Well, what is there to say about me? I'm kinda like your average gamer: I like to play games, I like to talk about games, and I hope to work in the video game industry one day.
I do tend to enjoy videogames more than the average gamer would though: videogames have been my life for as long as I remember (hell, the earliest memory that I can recall personally is me waking up and hopping on my SNES to play that X-men and Spider-man crossover game) so it's as much a part of me as my personality.
Although I LOVE to play videogames, having been doing so my whole life, I am not as skilled in videogames as others so I usually play on easier difficulties. Don't get me wrong, I do find it a bit dull when a game's too easy, and I do respect games that are hard for the players who want it (Dark Souls is deliciously hard and I wouldn't want it any other way) but I'd still like it if developers catering to gamers like me who simply aren't as skilled as others.
I have a wide variety of taste when it comes to games as I try to keep an open mind about everything that comes out: just because I play mainstream games Halo and Call of Duty doesn't mean I can't enjoy the underrated ones like Anarchy Reigns, Fire Emblem, and the like.
Or How I Learned to Stop Staring and Start Kicking Ass.
In light to the article "In Defense of Boobies" I must point out that I completely agree that not every game needs to tone down on the... "sexual allure" of the female body just because it might be in poor taste, or that the game would be "better with it." No, sometimes the mere fact that the game has sex appeal is enough to warrant interest in it: as much as I dig the side-scrolling beat-'em-up style of Dragon's Crown, I'd be lying if I said that my interest in the game wasn't increased ten-fold when they unveiled the art of the sexy sorceress that's the center of all the attention (because... well, look at her!).
Speaking of looks, I feel the need to clarify something about myself: back when Mr. Andy Dixon asked us who our favorite Darkstalkers character was, I said, to no one's surprise, that it was the lovely Morrigan Aensland. Now, I understand completely how... generic that response may be, but it isn't because of her looks that I chose her, nor is it because she's the only character I knew: while I never played a proper Darkstalkers game (hence my interest and entry in that contest), I already knew of the cute and sexy kitty Felicia, the jiang shi Hsien-Ko, or the awesome guitar playing zombie that is Lord Raptor. Hell, one of my favorite characters next to Morrigan is the badass B.B. Hood, the Little Red Riding Hood who stocks guns and knives in her hand basket and drops mines down her skirt.
So why did I choose Morrigan Aensland? Well, aside from the fact that I have such a massive crush on her, I also chose her since, because of said crush, she is one of the reasons I started expressing an interest into fighting games in the first place.
Some characters may be clones (Wolverine: Bone or Adamantium; Iron Man or War Machine) while others may useless (Roll and Servbot), but it's still an impressive roster
I remember it like it was yesterday: being avid Dance Dance Revolution gamers, my friends and I used to head on down to the local arcade in our mall to dance the day away. After pumping not only our quarters but our legs on the machine, we usually like to sample the other offerings at the arcade while we recuperate for our next session with games like Initial D and Time Crisis. The one game that I always had to play, despite never really being good at, was a game that took my childhood heroes and sent them against each other in a glorious, seizure-inducing battle: Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. I loved this game because what other game could not only pit Captain America and Wolverine against the likes of Captain Commando and Felicia, but even team up characters such as Iron-Man and the Blue Bomber himself, Mega Man?
So, because of my nerdiness, seeing the vast character selection screen is like being in a toy store (remember playing with toys?): there's so many things to play with that you couldn't help but want to play with them all! However, since I usually suck at these types of games, I tend to do more watching than I do playing: it's not fun trying to get a couple of rounds of arcade in when an experience gamer comes along, plops down a couple of quarters because he knows he's going to be there a while, and completely stomps you and your team in seconds flat without so much as breaking a sweat. As embarassing as that defeat may be though, since the ass-kicking comes with a light show due to the nature of the game, I never really minded losing and usually ended up watching my ass-kicker kick the CPU's ass.
While I usually stuck to only picking favorites on my team, such as Jill Valentine and Spider-Man, I always liked looking at the characters that other people picked, if not only to quietly glee from seeing other dream team combinations (or to sigh when they instinctively choose Magneto and Sentinel). It was then that I saw someone chose a character that I've never seen before: Morrigan Aensland, as I soon came to know her as, a beautiful woman that enchants me with her looks and impress me with her skills (though that might be from the guy controlling her). Now, as a growing child, I was naturally going to start expressing an interest in the opposite sex, but for some reason I was always attracted to the animated girls than real ones; I think it might be because I used to have a crush on the title character of Cardcaptor Sakura instead of the girls at my school, which would also explain why I liked girls with magical powers, which is something Morrigan Aensland clearly had.
I got a wand that she can handle... Wait, now that I'm older, that's not cool to say anymore. But I can't help it: look at where that thing pointing at! It's intentionally sexually suggestive!
After knowing her spot on the roster, I started selecting Morrigan Aensland as often as I could to see her as often as I could: after all, the game is hard to find in stores with its limited run and all, and I wasn't going to buy an arcade unit to keep in my bedroom just to see her (bringing a whole new meaning to playing with my joystick... damn that short on Robot Chicken). Like a shy child who got lucky when his teacher assigned his crush to be his lab partner (too much anime made me something of a romantic :P) I always liked to stare at Morrigan's sprite when she's by my side, my heart fluttering everytime I see her face. Of course, just like how one's grades would suffer from being distracted by the object of their affection, I often paid so much attention to Morrigan that I usually end up neglecting the match, losing out on my quarters and victories.
"Why do you keep picking her?" my usually losing friend asks after he stomped me for the third time in a row, "You're a lot better with Chun-Li; you suck with this new girl."
"No I don't," I said in denial, "I'm just having an off day..."
"Whatever," he shrugs off, "At least I'm kicking your ass this time around..."
He was right though; he was kicking my ass. I wasn't very good playing as Morrigan, and that was on top of not being good at the game in the first place. I didn't have much experience with fighting games, my background limited to time spent with the SNES release of Streetfighter II, so for me to win against my friend, who admittedly isn't very good at the game either, I would need to start picking my usual mains once again: my ragtag team of Mega Man, Spider-Man, and Strider. Once I started picking them again did I finally start dominating my friends once more. However, every now and then I would still hopelessly choose Morrigan, if only because I wish to be able to use her well, but those were usually the same matches that I end up losing at since I just can't seem to kill anyone without using her Hyper Combo.
You're probably thinking about how the rest of this story goes: eventually, after picking Morrigan Aensland enough times, I would start to get better with her and then use her to stomp my friends into dust. Well, you're somewhat right: that did eventually happen, but years later...
You know, as a succubus, they don't really capitalize on her sex appeal; this is a pretty modest pose all things considering, especially since Trish's victory screen teases you with a shot of boobs.
Since it's been a while since my time with MvC2, I started taking up other fighters as well. Although I got out of my comfort zone of RPGs and shooters, I must admit that, somewhat ashamedly, I only did so for a less than a... pure reason: I really got into Dead or Alive, SoulCalibur and Mortal Kombat not because they were fun fighting games (which they were, don't get me wrong), but because... boobs. Yes, my horny adolesence prompted me to follow the likes of Ayane, Isabelle "Ivy" Valentine, and even Mileena (say what you will about her face, her body got it going on!) back to their respective series. However, since my horny adolesence was the reason I even played those games, boobs were the reason why my skills as a gamer developed over the years; now when I chose character I had a crush on, I was at least able to be decent, if not actually good, with them. I always wanted to return to MvC2 with my new found experience, like returning to a JRPG boss after grinding your ass of, but since the arcade machines broke down, and the disc were hard to track down, I never had a chance to try out Morrigan again.
But then something happened: like most of us who spent our quarters on MvC 2 I was ectastic when they announced that its sequel, Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, would finally be upon us after so many years. Though some of us lamented the discontinued use of anime-like sprites, the 3D models were damn impressive, really showing off its style in that reveal trailer that pitted all my favorite heroes against one another: in glorious CG did we see Ryu trading blows with Wolverine, Chris taking potshots at the Hulk before avoiding potholes, and Dante and Deadpool shooting up a bar to hit one another. The one character that I hoped to return, after making appearances in games such as the admittedly awesome Tatsunoko vs Capcom, is, of course, the lovely Morrigan Aensland and, damn did she look good after all these years (of reusing the same sprite).
