Reviews for Far Above the Skies
Martin III chapter 6 . 7/18/2014
...and here is my belated final chapter review. This is a surprisingly dark wrap-up to the story, and while I feel that not everything here works as intended, it basically rings true. Despite Fina's sentiments at the end about a parallel between them, Esteban's history is quite different from hers, and while he hasn't had to adjust out of an entirely different civilization, his ways are inbred enough that a few months hanging out with the Blue Rogues wouldn't change him entirely. It also doesn't help that, as already seen in "Raiders of the Lost Heart", he's a lot less open to change than Fina.

The tension at the beginning is excellent, especially Esteban's little tussle with the leader. It's hard to write action sequences where the protagonist's vision is impaired, and you pulled it off very well indeed. You never feel like Esteban had a conveniently easy time staying alive.

The one thing that really threw me was "the pill". Its first mentioning feels so abrupt and incongruous that while proofreading I wondered if it wasn't a figure of speech which doesn't translate to English; only its second mentioning near the end made it clear that it wasn't. Also, it's not clear from this fic alone what importance it has.

I really enjoyed the way the others rescued Esteban from the leader. A very exciting bit. The banter is good as usual, especially Aika's line, "Heh, I don't 'think'. I know!"

Overall, I'm sure no one was hoping Esteban would go in this direction, but you've made the journey painfully convincing, and often entertaining. Nice work.
Martin III chapter 5 . 4/19/2014
Not as much to say about this chapter, but you've got everything moved nicely into place, and the cliffhanger is a great one because you can't guess what is going on. The Syndicate may have sniffed out Esteban's game, or they may have come up with a plan of their own, or it could be something else entirely. No way of knowing which it is without reading the next chapter.

I like the conversation between Nicole and Esteban at the beginning. You get the sense of Esteban starting to find his place in the group without it going too far.

The scene with Vali is a nice bit of color too. I love the line "The apple was sour, rotten, and poisoned, but he had no choice but to chew."

Esteban writing an in-case-of-death note is a good way of establishing the seriousness of the danger, and at the same time, this sort of morbidity is very much in keeping with his character. Aika's embrace to check up on him later on adds to that sense, a reminder that though the chief threat here is Esteban being killed by the Syndicate, it's an important threat. And the dialogue between Esteban and the leader, which easily could have been pushed through as routine, instead consistently keeps it clear that what Esteban is trying to pull off is not at all easy.

Good stuff, and I hope to review the conclusion soon.
Martin III chapter 4 . 4/17/2014
In a sense I'm disappointed at how this cliffhanger turned out too, but it's a good opening scene. Esteban's struggle to escape his past is a major theme of this fic, and that little encounter is a compelling yet not over-dramatic way of bringing it home.

I enjoyed the little run through of the crew's preparations. This fic hasn't devoted enough attention to the secondary players in my opinion, and it's nice to get some fleshing out. Getting to see them gossip about Vyse and Esteban helps with both developing all the characters and building the world around them in an entertaining way.

Aika's conversation with Esteban is great characterization indeed, for both of them. There's something so heart-stirring and genuine about how Aika knows that Esteban's point-of-view is wrong but can do very little to change it by herself. Some would argue that this is tragic, but though Aika undoubtedly feels some frustration at it, she also seems to realize that it's better for Esteban to control his own path through life. And Esteban's own reflections in that later scene make it all the more believable that he continues to feel that way.

The Fina scene seems unnecessary, to be honest. I liked the allusion to her time as a waitress in Nasrad, though.

The meeting scene towards the end pulls things together pretty well: the preparations for the trap, Esteban's feelings about his past and his part in the plan, and the whole dynamic between the four of them. It's a good way of building it all up to the execution of their scheme.
Martin III chapter 3 . 1/28/2014
The resolution to last chapter's cliffhanger is a bit of a letdown. Not in terms of the action, which is great, but simply in that it didn't lead to anything bigger. At least the villain has a reasonable and sufficiently explained motive.

