WARNING: this post was partially inspired by my personal disagreement over Destructoid's own review of Valkyria Revolution, and since I am a deeply insecure person, I can already imagine that lone commenter who ripped that game a new arsehole in the comments section barreling down on me with something big and pointy to do the exact same thing to my lithe, non athletic, mildly-attractive-after-two-shots-of-tequila virgin body.
I'm also imagining you're kinda cute so the new-arsehole-ripping part was at least bearable on my (rear) end.
Like this, but with softer hands.
As is common with these contrarian pieces it usually begins with variations of "I agree with what was said, HOWEVER...", before proceeding with whatever opposing view of the subject at hand in an effort to mitigate the new-arsehole-ripping risk ratio. However those always sound about as sincere as your great aunt telling you after you've failed to tie your shoelaces for the seventh time that you are just "special" and "takes things slower than the other boys": you ain't fooling me back in fourth grade, Great Aunt Gertrude, and you ain't fooling me now.
And for God's sake, woman, dress your age!
Instead I'll just go straight to gouging the elephant in the room right in the eyeballs and address some of the more common complaints heard regarding the game that started all this kerfuffle. As a lot of people are more than happy to point out, Valkyria Revolution is a far different animal than Valkyria Chronicles, the series of games that it was supposed to inherit the franchise from. While 'different' does not always mean 'terrible', the vibe permeating from comments sections everywhere is of the #NotMyValkyria variety. "It's too anime," says one. "The gameplay is too different," says another. "Too much talky talky, not enough bang bang time, get this shitty animu bullshit out of my war games" was also another general concensus for the title.
Here's the thing though: those complaints listed up above? Those were the exact same complaints aimed at the original Valkyria Chronicles as well.
Play for full effect.
When Valkyria Chronicles broke into the western shores in 2008, it wasn't exactly met with flowers and a parade down main street either. Destructoid might have given it a fair shake with its review, but the brave lone commenter down in the comment section of that page practically echoed every single other gaming communities out there when they first laid their hands upon the game. "This is too different than the strategy RPGs I've played" was the tune they were singing, with a nice little chorus of "it pisses in the face of every other strategy RPGs that came before it" to make sure they got their point across.
It's easy to see why: for a tactical turn-based combat game, a genre normally associated with taking your time and be as strategic as possible, the original VC emphasized more on completing the mission objective as fast as possible instead with lesser turns granting better Ranks and thus better rewards. Oh, and there's the cheating A.I. as well. Let us all never forget the fact that the enemy can take potshots at you while you're moving your squadmates around (and during your turn, no less) which can potentially kill them at low health, and the fact that you are not allowed to return the favor when the enemy's turn came up.
As a great man once said: "THERE IS NO MIDDLE FINGER BIG ENOUGH" to point at that kind of arbitrary shafting of the players' posteriors.
Truly, one of the greatest minds of our time.
Hopping back to the present we have Valkyria Revolution committing to the same vices as its predecessor, with the only difference being now it has switched from a strategy RPG format to an action RPG one. Outside of that, everything else is still very much the same: the anime influence, the overtly-elaborate exposition, and even right down to the shafting of the players' posteriors. You have not seen true hell until you've seen a painstakingly liberated territory gets retaken in seconds flat while you were too busy defending another territory, because apparently your main army cannot seem to stop being useless and they have a wager going over how many times the bubbly anime girls in your squadron of elites with the eardrums-shattering high-pitched squeals can save their asses before calling it quits.
Yet why does the reaction seem more severe this time around? It's not a perfect game, true, but the fiery backlash and frothing outcry over the game's flaws sounded akin to something that should be reserved for Mighty No.9. Having seen everything I can see from prologue to finale, I've detected nothing here that would make me cry like an anime fan on prom night. So why then were the reactions to Valkyria Revolution seemed as though it had murdered every puppy ever?
Perhaps they noticed two giant 'problems' that I've missed?
The initial build for the Japanese demo and what was seen in the final commercial release made it obvious what Sega was, if you will excuse the pun, gunning for: a Kingdom Hearts-esque real-time battle system. This became even more blatanly obvious with how certain boss encounters are presented (Maxim's fights came immediately to mind) and how skirmishes shifted to high gear the moment your State of War gauge maxed out. It would not surprise me at all if any of the developers would later come forward to confirm that the battle pallete was not supposed to 'freeze time' during their initial designs or the fact that one of your squadmates was supposed to be an incomprehensibly squawking magician duck in a pantsless sailor shirt, since those two design choices seemed to work in Kingdom Hearts' favor thus far.
And then the Japanese who played the demo, which allegedly was based on an alpha build of the game, raised a stink so dank it made Oscar the Grouch projectile vommitted violently. "It's too different," they cried. "Give us back our Valkyria," they said presumably in its Japanese equivalent. Sega caved to their demands, tried to curry their favor by reworking the system to come close to the previous Valkyria titles, and in an ultimate act of final bertrayal, they refused to buy the revised final product anyway.
And there you have it folks: the ever-lethal iron fists of nostalgia claimed yet another victim.
Just as it did with RZA's movie career.
