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Viredae's blog

Kill the Dragons, Rally the Gods!
1:54 AM on 07.02.2012
Let Me Tell You About: Wild Arms 2
12:36 AM on 02.27.2012
Endings: The Recursive Ending
11:20 PM on 02.20.2012
Katawa Shoujo's choices are better than Mass Effect's.
7:32 PM on 01.09.2012





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(sung to the tune of Jonathan Coulton's "Code Monkey")

Viredae get up get coffee. Viredae go to job. Viredae have boring meeting, with boring manager Rob. Rob say: "Viredae very diligent, but his output stinks. His designs not functional or elegant, what do Viredae think?"

Viredae think maybe goddamn manager wanna draw UML himself. Viredae not say it out loud. Viredae not crazy, just proud. Viredae like Wiimotes, Viredae like gamepads and keyboards too. Viredae very simple man, with big, full, precious memory cards. Viredae thinks games are real cool!
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I've read this article on the main site by Ryan Perez (and please, no kerfuffles about what transpired recently, neither the time nor place) about how he's sick of the typical western fantasy setting, and to be honest? I kinda agree, so being the mythology buff that I be, here's a list of the many mythologies that I think would really be awesome, and even some of the games that use them already:

Norse Mythology

Now you might be wondering to yourselves here "But Viredae, isn't Western Fantasy and specifically Skyrim based on Norse Mythology?", I'd say yes, but it's so loosely adapted that there's barely any connection, in fact, the connection can be summed up to "they live in a cold place and they sorta resemble vikings."

This in and of itself is a very tiny part of Norse Mythology, and considering the Norse pantheon is one of the most well-known set of myths out there, I'm surprised it hasn't inspired alot more games by now, unfortunately, the only games that really delve into the idea are the games from the Valkyrie Profile series, which is quite awesome, don't get me wrong, but we can certainly do with more.


Valkyrie Profile: Woefully sans Loki

Japanese Mythology

Japanese Mythology is weird, man. It contains things such a version of Adam & Eve where Eve is a zombie, Adam is a dude who outruns his pursuers by peeing a river (Literally!) and throwing peaches at them, to a Lush Hydra that argues with its own eight heads on the best way to kill the denizens of a farmhouse without spilling or ruining their booze (because hey, nobody likes wasted booze!), all the way to a sun god that basically goes on strike because her brother got into a fight her and threw a flayed horse onto her front-porch (she really liked horses, you see), and to reconcile her, the other gods put up a strip joint outside the cave she's squatting in to get her to come out.


Gaston: Belle, why is there a naked lady dancing on a tub in front of a cave in this book?
Belle: It's Avant Garde

And if you've managed to keep away that feeling in the picture above away from you, you just might start wondering why the hell don't we get games like that?

But actually, there are a lot of games based on Japanese mythology already, god knows that that's the first source of fantasy in the games that the Japanese made, but very few have actually been localized, because it's too weird and alien to us westerners, and we certainly don't want to go outside our comfort zone for anything that might be as awesome as that!

Sumerian Mythology

Also known as Mesopotamian Mythology, and what is probably considered one of the oldest (if not oldest) civilization in known history.

In fact, it also happens to provide one of the earliest storytelling structures ever to sink its claws into modern writing:

The Hero's Journey.

Anyone who's ever had any interest in writing probably knows the whole pattern of the story, but many of you don't, and since I'm a lazy bastard, have this little image here to explain what the Hero's Journey basically is:



Now that we're done with that, it is true that you can argue that the tale of Gilgamesh is actually nearly half of every story out there, so there's no point in pointing it out.

... Except that there are no games about it.

No, seriously, the oldest story in history apparently has one trilogy from the NES days (the Tower of Druaga series) and that's it, nothing else, no games based on its mythology, not even any references beyond the Gilgamesh from the Final Fantasy series, and that is dreadfully under-represented.




Congratulations, you've just seen pretty much all of Gilgamesh's appearances in video games

And that's it for today, I may do a part two of this at some point, but I think I just gave you a wealth of information to consider and come up with game ideas from.

Goodbye for now, and remember: the next time you get attacked by a Hydra, get some booze.








