Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.
I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.
You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and I'm trying to get some freelance work going. Among other things. Like a web serial novel. And getting books published. If ever there was a time for the world to learn the joys of ghost-punching, this is it.
And in a flash of green, Voltech’s on the scene! That’s…that’s, uh…my tentative catch phrase. I’m still working on it.
Anyway, I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving, and in case I don’t get around to it -- and in the event that you’re already getting into the spirit and/or frenzy -- here’s hoping that you all have the merry holiday of your choice. I managed to handle myself and the requisite meal pretty well…but you know what? Something’s still fresh on my mind.
Not long ago I was having a conversation with my brother. He asked me if I wanted to play some Borderlands 2 with me, and help him finish up the DLC. Now, I may be in the minority here (and I’m pretty sure that saying this is grounds for being put before a firing squad), but I don’t like Borderlands 2. I’m not going to knock anyone that does, and certainly not the effort put into it by good people, but…well, I really can’t stand it. I told my brother as such; “That game’s kinda boring,” I said, giving him the abridged version of my complaints.
As expected, he reacted poorly. “What do you mean, the game’s boring?” he snarled, eager to flay me. He gave a derisive snort. “What, and Devil Survivor isn’t?”
I shook my head, earning another snort. “Man, you don’t like any big budget game,” he said, and started off on his way. I would have given him a counter-argument if I could have, but nothing came to mind; thinking back, he had a good point. I’ve taken shots at plenty of big-budget or triple-A games, just like a lot of other gamers. I can’t say I have any malice for them just because they’re made with some serious funds, but…well, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed a lot of them, either. Whether or not Borderlands 2 qualifies as a big-budget game, I’ll leave that to you al and financial figures scattered across the internet; the important thing is that I’m hard-pressed to point to any games that I’ve really enjoyed, and I’m having a hard time pinpointing why. I mean…
…Hold on a second. Is it just me, or is it that every time I come and post something on Destructoid, it’s to make a complaint about games? Like, I’m raising an issue that’s either been discussed to death or is inconsequential in the long run? And now here I am talking about big-budget games, which everyone’s already discussed into the ground? Oh man…and I spent so much time coming up with a cool topic…maybe I should just pack it up.
No, no. I’m already here. Might as well write. But man, I need a drink. Maybe I’ll go get some root beer or something -- bet that’ll make this a little easier to swallow.
Ah, nuts. No more root beer. Now what am I supposed to drink with my hot dogs after this? Man, what a…huh? What’s this?
“Beer”? Hmmm. Well, if it’s anything like root beer -- which I’ll gladly admit is the second greatest invention besides the hot dog -- then I’m sure I’m in for a treat.
Huh. You know, I think I’ve heard of this “beer” before. My dad drinks it every so often, I think. And if I remember correctly, he let me try some once. The details are kinda hazy, but it’s kinda hard to forget that taste. Not something I’m used to, that’s for sure. Sticks with you, you know? And I kinda like it! Makes me feel reeeeeeally good!
Well, anyway, triple-A games. Man, there are a lot of those nowadays, aren’t there? I remember back when I first got an Xbox 360, the first game me and my brother grabbed was the original Gears of War. And I played it (after we got a second pad), and I can’t say I had any major complaints about it besides the usual -- insert your favorite meathead joke here -- but you know what? For all the money and effort and talent that went into it, I can’t say it’s anywhere near one of my favorite games ever. Same goes for its sequels, especially Gears 3 -- likely because I’d gotten tired of the formula and I felt like there were some major missteps gameplay-wise and story-wise. Worse yet, I’m pretty sure I don’t remember anything from those games besides the big details. I remember General RAAM and Tai’s suicide and that cowboy guy…what was his name? Dusty? Rusty? Oh, right -- Dizzy. I feel like Dizzy just kinda disappeared at one point in the game, and nobody bothered to look for him. Guess I can’t blame them, though; judging by how many guys they had in Gears 3, they weren’t starved for soldiers.
I dunno. I mean, I guess that in general triple-A games are usually fundamentally perfect, but in terms of satisfaction? It feels like they’ve been doing less and less for me these days, if anything at all. I played through the Halo 4 campaign, and while it was a solid game (except for this weird-ass glitch where a tank my brother drove kept falling through the level), and the Cortana stuff was pretty cool, it wasn’t exactly satisfying. Hell, I’m having a hard time remembering big chunks of it…except for that last boss fight, and I’m tempted to put that in quotation marks. I know I’m getting older, but I don’t think it’s a problem of me outgrowing video games or being one of those “nostalgia-tards”. I played through Tales of the Abyss again recently, and even though I still like it, that game has some serious problems. And I dug up my N64 just so I could play Majora’s Mask, and that game isn’t perfect either (close to it, though). So what…
…Wow. I suddenly feel really old and depressed. Maybe I should go to sleep or something.
Or I could get another one of those beer things. Eh, let’s go with that. I still feel like writing, you know?
Wheeeeeew! Oh man. Sorry, but, ya know, I just had to make sure I ended on a nice, even number. And four’s my lucky number, you know? Yeah. Yeah, you know it. Whoa. Feelin’ a little dizzy here…but it’s all right. S’all good! Just gonna keep on typin’, and everything’ll work out.
So uh…yeah. You know what I just noticed? I just named a whole bunch o’ Japanese games. That’s not too good for my case, you know? Like, people’ll start thinking that I’m racist against western games. And I’m totally not! I’ll have you all know that I got my virtues from my mom and dad -- and they totally love white people!
So where was I? Oh, right. The games. Japanese games. They’re pretty cool, aren’t they? Like, look at Devil Survivor. You ever heard of that one? Or…or those ones? You should have, ‘cause it’s -- they’re friggin’ great. You got your characters, and your story, and your themeses…plus they’re hard as shit, man. There’s these duck guys that’ll fly all the way across the map and heal their dudes while smashin’ up all your dudes. And ya gotta make sure ya kill ‘em in one fell swoop, or else it’s ZWOOOP! The duck soldiers are back at full health and ready to munch on your pancreas!
Course, it seems like nowadays ya can’t have a Japanese game without some busty schoolgirls…or some loli schoolgirls…oh, and ya gotta have one o’ those tsundere thingamajigs. I’m a little rusty on my Japanese, but I’m pretty sure it means “onion peeler.” Man, sure are a lotta crazy conventions out there past U.S. borders, huh? But seriously, just cause a game’s from the land o’ the risin’ red circle on a white rectangle…that…th-that don’t mean it’s a good game automatically. Ya heard any good news from Squeenix recently? Ya wanna know what they’re up to? Psh, I know. I’ll tell ya what they’re up to: makin’ games. Makin’ some good lookin’ games.
Yeah, cause they’re…they’re a game compaGAMES THAT’RE GONNA SUCK, AM I RIGHT?
‘Scuse me, I need to get some more beer. It’s good! I gotta, I gotta taste for it now! I’m just glad I got so many bottles in my fridge for some reason!
…I…uh…I, uh…you know what? Beer is…b-beer is really somethin’ else. I feel all my troubles just meltin’ awa-HEY, SHUT UP! Stupid barkin’ ass dog. What’ve ya got goin’ on in yer life! That’s right -- NUTHIN’! Cause yer a dog!
Oh gee- oh jeez. Oh boy. Head feels heavy and big and heavy. I feel like…like a lollipop in the breeze after gettin’ rained on. That’s…that’s good writin’, isn’t it? I dunno, I’m just wingin’ it here.
Oh, right. Gamez. That’s what I’m -- hic -- that’s what I’m here for, right? Games. I friggin’ love games. No, wait. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean it, I didn’t mean it, I take it back! Whew, that was a close one. I meant to say I friggin’ love games. Friggin’ love GOOD games, yes. And like…I feel like more money doesn’t automatically make a game better, ya know? Like, ya dump a bucket full o’ ketchup on yer hot dog and yer not eatin’ a…a, uh…what was I talkin’ about? Oh, yeah, that game Fus Ro Dah: The Game. That’s a reeeeeeeeeeeeal good one. How much money went into that? Like, a hundred dollars? Two hundred? A gazillion googol dollars? Man, did it ever show. I go in and I’m all like, “Man, I’m gonna save the world!” And then like a day later I’m all, “Man, forget the world! Imma go kill some demon walruses with some Harry Potter shit!” And ya know what? That fuckin’ game actually let me do it! That’s some mean green power right up in that house-ca-traz! Tasty as a fried potato! Speakin’ o’ tasty, Imma get some more beer. Bet that can tastes reeeeeeeeeeal sweet, too! I am lovin’ this
Oh God. Oh…oh God.
I…I uh…you mind if we do a little real talk? Like, if I vent a little? You know, back when I was six, I was playing outside with my brother. And I…I guess I did something to tick him off, or something -- or maybe he just wanted to mess with me a little. So you know those Nerf gun things? The things that shoot foam darts? Well, we had a few of those, and I guess he decided to see what would happen if he…if he loaded it up with some ants and shot them at me.
It went about as well as you expect. I mean, I don’t remember the details that well -- you know, for obvious reasons -- but according to my brother, I was screaming and crying and clawing at my face as all these ants started crawling over me and biting me. He got whipped for it, so I guess he learned his lesson...but you know what? Ever since then, I’ve never been able to handle bugs all that well. I’ve been pretty good at hiding it, but that’s only because I put myself in situations where I wouldn’t have to be near them. So…like, I’m thinking that maybe the reason I clung to games as a kid and not bike-riding or sports or even nature walks is because I was really, really scared of bugs. And maybe that’s why I’ve never liked guns, either -- because the fact that a Nerf gun could do so much damage is still deep in my mind. Maybe I am who I am because of my subconscious insulation, and where I'd be in life might be completely different if not for games. I mean, I wanted to be an architect for years...
