Last Window Review

It’s 1980, and Kyle Hyde is four years and a lot of miles from his past life as a NYC Police Detective, and a year removed from the events of Hotel Dusk.

Last Window sees Hyde in a state of unmotivated limbo after the revelations of his visit to Hotel Dusk, and he’s pushing the patience of his boss perhaps one time too many. Yet the job might not be done with Hyde yet, as he receives a mysterious request unusually delivered straight to him at home.

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I adored Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and a long while back I picked up the sequel, Last Window: The Secret of Cape West. Last Window was never released in the US, but was translated into English and released in the UK. While 3DS is region locked for 3DS games, it is NOT for DS games, and as such the European release of Last Window will play on my US 3DS. So I got it when it came out, and have finally gotten around to experiencing Kyle Hyde’s second (and by all appearances final) adventure.

Last Window has the same purposeful, noir sensibilities that were present in Hotel Dusk, and I love them just as much here. As I said about Hotel Dusk, Last Window knows exactly what it wants to be and sticks to that vision from start to finish. All the little immersive touches are back, including holding the DS like a book, an almost sketchy art style with varying degrees of limited color use depending on the situation, and a deliberate, tense atmosphere that surrounds the central mystery.

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The basics of story and gameplay are introduced with a strong, short prologue tutorial, which is followed with excellently paced first chapter to get things moving. A good portion of the cast is introduced pretty naturally in first chapter yet with surprising speed. Four minutes in I had met seven new characters and been reintroduced to three from Hotel Dusk, yet nothing felt rushed or overwhelming.

Kyle Hyde is a classic hard boiled detective protagonist: surly and blunt, but capable of compassion. He’s living in a soon-to-be-sold building called Cape West, formerly a hotel and rumored to be the site of mysterious crimes many years prior.

Like the titular Hotel Dusk from the first game, Cape West provides the entirety of the locales for gameplay. Unlike the hotel however, Kyle will occasionally leave his apartment building for story related reasons during cutscenes. Last Window also takes place over the course of days, not hours, which allows for much more natural story pacing and room for developments to breathe a bit. A couple of small but nice refinements to gameplay mechanics and a clever nod to Hotel Dusk in the extras that allows some fleshing out of story points do a good job of moving things forward as a series without losing what made Hotel Dusk great.

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I feel Last Window is tighter than Hotel Dusk overall. Outside of one rather HUGE one in the premise, there are fewer coincidences here in terms of timing and motivations. I understand that the tighter plot might leave some feeling things tie together too neatly in some respects, but I thought it was all within the realm of believability for the story being told and really liked the way things came together for the most part. The events of Hotel Dusk were referred to and important to Last Window in certain respects so I do highly recommend playing that first, but Last Window has its own story that’s fairly distinct and removed from Hyde’s quest in Hotel Dusk involving his past as a detective.

The self given “interactive mystery novel” is once again a perfect description for this series. There are puzzles, and they are integrated well, but everything is geared towards satisfying the mental itch that gets ahold of Hyde when things don’t quite make sense and piecing together connections and explanations for the mysterious happening surrounding him. Both the characters and plot are very well built and developed by the end, and I might have ended up liking this a touch better than Hotel Dusk overall.

The events in Last Window are appropriately tied up, but room was left for more adventures with Kyle Hyde. From the general direction of the story I was afraid things would feel forced, but I was pleasantly surprised that I found it fit together and unfolded well instead. Easter eggs are also plentiful for fans who’ve played the first game.

I’m as thrilled that Last Window turned out to be a more than worthy successor to Hotel Dusk as I am disappointed that it was never released in the US and that it was the end of Kyle Hyde’s stories. Mystery fans and retro-gamers should definitely seek this (as well as Hotel Dusk) out.

Mythical Dragons Captured on Cloth

In addition to Tenri Cultural Institute‘s language school and numerous cultural events,  it hosts an art gallery that is always home to a variety of wonderful exhibitions ranging from traditional Japanese techniques to innovative multinational displays of modern art. I previously shared my thoughts on the June 2016 exhibit, and the multinational Ink Imagists exhibition. Here I’ll be spotlighting the currently showing Mugen exhibit.

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The centerpieces of artist Chika MacDonald’s textile exhibit are her majestic dragons.

Inspired by a desire to convey feelings of support and hope in dark times in a way that also celebrated Japanese culture and heritage, she embraced the idea of creating art featuring dragons rising or lurking just below some sort of horizon as symbolic guides to a better future. Her dragons are all either looking or moving towards the sun or sky, or facing outward to engage the viewer directly as a reminder and challenge to live in the present while keeping hope for tomorrow.

