Attack – Magic – Item <

I don’t know if there’s a term for this, but it’s a sensation I’ve been keying on a lot lately, so I’ll try and describe it. It’s something that happens in JRPG’s – generally when you’re younger, playing for the first time – before you’ve mastered the mechanics, or have played enough of them to really GET the need for grinding or system mastery. You just get pulled forward by the story, by the colors, by the sense of momentum – until you find a point in the game, generally a boss battle – where you hit that first difficulty spike.

final-fantasy-VI-screenshot-1I’m thinking turn-based Final Fantasy style games here – so you know the sort of boss I’m talking about. Stratospheric HP. They attack three or four times as much as you can. They have special attacks that target the entire party and reduce your health by 60-70%. They cast DOOM too early in the game – long before you can easily heal that status. They take out Sabin in the first turn, then Terra – and you get trapped in the Phoenix Down Loop of trying to bring your characters back to life, but then the boss goes again and knocks them right back out. You finally wear the boss down to half and IT HEALS ITSELF.

Turn based games are all about developing patterns. Little algorithms. Little pathways of strategy and victory that carry you to the next turn of the page, the next point on the horizon, the next treasure chest gleaming in the dark. This boss battle EATS your algorithm, shatters your pattern. The plans you’ve laid, the habits you’ve developed – nothing works anymore. You’ve got to scramble, improvise, and —

Now, here’s the part I’m trying to describe.

All of your old patterns don’t work anymore. Most of your party is dead – the gambler, the rune knight, the ninja. You just have one random character left and they have no healing abilities – so you start digging around in your Item screen.

In games like this – you pick up all sorts of things. Potions, tonics, elixirs, shiny rocks, trinkets. And in these moments, you desperately start digging through your bag – hoping there’s something in there you’ve forgotten, some random bottle gathering dust that can save the day – or at the very least get you back on your feet to keep fighting. It’s a feeling ctbattle3of desperation. Your best characters – the best pieces of you- are toast and all you’ve got left is that final slot trying to play it cool while they are elbow deep in the item sack. Magus is casting Ice 2 every turn with grim patience and watching you falter.

And sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you find an Elixir  you forgot about. Or an X-Potion. But most of the time you’re just throwing whatever you have – Phoenix Downs and Tonics, the better characters breathe and then die again under the boss’ onslaught. Maybe you can hold out, but every time you reach into the bag you know there’s less and less to pull from – less and less of a chance of the perfect solution.

Then there comes the moment. The moment when you know.

You know you can’t win. You know that there’s only so many Hi-Potions left, only so many turns before you fall. The logical choice would be to quit. Reload from the last save and try again. But for some reason, I don’t. I keep throwing whatever is left in my bag – turnips, sacks of candy, broken nails, status effect causing items that never ever land on a boss. I think it feels like if I can buy more time, more moves, more turns – that the boss will falter. A new strategy could reveal itself, a chink in the armor of the world. I’m locked into a Hi-Potion Standoff – all I can do every turn is choke another one down. Heal up just enough to survive the next attack, then crack open another. Until they are gone.

Life is not Final Fantasy VI. It’s both way more complicated – and seriously moogle deprived. But I wanted to describe that feeling – that weird hopeful desperation. No moves left but this, hoping for a forgotten chance somewhere deep down in the bag. And the determination to make the boss earn it.

 

AMOD Deleted Scenes

I know! Weird that I’m not posting my odd rap lyrics, I’m actually posting something tangentially related to one of my books.  During the editing process of Asteroid Made of Dragons there were tons of refinements and changes made – but only two actual scenes that were cut. My editor wisely advised me that they slowed down the pace and distracted from the main narrative.

“But they’re META!” I whined.

Well, I think we all know how that conversation went. But! I thought it might be fun to pull those cut scenes up off the floor and let you take a gander. No real spoilers for the plot of AMOD, as these scenes feature the players from the framing sequence.

Enjoy!


Cut from Intermission One

Vincent let his wooden sword fall back on his shoulder and the matching shield decorated with tin dangle from his long fingers. The tall actor cocked his head to one side for a moment, and then turned to Sand.

“I’m sorry to interrupt our rehearsal,” he said with tenterhook grace. “But I’m afraid I’m a bit confused.”

Toby, wearing ram’s horns on his brow and a tattered red cloak around his shoulders dropped the fierce stance he held and squatted down on his heels. He crossed his arms and nodded in agreement.

“Yes?” the bald leading player replied, his eyes down in his copy of the script.

“Well, it’s just that — so far there have been plenty of scenes of the Paladin chasing the Demon, or the Demon fleeing the Paladin, and now we’re at the end of the Act and the two are having their first real fight,” the tall man’s tone was careful.

