The Adventure Zone: Balance, "Story and Song: Finale" | podcast review
Story summary: Our heroes’ memories have returned. At the end of everything, will they stand together against the encroaching darkness? Or will their past sins leave them irrevocably driven apart? (MaximumFun.org)
You have to give a lot of credit to The Adventure Zone for an Avengers: Endgame-style finale years before Endgame was released, making for one hell of a finale in the process. The only problem is that, like Endgame, so many old characters from previous story arcs return and so many long-running plots are tied up, it's a little hard to talk about without spoiling practically everything in the Balance story.
To avoid spoilers, I'm going to go for the broad strokes approach and recognise that, even if the manner in which events unfold don't quite match earlier adventures, the fact this is the end of the story gives everything that happens here a lot more weight. At least events occur thanks to something resembling how the majority of the story happened rather than using the system from "The Stolen Century".
By that, I mean there's a lot more dice-rolling and accepting those numbers, making for some truly hilarious moments, including some decisions made by Clint, Justin and Travis that surprised and thrilled Griffin in equal measure. By the way, it's also very much worth noting just how invested all four of them are in the story, lending it an added sense of earnestness because they're just as keen to see how it all finishes as the audience are.
There are a few wobbles with some of the characters, although I think that's more a case of trying to make something satisfying for the prominent members of what is by this point a ludicrous number of characters. I wouldn't even say that the choices made by Griffin should be considered a negative either, it's more a case of some characters having merely 'good' endings when most of the finale is excellent - they only look poor relatively speaking, rather than actually being poor choices.
The only real negative is that there does again feel like some forced moments to keep the story on track, although it feels somewhat more acceptable here rather than in previous adventures thanks to it being the finale of such a long-running story. Keeping things on track by whatever means necessary to finish the story well is worth it when the other choice is an unsatisfying conclusion.
And how Griffin keeps things going works so well that this is easily the most emotionally-resonant part of the story, not just because of it being the final part, but because there are also flash-forwards to see how the main trio of Magnus, Merle and Taako got on once the crisis threatening their world and all others had passed. I'm a sucker for well-done epilogues to epic stories (one reason I love the appendices to Lord of the Rings!) and they're all well done here, with a special mention for Magnus', which was really hard to get through without tears.
Ultimately, I wouldn't say "Story and Song: Finale" is my favourite part of the Balance arc ("Petals to the Metal" wins that, thank you very much!), but it relies on the strengths of what came before while avoiding some previous pitfalls to create another part of the overall whole to truly seal The Adventure Zone: Balance as being greater than the sum of its parts.
The Adventure Zone: Balance, "Story and Song: Finale" is a fantastic finish to a hugely enjoyable storyline, with only moments of 'forced' story-telling letting it down. Otherwise, it's difficult to see how the Balance arc could have possibly finished any better than this, with so many characters returning that it's a wonder how Griffin's throat hadn't completely failed him by this point with all the voices he had to do.
[9/10 - Great]
More Adventure Zone?
Maybe when the current story is finished, as it's got pretty good feedback from what I've seen and I'd like to listen to it all in one go to match how I experienced Balance. The thing that has me intrigued about what I've heard of the current story is that it's back to what made so much of the original story fun, with a lot more of the game side of things allowing for unpredictable - and hilarious - events to unfold.
The fact that a lot of what is in-between - at least, what I listened to - felt more like unscripted collaborative story-telling rather than discovering the story through playing is what put me off for quite some time. I think the random nature of playing a game using dice allowing stories to head in completely unexpected directions is just more enjoyable than using a dice roll to then discuss how it would best fit in the story the McElroys want to tell.