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About
Hey, I'm Riobux. I joined Destructoid a few months back due to Podtoid when Jim Sterling, Jonathan Holmes and Conrad Zimmerman used to do it, and when Phil & Spencer did the Destructoid Twitch channel. I'm a Sociology With Psychology graduate who has a particular interest in videogame culture and the creation of videogames. I post a blog every two weeks (or at least try) about an aspect that interests me, with usually some article in the weeks between about something videogame related.

When I'm not here attempting to act like a civilised being, making odd jokes only I snigger at or being way too late with posting blogs, I can be found on Gamers Honest Truth, a fledgling videogame website that values the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as a new contributor. I'm also attempting my hand at writing a fan-fiction at the Starcrawler forums after giving Darkest Dungeon fiction a punt.

You may also find me working out how the hell the new strange world of social media on Twitter works at @Riobux.
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This week, we'll get to examine if co-op focused games should be reviewed under multiplayer conditions or the solo-review that is typical. I recently did a preview for the game Dungeon Defenders 2, a game that has a paid Early Access but looks to be free-to-play in 2016. At first, I played it with someone else at Gamers Honest Truth but then a creeping realisation slid its self into my mind with its nanny voice. “Are you have a good time? Is the game really as good as it seems? Or, are you just being distracted by the fun conversation you're having about what has been, what is and what could be?”.

So I rebooted it later on my own, thinking perhaps I could recapture the same magic from earlier. After all, earlier I couldn't quite pin-point what I was enjoying. Playing on my own though all I could see were areas of the game that couldn't grip me. It was, in its current state, a rather empty experience. “So maybe”, I thought, “maybe the game was designed for a multiplayer co-op experience rather than a solo one?”. Which then I could potentially be giving it a poor preview by assessing it as a solo experience rather than a possible conversation piece between friends.

 

Unsurprisingly, replacing child-characters of Dungeon Defenders with their adult counterparts in Dungeon Defenders 2 worked to needlessly cripple the charisma of the game.

 

So I wish to examine the possibility of reviewing and previewing co-op videogames on your own or with others. To be specific, which one would be more likely to produce an article that is the most appropriate for the game. I'll examine the pros and cons of using a solo experience to review a co-op videogame, and then conclude it with my impression of the situation.

Examining the pros first, the first aspect to consider about using a solo experience to examine a co-op game is it is more likely to control for variables that could affect your perception of the videogame. There are many things that hold potential to unintentionally affect how a game is received, including bad weather, poor sleep or just a bad day generally. The addition of more players to the experience increases the likelihood of an extraneous variable affecting the overall perception of the experience.

One such example is if someone was doing a review of Zombies Monsters Robots, playing through the game with a friend. As they're talking back-and-forth about topics they find interesting, they may get distracted enough to overlook problems with the game. Which this may lead to a review that is more on the positive side of things. In contrast, if there were constant arguments with said friend the game may stand as a sub-concious reminder of said argument, thus giving it a harsher review. So by making it a solo experience, it limits these possibilities a small amount.

 

The discussions and arguments while playing this game are likely to form about the question: "why are we playing this?". 

 

The second pro is it makes it easier to provide a holistic article. A preview/review is an article that describes the experiences in a videogame and viewpoint of the writer of said experiences in an analytical manner. However, if a co-op game offers unequal experiences for different players (e.g. due to class), to provide a more holistic discussion of the events that occurred from the viewpoint as a player it would require those involved to comment on it. To exclude a player's view is to ignore a potentially valuable piece of information (e.g. if a class was particularly under-powered/over-powered). If there is a singular player in the game though, it would only require one account to get the complete story of the events. Which makes it easier to lessen the reductionism in the analysis.

The third positive aspect to of this is a review/preview with a solo experience in mind is useful for those who plan to play the game alone. Some people, sadly, do not have many people to play videogames with. They may discuss it on forums, banter about it with friends, but when it comes to playing games they simply have no one. So the solo-review/preview can function to warn them if it is a co-op game that would work for them or if it only works if you have someone to play alongside. If it does get a high praise and they enjoy it after buying it, the individual can then play the co-op aspect when they can with others. After all, if someone enjoys a videogame, chances are they're going to want to share the joy of it with others.

 

"Aw man, you should have been there. I just shot so much police while dragging that bag of gold to the escape van. It was just like Heat, minus the detective finding his daughter in the bath with sliced wrists. You really need to buy this game."

 

However, there are some problems with such a method of review that should be considered.

The first of these issues is a missed opportunity. There are multiple ways for a videogame to affect us; it can make us smile, laugh, cry or angry. These are aspects commonly talked about, although a less talked about form is the way a videogame can help us bond together. The ways that friendship may strengthen as you struggle to get the loot-bags to the getaway van or how love may bloom on the battlefield. By reviewing or previewing with a group, you may explore how it affected the interactions between those involved.

To use Dungeon Defenders 2 as an example, I think part of the reason why I had an interesting conversation may have been due to how simplistic it was. At least in the starting levels, the other person and I could do our own thing to win the game while dedicating our communications and cognitions to talking about things we both had an interest in. It was, in a way, a conversation piece. It would be hard to examine the game on how it aids inter-personal interactions as a solo review/preview, so by doing it as a group the article could potentially make for an interesting study in how useful the game is as an inter-personal interaction device.

 

One of the wonderful things you learn when doing a social science degree is how to twist and abuse the English language to make you sound more sophisticated.  "Conversation piece" turns into "inter-personal interaction device". Feel free to theorise what an "intra-personal interaction device" could even be.

 

There is also another aspect to consider, which I feel may be the most important part of a review. This boils down to a very important question: What is the standard your videogame is meant to be measured up against? Say you're made to operate a score system, what would make a 10? If you don't, what would make an okay co-op game into a great one? Should a great co-op game include the ability to play solo, or is that an optional bonus?

This judgement comes into play when assessing aspects such as team-mate AI (if the co-op partner is made AI if there isn't another player), level lay-out and other considerations for fewer or a singular player. If you are judging how good a co-op game is based on how well it accomplishes its goal of being an enjoyable co-op game, is it fair to put a weak solo experience against it? Any work to improve the solo experience are resources potentially being syphoned from the core co-op experience. If this is a good or bad thing depends on if you feel a co-op game should cater to solo players as well.

To me, that final sentence of the previous paragraph underlines this entire analysis: “if you feel a co-op game should cater to solo players as well”. Every advantage and disadvantage rides upon the importance of the solo experience to co-op games, as the lone wolf mode will likely be the weakest part of a co-operative focused game. It is entirely down to the philosophy of the individual evaluating the videogame of the worth of the solitary mode in a game that favours more than one player. If the reviewer believes that a co-op game like Dungeon Defenders 2 shouldn't have its solo experience considered, then to review it by playing it alone is to run contrary to their own philosophy.

 

An article on reviewer philosophy (including fun works like ontology and epistemology applied to videogames) I think could be very interesting. However, the list of interesting things I'd like to do an article on is rather long as it is.

