So I played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Lauren and I finally wrapped up our biggest game of the social distancing era, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Complete Edition. I do not really understand why it’s considered the greatest game of all time. It’s like a mix between a Zelda game and an Elder Scrolls game, and it doesn’t get either quite right. Movement and combat always feels just slightly delayed, the choices that are allowed don’t offer for much role-playing or especially emergent storytelling, and considering how much time is spent managing inventory, there is a lot of lag simply navigating the many menus. Although it’s fun to arrange abilities and buffs in such a way to maximize your potential, It never FEELS especially good to play, at least compared to other Games of the Year.

I get why anyone would like it though – it’s freaking huge. It’s full of stuff. The sheer amount of writing and recorded audio even for the most insignificant situations is unbelievable. And the accessibility to all the quests is like nothing I’ve seen. You can find out about a quest by overhearing a conversation, pulling a notice off of a bulletin board, meeting the quest-giver in town, or just by running into the abandoned house they were going to ask you to look at anyway. It doesn’t always feel like a well-crafted game, but it is clearly the result of a lot of work. Sometimes it pays off, but honestly, it’s just too much.

We were told we could jump into this one without playing the previous entries, which now feels like a lie. Most of the main storyline lacks urgency because we never felt a deep connection to the major players, and the big threats are… pretty lame, predictable villains. Frankly, most of the major events felt BYOC (bring your own charm) because the characters left theirs in the previous games.

Thankfully, we stuck with it to get to the DLC expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine, which were, frankly, what I was hoping the rest of the game would be like. It felt a lot like we were playing through the early kitschy seasons of a TV show (say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to get to the later, wilder, genre-pushing seasons. A lot more fun, a lot more imagination, a lot more unique boss fights (though, again, it’s rough fighting a Zelda-style boss fight without Zelda-style responsive control). Also, the Witcher acts more like a professional rolling into town and resolving magically-complicated Shakespearean family power struggles and not some dumbass on a wild (goose) hunt.

The disparate feelings between the main game and the expanded content felt like a natural result of the production. This game is huge and, like most games this size, required a huge crunch to be finished. The result is a game that usually feels spread thin. The reason the DLC feels so much more lively is likely just a result of more people focusing on a smaller set of stories. Seems like a much better use of resources! As is, this game is overwhelming to the point I really can’t imagine returning to it.

Still, it’s hard not to spend so much time with something and not feel an attachment. With our last quest finished, we had Geralt strip down to his underwear, hang up his best suit of armor to display, down 20 bottles of wine (and a few onions by accident), read a goodbye note from an old vampire friend, and hit the hay in his retirement vineyard. Goodnight, Geralt.

What I get and did not get from NieR: Automata

I get the sensation of being a well-built killing machine refined from millennia worth of war data. The slashing, shooting, and dodging come from the previous NieR, but these actions are amped up in every way, bigger, faster, and most importantly, effortless. You don’t even have to hold your weapons most of the time!

I did not get the point of making the differences between each difficulty level so severe. Easy mode is basically meant to allow you to experience the story without much heartache. Normal mode is meant to be just challenging enough to make the proceedings feel dramatic without being punishing, but most difficulties can be solved by just… using a healing item when your HP get low, and failure usually comes less often from a desperate struggle than being too lazy to pull out a Medium Recovery in time. Hard mode decides to pair harder-hitting enemies with the inability to even lock on to them — TWO new challenges to get used to! The wish for a mode between Normal and Hard meant a constant feeling that there was some alternate version of the game that I’d rather play.

I get the feeling that chips and their customization were meant to be the central mechanic of the game, or should have been. They offer the clearest encouragement to pay attention to the way you play, either enticing you toward different strategies or allowing to you make your current methods even more effective through the clever combination of fusion of the right chips. They’re also a constant reminder that you are not human, driven home brilliantly by the fact that your entire chip set is customizable except for your core processor, which you need to literally function.

I don’t get why chips are sidelined by less interesting mechanics, specifically the acquisition and equipment of multiple weapons. I changed up my weapon sets at maybe two points in the game, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have had a problem with using only the first two swords the whole time. I’ll grant that different weapon choices can provide different tactical advantages — this is especially true when countering after a dodge can result in a rising slash, a spinning attack, or a forward thrust — but there isn’t enough motivation to try even half of the 38 weapons you can get. I would rather have had twice as meant chip sets as they provide, and I would have MUCH rather had the option to switch between chip sets from the quick menu instead of weapon sets!

I get the world design. The best way to illustrate a foot soldier’s part in a global conflict without actually bringing the globe into it is to give them dominion over a large contained area filled with distinct zones. The “ruined city” and its neighbors can either represent to the entire world, or just one apparently very important metropolis. This “anywhere”-ness accentuates the distant, fable-like tone of the game. The minimalism of the game’s style helps there, as well. Though tying your narrative to a mostly empty world populated by featureless automatons probably made the producers happy. *taps nose twice*

I get the side quests. In the last NieR, sidequests were an absolute nuisance that padded out the game and got in the way of the story. In Automata, the side quests, justified as operations to assist the android Resistance and gather intelligence on the machine threat, ARE the story. The simple act of being on Earth and being sentient — being alive — makes machines act strangely, and the game shows basically every possible permutation of ageless, disaffected robots looking for purpose. We see machines love each other, hate each other, try to be human, try to be BETTER than human, embrace struggle, find out what it means to live, what it means to be. Most define themselves by a single trait — the way most NPCs tend to do, right — and either embrace or are trapped by it. They so often act like any quest givers in any video game, but by merely knowing that their identities and desires originate from an entirely artificial place, your decision to take on these missions means elevating the stakes of their pantomime and recognizing their will, in turn asserting that everything is meaningless until you provide meaning to it. Magnifying this sensation is the ever-present irony that the self-serious androids, despite looking human, make far fewer attempts at acting human than most machines you meet. This is what it really means to ask the question, “What is it to be human?” This is truly science fiction.

I get the abstraction of time, kind of. It’s unclear how much time passes over the course of the game, especially when you take on sidequests that cut to a title reading TWO DAYS LATER once in a while, but it’s long enough to feel like an active and momentous number of weeks — months? — in the war against the machine threat, and long enough for 2B and 9S to form a working relationship.

That said, I don’t get the relationship between 2B and 9S. 2B is cold and 9S is outgoing, right? That comes across very effectively in the way they work together. 9S not only does most of the talking between the two of them, he also does most of the talking to NPCs on behalf of the both of them, not just because he’s naturally a talker, but because 2B either comes to expect this of him or allows him to. Their closeness is most believable in the subtle transition after a number of missions, when they go from clashing with each other to becoming comfortable in their complimentary roles.

That is, until their roles get switched up seemingly at random. They have a bad habit of mixing up their “machine’s have wills and are interesting” / “machines have no wills and must die” routine whenever they come across a new set of strange robots, with 9S being pretty inconsistent. 9S is the older model, yet he needs to be reminded that emotions are prohibited by YoRHA. And then 2B seems to forget about the emotion prohibition, and is even the first to shed tears! I get the change that’s being illustrated here, with the cold soldier getting in touch with her feelings, but there is basically no proper set-up for this moment. That is, unless you assume that she learned the value of caring for others from the sidequests you complete, which passes the work of convincing the audience that 2B and 9S have a reason for caring about each other onto the audience itself.