And you know what else? Maybe that’s why I take games so seriously, and always say things like “games are full of potential!” and “games can be so affecting!” or “games aren’t just murder simulators!” And then I see all these triple-A games that squander their potential, and don’t affect me, and are mostly murder simulators. And then, like, what am I supposed to do next? Triple-A games, and games with guns, and all that junk? They’re everywhere -- or at least the ones that get the most attention. And I think to myself, “That’s not fair. Not fair at all.” And then I think, “Is this what games have become now? Or what they’re destined to be? Are things gonna get worse from here on out?” And it scares me. It…it seriously scares me.
…HEHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, jeez, I think I need to puke. But I know how to fix that!
Man, forget this! It’s poetry time! Let’s see if I still got the juice to spruce up this goose…on the loose.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Oh man, so this is what it’s like to be drunk
Haha, nah, just kidding
I just gotta warm up
Video games are really gamey
And I bet a lot are really samey
You know why? ‘Cuz ya put so much money into ‘em
That ya gotta make sure they hit all the high notes
‘Cept they don’t be high notes after a long time
‘Cause everyone’s seen ‘em a million times
And then it’s like, “What now?”
And then devs are all, “I dunno, whatever.”
And then I go, “Okay, so do somethin’.”
And they go, “Yeah OK LOL whaddya want?”
And then I go, “Make a good game, homeslice.”
And then they’re all like, “Dude, no problem. We got this.
We got all the money we need to do it. Just gotta put in lotsa guns and explosions, and setpieces and cinematics, and knives and orchestra music that goes DUN DA DA DUN DA DA BOOM BOOM BOOSH, and stabbing and kills, and bows and dirt, and grime and moral ambiguity, and setups for trilogies that’ll become more than trilogies cuz people’re buyin’ our shit, and ya gotta have Nolan North --”
And then I’m all like, “Wait a sec. What game’re ya makin’ again?”
And then they go, “Oh, nuthin’. We just make ALL OF THE GAEMZ.”
“Nah, dudes. Not all the games,” I tell ‘em while I’m ridin’ my Battle-Squirrel.
“Yeah, man. All da gameses.”
“Ya makin’ Mario games? Or Zelda games? Or Atlus games?”
And then they throw a bucket at my head laugh. “Pshaaaaaaaaaaaw! Marro n’ Zelder? Those’re big-budget games too, ya know! Plus they’re on the Wheeeeeeeee, so they suck audamadiclly!”
“’Kay, I’ll give ya Mamago and Zell Dincht, cause, they’re like…like, also triple-A games…kiiiiiiiiiinda. But Atlus? Nah, dudes. They’re real low-budget, probly. And they’re frippin’ top-o-da-line. You play Debble Sabaiba? Er Ettren Odsie? Shit, man, least tell me ya played Personer! King’s game and Carl Jung and…and crossdressers, ‘s far as d’eye can see!”
And then they throw a beehive at my face. “Atlus ain’t shit, man! See dem graffecs? Ain’t nuthin’!”
And I go, “Don’ need dem graffecs when ya got good storees and good gameplay!”
And they go, “OK, but do dey got multimaplayer?”
And I go, “Cathrun had some, kinda.”
And they go, “Awwwww, dat’s cute. But whadda thay got to show for it? They didn even put out DLC! How ya gonna get more money if ya don giddem with KFC?”
And I tells ‘em, I says, “Ya build loyalty -- A STORM OF LOYALTY -- with good products. Now, I ain’t a-sayin’ all yer products are terrible just ‘cuz ya make ‘em with a lotta money, ‘cuz that’s just dumb. But ya guys have lotsa money an’ make the game equiba…equiver…equivalibble of a dumpster full o’ popcorn, and guys with less money n’ less tech end up cookifyin’ a risotto served with diamonds. Ya can get people comin’ back with popcorn, and it’s good enough to get what ya want, but if ya can do better with less, then hell, why not do better?”
And then they stare at me for a while and say, “Man, why’re we listenin’ t’you gab on an on? Yer drunk!”
And I wave a hand n’ go, “Yeah, but I’m, like, super-artichoke when I’m drunk!”
And then they shoot me in the face with a railgun. POEM OVER! MORE BEER, PLEASE!
And lo, in my quest for truth and solace, I did thus stumble upon the highest echelons of thought.
What a trifle, the human life! And yet, what is the life -- the heart, and its decades-long journey -- but a quest to make the trifle justified? This, I believe; yea, verily, we have only to struggle to gain clarity, to open our minds to new possibilities, and indulge every so often in the blessings -- nay, in the very drink of life. It is through the flowing of that sacred liquid from one’s lips to the core embedded within that one may journey towards the apotheosis, and stroke the limits of reality and fantasy as they would a coquettish lover.
Meditate deeply on the question, my fellow men and women who traverse the earth in search of wisdom: why does one put his faith in that sacred form of storytelling? It is, of course, because what you and I adore so much is a story we live in and experience, and transform with the merest impulse from our surging minds and imaginations. It is a great trial to render those stories, however, one dictated by countless requirements and expectations -- and one who would build their story with excess invites corruption far quicker than creativity or complexity.
And in this moment, I have found my path, my friends. For to act without excess, and with clear limitations and reason in mind -- the proverbial “less is more” -- is a status that I would stake my thousands of reincarnated lives upon…my past, my present, and my very future. For with simplicity comes focus, and with focus comes balance. To impress comes not from acting on conventions and the common coin; rather, it is a test of one’s skill, and intelligence, and resolve. A true story is a proving ground, an arena where the heart and mind intersect -- a small arena, where even the slightest misstep can send the sagest of combatants tumbling into the abyss. To stand atop a platform cluttered with riches and perceived regulations…certainly, that is a determinant of certain failure.
It is an answer not without exception, but one that suits me best. For in my infinitesimal experience, I have walked this earth in search of stories in any form -- tales that assuage and aggrandize the magnificence of the radiant heart and the righteous mind. This sacred ground that we, the story-hunters, have clung to for decades -- and shall again, for decades unimagined by even the shadiest stretches of the on-looking universe -- begs us to seek out our own unyielding truths, unimpeded by the allure of coaxing fantasies and fleeting realities. If, by some sliver of chance beyond a silver lining, you cannot pursue the verisimilitude your deepest depths have yet to realize, then I promise youuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Oh. Guess I’m dead, then. Nuts -- now how am I going to finish Advance Wars: Days of Ruin? And I don’t suppose they have a GameStop here in the afterlife…
VOLTECH…FEAR NOT, MY KIN.
What in the name of existential crises? Who is -- wait a minute. Authoritative voice. Omni-directional acoustics. Ability to speak in bold and in caps lock…is that you, God?
I AM AN APPROXIMATION OF THE HUMAN WILL, COALESCED AND GIVEN FORM. I AM AT ONCE YOUR CREATOR AND YOUR CREATION.
Really? But if that’s the case, why can’t I see you?
PRESUMABLY, BECAUSE THE COMBINATION OF YOUR MENTAL OVERACTIVITY AND CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL BEYOND YOUR LIMITS BROUGHT YOUR MIND TO THE DEEPEST REACHES OF THE UNTAPPED SPACE BETWEEN REALITY AND FANTASY. ALSO, BECAUSE YOU HAVE YET TO IMAGINE THE FACE OF A HYPERDIMENSIONAL BEING.
So you’re what I make of you?
AT THIS MOMENT, YES. IF YOU WISH TO GIVE ME A FORM, YOU HAVE ONLY TO WILL IT.
Okay, I’ll give it a shot.
…REALLY? THIS IS WHAT YOU COME UP WITH?
…FINE, WHATEVER. VOLTECH, LONG HAVE I AWAITED THIS MOMENT. YOUR ABILITY TO OVERTHINK AND OVER-RATIONALIZE ALLOW YOU TO SEE EVEN THE MOST MIDDLING TOPIC WITH INCREDIBLE INSIGHT.
You’re sure that’s a compliment, right?
THE MENTAL ENERGY YOU EXUDE ON A REGULAR BASIS, AS A RESULT OF THE DANGEROUSLY-HIGH VOLTAGE CONTAINED WITHIN YOUR AFRO INTERACTING WITH THE MANY LEVELS OF EXISTENCE, GIVE YOU JUST THE ABILITY YOU NEED TO POTENTIALLY AFFECT OTHERS ON A GRAND SCALE. AND WITH THAT IN MIND, I ASK YOU: WHY DO YOU DISCUSS? WHAT DRIVES YOU TO WONDER ABOUT TOPICS AND TALES THAT THE AVERAGE MAN HAS LONG SINCE CEASED TO CONCERN HIMSELF WITH?
I dunno. Just…whatever any writer wants, really. You know what I mean? Build a fanbase, I guess? Gain some internet notoriety? I got this blog and this web serial novel thing going, and I wouldn’t mind getting some more readers.
And beyond that, I like hearing what other people have to say about subjects near and dear to me -- even if I’m the one that brings it up at first. I guess I just feel like I’m doing a service, you know? Communicating ideas is a key part of any medium, and if I can do that, I should. And I want to.
EVEN IF YOU ARE DESTINED TO FAIL? EVEN IF THE QUESTIONS AND IDEAS YOU PUT FORTH ARE INCONSEQUENTIAL?
Hey, this is the internet! Nothing’s inconsequential as long as you make your point as obnoxiously as possible!
THEN ANSWER THIS QUESTION: WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF TRIPLE-A GAMES? SPEAK HONESTLY, YOUNG ONE.
Uh…well, I don’t hate them automatically. I just think that even if reviews give those games perfect scores or 90% scores, they’re still much more flawed than those glowing testimonials let on. I think Halo 4’s campaign -- the Cortana bits aside -- was a disaster, and I can’t give it a free pass just because it’s got good multiplayer. If it was a multiplayer game only, then maybe so, but that game came with a well-funded campaign designed to bring Master Chief into a new trilogy and a new decade. I just walked away bored, disappointed, and even angry. The same goes for Gears 3. The same goes for a lot of games this generation, really; it seems like the more money gets put into it, the less I enjoy it. Final Fantasy 13 and Resident Evil 6 are some of my most hated games this generation -- maybe my most hated games ever -- and I’m guessing it’s not that much of a stretch to slide them into that triple-A category. Especially since one of them was designed to ape those triple-A trends and was an utter disaster because of it.
