Friday, April 17, 2020

Final Fantasy VII Remake - Thoughts On The First Few Hours

There are spoilers here.

Many years ago now... I first heard about them making a remake to one of my all-time favorite games - Final Fantasy VII. FFVII was my first real single-player game experience, though I did play it in the company of one of my best friends. Thus I have nothing but great memories of FFVII and have been dreaming about some sort of remake to the game ever since I first heard about remakes. I didn't really know what exactly I wanted the remake to remake, initially it was pretty much just the graphics that I thought needed "fixing" or that I would like to see in a more modern version. Pretty much everything else was close to perfect to me, the story, the characters (well, at least the ones I cared about, see below) and gameplay. I don't even dislike the graphics in the original game, I have a very soft and nostalgic place in my heart for the blocky 90's polygons, but I was curious to see what the game would feel like if everything looked more realistic and detailed.

Thank you!

For the longest time I thought it was all a pipe-dream. I heard rumours saying that they could never remake FFVII because the original assets weren't workable or even available. They would have to basically make the entire game from scratch and there just wasn't enough money in it (though I couldn't understand how that could be true since surely a remake of a game so beloved would sell well?).

Maybe it wasn't until Capcom showed the world how great a remake can be done when they released Resident Evil remake for the Gamecube that anyone actually thought that they could be worth the time and effort (to earn the money). Maybe a remake could actually add to the original experience by walking the fine line of nostalgia and new game with new technical advancements.

Either way it may be, SquareEnix at least decided to announce that there was going to be a remake and I was hype from the very first second. Hype enough to pretty much immediately invest in a ps4 although I had had zero interest in the console beforehand and even though SquareEnix hadn't even announced any kind of release date yet.

I couldn't fathom how long it would take them to actually get the game done and in the meantime I got a lot of fun out of my ps4 playing other games, so I definitely don't regret that buy anyway. I had already given up hope on FFVII ever making it off the drawing table when it seemed suddenly it was almost upon me.

How can you not love that?

The release date, a mere week before my birthday, seemed too much of a sign (not that I needed any signs!). It was finally coming, it was finally here!

I was betting on getting the game for my birthday but as there was a week between the release date and my birthday I realized I could be waiting a whole week for nothing if it turns out that wasn't actually part of my gifts. I had to ask. Turns out it wasn't part of my gifts so I immediately set out to buy it. The Deluxe Edition, of course.

A few, gruelling, days later I had it in my hands. I can not explain the amount of hype I was feeling, despite trying to calm myself as I knew more hype just increased the likelihood of being let-down.

I started it up (after almost an hour of installation) and started playing.

It didn't start out well since I for some reason chose to invert my camera and so couldn't control it at all as soon as I was out of the first cut-scene and on the platform by the train station. First thing I had to do was reload and fix the setting (since that early in the game I didn't have the menu option to do it yet). Fortunately it only took a few minutes and I was ready to go, again.

And what a beginning it was. Now, bear in mind I am only some four hours or so into the game so I am carefully very optimistic about what I have experienced so far and what it means for the game as a whole. There is still plenty of room to mess things up, but these first few hours have pretty much lived up to exactly what I envisioned my ideal FFVII remake to be.

I don't know where to start so let's just go with random thoughts.

The music. Love it and love that the rearrangements are close to the original. Why change a winning concept? The original OST is so strong and something that's strongly connected to the nostalgia of the original game. I am glad they didn't decide to change that up too much because every tune that I have heard so far has put a massive smile on my face.


The characters. The remake has managed to make me feel something not even the original could. I really care for Avalanche and Jessie, Biggs and Wedge. While I didn't feel indifferent to them before and thought it was a bit of a bummer that they end up dead, I am already feeling a great sense of dread and sorrow knowing what will happen to these great and funny characters, especially Jessie!

I used to never like Tifa in the original game and never used her as a party member other than when I had to but I've barely got to spend any time with her in the remake so far and I think she is great! I prefer fighting with her over Cloud!

I've dabbled with whether I prefer the Japanese or English audio and they're both good. For now I am going with Japanese however, only because the odd "eh", "ah", "uh"'s that Cloud does here and there work better in that language. I even think Barrett sounds better in the English dub, but they all sound good.

Overall, and I never thought I would say this because I usually prefer to play games without voice acting, this game has managed to make all the characters I have met so far a lot more interesting and alive than they ever were in the original.

Redeeming herself.

