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.
I look at the 7th generation of consoles quite fondly not just because of the amazingly, jaw-dropping graphics to ever grace my television screen, or the awesome and creative IPs to be conjured up (even if a bit overdone at this point: here's looking at you Assassin's Creed), but because this is the first console generation I was finally able to connect online and play with others around the world. Don't get me wrong, I love huddling around the T.V. with my friends, either teaming up trying to take down the Cyclops in Gauntlet: Dark Legacy or yelling each not look to peek at another's screen during an intense game of Halo 2, but there's something about playing online that just feels... different, but great all the same.
Sure, online may be filled with screaming little kids, who clearly haven't hit puberty yet, and littered with far too many racial and homophobic slurs, but neverminding the negative aspects, it's still a way for players from all over to join in for some fun. Let's be honest: how many of us can set up a Big Team Battle or a Ground War sized match over a LAN network? I sure can't, and being able to hop online and let people fill the lobby is a great alternative. Yes, playing with strangers may not be as fun as playing with people you know, but it can be a decent substitute if you're willing to give it a shot.
Besides, it's not like everyone online is such a negative nancy: there can be some genuinely nice and playful people out there, and the fact that they don't know you personally makes discovering them all the more fun. It's like using a metal detector: you may find some broken, worthless shards of metal, but that doesn't mean every once in a while you won't find a shiny quarter or two in the sand... especially when you try using it while embarking on a magical Journey through a vast desert that contains enough sand to blanket an ocean.
Every Journey Begins With a Single Step...
[Taking that second trip...]
After the onslaught of shooters, from robbing banks in Payday 2, blowing up buildings to expose enemy snipers in Battlefield 4, or being chased across the map by a very angry German Spehard in Call of Duty: Ghosts (don't even try to turn around to shoot; he'd be on you faster than a shark to a bloody flesh wound, and can take three .44 magnum rounds to the face and still manage to get you), I felt like I needed a break from all the gunplay and needed a vacation... why not hit the beach? Well, when I stumbled onto my physical copy of Journey, I figured, hey, the desert is the next best thing, so I might as well pop it in and give it a go.
Before I talk about my most recent journey, I do want to say that I have beaten it before: even before I finally got my PS3, I bought the game on the first day it hit stores and borrowed a friend's PS3 so that I could experience what critics were raving about. However, this blog isn't about my opinion about this game, but rather, my experience playing this game with other people. See, in case you don't know, this game's multiplayer is unique in that, rather than pitting you against other players, the game dumps you in someone's game to do... well, whatever. You both could help each other, or you both could totally ignore each other and travel alone with no consequences. Either way, there's no voice chat to communicate through, and no ideal way to play with your friends; the game doesn't even let you know who you're even travelling with until the end of the game!
That means, essentially, you're going to be paired up with a stranger. Yes, I know, this is something that most people dread when playing a game online, and for the most part that assumption is founded (ever got griefed in the beginning stages of Dark Souls?), but like how we associate Call of Duty with little brats and whiny screamers, sometimes the right game can bring together the right type of people.
Note: if you HAVE NOT experienced this journey, then, as much as I hate to say it, please leave my blog right now: I wouldn't dream of spoiling some of the most memorable moments in this game because, quite simply, this is one of my favorite PS3 games ever, and if you haven't played it, then you simply must... though whether you like it or not, however, is an entirely different manner...)
So Happy Together...
[You Are (Not) Alone]
Booting up this game for the second time, this time on my very own PS3, I signed on to PSN and started playing through the game like normal. Since I already knew the controls and mechanics, I slogged through the tutorial and eagerly awaited to get to the meat of the game. Soon enough, I make it to the broken bridge stage and, having already known what to do, start repairing the bridge on my own. Just as I shudder to think about having to trek across the sand to get the last one (with barely a scarf to jump with), I saw, in a spectacular introduction, that the other traveller (another player) finished the bridge for us; he must've noticed me because he started to walk towards me... though that might be because I spammed my "voice" button like crazy trying to get his attention and he wants me to shut up.