Actually, this is the abstraction of time coming back to bite us in the ass. Relationships presented between NPCs are suggested to have endured for centuries, but we’re supposed to believe that these taciturn androids are soul mates after… what, a month?

So I don’t really get where 9S’ enduring affection for 2B comes from, but I sort of do get that his obsession with the loss of 2B is meant to be analogous to his loss of purpose as her supporter, a member of YoRHA, and a defender of humanity when the shit hits the fan at the top of act three.

I don’t get A2. The most interesting possibility in the discovery of A2 is that there is a powerful android who lives off the grid who might be able to able to provide a new perspective into YoRHA’s real workings. Instead A2 is just like… a tough loner, and that’s it. It’s not even clear what her deal is unless you gather intelligence documents to reveal that she was an older model sent on a previous secret mission by YoRHA, which you… basically already know before you play as her.

Her ultimate purpose is to represent the desire of living for living’s sake in contrast to 9S’ madness-induced nihilism at the climax, but the path feels clumsy. Wasn’t there some other way to have this emotional moment? Why couldn’t the story be constructed so that 2B an 9S were facing each other in the end, and have their point of contention be disagreeing on what to do with the information that humanity is extinct?

I get that the game wants to shake things up once in a while by having you control different characters. It does this pretty well, most notably with the little machine getting oil for its “big brother” at the start of 9S’s story, an especially brutal moment when you trip and spill it everywhere. It really helps you understand the stark difference between the effortless flow of the androids and the ponderous gesticulating of the machines.

I don’t get 2B actually being 2E. I have no idea if that news is meant to momentous or not. If 2B’s whole thing was making sure 9S never got to the truth, what circumstances decide whether she is cold and dutiful about it or emotional and remorseful about it? Has this cycle repeated outside of the game as played? Moreover, the shallow “gotcha” of 2B’s identity switcharoo undermines 9S’ decisions to keep the truth of humanity’s extinction from 2B. Which sounds like a more interesting secret: the beliefs of every sentient thing on Earth are based on a lie, or “Actually, it was a different letter”?

I don’t get why Project YoRHA is designed to end the way it does. Considering the purpose of its formation — to boost android morale, a nebulous concept; why not just… program androids that have morale? — why violently end something that was fake, anyway? To hide its existence from who? The machine network’s purpose for fighting continuously — so it can evolve — makes more sense in comparison. But what does creating and destroying a military force actually do for humanity’s memory?

I do get the repetition of ironic circumstances of origin and the maddening implications of being created in the image of another and being forced to rely on that other. It happens first and most obviously with Adam and Eve, the game using the names of the first biblical humans to make it VERY CLEAR that one is derived from the other. But it happens again when you meet A2, the Adam to 2B’s Eve, and in a way it happens again in reverse, when 2B passes on her sword with her data to A2. And it happens again, most saliently, when 9S discovers that YoRHA’s black boxes are based on the same technology as the cores of machines. Not only does YoRHA as an organization exist because of the machines, but, literally, members of YoRHA can only exist because of the machines. This irony is the core of the absurdity of all conflict.

I don’t get the obsession with repetition and multiple endings. What if instead of being split into multiple playthroughs, the game was just… the game? And then there were just two endings: A2’s and 9S’. After all, those are the only endings that require a choice tobe made, while the ones before that happen as a matter of course.

If you are going to have multiple playthroughs, I don’t get why you would spoil the future ones. After playing as 9S, I assumed that the next playthrough would be as A2 — an easy assumption to make since you spend two playthroughs picking up Taunt chips you can’t use. I was so surprised to see that the third playthrough didn’t go back in time, but forward!

… Is what I would say if the second playthrough didn’t end with a teaser for what happens in the third playthrough. The one I was… about to play. Why would they do that?

Now, I do get one part about the second playthrough: being on the other side of 2B’s reboot after the first mission and watching yourself from the first playthrough make your configurations. The sensation that I was watching and BEING watched in that way felt like a very personal moment, and was the perfect way to get across the feeling of being connected to someone else. That felt like a door was opening onto the possibilities of seeing the same story from a different angle. There should have been more of those moments.

The only other moment that matches, and exceeds, the success of that one is, of course, ending E.

One of the great ironies of Automata is that the least humanoid characters are the ones to exhibit the greatest humanity (that is, the belief that life is worth living regardless of its purpose). That the belief that 2B, 9S, and A2 have a right to live comes from 2B’s support pod, the most primitive of all the artificial beings you ever meet — and that it’s able to awaken to this will over the course of the third act just by talking and learning to understand somebody else — is such a beautiful notion that I want to cry just thinking about it. (That said, I don’t get why the pods being the moral center of the story isn’t set up earlier; it could’ve been a great bookend).

Being in a bullet hell battle with the credits is goofy at first (I mean, Smash Bros. did this in ’98) until you get that you are literally fighting the concept of Ending. And I get the concept of your friends lending you their Friend Energy has been applied in every anime or anime-adjacent story from Dragonball to Persona. But other people who’ve played the game cheering you on from all over the world and then joining your game to die for you as the song swells in multiple languages feels like a completely unique experience in the moment.

And the notion that this game, a follow-up to a game that was already bleak, turned out to be even more bleak for most of its playtime, then flips it around to being happy and culminates in asking you to be part of something huge by giving up your save data to help someone you’ll never meet, an act that in the moment feels more like a gift than a sacrifice… I get that.

I get that finding meaning in life is recognizing and caring for the life of someone else.

I get that Automata tells clear, ringing truths by using its game mechanics to drive the story. I get that its points are muddled, hollowed, and prone to “anime logic” when using only its script to tell the story. I get that Automata’s best moments are playable. I get that its worst moments are not.

I don’t get a lot of the game’s trappings. I don’t get wanting to reach a broad audience while always conveying the sensation that you missed something by not playing the first NieR. I don’t get combining action and RPG mechanics until each ultimately diffuses the effectiveness of the other. I don’t really get the plot’s layered double-crossings and obfuscations of motivation that still manage to leave emotional moments in cutscenes feeling unclear or unearned.

Despite that, I get the feeling that Automata knows what its purpose is, which seems to be the point.

Moving Forward

This is a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic written for a 1up.com contest to write the least offensive Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic. The top winners put character from Sonic up against the horrors and mundanity of everyday life.

What do you think? The black, right? ’Cause it should be something serious.”

Amy was holding the dress in front of herself, then brought it down to look at it again.

“No, that’s too much. It’ll be like I’m trying too hard.”

She went back to her closet and returned with a pinker, more summery top. “This is more cheerful. Wouldn’t it be nice to be… No, that’s stupid, I can’t go there like this, like it’s a normal day.”

She tossed it onto the bed. “If I had my red dress… He liked that dress. Are you sure I didn’t leave it at your place?”

Blaze had dressed in her regal purple coat, as she often did. She didn’t consider putting as much thought into her appearance as Amy did. “I could go back and look again.”

“No, forget it. I’ll just wear the black. Black is… it’s what you’re supposed to wear, right?”