The battle system. I had heard they had changed it from the static ATB system that I quite honestly love about the original game. Back in the day when I first played it I didn't consider myself good or confident in gaming and the mere thought of real time battles made me break out in sweats. A fighting system that allowed me to take my time in making my choices suited me ideally.

I've played a heck-ton of games since then though and real-time battles are definitely not something I struggle with anymore (Dark Souls doesn't count...). I was very weary about the idea of changing the original fighting system and thought that could be the one big thing I wouldn't enjoy about the remake but so far... I love it!

It might help that I've just spent 100 hours with The Witcher 3 and that the battle system is fairly similar. It's a system I am familiar and comfortable with but I also think it is well designed and fun to use. It's not perfect though. I find it way too hard to spot when the enemies are using special skills so that I can dodge or block them, but that is also my only complaint this far in.

The world. Some set pieces are almost brick by brick recreations of scenes from the original game and I just squee every time I recognize a place. I remember exactly what they look like in the original and comparing them is so much fun. Looking up into the sky only to see a big slab of metal hanging over my head hundreds of meters up was also a very humbling and thought-provoking feeling, one that the original game managed to convey greatly without the ability to pan your camera but the remake made it really hit home with me.

So a few hours into the game and I have barely anything to complain about. So far it is exactly what I had hoped for and it gives me all of the nostalgia from the original while also infusing it with a new and fresh feeling. I am hoping they manage to keep it this good throughout, because then I am envious at myself for the absolutely amazing journey that lies ahead of me. (Seeing Jenova! Finding Vincent Valentine! Summons! Red XIII! OMGOMG).

Images from polygon.com,

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Field Report #27 - Bewitched

I am neck deep in to The Witcher 3 and WoW Classic and I fear I will never see the light of day, i.e play another game any time soon. This is exactly what happened the last time I played WoW and pretty much the only thing I didn't like about playing it - the fact that it took so much time from me playing other games.

I know, I know. Why don't I just... play other games? I don't know! Why does anyone do things they don't want to do although they actually want to do it, like eat too much candy?

I guess it's ok because I am genuinely enjoying myself. It's not like I am playing out of a feeling of obligation, because this time around I am not raiding or affecting other people much. To be fair, I tried to always steer clear out of playing WoW that way, and I think I succeeded most of the time (or at least succeeded into talking myself into that I wasn't playing for those reasons). (To be fair though, I am sort of also playing Hollow Knight, and enjoying that too!, but it's taking me forever to get through because of reasons so I barely count it).

So I am having a lot of fun with these two games (hence why I am playing them) but there is a niggle in the back of my head about all the other great games out there that I read about and want to play. I couldn't even begin to list them, then we'd be here all week.

We'll see what happens when FFVII remake comes out however because I have been looking forward to that game pretty much since it was announced and I don't see myself putting that on hold.

And now over to something completely else. You know when that annoying relative forces you to sit through their holiday pictures? Yes, this is going to be that. Except I can't force you to look at them I guess…

While looking through my extended hard drive for something completely else, I came across some folders of old WoW pictures. So let's share some! Personally I love looking at other people's old screenshots, so if you have already made a similar post like this I would love to give it a look.


October 2008. Me trying out my new "Polymorph Turtle" spell.


February 2008. Corpse run to Gruul's Lair on one of my alts. We managed to kill him eventually.


March 2008. Dancing naked in Karazhan, because why not.


April 2009. Proud Proto-Drake owners.


April 2009. Enjoying the beauty of Crystalsong Forest.

Add caption
April 2009. I levelled so many prot warriors.


April 2009. Those are a lot of talents to choose from. I miss it.


April 2008. Fun in Serpentshrine Cavern.


April 2008. Warlock ninjaing my gear in Uldaman. Good times.


April 2009. Raid healing Ulduar. Absolutely loved this raid.

There are tons more of these, the oldest are from early 2008 though and it would've been fun to have pictures of my first three years in WoW too. But I guess I can reminisce just by logging into the actual WoW Classic now (though I have no pictures from BC). I'll spare you the rest, for now.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E7 "Nepenthe"

Spoiler alert!

You know how I floated some theories about what the whole deal with Agnes was in my previous post? Well, this episode actually begins by answering some of those questions by giving us a flashback to that time when Commodore Oh confronted Agnes in front of the Daystrom Institute and told her something that made her convert everything she believed in.