The Wild Arms series, in general, is one series that I can easily call as one of the most under-rated RPG series out there, second to none bar the Ys series, and even these days the Ys series has taken a boost of popularity (deservedly so, mind) after it's latest installment on the PSP.

But I'm not here to tell you about Ys, maybe later though.

Now when you mention Wild Arms to anybody, the expected reaction is probably confusion, maybe you'll get lucky and stumble upon someone who played the remake of the original, maybe even Wild Arms 3 or 5, as they are the strongest modern installments out there.

But there was a time when this series chose a very... Interesting way to present itself and it's world, so let's take a look at the original here:


uh-oh. It's gonna be Zelda all over again, won't it?

While the regular towns, dungeons and the over world were displayed in your average, ye-olde overhead shot pixel sprites, the battles were rendered in similarly ye-oldish polygon models:


And you thought slimes were insulting to the early level players?

Now, this was still a year before Final Fantasy had come out and made it a hot trend for high-end RPGs to have cinematic 3D environments all over, so this strange arrangement could be attributed to the cost of 3D at the time and uncertainty whether or not it could actually work to begin with.

But all in all, Wild Arms' strength comes from it's story and character, which can be considered poignant at the very least, if not deep and complex, ranging from the use of weapons of mass destruction and arms races, to the less controversial and more often used themes of prejudice, duty, honor, et cetera, so on and so forth.

also a very unique thing about the series is its masterful use of the western genre, so now when somebody goes on to tell you that the Red Dead (fine games that they are, granted) series was a pioneer in its use of the genre in a predominantly sci-fi/fantasy genre, you can point at Wild Arms with pride.

But wait, you say, weren't we talking about Wild Arms 2? Why yes, yes we were:

The reason for the pre-amble is, quite simply, that while the original Wild Arms was released before Final Fantasy VII, giving it an excuse not to go one style or the other, Wild Arms 2 came out in the last season of the year '99, so close to the new millennium with games like Final Fantasy IX or Vagrant Story (now that's one game for a future installment), Wild Arms 2 stuck with the pixelated overworld/3D battles route.


Magical girls not girly enough for ya? You can count on Wild Arms to up the ante with a parasol-wielding one!

Just something interesting to note, it may not have much bearing on the game overall, but I like to think that due to budget costs, the developers were forced to seek other alternatives to spice up the gameplay, another thing Wild Arms is famous for is their block puzzle fixation; while RPGs run the gamut when it comes to puzzles, Wild Arms is the only one I know where an entire sub-quest is devoted to the solving of 20 something block puzzles across the world over all of the installments, it's like Square and their card games, yeesh.


I've beaten monsters and demons, explored deadly dungeons, but this... This is pushing it.

Wild Arms 2 is probably one of the least western-centric of the series when its genre is concerned, and falls more neatly into a sort of post-western, magi-punk territories, with giant space stations and flying fortresses powered by crystals appearing alongside steam-engine trains, which prompts it into delving more into political intrigue than it's predecessor's more "war is hell" themes, such as civil wars, cold wars and border anxiety.

In the midst of all of this, we get characters with stories of sacrifice, love, the true meaning of a hero, and the struggles of soldiers and mercenaries in a peaceful world, da-yum!

Now, I'm not gonna mince words any longer and say it outright, Wild Arms 2 is one of my favorite games out there, not just within its own series, but even in my overall best games out there; it's definitely one of my top 5 games of all time, mostly because everything about it works.

The gameplay goes beyond the RPG norm and actually gives a complex dungeon crawling experience, half the game is spent with you feeling like Indiana Jones, throwing daggers to activate out of reach switches, dodging traps and solving ancient puzzles, I've already talked about the story's depth and mature themes, and while the presentation style is somewhat odd with the 2D/3D split, you can't fault it because both parts give you exactly what you need; a deliberate and accurate dungeon solving experience alongside a flashy presentation of the battles, this game is nothing if not skilled at investing you into the mood, and speaking of which, I haven't touched upon the soundtrack just yet:

The game contains many mood-setting pieces were the highlight of many memorable parts of the game, ranging from the triumphant orchestral swells, to blaring rock and jazz tunes for all your bad-ass and action packed scenes, and downplayed tribal themes for your ancient shrines and dungeons.