Now more attached than a dog and his master, we decided to take this journey together as a unit rather than a pair of strangers: if one of us was lagging behind, the other would wait for him to catch up; if one of ours scarfs was diminishing in power, then the other would regenerate it with their shriek; if one of our screams didn't manage to light all the candles for the prayer, then the other would finish the rest. Of course, this journey wasn't all serious business: sometimes we'd make music by alternating chirps, or jump around in a silly manner (because, hey, what else are you going to do in a desert?). One of my most favorite part of my travel with this particular fellow was when we reached the sand sliding portion of the trip: we started to race each other to the end, zig-zagging past one another as to say "keep up", and tried to slide through the arches as though they were checkpoints in our little game; I didn't care that I missed a glyph, I was having too much fun!
But the best part was when the camera pivots to the right to get a good view of the sunset peeking through the crumbled buildings and giving the sand its glossy glow: I dunno whether it was scripted for us to have our controllers "locked" or not, but either way, the two of us, in close proximity to each other, just stared at the sunset and admired the view, not ruining it with a jump nor a chirp... until we plunged into the "underwater" portion of the game, at which point we started chirping like crazy as if plummeting to our doom. Not an off assumption, we kept going with the journey, seemingly staring in awe (and worry) when we saw those terrible beasts rip that poor scarf to pieces before eventually trying to avoid a permanent disfigurement ourselves. For the record I already knew they could do that, but still, it must've been quite a shock to my partner, who found out the hard way and was nearly rendered unable to jump. Eventually we reached the next prayer tablet... at which point I awakened to find that my partner must've logged off during the vision sequence because I was left standing there alone.
Prayer Will Live
[Once More, With Feeling...]
Pushing forward on my own, I started solving the puzzles, having already known what to do, until I saw the faint white glow of someone else's chirp: I found a new partner, or rather, he found me, jusging from the way he approached me. At first I thought he was "experienced" at the game as I was since he was able through the underwater section with his scarf seemingly intact, the luscious line of silk flowing behind him like Rapunzel's hair, but I couldn't tell because, like me, he has none of the embroideries you get upon beating the game (since I'm on a different PS3, I didn't get them). Either way, once again (though not begrudingly, mind you), we teamed up together to help one another get through the trials, ensuring that our scarf powers never went out.
I find that this particular player was more loyal than the other (though without experiencing much "adversity" with the player prior, the first section of the game being more on exploration than surviving, I couldn't say for sure) not just because we travelled closely, but because we'd also follow each other no matter where one went. While travelling through the harsh tundra of the summit, the cold being freezing enough to wither our scarfs, at first I thought he was hanging closely to me because either he knew that I knew when to take cover during the gust of wind, or he just wanted to power up his scarf with my regenerative aura: it isn't until I accidentally fell off the mountain, mistakenly thinking that that was the right way despite seeing the other player heading up the stairs, and saw him jump down to accompany me did I find this player to be quite alright; he even did the same thing when I mis-timed a gust of wind and flew off a straightforward bridge that he could've taken as a shortcut.
For that, I (somewhat) returned the favor for him: when we came to an open field with barely anything in sight, all of a sudden a Guardian erupts out of the snow like Shan Yu from the movie Mulan, heaven knows they're equally as threatening, and starts searching for us. We both knew to hide from his gaze by ducking underneath the hollow debris, but I was too far away at the time and he spotted me: rather than try to hide with my partner, hoping to break his gaze, I instead moved as far away as I could from my ally, ensuring that I alone took the hit and not the person I roped into my game, the guardian ripping the last remains of my tattered scarf. I still wondered if my partner appreciates my "sacrifice" as we kept moving through the blizzard.
If you've played through the game, then you know the last part of it is tremendously emotional and, although Journey is most likely meant as a solo experience, having a buddy you bonded with while travelling together doesn't disrupt the impact at all. See, by now, the cold winter is taking its toll on us: our characters are barely able to move; our jumps are limited in flight; our chirps so quiet you almost couldn't hear them in the cloudy white blizzard. But as we pressed on, every step forward taking longer than the last, we still stuck together, the faint glow of our bond warming us up; we even took turns chirping, as if to say "hey, hang in there"... or perhaps just letting the other person know we're still alive. Eventually, after long enough, we both succumbed to the weather: I saw him fell into the snow first, and I buried my face shortly after.
