So, MGS2 receives a LOT of grief for being centered on the character of Raiden, moving Solid Snake to the side, and having a weird, abrupt ending - yada-yada. I loved it, but that's a post for another day, if at all. Who cares. The important thing to remember here, is that the "Big-Bad" of MGS2 wasn't a nuclear-equipped walking battle tank, but a hidden, stealthy and far more insidious enemy - Thought Control. Specifically, thought control via the digital media, objectified in Metal Gear Arsenal. Turns out, maybe Raiden wasn't as successful against The Sons of Liberty as he's hoped...
MGS2 came out in 2001. Much like George Orwell's prophetic visions of newspeak (WTF, LOL, OMFG!!! Sort of...), Hideo Kojima had a vision as well, one that is decidedly more accurate and strangely more accepted, even preferred by some. Hate Raiden all you want - the battle he fought was lost before it began, because he was fighting the whole of human thought, and the willingness some may have to be lead down a path of comfort at the expense of truth or challenge. And much like Raiden was thrust into a mirrored situation based on Solid Snake's exploits, we have out own battle to fight, which mirrors Raiden's - A battle for information, wisdom, and ultimately, our very minds.
My gaming goes in cycles, from console to console. I'm currently on a DS kick right now, and was inspired by the news of XSeed releasing three games in the Ys series to pick up my copy of Ys Legacy by Atlus and finally, FINALLY, finish it. And I'm loving it.
Hardcore Gaming 101 has a great, informative article on the series as a whole, so I suggest you google that if you're interested in learning about the series and it's roots. This is less about the game itself and more about my personal experience with the game, and why I've finally decided to pick it up and what's keeping it in my hands.
My first experience with Ys was, properly, the Turbo-Duo edition of Ys: Book I and II. I purchased a used Turbo from a little game shop in town, and it looked like the previous owner had abused the system, but only ever had the games it came with. Not surprising, considering the market for the NEC-System-That-Could was tiny here in the good ol' U.S of A.
The music stood out, as did the combat. No attack button...just ram your little dude into the overworld enemies and then stand still to recover. Rinse, repeat ad-infinitum. It felt weird, with such a simple combat system, but oddly satisfying, especially as you began to level up and plow through once-deadly enemies with ease. (Ease, by the way, is how you pronounce the games title. So, was this purposeful on the developer's part, to not only have an interesting name but to portray how they viewed the game as a whole? Sounds good to me...)
I never got past the first dungeon, actually. I lost patience and turned to other things, always meaning to go back and never doing so. Then my Turbo disk drive died. I still need to fix it, but the imperative has disappeared in the face of the Wii Virtual Console having most of the games I'm interested in or own for the Turbo, including Ys and Rondo of Blood. (If they ever get Macross 2036 on there, I might just write off the Turbo entirely. Not likely, though...)
On the DS version, developer Falcom added a button press sword attack that makes combat feel more interactive. I like that, although you're still pretty much just charging the enemies and pressing the sword button at the last minute. There aren't any real combos or anything to speak of. And the game is still super-simple, doesn't look very good, and is highly repetitive. So why do I like it so much right now?
Frankly, because of all of those factors, I think. I'm at a point in life where my whole life is changing rapidly. A son on the way (as mentioned in my last post): family, professional and personal changes abound...and Ys is a small bastion of uncomplicated escape. Ease, indeed. There is no angst, no fuzzy morality, no gray area...just Adol and a sword and a quest to do well. Simple, really.
I'm reminded of a couple years ago when I picked up Final Fantasy for the GBA, and plowed through it with a smile the whole way. I'd never played through an entire FF before, and this experience was better than any I'd had with the series. It was simple, fun escapism, and I relished it. This is how I feel about Ys now. It reminds me of why I fell in love with games in the first place, and doesn't ask a lot of me. Which is good, because I'm spread kinda thin as it is.
I remember hearing Chuck D of Public Enemy say once (paraphrased), "I have a hard life, so the songs we're writing now are softer. Those with a soft life write harder songs." I don't know how accurate that is in general, but I get the sentiment. Ys is ease for me right now. Can you dig it?
I got to go officially for the first time last year. Started the day with a trip to our LA dev-house, then breakfast at Roscoe's Chicken 'n' Waffles. I highly recommend the omelet with fried-chicken. Pretty much made my day. After a full day of gaming, performing a rousing edition of Lego Rockband, and chatting up a Nintendo booth-girl while playing the new Sin and Punishment (a highlight for me last year) I took the train back to San Diego high on games and Stone IPA. A great day.
Well, little Jr. gamer is coming, in fact due June 11. So, unless he comes very early, looks like E3 is not an option for me. And I'm OK with that. But I'm really looking forward to what comes out of the show this year anyway.