To me, this game has it all, it can very well be considered a classic of the golden RPG era. and it certainly needs more love.

And that's Wild Arms 2 in a nutshell (looking back, a very huge nutshell), and you can actually go ahead and play it on the PSP or the PS3 for as little as $5.99, have fun!
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In any form of media, there are bad endings, good endings, endings that make you want to chuck the controller into the television, endings that make nod and tell yourself that yup, it was worth it.

As I recall, there is only one ending that made stand up, dropping the controller in the process, and start clapping while mouthing "Bravo! Bra-frikkin-Vo!" from not only the satisfaction of ending the game, but because it contained an original concept that I have not even seen anybody even try to mimic it, to my shock.

What is this incredible game, you ask?

Why it's Shadow Hearts: Covenant, of course!



Now it stands to reason that since we're talking about endings, there should be some spoilers, but this article not only spoils this game, but also spoils the previous game in the series; the original Shadow Hearts, these are somewhat old games, but I believe I'm still obligated to, so here's a spoiler warning for ya:

Warning! This article contains spoilers of both the original Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts: Covenant!




Well, now that's over with, let's get on to explaining the ending, let's start by explaining the games a bit, first off, we have here Shadow Hearts, a game that came out in 2001 at the hay-days of the PlayStation 2, it was a traditional style RPG that featured a small twist on the gameplay mechanic that made sure you couldn't just mash the X button to the encounters' victory by employing timed button presses to ensure the success of your attacks, and allow you to hit critical ones if you're good enough.



But that's not really the shining star in the game.

What REALLY shines is the setting and story, set in the early years of the 20th century with a very gothic and pulp horror styled tone, our story begins when our hero, Yuri Hyuga, seeks to save Alice Elliot, an exorcist and love interest who hears voices in her head kidnapped by an occultist named Roger Bacon (Yes, that Roger bacon) and find out what he's planning.

Now, the first title is pretty much an average fair in RPGs when it comes to endings, it has two of them, one good and one bad, and in the bad one Alice (our heroine) dies after saving the world, while she doesn't in the good one, that is the main difference.

The interesting thing is that the supposedly cannon ending is the bad ending, which will be clear as to why when we get to the next game in line.



Now this game is pretty much a continuation of the last as our hero Yuri sets out to save the day once again, this time from Rasputin himself (Again, yes, that Rasputin), alongside the German soldier Karin, seen above.

Well... At least initially, because you there was this recurring character in both games named Masaji Kato, a Japanese soldier and, in the second game an envoy, has lost his love to the war in the first game, and in the end, he swoops in to take the villain mantle from Rasputin, bent on casting a spell to time travel back 100 years into the past, create a new world and destroy the current reality!

Now here's where it gets interesting!

Because even after the bad guy is defeated, the power that would have sent him back into the past is still there, and our heroes are caught up in, and being powered by thought, the party end up having to employ a similar method to the one used in Ghostbusters to stop Gozer from manifesting; in other words, don't think of anything!



It works just as well, though.

You see, while our heroine Karin, whose uncanny resemblance to our hero Yuri's mother (Oedipal complex FTW?) turns out to be an odd sort of time loop where, yes, she IS Yuri's mother because she thought of his father at that particular moment, but that's not the interesting thing (At least, not the part that impressed me)

The interesting part is where (or when) Yuri ends up: he ends up at the starting point of the first game, ready to take another stab at saving his dead beloved, and (literally) get the good ending.

That's right, this game just gave a reason why both the bad and the good ending are cannon, at the same time!!

Cue the standing, the clapping, and the "Bra-frikkin'-Vo!" part, because what good is a time traveling story if you can't play with the story mechanics even a little bit?
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This is my first blog post, so you might think I'm simply going for simple shock factor in choosing the title for it.

You would have guessed correctly, but that's not the gist of it; there's more.

Now, I'm going to safely assume that most of you have never heard of Katawa Shoujo, so I'm going to give you a blurb from the game developrs' blog, found here:

Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel set in the fictional Yamaku High School for disabled children, located in modern Japan. Hisao Nakai, a normal boy living a normal life, has his life turned upside down when a congenital heart defect forces him to move to a new school after a long hospitalization. Despite his difficulties, Hisao is able to find friends - and perhaps love, if he plays his cards right. There are five main paths corresponding to the 5 main female characters, each path following the storyline pertaining to that character. The story is told through the perspective of the main character, using a first person narrative. The game uses a traditional text and sprite-based visual novel model with an ADV text box.