Breath Breath, Breath Breath
[Please don't wake me, from this dream, baby]
Then, in a flash of bright light, I was up and about, floating in the sky being passed by other scarf creatures that were heading towards the sun peeking past the mountains; I am also finally able to fly (since I completely lost my scarf back in the tundra) once again, now that they've given me a generously long scarf to goof around with. Things couldn't be greater: the view is majestic, the sand being substituted with gorgeous waterfall; the skies were blue and clear of any dangerous Guardians; and the top of the summit is finally within my grasp. As I floated forwards towards the path, I saw a familiar face waiting for me: the same partner I've had with me during the final part of the journey.
You couldn't imagine how cool it felt to see him again: the first time I played through the snow section, I was with someone else as well, and we had the same bond as I do with my recent partner. However, I assumed that before, since my partner and me got "separated" during the final blizzard storm, his body being nowhere in sight, that this final stretch of the journey had to be completed alone, but nope: here this guy was, his symbol being chanted loudly and proudly after he saw me gunning for him as fast as I could. As we made our way up, twirling around each other like a nymph as we raced one another by, I felt like it was a really nice way to reunite with one another. Finally, as we slid down the mountain slope to the final destination and walked through the crack of the mountain, our journey's end, we both kept chirping one after another (in, funny enough, almost the same way I did with my previous partner) as if to say goodbye.
Oddly enough, evidently I had three partners who accompanied me throughout my second journey: I was so surprised, and also trying to think back when this mysterious first guy arrived and vanished, that I forgot to check the PSN ID of the second person, so I have no idea who the second guy was. I did manage to snag the PSN ID off the third person to play with me, the one who finished the game with me, but I rather not say who it is. Doesn't matter, I mean, it's not like we're gonna encounter each other again (not only do I mainly play on my Xbox 360, I usually don't add people unless we had a good time with mics turned on), but it was still cool that thatgamecompany allows you to know who got paired up with you after ensuring that their identities are concealed until then. Weirdly, the first time I played, which I completed in two sitting, I ran into seven other players; how the hell did I not notice seven different symbols coming from my allies?
Anyway, while I'm sure that I could've had fun playing Journey with friends (actually, not really: my friends don't play games like that, and my friends were also talking throughout the entire ending the first time I played, ruining much of the emotional impact; the homophobic slurs they commentated with didn't help), sometimes playing with strangers isn't a bad thing. While it's hard for me to keep in touch with a lot of them, our budget, time, and taste in games varying much, I do manage to remember all the friends I made in all the games I have because of all the good times we had playing it, from my fellow robbers in Payday 2 to my Lost Planet 2 brethren. You could say that they started out as strangers and then they became friends, but that's not the point; the point is: if it wasn't for online gaming, which again, I only stumbled onto this generation (I'm not a PC player since my computer sucks)...
I never would've experienced what's it like to game with people you don't know, and how they could become the people you do.
[Note: I figured Destructoid could use another, if not even one, review for Tales of Xillia, even if I'm far from professional]
Like many of us, I've been a fan of the Tales of series ever since I played Tales of Symphonia on the Nintendo Gamecube. Being that it was the first true JRPG I ever played, it left quite an impression on me and opened me up to new ways to view my favorite hobby; plus, I even managed to snag a favorite series besides Pokemon and Super Mario. However, being a Tales of anywhere but Japan wasn't necessarily easy considering that many of the games do not get localized: I can understand games like Tales of Fandom or even the enhanced PS3 port Tales of Vesperia not making it overseas, but what about the other Radiant Mythology games or even the mothership title (fancy way of saying "main entry") Tales of Hearts?
Since the Xbox 360 version of Tales of Vesperia, we haven't seen many Tales of games lately... that is, until publisher Namco Bandai decided to localized the next two mothership games Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia. While I have played both games, I wanted to talk about the latter: although it was admitted to have been rushed, it still must be a good game, considering it's supposed to represent the 15th Anniversary of the series AND even managed to spawn a sequel. Heck, the sequel is even considered to be a mothership title, the first to do so ever since Tales of Destiny 2 (disclaimer: neither of which I have played)!