“Black is traditionally worn in mourning, yes.”

Amy appeared to have had the air sucked out of her by the word. “That’s what I am, aren’t I? I’m mourning. But… I have to be the supportive one. I mean, Tails, and…”

She stormed back to the closet, sweeping every piece of clothing from one side to the other. “Why? Why is it all pink? Why do I always… Why do I dress like some damsel in distress?”

She turned back to Blaze. Her eyes were wet and turning pink as her wardrobe. “How come I can’t be the rescuer? Why can’t I save anyone?”

“Amy.”

“I can’t.”

“It’s okay, Amy.”

“I can’t do this!”

Blaze suddenly took Amy’s head in her hands and pulled her close. She began to breathe in a slow, steady rhythm. Amy began breathing with her, quivering. When she calmed, Blaze cupped her face in her hands and their eyes met.

“We can do this.”

“I know. I know we can. We can be there for… Oh, Tails, little Tails…”

Blaze tightened her grip, as though to wring the doubt from her. “We can be strong.”

“Yeah. We can.”

She stepped back and stood up straight, looking around her room.

“I wish I had the red one.”

* * *

“You.”

Heads turned to see the a visitor standing in the doorway of the vestibule. Though he had traded his familiar red flight jacket for a black trench coat, there was no mistaking his ovoid frame.

“You!”

Tails had already lurched out from his pew. He struggled to stand straight as he walked toward the huge, round man, but grief and fury wracked his body with tremors. He was always the youngest of them, and now he was shaking like an old man.

He stopped halfway down the aisle, lifted his head, and opened his arms as though to invite Eggman to take in the sight of the congregation, their empty faces, the altar, Knuckles standing at the lectern, the box holding his dearest friend.

“Congratulations. This is what you’ve wanted, right? Everything you’ve built, everything you’ve destroyed. It was all for this view, right?” Tails began to stagger toward him again. “You made it. Was it… worth it?”

Tails’ body seized, and he fell down to his knees. Vector, who was in the nearest pew, came to his side and offered a hand. Tails slapped it away and leapt up at Eggman, no longer hiding his tears.

“Why are you here? To gloat? You’ve always hated him, and now look what you’ve done, look what you’ve made!”

His fists pounded hollowly against Eggman’s soft exterior until he didn’t have the strength to hold himself up, and he slumped against the rounded doctor and whimpered.

Slowly, gently, Eggman put his arms around the small fox.

Once he was certain there would be no resistance, Vector pulled Tails away from Eggman and brought him back to his seat. Then Eggman sat down in the nearest pew and, along with the rest of the congregation, politely turned his attention to the lectern.

That man could deliver a better eulogy than I ever could. Knuckles cleared his throat and took a moment for the air to clear. They knew each other longer than any of us.

He would never have thought of giving the eulogy if Tails hadn’t asked. He expected the departed’s closest friend to speak, since Knuckles himself was making all of the other arrangements, but in the end Tails yielded this last responsibility to the taciturn echidna as well. Even after all this time, in many ways, Tails still had growing to do.

“As some of you know, my first encounter with Sonic was on less than amicable terms.

“I… adopted the belief that he and Miles had invaded Angel Island to take away the Master Emerald, which my people held sacred. I challenged Sonic at every turn, not realizing what I was doing. I did not realize I was being deceived.”

He was unsurprised to see heads turning to look for any reaction from Eggman, who feigned ignorance either out of pride or courtesy.

Knuckles sighed and shook his head. “I know what some of you are thinking, and I’m afraid you’re mistaken. There’s one person to blame for what I did — and that’s me.

“I deluded myself into thinking that the world ended with me. I didn’t trust anyone from outside to let me be safe. To let me be myself. I was stronger by myself. I was stronger alone.

“It wasn’t until I lost everything that I realized I had nothing. I was the custodian of a floating tomb and I didn’t know anyone who would call me friend.”

Knuckles looked over at the blown up picture resting on the easel next to the coffin: the arms rebelliously crossed, the eyes wide with expectation, looking as he did when they first met. Is this how he will be remembered, while the rest of us get older?

He gathered himself again. “He pointed me in the right direction and he showed me what could be accomplished if you have the courage to trust someone. As he trusted Tails. As he trusted me. And most importantly, as he trusted himself.

“Sonic was a risk taker, and he would be the first to admit that — like any of us — he’d made mistakes. But that’s what life is. It’s mistakes. Live and learn.

“He never regretted a single thing he did. He learned, and he kept moving forward. He had a steadfast heart of gold. No matter what happened, no matter what anyone said, everything he did was a step in the right direction. And it’s because Sonic was such a risk-taker that we’re all here today.”

It wasn’t until then that Knuckles noticed the irony in those words.

He took another moment and looked out at the faces staring back at him. Amy and Blaze and Cream. Vector and them. The bird rogues he never really knew, but he was glad they were here. Shadow, Rouge. Big. Tails. He never would have known any of them if he had stayed on that island.

“It’s because of Sonic that we’re together right now. He was open to every possibility that life could offer him and his world exploded and grew to include each and every one of you.

“He was strong. He could fly. He reached the other side of the rainbow. But if you look around, you’ll see that he’s still here in each of us. In the way we live each day. Always moving forward, with no regrets.”

As Knuckles stepped down from the lectern, he felt lighter. Whether he had gained something or lost something, he didn’t know.

* * *

“That was really wonderful, Knuckles.” Rouge leaned in to touch him on the shoulder.

Shadow stopped short of the exit and draped his coat over one arm and checked his watch again.

Knuckles turned his attention from the Babylon Rogues to Rouge with a sense of relief that didn’t escape Shadow’s notice. “Thanks. I appreciate it. I hope he would’ve liked it.”

“The eulogy he would’ve enjoyed, but the reception! I don’t even see any chili dogs here.”

Knuckles laughed politely. “I still have some things to clear up before I go. But, hey, Cream’s family is having people over later, though, so… I’ll meet you guys there?”

“Oh, a get-together? That’s nice.” Rouge looked back expectantly at Shadow, who made an exaggerated show of checking his watch. “Well, I guess we’ll… go and change first. See you later, Knuckles.”

She hugged him, then turned toward Shadow, who was already walking out the door into the cool dusk. She hurried to catch up to him. “Somewhere to be?”

“We do now, evidently.”

“Come on, just go with me. You don’t have to say anything to anyone.”

“I’ve had enough of that today.” Shadow still couldn’t feign vapid optimism the way he assumed everyone else did, no matter how often he was subjected to it. Sonic had pulled him into this world and Rouge was keeping him in it.

He fished his keys out of his coat and unlocked the Escalade from afar. They stopped when, in its headlights, he saw the silhouette of a boy with two tails.

“Oh,” said Rouge, “Hello, Tails. Do you…?”

He looked up at her with dry, steely eyes. “Knuckles is staying here. Can I… get a ride home?”

Shadow looked sidelong at Rouge. He had no intention of acquiescing, so he left the honor to her.

“Of course you can. Come on in.”

As they pulled out of the lot, Shadow spotted Eggman walking along the curb toward his Eggomatic hovercraft. Rouge waved politely as they passed, but it was too dark then to tell if he had noticed.

She crossed her legs and sank back into her seat. “What a lonely man.”