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MacDonald’s first piece, showing a dragon guiding several monarch butterflies (that could be seen as representing souls) towards the heavens.

The vivd colors and images she achieves are just INCREDIBLE. A lot of her backgrounds are darker colors to both provide great contrast for the subject of the piece as well as represent her previously mentioned themes of hope in the face of despair, yet she still manages to give those dark colors phenomenal vibrance through eye-catching hues.

MacDonald’s dragons are wonderfully distinctive, with carefully done gradations of color in the dyeing and beautiful, intricate details and highlights often in striking metallics that give the tapestries an extra feeling of dimension when they catch the light. They stand out against her deeply colored backgrounds and the combinations come to life in a powerfully evocative way.

I had the privilege of being shown around the exhibit by MacDonald and having her explain various aspects of her art, including some of the details I’ve shared above concerning her inspiration and what she hopes to express through her works. She is extremely friendly and excited about her craft, and it was a joy to discuss it with her. I was quite surprised to discover this is her first exhibit, as the level of detail and vitality achieved in her work belies her level of experience.

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Another highlight Mugen is a gorgeous kimono, the last piece to be finished for this exhibit. It showcases a water element as appropriate to Japanese dragons and has a distinct, powerful horizon separating sea from sky to again emphasize the dragon’s positioning and alignment towards the heavens.

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Beyond just the obvious quality and how visually stunning MacDonald’s pieces are, the exhibit shows an impressive amount of diversity. Differing colors, compositions, and atmospheres highlight each and every piece on display. I love depictions of these types of dragons when done well, and MacDonald’s are fantastic.

In addition, Mugen contains several floral pieces by MacDonald that match the dragons in feel and style and integrate into the exhibit seamlessly. Several of them are done in limited color fashion, which works well in highlighting and conveying the delicate nature of the depicted flowers.

In a fantastic finishing touch, MacDonald decided to supplement her textiles and paintings by asking friends to develop complementary jewelry and scents. A few small vials with delicate scents are placed among the exhibit and can be smelled by visitors, and a pedestal in the center of the gallery show a variety of striking, intricately crafted dragon and floral bracelets and necklaces. These elements, along with a sense of connectivity and progression in MacDonald’s work, bring everything together and give Mugen a real feeling of being a cohesive, complete exhibit.

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Photo with artist Chika MacDonald in front of her (and my) favorite piece of the exhibit.

There is an opening reception tonight (Friday November 4) from 6 to 8pm, and the exhibit will be open until Tuesday November 8.

Definitely catch Mugen at Tenri Cultural Institute in NYC if you can. These works of art need to been seen in person to be properly appreciated, and MacDonald will be present for the entirety of the exhibition. I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunities to not only see this phenomenal art on to display, but also to meet this gifted artist and gain some insight into her process.

Triplet Review

Grad student Danae Panya’s has something beyond just her research project in mind when she applies to have Triplet’s most experienced Courier guide her through the highly restricted inner worlds and their respective environments of technology and magic. But any plans either of them have will have to adapt to conflicts from both the inhabitants and environments of their destinations.

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Timothy Zahn is my favorite author, and it’s nice to have a chance to check out works from early in his career that I have not yet read.

I’ve repeatedly praised Zahn’s touch regarding how much detail to provide to make his setting’s come alive without overwhelming the reader or slowing the pace too much, and the world-building here is phenomenal. The worlds of Triplet and the unique natures of each are quite imaginative and intriguing. I actually wanted even more information about the workings and “rules” of each place, but there were reasons for some of the ambiguities.  Experiencing Shamsheer and Karyx along with Danae was thoroughly engaging and fascinating.

Unfortunately while Danae and Ravagin start out equally intriguing to Zahn’s worlds, neither they nor the story quite reach their full potential. About midway through the book the slow building suspense and atmosphere give way to a rather by the numbers action/adventure tale. It’s good, but more events driven than character driven which makes things feel just a little shallow by the end. Zahn would become masterful at balancing plot and twists with character development in later novels.

There are also characterization issues, as I feel Danae in particular never got her due in terms of growth or having her motivations given proper weight. She wasn’t quite as selfish or naive as the narrative needed her to be for certain exchanges to feel right, so the resolutions between her and other characters struck me as a bit forced.

To be clear, I enjoyed Triplet overall and do recommend Zahn fans check it out. It’s just that the sense of wonder and engrossing edge to the tale dips a bit in the second half (where it really should have been ramping up), causing this not to reach the heights it seems like it could have.