So with that in mind, just how is the game?
Right off the bat, Xillia throws a curve ball to the series by allowing players to choose between two protagonist right after an introductionary cut-scene: you select either magical medical student Jude Mathis or Milla Maxwell, a woman claiming to be the mystical Maxwell (thinking overseeing deity) of the world of Rieze Maxia. However, before you base your decision, do know that, since you can choose to play as either one of these characters, or even play as any one of the other party members, your choice is less about character preference and more on story perspective: the character you choose will determine whose perspective of the overall story will you be experiencing from.
That being said, while I'm not at liberty to say, since I only beat the game once as Jude, I wholly recommend playing through Jude's side of the story if you only plan on playing through the game once. Without spoiling anything, Jude will spend more time with the other party members and will be told their personal stories as well as their thoughts on current events. Plus, a couple of events that were delightfully wonderful to see (that I won't spoil because it threw me off guard) are seemingly only available to Jude since Milla is nowhere around that area when it happens. Of course, there are also some events that happens in Milla's side that doesn't get fully explained in Jude's story, but the same goes for her: plus, the game somewhat expects you to play as Jude first as some crucial events in his story is either not mentioned to Milla or is mentioned casually, despite needing to know them for the plot development.
Either way, the core story remains the same since the two characters are together for about 80% of the game anyway. Speaking of the plot, it may be the same political drama and character interactions as any other Tales of games, especially considering it uses the same plot devices, but it's still pleasantly executed and even detailed enough to spark an interest in the universe. The most important thing to note about the story is actually how it's presented: rather than having static speech bubbles in past Tales games or cut-scenes akin to most games, Xillia uses a hybrid of the two to create something unique. It's a bit awkward to watch it in motion, especially if you turn auto-text advance off, but it's better than the aforementioned static speech bubbles, even if it functions the same, sluggish way.
While there's no in-game full-motion video like Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World or Tales of Graces F, there are still anime sequences to behold, and they are definitely impressive to watch (with series regular Production I.G. replaced by Ufotable of the Fate/Stay Night animation); unfortunately, besides the opening, most of the anime sequences appear in the second half of the game. Even more disappointing, the game also starts off slow, which had me pretty much running through the story with a "meh" feeling for a good couple of hours to even a dozen before it starts to ramp up. I mean, once it ramps up it's hard to put the controller down, but until then it can be a bit unbearable to experience.
Since we're on the subject of "unbearable," I think I should mention the voice acting in this game. Now for the most part, the voice acting is fine, good even, especially with some experienced voice actors behind the microphone, but while there's still some cringe worthy lines or badly worded ones, some characters are a bit tougher than others to enjoy: namely Teepo and main character Milla Maxwell. While I personally loved Teepo, his line "slap me some face!" will forever be my catchphrase, I can definitely sense some dislike towards him from his mannerisms and tone of voice. However, Milla is even more of a mixed reception: while the emotionless speaking fits her in some melodramatic scenes, and even some humorous ones, she feels completely flat in others. Not only that, but either she has a lisp when she talks or her microphone had some quality issues because I'm hearing either a tongue "hiss" or a bit of static in her lines, and it kind of detracts from the scene. Also the audio mixer is a bit strange as the music either seems to drown out character voices during battle or is strangely too quiet (for reference, I set character voices to max while taking a notch or two down, from max, for BGM).
And now we get to the meat of the game: combat. For better or worse, Xillia's combat is far more in line with past Tales games like Vesperia than Graces F, meaning that you're be mashing the attack button, which uses AC instead of CC, in order to accrue enough TP to perform Artes, or special attacks and spells. Thankfully, the combat's as fun as it's always been, the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" being apt in this situation, but it still breathes room for innovation: a new combat mechanic called "Linking" allows two characters to "Link" up with each other to double-team enemies. While you could order teammates what to do anyway, either by telling them which Artes or items to use on who or by making up a basic behavior guideline, Linking lets you reap benefits depending on who the partner is.
