Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle Review

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Developer Erocona brings us Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle, a small horror game that from the looks vaguely reminded me of Fatal Frame, which is one of my favorite games ever. So of course I had to give it a try. This game is available for android (which is the version I’m reviewing) and PC (the PC version is free). It’s also been on steam Greenlight since forever, so if you happen to like it, help the developer out and give it a vote.

You take the role of a young girl who appears to be asleep as she is being driven… somewhere by a not creepy at all old man who is saying some not totally creepy stuff along the way. Thankfully for you, some evil spirit attacks your car and you end up stranded in the middle of some old abandoned place, because it wouldn’t be a horror game otherwise. Well, if you can call abandoned a place fully inhabited by evil spirits that will attack you at random times. I still think she dodged a bullet there.

The game has 3 modes: hard, normal and no ghosts. Obviously, the latter has no ghosts popping up and lets you focus on the wonderful puzzles. Let’s talk about them for a bit, because they’re a big part of the gameplay.

Like all horror games you’re to find your way out of that place and back to civilization intact, and you do so by completing (i)logical puzzles with plenty of backtracking, because backtracking is fun! All the puzzles seem to be randomized, which means that while you might have found out how to do things or where codes and keys are, you won’t use the same code twice in different playthroughs. The puzzles were rather illogical to me (a bit of a hit and miss in logic, really, and you’re never explained why you need something or the other, even if you know it’s for the end goal), and there was no clear way of knowing when you would need an item for a puzzle and when you could safely drop it. Why is this an issue? Well…

You can only hold 2 items at any given time. No more than that. You want a third item? You have to drop it and pick the other item up (which requires a few more steps), because there is no swapping them either. Which means that if you carry with you the wrong items you are in for a world of backtracking (you probably are anyway). Thankfully there are only two main parts to the map each with their respective sub-sections, but you’ll know them quite well by the end of the game.

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Other than those weird puzzles, the game isn’t too hard. The ghosts will truly pop up anywhere and at any time, but they are easy-peasy to defeat in normal mode. You have two ways to fight them in mobile: two buttons will appear on the screen and you will have to smash them not to be cursed, or, some blue and red arrows will appear on the screen and you will have to swipe the finger of the correct side of the screen in the direction of the arrow (blue is for the left hand, red for the right). This latter one is a bit trickier until you get a hold on what you are supposed to do, but then it’s not too difficult. There seems to be no penalty for making the wrong move anyway (at least in normal mode) and you have plenty of time to correct your mistake if you don’t panic.

The ghosts jump up at you for cheap thrills and jump scares, and after the first few you just get used to them and don’t even jump anymore. I don’t much like when horror games go by jump scares alone, but this one gets a pass because the entirety of the game is pretty eerie on its own without the ghosts anyway. The closer you get to the end the more often ghosts seem to appear, but that might have just been me.

There are two savepoints located at each main section of the maps, they’re useful, but the menu they pop up is a bit full.

Story-wise there’s unfortunately nothing to say. The girl has to get out of there, there’s nothing new to it. Nothing else seems to happen, stuff isn’t explained. The ending was… a little puzzling.

It’s a short game, it clocks in at under an hour if you know what to do, but might take longer if you have to do a lot of backtracking.

So, let’s get a bit more technical here.

The interface isn’t exactly minimalist, there are plenty of buttons and things going on and changing colors and symbols at the same time. It’s a bit bothersome, but at the same time I liked it, even if it was a bit too bothersome to have it displayed all the time. For performing most actions you have to hold your touch, and although I found this a tad bothersome at first, I grew to really like it because in most actions it makes a slow, creepy camera pan as you do (although it was pointless to have this when picking things up). When this lines up with a ghost jumping out at you for a scare, you’re in for a bit of a heart-pounding fright.

Although the graphics are 3D, it really is a side-scroller game, barely 2.5D. The character designs are far too anime-cutesy, which is not in itself bad; it doesn’t lend itself much to horror, but it fit strangely well in a cutes-y horror kind of way. The animations were very nice, not the smoothest I’ve seen, but pretty darn good compared to the average “cheap”, and the settings and atmosphere, with their darkness and perpetual rain, were gloomy and scary enough that it did put you on the edge of your seat for most of it.

