Friday, February 13, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 94: The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

It's almost Valentine's Day!  I love Valentine's Day; I always do singing Valentines with a quartet, and there's nothing more fun than watching someone turn fifteen different shades of red while you croon "Heart of My Heart" at them, as all their co-workers look on.  Makes it kind of a bummer that the holiday fell on a weekend this year, actually, but it'll be fun nonetheless.

But enough about holidays!  Instead, let's talk about RK_Striker_JK_5's The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds.  Review below the break!

Impressions before reading:  I can't say I'm too inspired by what I'm seeing from the get-go.  A story which crosses over (to varying degrees) multiple iterations of MLP, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and more is going to be a tough sell for a reader with little to no knowledge of the last two, and the fact that the sequel is a Conversion Bureau story (but this one isn't) leaves me a bit confused going in.  Speaking of confused, it's hard for me to know what I'm in for when the story's tagged slice-of-life, but the description promises a "hopefully epic tale of past, present, and future."  On the other hand, I've come across a couple of G1-G4 crossovers that I've enjoyed while doing these reviews, so it's not like this is a hopeless premise or anything.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When a Twilight teleportation and an RD Rainboom collide, a hole is ripped in the fabric of the cosmos, reconnecting Equestria to the human world, where only twenty years have passed compared to 1500 for the ponies... and leading right into the backyard of Megan Richards, whose adventures with the ponies in her youth formed the basis for modern Equestria.

Thoughts after reading:  Distinct personalities are the lifeblood of any character-driven story.  Even in novels with some other primary focus, it's important that the primary characters stand out from the crowd.  So I'm going to start with what I consider the greatest weakness of this story: I can say almost nothing meaningful about any of the humans in it.

Sure, I can describe a bit of Megan's personality, but if you asked me how she was different from her childhood (and universe-hopping) friends, I couldn't tell you much beyond gender, hair color, and other physical markers.  Likewise, Megan's two daughters are almost interchangeable; yes, one of them wants to brush everypony's tale and the other doesn't (or at least, doesn't try to), but if you asked me to describe their differences in terms of how they think or how they might respond to some situation, I couldn't.  Megan's husband, again, I can only describe either in terms of appearance/aptitudes (he can fix things!) or broad platitudes (he loves his family!).  This is all somewhat ameliorated by the fact that the story is also full of ponies, who have pre-defined personalities to fall back on, and these give some definition to the character of the characters (heh).  Nevertheless, the main (human) characters in this fic are so generic as to be practically invisible.

On a related note is this fic's disappointing tendency to allow the needs of the narrative to dictate events, rather than any sense of internal logic or character consistency.  Almost all stories do this to some extent, but it's still very apparent that Applejack flying into a mindless, murderous frenzy when she thinks Twilight's been killed by a dragon, or Fluttershy deciding to angrily confront a (different) dragon for "showing off" when it landed (!), only happen so that Megan and the other ponies have something to go chasing after and so that King Spykoran has a chance to demonstrate his power, respectively.

Those issues are exacerbated further by the fact that characterization is frequently questionable even when not (seemingly) required to advance the plot.  Fluttershy taunting woodland fauna stuck out in particular, though most of the issues were grounded in dialogue.  I can't imagine a teenager uttering the sentence "[The machete] wasn't swung at me, but at the cord tying me up, Dad!," nor can I see Celestia tossing casual "What the hay are you talking about?"s around while addressing one of her generals.  On the whole, characters' speech tends rather definitively toward the stilted and unnatural.

Interestingly, both the slice of life tag and "epic" in the description do apply to this fic.  For the first three quarters or so of its length, Savior of Worlds is almost aggressively low-key; despite piling on foreshadowing (some of which comes back, and some of which is completely forgotten by the end) and offering plenty of chances for high drama (dragon attacks, human government agents discovering the portal to Equestria, etc.), the larger part of the story keeps its focus firmly on parties, cutie mark crusading, light shipping, and other banalities.  Things abruptly shift gears toward the end, where all the non-pony crossovers start coming out of the woodwork, along with some high-stakes villains.  The two parts actually work relatively well together; while the second part feels a bit short compared to what comes before, it's still given enough space to breath that it doesn't feel perfunctory, and the extended "early going" prepares enough of the setting and later events that it doesn't feel superfluous.  Pacing is still an issue through the SoL section (large amounts of time are spent simply wrangling and keeping track of a wide-sprawling cast, often with little payoff), but my point is that the section itself didn't feel like a waste of time to what came after, nor did the battle(s) feel mood-breaking compared to what came before.  Some of the crossover elements toward the end were problematic, however; even a reader who knows nothing about G1 ponies would have nothing to fear on the comprehension front while reading this story, but when G.I. Joe characters start showing up, the author resorts to tossing hyperlinks into the fic to explain who they are to people like myself, rather than working them into the story in a more cohesive manner.