Sand pawed back through the first pages of the folio, then nodded, his attention still elsewhere. “Yes, that’s right.”

“So, what I was wondering is…what does the Sage have to do with it?”

“What?” Sand looked up at last, eyes focusing on his players.

“Well, we have our scenes and you have yours – but the characters never seem to meet. And nothing that happens in your scenes seem to have anything to do with ours?” Vincent looked to Toby for affirmation, the horned blonde man grunted in agreement. “I mean, what is the Sage even doing? I mean, they’re nice scenes, lots of speeches for you

Toby snickered, quite demonically.

“…but what does the Great Evil the Sage uncovers have to do with the Hero?” Vincent held his wooden sword out, the gilt-paint was chipped. “What is this ‘Dark’ that you keep mentioning?”

“A natural question, it is sure.” Sand stood up and clapped his hands together. “But let us keep reading, all will become clear ere the curtain falls, I promise you. Now, onto the next scene. This is a scene for our Demon – he has found his way to the edge of the garden where the Sacred Fountain is hidden. All he must do is find his way within. Soon he is surprised by the Paladin once more, hot on his heels.”
The slight rise in the older actor’s voice left little doubt about his interest in entertaining further criticism of the text. Toby and Victor looked at each other, then shrugged. The tall actor left the playing space, finding a shady spot near the wagon. Toby straightened his horns and cape and flipped through the folio until he found the correct place to begin.


Cut from Intermission Two

“Abscond!” Sand howled the Sage’s lines with eerie vigor, his hands wracked with quivering torment. “You foul Paladin and fouler Demon! I speak the truth and you toss it behind you like offal on the midden heap. If you heed not my warning, then flee. Flee through the verdant bows of the glade and the forgetful arms of Night and disappear to the far Edges of the City.”

“I hear your warning and I heed it,” Vincent held his Hero’s Sword high, “But I follow a greater charge. This Demon must die, by my hand or none. This is my battlefield, my war with the Shadow. You speak of a greater Darkness, one that no single mind can comprehend, no single heart can bear. I can bear this, I can fight this foul Creature before me. This is where I will stand, sword at the ready.”

Toby nodded, then reached under his demon’s horns to scratch an itch.

Sand looked at the handsome player. Toby looked back. Vincent waggled his eyebrows with portent at his lover. Toby arched his eyebrows back. Sand dropped the perfect Agony Tree Pose he had held throughout the scene and pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

“It’s your line, Toby,” the bald man tapped his own copy of the script.

“Yeah, I know,” Toby put his horns back on and smoothed his golden hair back into place.

“You’re not even looking at the script,” Sand crossed his arms.

The blonde Demon shrugged and flipped through the folio with desultory interest. Vincent lowered his sword and leaned on it, long face concerned. “Is something wrong Toby?”

“I don’t want to play the Demon,” the blonde man said, staring pointedly at a square of blank ground slightly to the left of Sand’s feet.

“Why not?” Sand replied, keeping his tone level and soothing.

“It’s no fun. I’m always lurking or crying about something or killing things in fits of passion. Even that one scene where the maid tries to give me the bread I just spent most of the time yelling at her.” Toby sulked.

“Is it…” the leading player made a diplomatic hand gesture, fitting for a queen’s herald. “…is it that you think the audience won’t like you?”

“That must be tough,” Vincent murmured, but Sand shot him a quick glance to silence the tall man.

Toby shrugged and stared at the floor.

“You haven’t read ahead in the script, have you?”

“What?” Toby met the troupe leader’s eyes.

“The last act? You haven’t read it yet, have you?” Sand tapped his copy of the folio again.

“No – why? Do I do something cool?” the patchwork Demon began to flip through the pages with renewed interest.

Sand folded the play between his hands and spoke with professorial elan. “The spine of this script is the hound of Sin. The Paladin’s murder of his mentor in Act One – Scene Two, the Demon’s reckless slaughter at Marwell Abbey, the Sage’s return of that library scroll a full two months past the appointed due date — all transgressions that haunt the characters throughout the events of the play. The things we do to forget, the lies we tell ourselves to mask the truth, we scrub and scrub at the stone but the chisel-marks we can not erase.”

Vincent nodded with understanding, but Toby only shrugged again. “So?”

Sand lowered the jaws of his trap gracefully. “And in all the plays, all the lives we’ve lived in the Twilight Kingdom, how has any character ever washed clean their slate?”

Toby stared down at the script as if struck by lightning. “Shit and beetle-balls, we’re all going to die aren’t we?”

Sand returned to his anguished pose and nodded to the Demon to take his cue. Actors cannot resist a proper death, no more than cats can pass milk or hedgehogs leave a cinnamon bun.

I know! So META. Painful to cut.