As they approached the intersection, Shadow turned his head to look for oncoming traffic, and in the corner of his eye he saw Tails looking out of the window back at Eggman without a hint of scorn.

Lame shit in Persona 5 that could have been fixed

Ryuji should have been tempted by fame, and suffered for it. He is the one character most vocal about unfairness. Not injustice, but unfairness — a purer, more childlish notion that you deserve something for your troubles. He is the party member most bothered by his negative public image. He aches to be recognized for his efforts, but knows he has to keep his identity secret. This should have made him completely buy into the hype of the Phantom Thieves’ authority, thirsting for approval from the online fans, excited to give them what they want. Ryuji should have been radicalized to the point of believing that the Phantom Thieves had the vision to be the rightful judge, jury, and executioner of Japan.

Imagine in one of the scenes following Okumura’s death if Ryuji leaned back in one of the booths at Leblanc and said, “Maybe he deserved to die.” Sparks fly as the rest of the group try to counter, forcing themselves to ask what their goal in the end really is.

Of course, Ryuji wouldn’t think he’s being ridiculous — he just believes in the mission more than everyone else. It would be up to the player to decide if Ryuji’s thinking makes him a liability to the team. This could make an interesting twist when we get to the end of Shido’s dungeon, when Ryuji makes his suicide run, a decision he makes not just because he can run good or whatever, but because he’s already shown to believe that, in pursuing the Phantom Thieves’ goals, death is acceptable, even his own.

And then Ryuji should actually die. No lame pointless fake-outs. Make the player wonder if Ryuji’s radicalism was foolish (because it killed him) or noble (because it saved everyone else).

This idea of the Phantom Thieves investing too heavily into their own image is only barely explored in Mishima’s confidant story, to no great effect.

Morgana should have been the Grail’s creation, not Igor’s. Discovering that he is made by Igor reveals Morgana’s nightmares to be, really, just nightmares, and that his insecurities were actually nothing at all to worry about. This… isn’t dramatic. Instead, Morgana should have been sent by the Grail to mislead the player. However, much as the Grail was distorted by human cognition, Morgana would have been changed by the player’s, but in this case, reformed, becoming an agent for self-determination. This fits perfectly with the game’s theme of rebelling and defying expectations. This would make Morgana a character. As is, he’s reduced to an inefficient deus ex machina.

Ann should have been smarter, more autonomous, and, generally, better respected by the script. Ann has several lines expressing her dissatisfaction with her catsuit. That doesn’t even make any fucking sense. Why, in a world formed by one’s vision of their self, would she end up with an outfit she doesn’t even like? Let the woman just like being herself, for fuck’s sake.

She’s a professional model, the only member of the group to have a job, and to routinely interact with adults — the very adults so often maligned by this game! She should have maturity and insight that the other character have yet to develop. It doesn’t matter if she isn’t a top student or hacker. Ann shouldn’t be oblivious, she should be smart, and if she’s insecure about anything it makes no sense for it to be her body!

Let’s take that stupid ass scene where she’s asked to pose nude. What would be funnier? If she waved her arms and said, “You want to do WHAAAT?” or if she said, “I always told myself that if I had to pose nude… it wouldn’t be for less than a 200,00 yen.” Exclamation points shoot up over everyone else’s heads. Giving Ann conviction like this gives you so many options when she finally meets up with Yusuke. For example:

  1. She shows up and immediately throw around her weight as a professional model, making increasingly more ridiculous demands for her comfort. Yusuke, obsessed with the creative process, rationalizes her demands as being for the sake of ART, expounding on his own process.
  2. When asked to disrobe, she makes a big striptease out of it, coming onto Yusuke hard in attempt to turn him on so much that he has to get up and leave, giving her a chance to snoop.
  3. Like 2, except it’s revealed that Yusuke is completely cold to her advances, asking that she speed things up a little. Realizing she’s in over her head, she just knocks some paint over and says, “Whoops,” forcing him to clean it up while she snoops.

There are bits like this throughout that script that could be tweaked. Don’t let stuff happen to Ann, let her do stuff.

Yusuke should have been fragile, not bombastic. Yusuke is like the Shylock of Persona characters — potentially interesting, but fucking broken by virtue of being, uh, p r o b l e m a t i c. His monkey cheese antics set him up to be a fan favorite, but it’s all blighted by his entire introductory arc — his treatment of Ann and his static inner motivation of Doing Art — which just makes him seem like a flippant asshole.

But let’s look at the facts: every facet of his life has pointed him toward a career of painting professionally, and then all at once, his key to that industry is taken away — what if he didn’t have to do that thing every adult in your life told him he had to? Yusuke could have been rendered by this terrifying possibility, the main question of his arc being, if he paints, will it be by rote, or because he chose to recommit himself?

In the script as is, Yusuke has a LOT of insight and confidence for someone whose narrow worldview was just shot to hell. Shouldn’t the artist be dealing the most seriously with their own subjectivity? I think this same question could have made him more reflective on his role within the Phantom Thieves when the shit hit the fan. Would he have the conviction to know when they were going to far? Yusuke should have had a fateful moment when everything looks bad where he says, “I just don’t know.”

A character with conviction is one thing. If a character knows exactly how to answer a hard question, consider if that character is actually just the writer in disguise.

Haru should have been the weird one. Haru’s archetype is “rich girl”. But how would you know that without being told? What about her background informs her personality? How can someone with such a huge asshole for a dad be so nice? At most, Haru should be well-mannered, but she shouldn’t actually be very good at understanding other people, because she’s never really needed anything from anyone else. Through the cracks in her manners, she should come across as tactless and unrelatable. The others should vacillate between being charmed by her, annoyed by her, and feeling pity for her. This difficulty in getting close to people should facilitate her one genuine love: gardening.

I can’t believe I have to explain this, but Akechi shouldn’t have been a super evil sneering villain, but rather, like you, someone striving to make the world better in way that doesn’t look good from the outside. Akechi is implementing a plan that has been years in the making. Despite the fatalities, getting a visionary like Shido into a leadership position must be the best, most realistic chance to improve Japan. To paraphrase the bad guy from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, Shido should seek to use corrupt shenanigans in the government to END corrupt shenanigans in the government.

Hey… Speaking of Shido and that other guy… What a lame, un-Persona-like design.

Makoto’s strategic mind should be pushed to its limit. Knowing the overwhelming odds they’re up against, and knowing how huge and complicated society is, she should have objectively appraised Akechi and Shido’s plan to reform society through political machinations as being, actually, the best way to bring about change. (This necessitates that the villains have a plan that makes sense) Ryuji and the most outspoken Phantom Thieves would push back angrily, but Makoto would remind them that their mission is to make the world better, and that maybe the mental breakdown plan is the shortest route to that. Makoto would only relent after making it clear to the Thieves that their path going forward may result in failure.

Makoto would still put all of her effort into planning Shido’s heist, considering every edge case, making sure everything will go smoothly, taking into account everything they’ve learned up until then. When Shido shuts down his palace manually, and Ryuji dies, everyone cries, sure, but Makoto, like… hides, not even available for Confidant excursions. She doesn’t respond to request for a Phantom Thieves meeting. She has to be tracked down and convinced that she’s not the reason Ryuji died.