Well, we weren't sure that is what happened before, but this flashback confirms it. Commodore Oh initiates a mind meld with Agnes and all we get to see is flashing images of horror and destruction. What conclusion are we supposed to draw from this? Presumably that allowing synthetics to exist will somehow cause mass destruction and death somewhere (everywhere? That can't be possible). It's enough to make Agnes vomit at least and as we know, to change her entire mind and life philosophy regarding synthetics. It's even enough to make her murder someone we understand she actually loved.

Here is what I don't understand about that though, and it is something I mentioned in my previous post as well. If this information is so powerful and for some reason believable enough - (for instance, how do these people know this is going to happen?) - to convert even someone like Agnes, then why don't they use it on everyone who stands in their way? Surely not even someone like Picard would be hard to talk down after he's been updated with information that allowing synthetics to exist will murder millions of people. Rizzo, Narek's sister, mentions a number later in the episode that I can't recall at the moment, but we're not talking just some village somewhere (let's have the discussion about whether you can morally quantify death some other time). It sounds like at least an entire star system is at peril. Exactly how or why this is the case is hopefully and probably blanks that will be filled in as the series goes on, but this is definitely a question I would like to have answered.

Narissa Rizzo, one of my least favorite characters so far.

Meanwhile, Picard and Soji have transported to the planet Nepenthe and Rios and Raffi are trying to go after them. Since the Tal Shiar also want to find out where Nepenthe is they let them go without much trouble.

On the Borg Cube we see poor Hugh being tortured. Not himself though, since that would violate some sort of treaty, but Rizzo kills off one XB after another in front of him in a pretty heartbreaking scene. All the more heartbreaking since we know that Hugh could've gone along with Picard when he teleported with Soji, at least I don't recall them giving a reason for why he couldn't. Was there some sort of "not enough energy to teleport three people?". That can't be the case since Picard pleaded for Elnor to join, so we know that three people for sure could've gone. Why did Picard leave Hugh behind? What did he think would happen to him? Why did Hugh choose to stay behind? What did he think was going to happen to him?! This actually really annoys me because at first I thought the reason was that maybe Hugh had some more part to play in the series by fighting the Romulans with his XBs on the Cube but no, he gets killed a bit later when Elnor shows up and fights Rizzo (in a pretty decent fight scene actually). So was he left behind just so the show writers could kill him off? That is never going to stop bothering me now.

So yeah, Elnor is still on the Cube and at first it seems he is rescuing Hugh and like I mentioned, that they together are going to stage a counter-attack on the Romulans. Then Hugh gets killed and suddenly Elnor is now all alone and confused on the Cube. He presses some sort of device he has which call for the help of the Fenris Rangers and I guess this is how Seven of Nine gets back in the show. Maybe when she sees what the Romulans have done to the XBs and to Hugh on the Cube she will go some sort of berserk, that could actually be interesting. But what a waste of Hugh that is though.

Narek pursues Rios and Raffi and he's not subtle about it either, they know he is tagging along behind them the entire time. Why on Earth (to use an expression that doesn't really work that well when you're in space) would they lead him straight to Nepenthe when they know he is right there? What is Narek thinking? Rios tries to shake him off but he keeps finding them over and over, why is that? In the flashback in the beginning of the episode we get to see that Commodore Oh gives Agnes a tracking device to ingest, so Narek is able to track Agnes wherever she goes. This is probably one of the main reasons Agnes joined the trip to begin with.

Ok, but what about Picard and Soji then? They're on Nepenthe, which looks a lot like Earth. I think Star Trek creators stopped trying somewhere at the end of The Original Series, because ever since then most planets they land on have been copies of Earth unless it's been specifically said that planet is a "Demon Class" planet. Anyway, they get shot at with arrows by a girl called Kestra whom Picard apparently knows. Two seconds later Kestra explains to Soji that "she would never have hurt them because she's a pacifist". What kind of pacifist shoots at people with real arrows?

Let's just say I miss the set pieces from TOS.

And this is where we get to the point in the series I have been dreading. Do you remember when I said in my first post that I didn't want this to be a reunion of the old TNG crew because I don't really care about them? Well, Kestra turns out to be the daughter of Riker and Troi, who live on Nepenthe in what looks like a very secluded life. A lot of this episode is about their little family. We learn that there was a boy as well and his illness was the reason they moved to Nepenthe because he had something that could've been cured if there had been synthetics around but then they were banned and the boy died, very sad. The boy, Thad, seems to have been some sort of linguistics expert because he created 14 or something languages out of which Kestra speaks a couple and she teaches Soji who learns them in a day. Is this all going to have any consequences for the story later on? It better have or half this episode is just filler that I definitely could've lived without.