 

Personally, I am of the viewpoint that while a videogame's objective must be considered in assessing its success, there needs to be consideration to those who are unable to play with others. That is unless there is a good reason w hy the mechanics can not be recreated by AI. The reason for this is partially my own background and partially my philosophy. With regards to my philosophy, it is my belief that sometimes someone wants to just play a videogame on their own. So to deny them the chance without a good justifiable reason is something I dislike as it forces the player to socialise when they wish to just have some time alone.

My background growing up was that I didn't really have any friends. The few associates I had were definitely not the type to come around and play videogames. I played some games online on X-Box 360, probably around 2006 onwards, but never co-op as I found it awkward to not be able to tactically talk with the person I was with. I played some co-op games with my younger brother, but it was a very rare activity. So the idea that a game would deny me from playing it because I didn't really know anyone does seem like I'm being stomped on after being pushed to the floor.

So when I personally review or preview a game, I tend to play on my own. As I wish to consider those who perhaps aren't as fortunate as me currently. Those who live in a state of not really knowing anyone, and using videogames as a form of escapism from their woes. Alternatively, those who are introverted and prefer to use videogames as a breather from people should be allowed to play the game that's been made, even if it is a co-op focused game. Videogames should be accessible to as many people as possible, rather than an elite club for the popular. So when a videogame decides to close off a co-op mode for no good reason, or fails to remember that some may want to play their game on their own, it shows a lack of awareness as it closes its doors to potential fans.

 

The fact that I tend to play videogames for an articles and then write the article between 12am and 6am may also be a factor. 

 

Anyway, thanks for reading this. The 22nd - 28th of December week wouldn't have any articles, just so I can catch up on various things and have a Christmas break. Next week (15th-21st) will be my submission to the community assignment. After the Christmas break, I'll be back with my top-5 and bottom-5 of 2014 (19th-4th).

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Welcome to the second Riobux Recommends episode, where I will try to recommend an interesting videogame. This was an episode that I've had planned for a while, but with the last three weeks dedicated to other articles I haven't had a chance. So, better late than never, let's talk about the videogame series Fear Effect.

Fear Effect is a third-person action game series that sometimes requires you to solve a puzzle or die. Developed by Kronos Digital Entertainment, it was originally known as Fear Factor but changed their name due to similarities with the name of the American metal band Fear Factory. They successfully developed two games in the series: Fear Effect and the prequel Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, both well-received among critics. They had attempted to make a third Fear Effect game called Fear Effect Inferno, but development was halted due to the publisher's financial difficulties leading to cut-backs.

So, what does Fear Effect do particularly well?

The first thing it does well is a very interesting art style that appears to push the limitations of the PS1 system as much as it can. When I was playing through the series (Fear Effect for the second time, and the prequel for the first time) on the Vita, I was surprised to see all the little ways they made the graphics impressive with their art style while not being limited by the hardware. One way was they appeared to use comic/graphic-novel inspired textures on top of simplistic models. Wikipedia notes that Fear Effect was one of the very first games to use unshaded characters that were textured to resemble cel-shading.

 

Needless to say, the opportunity to use impressive graphics on a shirtless man with a fantastic mullet and stubble was not missed.

 

There was also use of animated backgrounds when they could get away with it, so they could have full-motion backgrounds that wasn't just a simple 2D image. This allowed the environments to feel more alive than a lot of PS1 games at the time, especially ones that tried for the non-simplistic graphical style Fear Effect was going for. These were also interactive, although in a simplistic “walk on X, and Y occurs” manner. This was alongside Resident Evil inspired camera work and tank controls. These little short-cuts here and there worked to provide as much of a game as possible without being dragged down by what the Playstation could offer in 1999.

The second interesting aspect, and the main thing I wish to talk about, is its use of Chinese mythology mixed with an easy-to-understand cyberpunk environment. A lot of videogames use inspiration from various media. Payday: The Heist was very inspired by the film Heat, along with other heist films. The Uncharted series has inspiration that lies in Indiana Jones. Final Fantasy was inspired by just the mere concept of one last attempt at a videogame before quitting the industry. Stan Liu, the story writer of Fear Effect and it's sequel and director of Fear Effect 2, appears to blend Chinese mythology with an easy-to-understand starting point of the near-future.

In Fear Effect, what starts out as a simple kidnapping of the daughter of a Triad boss, to ransom her off for money, descends into a journey across China and into a Chinese depiction of Hell. The prequel, Retro Helix, is about a cure of a degenerative condition, and the desire to get the cure by any means necessary. Which then leads to various places such as the lost tomb of the first emperor of China and the mountain island of the immortals.

 

Fear Effect allows you to respond to people telling you to go to Hell, with "that sounds like a good idea, lets do that" and then lets you shoot demons.

 

They flavour and intertwine the story with knowledge of Chinese myths and religion in such a manner that it doesn't feel like prior knowledge is required. They play upon pop culture knowledge and use cut-scenes to illustrate points without watering down the original depictions. So it is easy to grasp that, say, burning paper representations does hold power in Hell. This leads to a very fresh story that I actually have a hard time comparing to any existing property; especially as the characters are made relevant to the story rather than being mere investigators of events and therefore disconnected.

However, it does have some weaker aspects.

Due to the nature of the enemies, hiding until you pop onto their screen and then shooting you, combat can be a wrestling match of camera angles. Combat functions by equipping your weapon via cycling through all the other weapons, entering a screen with an opponent, turning until the auto-lock works and firing until they fall on the floor. This can lead to a lot of frustrations of trying to get the auto-lock to function before you die and changing weapons mid-combat is an impossibility without dying. This frustration of camera angles climaxes during the Retro Helix final boss as the camera circles rather than stays static, turning an already hard boss fight into a trying nightmare.

 

While being hard to pull off, it is satisfying to shoot two enemies at once while duel wielding shotgun-pistols. 

 

The game also runs the odd problem of being incredibly large. Using GameFAQs's rough statistics, based on 72 ratings the average play time of Fear Effect is 16.4 hours. For Retro Helix, with only 36 ratings, this play time increases to 18.3 hours. Even with the use of short-cuts as I explained before, due to the length of the games they both require four discs each. While they do not require disc swaps mid-mission, they can ask you to flip between discs a bit on the often side. Retro Helix does this more than Fear Effect, likely due to using particular textures from earlier sections again. This can be a source of frustration, but one I feel can be over-looked.

In its current state, Hana's (the main protagonist) sexuality can feel a bit undercooked. In Fear Effect, there are hints of Hana's love towards Glas, a male mercenary she works alongside with. In the prequel, this love is dedicated towards a female mercenary: Rain. Putting aside the Eidos advertisement campaign that seemed to prey on horny males, this sexuality was very well done. Especially in Retro Helix where Hana's love for Rain is very apparent. Considering the approach towards bisexuality by videogames typically, this was very well done.