I always like the continuity you maintain from the game, like the reference to the new engine. I'm embarrassed to admit I don't remember what happened to it - just one more justification to replay the game!

I really enjoyed the interaction between Aika and Esteban here. I remember even back in "Raiders of the Lost Heart", I was wondering if you were setting up a romantic interest between the two of them. That's something I wouldn't mind at all, though I'm still not sure either way whether that's the direction you're taking with them, which is a good thing. Besides adding a bit of suspense, it nicely reflects real world relationships, which can be similarly hard to label and categorize. Either way, it makes sense that Esteban would feel a special attachment to Aika, given her particular role in helping him to understand and accept himself.

And you end with another cliffhanger! This one looks very promising: I figure it's either going to be a nasty wrench in Vyse's plans, or an amusing fake out, e.g. Esteban has just been approached by an over-exuberant street performer. Either one would please me.
Martin III chapter 2 . 1/26/2014
Great chapter. It's always good to get things going with a ship-to-ship battle. This one works particularly well. Since Vyse's crew have the Gigas-smashing Delphinus, it's hard to make aerial combat seem like a real danger for them, so putting them in a situation where they need to worry about *another* ship is a great way of increasing the stakes. Especially since the fact that the threatened parties are not protagonists makes it much more plausible that they'll be killed off. Your prose also works well to bring out the desperation of the situation, so great work there.

The introduction of Nicole and her crew is successful, even if none of them have yet made an indelible impression. Their backstory fits well into the Arcadia milieu and makes a solid springboard for this latest adventure. Throwing in the reference to Clara was a nice touch. I like Aika's little retort, too: "You sure you wouldn't need a sail?"

Also, I applaud you for Esteban and Vyse's reactions to the apparent deaths of the Black Pirates. When writing a straight-up adventure story it is easy to treat life as disposable when it's the enemy. Characters who refuse to take death lightly are both more sympathetic and have greater depth and humanity.

And you've thrown a cliffhanger at the end this time, which is always a good nudge to keep one reading. (Sorry that I've been behind on that, but other stuff intrudes.) Keep up the good work!
Martin III chapter 1 . 1/6/2014
A very gentle start, with no conflict present or even on the horizon, but very entertaining nonetheless. Esteban has been missed, and it's great to see him again here. His reintroduction is accessible to readers new to your work without wasting time on boring exposition. His characterizations are honest, especially how he struggles to know when the others are kidding or not.

The wit, as usual, is on the mark - I especially enjoyed Aika's threat "Else, Fina will get to learn what 'mutiny' means!" - and establishes the charming camaraderie among the group. Kirala bounces off the group well and is pleasingly in character. She's probably my favorite of the Skies of Arcadia support crew, so it's good to see her here. The allusion to Urala and Hans is a pleasing bit of detail, and I'm ashamed to admit that my memory needs a refresher on that subplot. About time I played through the game again! Skies of Arcadia may be all about Vyse, Aika, and Fina, but your inclusion of details like this is a worthwhile reminder of the larger world they move in.

Speaking of which, I have to applaud your description of Yafutoma as perhaps the best point of this fic, or at least, the one I'd have had the most trouble pulling off in your shoes. You really bring the architecture and general vibe of the city to life.

One thing you may want to fix as soon as possible: There's a blank in the sentence beginning "And it would be". (I had given you pretty imprecise suggestions for fixing that sentence in my proofreading, so this partly my fault.)

Tairon is an excellent addition to the cast, distinctive and characterized such that the reader can instantly visualize him. He intrigues immediately without any obvious mysteries about him. The sterner traits of the regular cast are brought out well too, such as Vyse's distrust of authority: "a guard was a guard…" Good stuff, very fitting for the pirate crew.

Basically, great opening chapter. I'm pleased to have the gang back in action again, wherever this adventure may be taking them. Getting a new crew for the Delphinus is a good direction, to start with at least, and you don't seem to have lost your touch.