For example, Linking up with Milla will have her Binding enemies in place for a quick and easy combo, or perhaps allowing enough time for a healing spell, while Linking up with Rowen allows him to instantly cast a shield around your character whenever the enemy uses a magic spell on you, meaning you don't have to take the full brunt of the attack. Of course, Linking up has some drawbacks as well, one of the more prominent ones being that when one character is hit with a status ailment then the other one is as well, but it adds a layer of depth in an already impressive pool, especially when you're able to switch out any active party members with any benched characters to suit the situation at hand; even more so when certain character have Artes that, when Linked with another, will transform the Arte into a Linked Arte, which are usually more powerful.
Of course, no matter who the character is, you're going to want to deck them out with fancy new gear, correct? Well, considering the fact that you so rarely get armor and weapons from treasure chests, most of your equipment will purchased in stores, which means I should explain the new way the store is set up: every same type of store, like those dedicated to selling weapons; armor; and items, in the world all sell the same stuff no matter where you're buying it from. While that's convenient in the sense that you don't need to go far to get the latest gear, the only way for the store to obtain the gear to sell to you in the first place is for you to level it up. Every shop type has its own level, and every purchase you make grants it EXP so when a store gets enough of it, it levels up and unlocks new items.
While this may sound awkward at first, the idea of buying lower level gear to level up a shop to stock higher level gear, you can also level up the shop by donating materials found in the world via loot bags and loot points: not only does it save you money, and levels up the shop faster than cash (which you can also donate), but since materials serve no other purpose other than occasionally being the object needed for a side quest, it feels as if the game is practically telling you to level it up that way. This does mean that grinding for shop levels can feel like a bit of a drag, especially since the store's level should be in tandem with your party's level in order to stay relevant to the bosses.
Whilst on the subject of leveling up, this is something else Xillia does differently: rather than gaining stat boosts when you level up, you now receive GP to use on the Lillium Orb, which is a web of orbs that are used to increase stat parameters and earn extra HP and TP. Inside each web segment are orbs (that unlocks more Artes and Skill) that can only be obtained when the orbs surrounding it are collected, meaning you have to choose between prioritizing different stat parameters over unlocking a desired Arte or Skill (equip-able bonus effects like being able to use items without cool down or faster healing spells). While you could get everything in the web at the max level, now 99 instead of the usual 200, you also need to decide early on between getting the already mentioned stat parameters with orb expansion: when you collect three orbs inside the web segment located at the outer rim of the orb, with one of them being a specifically designated orb, you can expand the orb to feature new Arte and Skills. You kind of need to balance this out because if you're too focused on orb expansion, you will be “under leveled" when you miss out on the stat boost while expanding too slowly will make you miss out on better Artes and Skills.
Now, there have been some complaints about this game being too easy, but that's not really the case per se... Rather, it's somewhat easy to exploit the game or unintentionally break it. Not taking the exploit into account, you could actually over level the weapons and items stores to obtain high level gear, and since there's no requirement to use them, you could have some decently leveled characters rolling around with gear over 20 levels of their actual ones. As someone who fears difficulty spikes from bosses, I accidentally did this by over leveling the shops and buying the newest gear so, as a result of me also setting the game on the default difficulty of Normal, 90% the game was a breeze to me. If you want a challenge in this game, set the game to Hard right off the bat: the game on Normal is seemingly designed for minimal grinding though, as I feared, the difficult does spike, but not a lot.
Not only that, but the new way the Food system works in this game makes breaking the game even more easy to do. Food in this game is purchased (the in-game reason being that no one knows how to cook or are willing to do so) and consumed outside of battle as a preemptive buff which ranges from just giving you a status buff in battles to giving you extra Gald or EXP at the end of the fights. While they seem minor at first, especially since only one Food buff can be active at a time, as you level up the Food Store, they start selling Food that can not only give a huge chunk of extra attack power, making grinding a bit less relevant, but can also double the amount of EXP you get at the end of the fight; if you couple these with boss fights, you either have a boss fight where you have an advantage or enough EXP to level up twice. You could just not use the Food in this game, but the temptation of the buffs really makes it hard to ignore: I've actually restarted boss fights because I had forgotten to chow down.