The main characters should have had to make a real sacrifice. The Phantom Thieves never really earned their rosy ending. These are people who chose to wrangle otherworldly powers with the specific goal of changing how the world worked. The player should have been confronted directly with the question of whether or not their choices were rooted in charity or hubris. Instead, the player gets away scot-free, with all of their friends, no mark on their record. What the hell is the moral of the story?

Bad things need to happen to good people. Several times the game does somethings dramatic and then immediately reverses it. Morgana leaves the team, but not for long enough to impact any in-game choices. Ryuji vanishes, and then comes back in the next fucking scene. When people in Shibuya Square start panicking and disappearing toward the end, I thought that I was making irreversible changes in the real world, destroying shadows and killing civilians in the process… But, instead, my actions HAD no lasting effect on the world.

Drama lives in conflict. Conflict is not when the good guys beat up the bad guys. Conflict is when the good guys think the bad guys might have a point. Conflict is when the good guys are tempted to fight each other. Conflict is finding out the premise for your mission might be flawed. As is, Persona 5 is a game dripping with style but devoid of drama.

Persona 5 is great, but its characters…

Current in-game date: 5/27

I know a lot of people are, rightly, ragging on the translation. But, honestly, I think the original script is open to criticism, too. The characters – at least in the first two months – just aren’t real or interesting or consistent enough. I think it’s totally fair to compare them to characters in Persona 4, since they’re based on the same archetypes.

In Persona 4, your Bro is Yosuke. Yosuke has a crush on an older classmate who dies early on, and the rest of his arc constantly refers back to his failures – he didn’t tell her how he felt, and he couldn’t save her. This is also complicated by his family’s background, since they run the big new department store in town which competes directly with the store run by the family of his dead crush. Even if he were to go back, would his life circumstances allow him to get whatever it is he wants?

Yosuke has plenty of notable surface-level traits (he jokes, he complains, he’s clumsy, he’s tactless), but the game’s tragic inciting incident forces him to spend the rest of the game trying to figure out what his role is in his family, his circle of friends, and his hometown.

In Persona 5, your Bro is Ryuji. What I get about Ryuji is that he used to be a punk, and now he’s less so, but people still think he’s trouble. On paper, this fits in great with our main character’s back story and the game’s driving theme – in resisting what society makes you, you tend to become it. What’s missing is a tangible action. Ryuji’s misfortunes, it turns out, can actually be blamed on the game’s first major boss, which basically absolves Ryuji of responsibility in his own origin. So what does he have left to learn?

In Persona 4, your next two team mates are Chie and Yukiko. While they’re distinct characters, their relationship beautifully illustrates what makes that game so good. Chie’s perceived image in school is as a boisterous and outgoing “tomboy”. The popular perception of Yukiko is that she is ladylike, sophisticated, and impenetrable. We meet them as good friends, but when it comes time to actually confront their Shadows, we learn how codependent they are, how jealous they are of each other, and how their attachment might be based on their own respective inferiority complexes. As time goes on, the same feelings that spawn their jealousy also gives rise to a true understanding of each other. It perfectly illustrates the transformation from a childhood friendship of convenience to an adult friendship based on mutual respect.

In Persona 5, Ann‘s role seems to be The Girl. And what do you do with your primary Girl? In Persona 5, I guess you figure out as many sexually compromising positions as possible and go to town. Her reactions to these situations provide no insight and make less sense as time goes on. She objects to these situations, but offers no rebuttals or alternatives because either 1) she’s an idiot or 2) the script says so, so here we are. Her thought process during these moments are never connected to her experience as a professional model. In fact, her profession basically never comes up. Almost as though it’s a flimsy excuse to have a tall, skinny, hot girl hang out with us. Add to this that she was a target of constant unwanted sexual attention just a month prior and, not only does the player and rest of the cast come off as cruel and stupid, but the story feels completely disjointed from itself. Why not use what little we know about Ann’s past experience to inform her current situation, instead falling back on, frankly, typical anime bullshit of a girl waving their arms and screeching, “You want me to do WHAAAT??”

The only party member I actually like so far is, amazingly, the animal mascot. What makes Morgana work is the simple hook in his backstory: he has all this knowledge about this strange new world, but he doesn’t remember who he used to be or what he used to look like, so he’s decided to help YOU so that you can help HIM. This noble quest of self-discovery is what makes his goofy and weird behavior funny, making use of the best parts of Teddy’s story in Persona 4 while avoiding some of the more unBEARable parts. It also means a lot when someone who told you up front they want to use you for their own gain starts to actually like hanging out with you.

That’s it! The difference between the Persona 4 cast and and most of the Persona 5 cast is HISTORY.

Persona 4 really captures the feeling of being new in town, because, even when you’re in the moment with your friends, you know they’re all still dealing with their own past, and you’re able to help them work through those problems.

In Persona 5, I don’t feel like I’m missing a damn thing. Ryuji and Ann don’t feel like they have mysteries to unravel. They seem to be exactly what they look like, at least until the script needs them to act some other way.

I think the Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo sucked, and the users at Giant Bomb agree.


From the thread Platinum Demo Impressions:

Thank god for this thread. Looking at positive reactions on YouTube, I felt like I was living in a cuckoo clock. I downloaded the demo after watching the awesome trailer, and I played it in the same room as my wife, trying to come up with nice things to say while I was going through it.

“Okay, the controls are kinda responsive. The battle transitions are pretty smooth.” Knowing me, she said, “Do you believe anything that you’re saying?” and I finally admitted, “No.”

The trailer had panache and drama, and the demo didn’t have any. The coolest part was when I stepped on a switch and Leviathan soared over me and into a lake, and then just… disappeared. It’s like none of the teams working on this were ever in the same room. “Here is an ENVIRONMENT; insert SPECIAL EFFECTS; insert MONSTERS – good job, everyone.” It didn’t feel crafted at all. Really, why did any particular encounter have to occur in any particular space? It was all just Some Stuff Happening.

I was looking forward to the novel concept of playing in Noctis’ dream to, like, get into his headspace, find out more about his character. But then I realized they set it inside of a dream for one reason: so they wouldn’t have to think about how to transition from one environment to the other. “Oh, shoot, how do we get from the forest to the toy room? Ehh, just say it was all a dream and call it a day.”

Remember waiting for the release of previous Final Fantasy games? The question I always remembered asking about any new one coming out was: “So what’s the new core mechanic? What’s materia all about? How does junctioning work? Sphere Grid? Gambits?” What are the new possibilities being demonstrated here? What makes this the Next Step in the series? Really, what is the POINT of this demo? What’s the Thing we were supposed to see that was meant to confirm how we shouldn’t skip this game when it comes out?

The demo didn’t seem to know. Instead of introducing me to a world, showing me how I should play the game, showing me what makes a strategy more worthy in one situation than another, what’s the tactical difference between dodging and warping, they were like… “Circle attacks, Square dodges. Here’s some Heartless Nightmares. You’re a truck now. It’s a dream. Whatever. Here’s a summon monster.”

Cool. Can I summon it?

“Uh… No.” The game barely cared that I was playing it.