I don’t think my tastes have changed that much since I’ve gotten older, or even since 2006. I want games to affect me, and there are plenty of games that have and do, even to this day. But those big-budget titles are doing less and less for me these days -- not all of them, but enough to make me weary of games in general. It seems like the common thread between the games I like is that they’re “simple.” They don’t try to be these epic, cinematic, action-packed-thrill-rides…well, at least not on purpose. They just do what they do with what they have. Rather than throw everything at you, they give you a few things -- fewer, but more meaningful events and characters and gameplay and, more often than not, great ideas. Skyward Sword is a great example of what I want from a game; ignoring the fact that it’s got a story with incredible depth -- and horrific implications-- implied within, even the stuff that’s on the surface works to make sure that you care every step of the way.
That’s what I’ve always wanted out of my games: a reason to care. And I’m guessing others feel the same way, and have their own definitions of what they care about and want from games. I’m sure there are lots of folks with no problems with triple-A games, and that’s fine. I get that. But there are so many trends that bother me, or just plain bore me, that I can’t help but feel like my brother was right. In general, I DON’T like triple-A games…and I’m okay with that. People can do what they want -- and all I want is to be able to do the same. I know what I want out of games, and so do others. If there’s a homogenization of games into a big-budget sludge, then that may be because that’s the sum of what huge numbers of gamers want from their games. So I’ll let them have it. As for me? All I ask is that nobody tries to stab me in the head for calling out their favorite games…and let me vent every once in a while.
A PEACEABLE CONCLUSION, AS ALWAYS.
Huh. I guess you have been watching me for a while. Hey, did you see that poem I wrote about Paul Phoenix a few months back? Man, that was awesome.
CAN'T SAY I CARED FOR IT.
What? You’re serious?
POETRY IS NEVER SOMETHING I’VE ENJOYED. BUT ENOUGH RAMBLING. I BELIEVE IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO RETURN TO YOUR MORTAL BODY…OR AT LEAST, BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY HOME. YOU HAVE QUITE A DISTANCE TO TRAVEL IF YOU EVER WANT TO RETURN TO REALITY.
I do? So what, is this the start of an epic journey?
MORE LIKE A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS.
Awww…hey wait! Before I go, I have a question to ask you! If you’re the aggregate collection of human thought -- or at least a portion of it -- then you’ve absorbed a lot of knowledge, right?
A WIDE LEAP IN LOGIC, BUT A SUCCESSFUL ONE NONETHELESS. WHAT AILS YOU, MY CHILD?
If I buy the first seven seasons of How I Met Your Mother on DVD, am I gonna get my hands on some awesome bonus content? Maybe a deleted scene where Lily gets to live out one of her wild fantasies?
…I THINK WE’RE DONE HERE.
N-no wait! I have another question to ask! What’s the meaning of li-
Ha-huh-wha-what? Oh, I’m alive again. And…I don’t have a hangover. Huh. Wait a minute, what happened to all those beer cans? There should be --
Wait a second. Did I only have one sip of beer? Man, and here I was thinking I had a high tolerance for the stuff. Oh well. Guess it’s better for my health this way…though I guess it’d be good for my credibility if I actually finished a whole bottle once in my life.
There! Now I’m a real maghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
You know, I’ve been thinking. (Cue the frenzied screams of a thousand innocent orphans.)
I like video games. I like a lot of video games -- and say what you will about the industry today, but there are still LOTS of gems out there, so it’s safe to assume that I’m going to keep gaming for a while longer. But even with that in mind, I find a lot of games today frustrating. Aggravating. Inspiring sadness and exhaustion, rather than solace and elation. I don’t like feeling this way about one of my favorite pastimes, but it’s becoming increasingly common. And I think I’m starting to figure out why I have problems with so many games.
I’m tired of feeling powerful. Dead tired.
Now before I go on, I want to take the proper precautions because there are going to be some…topics that may inspire dissent. Wheat lands, swathe me with your divine protection! Barrier! Okay, good, my defense is up. That’ll protect me from any harsh attacks -- not that I plan to make any, but this being the internet, you have to be careful.
I hate Resident Evil 6. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given the savage (and deserved) beating it’s taken from critics and fans alike. And even though I tried to like it, and was willing to give it a fair shot, and let it stand on its own merits as a new direction for the franchise, I just feel like nothing works. Nothing. I don’t know if it’s worth a three out of ten, because at the very least everything functions as designed. But, I’d say it’s CLOSE to that score. It just feels so wrong in every aspect -- not just because “it’s not survival horror” anymore, but gameplay, story, presentation…everything. I probably should have expected as much given that the demo let me use Helena to great effect -- i.e. drop-kicking one zombie and then hitting another zombie with an elbow drop -- but I was under the impression that a little wrestling would go a long way towards sprucing up what I hoped (at the time) wouldn’t be a dull, nonsensical, wall-to-wall cacophony of explosions and mock-drama. It didn’t.
To say that the melee attacks are a part of the problem with RE6 would likely be an understatement -- but really, I have problems with virtually everything else the player can do. Why can I grab monsters and knee strike them like I’m Gene from God Hand? Why can I power bomb mutants? What’s the point of firing from the ground outside of a few novelty kills that probably aren’t worth the effort? Was it necessary to let the player squirm across the floor on their ass? Why is sliding done by pressing the aim button while running, when logic dictates it should be the melee/shoot button? Why all this added mobility and then constrict players to hallways and corridors that can barely house the average man’s shoulders (much less Chris’) and thwart players’ attempts to navigate with invisible wall-generating chairs? Why do bars that are just the right size, shape, thickness, and durability happen to appear just when Jake needs them? Why is it possible for Sherry to die if she has a healing factor?
See? This is the problem with giving a character -- or a player -- so many powers. I’ve barely even touched on the story, and already the game falls apart in trying to expand and rationalize your skill set. It’s not just a matter of the monsters being scary (or scarier because you can’t snag them in a Boston Crab), but a matter of presence. If beating an enemy comes down to punching their lights out, sometimes even while they’re shooting me, why should I consider them a threat? What makes the guys at the start of Chris’ campaign any different from the guys near the end of Chris’ campaign if the same tactics work, they both have the chance to mutate, we have no idea who they are besides the all-inclusive title of “goon”, and the only discernible difference is what they’re wearing? The answer: there isn’t. There’s no tension, no reason to care except to relieve myself of this horror and be that much closer to doing something more entertaining than RE6, like playing Kirby’s Epic Yarn or standing downwind of my dog while he pees on an anthill.
It’s easy for me (or anyone) to pick on RE6, because I genuinely believe it’s deserving of snark, criticism, and dissection; the more people talk about how much it irritates them, the more likely I assume we are to get something better next time, and there WILL be a next time. Because, you know, Capcom. But speaking personally, I have issues with a lot of games precisely because of their use -- or misuse -- of power. In Final Fantasy 13, Lightning starts off with insane sword and gun skills at the cost of having strong antagonists to get in her way. 13-2 starts off with her as a virtual demigoddess, and supposedly Lightning Returns plans to make her “more powerful than ever.” Lightning’s problem was never that she didn’t have enough power; it was that she didn’t know what to use that power for. Well, that was ONE of her problems, at least.
And that’s not the only game I have problems with. Darksiders 2 let you play as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, but what set him apart from any other character in an action game besides his appearance and weapons? What made Death unique besides his ability to use two scythes? It sure as hell wasn’t the ability to use a revolver, because Vincent Valentine did that in Dirge of Cerberus (brrrr…just got the chills…). Why does Death even need to use weapons if he’s a horseman? Can’t he just think “Die” and kill his enemies? Why does he even bother platforming and climbing if he can just transform, even temporarily, to boost himself where he needs to go? In the CG trailer for Assassin’s Creed 3 at E3, why is it that nobody can stop Connor’s one-man charge in spite of an untold number of British forces with a presumably-clear shot of him? Why is an assassin throwing himself into the middle of a battlefield in spite of the series’ heavy suggestion of stealth and subterfuge being a key part of gameplay? In Borderlands 2, what makes a Vault Hunter special -- barring the ability to summon turrets or trap enemies in bubbles -- that a collection of soldiers with guns couldn’t do on their own? Why do people -- Claptrap, Sir Hammerlock, the game itself -- try to imprint the idea that I’m some kind of badass for shooting indigenous wildlife or masked, rambling goons? In Tales of the Abyss why is it that the first time I’ve heard of a “second-order hyperresonance” less than an hour before the end of the game, but somehow vital in saving the world? Why can Sora and Riku suddenly fly and cut through skyscrapers with their over-sized keys in Kingdom Hearts 2?
Those are just a few questions that I could ask out of many, all of which are directly or indirectly related to power. But there are two big issues I have in general: power makes you badass and power for spectacle. And in order to explain them, I’ll have to branch out to some other mediums.
By now, I assume you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises (and the only reason you haven’t is likely because you don’t exist). I won’t debate whether the movie’s good or not -- not here, at least -- but I’ll start by asking a question: who does Batman struggle against in the movie? In terms of abstract concepts, you could say he struggles against himself, his past, or time itself. In concrete terms, Bane is the obvious choice, and so is Catwoman to a lesser extent. But who else? Besides Bane, who else can put up a fight against Batman, even after he’s been out of practice? Bane’s supporters? Nope. Goons with guns? Nope. The police? Nope. An entire army of Bane’s forces organized outside the masked bruiser’s impromptu HQ? Nope. Batman just moseys on through, punching his way to a final fight.