Not counting those restarts, this is still a pretty lengthy game, with me finishing around 50 hours on Jude's side of the story, though with a couple of hours dedicated to grinding. However, while I hadn't tackled a Milla playthrough nor the end-game dungeon Magnus Zero, I'm sure I could easily push another dozen or so hours tackling them both while attempting to unlock Titles. Unlike other games in the series, Titles are used not for stat boosts or costumes (more on that in a bit) but rather mini-milestones (like defeating a certain amount of enemies or opening treasure chests) used to earn Grade, which are now not given after battles. Grade, for those unfamiliar with the series tradition, is a point system used for New Game Plus unlocks which allows for things like money transferring playthroughs or inheriting the fabled "Fell Arms," to increase replay value.
While the game is packed with enough content to last quite a bit, signs of its rushed development are still pretty apparent: there are only 4 costumes to unlock in the game without the use of DLC (though there are over 40 attachments that can be customized in not only color but in also its placement), no cameo battles as well as no spa scene, secret island, or mini-games to play like poker or Magna Carta. While the game do retain "skits," a series staple of having character conversations shown on-screen in the form of character portraits talking to one another, there's also not as many as other games, and some of them consist of only one or two line (i.e. "Let's rest at the inn, I'm beat.") Also, a lot of areas are big, bland areas filled with enemies and loot points with almost no design to them, and the fact that the game feels like it has to put you through three of these areas just to make it to the next town (the over world evidently being discontinued with the map being interconnected to each other similar to Graces F) feels like padding.
However, they certainly didn't skimp on the sidequests, or "sub-events" though. While there are still many of those "fetch quests" you love so much, the vast majority of the sub-events are fully voiced story sequences used to flesh out characters' backstories and motivations. And the game must also want you to see them because with the fast travel system letting you warp to previously visited towns, dungeons, and areas, along with a friendly remainder on when you are able to advance to the next phase of the sub-event or give hints of new ones, you usually have a checklist of things to go through. The only downsides seems to be that, like other games in the series, it can be extremely easy to miss a sub-event for the rest of the playthrough and, even then, the game also assumes you intend to travel back to every town after every event in order to snag them all: I went back to a town just for no reason other than "just because" and managed to start an important sub-event that spans from that point to the end of the game on a pure whim.
Moving on, I should say that, graphically, the game is pretty good looking and yet pretty dated at the same time. To clarify, the art direction of the game is beautiful, especially the city of Fennmont, a lavish night town filled with lights being as pleasing to the eye as fireflies, but the actual technical aspect of them are a bit unflattering: the environments are a bit smudgy up close, and some characters don't look as sharp as they could've been. Now, I realize that this game came out a couple of years back in Japan, but when it looks only slightly better than Graces F, an enhanced port of a Wii game, it can be a bit disappointing. Plus the game also slows down during heavy combat, with a particular boss' Mystic Arte actually chugging down combat enough to warrant complaint had it not have been a scripted fight. This may not be detrimental to the experience, but still, don't go in expecting to be blown away.
At the very end of the day though, I found Xillia to be a pretty damn good game. Sure, it has a couple of drawbacks, and the slow start made me a bit nervous about my faith in this particular game (I actually found the childhood sequence of Graces F to be better paced), but soon I found myself unwilling to stop playing due to the addicting combat (upon unlocking more Artes and combos) and interesting story and characters. I loved my party members, some a bit more than others, and some of the plot twists were not only genuinely surprising, but had me thinking about it days after it happened. I also want to mention, whether you intend to play the sequel Xillia 2 or not, that Xillia 1 ends on a pretty satisfying note, which is way better than how Tales of Vesperia ended, in my opinion.
Pretty much, if you're a Tales fan, you know what to expect, though the lack of extras may turn off the more dedicated, hardcore ones. If you're looking to get into the series, this is a good entry to start with (also helps that most games are standalone) and, with all the improvements like the way story sequences are handled as well as the inclusion of fast travel, I can see this game appealing to a wider crowd. Overall though, I personally recommend this game to those with a thirst for JRPGs. (8/10)
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.