However, what I'm realizing, as I get older, is this: I'm becoming a game-geezer. That is, I'm much more interested in games when they've had a shelf-life than I am the new-hotness. While most folks clamor for the newest Gears of War or Call of Duty, I think I had a gamer-gasm this week when I realized that there would be three "new" Ys games coming out for PSP from XSeed. My most sought after purchase will likely be KOF XIII, if it ever makes it to console. While it's certainly "new", it's decidedly old in mechanics and legacy.
So, maybe Jr. will sway me. But probably not. And he'll be on his iBrain, thought-blogging about his old man and what a stick in the mud he is. I can live with that.
The title explains the post, but there's more to it than just that. I think from a technical standpoint, God of War 3 is really something special. There are a LOT of fun moments, and the whole package is worth your money. However, in regards to the promises it made, the game has some significant failings, especially in light of what has come before and where the game was touted to go. So, SPOILERS ahoy...
Anthony Burch did a pretty good post about why GoW3 is a little less than stellar, and I agree on certain points. In fact, even when I first started playing it (yes, even in the opening Titan/Olympus fight) I thought to myself that I enjoyed God of War 2's opening scene more.
I think it's the scale, frankly. When you are a flee fighting other flee's on the arm of a GIANT, the disconnect between player and character is so great as to be disconcerting. No longer did I feel connected to Kratos as an avatar of me as the player manipulating him in the game world. I felt like I was controlling a remote control plane from the ground. Sure it's neat that I can make it do stuff, and it's WAY UP HIGH AND I'M CONTROLLING IT, but the real thrill is when I do a high-speed pass close to the ground and me, or bring it in for a smooth landing. The more my control is visible and one-to-one, the more I feel connected to the game. The opening of GoW3 didn't make that connection for me.
So, eventually you get up-close and personal with Kratos, and you have cool boss fights and get to take down huge things and it's fun. But, because you don't START up close and personal, there's no sense of getting more and more in over your head, no escalation. Anthony said the same thing, for the most part.
So, the ENDING. You've fought and killed the rest of the gods of Olympus, and pretty much hurtled the world into ruin. Everything is in chaos, with no end to that in sight. It's never acknowledged by Kratos, and barley acknowledged by the game. As in, there seems to be no consequences for Kratos' actions AT ALL. He gets more and more powerful, more and more mad (is that even possible?) and more and more invincible, while the WHOLE WORLD IS DYING.
Now, here's part of the issue. Isn't Kratos MORTAL again by this point? He's NOT a god, he just has indomitable will and neat-o weapons. But it seems he's immune to insta-kill viruses and can't be bothered by anything that some orbs won't patch up.
NOW, don't get me wrong. The conceit of these kinds of games necessitates a nearly invincible protagonist, but in this case, there's never any feeling of danger or dread that "maybe" Kratos won't fulfill his mission. It all just seems inevitable.
EVEN when fighting Zeus. Now, some have said that the boss-fight with Zeus is lame. I disagree, from a gameplay perspective. I liked it a lot, and thought the other boss fights would have benefited from some similarities.
HOW TO DO SCALE
Again, it gets down to scale. Kratos vs. Zeus was a one-on-one brawl. Brutal and rough. Zeus is never larger than Kratos, he's just a mean bastard that keeps one-upping his last performance, until it gets very close-quarters and very personal. The other fight that felt closest was the one against Hercules. It's still "over the top", but there is a sense of danger that doesn't translate when you're controlling a flee.
So, you may say "what about Shadow of the Colossus? Did you feel the same way about that game?
My answer: No, because for the most part, you see the enemy to get a sense of scale, and then you close in on Wander and mount your attack. But you are always close to Wander. Also, you're not distracted by ancillary fights on the Colossi's arms or head. You're focused on one goal...get to the weak-point and end the fight. There is a quiet pointedness to SoC's fights that, again, GoW3 lacks.
So, finally, you kill Zeus after much trial, both physical and mental. By the way, the mental bit seems tacked on and tacky, because it doesn't show you a transformation in Kratos, but tells you. The dialogue is trite, sadly. A missed opportunity, but it sure looks cool.
After the longest single-color screen in videogame history, Kratos emerges victorious. And Athena tells you how you were actually a bad guy fighting badder guys, so you can feel justified. Which doesn't wash away the fact that you selfishly DESTROYED THE WORLD to deal with daddy issues. The fact that they try to get Kratos to seem sympathetic to Pandora at the end is weak-sauce. What about everyone else he's killing by wiping out the gods of Olympus? I saw lots of crying and pathetic women as Kratos pulled a General Sherman, none of whom seemed less worthy of pity than Pandora.