The only one who can even slow Batman down is Bane, but even then Bane is just one person. So who does Batman fight besides him? Cannon fodder enemies -- goons that show up and are soundly dispatched seconds later. They’re distractions used to make Batman look good and the average person look bad…but when Batman gets hit with Bane’s Ultimate Atomic Buster AFTER taking such a sound thrashing, it makes Batman look worse by comparison. Sure, Batman’s a total badass unstoppable face-breaking machine when he’s against untrained gunmen; pit him against someone with equal training and greater mental fortitude, and suddenly the Dark Knight looks more like a big fish taken out of his small pond. This is the problem with power being used to establish a character as badass -- it’s just a matter of time until someone with more power makes you look like a tool.
And then there’s Dragon Ball Z. I don’t think I need to say much about this one, but in case there’s anyone who needs a quick primer, here you go.
Now don’t get me wrong -- I have fond memories of DBZ, and wouldn’t mind watching it again today. And I’d argue that there’s more depth than most people give it credit for, but that’s a topic for another time and place. Even with all that said, there are a LOT of things that DBZ does that are kind of…okay, REALLY stupid. The show starts off with a bang, forcing franchise mainstay and patron saint of spiky hair Goku to team up with his rival Piccolo to save Goku’s son from the wicked Raditz -- who not only reveals that Goku’s an alien from another planet, but that he and Raditz are brothers. Raditz proves that he’s a more powerful enemy than anything Earth has ever faced before, forcing Goku and Piccolo to go to their extremes to finish him off…and even then, it takes the loss of Piccolo’s arm and the death of Goku to pull off a narrow win.
The series could have ended right there -- or could have been the ending to its predecessor, Dragon Ball -- and I wouldn’t have minded. But of course, the stakes had to be raised. Power levels had to increase so that the heroes could take on new villains, and fights could get even more preposterous (and entertaining). And of course, to establish both the new threat and the stakes, most of the good guys had to die or get severely hurt, only for Goku to sweep in and make things right. And this happens more times than I’m proud to admit. But hey, it’s all right, because there’s lots of fighting and mach-speed punching and flying and beams fired and golden hair, and you’re having a genuinely good time watching Kamehamehas and Special Beam Cannons…and then after you see the hundredth plateau in the distance get atomized you start to wonder, “Okay, now what?”
There are lots of good moments in DBZ, make no mistake about that. But there’s a definite shallowness to it, an emptiness that keeps it from earning too much respect. There’s a finite number of times you can blow up a landscape, a finite number of times you can introduce stronger enemies with hax powers, a finite number of times you can establish a threat by crippling one ally, and a finite number of times you can make a character sit on the sidelines because he can’t keep up with the rest of the action. Superpowers and skills and technology are all great ways to inspire awe in an audience, but use them too liberally -- use them at the expense of everything else in your product -- and you commit the greatest sin a creator can commit.
You make it boring.
Nobody WANTS to make a boring product. Do you think Michael Bay and his friends set out to make one of the most hated trilogies on the planet? Do you think Stephenie Meyer gave it any less than a hundred percent to get her story out of her mind and into readers’ hands? Do you think Capcom planned, or even expected one of its IP darlings to be such a mess? No, of course not. They just put gave their ideas a medium to thrive in, with all the theoretical components needed to make a good product, with all the winking nods that would tell the audience “Hey! Buddy! Your life will be soooooooooo much better if you let this into your heart! Embrace it, dude!”
In my eyes, the problem is the same as it’s always been when it comes to a bad product: misappropriation. So much focus is put into one element that the balance is skewed, and other elements end up either ignored or outright absent. When it comes to video games, the element that demands focus -- the one needed for differentiation, personality, player/game interaction, what have you -- is power. Players need to have some form of power in order to emphasize the fantastic nature of the game their playing, and their role and importance to it. At a base level, there’s nothing wrong with that. The problems come when it’s all in excess, at the expense of everything else worth merit, or just the fact that everyone else believes and promotes the idea that power is everything.
“But Voltech!” you cry out, slamming your fist against your desk, with so much force that it knocks over the beverage of your choice. “I know you well, you afro-haired loon! You, a peddler of poetry based on fighting games, has no right to even begin bemoaning the concept of power in games!” And to some extent, you’d be right. Fighting games rely heavily on giving players power…but they balance that out by pitting you against equally powerful opponents. Tiers aside, every character in a fighting game has skills they can use to beat another -- and even beyond that, your opponent becomes even more dangerous when you test your skills against an adaptive human as good as, or better than you. Even if you’re playing as the best character in the game, you stand a good chance of losing if your skills and strategies aren’t up to the task. There’s a big difference between a scenario like that and roundhouse-kicking a zombie.
And make no mistake, there are a LOT of games that not only balance power (if they use it at all), but offer something just as substantial. Trauma Team is a great example -- you play as six doctors with varying skill sets, but all of whom are established aces in their field. The actual science may be suspect (though a step-up from excising flaming demon spiders by stopping time), but the fact remains that you’re using player skill and mental fortitude to clear stages -- engaging with the game and its myriad threats to bring about a happy ending. The old Treasure platformer Mischief Makers works as well; you have only one basic ability (grabbing stuff), but you use that ability in countless ways to beat everything, up to and including a Megazord. Red Dead Redemption evened the playing field and kept the spectacle downplayed; John Marston’s skill set was as grounded in semi-reality as his opponents, creating tense moments and tenser gunfights. Mass Effect, in no uncertain terms, named Shepard as the savior of the universe -- but only through the assistance of comrades on and off the battlefield can the commander gain the strength needed to even survive an encounter with foes.
Frankly, I think that games create a stronger resonance between itself and its players when the characters are actually weaker. Shadow of the Colossus is a fine example -- was there anyone out there who DIDN’T think “Oh man, how am I going to beat THAT?!” when they first encountered a colossus? It’s huge, and powerful, and lurches across the field with thunderous steps, and has skin thicker than the average Hummer. All you have at your disposal is a dinky little sword and bow, and a horse. The most you can do is climb and whistle. You barely look like you can swing your sword properly, your dodge roll sends you tumbling, you lose your balance easily, and you end up getting flung around like a flag in a hurricane every time you clutch a colossus’ hair for dear life. And all of this is to the game’s advantage. Weakness, in its own ironic way, can become a game’s strength if used properly. It can be used from a gameplay perspective to create tension, and drive the player to be the best they can be. It can be used from a design perspective to emphasize each action, each visual and audile and tactile element the player experiences. It can be used from a story perspective to set up the stakes, or make you realize what little hope you have, or at the very least make it easier to keep track of what a character can or can’t do.
Weakness is something that’s to be valued -- something that RE6 has forgotten, and I fear a lot of industry big leaguers are on the precipice of forgetting. We’ve all taken note of the landslide of violent games that have been or will be released in the wake of E3; imagine how much more varied the release schedule would be if games didn’t focus on how awesomely or gruesomely you could slaughter your enemies. Imagine how much more could be gained if you weren’t playing as some faceless gunman or brutish action hero, but a well-defined everyman thrown out of his element and into some wild situation, forced to survive based on wits and a meager skill set. Imagine the possibilities when the concept of “less is more” is rightfully embraced in the industry zeitgeist -- when a single element of design philosophy can say and do more than a dozen mashed together.
I say “imagine” because that’s about all I CAN do. I may be The Eternal Optimist, but in light of RE6, I can’t help but feel a little depressed. RE6 is a game that exists now, and has been in the works for years. It’s a culmination of mismatched ideas designed to appeal to everyone, a sort of monkey’s paw that gamers wished upon with their dollars. It did so poorly, but there are other games that have succeeded…but at what cost? How many games this generation -- or any generation, for that matter -- are geared toward making players feel powerful, or ultra-skilled, or just plain badass? How many more will there be, and under the same rule set and conventions we’ve had for more than half a decade? How many more casualties will we have in the name of progress, and of satisfying a perceived lust for power? What’s the point of it all?
I’ll be honest. I’m not a badass. I’m not ultra-skilled. I’m not powerful. I’m a super-bantamweight with slow reflexes and a slower land speed. A stiff breeze can knock me over, give me a wedgie, and make off with my lunch money, snickering all the while. And you know what? I’m fine with that. I know there’s always going to be a big divide between what’s happening in real life and what’s happening in the game (it certainly helps that there’s a TV screen between the two). I don’t mind playing as -- or even being -- someone else for a little while, as long as the game offers something unique, unexpected, and rewarding. An excess of power isn’t going to offer that. Not anymore. I’m getting older, as are other gamers, as is the industry. And if it’s going to keep on thriving -- if it’s going to keep on giving me, and all of us, experiences that put smiles on our faces -- it’s going to take more than a bunch of fancy moves.
I’m ready for you to start branching out, video games. You’ve done it before -- many, many, many times before. And I know you can do it again.
Whew. Another long one…and such a grim and preachy post. I need to end on something funny. Let’s see here…
Oh, I know. I have a Facebook fan page now. If anybody wants to go over and check it out, that’d be pretty cool. ‘Cause, you know, my birthday’s this Wednesday. Kinda could go for a gift like that. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Sparkle sparkle.
I haven't really commented on DmC much -- at least not in a public manner -- and I’m kind of glad I’ve stayed out of it. It seems like there are counterpoints for any possible argument. Tensions flare. One misused word invites a fury so scalding that you’d be better off taking a power nap on Venus. And truth be told, I don’t like conflict. I don’t want to argue with people and try to convince them that they’re wrong, or that what they like is unthinkably awful. All I can do is make my own opinion, give evidence, and make observations. And from there, people are free to come to their own conclusions. No muss, no fuss.
With that in mind, there’s DmC. Recent talk about New Dante (or “Donte” as he’s sometimes called) has made me realize two things. One: we gamers have known about the change for months, but discussions are almost as heated as that fateful reveal -- and I’m guessing they’re not going to cool off anytime soon. And two: I think I’m ready to give my own thoughts on the subject -- of New Dante, and DmC itself. So with that all said, I’ll go ahead and make a claim…just don’t hate me for it.
I -- oh wait, hold on. Wheat lands, swathe me with your divine protection! Barrier! Sorry, just had to take proper precautions.