The sound effects were on point, but the music nonexistent, which I barely noticed at all anyway, mostly because I usually mute it anyway in most games.

The English translation is not the best, but it’s quite passable compared to others I’ve reviewed lately.

I honestly think this game is full of potential and a fun little play, but it’s short and has a few shortcomings in terms of story and puzzles, which bumps down the rating quite a bit for me. Still worth a try, though!

3.5/5

Quick Cheats for Writing With Dragon: Hidden Tricks to Help You Dictate […] by Scott Baker

Quick Cheats for Writing With Dragon: Hidden Tricks to Help You Dictate Your Book, Work Anywhere and Set Your Words Free with Speech Recognition
Quick Cheats for Writing With Dragon: Hidden Tricks to Help You Dictate Your Book, Work Anywhere and Set Your Words Free with Speech Recognition by Scott Baker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was free, and is a modified extract of a larger work called The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow, not something I’m that curious reading after the disappointment of this book. As such, it kept repeating here and there about the other book so you’d go buy it. That’s annoying, even if I understand the need to advertise for more sales. Also, I don’t like links in my texts: at the front matter, at the back matter, ok. I’ll put up with the self-advertising there. In the middle of the text? No, thanks.

The book was not bad but… I don’t know, I guess I thought the “cheats” weren’t really “cheats”. Tricks… ? Maybe. I mean: “Get a good microphone”…. that’s not really a cheat, that’s common sense. The book assumes you’re somewhat familiar with Dragon already, but I feel like it was geared more towards people who had no idea about dragon instead, because the rest was, as I said, mostly common sense for anyone who’s been using it for longer than three days. There was a tip or two that were a bit more on the interesting side (like why you should go for a USB mic instead of a regular jack), and the interesting part (the differences between home and premium packages, for instance, which I never found properly explained in Nuance’s site) was glossed over to just say which pack to choose if you wanted transcription. Maybe the full book goes in more detail.

I also felt like it repeated itself quite a bit in the first 2-3 introductory paragraphs of every section just to create filling before getting to what was essentially the cheat/hack/trick.

All in all it wasn’t a terrible book, but it was also neither useful to me nor what I expected it to be from the title. Maybe if you’ve recently installed dragon so that you’re somewhat familiar with it but not very savvy, you’ll find some use on it.

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Fiction Unboxed by Johnny B. Truant

Fiction Unboxed
Fiction Unboxed by Johnny B. Truant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I want to say 3.5, almost 4, but I think I’ll settle on the 3 stars rating because… I was torn with this book.

The first 30% of the book, as well as the last 10%, was unimpressive. It was all about how they came about and dealt with the kickstarter (and the last 10% was about the summits they held afterwards for the backers), all of which I had no interest whatsoever and felt was not really related to unboxing fiction at all, but simply recounting how they’d worked things out. And that’s fine, but I kind of expected the book to be all about writing, not about how to run kickstarter campaigns for complex writerly-related things.

Now, the rest of the book was about the writing, but I kept going back and forth between feeling annoyed by the way it was all just told and not actually shown, and liking it.
On the one hand, I did enjoy the way they told the story, On the other, that still didn’t solve most of the part they mention themselves of making the book of real value or use to the writers by showing how they worked without having to see the videos.

So, there was some value in the content, yes, but it felt like if you weren’t following along with the videos, you missed out on MOST of what they were trying to show and get across.
Also I feel like I missed out too by not reading The Dream Engine first, because the way we’re told things sort of assumes we’ve already read, seen, or know most of it. Not all sections do, but most, particularly at the start.
Another thing was that the whole thing (of course) counts on them working as a group like they always do and being able to brainstorm among each other, so I’m not sure for a single author, with no group and no buddies willing to brainstorm with them, this would be of much use.

So while Fiction Unboxed (the book alone, with no videos or anything) had some interesting lessons to teach, it wasn’t really as useful as I expected it to be. I think this would be easily solved catching up with the videos and reading The Dream Engine, but ultimately I ended up feeling just a bit disappointed with the book.

All the same, it relates an interesting experience, and it’s at the very least worth it for that.