Now, while I didn't get the game because of her (again, I must point out that I'm a huge Marvel and Capcom fan), I would be lying if I said that I wasn't looking forward to putting her back on my team, especially since my two mains Mega Man and Strider are no shows (though Strider did reprise an appearance in the re-release). Though it was a great feeling to use Morrigan again, just like how I sucked at MvC2, I didn't exactly fare much better in MvC3: most of the lessons I learned in the aforementioned fighting games didn't exactly apply here in an obvious sense. This time around, however, the fighting is a lot more balanced, and with the inclusion of the Team Aerial Combo, even a nub like me could wreck some health bars with virtually any character, including Morrigan; I could finally have her on my team and not have to face a loss!
Hooray for not sucking so much! It's nice to be on the other end of a combo.
With my gal finally someone I can utilize well on my team, this would make this story one with a happy ending, no? Well, the thing is, Team Aerial Combos are by far and large generic: as I said, any character can do them since it's really just mashing the light, medium, heavy, and special buttons in order, which also means that it's just punches and kicks. That means that the animation, while specific to the character, are just as generic: these aren't character-specific combos; these aren't the awesome moves that impressed me when I was younger. Morrigan, from what I saw from other players, had some cool moves and combos to pull off, and being an unskilled gamer, I wasn't able to do them. Yes, there is a Simple Mode to play with, but that's easy mode, and I don't do easy (unless the game calls for it, like Dragon Age: Origins and the original Mass Effect where stats means everything).
So with that, I decided to invest in a strategy guide in order to take my game to the next level, and with pages dedicated to each and every character in the game (even the unreleased Jill Valentine and Shuma Gorath... I was on to you Capcom), the guide was going to help me use Morrigan like a pro... at least, that's what I thought until I looked at her page and saw these complicated combos and fancy fighting game jargon. In order to make sense of it, the guide had to teach me things about fighting games that I never knew, like OTGs and Super Armor (which seems like an obvious thing now that I know of it), along with game specific mechanics like Delayed Hyper Combos. All the tips they were giving me about Morrigan, from trying to combo in her un-damage-scaling Level 3 Hyper Combo for maximum damage to being able to break Super Armor with her multi-hit Aerial Special attack, really gave me an insight to fighting games; it sort of... "clicked" with me.
With this newfound knowledge, I was able to take my game to the next level by focusing more on the nuances of fighting games such as timing my attacks (like using the Delayed Hyper Combo mechanic effectively so that the enemy can't block between a character's specials) or ultizing OTGs in my combos. Now, considering how much I sucked at MvC3, saying that I got better doesn't amount to much (I went from a bad player to a not-so-bad one), especially considering that I never did learn Morrigan's character-specific combos, but it did help me go back to my other fighting games and do better than before: now instead of mashing high kicks in Dead or Alive to see Kasumi's underwear, I know to do it to launch enemies in the air and actually wait for the moment to do a quick succession of punches instead of acting too early and minimizing damage output (though I'd be lying if I said that I didn't give a quick glance at her white panties... some things never change).
My willingness to learn how to play fighting games effective comes from my crush on Morrigan Aensland, and that crush stemmed from a pretty face and a nice body (boobs) since I knew next to nothing about her. To this day (I wanna say a good 5 or so years later), I still obsess Morrigan Aensland as my crush, even going as far as checking anime posting sites daily for just another new picture of her; I even dropped like 60 bucks importing my favorite doujinshi of her after tracking it down for years (go ahead and laugh, I'll admit it's somewhat sad). But even if the crush fades away, the fact is that crush is what got me into fighting games, and that is the reason why Morrigan Aensland is my favorite Darkstalkers character, period.
Though B.B. Hood gives her a run for the money... Don't tell Morrigan I said that though :3
I'm not going to lie, I've written an embarassing amount of fanfiction of me getting drunk at a bar with Morrigan that it haunts my dreams... Wait, did I say haunt? Because I totally mean the opposite of that.
You were a worthy opponent, my friend. I admit, if I didn't nail that Perfect Active Reload and got that extra damage boost on my Lancer, you would've gotten me with that Hammerburst you were holding.
So now that you're limping on the ground, bleeding out from being riddled with enough bullets to start a small revolution, how should I finish you off? Maybe I should just curbstomp your head into the pavement and be done with it so I can move on to the next person I see since I see them coming to revive you. Or maybe I should pick up your body and use it as a human shield from the incoming horde? Or maybe, better yet, I could pick up your body, tag it with a fragmentation grenade, and toss you towards your teammates, exploding them into a million pieces...
But wait a minute... speaking of your teammates, if I off you and them like that, I wouldn't be able to have this moment again with my other victims... And I sure as hell wouldn't want that! I also sure as hell wouldn't want you to bleed out while I'm rambling on and on about the many different ways to kill you so, you know what? I'm just going to rev up my Lancer, inadvertently glee from being unable to contain my excitement, and slash my chainsaw bayonetta down your body like my favorite PlatinumGames character Jack Cayman. As the chainsaw runs through your gooey torso like a serrated blade to a log of meat, I can't help but smile from the thrill of a kill.
I earned it, after all.
Cutting into the Heart of the Matter
A kill in a videogame should be more than just points in a scoreboard or a story plot device: it should be a reward for taking down an opponent of worth, AI or otherwise. While I do indulge in the occassional Black Ops 2 deathmatch, getting kills in that game doesn't really feel satisfying at all: the enemy just limps over dead from being shot at from what feels to be a peashooter. Sure, when death comes quick in a game where a couple of bullets is all that's really needed to take someone down, the thrill of the moment comes from running to battle and NOT getting shot up. However, staying alive isn't the goal of the game: killing is, and that should be the most enjoyable aspect of it.
Taking the Gears of War example I mentioned in the prologue, killing should feel like a reward: the prize at the end of every empty clip. In Gears the characters feels a bit like a bullet sponge, so, unless you're using an insta-gib gun like the Gnasher or Sawed-Off, it gonna take more than a couple of rounds to down them. And, considering that the nature of the game is all about taking cover, as well as covering your teammates and reviving them if need be, it can be a feat to take down a single opponent, especially when they're all moving together. Still, as difficult as killing someone may be, the awesome ways you can execute the opposing player is well worth it: it's a good feeling to be able to punch someone's head into a bloody pulp after they've given you much trouble.
Then again, Gears of War usually makes killing itself feel oh so satisfying; just by downing an opposing player makes you feel like you put the hurt on them with the way they crawl on the ground, desperate for a revive. Hell, you could even cancel their "revive me!" phase by rendering their bodies unusable, such as completely removing their heads by pulling off a nicely aimed shot with the Longshot sniper rifle or, even better, a Boltok pistol. Unforunately, the newest iteration Gears of War: Judgment almost completely does away with the "down but not out" phase in multiplayer (I guess the missing "e" in Judgment stood for "executions"), which makes the form of killing less satisfying and, as a result, less fun: like Black Ops 2, seeing the enemy just limp over dead isn't really that exciting for me no matter how many points they throw at me.
"It ain't the tools, compadre; it's how you fuck people up with it!"
Now, shooters aren't the only games I like to play when I need my killing fix: after all, why restrict the art of killing to using shooting bullets at a distance when you can get all up-close-and-personal and let your fists do the talking? Using the recently favorited, though highly underrated, Anarchy Reigns as another example (a videogame beat-them-up where you go around punching enemies and players alike), this game has the unique honor of being the only beat-them-up to feature a 16-player free-for-all all out brawl known as "Battle Royale." That's right, you can shove over a dozen players in an arena and ask them to kill everyone in sight. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone: everyone is fair game and no one is exempt from your hit-list.
The caveat here is that, like Gears it may actually take a while to kill someone: unlike Call of Duty, everyone here gets a generously sized health bar that can even be increased if they level up! That means that it's going to take a while to knock down all that health, and in a game where winner-takes-all in this free-for-all, you're going to want to kill them quick and move on to the next person. So how do you win in a situation like this? Well, this game not only rewards kill-stealing, but it even outright encourages it: in one of the trailers, the game advises going behind distracted opponents who are too focused on their opponents and hitting them with the heaviest attack possible. Now, the game becomes all about timing: wait too long and your prey may be eaten up, but rush in too soon with a charged heavy attack and you may have just weakened him up for the other guy to KS!