Done? Okay then, I doubt anyone needs another blurb for Mass Effect 2, so we'll skip that, and move on to the main question at hand:

Am I out of my f*cking mind?

No, no I'm not, for you see, there is a simple yet glaring flaw in the Mass Effect choice system, see if you can spot it for yourself.

First let me set a scene for you from Katawa Shoujo: You are playing Risk with two girl, one of whom happens to be a possible love interest in the game, you know this girl is outgoing, sly and very competitive.

She tells you that if you don't change your tactics to a more aggressive approach, you are going to lose very soon, and you get these choices:



The outcome of the game is irrelevant, but your choice will most likely affect how the rest of the narrative plays out; either you continue on with this particular heroine's tale, or you move on and come across another choice for a different love interest.

Now let us set a scene that many of you probably already know from ME2: You have just released a tank-bred Krogan from his pod, and the first thing he does is attack and asks you to give him a reason to live, to fight.

You get these choices:



Is the flaw obvious yet? In fact, let me change the question a little:

Are the flaws obvious yet? Let's take this one step at a time.



Color Blindness

First is a rather cosmetic, but maybe extremely detrimental flaw to ME's choice system; it's color coded!

This may not seem like a big deal, but remember that colors have meanings, there's a reason why Jedi usually use Blue and Green lightsabers, and Sith use red ones.

This gives you a preconceived notion about the nature of the choices, basically, the blue choices are good, and the red choices are bad, not only does this oversimplify the choices for you, it might also blind to actual moral dilemmas.

The people behind Extra Credits already touched upon the subject in their episode about Enriching Lives, now they might have realized this odd flaw in the choices but I'm willing to bet most people just breezed through this choice, why?

Because the blue choices are good and the red choices are bad, they've been established as such throughout the game.

Now look at the Katawa Shoujo example, there is no actual indication of which choice is more beneficial to you, so you're forced to weigh the choices based on your own philosophy, or the characters' philosophies at least.

This is a choice that is easy if you have the proper information, but as it is, it's completely dependent on your thought process, you have to think about it, even if for a second.


Futility

In this screenshot both of the choices are unlocked, but what would be the difference be between those two choices?

Yes, they give two different responses, and they do increase their respective stats but...

How do they change the game?

I mean, that's the point of choices, right? To give you a chance to change how the game plays out? But this does virtually nothing; after you pick your choice, you go back to the game as if nothing happened, and even when these choices come into effect, it's not any different from the other choice?

There is no actual distinction between these two choices, the outcome is the same regardless of the choice.

Now this is a bit better in the case of Katawa Shoujo; either you continue with this story line, or you move on to other opportunities for other story lines.

Now to be fair, I just gave you my reasons for why one of Katawa Shoujo's choices is better than one of Mass Effect 2's choices, obviously, there are better choices in Mass Effect 2, such as the one mentioned in EC's video, but the majority of Mass Effect 2's choices are like this one, the majority (if not all) the choices in Katawa Shoujo are like the one I've showed you, while Mass Effect has quantity, quality is the bread and butter of Katawa Shoujo's choices.

As for why did a game with a budget of jack all beat out a AAA game (at least in my opinion) in one of its defining characteristics, well, that's an even harder question, my best guess is that the makers of Katawa Shoujo are people who are quite familiar with this style of game and narrative, while Mass Effect 2 is a whole different beast, and its developers are very much in uncharted water.

Not to mention that Katawa Shoujo is just what I showed you; a long and branching novel punctuated by crucial choices, believe it or not, Katawa Shoujo is not groundbreaking in that aspect amongst its genre, while Mass Effect 2 is a far larger game, and is much harder to get one aspect to a top notch level even if it is one of its main aspects.

Edit: Now I forgot to mention this before, but if you didn't catch my sentiment from what I wrote, I loved Katawa Shoujo, I highly recommend it if you value great story lines, and you can get it FOR FREE on the website and blog.
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