I don't like New Dante. It's unfair and biased, I know, but there's just something about him that irritates me. I haven’t liked him since I saw the reveal; I remember thinking to myself “Please don’t say Dante, please don’t say Dante, please don’t say Dante” when the baddies asked him his name. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't because of his looks; he doesn't look completely awful, but I can't look at New Dante without thinking "No, this is wrong." The black hair I can forgive, but…well, I’ll get to that.
I’ve heard that New Dante looks a lot like No More Heroes’ Travis Touchdown. Put side-by-side, Travis and New Dante look a bit alike, and both characters (and Old Dante, in retrospect) are, for lack of a better word, jackasses. But I prefer Travis over New Dante for a reason that goes beyond looks: Travis kind of sucks. Travis is a loser, an over-the-top otaku whose journey revolved around getting laid for an uncomfortably long amount of time. He has fancy skills and technology, but that’s offset by him getting duped and flung around and blown up. He barely has any friends. He’s crass and delusional. He was (and in some ways is) supposed to be a cool character, but there’s an overwhelming sense of lameness to him.
And yet, all those things come together to make him eerily compelling. He’s a loser, but he’s our loser. Even if his skill set is absurd and he has access to machinery that’s straight out of Robotech, it’s exciting to see what he’ll do next, and what’ll happen to him. Travis is what Old Dante would be like if he’d broken several thousand mirrors while walking through the Black Cats and Ladders Store; just think back to some of the antics and animations from his games. He gets blown off his feet and onto his back like Daffy Duck. His lightsaber runs out of batteries, forcing him to recharge mid-battle (with a very unfortunate animation). And whereas Old Dante took most things in stride and with a smile, Travis rightfully freaks out about the absurd happenings of his world -- in spite of being absurd himself.
The No More Heroes games are a feedback loop of absurdity. Travis does crazy things. Crazy things happen to other characters. Crazy characters do crazy things. Crazy things happen to Travis. It’s all a part of the game’s style, its essence -- its spirit, so to speak. It was a spirit that mirrored, and is reminiscent of, the Devil May Cry franchise. Old Dante may not be as absurd as Travis (funny, considering he’s a half-demon who surfs on missiles and breaks into Shakespearian dialogues with stuttering bug demons), but there are some strong parallels. Both are wild. Both are over-the-top. Both are distinctly Japanese. Both are red-clad sword masters. Both have weird, cheesy lines. And gamers have come to love them for it.
As for New Dante? Well, the most gamers can do right now is speculate based on what’s been offered. There’s no telling what the final product will offer us, and it’s that very reason that should keep anyone from calling DmC a failure before it even hits shelves (the operative phrase being “should”). That said, there’s more than enough reason to be a little…well, let’s call it “apprehensive.” They’re reasons that go well beyond just white hair.
Speaking from my own observations, I feel like New Dante is a bit too stiff. Not all the time, of course; there’s a wildness and lack of technique in his attacks that I kind of like, at least from an aesthetic view. But remember, information isn’t just conveyed through words and speech; a huge part of communication comes from body language, and motions, and positioning of parts. Run a Google search of New Dante, and you’ll see the same few images (barring fan art/mocking) -- his police mugshot, smoking, standing around, or doing that weird air dash thing where he pushes off the air/wall or something. Compare that to a search for Old Dante, and you’ll see him in more dynamic poses -- guns poised, sword slung behind the shoulder, shrugging, or striking a pose with a rose in his mouth. Granted that’s a consequence of the latter having more art/screenshots floating around than the former, but I think the point still stands. Old Dante was flexible. He could do anything so long as it looked cool -- or fit in with his definition of cool, or just offered him a chance at some fun. But no matter what pose he struck, he exuded power and confidence, as well as a sense of humor. New Dante? Based on what I’ve seen, I’m just not feeling those same qualities. Nor do I feel them when he’s in motion, combat aside. Again, the most I’ve seen is him running about from place to place, and there could be PLENTY of style in the cutscenes to come (like using a motorcycle like nunchucks). But for now, it’s hard to be impressed.
The bigger issue I have, though, is with New Dante’s face -- that is, how often I’m forced to look at it. The game’s not even out yet, and already I feel like I know it down to each blemish and pixel. Meanwhile, I can hardly picture Old Dante’s face -- yet I feel like that’s a good thing. Old or New, Dante’s face isn’t going to be the one doing crazy stunts; it’ll be in the hands of his demon-blooded body, and the slew of weapons he puts to use. Thinking back to DMC3, finishing a level featured art of Dante that depended on the style equipped; that art put not his face on the forefront, but the key part of his style. His sword, his guns, and if I remember correctly his hands -- all things I remember more than his face, in spite of having a wall scroll of Old Dante I see every time I open my closet door. In fact, most art I’ve seen almost de-emphasizes Old Dante in exchange for his weapon/actions/pose -- all things that emphasize his charisma and flexibility. New Dante doesn’t fare quite as well. I can picture him wearing a cocky smirk or a cold glare, or a mix of the two, but that’s about it. Cutscenes draw attention to his face, zooming in on that when his time could be better spent karate-chopping a Ferris wheel or something. To the game’s credit, there are plenty of shots of his back (for some reason) and the complaints I leverage could likely have applied to the other DMC games as well…but right now, my best impression of Dante is that he loves doing the Dreamworks face.
But the biggest problem I have with New Dante is a simple one: his voice. No, not his voice actor -- as much as body language says, his words speak volumes about the writing Ninja Theory is famous (or infamous) for. I remember when New Dante was first revealed, and how I waited for one specific bit of information over the course of several months: what does New Dante say? If we could hear Dante’s irreverence and bravado, it would reassure all of us. It’d prove that the franchise was in good hands. What I’ve heard so far is so boring it’s almost -- no, it IS hard to watch. They don’t feel like the lines Old Dante would say, or lines that feel unique to New Dante; any number of video game heroes (or jackasses) could likely say them, and likely have. Travis Touchdown had an endearing crassness about him; New Dante doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have anything so far that makes him stand out besides the controversies of the reboot. And even in battle he suffers; whereas Old Dante threw in lots of whoops and hollers and silly one-liners, New Dante sounds like he’s struggling just to swing his sword. The spirit is gone. It’s gone from DmC’s world, and New Dante -- the lynchpin of the product’s spirit -- isn’t doing anything to put it back.
I’m probably biased. I’m probably looking for reasons to hate this guy (the fact that I admitted to having a hanging picture of a half-naked teenage demon slayer in my closet should be a red flag). But am I really being so unfair? All I can do is analyze what I’m given, make comparisons, and rationalize my opinions. And based on what I’ve been given, the news is not good. Yet…I’m not quite ready to take hold of my Tempest Halberd and wage war against Capcom and Ninja Theory just yet. You know me; I’m the Eternal Optimist. I always try and see the bright side of things -- and I can see why people want to believe in DmC.
This should be a no-brainer; the game isn’t out yet, so it’s impossible to judge everything about it. Maybe New Dante has some of that old spark left in him, or something worthwhile to replace it. Maybe he does something utterly amazing that blows the other games out of the water. Or maybe, in spite of the disdain-begging social commentary it’s espousing, DmC is competent enough to pull it all off. At the very least, the world New Dante and pals inhabit has more than enough potential. Even if the character himself makes me cringe, I’ll gladly admit that the levels look pretty fantastic -- if not from a graphics perspective, then solely from the amount of work and ambition that brought those areas to life. Surely if they’re willing to put that much muscle into the world, they’re more than capable of making the story and gameplay and characters just as stro-
Oh. Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
All right, real talk time. DmC isn’t out yet, but there’s been enough evidence to make some pretty good guesses about what the full game will entail -- especially because each time something new pops up, it means we’re seeing something closer and closer to the final product. I’m thankful that the developers didn’t just go into a media blackout until release, and the irrational hate dished out against the game, the character, and the companies is enough to merit a thousand facepalms. But…well, I’m worried. Capcom and Ninja Theory are running out of time; if they were going to prove to us that New Dante and this kinda-sorta reboot are worthwhile, they should have done that immediately. Kudos to them for leaving a lasting impact with the reveal, but have they done anything praiseworthy since then? Have they put out anything that’s put fears to rest? Have they shown anything that inspired applause and hushed whispers? I may be optimistic, but I’m pretty sharp-witted; if the most they can get out of me is grave concern, and if there are debates raging to this day about the game’s quality, something’s gone wrong. You would think that since one of the companies involved is responsible for this generation’s biggest fighting games (a genre HEAVILY dependent on the feedback of players of all skill levels) they’d not only know how to make a better impression, but offer something that’d put fans at ease.
DmC is, in my eyes, more of a reinterpretation than a reboot. It’s like taking a strawberry and dipping it in chocolate, or taking some fruit and putting it in a banana split -- the components are there, but they’re repurposed to create a new and tastier product. But Ninja Theory and Capcom have to be very, very careful; Devil May Cry was never in need of a reboot or reinterpretation. Its style set it apart, and I’d argue it’s still notable even amidst the naysayers. So if the two companies are going to set out replacing the old elements with the new (if only temporarily), they need to offer something as good as, or better than Devil May Cry. The formula wasn’t broken. Old Dante and Nero could only go up from DMC4, as could their canon. If that’s really going to be put on hold, then DmC had damn well better fill the gap with an ice cream sundae the size of Alabama. And you know what the lynchpin will be? Do you know who’ll put everyone’s fears and doubts to rest? Of course you do.
Don’t let me down, Dante. Prove that you're worthy of the name.
You know, I’ve been thinking. (Cue hellish organ chord and stroke of lightning here.) I think I might have a problem -- one that only seems to become more prevalent as time passes. It’s probably because I play a lot of video games, but I don’t think my “affliction” is linked to just one medium. Movies, TV, books, what have you -- time and time again, I find myself wishing things were different. Wishing that things were more to my tastes.
All too often, I find myself thinking that the main character is kind of boring -- and wishing that one of his friends was the story’s focus.