Either way, when you kill someone in this game, whether you put in work or just took it right from someone else's fight, the characters detonate into a flashy explosion of blood that, to me, is so mesmerizing that I almost get a bloodlust for it. In fact, when I was playing this game on the regular, I used to always lurk around in the back, watching people go at it until I see that someone's in the "red health." That's my cue for me to come charging in, swinging my revved up chainsaw in wild abandon, just to see that splash of blood once more: I can see why Leatherface would find this addicting. The terrible thing is, although you can impale enemies with stop signs and slash off mutants' heads in this game, there's no gore or gib in killing player characters: they may explode in a spectacle of blood, but you aren't going to see any limbs flying off whether you hacked them with a chainsaw or launched a barrage of missiles.
Getting "ahead" of ourselves?
Of course, when you mention "gore" and "videogames," the one franchise that comes to mind is Mortal Kombat. Yes, there are plenty of games with over-the-top brutality in them like Splatterhouse and Postal, but you got to give it up to the videogame that used violence in a way that allows you to rub victory in your opponent's face after a long, hard match. Since Mortal Kombat is a fighting game and not a FPS, it's going to take a lot more than a few punches to win a match: even attacks that are clearly lethal to the human body will take about a fraction of their health bar, and not even a big fraction at that. At least, unlike the aforementioned Anarchy Reigns' Battle Royale, you don't have to worry about someone else butting it: it's just you and your opponent in a glorious fight to the death.
And "glorious" "death" is right: all Mortal Kombat games, from its original, groundbreaking Arcade appearance to the lackluster games such as the one on the Gameboy (and yes, even Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe), features what is called "fatalities." Fatalities are essentially a short animation when, upon inputting a secret combination of buttons after winning a match, you can "finish" your opponent with a special kill that ranges from ripping off your mask to breathe a breath of fire or ripping off the loser's head with his spinal cord attached. Though I do actually play fighting games for the fight itself, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't looking forward to seeing a Fatality at the end of the match: even when I'm gritting my teeth in defeat, I still always hope to see my opponent rip off MY spine to bring a smile to my face.
And I knew that I wasn't the only one: I recall seeing a lot of people (children my age, mostly) going crazy upon seeing the bloody spectacle that is a fatality. And, to ensure that it never gets boring, each new iteration of the series always adds in new ways to kill people such as launching them into a pit of spikes or dropping an arcade machine on them. Sure, the game was groundbreaking for its digitized graphics (like Donkey Kong Country) and actual depiction of blood during a match, but no one can say that it didn't made its name for its ultra-violent killing of the opponent: hell, Sub-Zero's fatality is supposefully what caused the ESRB to be created! What other game can tout something that big (the only other example that comes to mind is Grand Theft Ato: San Andreas which got changed from an M-rated game to "A for Adults" following the Hot Coffee incident)?
No Guts, No Glory!
So, as you can see, violence used in context of a narrative (such as emphasizing Bioshock Infinite's Booker DeWitt's dark past) is okay and all, but sometimes violence in videogames can just be there for no other reason than to just have it to look forward to: a bulletpoint on the back of the box, if you will. Now, I'm not advocating for violence to be shoehorned into every videogame (I wouldn't be able to imagine violence in a game like Tetris...) but I don't think violence shouldn't be outright shunned just because it's not proper. Take, for example, the God of War series: Kratos is an angry man, and if it doesn't show in his violence, then how else is he supposed to express it? Writing poems?
Not only that, but in that game, violence, again, feels like an reward: using God of War once more, the brutal way Kratos executes his enemies is not only done in context of the narrative, but from a gameplay perspective, it also makes you feel like you really did your enemy in: seeing the guts dribble out of a centaur's (or minotaur's?) body tells me that I killed that thing dead, and the red orbs that float away from his dead carcass is my reward for the spectacular spill of blood! Sure, the red orbs are going to drop no matter if you execute them or not, but it's nice to be able to actually feel the satisfaction of killing an enemy by slicing their bodies open rather than just watching them slump over in agony.
And, let's be honest, a lot of us like to use videogame violence as a way to let off some steam.
Because, you know, you can't do that in real life...
That's the only thing running through my mind as I mindlessly slay through hundreds, if not thousands, of these monsters that appear before me. Shades, they are called by the people, are these dangerous black figures that roams the land we inhabit. I, on the other hand, just call them enemies that will die by my hand if they continue to stand in my way. Playing as the father of Yonah, I set out to rescue my daughter from the clutches of the dreaded Shadowlord who had taken her away from me for who knows what purpose. Determined to do whatever it takes to save her, I would've paid any price to have Yonah back in my arms.
If only I knew what that price was...
Note: This blog contains spoilers for the video game Nier. Proceed with caution.
Throughout my adventures in the video game Nier, I was taught to hate Shades: they are nothing but mindless monsters that'll attack anything around them. Whenever I took a trip to the Northern Plains, be it to fetch mutton for a woman's dinner or to head on down to the Junk Heap to upgrade my shiny new sword, I always see those accursed things attacking the animals around them. It doesn't let up from there either as, years later, the Shades grow more and more aggressive, attacking the nearby villagers and travellers just for the hell of it (as evident by their drops of kitchen knives and coloring books).
People are dying in this world, and if isn't the Shades that's killing them, then it's the damn Black Scrawl that's doing it. The Black Scrawl is a sickly disease that's proven to be quite terminal, with no known cure at that... And, unforunately, as luck would have it, my daughter Yonah had contracted it. Not one to sit back and do nothing, as I am a man of action, I set out to do the impossible: I will cure Yonah of her disease. Any father who sees their child coughing up a storm and falling over weakly would be in distraught, and no doubt was I: I just used that to push myself even harder.
The game wants me to care about Yonah and succeed it does: playing as the father of Yonah already makes you feel like you're obligated to look out for her, especially when you see the character (who, since you can name yourself, will be referred to by Decker in this case because it feels more personal to me) does everything he can to make her feel better, be it from taking on odd jobs to risking his life in battle against giant Shades. The thing that really gets me though, the thing that really makes my heart ache for her, are the little snippets of her diary that you get whenever the game goes into a loading screen: each of them feels personal, and some of them are so wistful that even gets to me.
My favorite one in particular? "The snow won't stop falling, so Dad said he'd stay here with me until it stops. He'll probably leave again when it does, so I kinda hope it snows forever.
That's when I knew that I cared about Yonah. That's when I knew I had to save her, no matter what.
"Reaching Out to the Truth"
So, naturally, to save Yonah I was going to have to find this "Shadowlord" and strike down any of those who stand in my way. At first, this wasn't exactly a problem: I had no problem cutting down evil robots and bloodthristy wolves and I especially had no sympathy for the countless number Shades I had to kill to even get to them. Heck, since they spawned in the same locations in the same formation, it feels routine to slaughter them in the systematic way I came up with to get through the herd faster. However, near the end of the game, I get into a boss encounter against those that I hadn't expected to fight at all: a pair of twins, named Devola and Popola, who helped supported me throughout my adventure.
What I definitely didn't expect, even more so, was the bombshell they drop on me: they reveal themselves to be overseers of Project Gestalt, which is the process of making replicant bodies for humans to use after extracting their souls out of their original, infected-with-a-deadly-disease body. As with most stories involving replicants, like Tales of the Abyss, it's no surprise that you and every other "human" are just sentient replicants... But what was an actual shock is the fact that the Shades I've been killing this whole time aren't just random monsters, oh no, but the manifestation of the humans' souls: in essence, I was a murderer all along. But before I could get a chance to have that fully sink in, I had to face the twins in a battle to the death.
After I killed Devola and saw how much pain I caused Popola did I start to feel guilty about what I've done. I mean, killing a human in a video game is nothing new... Hell, with lots of M rated games nowadays it's something to be expected... But after playing through a game where you barely, if never, had to kill a human before now, the effects of doing so is much greater with the added emphasis, especially when you killed said someone in front of her grief-strickened sister. But, then again, I guess I've been killing humans this whole time, haven't I?