And for those defending it as “just” a tech demo:

1) I didn’t play Episode Duscae. I borrowed FF Type 0 from a friend, but found out that he had already “claimed” the digital copy of the demo, so I couldn’t play it. As a result, this demo is ALL I HAVE to go on. I also didn’t like Type 0 much, either. So I’m not gonna pay money for a game I know I don’t like to play a demo that I am now PRETTY SURE I won’t like.

2) It’s not called the tech demo – it’s called the PLATINUM DEMO. And then at the end of it they asked me if I wanted to pre-order the full game. If this demo isn’t supposed to be representative of the game, someone tell Square Enix, ’cause they don’t seem to know.

At first I thought the multimedia / Florence and the Machine / Lena Hedey movie stuff was kind of cool, but it was only cool so long as I thought FFXV would be any good. Now that I don’t think it is, I realize now how stupid all of the other stuff is – they’re doing the same crap they did with FFVII and FFXIII, banking on the success of a franchise without having even finished it. In marketing this way, it’s like they’re saying, “Oh, FFXV isn’t just a GAME – it’s an EXPERIENCE!” It lowers the stakes for all of the projects under the umbrella as a result.

No. Stop it. Just make a game.

There’s also just the fact that they’re acting like this is an action RPG… While this demo has no RPG-ing, and barely any action. I never had to be thoughtful about my resources or my equipment, and the fights are impactless. The warp sword is ALMOST cool, but hitting things just doesn’t feel fun. The Nightmares just kind of melt under your flailing, and the Iron Giant is a wall you can’t be killed by.

If you really wanna understand how I feel, check out this video:


You can watch the whole thing, or jump to 4:57.

Have you gotten to the part with the red circles?

FFXV feels like the circle on the top.


Other users’ insights:

+ I’d gotten fairly excited for this game (never played the first demo), but this thing just knocked the wind right out of my sails. Also has me really worried about FFVII Remake, which I was already way more excited for than XV.

+ When you push L1 and R1 at the same it brings up a bunch of swords around Noctis, which does… something. I dunno.
+ Transforming to a beast showed how static the maps are. You’re telling me that this animal that includes rocks crumbling in his attack animation can’t bring a lawnchair to fall?
+ Also I forgot how much I hate the Japanese take on children, particularly the sounds they make when lost and befuddled. So many stupid, unnecessary “gahs” and “huhs?”

+ I kind of hated this(?).

+ I haven’t liked the design and art choices in a Final Fantasy game since IX, not a huge fan of SquareEnix’s sci-fi takes. I don’t know the man’s name but isn’t that crazy zipper guy in charge of this game and KH3? I don’t like his style.

+ …All that said, if I had to boil time my problem with this demo into a sentence, it would be “I don’t see the product of 10 years worth of work.
+ XII I played multiple times and enjoyed thouroughly. XIII was okay at first but I got tired of it after awhile. This I just wanted nothing to do with immediately.

United States Gun Culture in Parasite Eve

On Day 3 of Parasite Eve’s six day journey, during a sequence of events that are peaceful as they are chilling, our blonde, blue-eyed hero Detective Aya Brea is joined by her hot-blooded partner Detective Daniel Dollis on a stroll through an evacuated Manhattan seeking to liberate resources from abandoned businesses to use in their battle against the mysterious being known as Eve and the mutated creatures at her disposal.

They are followed by a civilian biophysicist named Kunihiko Maeda, whom they’ve allowed to travel with them, since his research on a being similar to Eve from his native Japan may prove useful. And he’s also some skinny, unarmed nerd, so what harm could it do?

When the player takes control, the trio will eventually end up standing in front of Sams [sic] Gun Shop. When approached, Maeda rubs the crown of his head and says, “They weren’t kidding when they said they sell guns here in America, were they…”and then reverts to a looped animation of furtive glances to the left and right.

When the door to the shop is examined, Aya will notice that it’s locked. Her partner Daniel tells her to step to one side.

“Daniel, no…” says Aya. “Sorry, but it’s the only way,” Daniel responds.

With a flourish, Daniel pulls out his concealed firearm and shoots at the glass of the door surrounding its handle. Aya knows to cover her ears and turn away from the breaking glass. Maeda doesn’t have time to react, and so makes no move until after Daniel already holsters his gun.

“Are… are you really a cop?” he asks.

“We think so,” Aya says. “But we don’t have scientific proof, if that’s what you’re asking.”

As the player peruses the the shop for ammunition, Aya can find Daniel casually glancing between two products, and waves his arm out generously when approached. “Go ahead and pick your favorite accessories, ladies!”

Maeda, hunched over, peers through the protective glass at the bounty of weaponry, small and large: “This is just too much.”

__________

There are are two NYPD officers who manage the weapons dispensary at Aya’s Precinct 17 offices. The first the player meets, Wayne, coolly and possessively spreads his arms along the width of the front desk. “So what’ll it be… Shotgun? Rocket Launcher?”

Wayne stands at attention when his supervisor, Torres, walks in to reprimand him. “Idiots like you are the reason why guns won’t disappear from this country!” Torres tells Wayne to get his ass back to the storage room, and let a responsible adult handle the registration process.

That’s right: the officer in charge of registering and dispensing new firearms to other cops HATES guns. He’s not too obstinate though, and recognizes that gun violence is systemic, referring to it as a “vicious cycle” of law enforcement relying on guns because criminals do, and vice versa. Moreover, he recognizes that it’s fair to bring heavy weaponry to a battle against an unstoppable, mutated terror.

Once Aya leaves, she’s met by Wayne gain. Although Torres will only modify Aya’s firearm with a permit, Wayne bypasses Torres’ authority by letting her know that she can tune weapons on her own through the game’s Tool system, the mechanic the player will use most to overcome mitochondrial monstrosities. “Trust me,” Wayne says, “you can never have too much firepower”.

__________

During the events of Day 3, Precinct 17 comes under attack by Eve’s mutated creatures. As the player makes through way through the hostile territories, they reach the weapons dispensary and find Wayne over a fatally wounded Torres. “Why didn’t ya shoot, man?!” Wayne asks him. Torres reveals that he hasn’t even fired a gun since his daughter died. “Torres, you can’t blame guns for that!”

“I suppose… you’re right…” Torres concedes. He encourages Wayne to take good care of the place, and then dies.

Afterward, Wayne hands Torres’ gun over to Aya, a decent weapon that he always kept in top working condition, although he never used it. Wayne reveals that, although Torres was an excellent shot, after his daughter’s accidental death he stopped using guns – and, in fact, he relocated to Precinct 17 for the express purpose of filling the dispensary position and keeping all the guns in check out of a sense of duty.

And so the gun safety expert, constantly surrounded by weapons that could be used for self-defense, dies because he is unwilling to use one. Meanwhile, the brash gun enthusiast lives on because of his love for weaponry.

________

Parasite Eve is one of the few games by Square to take place in a world not framed by fantasty or cyberpunk aesthetics, and the very first to take place in a representation an actual real world, current time location. In a Square game, a player often makes use of magical items and equipment to surmount obstacles. Of course, magic doesn’t exist in 1997 New York City – aside from the magic of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime. In lieu of giant swords or glowing crystals, the player uses something much more down-to-earth: guns.