Take the recently-announced Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 for instance. Now, I will confess with great honesty (and pride) that I absolutely HATE FF13. Plenty of people seem to like it and can argue towards its high points, and that’s fine. But I personally can’t stand it, or anything related to it; I’ve written an inordinate number of blog posts either focused on what went wrong, or managed to work an example of what FF13 did wrong into a discussion (though sometimes it’s more to make a joke…sometimes). It’s way too early to decide whether or not LR will be any good, but even if it is -- even if it’s the fabled Final Fantasy that will restore Final Fantasy’s credibility -- I’m not sure if I want to get into the game.
I think I’d like FF13 and its little brothers a bit more if not for Lightning. Others think that she’s strong and cool and tough, and I respect their opinions (inasmuch as I can smile and nod politely and not think of certain jingles); I think that she’s petulant and wooden and outright boring. Looking back, I wish that anyone else in the cast was the star. Snow was your typical hot-blooded idiot, but he was at least (trying to be) driven and charismatic and optimistic. Why couldn’t he be the leader? Or why not Sazh? Surely someone with the unique perspective of a father could add a lot to the game; would making the leading man black be THAT much of a problem? Why not make Hope the star, and give a chance to improve upon his character by cemented development? Why not Vanille, not only because she’s the narrator but because she has a deep connection to the past? Why not Fang, who has Vanille’s critical knowledge (minus the kookiness) mixed with Lightning’s toughness (minus…well, everything else)? That’s not to say that any of the characters are fantastic, or that the game would automatically be better if it followed one of them; it’s just one of many possibilities.
That’s the key word: possibilities. Stories and characters are a means to explore possibilities -- what would happen if a world had Element X and Qualifier Y, or what Hero Z would say/do in the face of Adversity Q. It’s a chance -- a procedure, even -- to scoop up the building blocks of a character (or world, or plot, or any other story convention), mix them, shake them up, and serve on the rocks in the hopes of creating something that won’t lead to a night of puking and remorse.*
But more often than not, I find myself suspecting that the procedure sometimes goes undone when it comes to a protagonist -- you know, the most important element in a story -- in exchange for familiarity and functionality. In the context of a video game, that’s likely a big factor both story-wise and gameplay-wise. In the interest of not picking on FF13 any longer, I’ll use Tales of the Abyss as an example.
The main character in that game is Luke fon Fabre, a midriff-bearing noble who lost his memory seven years ago; in the years since, he’s been confined to his manor, receiving teaching to re-learn everything (and I MEAN everything) he forgo, and his primary hobbies being lounging about and training in swordplay. Inevitably, he’s transported out of his comfortable lifestyle into the wilderness of an enemy territory, and thus his journey -- and typical progression into a world-saving expedition -- begins. Luke’s amnesia and sheltered nature means he doesn’t know anything about the world; it’s a chance to have the world’s mechanics explained to him, but more importantly to the player. And at the start of the game, he only has one special move (and a poor one at that); a nice little touch is that he only gains access to his super move after he starts reading and practicing to control his hidden power -- and well after that, the moves he learns start to take on magical properties.
Now, as I understand it, Luke has gotten a lot of flak over the years. He’s whiny, he’s emo, he’s a wannabe martyr…all legitimate complaints. I’m pretty tolerant of things like that when it comes to JRPGs, but Luke skirts the line between being a thoughtful, contemplative character and just being an annoying brat who loves showing off his midriff. It’s an uncomfortable position, and it’s likely that I’m being too favorable as it is. But you know who isn’t in an uncomfortable position? You know who I like seeing in action, and preferring over the lead? Luke’s best friend Guy, a servant who’s infamous for his fear of women, but more importantly for being level-headed, smart, a charmer, a tech junkie, a skilled (and cool) swordsman, and most of all a nice guy. (Incidentally, I feel like his character development involves him becoming unafraid to call his master an idiot -- likely a mirror of more than a few players’ wishes.) The same goes for princess Natalia; I didn’t put much stock in her in my first playthrough of the game years ago, but I’ve recently found her to be more engaging than ever, and certainly more than Luke. Her defining characteristic is that she’s a princess, and while that role would usually make her the designated kidnapping victim/love interest, in Abyss she carries political clout and a self-determined sense of duty -- one that rightfully earns love and respect, makes her a pivotal part of the game, expands the scope of your worldly activities, and offsets the fact that she’s kind of a haughty idiot. And Jade? Well…Jade is Jade. That is to say, he’s undeniably awesome.
Don’t get me wrong. Even with all the annoyances, silliness, and plot-related idiocy, I still like Tales of the Abyss. But I can’t help but feel like it’d be better (and better-received) if Guy or Natalia or Jade had the leading role instead of Luke. The main character is the lynchpin of countless stories; shouldn’t he/she be the most interesting of the lot? I know there’s a difference between thinking a main character is cool and thinking that the main character’s buddies are cooler -- and subsequently, thinking that the main character is worse by comparison -- but it happens with such frightening regularity that I’m starting to wonder if there’s an underlying issue. Are main characters, in spite of good intentions and a wealth of solid ideas, inherently less appealing than the other cast members? Is there some sort of curse that plagues them?
Well, yes and no, I suppose. Not every main character in a game is boring; speaking in terms of the Tales series, Vesperia’s Yuri Lowell is compelling and interesting; even though I prefer the “old man” Raven, I still think Yuri’s innately cool. Same goes for Graces f; the game and its ideas -- and its plot, and its resolution -- wouldn’t work if anyone besides Asbel was the main character. God of War wouldn’t work without Kratos, unsavory as he may be. Assassin’s Creed II wouldn’t work without Ezio. Bayonetta wouldn’t work without…well, Bayonetta. Mass Effect wouldn’t work without Shepard -- a special case, in that your input ensures (in theory, at least) that your interest/investment never wanes.
But for every example I think of to support main characters, I can think of three times more to decry them. Think about it: what if Dom was the star of Gears of War, not Marcus? It wouldn’t automatically make the franchise a masterpiece, but it would offer an interesting new perspective. Between the two, Dom is the nicer, more emotional, and more empathetic soldier. If Marcus as the lead is largely responsible for the series’ gruff, callous machismo, would Dom as the lead inject some humanity and spirit? Alternatively, what if Cole was the star? There was a glimpse of what could have been in Gears 3; what if we had a full opportunity to examine his inner workings? Barring that, what if we had his fiery spirit searing its way out of every pore of the game? I suppose it’s a bit late to wonder now, but with Gears of War Judgment glimmering on the horizon, one can’t help but wonder what comes next.
I’m reminded of a Zero Punctuation video from a while back that had a tangent dealing with the same issues. What would Mario games be like if Luigi had a more prominent role? In recent years, Luigi’s evolved into a sort of fast-talking coward, and a plumber who has his fair share of negative emotions. Why not give Luigi a chance to shine? Why is it so easy and rewarding to envision alternate possibilities? What if you played as Zeke instead of Cole? What if you played as The Arbiter instead of Master Chief? What if you played as Auron instead of Tidus? More importantly, why can’t I help but envision alternate possibilities?
I’m not so bold as to proclaim that all the main characters I’ve named (and more) are automatically lame. But I want to try to understand why I constantly feel this way -- why I’m constantly more invested in the stories behind the second, or third, or fourth or fifth banana than in the first. I can come up with a few reasons. Maybe it’s because I’m a little brother; as Yahtzee suggested, there’s a sense of camaraderie and appeal. Maybe it’s because I’m usually playing the 2P role; in the case of Abyss, I used Guy while my brother used Luke, so it’s only natural I’d connect with the former. Maybe it’s because I put so much stock into ALL characters, and see what they contribute to the game -- like a jigsaw puzzle, or a rock band. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m the one who’s cursed.
Or maybe it’s them. Maybe the main character is bland, and too closely-knit to certain stereotypes. Maybe their need to be comparatively normal and safe and functionally-sound limits their potential and impact. Maybe they’re annoying, or mopey, or needlessly angry, or stupid, or just plain boring. Who’s to say, really? And rightly so; one man’s hero is another man’s hemorrhoid.
And that’s where you all come in. Let me know what you think in the comments. What do you think of game protagonists? In general, are they good or bad? Ever find yourself wishing that one of the other cast members had the leading role? Why? Why not? Do you think there’s some problem that side characters don’t have? I want to hear it, whatever you have to say, whatever you may feel.
As for me…well, I think I need to go see a gypsy or an exorcist or something.
*I don't...I don't actually know anything about drinks or alcohol or...or rocks.
You know, I’ve never been someone too in tune with religion. My fondest memories of the church include being bored out of my mind, listening to the pastor go into a rant that involved Batman and salt, and falling asleep on my mother’s lap. So, yeah, I’m probably going to hell. But at the very least, I can appreciate the concepts behind certain religions. (And of course, I can tolerate people believing in their chosen religions.) But one thing that always interested me was the concept of reincarnation. I’ve always wondered how something like that would work -- if there’s a “waiting line” of sorts, if you remember your past life…and of course, if you get to choose what form you’ll take next.
That last one makes me raise my eyebrows with intrigue. If we get to choose what we reincarnate into, then -- and don’t think me odd for this -- I want to come back as a supermodel. Or…you know, someone that’ll grow into a supermodel.
I’m happy with who I am right now, of course, afro and all. But I’m someone who is -- or is trying to, at least -- make a name for himself by way of his brain. That’s fine, of course, but if I’m going to reincarnate (and NOT go to hell), I’d want to see how the other half lives. I’d want to give modeling a try, and let my radiance and charisma guide me to glory. I’d want to look in the mirror and feel -- and KNOW -- that I’m sexy. Is that an ill-advised wish? Probably. Is it short-sighted? Likely. But I’m just so curious I can’t help but wonder…and if I’d really have no memory of my current life, the present me probably wouldn’t be able to raise an objection.
But seeing as how I’ll have to wait until I’m dead (and possibly thousands of years later) to see what it’s like to be truly beautiful, I guess I’ll have to turn to video games for my wish fulfillment.
Or will I?