I just didn't know it at the time.
What are wolves doing in the desert anyway?
Suddenly some of the game makes sense now... Take, for instance, the random drops that the Shades give out when they die, like the rusty kitchen knife, thick dictionary, and used coloring books. These are probably not just things the game designers decided to have them drop on a whim, or even things that the Shades picked up in their murderous rampage: those items are probably remnants of who they were, like a mother who goes through the trouble to cook a home-cooked meal every night, a student with an insatisable thrist for knowledge... or even a little child who had no trouble coloring within the lines.
But if that's too subtle to feel, because to be honest it's a bit of a stretch to ask the normal gamer to do, then perhaps playing through the game a second time will change your tune: when you complete the game and reload your completed save, you can run through the game again. This time, however, you, the player and not the character, can understand what the Shades are saying now. This opens up a bunch of new scenes that shows off the background story of some of the bosses you fought, and some of them even has you feeling sorry for the boss you once slaughtered with malice.
For example, when you first see the scene when the Shade Wolf kills the Princess of Facade on her wedding day, after hearing that she lived a life of poverty and never knowing happiness, you team up with the Prince to hunt down the Wolf in retaliation: the Prince wanted to kill the wolf for what he's done and you weren't going to sit out on a battle that became personal. However, once you see the Wolf's side of the story, where he once tried to make peace with the people before having most of his pack slaughtered by them, you start to sympathize with the wolf this time around (especially when he tries to save a young pup by pulling a spear out of him only to die right in front of him).
Unforunately, you can't choose to side with the wolf though: just like the first time around, Decker's going to slay him down in cold blood and you, the player, can only help him do that.
Well, you and that big ass sword of his...
[The Price I Pay]
And that's how it goes throughout the second playthrough: you may start to feel for the enemy, but unless you stop playing the game, you're still going to kill them. See, even though you, the player, hear the enemies plead for you to stop and turn back, Decker, who doesn't know what the enemies are saying, will still yell out for their heads to roll as he charges forward. Then again, I suppose that, even if he does know what they're saying, that probably wasn't going to stop him anyway: after all, Yonah is still kidnapped by the Shadowlord and he's determined to get her back. However, to me at least, I start to see what the price of saving Yonah really means: back then, killing Shades was just business as usual; now, everytime a Shade falls to my sword, I realize that I was killing someone, and usually dozens of them at once at that.
You ever hear of that moral problem with the train? You know, the one where a train's heading to a fork in the track, and if it goes one way then it'll kill one person, and that if it goes the other way then it'll run over five people, and that you can switch it to a track of your choosing? I would assume a good amount of you would choose, if you had to, to sacrifice the one person to save the five... But in this case, in the game Nier, I am essentially doing the opposite: I killed many to save one. Sure, maybe you can't help the Shades revert back to human, and maybe they did kill off a lot of innocent people (maybe even those whose bodies were meant for them), but some of the ones you kill are still sentient enough to plead for you to stop as you heartlessly slay them.
The game wanted me to care about Yonah, and I did. The game wanted me to rescue Yonah and I did. The game wanted me to feel sorry for the Shades and I did.
But the Shades wanted me to stop... and I didn't. And the guilt of killing them without mercy is the price I pay for saving her.
Videogames like Dead Space 2 and F.E.A.R. 2 are meant to be scary... In Dead Space you run around being chased by reanimated corpses that's been horribly mutated into terrifying creatures whilst, in F.E.A.R. 2, a creepy ass little ghost girl is so hent-bent on raping you that she'll fuck up the world just to get some... No, she is NOT hot, and no, that isn't the scary part.
Anyway, these two games built their success on their abilites to sell you on the scare factor, like the sudden jump scares that Alma impose on you throughout the game or the beautifully haunting moments like when the mother at the daycare is blown to bits after prompting her Necromorph baby to come to her. Both of these games worked because they created a spellbinding atmosphere that places you into their worlds all alone to fend for yourself. However, both of these games spawned a sequel that features co-op into their series, and that threatens the series' main attraction of trying to scare the pants of their players.
After all, how can you be scared when there's a buddy by your side? Well, read on for a couple of ways that, I think, can make co-op scary.
How I Believe Co-op Can Be Scary
Words of Wisdom right there
After hearing much praise about the indie game Slender, based off the "legend" of the Slender Man, I decided to head to the website and see what it's about. As the game downloads in the background, I recall hearing things about how it's such a scary game, about it plays the way a horror game SHOULD play like, that I couldn't resist shaking my leg in anticipation at giving it a go. Once did I finally open the file and start up the game did I find it to be a frightening treat; being chased by a faceless, humanoid figure in some creepy, dark woods with only a flashlight is such a thrilling experience that I couldn't help but get my friends into this.
And get into it they did; the game is addicting because not only does it does it scare you (because, as my girl Pinkie Pie puts it, "sometimes it's just really fun to be scared"), it goads you into trying to "beat" it by tasking you with the objective of trying to acquire 8 pages of notes before your inevitable capture by the hands of the Slender Man. So, even after my friends screamed or are left rendered breathless by the static "game-over" screen, they keep reloading the game and forcing themselves back into it at a shot of getting just one more page. Eventually, I had to kick them off my laptop after losing my patience waiting for my turn; at which point they would download it onto their own laptops to enjoy. I certainly didn't mind them wanting to play it on their own laptops, but I was a bit skeptical about them wanting to play Slender together at the same time, as if we were doing some kind of makeshift, or "ghetto," co-op.
I mean, playing Slender side-by-side is an odd request to hear... After all, this is a game that's meant to be scary; how scary would it be if we were both trying to play the game together? Nevertheless, after taunts about how one of us would last longer than the other (now that I think about it, were we still about about the game?) I decided to give in and play the game with my friend by my side. Now, for those of you uninformed about this game, this is a solo adventure through the woods; there is NO form of multiplayer whatsoever, not even a leaderboard. So, instead of playing with one another, we played alongside one another; we decided to enter the game at the same time and see who can get the most pages as well as who can outrun the Slender Man the longest.
Obligatory "you're gonna get raped!" comment
In addition to starting the game at the same time, we also turned off the lights and rotated our laptops away from each other, aligning them back-to-back like a game of Battleship, so that not only could we not see anything in the room, we also couldn't see what the other person was seeing. Despite not wanting to see each others' screens, we still kept the sound up and loud so that, when the Slender Man is in the vicinity for either of us, we could both freak out at the sound cues and wonder which one of us is he after; only when we see the strobing flash of a bright, white light do we know the answer to that, though it usually isn't long until the Slender Man gets his hands on the other.
Though we were laughing up a storm, we were both legitimately scared playing the game despite being in the same room with one another. That got me thinking: a lot of people like to blame co-op for ruining the scare factor in games, but why is that exactly? I mean, when we go to the theatre and see a horror movie, do we not still get scared even as we sit with hundreds of other people? See, I don't think that it's the co-op that makes the game less scary... I think it's the way the game is handled AFTER incorporating co-op, and as such, I can think of 3 ways to remedy that:
3 Ways to Make Co-op Scary 1 - Divide and Conquer!
To quote Lee from The Walkind Dead: The Game: "Where are your legs, man!?"
Yes, the game has co-op, I get that. What I don't get is why, in a horror game, are we always together? I know games like Dead Space 3 and F.3.A.R. have the option to play through the game solo, but when you play co-op, you're always within reach of your buddy. I mean, I understand that it's mostly due to technical limitations, but level designers could make it so that we're separated from each other, or at the very least not attached to the hip. I mean, I know that, in order to advance we're going to have to meet back up, but you know what they say:
"Absence makes the heart grows fonder."
Putting that into context, by having the game separate us, you can have players freak out through separation anxiety. Think about it: usually in these kinds of games, your co-op partner is not only a second pair of eyes, and a second pair of guns I might add, but also a medic; in Dead Space 3 and F.3.A.R. death is almost non-existent as you can be revived within a blink of an eye. By having the players part ways, we are now forced to survive on our own after being accustomed to having the other guy around: no one's going to cover you while you're reloading or pick you up when you're down. That gives a bit of fear in trying to make it back to your partner as soon as you can, especially if the game is stingy with health pick-ups, since you'll likely die on your own.