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and just like any other drug, it can either become a very potent cure or a very harmful poison. When handled properly, nostalgia can help give us Undertale, Yooka Laylee, and the-yet-to-be-released-but-celebrated-as-if-it-already-was Bloodstained: Rituals of the Night; delightful little numbers that led us by the hand to experience something new within the confines of something familiar and therefore comfortable. When handled improperly, however, that hand became a fist that shattered both the goodwill of the audience and the very product upon which said goodwill had raised up on the pedestal in the first place, as was the case with Mighty No.9 and, obviously, Valkyria Revolution.
And believe me when I say that the rampage of the iron fist of nostalgia is far from over.
Unlike RZA's movie career.
This man with better journalistic credentials than I puts it best in his article: the end result of indulging in rampant nostalgia is a creative quagmire.
Sure, we're now celebrating the second entry of those goofy, nipple-less squidlings of Splatoon blasting each other in the face with ink that I'm hoping they did not produce from their own body lest the Child Protective Services came a-knockin' at the House of Mario's doors, but recall that it took Nintendo practically all of fourteen years to finally come up with the very first game that has nothing to do with an Italian plumber, a space lady, or a cross-dressing teenage elfling. It makes sense in a twisted way: why should they bother investing time, effort, and money for a new I.P. when the market is so very lucrative to keep releasing the same plumber, space lady, and cross-dressing teenage elfling games to an all too eager audience hopped up on the drug, or rather poison, called nostalgia?
You need not look further than Kickstarter to find even more horror stories of the same kind of flavor: Shadow of the Eternal rides high on the Eternal Darkness wave before people remembered how Dennis Dyack eviscerated X-Men Destiny and promptly pulled out, Areal promoted dubious funding goals for a multi console release as well as posting concept arts and footages from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. a.k.a. Not The Game They Were Supposed To Be Making, and Star Citizen is really stretching that good faith extended by the Wing Commander players by pushing its release date back four years and offering virtual vehicles that costs about the same price as a real car!
A second-hand car, sure, but a real actual car, nonetheless. One you can presumably use to get to real places in your real life, like the nearest game shop to buy a cheaper, better video game.
"Nevermind the dead Parlaxian smell: she's still got some good mileage on her!"
And here's the part of the post where I either lose a lot of you folks or have to duck and cover from the beer bottles flung my way: we are, however partial, to blame for all this. We allowed, nay, even demanded for the iron fists of nostalgia to wreak havoc over what we ourselves have built over the decades of gaming culture, and like the worst samurai ever, we have purposely slashed our eyes to blind ourselves from the fact that no, Classic Sonic was not in fact better than Modern Sonic. The guy moved from perfect standstill to top speed like he was walking in a vat of mollasses, so how the hell is he better than someone who can move as fast as your reflex, precision jump like nobody's business, gain top speed in seconds, and have friggin' homing attacks?!
How the hell is he better, Dave?! HOW?!
The same article mentioned way above and this rambling of a smarter person than I suggested that we might have allowed our nostalgia took hold of us because we're taking the concept very, very wrong: we don't want the good old times because they were better, we want the good old times because of the memories associated with them.
We certainly did not scour every Target store to find the NES Mini because we were enthralled by the cutting edge graphics of Joust, we scoured them because we want to feel that same thrill and excitement over bumping our kid brother's ostrich rider into the 8-bit lava pits on-screen and began a sibling rivalry that lasted for decades. We didn't want Sonic Mania to revert back to 16-bit graphics and audio because they were better than Sonic Forces' modern presentation, we want them because regardless of how many times the bullies at school called us dorks we know we are at least cool enough to finish Green Hill Zone 1 in 23 seconds or less. And I know that I did not want Valkyria Chronicles' battle system in Valkyria Revolution because it was flawless and perfect when compared to its current successor's, I wanted it because I remembered rushing into the battlefield to trick the enemy into blasting my poor decoy scouts before ambushing all of their tanks to empty salvo upon salvo of bazooka blasts into their radiators made me feel like I am smarter than Patton, Rommel, and Hannibal combined.
Hell, I'll even crack open a cigar and make a quip about a plan coming together!
Nostalgia is not a bad thing. Far from it: some of the best games around today are only made possible thanks to that attachment we have over the feeling of rushing home from school to boot up our gaming system of choice and play video games until our moms yelled at us to finish our homework. Thinking that the old ways is the best and only way to produce something worthwile, however, is bad. It strikes down new potentials before it can even be fully experienced and appreciated, kills new ideas, and is overall counter-productive against creativity and innovation in an industry that is supposed to be championing creativity and innovation on its day to day basis.
Lest we forget, the Marios and the Zeldas that became greats and classics today were once regarded as bold, fresh, and often times crazy new ideas that not even their creators were sure were going to work. It was the gamers who embraced new ideas that encouraged them and ensure that their ideas did work, that urged them to continuously innovate, and to continue to seek out even newer and crazier ideas to implement until they ultimately became the norm. Now imagine if instead of doing that, they staunchly proclaimed that the old ways were better and insisted that nothing deviates from that arbitrary 'gold standard' that they have deemed to be set in stone to be enforced it with an iron fist of nostalgia. Forever!
Instead of playing Final Fantasy XV, we'll be playing Super Pong XXV right now.