You can tell Kestra hasn't met many other people because she looks like she is 20 but she speaks like she is 7. To me she just came off as annoying. Troi and Riker are... nice... I don't hate them. But they feel so unnecessary here. But ok, I guess the point here is to allow for a bit of a breather from the being chased where we are also allowed to see Soji develop a bit more as a character, it's quite necessary actually since she hasn't had much character development at all so far. She is understandably confused and very distrustful, of everyone. It hasn't been explained or really acknowledged so far why she doesn't seem to have memories of Picard the way Dahj did.

What the meeting with Riker and Troi do give this episode that isn't all bad is a bit more of Picards character development. Both Troi and Riker confront Picard about his arrogance, or what Riker calls the "classic Picard arrogance". Them having known Picard for as long as they have can of course give a good inside view on the fact that Picard might think higher of his capabilities and righteousness than he should. Riker has a good little speech where he first asks Picard if he can tell him why they're on the run. When Picard says that he can't, Riker slates him by saying that he likes to sit on his high horses and pick and choose who gets to be in the know. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I am coming around to thinking it's ok that they're in the episode. For the way they further develop Picards view of his ego it's not all bad.

I guess the reunion isn't all bad.

In another part of the galaxy, Agnes is starting to get frustrated. she obviously wants the whole endeavour to fail and lashes out and angrily asks Rios and Raffi why they're so eager to go to Nepenthe in the first place. Rios and Raffi are understandably confused since they thought it was Agnes life long dream to come into contact with a synthetic. They write it down to stress over the loss of her love however and Raffi decides to take her under her wing and says they're going to go eat some cake. It definitely sounds a lot like Raffi is about to offer Agnes some of her drugs though, but when we see them again later they are actually eating cake. A lot of it. So much that Agnes vomits again.

Rios is also getting frustrated that he can't shake Narek and when Agnes and Raffi come back from their little cake ordeal he takes Agnes to one side and confides that he thinks that Raffi has swapped sides. Agnes is very visibly upset by this since she seems to have bonded with Raffi over the cake and doesn't want Raffi to be blamed by the fact that she has a tracker on her. For a second it seems like she is going to own up to everything and it would've been kind of odd if she had been ok with murdering her lover to prevent synthetics from happening but not ok with throwing Raffi under the bus for the same reason. But to be fair, Agnes doesn't seem like the most mentally stable person right now so it wouldn't have been entirely implausible either. She doesn't go further than to say that Raffi isn't to blame, but Rios doesn't seem to think that is enough to drop his suspicions.

So instead Agnes replicates some sort of poison in sickbay and injects herself with it. Why is it so easy to replicate a poison that is potentially deadly to humans? Why does Agnes know that this poison will kill her (or do whatever it is she wants it to do). She is an expert at synthetics, not chemistry. Either way, injecting her with the poison doesn't seem to kill her but destroys the tracker and puts her in a coma. I am not sure I understand Agnes' reasoning here, because a few days ago she believed enough in the visions from the mind meld to kill her lover and now she is having seconds thoughts because Raffi was nice enough to give her some cake? Like I said, Agnes seems a bit unstable but this is still a stretch if you ask me.

This cake wasn't a lie.

On Nepenthe Picard is trying to get Soji to trust him. He's actually not the best at that. He is a bit rude and too straight forward. After everything Soji has just been through she is not ready to open up to another stranger who might betray her. Eventually though she does tell them about the dream she had and the two moons she saw with lightning storms on them. It takes Kestra about five seconds to find that the moons belong to the Ghulion system in the Vayt sector. This because she asked someone named Captain Crandall (or something like it) who was briefly mentioned earlier in the episode and seems to be a bit off an oddball. Clearly this is a character that is about to be introduced to the series.

As Soji and Picard are about to leave, Kestra gives her a compass that maybe will have some sort of impact on the story and then they pan up to the sky where we see three big moons and I am not sure if that has some importance too.

I am a bit conflicted about this episode, because while it had some good moments - especially regarding Picard - it was mostly filled with situations where I felt like people were acting in ways that didn't make sense. We still don't know much about these characters so to have them make 180 turns is really confusing. Agnes is starting to become extremely erratic, which might be understandable but isn't very well explained so far. How come they didn't save Hugh? How come not everyone in the galaxy gets to know about this extremely damning information regarding synthetics and how they are going to be the cause of death of millions of people? Who cares about Kestra, why was she even in this episode? What is Elnor going to try to achieve on the Cube? What is Narek trying to achieve by chasing Rios and Raffi, is the tracker in Agnes only short range?