 

Edios's Retro Helix advertisement campaign, of course, focused on a very minor aspect of the game. Anything to draw in horny kids who want to get their rocks off.

 

However, Hana's love never feels like they take the next step beyond simple affection. It never gets addressed beyond it possibly being Hana having just close friends. Although this has been due to Stan Liu's intention to focus more on the story than the characters. According to Liu in 2001, this was leading to a love-triangle moment in the sequel Fear Effect Inferno. Although at the time, no further details were revealed of this event.

So what happened to Kronos Digital Entertainment after the cancellation of Fear Effect Inferno? They tried at first to get it published by another company, since they still held the rights, but they were unable to secure publishing. So they disbanded. John Zuur Platten, the producer, lead designer, director and writer of Fear Effect, went on to work on games such as The Chronicles Of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena. This was before settling down as a founder of Gammon Studios LLC who, according to their official website, wish to “bring quality, high-production-value casual games to tablets, mobile devices and social media”. Dan Danko, one of the two writers of Fear Effect: Retro Helix, went on to do various writing work on animations; although the latest series he's involved in has a 1.8 on IMDB.

Stan Liu, who worked on both Fear Effect games to a significant degree, currently works as vice president of mobile content development as part of The Walt Disney Internet Group. Interestingly, according to a forum post by FearEffect on the Tomb Raider forums, the Fear Effect Inferno assets are currently being held by Stan Liu and Retro Helix animator Joan Igawa. After the closure of Kronos Digital Entertainment, the rights went to the publisher Eidos Interactive. Which in turn, became part of Square Enix who now own the rights to the Fear Effect series. Upon communication by FearEffect, they expressed some interest:
“- ME : So, if independent developers want to finish Fear Effect Inferno, as an IDEA, and everyone vote for : WANT to see it, does that mean they'll finish the game ?
- SE : If all of that comes together, it’s possible – although access to Inferno code wouldn’t be provided as we don’t own the code – just the rights.”

 

Assuming you don't mind Linkin Park, here is a Fear Effect Inferno trailer.

 

So would it be out of the question to ever see Fear Effect Inferno? I don't think so personally. Stan Liu, to my knowledge, hasn't gone on record saying he doesn't want to do it any more. Square Enix, in 2014, have shown some interest in letting the sequel be made. I think it is a case that there hasn't been that much of a significant push for such a sequel in recent years, at least not to a level enough that Stan Liu has commented on it. If someone wishes to try to push for at least more information on the likelihood of a sequel (e.g. like Operation Blue Bird is for Zero Escape 3), I'd be more than happy to try to raise awareness if it looks like it'll go somewhere.

Anyway, I'd say that Fear Effect and its sequel Retro Helix is a worthwhile game for your PS3, Vita or PSP if you want a game with an interesting art-style and uses Chinese mythology to give the game an interesting twist. It has very good characterisation, partially by making the characters relevant to an enjoyable interesting plot rather than disconnected. On PSN, its currently £5.79 full price, but I'm sure with a deal or just buying the originals on PS1 you should be able to get a very interesting experience at a very cheap price.

 

Thanks to the shortcuts, Kronos Digital Entertainment managed to slide in some very creepy characters into Fear Effect/Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix with fantastic artwork for them.

 

I'll see you next week with another analytical article.

Side note: I've been mentally bouncing around an idea for an evolution of my current format. Put simply, next week I am thinking of possibly doing a voice recording of me reading the article so those who want to read it but don't want to have to sit there for a few minutes reading can do. They can open the sound file up while they go browse something else. I could possibly even do it for this article, perhaps as a test run. So please comment if you feel this may actually be a positive change or if you have suggestions, since I'm always curious to find new ways to improve my articles.

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Riobux
2:48 PM on 11.27.2014

This week we will get to discuss the usefulness and problems of showing your game's design data to your videogame's community and allowing them to comment on it.

So recently I did a review for Dungeon Of The Endless for Gamers Honest Truth. In the midst of reviewing it I found out Amplitude Studios had an interesting system in place called Games2Gether. To put it simply, Games2Gether seeks to provide full disclosure of their games' development and aid discussion on ways to improve their games. This includes a roadmap, a forum for discussion, a full rationale of design decisions, contests asking for specific input (e.g. monster design) and surveys asking specific questions (e.g. rating favourite heroes).

From this I began thinking: Why don't more developers do this? What would be to gain, or lose, from a system akin to Games2Gether? The current logic of development is kept neatly under-wraps, only released when ready and refined. It is rare to see developers ask their community specific questions in the form of surveys or contests. Usually, they may use a forum to see what people talk about with reaction to news or new content (including screenshots). They may even have a suggestion section, but this tends to be left to the community rather than directed by the developers.

 

Some suggestions don't need direction by the developers to be invaluable. Such as "please could you ship a working game that doesn't create unintentional nightmare fuel."

 

So this article looks to consider the advantages and disadvantages of including a system similar to Games2Gether for other games development. I will be using the Dungeon Of The Endless section for Games2Gether, and comparing it with the Payday 2, Starcrawlers and Darkest Dungeon forums.

One of the positive sides of this is it can lead to better design choices. This is for two reasons. The first is you end up with more data on what the player wants. As the player is asked directly for advice of how to turn a game they're bought into a game they love even more, they are likely to reveal short-comings that could make the game better. They may also unintentionally reveal the type of choices they make, thus revealing if a choice is objectively or subjectively better.

An example of this on the Games2Gether forum was a poll asking players which heroes they pick to start off with. On the surface, this was a simple question on preference. However, due to players tending towards picking heroes that fit with their tactics this choice actually tells the developer what kind of hero skills/stat combinations are preferable to players. The more concentrated the character choice, the more that indicates there are clear preferences based on common tactics. An analysis can then be done to correlate heroes that did well, and ones that didn't. Thus leading to better design decisions on hero designs in the future.

The second reason why this can allow developers to make better design choices is this allows players to look over the documents and review them for ways to improve it, therefore allowing more people to review for improvements. By having additional people look over they can spot potential areas for improvement that the designers on the development team may have over looked. Plus, it can avoid people recommending areas for improvement the developers plan to include anyway. For example, a player can look through not only the design documentation on Games2Gether but also the list of community feedback (which includes status, comments and likelihood of being added) on the forum, and use that to suggest further ideas.

 

Some games have a high barrier for suggestions due to resources and keeping with the tone of the game. Other games, like Saints Row IV, appears to just throw in anything that is vaguely fun.

 

The second positive side is it helps create more stronger community relations. Not only this allows the player to be more knowledgable of future content, so they feel more in-the-loop, but an agency is created. The individual feels more free and in control of the future of the game, as they feel the development is an interactive process. This is in contrast to how passive people may feel with regards to AAA titles in terms of helping to mould the development.

This is part of the reason, I believe, why consumer-content pledge tiers work as well as they do as a reward. While naming a character may not influence the game in a major way, the purchaser of the tier feels like they contributed something to something they love. This minor form of control still acts as a form of control, and players are more likely to feel the end product is a collaborative production of love rather than a cynical cash-grab.