Let’s be honest here. When it comes to improbably buxom ladies and obnoxiously-proportioned manly men, few do it better than video games. It’s something that’s earned a lot of ire from gamers male and female, but it’s also something we’ve learned to deal with and joke about. Even so, I feel like there’s kind of…well, a gap between the player and the character. That’s to be expected when you’re playing as someone with supermassive secondary sexual characteristics, but I wonder if it has to be that way.
Let’s think about this in terms of -- what else? -- the upcoming Dead or Alive 5, or just the franchise in general. The series is partly built on the strength of titanium-reinforced bra straps, for good and for ill…all right, mostly for ill. But as bad a reputation as DOA has, and as many times as the masterminds behind the games put themselves into a hole, I suspect that it wouldn’t take that much work to make the DOA ladies respectable. Bear in mind that this goes well beyond reducing bust sizes; I would argue that it’s very possible to turn them from gelatinous gravity-distorting virtua-girls into…well, gelatinous gravity-distorting virtua-girls with real style.
As I’ve said before, there is nothing inherently wrong with making a sexy-looking character; it’s the USE of that character that invites criticism. Shadee from Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is a fine example by virtue of her ridiculous looks and attire…but more importantly, because she has jack-all to do with anything for what must be ninety percent of the game. Was there anything she said or did that couldn’t have been said or done by a random goon? Was there anything to her personality besides callous rage? Did we learn anything about her? Did we feel anything for her besides profound sympathy for her undoubtedly-ruined posterior?
Compare her to the more-recent Juliet Starling. She’s sexualized as well, and while it’s hard to crown her as a brilliant achievement in gaming (or even a successful character, thanks to that pesky “opinion” gamers have) she’s leagues ahead of Shahdee. Does she have a big effect on the plot? I should think so, given how she’s the star of the game. The role she takes couldn’t have been played by anyone else -- and hat goes double for the things she says. Her personality shows shades of bubbly optimism, murderous intent, disregard for her boyfriend’s feelings, love for her boyfriend (and family), and outside of maybe one or two scenes complete confidence in her handle on the situation. We learned that even if she is insane -- or at least severely disturbed -- she’s still a good, earnest zombie hunter at heart. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I had a good impression of Juliet from start to finish, and only came to enjoy her more as the game went on. This, in spite of several hundred panty shots; her beauty was an aspect of her character that wasn't shied away from, and arguably added more to her and the overall tone of the game.
I’m not about to say that writing a mysterious and elusive “strong female character” is easy -- but then again, writing ANY good character is never easy. It takes work, and reasoning, and planning, and an understanding of your character on an intimate level…and of course, you have to try.
And you know what? I honestly believe that Dead or Alive can make the leap with ease -- if only they’re willing to try.
“What, are you kidding me?” you yell, thinking about throttling your computer for the chance to try and strangle me. “You really think the guys that pioneered asynchronous breast physics care at all about giving their ladies depth? Especially for a fighting game? And you really think the company can handle it when their best story was Ninja Gaiden 3?” To that I say…yes, that’s a good point. Dead or Alive has no right to be good given previous efforts. And with DOA5 barely a month away from landing in gamers’ hands, I’d say the time to start hoping for a revelation had best wait for DOA6. So will we have a chance to see what makes Lei Fang tick? Probably not, and not for a while. Will we dissect the process that turned scientist Lisa Hamilton into luchador La Mariposa? Doubtful. Will we get anything that elevates DOA to a more respectable level on an intellectual level, or is the mere thought laughable -- and the series, in spite of being infamously button-mashy, tries to prove itself as a more sophisticated fighter? As they say, the more things change, the more things stay the same…and that’ll likely be the case with this new game.
But with all that said, and with all the disdain the franchise earns and deserves (I’m still baffled by Kasumi’s DOA4 ending that takes her from fighting a clone of herself in the baddies’ lab to dream where she’s a singing topless mermaid), I still see potential in the franchise. This should be no surprise, given that I’m the “Eternal Optimist.”
Hear me out on this. What other franchise puts a bevy of varied beauties on the center stage, rather than support (or damsels) for the men? What other franchise gives them backstories that lead to interpersonal relationships and traceable motivations? What other franchise gives the impression that it has a deep, meaningful story that focuses on their tribulations? Even if you’ve only played one game in the series -- or not even that -- all it takes is a cursory glance at the wiki to realize that there’s something there.
So what’s the end goal here? The same thing every game aspires to: it should make you BE the character. The divide between the player and the player character has to shorten, and maybe even disappear entirely. DOA stumbles in the sense that it revels in reminding you that you aren’t your lady of choice; you aren’t Hitomi, you’re looking at Hitomi. It’s better when you get into the actual fighting, but there’s still a gap. You could successfully argue that’s the case with ALL fighting games (regardless of the character’s gender), but it’s still one that’s notable in this franchise: you’re playing as Ayane, but you aren’t really Ayane. It’s a double-headed alienation.
So how is anyone supposed to fix it? One obvious answer would be to “tone down the fanservice,” which is both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that it’s the clearest way to cut down the cynicism, create more player-character synergy, and get some much-needed legitimacy (I’d wager that “she kicks high” is still a memorable slogan). But it’s an approach that’s not without flaws. Reducing the bust sizes can come off as a sloppy shortcut -- “They’re not as busty, so now they’re good, respectable characters” is a fallacy. There’s a risk of betraying the expectations of fans that’ve come to accept and even ignore the fanservice. Assuming that the sexy looks are the only problem and tending to that alone means that other problems can still slip through the cracks. And of course, you can’t have your cake and eat it alongside nubile young women in bunny ears and swimsuits.
What to do, then? Well, I think IGN put it best: “Anyone who says that the face of Dead or Alive is anything besides a set of hooters is just kidding themselves.” As problematic as DOA’s design philosophy may be, it’s an inherent part of the franchise -- and at a base level, there’s nothing wrong with that. Creative liberties, artistic expression, and the like are all conscious motions by the developers. The problem comes when that’s the ONLY aspect of the characters. People will call you out for filling up the cast with super-duper-sexy girls when they are nothing BUT super-duper-sexy girls. And therein lays the solution: given them more than just good looks, and you’ve got yourself a shot at making a case for your game.
Have another look at the wiki. Click on one of the girls’ pages at random. For argument’s sake, let’s focus on one of my favorite characters, Tina (because, of course, RASSLIN’!). There’s actually a fair bit to her personality, backstory, and past events in the canon, more so than her “award” as G4’s Video Game Vixen of the Year would suggest. She has dreams of becoming a big star in one form or another -- ironically, in anything BUT wrestling. She’s got a rivalry with her dad, an established “king of the ring” as well as a member of the “brains > brawn” camp, Lei Fang. She is…well, very confident in her abilities. Among other things.
The framework is all there. Someone just needs to take it a step further. And I think I know just how to do it.
1) A short-but-dedicated Story Mode path for each character.
If the recent successes of BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, and Mortal Kombat 9 have taught us anything, it’s that there doesn’t have to be a divorce between telling a competent story and building a good fighting game (take notes, Capcom). Putting in time to give players a chance to explore both the canon and its characters is a venture that takes effort, but gives its own rewards. If DOA is really about to plunge into “fighting entertainment” with its cinematic battles, then wouldn’t it make sense to add a story mode that at least tries to string together a narrative?
This could be the evolution that all the characters -- not just the ladies -- need. Going back to Tina, there are at least three games where her story arc is as follows: Tina wants to be a (insert high-publicity job here). But Bass and/or (insert rival here, if applicable) won’t let her have her way. So Tina enters the Nth (insert shady, unscrupulously-backed tournament here). She fights (insert rival here) and wins. And with that, she goes on to become (insert high-publicity job here). If she succeeds and becomes famous once, that should be it. She should already earn public attention; she doesn’t need to enter a tournament multiple times for permission to become a rock star or actress. The problem here is that Team Ninja isn’t willing to give their characters the time of day to develop or move out of their ruts. And it’s more than possible to do so. Give them -- Tina or otherwise -- something new. Give them a connection to the main plot, but a side story that lets them go on their own separate journeys.
2) A glimpse at the inner workings of the characters’ minds.
If there’s one thing I like about Persona 4 Arena -- you know, besides everything else -- it’s that it gives us players a chance to see inside the minds of everyone’s favorite investigation team. It’s one thing to play as a silent protagonist and hang out with your teammates, but it’s another to hear their inner thoughts and see their daily lives. What are they up to? What makes them tick? What kind of problems do they face, and how do they go about solving them? Admittedly, P4A has a problem with showing TOO much and dragging its feet when it comes to plot progression, but there is still a lot to love -- and a lot that DOA can learn from it.
I’m just going to throw this out there: the women of DOA are sexy by nature. Do they succeed at it all the time? No, of course not. Maybe it’s because of personal preferences, like thinking that purple hair is repulsive. Maybe it’s just revulsion by exaggerated, flawless features (and the physics therein). I personally have a problem with the faces in the game; in DOA4 there was something unnervingly creepy about them, even with my acceptance of anime-style sensibilities, and in DOA5 there’s still something off-putting about them. Whatever. What’s important is that they were made to convey information to us gamers at a glance -- and because of it, all of them (even the men, arguably) are sexy. But I want to see their thought processes. What’s the mentality of someone like Tina, who’s likely proud of her body? What about Kokoro, the would-be-geisha? I’m not suggesting that she should just have boobs on the brain throughout her story; I want to know more about her, through her eyes. What’s her life like? What’s it like being a geisha? Does she enjoy it?
I ask these questions because I actually know a male model, and he once wrote a brief story with a few particulars about his life for class. Everyone agreed it was not only a good story, but an interesting one by design; it’s a perspective we never get to see, or even think about. Why can’t we have some of that in the series?
3) Focus on creating a bond between the player and character…by way of focus.