And now they're introducing another captain, does that mean that Picard and Soji will be going one way and Rios/Raffi another? Will Elnor and Seven be a third arc we'll be following? Hopefully there will be more answers than questionmarks after the next episode.

Images from memory-alpha.fandom.com, dailymail.co.uk, superherohype.com, olivemagazine.com.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Classic WoW - I Just Want It To Be There For Me

I'm sure most people are just like me in that there are certain pieces of entertainment, be it movies, games or books (most likely all of them), that you just want lying around. Either you have them on display or not, you want them close by. Even if you know you won't get around to reading/playing/watching it even once this year, there is something that makes you want it nice and handy, just in case you feel the urge. To me it can be a book like The Count of Monte Cristo, a game like Heroes of Might and Magic 3 or a movie like Seven Samuari. These are items I get back to every know and then and there is something... calming... about knowing that I can do that whenever I feel like it. Even if I never feel like it again, I want to have that option.

This is what I want to do and can't do with Classic WoW.

After having played it since (re)launch last year I have been having a swell time. Most things about it are so nostalgic I love them exactly because they're tedious or not entirely well-designed. Many things I find are actually a lot better than I remember them, dungeoning being one of those things. I have been going at it very slowly too, my highest character at the moment still being only level 40.


In many ways I am so conflicted when it comes to Classic WoW and in some ways I am not at all. I love it, to bits. It has such a huge part of my life (along with the first couple of expansions) I can not state enough what an important game this has been to me, and still is because of that. Every time I log on, every time I do something I've done a thousand times before I get that nostalgic twang in my heart of pure happiness.

But I have done these things a thousand times before. There is pretty much nothing in Classic WoW that I do not know inside and out already (I didn't do a whole lot of raiding in current Classic so that would be the one exception). Whenever I log on it is solely for the nostalgic feeling and pretty much nothing else. I don't feel like there is any wonder of learning or discovery left for me in this game.

And in many ways that is absolutely ok. When I re-read the Count of Monte Cristo for the umpteenth time I obviously know exactly what is going to happen. Rewatching Seven Samuari I am not entertained by the elements of surprise anymore. Now instead I am entertained by the fine craftmanship and the memory of the first time I experienced it and how blown away I was at that point.

But even though I find the Count of Monte Cristo and Seven Samurai to be absolute masterpieces I don't want to re-visit them too often. I want them close and handy in case I do want to experience them again, but often there are a few years in-between each time nowadays. Often it is just enough to look at them to get a good feeling, and it isn't until a few years have passed before you need to refill that nostalgia-well.

Read it, the movies are not worth your time. There is an interesting anime though - "Gankutsuo".

The same thing goes with WoW Classic, but unlike pretty much everything else I can't really own my own copy of Classic WoW to put in my shelf knowing that if I ever, like 40 years from now, want to play that game it is just to pop it into my computer and go (ok, this is an issue facing a lot of computer games, but mmo's have an even shorter expiration date).

MMO's are experiences you only get to borrow for a short time. Once you start playing it you never know how long you're going to be allowed to stick around and World of Warcraft has proven to be one of the longest runners in the genre. In fact we should probably consider us damn lucky we even got a remake the way we have.

And I am. I am so grateful. I don't take it for granted at all. That is why I am afraid that if I don't keep it around it will go away again. It will only stick around for as long as people pay obviously, but can I really justify paying the monthly fee just to have it sticking around because I don't want it to ever go away? It is going to go away eventually anyway.

There are so many things they got right with Classic WoW. While I haven't played retail since a short foray in Warlords of Draenor or whatever expansion it might have been, I personally feel like Classic really entices you into playing with other people in a way that has been removed in many ways from later expansions. You could say Classic even forces you to, because there are so many situations, even early on in the game, where you will find yourself struggling even with a regular quest if you don't find someone to back you up, this is definitely a lot more true for some classes than others.

It's so good you don't even notice how long it is.

And overall people have been so damn nice. Maybe it's because I'm not on a pvp server like I used to be back in the day, so of course there is a lot less opportunity for people to be asshats, but in instances and during questing I find that generally people are generous and friendly to each other.
But I mentioned the quality of different classes and I find this is where WoW probably has done a lot of improvements, though my personal point of view is that they've taken it a bit far in the more recent expansions (this based solely on what I've read since I haven't actually played it myself).

