writing, including foreshadowing, symbolism, and misdirection.

If I haven't made it clear already, this show is fantastic, and I absolutely adore it! The next section will contain minor spoilers, and the sections after that will contain major spoilers! So if you haven't seen the show yet, then I highly recommend that you buy the DVDs and watch it, then come back to finish reading the review. You can maybe get through the next section ("Friends and Lovers") without too much spoilers, but sections after that will be spoiling major story threads, including what I consider to be the single biggest spoiler in the entire series. Suffice it to say: I love what the show does with Gwen Stacy, I love what it does with Mary Jane, I love what it does with Harry Osborne, and I love the depictions of most of the villains! If you haven't watched the show yet, then read on at your own risk!

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Death's Gambit - title

Being that Death's Gambit is produced by Adult Swim, I wasn't sure if it was going to turn into an outright parody of Dark Souls. Was this going to be some kind of comedic satire? Or a serious and thoughtful game? Or just a mindless hack-n-slash with little regard paid to story or narrative. It surely wastes little time before mocking Dark Souls.

Death's Gambit wastes little time before mocking Dark Souls.

Much of the game's design is blatantly inspired by Dark Souls, except for the title's font, which is evocative of Demon's Souls. From the menus, to the character creation screen, to the main character's armor that looks suspiciously like Artorias of the Abyss' armor, to the death mechanics, you'll see Dark Souls mirrored in almost every element of the Death's Gambit's design. As such, it's very hard to judge Death's Gambit without appealing back to the game(s) that so clearly inspired it.

Music is one strange element of production in which Death's Gambit deviates considerably from its inspiration. The main menu music is reminiscent of old-school RPGs, such as Final Fantasy X, rather than silence, and this trend of not being silent extends to the rest of the game. Instead of a mostly-quiet experience with calming strings in the hub and an intense orchestra for boss battles, Death's Gambit has pretty constant background music as you traverse the world. This makes the music, overall, feel less memorable, as it kind of just disappears into the background. The background music for the Central Sanctuary reminds me of Resident Evil's save room while I'm listening to it, but I can't actually remember what it sounds like once I stop playing.

Lessons from Dark Souls

Death's Gambit is, sadly, plagued by a lot of nagging little problems and lack of polish. Some of them are even issues that have been present in the Souls games, but which have been fixed (or at least addressed) by FromSoft in sequels. In these cases, White Rabbit should have known better. The most egregious of such offenders might be the inability to purchase multiple copies of any given consumable at a time. The Buy screen doesn't tell you how much of a given item you already have, and the Enchant screen doesn't tell you which items are equipped. If you use up all of a given consumable, it's removed from your item bar, and if you buy more, they are not put back into your item bar.

Nagging annoyances include text and foreground decorations obstructing the action.

The game also puts text overlays on the screen, sometimes while enemies are present. You can't read the text while you're focusing on not dying, but the text also gets in the way of the action. It's nice that they make sure that the player sees some of the important lore that you find, but don't do it if you're going to have enemies attack the player at the same time!

To top it all off, a lot of the text is really small and difficult to read, with no option to enlarge it. If you're playing on a console, sitting more than about 8 feet from the TV, you will probably have to lean forward and squint to read most of these menus...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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