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All Wrapped Up Anthology

All Wrapped UpAll Wrapped Up by Elizabeth Hyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ground Mission: 4.3/5 Now here is present tense done well.

Wildwood: 4/5 I wish it’d had a happier ending though, it was kind of bittersweet.

Dark Covenant: 1/5 (view spoiler)

Situation Normal: 4.3/5 Nice, fun read.

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1984 by George Orwell

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When it’s a well known, famous author and most of your FL gave it a 5 (the rest gave it a 4), you feel a bit hard pressed to rate it high too. But the truth is, for me it was just likeable, just up to there.
No, I didn’t miss any of what was going on, and yes, I gather it’s an excellent story, if you’re into this type of thing; but I guess it’s just not my type of book after all. Oh well. I gave it a try.

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Mary Hades by Sarah Dalton

Mary Hades: Beginnings (Mary Hades, #0.5-2)Mary Hades: Beginnings by Sarah Dalton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I got this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

I think a 2.5 rating would be more accurate for this collection. On the whole, I liked the story. It was very well told, was entertaining, and I liked the subject, but it cut it just a little short to keep me turning pages, which in turn made me take forever to finish it.

So, while the idea and execution were nice, I think the failure was in my age. There are YA books that can be appreciated by anyone, and there are YA books that are just a little “simple” (stylistically speaking, I don’t think there’s a better way for me to describe this). I honestly think had I been 13 or 16 I would have enjoyed this one a lot more. I can definitely see a younger girl or boy who is into ghosts and mystery and such enjoying the book plenty. Me, I just couldn’t quite get into it even though I liked it. That doesn’t mean someone else who’s even older than me might not enjoy it, but for me it didn’t quite cut it. I didn’t identify in any way with the main character, and even if I didn’t dislike her, I couldn’t quite find myself rooting for her either.
Perhaps it was also that I was expecting a bit more “horror” than we got.

I would still recommend this to YA enthusiasts or actual YAs.

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Discardia by Dinah Sanders

Discardia
Discardia by Dinah Sanders

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5
I was really excited to get my hands on this book at last because honestly, I had been looking to get it since forever ago. I guess because of that I went in with too high expectations, and the book didn’t quite meet them.
To start off with, it’s not at all a bad book; it has some good, solid, sound advice, and I like that it deals not only with material objects but with other aspects of your life as well: digital, relationships, and physical things outside the house, too.
Unfortunately the writing style didn’t resonate with me at all. It’s like it wanted to be read as fiction only it’s really non-fiction and the mix was all weird. The subjects jumped from one to the other in a way that appeared to be random, and the sections seemed overly long and unnecessarily mixed with topics that didn’t seem to make that that much sense together. Wordy, I found it wordy. Which I guess it’s funny to say of a book, but there you have it.
Also I didn’t get at all the reasoning behind separating this “holiday” in sections, since the book didn’t give any sort of actual guidelines on “how to celebrate it”, but rather gave a very open interpretation of all you could do (rather indistinct of the time of the year, I felt; or perhaps it’s because I’m in the wrong hemisphere? Who knows?).

So, it’s not a bad book, but I found myself skimming many parts more than reading them through. Basic advice was found within, but really, if you’re into decluttering and have read any other amount of books and/or blogs on the subject, you’ve probably already heard most of it.

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Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells by Chris Fox

Write to Market: Deliver a Book that SellsWrite to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells by Chris Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very neat book that explains properly what writing to market means. The explanations and examples are pretty clear and to the point, though I do wish (as someone else mentioned in reviews) that the author would have taken the time to put examples in more than one genre for each section, so as to add a bit of variety and truly drive the point in.
I also wish the exercises would have been better fleshed out: more in depth and perhaps a bit more visual/more exemplified too, as they felt a little vague and the whole Amazon ranking system et all related searching is a real headache for me to comprehend.

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Okami

 

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

Last and not least, for day 7, and the final day, I bring you Okami. If you haven’t yet played this one, boy are you missing out!