When I play Classic WoW now, and I have rolled pretty much every class so far except druid, I find that each class is very differently equipped for how well it handles itself in different situations but a lot of the fun comes down to something as simple as agency. When shit hits the fan, it is so much more fun to play a class where you feel like you have three more tricks up your sleeve to solve the situation than one where you feel all you can do is throw your hands up in the air and hope for some lucky crits.

This is true for solo-questing and grouping alike as the more useful you feel like you are, the more fun you are going to have. Some classes are more useful to themselves, some more useful to a group. Either way, in the end you want to feel like you have choices even when things go bad. A class like warlock has the usefulness of Healthstones, Summons, Soulstones, pet buffs, cc and self-healing abilities. A class like warrior has the usefulness of barely being able to tank and yeah that is pretty much it... Druids can jump between tanking, healing and dpsing when necessary, which becomes fairly obsolete at end game unfortunately but is actually really cool in mid-game. A resto shaman is pretty much just a glorified totem-mover… I could probably write a whole post on this and might even do that.

Blizzard get so much better later on at giving all the classes different tools for feeling like they have agency and something to bring to the board. I feel like if I had one complaint about woW Classic right now it wouldn't be about the difficulties in getting money or how much running around there is but that some classes get extremely repetative very quickly.

And right now it's like I get to around 35 ish with a class and I sort of don't feel like going further. Which isn't true, because I definitely want to see instances like Sunken Temple and Zul Farrak, and areas like Western Plaguelands and Hinterlands before I feel like I am done with this game this time around.

So now I am stuck in this limbo of wanting the game to be around for me to play, but without actually wanting to put very much game time into it. I just need it for a quick refill of nostalgia every now and then, and I am not sure the game can be played that way...

Images from Barnesandnoble.com, bbc.com.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E6 "The Impossible Box"

SreliopsspoilerS

This is the episode that kickstarts everything that we've been waiting for and that the previous 5 have been building up for, and it did not disappoint. Probably my favorite episode so far (hence all the words).

It starts with a scene where we get to see Soji as young. It's unclear if it's a flashback or a dream, but as the scene plays out it seems more and more like a nightmare. Soji sneaks into her father laboratory to try to see what he is doing but she can't make it out. Before she has any answers she wakes up. She tells Narek about her nightmare who immediately becomes very interested.

Their relationship actually plays out really well. It's clear neither of them is showing themselves invested while at the same time both are trying to figure out each others mysteries. There is both coolness and passion and the actors do a decent job conveying both simultaneously. Obviously at the best of times I would've wanted this to get even more depth before the things that unfold in this episode, but considering their time table I think they've done it well enough.

Jump to scene where Agnes explains to Picard what happened to Maddox in the previous episode. Picard doesn't seem to have any suspicions about it, if he does he is hiding it very well. Agnes, who up until now has been a bit like the Tully of this series - fun but at times unclear what purpose they serve - has obviously done a huge character development here and I find that the actress plays the role well. She probably really did love Maddox but something has happened that made her feel that she needed to act the way she did. I read many fan theories on the internet and won't jump into any at any length here, but one that hadn't even occurred to me is that Agnes wasn't actually converted until Commander Oh first sought her out. My idea was that Agnes had been an undercover agent from the start and the love affair with Maddox was just part of that.

Agnes went from dullest to possibly among the most interesting characters just by murdering someone.

But of course the whole thing would be a lot more interesting if it turns out Agnes had been on Maddox' side to begin with and some information that was given to her along the way made her change her mind hard enough to actually kill the man she loved. What could that information possibly be? You'd think if it's enough to convert one of the biggest experts and supposedly fans of synthetics on Earth into wanting them all dead as well, it's something that would convert pretty much anyone, even Picard. Yet this isn't information that has been readily spread, so what could be the reason for this? Of course, all that only matters if the latter fan theory turns out to be the correct one, but I really hope it is.

Agnes goes on to tell Picard that Maddox created Dahj and Soji to find out why the ban was put into effect, which sounds a lot like was actually intending on using them as baits for the Tal Shiar all along. I mean what else could it mean? Then why did he implant memories of Picard in them? Is whatever is happening now, with Picard being part of the effort to uncover the conspiracy part of Maddox' plan all along?

Meanwhile they're closing in on the Artifact, as the decommissioned Borg Cube is called and Picard is becoming visibly anxious at the prospect of having to get back on board on one. This angst will only escalate into a right out panic attack but we're not quite there yet.

I wouldn't trust it either.