However, there are a few problems that can occur. The first is perhaps an obvious issue: It would require extra work. The extent of the work is something I can only theorise through comparison. The comparison I wish to make is Kickstarter, as Games2Gether and Kickstarter have various things in common that are important. The most important of which is information of an up-and-coming aspect (let it be an update to a game, or a project you wish funded) presented in a clear, concise and visually-appealing manner.

I recommend having a look at the Ghost blogging platform Kickstarter before reading on. Have a mental guess of how long it took to make that. According to John O'Nolan, it took six weeks to make the campaign. Even longer if you include researching which took O'Nolan about six months.

 

Some Kickstarters, of course, take a lot less time.

 

Now, to compare with the amount of graphical design, art work, forum creation and updates, it would make additional work necessary. The amount of extra work required would be noticeable; this would require either someone to focus on it while the development team continues or some of the development team to work on these factors. The former choice may cost more money in wages, while the latter could delay the project. This makes Games2Gether something that may be tricky to mimic by smaller companies like Red Hook Games (Darkest Dungeon) or Juggernaut Games (Starcrawlers).

An additional reason why it may not be suited for every company/game is due to the objective of the game. To obtain a complete analysis of the game by the players, it would require talking about late-game content if it is a story-focused game. This could present problems with regards to revealing what are intended to be twists or merely just things designed to surprise the player. This has been something that has led to any design decisions concerning Darkest Dungeon's final dungeon unspoken. While disclosure is possible, it can not be the full-disclosure as Games2Gether seeks to achieve.

There are also games that may have poor design decisions on purpose. A classic example of this is Spec Ops: The Line, with its use of predictable enemies and being made to slowly slog along. People not quite illuminated by the intentionally bad design direction as a form of statement may proceed to make suggestions to make the game good. Which, depending how you see satirical videogames, may either turn just a satirical game into a satirical game that is fun on a face level or dull the bite the game has. It appears that Games2Gether may be for games striving to be good that is story-light.

 

I can't help but feel the development roadmap of Spec Ops: The Line would have just been the loading screen quotes. For example: "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless."

 

However, one problem does exist that can affect any company and any game. With community trust built up as the design decision is cleared by the community and put on the roadmap, there is something that can send it tumbling down: Said design decision being revoked. Could this be due to further consideration of what it could do to the game? Maybe it'll take a bit longer than expected? Perhaps things beyond your control make it impossible to do? Either way, it can send community trust crumbling with a forum filled with people asking for a refund.

Payday 2's forum, at a time anyway, was filled with people who didn't trust Overkill at all. There were a few factors that led up to this attitude by their own community. One of which was safehouse customisation. This was an addition that was hinted at to come since the beta of Payday 2. However, over a year later, it has not come. If this is due to prioritising other aspects, or some other reason, is unknown. However, this led to a lot of people complaining since the promise was seen to have been made, and people expected it to come within three months of release. Perhaps this could have been rectified by telling players of the current state, but that assumes the reason can be easily described without potentially revealing future updates or revealing something else they're not allowed to. Either way, the trust of the community was broken by the direction of DLC development taking a different turn.

In conclusion, the disclosure of design is potentially a positive force that can do a lot for a game. Not only allowing the players to get a game they truly love, but also feel like they contributed to the final product. However, something akin to Games2Gether is feat not designed for small companies, nor communities that could get angry at design directions shifting. In the end though, it is definitely an interesting approach to games development and does what more companies should strive to do. Which is to allow the player to hold the power to affect what is going on. With some moderation of what suggestion gets the green-light and what is denied, we can all hopefully get what we want by the end of development: A videogame we love.

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, wherever you are. So two weeks ago (well, a week ago for me as I'm writing this after my Positive Sexism article), I promised that I would talk about the personal impact Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (ZE:VLR) has had upon me. If you're new to this blog, you don't need to worry about reading anything prior as this exists as a stand-alone. If you're looking for more of an analytical view of ZE:VLR, check out my article called Riobux Recommends: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. So if you're sitting comfortably, I'll begin.

It was a pretty cold day in roughly Feburary 2013 when I brought a 3DS. As someone who grew up without Nintendo and still not drawn in by the primary Nintendo cast, this perhaps was a strange purchase. However, this purchase was due to a series of events that had occurred in my life up to that point.

 

Back during my childhood, I always preferred dark stories with bleak endings. The joyful and colourful expressions of Nintendo could not sway me.

 

Going chronologically. I grew up with videogames as my sole friend, as I existed in social isolation with some bullying between the ages of 12 and 19. I also did some reading as a past time hobby, and even did some writing of fiction. Both of these faded out by the time I was 19, as I was swept suddenly into a life where I knew people. People liked me back, which was a bizarre situation for me. This was thanks to going to university to study Sociology With Psychology in 2010, a choice that I think may have saved my life at least temporarily.

The next few years had good and bad parts. A girl I was dating at the time fell apart very hard after two years. Despite it being a combination of our faults, I ended up feeling especially guilty for the terrible things I did. I had tried to join two LGBT societies, partially hoping for a same-sex relationship but also to find those who shared my view on equality. In the end, I got kicked out of both. People who I considered friends, ones I had gained during my earlier years of university, started to drift away as we started not to see eye-to-eye on things. I had tried to keep the friendships alive in a panic, but they faded out. I had even shoved away a friend I was going to begin dating due to a series of paranoid moments of me suspecting I was being pushed out of their life.

On the bright-side though, I had my attempt at being part of running an university society. I had also gained a new hobby in the form of pen-and-paper RPGs. I even managed to worm my way through the degree with good marks mostly. In 2013, despite an interest in videogames and the internet on an academic level, I had begin to grow bored. Perhaps it was due to feeling very much alone at this point, or maybe due to my dissertation going very badly. My boredom was not only with videogames, but my life as a whole.

 

At this point, videogames appeared as a simplistic pleasure that I could no longer appreciate. It felt like very few, if any, videogames were fun or interesting rather than a pointless boring distraction.

 

This sensation was nothing new. Growing up, I struggled to find things to look forward to actively. I had a few things that I had wanted, but nothing to feel any inclination to stick around for. I had existed for the sake of existing. A state fuelled by an instinctual biological urge to live, and nothing more. The only thing that had changed was my apathy of existing was heightening. While one or two great games held my attention, anything less than that grew into a grey void of “who cares” punctuated with “videogames are pointless”. My days of being interested in sociological discussions, especially on internet culture, videogames and videogame culture was dying hard, along with my love of videogames. Apathy rode on in its place.

So back to where I was. On a cold February day in 2013, I had decided to buy a 3DS. It was a Hail Mary pass. With the lack of interest in videogames in areas I'd normally explore, I thought maybe an area I hadn't yet explored would have something for me. I had researched, and found out what games would be of interest on the console; this included 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (999), which was the prequel to Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. I worked out what deal I should get. A black 3DS with the 3DS version of Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Nice and cheap, plus comes with a game that is apparently really good. I had also gotten Pokemon White which I also heard was good.