Even then, firearms in Parasite Eve are treated with the same pomp and reverence as any mystical weaponry. Some of them even have fantastical qualities that sound feasible with the right wording – some ammunition is corrosive and deals acid damage, some grenades explode into… ice, and deal cold damage.

Consider that, to the average player within the originally intended Japanese audience, an actual gun might as while be a magic sword, and that playing Parasite Eve might be as close they will get to gun ownership.

Parasite Eve only briefly meditates on gun ownership and the use of firearms, but the choices made clearly indicate the game’s origins. Maeda, the only Japanese character in the game, can rather easily explain concepts related to genetics and biochemistry, but can’t quite wrap his head around the nature of American gun culture or the behavior of a New York City police officer.

This same outside perspective, though, offers a measure of moderation that isn’t often seen in the national conversation regarding gun violence – a willingness to admit that the right answer isn’t always obvious.

Wayne and Torres clearly both represent the opposite perspectives on guns in the country, with Wayne seeing no problem with putting limitless firepower in the hands of a citizen who wants it, and Torres not even believing that law enforcement should be using such weapons. It could be said that Torres, who dies, is the loser this debate. His ideas, though, live on in other officers at Precinct 17, who clearly had great respect for him, and in Wayne, who must take on his responsibilities. Although he did die during this one unbelievable situation, for the most part, aside from battles against monsters, his mediation on the vicious cycle of gun violence rings true.

That said… Wayne is much more cavalier about dispensing firearm modifications to Aya than Wayne was, going so far as to give them out in return for trading cards. What kind of trading cards? Trading cards with pictures of guns on them.

You can train someone to be responsible, and you can put obstacles in the way of someone who wants a firearm, but in the end, gun culture is bigger than any law or any one person.

Tifa and Aeris

There is one single moment that tells you everything you need to know about Tifa and Aeris, and the kind of people they are.

The calculations that go into deciding who Cloud dates at the Golden Saucer is based on how many invisible “affinity points” a given character has. Based on certain actions and dialogue choices, Tifa, Aeris, Yuffie, or Barret can gain or lose points.

When my wife and I played the game again this past year, we were determined to date Barret. We were successful — with the help of a handy guide. Rather than spoiling the fun, the guide actually provided a lot of funny insight, like how romantic or gruesome particular decisions were interpreted based on the amount of points gained or lost.

But the biggest revelation comes pretty early on in disc one, when you have to infiltrate Don Corneo’s lair.

If Aeris is chosen as Don Corneo’s date, you can say to Tifa:

“You alright?” and lose 2 points for Tifa
or
“We gotta help Aeris!” and gain 3 points for Tifa.

If Tifa is chosen as Don Corneo’s date, you can say to Aeris:

“You alright?” and GAIN 3 points for Aeris
or
“We gotta help Tifa!” and LOSE 2 points for Aeris.

Aeris and Tifa don’t even know each other yet, but Tifa is still ready to help her, and Aeris doesn’t give a shit.

That even the behind the scenes MATH of the game supports the characterization is fucking INSPIRING to me.

But still, it shows what good characters they both are. They’ve both had tumultuous pasts, but Tifa had the luxury of a stable home life for her formative years. Aeris, meanwhile, has had to run, hide, and mistrust all sorts of authority figures to stay alive and sane. Indeed, it could be seen as admirable that she’s maintained her kindness despite so much trauma, but her somewhat arrested development shows that she was not unscathed. Her penchant for pink, her coyness, her fixation on guys in uniforms, making a living in a busy city selling flowers at 22 (?!) years old… all seem to bely an unwillingness to grow up because, well, her actual childhood sucked! While Cloud lacks a strong identity, Aeris actively manufactures her own. This, ironically, is what allows her do commit her most heroic act, and also her most dangerously naive: sacrifice herself for the sake of the world. Could it be that Aeris simply wasn’t very happy inside?

Tifa, meanwhile, had her most traumatic experience at the cusp of adulthood. Because she has strong ideals ingrained on her by her family and her teacher and her peers, she is able to hold onto them and carry on, even after tremendous loss. This leads her to being somewhat reticent at times, like Cloud, but unlike Cloud, she is also sincere and usually more honest about her feelings.

I love these characters. Not just because the have crazy destinies and origin stories, but, besides all that, they’re fucked up in the tragically banal way that lots of real young adults actually are. And they still carry on and care about each other.

From my comment on this

So I played Suikoden (or, Sometimes old ways are best)

Konami’s Suikoden lacks the panache of some of its contemporaries from Square. Some of that has to do with technical know how, but also knowing how to deal with technical limits.

Characters in Chrono Trigger, like most Squaresoft games of the time, have a repertoire of expressions and motions that are reused and recontextualized throughout the game. Crono dealing the final blow to the Dragon Tank is incredibly awe-inspiring at the time it occurs, because we haven’t seen him pull off anything quite like that yet. The violent thrust, especially coming after being wronged by the kingdom, adds a wrathfulness to him that we may not have expected. It is empowering, then, when you can voluntarily make Crono take similar actions as you learn his more complex techniques. By the end of the game, you’ll have seen the animations quite a few times.

Here we have a really lovely and nuanced set of animations as the hunky doofus Flik plays host to the cougar counterfeiter Kimberly in order to enlist her. The scene has still more animations with fine detail, like hand movements and head tilts. Moments that are played like this in Suikoden  – featuring a choreographed blocking particular to a location and a set of available props – can be counted on one hand. Flik and Kimberly do not drink sake again – these animations are unique to this scene. The commitment to this brief scene is admirable, but is it efficient from a development perspective – creating an asset that can’t be reused?

In the time before 3D models were commonplace, animations could not be shared amongst characters like they are today. Sprites aren’t like models that way. In 1995, to design and animate 108 characters for a new piece of hardware is no mean feat. A character needs to face and walk in all the cardinal directions, attack, use an item, get hurt, and be knocked out. Multiply that by about 80, and that’s lot of work for a developer diving head first into a new franchise in a relatively strange genre.

The choice, then, to decide where to spend time applying unique, narrative-driven animations must have been difficult. (Especially when, it seems, battle animations and field animations are run on different engines and aren’t interchangeable) Since it would be impossible to give every potential character in your party an animation appropriate to a particular point in the story, the choice was to leave leave most character reactions abstracted and up to the imagination. In exchange, story scenes with predetermined casts like the above have moments that make them stand out. That said, this particular scene is not particularly moving or informative, so in the end, the animations themselves are what make them worthwhile.

A lot of Suikoden‘s charm comes from this unpredictability in the narrative and the turns in tone it takes. Each leg of the journey reveals a different weapon or ally you attempt to bring into your army, but they aren’t all alike in execution. It’s not always easy to tell ahead of time what moment will result in a new unit, or a large scale battle, or a boss fight, or a duel. Or whether all of the above might occur back to back or simultaneously, for either a short duration or a long. This pattern keeps you guessing what will come next, forcing you to always be prepared and make use of each of the assets at your disposal as often as possible.