Elnor, who is every bit the "innocent and naïve young man"-trope, comes and talks his "absolute candor" with them, revealing that he can tell that Agnes has conflicting emotions and "something she is trying to hide". He says it completely without any afterthought however, it is clear he also does not suspect Agnes of any foul play. Yet.

Picard goes into his quarters and starts looking at images of the Borg. It doesn't actually seem to be making him feel better, rather the opposite, until he gets to a picture of Hugh who as we know is now the General Director of the Artifact. Hugh is an ex-borg like Seven of Nine, but unlike Seven Picard has a history with Hugh. A good one. He spawns an idea for how to get on the Artifact that is only half as crazy as the previous idea he went through with.

Cut to a scene I don't quite get. Rios is standing half naked by the comms kicking some ball or other when Agnes comes. It's apparently in the middle of the night and neither of them can sleep. They kiss (I mean ok?). They talk. Rios is being incredibly understanding, almost to the point where I wonder if this is another one of those holograms he uses because it doesn't really feel like the "real" Rios at all (unless this is his way of sweet talking her, and I mean sure that can be a thing). Agnes says she feels "hollow, hopeless, lonely, afraid". Apparently this makes her want company because then they go bang.

I don't mind fraternizing but I want it to have a purpose in the story if they're going to dedicate a long scene to it. Like I don't need to see people use the bathroom or have showers or any of those things that humans do regularly unless it will actually further the story some way. Is this scene going to do that? Are they a thing now? Is it to show that Agnes just goes from one guy to the next so she is actually stone hearted (which she clearly is not). Is Agnes actually a synthetic too? Now that would be a revelation.

Over at the Artifact Narek's sister says she has finally had it enough with Narek's softcore approach and it is time to bring in the big guns. Narek tells her about Soji's dreams and tells her that the dreams must fill a function. "Why would he make them dream?". He tells her he wants to use the dream to get into Soji's subconscious, where the information they want probably lies. Namely where the planet of synthetics is hidden, because apparently that is a thing and that is the thing they are looking for.

Maybe the same planet the changelings are from, coincidentally?

They've mentioned a "them" before so we already knew there were going to be more synthetics than Soji. How many more though? Now that they are talking about a planet of synthetics, do they actually mean a whole planet inhabited of synthetic people, like thousands?

Picard realizes that the only way to get onto the Artifact is to have some sort of diplomatic envoy documents from the Federation. He realizes he can't ask for them himself so he asks Raffi to pull some contacts. She does and manages to find an admiral or similar who understands that if Picard shows up at the Artifact without the right documentation it could lead to a much larger political problem than just handing the documents to him will. Raffi puts it bluntly when she says "Picard -is- Federation, his face is probably still on the damn brochures". Said and done, Picard has his green card to get on board to meet the General Director (ie Hugh), the snag is that he must go alone.

On board the Artifact Soji tells Narek more about the dream. She tells him that she intended to speak to her mom about it but fell asleep during the conversation, which is something we have seen before. Narek asks her if she knows if this happens often, but Soji is unsure. Narek tells her that the computer has recorded that Soji's messages to her mom, which she does every evening, always takes exactly 70 seconds. No more and no less. Obviously this makes Soji both confused and concerned, and the next time she speaks to her mother she tries to stay awake but fails.

When she wakes up again and realizes what happened she decides to look through all her old stuff - pictures, diaries, drawings - that she has saved and scan them for age. The scanner (which she conveniently has, is this standard equipment or where did she find one?) keeps telling her the items are approximately 37 months old, so almost precisely 3 years and definitely way too new to be part of her childhood. Every item she has is the exact same age so I'll be honest, after a while I would want to test the machine on something else that I did know the age of just to make sure it wasn't malfunctioning into saying "37 months" about everything.

The Impossible Box is not just a toy Narek has but clearly a reference to Soji herself.

Picard gets on board the Artifact and gets completely overwhelmed by all the old memories he has of being part of the Borg Collective. He has a panic attack but is saved by Hugh who pulls his mind back to safety. Patrick Stewart plays the scene perfectly of course and you can really see the sheer stress and panic he is feeling.

Soji tells Narek that everything she thought she knew up until know doesn't seem to be true and he suggests that her memories might be implanted into her for some purpose. To uncover that purpose he wants to lead Soji through the ancient Romulan meditation ritual of Zhal Makh, which is essentially the Vulcan mindmeld but without all the touching of faces. Soji agrees.