Sadly, both games weren't to my taste. Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time had left me bored and Pokemon was a lot more grindy than I had hoped. So I thought “well, I heard 999 is really good” and that I should get it. However, I found out 999 was never released in Europe, so I ended up picking up Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. After all, a good game stands on its own without knowledge of the previous one. At least so I figured at the time.

 

I perhaps could have waited to play 999, and it perhaps could have made my experience better. I was so apathetic that I didn't care that I was potentially damaging my experience. I just wanted to feel a gram of interest or joy before I got back to my dull life.

 

So I bought ZE:VLR on a whim. The student loan and the savings I had anyway let me have this chance of perhaps finding something that'll preoccupy my time for a spell. Something to do while doing essays and my dissertation that year. After all, due to how 3DS worked, I figured I'd just do a bit and then flip down the lid after 10 minutes during a break. I didn't expect much out of it, except a middle-of-the-road plot that just connected random puzzles to each other.

What I didn't expect was a game that blew me away. Its use of choices, an intelligent story that kept me greatly interested and puzzles that existed part of the story and not independent of it just made me fall deeply in love with it. I obsessed over the details of the game, without feeling my digging would be fruitless. For the first time ever, I felt an enthusiastic strong urge to expose the game to others. I had to share this experience with others.

Possibly even more significant, for the first time in possible a decade I looked forward to something. I knew I wanted to experience a third Zero Escape game, that I did not want to rest until I saw it. That my life would not be complete, until I saw the end of the tale that is Zero Escape. Perhaps it sounds hyperbolic, maybe even insane, to want to exist just to see the final chapter of Zero Escape, but it is true. As someone who does not get any thrills out of hoarding money, advancing in a career or having a family, this was my moment to learn of a reason why I should stick around. Maybe not a good reason, but a reason none-the-less.

 

There are some psychological theories that suggest that motivational, self-esteem and many more hall-marks of positive psychological health are more stable when it comes from an internal reward than external reward (intrinsic vs extrinsic). Although extrinsic reward is still useful, especially where intrinsic rewards can not be done.

 

As I wanted to share ZE:VLR with the world, and talk about it to an obsessive degree, I grew enthusiastic about videogames again. Where I had lost my hope in videogames drawing my attention for a meaningful amount of time and as something more than a meaningless distraction, ZE:VLR turned up to prove me wrong in the best of ways. It touched me in the most important and intimate manner. This was especially with regards to its writing and ludonarrative nature; as the aspect of videogames I look forward to the most is the writing it may provide.

Without this game, it's very possible I would have turned away from videogames and never looked back. I definitely would not of had it in me to write weekly articles about videogames, especially the fortnightly article about aspects on videogames and gaming culture that I find interesting. I also would not be writing articles for Gamers Honest Truth, attempting to carve a possible career that I may find interesting out of a degree that now collects dust.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward gave me hope. Not only the feeling of obsessiveness that comes with loving a game that previously I had not felt, but also a hope for a sequel that makes me feel a similar way. As well as the possibility that future games may capture even 1/10th of my feelings towards Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Thank you for existing, and I will continue to wait in hopeful anticipation for the final game of the Zero Escape trilogy.

 

If you wish to support the possible development of Zero Escape 3, you may click "like" on Operation Bluebird or Save Zero Escape on Facebook. You can also check out on Twitter Save Zero Escape or the English account of Kotaro Uchikoshi who was the director and writer of the series.

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This week, I wish to talk about the possibility of “positive sexism” in videogames. Perhaps I should explain what I mean about the concept before people start telling me I'm misogynistic and the reason we can no longer have nice things. Depicting one gender in a disadvantageous position in a videogame's setting is a very hard task to do well. Women's rights is a relatively recent event. In the UK, it was 1975 when the Sex Discrimination Act was made legal. Not only is it a recent event, but it's also an on-going one as awareness is made of the inequality females face. Which is why it is a very touchy subject. By treating the topic in a sloppy manner it can disrespect the subject of past inequality and ongoing inequality that exists today in society. With regards to a setting where males are in a disadvantageous position, it is a concept that is so alien to the majority of people that it can have believability problems.

So positive sexism is when a depiction of sexism is okay. That it doesn't come across as the equivalent of kicking the puppy by an antagonist, nor does it feel like a display of beliefs held by the author. That it fits in the setting perfectly in a non-distracting but still relevant way. That the videogame, or it's setting, is intentionally offensive towards females for a purpose that is a positive presence in the videogame industry. This article will discuss three ways that positive sexism can be achieved.

 

" "Positive sexism?" Where sexism is okay? Next you'll be telling me murder is okay sometimes. "

 

The first way is the most controversial of the three. One of the core problems females characters can face in the media is objectification. That they are not a human being, but rather an object of desire and a goal to attain. This is backed with an outfit design that either gives nudity or hints at nudity a heavy amount. Even if it's not intended to be a character you're meant to want to obtain, it can be a character who's design function is to distract the player with sexuality. It is a line Bayonetta sits upon, where it has been successfully argued from both sides that either Bayonetta's sexuality creates depth or is a form of meaningless eye-candy for the player. So, what if a videogame lies very firmly on the side of objectification and could this ever be okay?

What if sexuality was the whole purpose of a videogame? What if a good portion of the experience was to indulge in sexual pleasure? Why would such a videogame be inferior to games where the core enjoyment comes from murder? While the experience could be shallow, it could however be an interesting exploration on sexuality while receiving enjoyment. A game that is hyper-sexualised would likely portray some females (and some males maybe) in an objectifying way, but could that be okay? Even though a good portion of females would require the male to “chase” them, could this be reflective of the traditional approach to dating? Could females be usually submissive and timid in a scenario be okay? Could giving control to someone else, actually be a form of being in control? That disempowerment be a form of empowerment, akin to masochism or submission in the BDSM umbrella? I am perhaps being hyperbolic at this point.

If I'm asking a lot of questions, it's really because I don't have the answers for this one. While I do acknowledge there does seem to be somewhat discrimination towards sexuality in videogames, which is fair due to how badly females are portrayed normally, I'm probably not the one who should answer this. I am someone who is not much into sexuality; to the point where Bayonetta's sexuality makes me mildly uncomfortable, where I don't know if I should like it or not. So, as someone who is more on the prudent side of sexuality, I'm really not going to be the one who can decide if a game based around sexuality is fine and how it should be. What I do know is this: Videogames have the ability to manipulate and embrace all the emotions of the rainbow. It can let us love, let us hate, let us fear. It can even let us embrace a blood-lust as we slaughter wave-after-wave of mindless enemies. So is there a problem necessarily with letting us lust?

 

Videogames can help explore all the emotions of the sexuality rainbow.