Speaking of "on your own," while F.3.A.R. was adecent game, the supernatural teammate idea was horribly underplayed... While this was before Dead Space 3 I think that they should've taken a page out of their book and make Fettel invisible to Point Man so that whoever plays as Point Man can't see his co-op buddy. That way, whenever Fettel executes someone in a bloody way, Point Man just sees it as kind of like a supernatural event, a sign of a "guardian angel" of sorts.. Even better, you when you play this game's co-op online, they could've had the Guest player drop-in and drop-out without notifying the Host to surprise them.
2 - Don't Scare One Player and Not the Other!
"Step by step, heart to heart, left right left, we all fall down... Like Toy Soldiers..."
Speaking of Dead Space 3, that game did the whole "co-op isolation" thing kind of well: those segments regarding Carver's delusions are very interesting because his perspective is locked to someone playing as Isaac; the delusions themselves are also a doozy because they are a bit scary to play through. However, while Carver is having one of these delusions, he is unable to fend for himself in the real world, hence needing Isaac to watch his back... So while the second player is going through a creepy experience, the first player is stuck with defending him from various Necromorphs like an escort mission.
I don't know about you, but that's not as fun.
Hence my second suggestion: why scare one player, when you can scare them both? Seeing a cut-scene through Isaac's perspective and not understanding what Carver's seeing is a good idea because you're like an outsider wondering what's wrong with Carver. However, that novelty wear off after only a bit; they should've done it to more extremes, especially regarding Carver in the real world. Take this for example: what if, during Carver's delusions, he's still functioning in the real world instead of just shaking his head around, mumbling to himself? For example, everything he's doing in the delusion is the same thing he's doing in the real world?
That would mean, in Isaac's perspective, Carver's walking around in a daze, shooting his gun about and alerting Necromorphs to his position. Heck, maybe for this segment, friendly fire is turned off and Carver could actually shoot Isaac; why not go a step further and "influence" Carver to shoot at Isaac through the delusion? Not only that, in the game, Isaac could be telling Carver to snap out of it or "fight it" whilst in the real world, the player has no way to communicate with his buddy because the game cuts out the mic to simulate that Isaac's words aren't getting through to Carver... especially if he's telling him to "stop shooting me!" Carver, for his part, just plays through the experience normally; it's fun enough as it is already, and the player can tell his partner what he went through afterwards just like anyone would in that situation.
3 - Don't Turn Your Games into Action Ones!
We're not in Raccoon City anymore...
Carver's delusions are nice and creepy, and proves that Dead Space 3 is capable of building an atmosphere that could leave people creeped out despite incorporating co-op into the system. That's because, as I said, co-op isn't the thing that ruin the fear: it's the lack of atmosphere. While it's certainly true that co-op can ruin the atmosphere, and by extension fear itself, that's something that's more-or-less determined by the players; as for the game itself, some of the horror games that features co-op are games that really weren't scary in the first place or were only scary in certain sections.
Let's delve into Resident Evil 5 for a bit: a lot of people say that it isn't as scary as its predecessor and some would say that it's due to its inclusion of co-op. However, could it be that, for the beginning of the game at least, it just wasn't a scary game? I mean, the game starts out with Chris and Sheva being saved by a helicopter's missile after being holed up and overrun in the marketplace by a couple dozen angry majini; heck, even the enemies aren't as creepy, going from the robe-loving cult-like group Los Illuminados to the standard citizen looking Majini. Even Isaac's opening level of Dead Space 3 veered off the fear factor by replacing stabby Necromorphs with gun-tooting Unitologists.
Now, I realize that, even without co-op, the games might've still gone down the same route. But come on game developers, when we want to play a horror game with a buddy, we want to play it because we both want to get scared, not blow things up like a buddy cop action movie! I mean, we already got games like Army of Two and Gears of War to fill that void; we don't need some franchises, that I will not name, getting turned into action games... For the record, while I did enjoy Resident Evil 6, that doesn't exclude it from the list, especially after the treat that was the Resident Evil 5's "Lost in Nightmare" DLC.
This would make an epic Dark Souls x Resident Evil crossover...
Actually, let's get into that: Lost in Nightmare is a good example about how a co-op horror game should play like: the level is stingy with items such as health and ammo so you don't have an abundance in supplies, you're constantly needing to separate in order to solve puzzles, and you're up against enemies that can soak up a lot of bullets and dish out enough damage to make them a threat. The atmosphere is also perfect as the design of the mansion is creepy with long hallways and traps everywhere with the camera angles building tension; not to mention the overall look of the lower areas, which are filled with rusty metal and pointy objects.
It even does the three points I brought up: it seperates the two of you for some separation anxiety (especially in that trap room with the needle), it does it best to scare both players by having multiple monsters go after the both of you, and despite RE5's generally action-orientated gameplay, especially the Desperate Escape DLC, you aren't encourage to spray bullets into the enemies as they are tough to kill and you have low ammo (though it's actually easy to kill them if you know how).
If you don't believe that a game can't be scary and fun with Co-op, I say try out the Lost in Nightmares DLC and see for yourself. If not, you could try out the way my friend and I played Slender if you're not feeling too weird about being alone in a pitch black room with your buddy.
They say when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. They usually say that when you're near death but considering the "possibility" that we're going to die in a couple of weeks, I figure that's close enough. :P
2012 is a wonderful year of gaming for me not because of so many games that came out (such as Resident Evil 6,Assassin's Creed III, Mass Effect 3, The Walking Dead, etc.) but because of the fact that I got to replay so many of the video game characters that I grew up with over the years of gaming. I mean, I've been gaming for the majority of my life, so I have played through the lives of a lot of characters in their adventures. However, usually their stories end as we move from one console generation to the next, forcing us to leave behind beloved characters in favor of newer ones. Now don't get me wrong, I love some of the characters of this generation, such as Uncharted's Nathan Drake, Assassin's Creed's Altair, and more, but I have a soft spot for nostalgia, the yearning for characters I've grown attached to.
And thanks to this year of video game releases, I can relive playing as them for one last goodbye...
Again, assuming of course (though not believing) we die by the end of this year.
The Mass Effects of a Hero
This year of gaming started off with a bang by giving us the end of the trilogy of the hero Commander Spehard. Yes, I'm quite aware of the fact that the ending isn't quite to everyone's taste (it may have been shattered to pieces but I still hopelessly cling to the Indoctrination Theory) but this is how I felt throughout playing Mass Effect 3, what I've been thinking from the second I press the Start button: this is going to be the end of my hero. Yes, MY hero; the hero whose name, backstory, personality, and choices were all determined by me. This makes him one of the more personal characters on this list because of the fact that he is, essentially, me. In fact, if I plug in my dusty ol' Kinect, I could even voice him, though I rather have Mark Meer do that (not hating on Jennifer Hale though!).
Now, out of respect for gamers who never played this series but will, thanks to the recently released trilogy pack, I will try my best to refrain from spoiling much of the story. That's fine by me, because the story itself isn't what I want to talk about, but rather my character's involvement, or rather MY involvement, in them. Throughout the game series, the game always tries to force you to make decisions, enticing you with the thrill that whatever choice you make, from who to kill and who to spare, to who to save and who to left die, that that choice will remain with you for the rest of the series.
When the series started in 2007, the idea that saves could carry from one game to the next, impacting it in a way that's much more substantial than a simple stat tranfer (like the PS2 series .hack), was revolutionary at the time. Think about it: many games emphasizes decision-making in video games, but they usually bear fruit within a couple of levels (like the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops II) or in a cut-scene that takes place right after it (here's looking at you Army of Two: The 40th Day). For this series, not only do your decisions carry over from one game to the next, but decisions you made in the first game could also come back to haunt you in the third; even the DLC can change the story a bit, as the game references whether or not Commander Spehard went on that extra journey.