I like Tina, but Eliot’s my favorite character and main. He’s got an interesting fighting style, he’s got a simple yet satisfying personality, and he’s not a ninja (fun fact: I hate ninjas). But his ending in his debut game, DOA4, is enough to give me hope for the canon and its masterminds. Even though there are only a couple of scenes in his “story mode” just like everyone else’s, there’s enough for someone to latch onto. He’s concerned that he can’t follow his master’s standards in pedigree, and worries that he’s not a worthy successor -- and why Gen Fu even picked him in the first place. But after besting his master, Eliot ends up taking a step forward in his life…in more ways than one. Even if a DOA game opts for a story path you can finish before your ramen’s done heating up, I’ll accept it if it’s full of poignant, meaningful moments. Eliot’s story chronicles his growth as a martial artist, from start to finish; his story ends with him figuratively becoming -- maybe even surpassing -- Gen Fu.
Lei Fang’s story ends with her getting groped. Hitomi’s story has her getting ready for her day as sexily as possible. Christie’s story ends has her grinding against a pole -- whoops, I mean assassinating someone…while masquerading as a stripper. Yep.
Is it so wrong of me to want a little consistency here? I know DOA is all about the sex appeal, but I don’t think I’m being that unreasonable. There ARE threads to follow. There ARE ideas being put on display here. There ARE chances to make the ladies more than just the stuff of hug pillows and oppai mouse pads. The problem is that the developers are too eager to throw all their goodwill and thoughtfulness out the window for a chance at more titillation. Lei Fang wanted to prove herself to Jann Lee. She does. What happens next? We’ll never know, because it’s gropin’ time. Hitomi wants to save her father’s dojo, but gets into fights over cabbage and T-rexes…and we never DO learn how things turned out with the dojo. (This is especially baffling in light of her DOA3 ending, where we see how much the dojo and her father meant to her.) Kasumi has the mermaid dream, Christie puts on an unflattering costume, La Mariposa…wrestles some more…the moments of focus and insight are few and far between for reasons that only the girls’ surgery consultants know.
In DOA4’s defense, not all the endings lead to big lipped alligator moments. Even though Tina’s story is straightforward and more than a little shallow, at least it comes to a conclusion. She wants to be a rock star. So what’s her ending? She’s a rock star -- a skateboarding, city-leveling rock star. She has a goal, and she reaches it. Her motivation has led to a successful venture; because of that, even if it is shallow, at least we know it wasn’t a waste of time. She had a focus, and because of it, WE had a focus. Her goal is our goal, and her quest is our quest. If it’s completed, we’re satisfied. If it’s not, we’re disconnected from the character. If we’re allowed to follow the journey from start to finish, we’re more likely to insert ourselves into it, and want to become a superstar just as much as the southern belle brawler. If we’re thrown about from one silly sequence to the next, we aren’t allowed to believe any of the sequences have any impact or legitimacy -- and thus, we’re led to believe that the character we’re playing as really is nothing more than fighting fertility goddesses. (Actually, fighting fertility goddesses would make a pretty cool game…somebody should Kickstart that.)
All right, here’s the thing. I know that wishing for DOA to be something it isn’t (or may never be) comes with more than a little futility. Likewise, I don’t think the franchise is inherently awful or abhorrent, and needs to be remedied for the sake of keeping our impressionable minds pure. I know there are people who don’t have a problem with DOA, and rightly so; in spite of my ranting, I accept the franchise for what it is: a fun, if shallow and unambitious fighting game that rightly deserves whatever ire it receives. That’s fine. I get that. But do we have to accept something just because it’s not a complete affront to our senses? Is it okay to give a company a free pass just because “no one cares about the story” or “it’s just fanservice”? In a word, no. In two words, hell no. Even if one’s lofty aspirations never come to pass, they can still voice their opinions and suggestions, especially if it’s for the sake of helping someone improve themselves and their work -- doubly so if the company itself wants to improve. Even if we aren’t technically in power, it’s a gamer’s duty to rationally and intelligently offer their thoughts whenever and wherever needed. We’re the unseen support of the industry, helping to maintain its shape and keep it perky, and doing whatever we can to keep the industry from growing lax and saggy and WOW there are a lot of breast references in this post.
My ultimate point is this: DOA has sexy ladies. That’s fine. We can play as sexy ladies. Also fine, more or less. But one day, someday, we’ll reach a point where games -- DOA or otherwise -- have evolved thanks to enlightened design, dissection, and discussion. And when that day arrives, we’ll all be better off. Because at long last, I’ll finally be beautiful.
When’s that day coming? No clue. I mean, who knows? Maybe DOA5 will give me the story I want. And if that’s the case, I’m considering eating my own afro for my impertinence.
…Okay, not really. I like my hair as-is…which is to say, on my head and NOT in my stomach.
There was a post about The Last Story over on Siliconera -- one that included the thoughts of one of its lead developers. The gist of his argument was that JRPGs have grown too reliant on cutscenes to convey information and emotion; they’re less like playing a game and more like watching a movie, a complaint I’m sure we’ve all heard for games across the board. Whether you agree or not, the post opens up for discussion in the comments on the subject of JRPGs; the primary focus is on what they can do to regain the glory they once had.
A lot of comments have come in (I even made one), so I’ll let you have a look at the post and see if what’s been said lines up with your beliefs. Even so, I don’t want to focus solely on JRPGs right now; just as that post did, I want to create an open forum to ask you all a question:
What do gamers want?
The impetus for this goes beyond that Siliconera post. A recent Zero Punctuation video (and to some extent several before it, and to some extent articles here on Destructoid) suggested that too many games this generation -- the big ones, especially -- are less about creativity and more about ticking off boxes on a checklist. Guns, zombies, grit, modern warfare, QTEs, well-choreographed executions…there are certain “commonalities” between games that can inspire a bit of cynicism. That’s not to say that shooters and AAA releases are the only ones at fault; JRPGs have their share of checklist items as well. (Magnacarta 2 is a good example; its only original idea was to make one party member an improbably buxom elf that, thanks to a quirk of her species, can look like a full-grown twentysomething but have the mind -- and actual age -- of a ten-year-old. Riveting.)
On the one hand, I have to wonder why developers stick to stock ideas and clichés to pass off their games as something more valuable than one’s daily bread. On the other hand, I can kind of see the mentality: “These games with these elements have sold well, so if we include those elements in our game, we’ll have better sales.” Or alternatively, “That game over there may be good, but it’s too odd and its ideas are un-established -- and its sales have suffered. Gamers need something familiar to latch onto, so we’ll throw some zombies into our dating sim.” It’s a dangerous mentality, but an understandable one…buuuuuuuuuuut it warps right back to me being confused when given a second thought. Why do games have to resort to old tropes? Why do games have to do what everyone else is doing? Why do games have to double- and triple-check every item on a list?
The obvious answer is likely “Because that’s what sells” or more appropriately, “Because that’s what gamers want.” But is it really? Did we as a community ask for more guns, grit, and violence? Did we get on our knees and beg for more space marines? Did we send letters to Japan asking for more angst, clichés, and material with a single-minded resolve to tighten trousers?
I feel as if there’s a big disconnect here. As important as gamers are to the industry, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a serious sense of powerlessness. Sure, we may speak with our wallets, but to what end? How are we supposed to say “Hey guys, do what Persona 4 did” when there are twenty times more who say “Yeah, I bought Final Fantasy 13 -- you guys use that money however you want”? How do we suggest that we want something besides the AAA menagerie when they garner record-breaking sales with each new installment?
I will readily admit that there are lots of titles out there -- and plenty coming, I’d wager -- that defy perceptions and expectations, even in this easy-to-hate climate of ours. Likewise, I will gladly say that even though this generation has its issues (chief among them the crippling costs of development and subsequent graphics pissing contests), more powerful consoles mean there’s potential for better games than we’ve ever had before. But whether that potential can be/is used -- or abused -- and whether we’ll see something that goes beyond our zeitgeist remains to be seen…mostly because it feels like such a crapshoot.
But enough of my ranting. Let’s play a game.
Here’s the scenario. You’re sitting at home, about to play your favorite game one cloudy afternoon. As you plop down in front of your TV, a horde of black-suited thugs busts your door down and throws you into a burlap sack. When you can finally see and breathe again, you realize you’ve been flung into an interrogation room. Suddenly, a voice hails you from the speaker above.
“All right, gamer,” the voice calls out. “We’re going to use data collected from you to create the next big game. Don’t worry about the budget; money’s no object. You’re free to dream up whatever you feel like, and we’ll make it a reality. What we need from you is the answer to a simple question: what do you want out of a main character in a video game?” You scratch your head, fold your arms, and tilt your head as you contemplate, thinking up your answer to the question (and wondering if those goons left your door wide open). After about five minutes of deliberation, you come to a realization. And then, you answer with…
That’s the game in a nutshell.
In the interest of not turning every comment into an essay, let’s focus on main characters -- because frankly, they’re as important to a game as its graphics engine. Regardless of genre, it’s all too easy to fall into the trappings of certain creative crutches. That said, those crutches don’t necessarily have to be bad; in the same sense that a pretty boy swordsman isn’t automatically awful, neither is a grizzled, beefy space marine. Even if certain aspects of a character aren’t original, there can still be plenty of others that are. What’s important in making an entertaining character, one that gamers -- you, or others -- might want is to keep them from having problematic characteristics. Check off too many items on a “space marine" list, for example, and your character’s impact is reduced. At least, one would think.
I recognize there’s a certain level of futility to this little game. What works for me isn’t going to work for someone else. What bothers Gamer Alpha may not affect Gamer Beta -- and Gamer Gamma might even appreciate certain traits. That’s fine. I accept that. But I want to use this post (or rather its comments section) to give anyone who wants to sound off a chance to do so. Say whatever you feel like saying. What do you want in a main character? What do want in a game, period? What trappings of your favorite genre do you love/hate? What can you do as a gamer? Are your needs being met, or are you just being forced to accept what’s given to you, and have your tastes forcefully changed?
Let me hear it. Because if anyone’s willing to listen, it’s me -- your friendly neighborhood afro-haired digital entity who’s long since discarded his physical form to wander the internet. How? Easy: sauerkraut. The answer is always sauerkraut.