 

The second way positive sexism can occur in videogames is historical accuracy. Games such as Crusader Kings 2 pulls this off well, as you are required to have males to hold a dynasty together. Your daughters being swallowed up into other dynasties. While it is an unfortunate reality, it is still a reality and being exposed to the social rights at the time does help the player learn about history. Having an option to suddenly have a homosexual queen/king, while interesting, would not be historically accurate and therefore put off those who seek to immerse themselves in historical periods.

So this seems like an obvious aspect but yet it can go horribly awry, like leaving the nail gun with a two year old. The less dedication given to the source material, the more the sexism can come off as a reflection of the author. Since if it feels heavily cherry-picked with regards to details, and one of the few areas they stay true is the only rights a woman had was the rule of thumb, then questions are raised of why did they stay true to that particular detail and not the others.

Taken to it's absolutely abhorrent level, you get the infamous F.A.T.A.L pen-and-paper RPG. A RPG that uses sexism, to garnish a very immature view towards sexuality. Like how you may garnish a turd with a block of butter. It uses the excuse of historical accuracy (in a fantasy setting that includes magic that can make a victim's mouth double as their anus...I'm sorry for telling you this exists) to allow for sexism on a level that is beyond what would be accurate for that time period.

 

F.A.T.A.L may be the only pen-and-paper RPG rulebook that requires a sanity check out of game, just for reading it.

 

(Note: This is a Trigger Warning for those affected by the videogame Custer's Revenge or brief mentions about rape/sexual assault. Skip two paragraphs if it may trigger.)

A less abhorrent example of cherry-picking gone badly is the classic game Custer's Revenge. This is a game where you walk from left to right, dodging arrows, so you may force yourself on a young woman tied to a post. Did I mention you're both naked? That's probably an important part. It cherry picks through all the aspects of the interactions between immigrants and Native Americans, probably because the game did come out in 1982 on the Atari 2600, and focuses on two aspects: Dodging death and getting laid. With the latter being forced, because y'know...”A winner takes what is theirs” and stuff...

The game could have been an interesting examination of just how badly Native Americans were treated. In contrast to the possibility the fact it focuses on dodging arrows and sex, and the sexual assault is the reward, it couldn't miss that objective harder if it was in another country and instead they shot the new family dog on Christmas day. The degrading of women is not done as an interesting point, but as a high-five. So if someone wants to make a historical game that tackles or even depicts issues such as sexism, then respect must be given by researching fully and not making a half-hearted attempt at depicting such events. If there's one aspect of videogames where the rule “do it right, or not at all” exists, it is depicting forms of discrimination, even in a historical scenario.

The most interesting manner of positive sexism, is where it is used as an obstacle to overcome. Either it is used as a form of “this is the way things are” or as a way to make someone into an object of loathing or confirm their place as a villain. However, rather than it being a wall to never be climbed like in Crusader Kings 2, it instead is to be conquered like the Berlin Wall. However, problems already exist in the obstacle aspect. It must be believable to occur. A lack of believability creates a strawman situation, where irrational dislike is made even more irrational. Making it harder to sympathise with females, due to how unrelatable their situation is.

 

Either climbed over after a 1378km dash, or broken down with the collective force of those around us, the wall of discrimination that seperates us shall be conquered. 

 

If it is used to make a character look bad in a quick and cheap way, it may show disrespect towards equality movements and the struggle females face against sexism. It may also come off as lazy and two-dimensional. As a form of a villain just kicking a dog, except with a sharper edge that it could cut it's self on.

Problems also exist with regards to how to conquer the discrimination. While dealing with it does not need to change the world around them, or the person in question, it does need to act as something a player can over-come. Having a female character suffer sexism by multiple people by an uncaring and unfair world, and then not allow the player to have their own form of personal revenge against this discrimination can make the player feel like they lack agency and self-efficacy (self-efficacy being the personal belief in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals, a term that I believe is important in videogames). However, there are times I think where creating a feeling of powerlessness can improve the game, especially if it is a game that is trying to make a statement on misogyny. These exceptions are rare though, especially as most videogames seek to create positive emotions in the player.

To illustrate the difference between good and poor use of this form of positive sexism, I wish to compare two videogames that use it. Although I'll admit they use it to very different degrees and in very different ways, so perhaps they are less comparable. However, I think you may see what I mean when I present the games.

A videogame that does this form of positive sexism well is Mount & Blade: Warband. This is a sandbox game where you have a loose purpose in the fictional medieval setting: Build an empire. How you do it, how you fund it and how you become powerful enough to do it is up to you. Maybe you will join a kingdom and gain fiefdoms? Or you'll buy something cheap and sell at a high price elsewhere over and over? Perhaps even just go bandit hunting? There are more options are out there in this sandbox game.

 

Maybe you'll be the sole samurai in these lands.

 

Upon making your female character, you start off with no differences compared to making a male character. However, as you're venturing about you'll come across a lord. Rather than a simple greeting, suddenly they'll comment on the strangeness of a woman on the fields of battle wielding a sword. You'll be given two comments to choose from, which tends to be these:
1. You could be polite, and remain meek to their suggestion.
2. You could just remind them you are a warrior, with a sword arm and the desire to take what you deserve to claim.
The second option will usually land you a penalty to reputation with them, although sometimes you will gain a bonus. Rarely though, if this encounter occurs in a castle, they may call you out on a duel to put you in your place. Which instead putting them in their place gives you immense satisfaction, as well an in-game penalty to reputation.

While you may be denied some aspects, such as a fiefdom, this denial I feel does not lock content off for some players but rather puts female characters at a disadvantage which can be conquered. You can still gain land through conquer. You can still work for lords, even if you wouldn't get a fiefdom out of it. Someone once said that playing a straight white male is playing life on easy mode. While this game wouldn't let you test the sexuality or the race aspect, it does let you play the game on a harder difficulty by just being female and this difficulty adds to the game rather than subtracts. I personally actually enjoy this extra challenge and always play a female character on Mount & Blade: Warband.

In contrast, is Always Sometimes Monsters. A game that promises to provide hard choices to difficult situations. One that allows your choice of gender, race and sexuality to affect the events of the game. However, I can barely recall many times when your gender, race or sexuality becomes relevant despite playing as an Asian lesbian. I can barely remember any time when my choices felt like they affected much within the game's story.

 

No, don't give me that look. I didn't pick what I did due to that.

 

The scene which I feel would be a good example of poor sexism, is near the start. If you picked a lesbian character, the landlord who is annoyed at you for not paying the rent offers a side-remark of a way he may over-look your debt: If perhaps you could give a picture of you and your girlfriend together. Putting aside the homophobic nature of the comment, the sexism aspect is used to offer another excuse of why your landlord is someone to hate. With very little context to the nature of the landlord, besides his desire to get his money, this comment comes across as a form of just villianising him. Rather than adding depth, it just adds yet another reason to hate a two-dimensional target for hatred.