I think what I ultimately found most disappointing about this fic was how much their could have been to like, here.  There's lots of interesting worldbuilding surrounding dragons and, to a lesser extent, ursas, but until the end of the story this is mostly used as an accent to less interesting, more artificial drama (a remarkable amount of the "tension" in this story comes from characters inexplicably deciding that "now's not the time" to talk about who they are/what they're doing/what happened in the past, then doing nothing important and/or nothing that inhibits conversation for several hours).  Likewise, Megan having a family, and the dynamic of them finding out Equestria is real (and going there) has plenty of potential for drama, but nobody ever seems to react to this kind of revelation with anything more than a "Wow, I didn't know this was real!" (and, of course, another "we'll talk about this later").  In the end, there are a bunch of great ideas here; unfortunately, a lot of the best ones were underplayed or subsumed entirely by less interesting, less convincing story elements.

Star rating:


It would be a lie to say that I enjoyed this story, but to be fair, I didn't particularly dislike it, either.  It strikes me as the kind of story that's too easy to put down for its own good (after typing that sentence, I did a quick check; the last chapters of this story have about 1/16th the views of chapter one.  More typical numbers on the longfics I've reviewed are between 1/4th and 1/8th), but which isn't likely to actively drive readers away.  It's often bland and doesn't use its characters well, but it's pretty inoffensive for all that.

Recommendation:  "Inoffensive for all that" isn't much of an endorsement, I admit.  Still, if you're specifically interested in reading a story which combines pretty much every Hasbro franchise, and don't particularly care how the characters are written or presented, this might at least be worth a look.

Next time:  Words Failed Her, by Nonsanity

11 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear this didn't turn out well, because you had me at "MLP, Transformers and G.I. Joe".

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    1. I may be a bit biased, being the author, but it's really not as bad as it's made out to be.

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  2. I'm... sorry this didn't meet your expectations. I disagree with your rating, though. I don't know exactly how Applejack would react to the events of the first chapter, but I'could' see her doing that, which is why I had he run off there. Likewise with Fluttershy and Spykoran.

    As for the humans, I felt I did give them distinct personalities. I might've been able to work a bit harder on Michelle, but Danielle I felt I gave her enough 'only sane man' ticks to work, same with Megan and Mike.

    I should also point out this fic began before season two started, in relation with Celestia. The whole 'not saying anything', if you're referring to Twilight, she specifically says she doesn't know what's going on, same with Luna. They don't HAVE all the info, so they didn't want to give incomplete answers.

    Not much more I'm gonna say here. It's your review and opinion, fine, but I disagree with it.

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    1. Sorry the review wasn't to your liking. I'll admit that, when it came to Applejack at least, I immediately thought of two examples from the show of how she did react in similar circumstances... but both were post-S1, which I gather is when that particular chapter was written.

      I'll clarify with the last bit: when I was talking about the 'not saying anything,' I was referring to passages like this one, from chapter five:

      *****

      Dash flew over, stopping mere inches from Megan's face. "All right, that's it!" she shouted, jabbing the air with her forelegs. "I was gonna wait until we got out of the Everfree Forest and some sort of explanation for your weird behavior, but I've had it!" She crossed her forelegs in front of her chest before throwing them out. "Who are you, what are you and why do you act so-" Dash stopped speaking as she was yanked down to the ground by her multi-colored tail. "Applejack!"

      Applejack spat the tail from her mouth and glared at her friend as she turned and stared. "Rainbow Dash, quit it! She said I look like an old friend of her's, and that's fine and dandy!" She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "I mean, seriously!" She looked back up at Megan, smiling widely and chuckling nervously. "Mighty sorry about that, Megan. Dash's heart is in the right place. Her brains..." She trailed off and resumed her staredown at the pegasus. "Promise to behave?"

      Dash grunted and Applejack let up. Fluttershy stepped forward, shivering. "Perhaps we should wait until we get back to Ponyville?" A sudden snap near a bush sent her up into the air, yelping. "Please?"