Although the brisk pacing makes you eager to find what big fight is around the next corner, the most disappointing thing about Suikoden is that, for the most part, there isn’t one. Many times you may load out your party with the best equipment possible, find a great combination of characters with all the right runes and Unite attacks to make short work of any boss you’d find, and it rarely ever comes. There are only about 12 boss fights that involve the party you choose to bring with you, and half of them are weird monster lacking any narrative justification. The only way to measure the success of your tactics otherwise is against the randomly encountered riffraff along the way. It’s a shame when there are so many interesting ways that 30 runes and 80 playable characters combine that there aren’t that many appropriate challenges to test them on.

The other great challenges you face come in the form of great battles between thousands of tiny soldiers or one-on-one duels. They’re both essentially games of rock-paper-scissors. That makes them sound simplistic – and really, they are – but that’s not the whole story. Large-scale battles let you make your rock, paper, or scissors really big if you have the right people on your side, and duels challenge you to decipher which instrument your opponent will use based on context clues. The fact that so much rests on each decision, and that these situations come up as rarely as they do, makes the moments up to your choice quite intense.

What really makes Suikoden work, the urge that drives you even when you can’t quite tell what character you should be using or how difficult the coming dungeon will be, is the constant growth you enjoy as times goes on, like a lovely colorful garden. Even just the recruits you gather mandatorily add up to make a huge cast. That so many people are willing to join you, and that so many of them have sound reasons for doing so – the main ones being vengeance and employment, but there’s also glory and a hope to belong to something larger – reinforces the worth of your objective. Their personalities are portrayed succinctly and surprisingly deftly through a character portrait, their combat ability, and a few lines. Letting imagination take care of the rest, the 108-member cast of Suikoden is less annoying and/or pointless than most of the 40 playable characters in Chrono Cross.

Games like Suikoden invite player imagination by applying just enough abstraction in the right places. Older games than this have suggested fantastic battles between opposing armies, but few have let you put a face and a name to so many individual participants before. There is a limit, of course. You can’t identify each of the thousands of soldiers that fight for the Liberation Army in the grand battles that occur a few times through the game, but knowing all the kinds of people that you’ve met across the land, you can assume what they might be like.

Liberation Army headquarters in the castle on the lake is a precursor to the hub worlds of later years, the lobbies of MMORPGs, the Normandy of Mass Effect – a small space that indicates the largeness of the world outside it with each addition to your war assets. With so many of your supplies being provided within your own domain, Suikoden could have done what later games would do, and simply teleport you to your next mission when necessary. Instead, they kept the iconic 16-bit world map with which you can go from place to place, random encounters suggesting the severity of each journey. Crossing the land by foot does provide a sense of ownership and responsibility that helps make your fight for peace worthwhile.

Some aspects of old design should be thrown out, and some aspects are simply tied to the technology or the trends of the time and die off naturally. The world map is a unique vestige of old design. It was not abandoned because it was a feature that arose from having to deal with old technology, but because even new technology is incapable of presenting an entire world in realistic proportions, and new trends wouldn’t allow for a diminutive version of your protagonist crossing even tinier mountains to get from place to place. Today’s method of representation, after the graphical arms race of the past decade and a half, has come to lean on 1:1 realism. The virtual space within games today are bigger than ever – there is more traversable surface area, anyway – but it can be argued in some ways that, without being able to artfully present an entire explorable globe, the scope is smaller.

At around the same time, Final Fantasy X, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, even Wild Arms 4 were all games that did not let the player traverse a world map, even while previous entries in their series did. (Dragon Quest 8, interestingly, would pull an Elder Scrolls and make the distance between towns and dungeons realistic in scale – while keeping random battles). A game could not be on a powerhouse console and fail to deliver on visuals, nor could a game deliver on visuals and find a way to justify the minimalist abstraction of an old-style world map. I tend to believe that the questing beast of realistic scale lead to the downfall of JRPGs that struck a few years back, leading to games that could not rewrite the traditional JRPG script to match these narrower scopes. (Consider Kingdom Hearts, a game about traveling multiple worlds that are each made up of about a dozen rooms or so, or Xenosaga, a game about humanity and the cosmos that is completely linear – but, mostly, consider the shittier games that copied both of these)

Naturally, it took years of failure to adapt to new trends for players and developers alike to realize that there is a place for old design. That’s why Bravely Default, a 2014 handheld game with a world map, received such good response in comparison to Lightning Returns.

It’s also why – I hope – Sony and Konami had the good sense to bring back interesting gems like Suikoden for reappraisal. Looking back, simplicity and abstraction in a game may seem like symptoms of technological constraint, but when you consider the best possible choices that could be made at the time, the effectiveness of some ideas never truly age.

The question at the end of the day is, how do you best provide any kind of fulfilling experience? By knowing when to show off and knowing when to let the user’s imagination do the rest of the work.

Robin Williams and the Hero of Time


In my mind, this commercial was for A Link Between Worlds, not Ocarina of Time. For me, as Zelda games go, Robin Williams is more strongly connected to A Link Between Worlds.

Because here was the first celebrity death in my life to make me shed tears and the first Zelda game to make me shed tears.

As Egoraptor said, The Legend of Zelda has for many years been reduced to a series of symbols without attention given to their context. The treasure opening sound effect, the keys, the boomerangs, and of course, Zelda and Link, themselves symbols of wisdom and courage.

Zelda – a lot like the American comic book in its Silver Age – became stale and predictable. So something has to give. There has to be a desire for growth. What if we took these symbols and deconstructed their purpose? What if Zelda had a Bronze Age?

As colorful and charming as it is, A Link Between Worlds is also the closest we’ve come to looking at Hyrule from an achingly realistic perspective. Many, if not most, Zelda games deal with duality in the world – light and dark, future and past.

Lorule is the version of Hyrule in which things did not go right, in which its residents could not fully maintain their roles. Society could not stay harmonious, the Triforce could not stay whole, and the wise ruler could not stay virtuous. This leads to civil war, the destruction of their sacred treasure, the deceit and barbarous acts of Princess Hilda – Lorule’s parallel of Princess Zelda. They are fallible and imperfect, not like symbols, but like people.

Lorule allows us to see a glimpse of the characters we’ve known for years at their absolute worst – at their absolutely most honest. Desperate, selfish, shortsighted, scared.


And of course, the big question that you often forget to ask (because you’re having so much fun) is: If Lorule has an alternate Zelda, where is its alternate Link?

What does a hero do when the mantle becomes too heavy? What can a hero do when the difference between what other people see in him and what he sees in himself diverge so fully that it’s too painful to bear? Where can a hero go to escape the lie that his life has become, the lie that he himself has participated in by virtue of his existence?

If he’s lucky, he can slip away and find someone a little bit like him to help him do the things he is too afraid to do himself.


When Ravio, the bumbling merchant who’s been gouging me for rupees for hours, finally pulled off his dumb bunny hood, my heart jumped into my throat.

Ravio, for all intents and purpose, is Link at his worst, his most vulnerable. When he revealed his identity, I felt like I was looking at Link – someone who I’ve known my whole life, someone who was born in 1987, the same year as me – for the very first time.

Only now, only after all of these years, only after seeing him at his most selfish, his most cowardly, his most honest, did I feel like I truly understood him.

Being a hero, being someone who others rely on to make their lives safe and happy, must be terribly hard.

Please take care of your heroes.