So yeah, lists.
Something about lists, about organizing one's believes and thoughts into an organized and recognizable fashion, is extremely therapeutic. At least for me it is. Generally, I'm not a very organized person; desk looking like a trash can, clothes on the floor, bed unmade. But then I have all of my games and movies organized in DVD towers in alphabetical/system based order. Dunno what that means. Dunno why I'm putting this part here.
Anyway, I think these games are important for one reason or another.
Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico
I'm going to play my hand now and say I believe these games to be the pinnacle of story telling in a video game. A lot of criticism attacks video games for it's disconnect between the gameplay and the story. As much as I love it, Metal Gear Solid is a big offender, placing you in exciting scenarios in the game play portion, but then pushing all of it's exposition into extremely long cutscenes. One cutscene from MGS probably equals the grand total of cutscene time in both Shadow of the Colossus and Ico combined
. Instead, these games, made of the amazing Fumito Ueda, choose to tell the story through the actions the player takes.
Starting with Ico, all we know of our protagonist is what we see in the brief intro. He is a horned, and rather weak looking, boy who has been caged up against his will. By chance he is able to escape, and by chance he frees an a girl who is as beautiful as she is ethereal. She can't well take care of herself, so it's up to the boy to protect her. All he has is a plank of wood.
From this intro, we learn everything we need to have an engaging experience with the game. We see this beautiful and tenuous bond form between the two, mostly through the gameplay itself. We see the boy's protectiveness of the girl as he viciously swings his makeshift weapon into the guards made of shadow. We see how he struggles to pull her out of the shadowy void threatening to swallow her whole. We see how he gingerly guides her through difficult terrain. We see their bond grow, because we actively aid in it. With nary a word between the two, we feel a more realistic bond between the than in any romantic movie ever made by Hollywood. And the things they go through together break our hearts.
As much as Ico's gameplay truly ties it's motivations and content to it's actual context, it's in SotC where the all three merge together into a menage of beauty and pain.
Once again, the story is presented in as bare a manner as possible. We know there is a boy, and an unconscious girl, a horse, and big scary multi-gendered voice. We know something is wrong with the girl, and that the boy broke some sacred and ancient rule to come here with her, and we know he must do something even worse to save her: he has to kill sixteen colossi. Now, typically, in media, giant creatures are bad. They are bigger than us, they can easily destroy our cities and homes and kill us. So, we think, ok, kill the big bad creatures, save the girl. Simple. It really isn't.
Another complaint I have seen registered towards games and their stories is the disconnect between the freedom the player has over the character, and the actual character itself. This has been brought up in many ways, such as the way Ethan in Heavy Rain acts, or running around killing everyone as Niko, or being a complete dick one moment and an absolute saint the next as Commander Shepard. In all of these accounts, the story being told by the creators is flying directly in the face of the player's choices.
There is no such disconnect in Shadow. In the game, you start killing the Colossus because you are told you have to. There is little else in the world save for them, a few hard to find lizards. The boy, Wander, you, have little else to do but complete your goal, however grave it is. I remember first playing it, and, as I finished my eight or ninth colossus, and the visual change started coming over Wander, I stopped killing the colossi for a while. I knew what my task was, and I knew what I had to do. But, I took a break, as Wander. For a while, I wondered the country side, collected fruit, killed some lizards, found how long I could before getting bored. All of this to get my mind off of the real reason I was there. To kill these creatures, which by this point I had decided were mostly innocent. I thought to myself, Wander would do the same. But I also had seen the cutscene showing the Elders chasing after his trail. And I thought, probably like him, I can only delay the inevitable for so long. I returned to my task.
As a man who loves seeing people's reactions to experiencing something first hand, I won't say anything about the ending. Just that it as well continued with the trend of story through gameplay, and it was good.
First and foremost, my favorite game series of all time. Created in a time when RPG was synonymous with "swords and sorcery," the Mother series dared to be different by making it's setting modern, or at least near modern. Swords were replaced with baseball bats, maces with yo-yo's, and magic with psychic powers.
Now, this stylistic change of settings could've been nothing more than a coat of paint over a tried and true system, which it really was: at it's core the games were nothing more than Dragon Quest clones. It was the quirky writing of copywriter and Japanese personality Shigesato Itoi that truly breathed life into the world of the Mother series. Strange and often amusing, sometimes heartbreaking, portraits of life were planted into the world, and a simple but powerful story driving it forward.
Honestly, as much as I love Earthbound (Mother 2) for all it's quirky breezy-ness, it's really the weakest of the three, speaking story wise. Sure, it has some great emotional moments, such as Ness' Sound Stone flashbacks and his poignant journey to Magicant, but on the whole they are few and far between.
It is really in Mother 1, and especially Mother 3, where Itoi's ability to conjure up strange and discomforting emotions rears it's head. Really to discuss them would be a disservice to anyone who hasn't played the games, so I'll just mention that they deal with such themes as abandonment, dissolution, rage, depression, failure, death's in the family, fate, transsexualism, and parricide.
And that's not even talking about the music.
That's our very own Dale North singing! So yeah, I like the Mother series.
I also like, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Crispix, Kix, Rice Krispies and Cheerios.
This is a lot longer than I was expecting it to be. More next time!
Expect Killer7, Half-Life, Hotel Dusk, Silent Hill, anything Tim Schafer and more! read