Friday, September 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Alternis [ep01.09 & ep01.10]

We’ve reached the end of the season for Alternis, the serial project from Serial Box. It’s definitely been a bumpy ride for Tandy and the rest of Team USA, competing in a game structured as an MMORPG and populated by teams from all over the world, a “friendly” endeavor meant to peacefully allocate resources on a global stage. And while that mechanic of the story is still a little murky, the obvious truth is that the world is in a bad way, on the edge of all out war, and only the game seems to be keeping things from boiling over. So, you know, no pressure. Since the beginning, Tandy and company have been trying to put USA on the leader board, and finally they are poised to do just that. Can they seal the deal, though, or will their efforts crumble to dust. It’s a thrilling cap to what has been a very entertaining season. To the reviews!


“Skullduggery” by Jacqueline Koyanagi (ep01.09)

No Spoilers: Well, this is it. Team USA is finally ready to enter the final dungeon, which not only means they’ll be facing off against the monsters and challenges of the area, but that they’re entering back into PvP. It means the danger of running into other teams (like their rivals, the Russians) and having to hope that they’ve done enough to prepare for this challenge. And really it’s a continuation of the more recent adventures, with the team firing on all cylinders, each member able to show off what makes them special as individuals and what they bring to the larger effort. And it’s mostly full of things paying off and leveling up not just as characters, but as players. It’s tightly paced, fun, and builds strongly toward the season finale.
Keywords: Video Games, Undead, Politics, Teamwork, Magic
Review: There are a lot of threads that get picked up here, including a glimpse of Ben’s son in the pre-credits scene. Mostly, though, I think this chapter begins to pay off on a lot that the party has done to this point. The weaknesses of the players and the group that were so evident at the beginning of the series have been smoothed over, and if anything the team is working _too well_ together. Not that it’s not done well or isn’t satisfying to see, but that it’s one of those things that seems almost too good to be true. The team has come together, and it seems like nothing can stop them. But that feeling that they’re actually going to pull through on top makes me feel like there’s something coming that is going to twist like a knife to the heart. So I’m mentally preparing, is what I’m saying, for something to go catastrophically, unbelievably wrong. My doomsaying aside, though, and the episode is lots of fun and full of win.

And getting back a bit to how each author is putting their own stamp on their episodes, I do think that this one does a good job of echoing back to “Mingleglass Woods,” especially if that adventure represented the “mid-boss” anchored by Team USA and Team Russia helping each other out in order to work toward a common cause. That was, of course, almost immediately twisted when Russia turned on them, and here we see the ramifications of that, where Team USA takes apart the Russian team, revenging themselves on their most persistent rivals. It’s a moment that’s not as triumphant as one might think, and I do appreciate that the series gives space to how fucked up the nature of this game is. Because the people are essentially living inside the game. They experience everything as if it’s real. And so killing another person inside the game is this traumatic event. No one is immune to it, not even the supposedly hardened gamer Dante, and I like how the game captures that, the shock and nausea that happens instead of celebration at killing in game people. It does speak to the way that video games can impact people in very real ways, especially when the violence is rendered very realistically. It gets treated like it’s no big deal because it’s “fake,” but here we see that it’s real to the players, unable to be easily dismissed or ignored.

And really, what I read into this episode is the team really embracing the game and playing to win. Which presumably is what they’re supposed to do. And maybe my long standing theory that the game is ultimately going to be about cooperation rather than competition falls in the face of what’s happening here. Team USA looks like they might win. But what does that mean? Not for Team USA but for every other nation that “loses”? It’s a question that keeps me very interested in the series, and as if that wasn’t enough, the end of the episodes cliffhangers with the big boss decimating the most powerful team. So...shit. It’s a great read!

“Boss Monster” by Andrea Phillips (ep01.10)

No Spoilers: The season finale brings the boss fight the series has been building toward. Only now that it’s here, the party finds that they aren’t quite so ready as they thought they’d be. And so the epic final battle...actually dials down the action in favor of a more measured approach, the team finding that they have to figure out a bit more subtle a way of tackling this boss. And there are new mysteries to sort out on top of all of that, on top of a rather shattering twist in the final moments that mean that ONCE MORE I HAVE TO WAIT IN TORMENT FOR SEASON 2. Seriously I know it’s sort of the point but these Serial Box seasons are just torture with playing with all my feels and then making wait to see what comes next. How dare.
Keywords: Video Games, Boss Fights, Puzzles, Undead, Magic
Review: A few little things first, which I’ve definitely noticed in these last two episodes. Firstly, I love the way the team has started to be more aware of and use the music to their advantage. It’s a fairly small detail but I like that it’s become more of a thing in the last part of the season, because it makes a lot of sense and I just like the detail, the way that it makes the game seem more like a game rather than strictly fantasy action. The other thing that’s ramped up some has been the game itself seeming to bend to try and help Tandy. It’s been doing it for some time now, from the way she was encouraged to accept and participate in certain quests, to how she seems to have quite a bit of luck inside the game, there does seem to be something that is moving within the game that is trying to show itself and assist Tandy specifically. Last episode it was a button that appeared when she mentioned it, and this episode it’s a special item shop and an arrow that seems worthless at first but proceeds to completely save the day. I like how that mystery is ongoing and how the party and Tandy aren’t even quite aware of the full extent of it. And though there’s a moment later when they start to question that, they don’t linger too long because they benefit from it. Some of it might be sheer luck (the double meaning of ground that allows Tandy’s arrow to defeat the boss) but some of it is perhaps an intuitive, perhaps deeper connection to the game. Some part of Tandy knows how the game is supposed to be played, and it seems the game is trying to get her to engage with that more.

Otherwise, the episode actually steps back from a lot of the action, which is an interesting choice. Here the answer to the problem is not really a stunning strategy or raw power. It’s endurance and patience and trying to work things through without jumping to the first violence at hand. Which is hard for some of the group, Dante especially, but ends up paying off...until they all almost die and Tandy’s weird choices save the day. Like many of the adventures so far, the big victories come through a combination of skill, power, and just sort of stumbling onto something that works. Most of all, though, victory comes from the team sticking together and believing in each other, as corny as I feel writing that sentence. I’m still convinced that the game is pushing them all into a place where the powers of the world aren’t competing for resources but cooperating, but I’m just going to have to wait on that one. Here we see that sometimes it does pay to be deliberate and plain lucky, to not just run into the jaws of death but to really think through options. This is a video game, after all, which means that the rules can be used in ways that wouldn’t work out in the “real world.” So it’s rather fun that the series circles back to those sorts of limitations, the same that Tandy was trying to debug way back in the first episode.

And okay, so, the betrayal. I’ll try not to spoil much but I have to say it’s a rather gutting moment, not just because it means the breaking up of the party but because in some ways it’s hard to believe that the person would actually believe that in betraying the team there would be a chance of getting what they want. It points back to the political side of things, and how they are all playing for resources, for their home countries, but even within those countries there are factions and groups who are unevenly served. And really in order to manage resources the first thing that would have to be done is to make sure corruption was rooted out. I personally am dubious of the direction of the betrayal just because it seems so obvious that any promises surrounding these things are hollow, impossible. And I wouldn’t want to think that this character is doing something that is going to turn out to be so...naive? But it’s very possible things are going to shake out much differently than I think, and it’s a point in the episode and series’ favor that I’m upset by this, wanting more context so that I can make sense of this. I want to know what happens next, want to find out what all is going on, and I dearly hope I get to find out. A fantastic close to the season!


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