The game tries again later in the form of a gang leader who may let you sleep in their quarters, if you do “a special favour” for them. While perhaps realistic, if maybe unusually blunt (wouldn't it make more sense for them to spring the toll after you agreed, than before?), the game offers no form of overcoming this nor any outcome later-on for this event. It comes off as a side-event that has no lasting effect beyond the scene. At least from what I remember, there wasn't a moment of sexism that made me think, or marvel at the depth. Just moments of villianising characters you were designed to hate anyway.

The conclusion I originally was going to write was going to simply ask for more games to depict sexism, as well as racism and homophobia, in a respectful manner. Not to use it as the punchline to what you're doing to grab people's attention, but rather to give a particular message or create an interesting event. However, excluding a game based in or influenced by history, is there a respectful means or reason of depicting sexism, homophobia or racism? I mentioned sexism for pornographic purposes, but powerlessness and objectification of women for sexual purposes isn't the same as full on sexism I believe. Plus, it would be hard to apply homophobia or racism to sexuality without appealing to a very niche fetish, as it appears to be a very rare fetish (although one I've witnessed myself).

Sexism, homophobia and racism are, increasingly, becoming a symbol of the past. Fortunately we live in an age where we are offended by these ideologies, even if we are tempted to go back to them (e.g. the rise of right wing political parties in Europe). We have fewer and fewer excuses to depict forms of discrimination in an appropriate manner as a statement of our current lives, as it becomes rarer and rarer in the modern day and less and less likely to exist in a non-dystopian future.

Despite fewer occurrences in the modern day, as always, we should not shy away from showing these difficult and trying moments in our lives; instead we should depict forms of bigotry with absolute respect. Videogames have the power to teach through simulating past lives, current lives and possible future lives if we go down a particular sociological path. Which teaching about lives less fortunate than our own can help us maximise our ability to empathise with others. In a world that is wrought with as much chaos as it is, we need to remember our empathy so we may keep our own sanity.

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So this week, I'm giving a new side-series a punt: Riobux Recommends. Riobux Recommends, besides a delightful title of alliteration, is where I offer up interesting videogames for examination. I promise you, this is not just a tool to deliver just things I like and you should too. Rather, it's where I analyse videogames that I feel work very well at certain aspects, and examine them on why they work. Discovering the lessons to be learnt from the experience that can perhaps be applied elsewhere. Of course, I will also be talking about where the videogame does slip up and consider aspects of development that feel relevant to the final product. Unlike the analysis weeks (which will be next week, and then every two weeks after that), not every two weeks will be a Riobux Recommends article. It'll just be a common series during my misc weeks.

 

I will also be employing a new system of spoiler warning specifically for Riobux Recommends; as a full analysis can not be complete without dipping into spoiler territory. So paragraphs where spoilers will be discussed will begin and end with a line of equal marks (“=”). I'll try to group them together as much as I can. In the comments as well, if you feel a paragraph of what you're saying contains spoilers could you please use the same system? Of course I can't enforce it, but it'd be nice for those who would rather not encounter spoilers while discussing it in the comments section. Anyway, with that out the way, let's get on with the show.

 

For the first chapter of Riobux Recommends, I wish to present Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (ZE:VLR). ZE:VLR is a visual novel that contains puzzles for the 3DS and PSP Vita. It was developed by Spike Chunsoft who also developed the series Danganronpa. It is a videogame that has won several awards including Handheld Game Of The Year by Gamespot, beating Resident Evil: Revelations, Professor Layton And The Miracle Mask and Persona 4 Golden. As well as Best Story by RPGFan, despite The Walking Dead, Journey and Spec Ops: The Line being released during 2012. ZE:VLR is also a videogame that means a lot to me and I'll be discussing it in two weeks time for the Giving Thanks community assignment. So I'll try to save my own personal feelings for the ZE:VLR until then.

 

Is it a coincidence the first Riobux Recommends is about what is most likely my favourite game? Probably not really.

 

This is a videogame best enjoyed as blind as possible. So I suggest playing through the story with as little knowledge as possible. However, if you're not convinced yet why you should then I hope this article does convince you to without spoiling anything at all.

 

What ZE:VLR does best is its story, and it's something I think developers and writers could learn from. As it does tackle some of the hardest and perhaps weakest parts of narratives in videogames and even in some other mediums.

 

The main aspect it tackles well is its use of plot twists. Too many times, a plot twist will occur from nowhere. Perhaps the clues were there, but glanced over so much it would require an eagle-eye to spot them. Maybe you pieced it together, but then a red-herring took you off the trail so it could suspend the mystery. Good uses of mystery allow it to be solvable long before the reveal is performed, with the participant using their logic to solve it. However, it will still be performed in such a way that a minority will guess correctly, and even then they'll not be entirely sure. If we're talking about films, this is what separates Fight Club from Jacob's Ladder. In videogames, this is what separates Persona 4 from Mirror's Edge. The perfect sign of a good twist that was hinted at, is if you go back with the knowledge of the twist and can point out the clues along the way. You should have a few light bulb moments of “oohh, that explains why X occurred or why Y did Z”.

 

ZE:VLR throws hints of all the twists, with some of the major twists being hinted at within the first half an hour. Which there really are a lot of twists in this adventure. Despite how many hints of these twists there are, it does not need to prolong the mystery. It only uses a red herring once (and it's a weak one at that), it doesn't have needless complications nor do they withhold evidence. They even allow characters to discuss the evidence, if it fits the circumstances. This allows important evidence to be dwelled upon as necessary for the reader's inspection.

 

It's also a very sneaky game at putting hints out there without drawing attention. On here is a hint at a somewhat early twist. Yes, even on their promotional wallpaper.

 

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Evidence about Sigma and Phi's time-travelling is actively discussed by the two, Phi even going as far as making references to Schrodinger's Cat to help theorise about the time-travelling. Phi also discusses the anagram “memento mori when the nineth lion ate the sun”, even saying it's obviously an anagram due to the misspelling of ninth, but will not solve it for you. On the flip side, it wouldn't make sense for Sigma and Phi to discuss Dio's name as a clue to him being a cultist, or make reference to Zero III's rabbit avatar possibly being a reference to the East Asian lore of Moon Rabbit.

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They even go as far as to use Knox's Ten Commandments (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FairPlayWhodunnit) and to reference it in a note you can find. The note serving as a nudge that the game does play fair in its mystery. While it's not to the letter, it is done to the spirit of the rule with great understanding of why the rule does exist. While the game does break all the rules to the letter, steps are made to allow the spirit to stay intact and firmly. So the player can fairly work out the mystery and the plot twists of the game.

 

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As an example: the 2nd rule is broken very hard by the time travelling Sigma does. However, the spirit of why this rule exists is to avoid the reader not being able to fully consider the applications of the supernatural element. However, due to this aspect only being done by Sigma and Phi, the two people who aren't the source of any mysteries, the spirit remains intact. As an added bonus, due to the player's use of the supernatural ability it allows them to personally scrutinise how it can be used.