“Developed by the amazing Clover Studio and based on Japanese myths and folklore, you take on the role of a wolf, but not any old one! You take on the role of Amaterasu, a Shinto goddess of the sun, who must save the land from darkness”

One of the most distinctive things about Okami straight away (besides you being a wolf, that is), is the art style used throughout it. Even when it maintains 3D elements, the cel-shaded, cartoony like style is heavily reminiscent of the art style known as sumi-e, done with soft brushes and inks. Colorful and interesting, the visual style of Okami is what first draws you to it. The story, gameplay, and music is what makes you stay.

“Set in an old, feudal-ish style of Japan, Okami tells the story of how Amaterasu is called forth by a spirit protecting a village in order to help save it, after a warrior unseals (and fails to defeat again) a great evil”

The more you progress on the story goal, the more you will be able to explore of the world and, along the way Amaterasu will gain the help of a (rather annoying but thankfully easily ignored) companion, as well as meet other characters that will either help or hinder her along the way.

The game is RPG-styled; besides the main storyline quests you have side quests, mini-games, and some extra fun activities, such as feeding some wild animals or making trees bloom once again, slowly restoring the land to its former beauty. Each of these actions reward you with points later used to help raise stats, such as your health.

“The variety of attacks range from simple barks to making complex patterns on the screen”

Besides the basic attacks, Okami has a couple fun ones too: like peeing on an enemy or barking at them to attract or annoy them… but her main forte is her weapon, the Celestial Brush, through which, by drawing a certain symbol, you call forth certain powers: such as making trees bloom, attacking enemies with powerful attacks, etc. Of course, using this uses up ink, which requires you to keep a stock of this handy.

“Battle isn’t free-range; when you approach an enemy you’re encased in a small area within which to fight them. Certain enemies are weak to certain attacks. The rest of it is pretty common to other games”

Not everyone on the land know that this lovely little wolf is actually Amaterasu, and thus I found it a little weird that most villagers would randomly decide to put quests on what’s basically a dog… but I suppose that can be forgiven, as some of the quests are quite funny and interesting, as are the character’s reactions to the wolf’s actions.

Matching the feudal Japan style, the music used throughout the game, sometimes upbeat, sometimes not, is a perfect companion to the game. It’s so good in fact, I’ve even found myself wanting to get the sountrack for it.

“Even if you aren’t a big fan of RPGs, Okami is definitely a must-try game for its quirkiness, story and looks alone!”

And with Okami we finish up the week! Of course, I’ve left plenty of my favorite games out: Persona, .Hack, Final Fantasy, etc… if you’re interested in reading more PS2 reviews, then leave a comment below~

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out my other reviews for the PS2 Review Week series! Read you next time!

 

Way of the Samurai 2

 

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day 4 We have Way of the Samurai 2!

Following the Feudal Japan theme, Way of the Samurai 2 puts you in the role of a starving rounin who, having arrived to Amahara, must now make its way in the world and survive.

Way of the Samurai is mainly, but not entirely, a fighting game, and as such fighting is what you will be doing a lot of. However, you will also have choices to do other things, as well as choices on who you fight for, and against, by siding, or not, with the different factions.

Although I would have wished that this game was infinite play, it sadly has a time system. Each day is divided into five sections: Early morning, morning, afternoon, evening and night. Most of the things you can do, including traveling within locations, might take up time to achieve, so you have to manage your time carefully, for you only have a certain amount of days to work within. Because there’s a time limit, you will be left wanting to replay the game to accomplish things you’ve run out of time to do, or even to turn from a good samurai to a bad one…building your reputation and siding with different people and factions in each run.

Because of all the choices you can take, there are also several endings for each type of samurai you can become. You can become a lone samurai, a sort of police, a gang member, a people’s samurai, etc. It all depends on the quests, missions, and sides you take, and who you side or make friends with.

The controls aren’t the best, but they’re decent enough that you won’t find yourself troubled by them. There is some character customization at the start, letting you choose between male and female, a name, what starting weapons you’ll have, and a bit of variation in heads and clothes. While it’s not very vast, it’s nice to have various types of weapons and looks to choose from. If this is not enough, along your journey, aside from the typical consumables and story/quest-related papers, you will also find decorative items you can wear, sometimes quite funny, sometimes… really weird.

While Way of the Samurai 2 might not have a ground breaking story behind it, the sheer amount of choices you can make in your replays and the likeable characters, as well as the lovely typical music, make it a must-play for me.

 

4.5/5