The other night I bought and played through Analogue: A Hate Story, and I loved every minute of it. I have never been able to penetrate the visual novel genre as a general rule of thumb, getting bored quickly, or simply having no interest in the many dating related titles that are out there. Analogue promised something much different, and it delivered, in my opinion; a deep, complex retrospective of a fictional science fiction history, one largely steeped in traditional values of a most feudal sort. If that makes absolutely no sense to you, don't worry; I had no idea what was going on for the first hour of the game, or really, what my objective even was. I discovered eventually that it was simply to read a shitload of words and deduce the nature of the in-game AI characters based on the information they presented (and withheld) from me, which ultimately culminated in a "moral choice" of sorts, where the onus was really on me to analyze the material at my disposal to essentially decide who was right and who was wrong, and what the "proper" decision was at the climax of the game.
I hate to use the word "immersive" since it is so utterly insufficient to describe the experience I had, but the game did one thing for me; it made my sympathize with both of the main characters, who came from two very different moral high grounds, and caused me to act out my own actions in the game as though I was really there, in a sense. The game has been heavily criticized for a few choices the developer Christine Love made when designing it, with some of her critics accusing her of bashing her own moral sensibilities over the heads of her customers at any given opportunity, but I didn't personally feel that way. The idea to break up the dry, deliberately slow pace of the game with a puzzle-like timed sequence near the very end was fantastic, tense, and kept me on the edge of the seat until I figured out exactly what it was I needed to do in order to bypass it. And the implementation of a Unix-like console which I could use to interact with the game world was a great choice, and one which I am hoping is even further fleshed out in the inevitable sequel Christine has planned for the future.
I am being purposely oblique for the sake of not wanting to spoil the game for anyone willing to take advantage of the current Steam sale, but I will say this much; as someone who is not a fan of the VN genre, I was compelled enough to sit down with this game for about three hours straight until I beat it, actually witnessing to endings out of the five or so available thanks to some careful saving. I have no desire to play it again based simply on the fact that I think going back through it would damage the experience for me; I want to keep it as fresh and pure in my mind as I can, regardless of the fact that I never received one hundred percent completion, or saw all the dialogue on the part of one of the AI character. After the end of the game, I spent a lot of time thinking about my experience, and where I personally "failed" in terms of making the proper choices at the very end of it, thinking of the characters and the story, and what the real theme of it all was, and realizing I could have "done better". But either way, it was a fantastic ride, and one that was more than worth the 3 dollars or so that it cost me.
Afterward, I immediately jumped online to look up Christine Love, finding out she had produced some other games, and sat down with my first episode of Sup Holmes where Jonathan Holmes interviewed her for about an hour and a half. It was really interesting to hear where she was coming from from a design perspective, and some casual conversation about her favorite anime among other things led me to check out Madoka Magica, an anime in the Magical Girl genre which feels like a cross between Sailor Moon and fucking Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Apart from the fact that it can often be jarringly violent, the animation is fantastic, and the character design of the strange dimensions and enemies in it are absolutely off the wall creepy.
(Just a quick aside before I continue: Jonathan Holmes has actually been quite the influence on me for the past few weeks. It's hard not to be touched by his infectious optimism. So Holmes, if you're reading this, I just want to say; you make me want to be a better man. It's really hard to want to be cynical and off-putting when you are constantly listening to a guy who is just so fucking happy to sit there and be told how his face would be cut up and have twigs jammed in it so he could be made into a Cenobite.)
Sailor Moon was actually the first anime I had ever seen, apart from Robotech and Transformers, and it was a kind of embarrassing, secret shame at the time. When Holmes and Love were talking about other things such as My Little Pony, and how that gave some men a way to relate to their feminine side in a way, it kind of brought up Sailor Moon in my mind as the first time I really wanted to relate to a female protagonist. They also talked about the redesign of Lara Croft in a similar context, and how she was designed not with being a relatable character in mind, but more like being a victim that male players would specifically want to "protect", and just how bad that sort of mentality is for the industry in general, and I agree. Being someone who is often immersed in the bleak, violent, and masculine sort of escapist fiction that I am, I tend to like a smattering of the colorful, girly, and bubbly in there occasionally to break up the intensity of it all. That is probably why I gravitate to a lot of more cutesy Japanese games and the occasional tooty fruity anime for a break from the brutal, and why it would actually be nice to see more female protagonists in games, not acting as an appendage to the violent, masculine archetype by simply being a sort of Kratos sans dick 'n balls, but by actually being feminine in their roles without worrying about pandering to males, which is something often seen in Japanese games, but not nearly as much on the Western side of things.
Another game I picked up during the Steam sale isn't a game at all, but more of a program, and that is RPG Maker VX. RPG Maker games are a general bane to my existence; I can't even count how many god awful ones I have slogged through in my time out of sheer boredom, or how many more I've tried to create myself. But there have been a few actual, professional products made with the program, and at a cool twenty bucks compared to the usual sixty, it was a steal. Thinking about the interview with Christine Love, and the other things I have addressed in this blog, I decided to try my hand at making a very short game, under an hour at most, featuring a Magical Girl of my own creation. So we will see how that goes. It's honestly hard not to be distracted by a lot of the major releases right now, apart from all the Steam shit, and as I currently hone my Street Fighter IV skillz for my eventual matchup with Philkensebben, I am also playing through Dark Souls on the PC, Donkey Kong on my Game Boy Pocket (just cause) and Shin Megami Tensei IV on the DS.
Which, by the way, is excellent. It's also hard as nuts, and I refuse to lower myself to the easier difficulty. The introduction dungeon to the game is harder than I have seen in any other SMT game to date, and I think it will be a difficult approach for newcomers both to the genre and to the franchise itself. You really gotta get some demons on your side right quick, as you can be taken out in one or two hits early on. And even after recruiting a full party, I am still finding my new little friends destroyed in seconds after a miss timed strike outside of battle which costs me the first turn. The most notable thing about the game so far is the music, the battle music specifically, which gave me chills the first time I heard it. It really hearkens back to the original Shin Megami Tensei on the Super Nintendo, and really sets the mood, which I was afraid was going to be screwed up based on some early previews of the game. Voice acting was something I just wasn't ready to see in a canon SMT game, but it's handled fairly well. It's always funny, however, to hear an English person properly pronounce "Sam-OO-Rye".
I have a few things in mind for more cohesive articles, but this off the hook blog style is working out well, because it allows me to cover the absolutely insane amount of gaming I've been doing. Blame it on staying up all night long every night and only working about three days a week.
Catch ya on the flipside, dudemeisters.