That made my time in Mass Effect 3 much more memorable, because from the first major decision I made in the first game to the last major decision I made in the second, are all coming back in one way or another. While the game boasts replayability, I found the series much more interesting to play through it just once, to ensure that whatever choice I make, that it's a choice I must live with; no do-overs for this player. And while I may eventually replay the series again (unless...), I'm always going to remember the first time I ran through the series because I always made my decisions based on how I would make them, not how an alternate version of me would, or picking decisions for the sake of seeing "what-if."
While some people despise [Mass Effect 3, be it for it's "horrible" ending, changed script, or "day-one" DLC, I'm glad it came out because I finally got to see the end of a journey that spanned over five real-life years. And I'm even more glad that it came out in 2012, because if it was scheduled to come out in 2013, and **** goes down in 2012, I'll never be able to rest in peace. :P
No Halo for a Lost Hero
They say "Spartans never die; they are just missing in action." That quote means, that, when a SPARTAN dies, they are listed as "Missing in Action" in order to increase morale of the standard soldiers they fight alongside with by making it seem as though as they are unkillable, as though they are gods. While some of the SPARTANs are listed as "M.I.A." despite being as dead as the Greek soldiers they are named, and trained, after, one particular SPARTAN is actually missing in action: John-117, otherwise known by his rank "Petty Officier Master Chief." However, with the extremely capable 343 Industries taking over the series after Bungie's departure to establish a new IP (good luck to you guys), the Chief's coming back for another trilogy, starting with the long awaited Halo 4.
Now, many people say that a new trilogy isn't necessary, that a new trilogy is just an excuse to milk the Halo franchise, but regardless of whether or not we needed to or not, it feels damn good to step into the boots of Master Chief once more, especially now that he's more talkative (and retains his awesome voice actor Steve Downes). Now, I'm not crazy about his new campaign in terms of gameplay, as I hate the new Promethean enemies, and the campaign seems to be filled with padding (I swear every level has at least one moment of filler, from destroying the same objects twice or thrice to repeating objectives again and again), but the story feels absolutely phenomenal; from seeing the rampant Cortana (with Jen Taylor reprising!) lose her cool to seeing Master Chief finally emit some amount of emotion, I tread through the "boring" campaign to see the story to its end.
Spoilers for Halo 4: You have been warned
And that ending... While it may not win the award for the best ending ever, it certainly brought a tear to my eyes. It's hard to resist spoiling the ending, but I have to for the sake of this blog: seeing Master Chief being forced to leave Cortana behind was extremely sad, especially to someone who experienced the beginning of their relationship (in the book Halo: The Fall of Reach, which I read shortly after Halo 2's release). I know he spends time without her in all of the Halo games to date, as he separates with her in Combat Evolved after the level "Assault on the Control Room," leaves her with Gravemind in the latter half 2, starts the majority of 3 without her, and doesn't even receives her in the prequel Halo: Reach, but this goodbye seems all the more dramatic because this time, he feels as though he's losing her for good, whereas all the other times he tells her he'll be back.
Again, this scene particularly hits a soft spot with me because of the fact that I've been a faithful follower of the series, the characters, and all that jazz, so it feels like departing with a friend. I know she'll be back in one way or another (calling it now, Halo 5 will have a new "version" of Cortana but Master Chief will find the whereabouts of the "original" Cortana by the end of the game, at which point he'll spend the majority of Halo 6 trying to get her back)...
...But at the moment, when you're fully immersed in the scene and not thinking about the outside world, it was painful to watch. If the world ends soon, this game series might have ended in a somber tone, but that's the more reason why it resonated with me more than most game endings.
The Rebirth of an Anti-Hero
Spoilers for Hitman: Blood Money: You have been warned.
The last time we saw Agent 47, his body is resting on an open coffin before being lowered to a crematorium at his funeral. It was a wonderful scene that I regret never writing a blog about: as Agent 47 lies in his deathbed after being injected a poison by his handler Diana, with his signature Silverballers at his side, she gives him a kiss goodbye before leaving the premises. What should be the end of the infamous hitman now comes down to the player: if the player does nothing during the credit scroll as his coffin, and body, descends into the crematorium, then that's the end of his story; he can finally rest in peace after a life of killing targets. However, if the player presses a button during the credit scroll, preferably in sync with his heart beats, Agent 47 rises up from the coffin and proceeds to kill everyone at the funeral, leaving behind no witnesses as he makes his return.
It turns out that the "poison" Diana Burnwood injected Agent 47 with is actually a "fake death" serum used earlier in the game, similiar to Metal Gear Solid's Fake Death Pill. When Diana kissed Agent 47, she had applied the antidote on her lips, slowly reviving Agent 47 (similar to the Revival Pill). The reason for this is because she had to "fake" Agent 47's death in order for them to both escape the clutches of the dangerous group known as "The Franchise." Thus, Agent 47 owes Diana Burnwood his life. This is why I believe that Hitman: Absolution should've started with a remake of this level: not only would it remind players how Diana saved Agent 47's life, and how that comes into play at the beginning of the game, but it's also the perfect way to show the rebirth of Agent 47 after a six-year-or-so hiatus.
While I won't spoil the story of the most recent entry of the series, Hitman: Absolution, I will say that the return of Agent 47 is a welcome one. As I said earlier, in case you skipped over it because of the spoiler, it's been six years since the last entry of the series. SIX YEARS... That's the time it took for the entire Mass Effect trilogy to start and end. This is one of those series that would've been forgotten as we head into a new generation of consoles; remember, this is supposefully the longest generation to date, so we would've moved on by now. However, thankfully, we didn't, and we get treated to an awesome Hitman game that combines new "action packed" stealth games like Splinter Cell: Conviction with the old school Hitman gameplay I know and love.
Better than the gameplay is the character Agent 47 himself; he still looks as sharp as ever, still voiced by his original, awesome voice actor David Bateson (though I wouldn't mind if Timphony Olyphant reprised his movie role), and is now a person with more of a consicous. In the older games, we see hints of his developing conscious as he goes to confessionals and spare non-target hostiles, but in this game, he starts to feel a bit more human, showing us a different side of him with still retaining his badass abilities. And while I said I won't spoil the game, and I'll stay true to that promise, all I can say is the ending is a nice surprise and development on Agent 47's part.
Typically, and within reason, when people about to die, they suddenly start to become more religious, asking their deity for forgiveness without doing anything to earn it. And if this is the last Hitman game ever, then Agent 47 can rest easy knowing he had earn his.
The Max "Payne" of a Non-Hero
I said that the last Hitman game was six years ago, but this next hero hasn't seen action since the last seven to eight years. Max Payne is the star of the self-titled series (which thankfully spares me a couple of italic brackets) which is popular for it's fun shooting mechanics and a noir-like atmosphere. Back in the day, this cop-on-the-run can inadvertantly use adrenaline to slow down the perception of time to dip down, dodge bullets, and dive into cover whilst taking on groups of heavily armed thugs alone, and succeeding to boot. So what has he been doing since then in, the latest entry to the series, Max Payne 3?
He's been getting drunk, sipping drinks while wasting away at a bar during the night before returning home to waste away the day. Considering all that (canonically) happens in Max Payne 2, you could say that it's not unusual for someone to turn out the way he did. It's a somber tone, not unlike the previous games, but this time Max Payne is seemingly a shadow of his former self; if the world is going to end soon, is this how I want to remember the badass hero of the last gaming generation, who took down an entire corporation by unravelling the conspiracy behind it? Thankfully, though his mind may not all be there, as his drunken stupor causes him to make more mistakes than a reckless teenage driver would, his shooting abilities are still intact; not long into the game is he trying to shoot down Brazilian gangsters and New Jersey assholes.
Wait, did I say "trying" to shoot them down? Yeah, I meant he's "totally" shooting down gangsters and assholes. Specifically gangsters who are assholes.
It's a welcome change in pace for gaming to play as someone who isn't frigid and stiff, but rather someone who is agile and can move, despite his beer gut and out-of-shape body. When I play games, I like to feel like I'm the character, and when I play Max Payne, I feel like I'm Max Payne; I'll run from bullets, I'll dive to cover, or I'll dive out of cover and dodge bullets to return fire. That's also the same reason I really enjoyed the dodge mechanics of Resident Evil 6, and essentially the entire game, but that's another topic for another day; point is, playing as Max Payne feels damn good, if not better than before as the physics makes playing as him feel fluid.