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This is a videogame that allows its clues to the mysteries that exist within the story to sit right out in the open, even be acknowledged, and then allowed to subside on it's own in an organic manner.

 

This videogame also teaches complex subjects in a respectful and basic manner, as necessary to the plot. Too many times I've seen a videogame bravely set out to teach a player something, either about the world to aid integration or about a technical piece of information that is relevant to what's going on, and just fall flat on their face. A complaint Final Fantasy 13 receives is its confusing storyline, as it ends up submerging the player in a long-winded explanation that's filled with irregular words. A more minor note is a complaint I had with 999 was its ill-explained reason why a character would discuss an obscure neurological condition that coincidentally becomes relevant later.

 

STORY?!

 

ZE:VLR knocks this area out of the park, as it proceeds to talk about complex concepts like Schrodinger's Cat, The Chinese Room and Prisoner's Dilemma. Not only are they delivered in an organic way that makes sense to what's occurring, it's done in a style that allows the player to understand. You wouldn't find a moment here where you ask yourself “...Why are you telling me this?” or moments where you're absolutely completely baffled to what they're talking about.

 

One core way of delivering these complex notions is with a simplified story version. The Prisoner's Dilemma uses the story of an apple and a banana who gets arrested and promised different jail times depending on if they confess or stay silent. This explanation of an aspect of game theory is very simple, but never feels like you're being talked down. The use of an apple and a banana as characters in the tale is a reference to algebra symbols A & B. While the videogame presents perhaps a simplistic side of various concepts, this works as an introduction to that general area and tells you as much as you need to know for the area. This “need to know” basis avoids swamping the player in information.

 

Writing this, I'm surprised I'm already on the 3rd page as my usual articles are about 4 pages long. My Horror Special article ran for just over 4 pages. There's just so many parts of this videogame I could talk about that it does in a successful and interesting way. Perhaps just one more area I'll explain before I dip into what it doesn't do as strongly.

 

One of the interesting aspects of narrative-driven videogames as of late is choice. The power to bend the direction of the story to where you want it to go. The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games really stands as a symbol of how much choice a videogame can provide, using varies tricks to maximise the illusion of choice. Other videogames have attempted this, such as Infamous, Always Sometimes Monsters and The Novelist with different degrees of success.

 

No matter what choice you make in The Walking Dead, you're still going to feel something by the end.

 

ZE:VLR embraces choice as much as possible using a theory of time flow: Branching time. The theory goes that for every choice a person makes, time branches off and multiple universes now exist to accommodate these choices. For instance, there now exists an universe where I slam my empty bottle of Fireball Whiskey (which should have been dumped long ago) onto the desk, breaking said bottle in the process. Another universe exists where I didn't do that, and fortunately that is the time line we all exist within. I am potentially simplifying it, but that is the general gist of the theory.

 

This serves two purposes: The first is it plays directly into the story, thus using gameplay to inform the story and story to help the gameplay. The second aspect is it allows the player to be aware of when the choices have an impact, and these choices to have a very strong impact. As every choice makes a significant difference to the plot the player has to go through. In the entire videogame, there are 22 endings. Each one of them noticeably different to each one. Creating not just an illusion of choice, but instead actual real choices that make a difference.

 

Plus, it has a mechanic where you can go back to a choice you've made. Rather than most games that requires you to keep a track of your saves just before ending-related choices or to play through the videogame again, you can simply go to the flow diagram and just pick an earlier choice. In fact, you are recommended to do so to progress through the plot. This simple device not only makes sense to the story, but also saves a lot of time.

 

Not being sure which choices would get me a different ending, and expecting to replay the game if I got the same ending was just the bane of my existance in 999.

 

There were some other aspects I could talk about, but I fear of making this recommendation too long-winded. Like the videogame's tendency to explain everything in the entire story (yes, including the puzzles), its somewhat interesting sense of humour (I recommend after playing the videogame to check out the PSP Vita achievements for it) and its ability to inform you about the previous videogame enough to get the 999 references but not so much as to spoil it. This really is the type of videogame where I could analyse it moment-to-moment from a writing stand-point. However, as much as it hurts, I have to go onto where it is particularly weak.

 

This videogame's graphics look a bit on the dated side. It looks like something from 2005, perhaps even earlier. While the character designs serve to help identify characters easily and make them memorable, it still from a technical stand-point is not anything of any note. Rather than using an art style that could be memorable, like 999's pixel art or Danganronpa's stylised art-work, it uses standard 3d models. While not so hideous it'll turn people way, it's still something that is perhaps on the weak side.

 

Good question Phi...With that right foot, "Uh...what?" indeed...

 

Its puzzles sometimes can require a bit of moon-logic. Especially towards the end, the puzzles ramp up in difficulty to a heavy amount where it can descend into trial-and-error. This particularly occurs when you're looking for the secret file, as you're expected to interpret the puzzle in a completely different way.

 

Plus, you can end up encountering some glitches that still exist to this day. Not even the mild-mannered glitches where maybe a character's dialogue is skipped or their face contorts into an alien, but the major videogame-breaking kind. While it's known what will break it (saving in a puzzle room and sometimes just the PEC room generally), these haven't been fixed by the developers. All that can be done is making sure you only save in the novel sections (shown by the flow chart), and save before facing the PEC room. Then just reloading if the PEC room crashes your videogame.

 

Another complaint some people may have, although I personally don't, is the story ends on a very minor cliff-hanger. It hints heavily at the events in the sequel; leaving the fate open and a few unanswered questions that were promised to be answered then. This complaint would have been over-looked if the fate of the sequel was in a less precarious situation.

 

The reason for the paragraph talking about how well praised it is at the start (did I mention its gotten a critic score and user score of 88 and 8.9 on the 3DS and 84 and 8.8 on the Vita on Metacritic?), was to compare it to its sequel's position. Due to bad sales, especially in Japan, it is currently in a state of indefinite hiatus as announced by the writer of ZE:VLR. Made possibly a bit worse as the sequel was to be the final videogame in the trilogy. As it is, Operation Bluebird seeks to try to prompt Spike Chunsoft to make a sequel, as they try to find a publisher willing to help fund the development. There is the possibility that after Spike Chunsoft are done with the next Danganronpa they may revisit it, but a possibility is all it is.

 

Game that was released to good reviews, bad sales and a good few fans begging for a sequel? Never occured before I think.

 

So, on that mildly sad note, I highly recommend Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward to anyone who enjoys puzzle videogames and/or visual novels. You should be able to buy it on the 3DS and PSN store. Plus, buying this will mean that ZE:VLR has another sale, which may bring it closer to the sequel everyone deserves. Even those not currently into the series. 

 

Two weeks from now, I'll be revisiting this videogame to talk about why I'm thankful for the its existence and why it means a lot to me, although it shouldn't have much repeating aspects of this article so don't worry about that. Until next week for my analytical article, good bye.

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