Meanwhile Hugh is giving Picard a bit of a tour of the establishment and showing him how they de-Borg the Borgs. Though they swap between the scenes of Soji and Picard fairly quickly (and in a nice way, it's never confusing) I didn't find it clear whether they were taking place simultaneously. We will soon find out that they seem to be.

On board Picards space ship (technically Rios' but whatever) Rios and Raffi have a conversation. Raffi wonders why the Tal Shiar has decided to keep Soji alive when they killed Dahj as soon as possible. Since they had all the information about what Dahj looked like they should have been able to find Soji without any trouble, as we know they have. We viewers know why the Romulans have kept her alive though and suspect that they won't trouble themselves with that much longer.

Soji and Narek go through the Zhal Makh together while Narek's sister is unknown to Soji watching them from another room. Narek takes Soji through her recurring nightmare since he believes that is the key to her subconscious. Before they start though, Narek reveals his true name to Soji, the one you only tell your beloved. But I wonder how that works then - for the person receiving the true name, how do you know for sure it's actually their true name? How does the person handing out the name know that the person receiving it is the right one and not someone you're actually going to divorce and hate in five years? Do you get yourself another true name then? Maybe Romulans don't behave like humans in that regard, once you've gotten someone's true name you're locked in with them forever. Sounds kind of scary actually.

Basically the Romulan equivalent of this.

In another part of the Artifact Picard and Hugh go to visit Soji but find that her quarters are not just empty, but also every item has been thrown around (we know Soji did this herself but Picard and Hugh do not know what happened in there). They try to find her with the computers, but the meditation chamber is sealed off, nothing in there can be found.

As Soji talks herself through her nightmare she manages to get further than she ever has before. As she gets into her fathers work shop, and goes beyond the part where she normally wakes up, she sees herself lying in parts on an operating table looking a lot like a wooden doll being assembled. As she looks up throught he sky view in the ceiling she sees two red moons covered in lightning storms. Nareks assumes this must be the moons of the planet they are looking for and tells Soji she is now done. Soji doesn't understand anything but before she can react, Narek leaves the meditation chamber and leaves behind a radiation-excreting device intended to kill her. Soji panics, goes into the same overdrive mode her sister did and smashes the floor open. As she jumps into the hole down into some sort of maintentance shaft, while Narek is watching from the other side of the glass, she also becomes visible to the computer again. Now it's a chase between Picard/Hugh and the Romulan security to try to get to her first.

As Picard runs through the Borg Cube with Hugh to try to find Soji someone calls out "Locutus?!". Picard barely reacts and reacts with confusion, but there is already so much at stake that the whole scene is easily missed. I am very curious to see if anything comes from this, because in that case it was a neat little foreshadowing.

Picard manages to find Soji first and also manages to convince her to trust him enough to come with him. Doesn't seem like she has very much of a choice though of course Soji doesn't understand much of what is going on. Hugh leads them to a secret old chamber previously used by the Borg Queen. The chamber holds a Spatial Trajector the Borgs assimilated from the Sikarians that allows you to teleport up to 40.000 light years away. Picard sends a message to Raffi that they are going to a place called Nepenthe and asks her to rendevouz them there. Before they manage to charge up the Spatial Trajector though, the Romulan security force finds them though and are just about to apprehend them when Elnor beams in and makes quick work of them. He offers to stay behind to kill off any more security forces coming and after Picard has hesitated a respectable amount of time, he even offers to release Elnor from his oath which would have made him effectively pointless in the series, he and Soji teleport off.

I find it a bit mean towards Hugh that Picard seems to have no qualms or second thoughts about leaving his old friend behind in the same situation, I can't even remember if he says good bye to him. After everything he did for him, tut tut tut. Picard seems to have a knack for discarding old friends.

While we don't get to see the fight, the episode ends with the implication of a lot of violence and presumably Elnor will be ok.

I guess they really wanted to make sure that we'd feel the pay off was worth the wait because wow - it was.  This episode brought to a heel everything that we have been waiting to come together, essentially Soji and Picard on the Artifact and Narek's probing into Soji's mind to find the hidden information. They didn't hold anything back but let it unfold pretty much perfectly, except for the sort of odd scene with Rios and Agnes (which don't get me wrong I didn't hate, I just don't understand the purpose of yet) there wasn't a dull moment. If the series keeps the pace and writing like this for the upcoming episodes it could be pretty epic. I doubt they'll manage that, but at least they got this one together nicely and this was one of the ones that really counted.

Images from memory-alpha.fandom.com, startrek.com, knowyourmeme.com.