      Twilight looked up to Megan, staring her in the eyes. "You promise-you swear-to tell us what's going on when we get back to Ponyville?"

      *****

      Which is followed by everyone spending several hours walking back to Ponyville, presumably in awkward silence. This sort of construct pops up more than a few times, where someone (often Megan) promises to tell everyone something later, despite there being no good reason she couldn't, or even wouldn't, say anything on the spot.

      Regardless, it's clear plenty of people have enjoyed your story, so I hope you don't take my review personally. Even if you aren't happy with the review, I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

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    2. I don't take it personally, and legit appreciate you taking the time to write out the review and respond civilly, but I do have some more things to address.

      While I do agree the fic needs work and I do have plans to go back and edit some sections, that bit is not a good example of not speaking when they can, because right after where you cut off...

      *****
      Megan suddenly held up her right arm and checked her wristwatch. "How long were we in here?" she asked. Her eyes widened and her gait quickened. "Oh, man! By the time we get out my kids will be home!"

      Dash flew by on her back, forelegs behind her head. "So, what? You wrote a note for them."

      Megan rolled her eyes as she began running. "Yeah, but I didn't expect for them to get home before I did!" She looked down as Twilight kept up with her. "How'd we spend three hours tracking Applejack?"

      Pinkie Pie suddenly appeared to her left, running backwards yet still passing Megan. "Oh, it's a good thing we didn't have to go all the way to the castle ruins! It took us all night to simply get there the first time!" And with that, she turned and shot off down the path.

      Applejack ran up to Megan's side. "Y'all might wanna cut back on the pace a bit, sugar. We got a long road ahead of us!"

      Megan nodded and slowed down. "Thanks, Applejack." She looked down to Twilight. "Sounds like you might have a story or two to tell me once we get out and I spill the beans."

      Twilight's eyes lost focus for a moment before she snapped back to the present. "You have no idea."
      *****

      And she emerged from the Everfree Forest out of breath. She was NOT walking back at a leisurely pace, but running full-tilt. She didn't have the breath to spare, and considering they were in the Everfree it wouldn't have been a good idea to get distracted by talking. Once back at her house, Megan does talk with Twilight.

      Also, no GI Joe characters show up. Two are mentioned, but none show up. Chip Chase from Transformers G1 and Minerva from Transformers: Masterforce are there.

      I think that's about it. I respect your opinion of my fic, and do agree it does need 'some' work, but I disagree about some of the other stuff you've said. And I think I'm gonna leave it at that.

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  3. Personally, I'm surprised to hear that it was even that good. I like me a good crossover, but a crossover between four different universes rarely ever works. I've seen fanworks that did three-way crossovers well (like, maybe twice in my entire time on the internet), but even that's pushing it.

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    1. Crossed Paths was pretty good, but it felt kind of random, and the setup was a bit plot-devicey, AND it got a little bit dark for my tastes in the later chapters. I think three different properties is about the limit.

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    2. Three properties is a good limit. Even then, I'd argue that the third property should be a way more subtle influence. The two good three-way crossovers I've seen both did this.

      The first was a sprite animation series called Super Mario Bros Z (Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Dragonball Z), wherein the only thing borrowed from DBZ were the fights and the basic plot. It was basically a Sonic/Mario crossover just with OTT fight sequences. Which kind of worked because the Sonic games lifted elements from DBZ in the first place.

      The second was a pony story called Fallout Equestria: Just Like Clockwork (MLP, Fallout and Doctor Who). That one worked (for me at least) because it drew on existing fanon (Doctor Whooves and the FoE universe). Depending on what angle you approached it from, it either felt like Doctor Who in the world of FoE, or like Fallout elements being introduced into the Doctor Whooves universe, never like an actual three-way crossover.

      This, I think, is the secret to a successful three-property crossover: Elements of the third property must have already been present in one of the other two. I find that I can suspend my disbelief a lot longer and forgive a lot more contrivances if a story does that.

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    3. Actually... it's really only 'three', sort of. My Little Pony G1 and G4, and Transformers. ANY GI Joe stuff is only mentions. And those Transformer characters are side-characters at best.

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  4. For the record, I'm still trying to get this into Equestria Daily. And I'm gonna make it, too, one of these days. :D

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  5. Okay. I know this is old, and probably past its expiration date, but this has been chomping at the bit for a while. What other G1/G4 crossovers have you reviewed that you've liked?

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