Anyway, the "enlightened" Athena-ghost-thing asks you to give her the "power of hope" which is what you used to kill Zeus. So instead, you pull out a giant god-sword, and KILL YOURSELF. That's right, only by killing himself can Kratos actually die. Which is utter BS, as mentioned above. And Athena is pissed and the world is ending and there is no absolution and credits roll...
DEAD KRATOS IS A CRYBABY
Until they're done, when we see a trail of blood as Kratos apparently dragged himself to the sea. Which is no ending at all. AT ALL!!!
Frankly, it's the most nihilistic, unredemptive ending to a game I've ever seen. Some may praise it for that. I cry foul. Kratos learned nothing. Nothing was actually accomplished. There is no meaning to his quest, just violence and chaos.
Oh wait, maybe that's the point? If so, why try to justify his actions by justifying the gods' villainy? Why talk about "Hope" as a concept when Kratos abandons ALL hope after meting out his "justice"? If he truly had "hope", how could he end himself so hopelessly?
And are we supposed to believe that it really IS the end of Kratos, when it clearly isn't? And if not, what is it the end? It's too open, seemingly for tha sake of being able to say "hey, we like money. Let's make more! And sell Slurpees!" No balls to finally, clearly and concisely END Kratos.
In light of it being DREAMCAST WEEK here, I was inspired to mention some exclusives that deserve a look. They aren't "great", but they tried to do unique and interesting things within their conventions, and should be applauded for the effort.
I'd like to give honorable mention to Blue Stinger, Illbleed and of course, D2. They fall directly into the "Must Play" category for any fan of bizarre, way-over-the-top adventure gaming. For those not in the loop, here's a rundown:
Blue Stinger: A launch title that was pretty hyped, but failed to live up. The Japanese version was much more "Resident Evil" like, with fixed camera angles to deliver a more cinematic experience. When Activision brought it over, they changed the camera to a chase-perspective, and game play was helped, but at the expense of some moments that were directed with the fixed-perspective in mind. Lots of weapons, lots of monsters, lots of blood, all wrapped around a truly strange plot of an alien just trying to get it's groove on. *SPOILER* That's right, essentially, you play an intergalactic matchmaker, but you don't realize it until the VERY end. *SPOILER*
"You'll sh*t with fear!" Yeah, that's an official tagline...
Illbleed: Same makers of Blue Stinger. Your friends are held in an amusement park that has killer attractions. That is, attractions that kill...you! (How this thing passed OSHA is never explained...) You venture in to save them and survive, as they're in your horror-club, and they'd do the same for you. Random placement of "scares' cause your heart rate to accelerate, causing you to lose life if it goes too high. Fun house monsters will actually hit you. You can get airlifted out of a haunted house by Helicopter. (You read that right) The game is a fever nightmare, and it's a shame that it's so difficult that most find it unplayable, because if you stick with it, there's a wealth of comedy and neat ideas that you haven't seen in any games before or since.
D2: The developer was the now defunct WARP, and warped is a great way to describe this weird hybrid of survival and horror. In fact, it's more survival than the RE games, as your stranded on a frozen mountain, forced to hunt for food while fighting off random monster encounters, like in an RPG, but played in a first person perspective with guns of varying power. There's tentacles, there's insanity, there's monsters galore...The whole thing ends in a Lovecraftian boss "fight" that simulates pure hopelessness and failure...then resolves into something like ..well, I won't give it away, but suffice to say, the game is a trip and a half. Don't let the name fool you...you needn't play the original "D" to get this one, but know WARP used a cast of characters in all their adventure games, "D" (Playstation and Saturn) "Enemy Zero" (Saturn) and "D2" (Dreamcast) that shared names and looks, but were not the same characters from game to game. Odd? Yes. Worth a look? Definitely.
While the venerable DC is coveted by most for it's shooters, fighters and Shenmue, these three games highlight the innovation and uniqueness of the system. Any fan of the Dreamcast and games in general as a creative force owes it to themselves to track these down and at least take a shot at them. They may not be the best gaming has to offer, but they do offer things other games don't. And that's valuable, at the very least to the validity of the medium itself.
My article was published today in local San Diego rag CityBeat. It was a long time coming, having interviewed Brandon Cobb over a year ago, and then shopping the article around to a couple local papers, dealing with editors coming and going and not getting it/trying to understand the retro-gamer scene, etc.
Now, I'd intended it for folks who know nothing about games or gaming, but it's been even more "dumbed down" by the editors. Still, I feel it gets the human interest story across, which is what I was shooting for. Someday, I may post the unedited story at my other blog, but until then, thanks for reading.