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elysse's blog

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elysse avatar 12:15 PM on 09.04.2009  (server time)
I Suck At Games: It's All the Same, Only the Names Have Changed.

I've had my PS3 for one year now, and I've finally gotten a copy of Heavenly Sword.

It took me a while to decide I wanted it in my collection for three reasons: Reviews, Price, and Cover Art… roughly in that order, although in my mind they were all linked as closely as your incestuous uncle Cletus' family tree.

I'll get that last reason out of the way now and say that when I looked at the box art for Heavenly Sword I thought "Great, another T&A game of no particular ingenuity or substance …only now for PS3." This is because after so many dashed hopes of "She KICKS ASS! SHE R IDENTAFIBL HEEROZ!" I've become skeptical. Even in the best games, powerful playable females generally come in four flavors: Death by Distraction ( e.g.: Ivy and the Incredible Technicolor UnderBoob), Kickass but Passive (Yuna, Aeris), Kickass but batshit/inherently flawed (Tifa, Bjor...uh..Kai), and Novelty (Faith, Chell). For us ladies, these games are less like Buffy and more like Roger Sterling in blackface. A little Sterling in blackface is effective imagery, but an entire show of it is just sad and rather embarrassing. With that in mind, I looked at the box and said "no thanks, not for *that* price."

To Heavenly Sword's credit, when Mr. E. asks me "How's it going?" my response has been more "Kickin' ass, takin' names." and considerably less "How does that armor not chafe? THAT'S GRAVITATIONALLY UNPOSSIBLE."

This is not actually about that, but that is the shorter of the two explanation-based Reasons I forewent Heavenly Sword for so long.

This is about the pursuit of originality. Heavenly Sword is my most recent reminder of the perils of What Other People Think in terms of originality, so I'm using it as the base example.

I looked at the E3 footage of Heavenly Sword (before it's release, natch) and had PTSD flashbacks of getting my ass handed to me in God of War repeatedly. Many reviewers cemented this notion for me when the game was released. Up until just last night I was under the impression that Heavenly Sword was just God of War plus estrogen on a 3.2Ghz cell processor, and I wasn't going to have any of it. I'm sure many people still feel that way, but in my opinion it's a derivation that can be taken to a ridiculous degree (as I will soon demonstrate) and shows our collective jaded outlook on what makes a good game.

Some enjoy a game for it's ingenious style, forsaking all wannabes, forever in pursuit of the most original experience. That's fine- truly groundbreaking game style is a sight to behold. But groundbreaking doesn't always mean refined.. and almost certainly doesn't equate to the full potential of the New Style. I think part of the problem is that new systems' capabilities are so incredible now that we think we can't ever reach the limit of what we can do with them.. so it seems best to call the Idea done at it's first successful implementation.

In the bad old days of 8/16/32-bit we laid the foundation for our current games, but because of the systems' limits we didn't so much create new game mechanics as refine what we knew worked. Console fanboyism aside, with the logic that we apply to games now one could say that Sonic was just Mario as a blue hedgehog, that Mortal Kombat was Street Fighter (or even Punch-Out!!) with spinal columns and even dumber costumes.

In it's core, yes, SoulCalibur IS Tekken/VirtuaFighter. Every racer you've ever played is basically a gussied-up Pole Position/Enduro. Those myriad FPSes are all just wanting to be Wolfenstein 3D. The MGS add-on for LittleBig Planet? It's just Contra. RPGs? Bitch, you'd best get real and get out your graph paper and D20 or you just frontin'.

I've been burned twice by this line of thinking in recent memory, the last time was with BioShock. Why would I want to pay my cash money to play a dumbed-down System Shock/2 when I've already played it? As it turns out, the only thing the two had in common was "Shock" in the name, and loose connection in game mechanics. I missed out on playing it for quite a while under the misconception it wouldn't be anything interesting to me, and it ended up being truly great when I finally took it as it's own entity- a refined variation on an older game concept.

We've become jaded to the game, addicted to the constant promise of novelty like the consumer whores we can often be.. while paradoxically demanding groundbreaking novelty from an older series lest we lose interest. Maybe it is time to bury the Final Fantasy franchise and start something new from what we learned throughout it's 22 years in development, but don't bury stuff like Heavenly Sword right out of the gate because it's remotely reminiscent of God of War- otherwise we'll miss out on some great story, and even greater gaming.

This gamer got a sharp reminder last night to keep an eye on the older Ideas being refined, otherwise we'll miss out entirely… we don't want this generation of consoles to be marked by refined Madden games and a handful of great original concepts.

(P.S. that Whiptail is a supreme bitch.)

Now, a recap of our programming here on 60 Minutes…

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