And hearing him is another delight; as a recurring theme in this blog, voice actor James McCaffrey reprises his role for Max Payne despite earlier reports that he wouldn't. And thankfully he did; hearing his voice again sends chills down my spine, especially when he says those memorable one-liners ("I knew it was a bad idea, but in the absence of any good ideas, I continued forward" is one of my favorites, though it doesn't beat "I don't know about angels, but it's fear that give men wings" from the original). And, while it's a slight [SPOILER] to mention, I loved that at the end of the game because, after all is said and done, he finally stops monologuing about his life and how bad the situation is.
And that's the perfect way to "end" the series; Max Payne is finally at peace after three games worth of troubles, finally living in the moment rather than complaining about the past. [End Mini-Spoilers]
Reliving My Childhood Heroes
Taking the honor as the final two characters to mention, I want to say that I waited so long for their official reappearance in another video game that I had given up hope of ever seeing them again. These characters have had a huge impact on me back when I was a young child because back then, child heroes were my thing, as I could play as a young child going off on adventures that I, in reality, couldn't. Sure, I could always buy their old, original games, or play their PSP remake/ port, but replaying an old adventure is like looking at a photobook of their memories; I wanted these guys to have another adventure to experience, but with generations of not appearing in anything other than a brief cameos, I had to move on and accept that my heroes are retired.
When Sony officially announced the initial batch characters to their mascot get-together, Playstation All-Star Battle Royale, I kinda just blew it off. Sure, Sweet Tooth and Big Daddy were cool, and of course Kratos and Nathan Drake were going to make it in, but no character seemed particular too special. However, when I read that leaked list of the complete character roster, my eyes widened and my jaw drop. I almost couldn't believe it... It felt too good to be true that I had to follow any and all rumors about the game to see if the leaked list had any weight to it. I mean it, I scoured the internet trying to see if these two characters had made it in, and once Playstation released the official list of characters did I smile:
My childhoods heroes PaRappa the Rappa, from his self-titled series, and Spike, the original hero of the Ape Escape series, were set to appear in Playstation All-Star Battle Royale. And not as a brief cameo appearance, oh no, but as actual, playable, combatants.
I was so overjoyed that I couldn't help but squeal in delight, not unlike Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (F.Y.I. Fluttershy for the win); this game became much more of a big deal to me because not only can I once more step into the shoes of the "famous" PaRappa the Rappa, or wield the Time Net and Stun Rod of the original Ape Escape hero Spike, but I get to use them to kick the asses of all the other Playstation heroes such as Jak and Daxter and Sir Daniel. This excites me greatly because not only did my characters come out of retirement for at least one more adventure, but they're tussling with the newer heroes as if to say "don't count us out just yet, we can still hang with the best of them."
And these characters are represented in all their glory; Spike uses not only his aforementioned Stun Rod and Time Net, but all his other gadgets such as the RC Car, the Slingback Shooter, the Sky Flyer, and the rest of his arsenal. He can even unlock a costume that resembles the one he wore in Pumped and Primed, the PSP port of the original PS1 game. As for PaRappa the Rappa, not only does he recite his signature rap "I Gotta Believe" as his level-3 Super, but he is also voiced by his original voice actor Dred Foxx! Unforunately, the same can't be said for Spike, which is a bit of a let down, but understandable nevertheless.
Still, playing as these characters again brings a smile to this gamer's face because like I said, it's great to see them both again. I'm a little disheartened by the fact that these two are "rivals" to one another in this game, though "rivals" may be a bit of a stretch when you consider their reason for fighting... and to be honest, the "rival" cut-scenes in these game are simple and pretty cheesy, not to mention short and unsatisfying... but seeing these two in a cut-scene together really hits home to me that they're in the same game together. I mean, I've been dreaming of seeing the two in another game, but I never would've thought that their next game would be the one and the same, nor would they be able to team up and kick some ass together! I can't even say that it's a dream come true because I never even imagined that it could happen!
With all that said, I can't imagine a better way to end a blog about the return of beloved video game heroes than the ones who really struck home with me back when I was a child gamer. I could mention some other characters such as Sherry Birkin from Resident Evil 2, the cast of Dead or Alive 5, or Pit from Kid Icarus but I never played some of those games... Though for the record, Kid Icarus: Uprising is my all-time favorite 3DS game; I know it's too early in the system's lifespan to make a statement like that, but what other game could have solid writing that balances funny and serious moments, fun frantic gameplay that leaves you sweating, an addictive loot-based system, adjustable difficulty, and AMAZING voice-acting (Antony Del Rio and Ali Hillis convinced me to buy this game alone) in one portable package!?
So what I was saying is, 2012 is a great year for me because it feels as though most of the video game characters I grew up playing as came back out of retirement for another go at gaming. As I said, I have a soft spot for nostalgia, so seeing all these characters again in one year feels like a high school reunion (though I'm a bit too young to say how that actually feels like). Truth be told, I actually had forgotten about Max Payne and Agent 47 before this year since it's been so long since their last outing! However, like I said in the very beginning of this blog, when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes...
So if it's not a coincidence that all these heroes are coming out of the woodwork on the year we all supposefully die in, we better panic.
[Disclaimer: This game contains information on the ending to the video game Shadow of the Colossus. Why a disclaimer than a traditional "spoiler" tag? Because this game is one of the GREATEST games to come out of the PS2 and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, SHOULD have played it by now. If you haven't played it by now, go out and buy it; it costs like 20 bucks or less for the PS2 and maybe 40 bucks for the HD remastered PS3 rerelease. To everyone else, read on. :) ]
"How could this have happened?" a young man muttered, in his native tongue, under his breath as he rode his horse, who galloped across the land. A single teardrop scrolled down his face as he turned to his "cargo:" The corpse of a beautiful maiden, wrapped in a cloth, not unlike a mummy. "This isn't fair," he spoke again, reminding himself of her fate, as he finally came across a shrine he had been looking for this entire time.
Upon entering the premise, several shadow-like beings attacked him, but they were no match for him; using the light from his sword, he quickly vanquished the beings, causing the surprise of a deity named Dormin. After a little back and forth, a deal was struck: In exchange for bringing the girl back to life, which had been taken for her because of something that wasn't her fault, the young man was tasked with the objective to slay sixteen colossi located across the Forbidden Land.
But the deal had a catch to it; The colossi are hard enough to take down, but the young man is doing on the bare "promise" that Dormin would revive the woman. Not only that, Dormin even gave the young man a warning that there may be an even bigger price to pay when this is all said and done. But the young man, determined to revive the young woman, set out regardless.
Over My Dead Body
With a premise to a game like that, there's surely no one who could resist not knowing the ending of the game. Sure, the game boasts some wonderful design with large landscapes uninhabitated with people, a wonderfully melancholy color palette for the world, and, of course, epic boss battles against enemies 100x your size, but for some people, those are just the "appetizers" and "entrées" to the meal; the end of the journey just has to be worth the effort of the journey itself. After all, when you had crab cakes and a steak dinner, if all you had for dessert was a single piece of candy, you'll be disappointed that the dessert couldnt top the meal.
But don't get me wrong; I enjoyed every minute of the game. From scaling the hairy backs (and goatees) of these humongous beasts to jumping off a horse onto the wing of a flying dragon over a sea of sand (everyone's favorite: the 13th colossus), it's hard to put down the controller; you'll be playing for hours just wanting to see who you had to fight next, and, of course since you're there, actually slaying it. Speaking of slaying, that part of the fight makes the game much more interesting actually; The thing is, whenever you deliver the final blow to the monsters, causing them to spew black blood out of their wounds in a spectaculur fashion, you'll have little time to celebrate as black tentacles of "energy" spring from the corpse and stab you in the chest, piecing your heart. But you don't die; you merely fall to the ground, succumbing to your wounds, while staring at a bright light, before magically appearing back at the altar of the shrine, surrounded by the shadowy figures who attacked you in the first part of the game.
And this doesn't just happen once, oh no, it happens every single time you killed a colossus. The first time it happens, you're shocked and bewildered at what's happening, and the next time it happens, you'll even try to avoid it. You don't however... And eventually, possibly after the 5th, 6th, or even the 16th colossus, you'll accept that it happens and just let it take you over (like with every hentai involving tentacles). However, over the course of the game, there seems to be a slight, subtle difference with this routine: With each colossus slain, there appears to be more of those "shadow" figures watching over you as you sleep. Not only that, the last thing you hear before you succumb to your wounds, the voice of a young woman, possibly the young woman who's dead, seems to be getting louder and clearer with each dead colossus. But before you celebrate the sign that she could be coming back, the young man's skin and hair colors grows a tad bit darker...
And the group of monks who's chasing the young man, for stealing the sword he carries and for running off to the Forbidden Land, are getting closer and closer...
With the rising action of the story getting more and more intense, sooner or later the game's eventually going to reach the climax and the inevitable "falling" action... And for people like me, that's something we fear. I mean, I don't fear it like a plague... It's just that I fear that it might not be as good as it needs to be to top off what's going on. But finally, after a tear-jerking selfless sacrifice of your horse's life to save you, and after slaying every beast from here to Timbuktu (or whatever's the equalivant in this world), you finally face an epic battle between you and the final colossus. After dodging fireballs, running through the trenches of a battlefield, and scaling the biggest colossus of them all, you finally take down the last colossus and fulfilled your promise to Dormin. With the last time you get pierced by the black tentacles, the finale starts.
Upon making it back to the shrine, the young man meets the monks who've been chasing him for committing the crimes. However, rather than taking the young man in, the elder monk declares the young man, who looks like a zombie by now apparently, "possessed" by the dead, and orders his two men to kill him. After trying to reach the young woman, the young man is shot with an arrow as another man stabs him in the chest with a sword. In an odd, unexpected surprise, black blood spews out of the young man's body, just like the colossi he stabbed, as he falls to the ground, succumbing to his wounds (yet again).
However, in a strange turn of events, the young man's body is covered in the black, "shadow" essense as it appears that Dormin, the deity that the young man had been working for, possesses his body. And in a strange revelation, Dormin reveals that, apparently, his power was "locked" with these 16 colossi, and when the young man slayed them all, Dormin is now at full power. Dormin then goes to possess the young man, using his body as a vessel, tranforming it into a giant colossus itself, which isn't hard to do considering that every time one of those "black tentacles" pierced him, the young man was actually absorbing the dark energy of Dormin.
With stories like these, it's hard to imagine that video games have come a long way, from playing things like Pong and Space Invaders that only had little to no story at all. However, with almost every medium out there, it's still possible to tell a story like this. I mean, it might be portrayed differently, like as a book, it'll go into explanations and character thoughts while a movie would be short and cinematic, but that's because it's playing to its strengths. So what's the strength of video games? Actually using the game, and even twisting the game's mechanics, to further strengthen the story.
Going Through Changes
After Dormin possesses the young man, you don't just sit back and watch a cut-scene of Dormin trying to kill the monks... You control him. Finally, after being the David to the Goliath, you become Goliath yourself, towering over the ground. You can swing your arms around in an attempt to kill the people who shoots arrows at you, which by the way, doesn't hurt much. However, while you're huge, you swing your arms very slowly, with walking being even slower. It's a very stark contrast to the young man, who's been nimble and agile enough to traverse enviroments and even dodge attacks at a moment's notice. The controls feel sluggish not because its a bad game, as after all, you had the whole game to get a feel for it, but it's intentionally sluggish to give the weight of being a giant.
Of course, all of this is in vain; No matter what you do, you're destined to fail. After all, you spent the whole game as the little man who takes down enemies way bigger than him... Size doesn't matter. Becoming something of a colossus yourself, it was time for you to be taken down; After a vain attempt to kill the men, the elder monk takes the sword and walks back to the "pool" of the shrine, which had always been in the background but had never been used up until now, and casts a holy magic to seal away Dormin once again. In a splendid cut-scene, Dormin's dark presence is being slowly sucked into the pool (which is now the equalivent of a whirlpool), fading away, leaving the young man exposed underneath, while all this time, tries to desperately reach the young woman.
But the young man isn't spared this wrath; The young man is also being sucked into the vortex, viciously trying to claim him. However, you don't just watch this happen; putting the controls back into your hands once again, you control the young man as he desperately tries to make it to the young woman, who still lies in the same spot since the beginning of the game. What I love about this part is that there's no objective telling you what to do; you saw during the cut-scene that the young man was trying to reach the girl, so you assume that that's what you need to be doing now. You probably think that he can do it too... But then again, you probably believed that you could've killed the human enemies when you became a shadowy giant...
And how'd that turn out?
Look What You've Done
You could try running towards the woman, but you'll never make it. You could spam the jump button and even make it farther, but the game just pushes you back all the same. It's like no matter what you do, you'll only go up to 5 steps forward, but you'll always be pushed 5 steps back. Eventually, you WILL get sucked into the vortex (ironically like the way you've been sucked back into this game after taking a break) and you will, after all this time, lose. But hey, people got to lose sometimes, right? The thing is though, the thing makes this scene so powerful isn't because the character loses... It's because you (and I) did. Sure, you could watch a scene of a movie, and if it was set-up EXACTLY like this, you'll probably shed a tear or two. But for me, the thing that really gets me is that, no matter what buttons I pushed, no matter how much I held "forward" on my joystick, the young man doesn't escape his fate, just like how the young woman didn't escape hers.
To reiterate the point of how putting the controls in your hands compare to watching a movie, imagine watching a horror movie... Now, when things get a little close, you yourself is probably sweating bullets, with your body tensing up in fright. The emotion you feel is true, but when you think about it, you really are a member of the audience; As in, no matter what YOU do, whatever happens in the movie, be it that the person gets away or killed by the villian, is going to happen regardless. Don't get me wrong, this happens in video games as well during cut-scenes, but recall playing Uncharted 3, specifically when the thousands and thousands of spiders swarm over to kill Nathan Drake.
Now, according to the script, Nathan Drake survives the encounter, but think about when you're ACTUALLY playing that scene... Instead of just watching the scene of seeing Drake escape his insect pursuers, you actually need to make it happen by pushing the buttons on the controller. Otherwise, Drake will succumb to the fury of the 8-legged freaks and perish, and believe me, seeing his lifeless corpse being trampled on by spiders is a disturbing sight, one that only happened because you (yes you *points accusatory finger*) screwed it up. And, to avoid that from happening, you need to take control of the situation by taking the controller, as if playing out the fate of these characters in order to fulfill their "destiny."
Careless World: Rise of the Last King
What I'm trying to say here is that it's fine for a video game to try to emulate movies. After all, without their influence, we wouldn't have games like Final Fantasy XIII and Uncharted 3 (and that'll be a sad world to live in). However, for a game to truly stand out on its own, to do something a movie or a book can't, it needs to play to its strengths and incorporate game mechanics into the story. I'm not saying all of these moments needs to be playable, but some of the best moments of gaming incorporates the game itself (like, if I recall correctly, in this one Final Fantasy, this one monster will NEVER attack a certain teammate, and when all the other teammates have fallen, the monster will have no choice but to attack itself... That just wouldn't feel the same if you had seen it in the movie).
I may have been side-tracked for a moment, but I just wanted to explain how this ending, which I'll finish in a bit, really stood out to me. I mean, any game could have a deep, emotional cut-scene at the end of the game, but only the greatest games actually ultilizes the fact that its a game into its story. And speaking of ending, the ending to this game was bittersweet as hell;
The young woman, after all has been said and done, actually wakes up from her "slumber," but sees no one in sight. Upon exploring off on her own, she finds a baby (where the young man had been sucked into) with horns on its head. She picks up the baby and carries it out of the shrine, eventually finding a green garden to reside in, with the horse that "sacrificed" itself to save the young man limping in to accompany her. It's bittersweet because despite all that the young man had done to bring her to life, he never got to see her again. It's like spending your life to amass as much gold as possible and dying before you had a chance to spend a penny.
Some may say that its depressing how it ended. I, however, say it ended just fine; after all, not every story needs a Hollywood-styled ending.
Especially not one that isn't even remotely close to Hollywood.
"I used to be an adventurer like you until I took an arrow to the knee." I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist :P