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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wanted to start a mission with the awful paparazzi guy, so I stole a car to get to that side of town. About 15 seconds later, the police are on me, and my wanted level is at 3 – y’know, three white stars up in the corner. I thought maybe I could start the mission and the police would go away. No, I can’t do missions while the police are chasing me. So I drive around for a few minutes, into a dead end, jump out of my car, over a divider, and just sprint away.
When I finally lose them, I steal another car, evade police detection, and make it to the side of town with the paparazzo. But as I turn into the driveway to start the mission, thinking that the mission would start automatically when I did so (which usually happens), I end up bumping into the paparazzo, who just kind of… runs away.
So I drive waaay up the street and wait for his little map indicator to come back, drive back, park away from him, get out, and start the mission.
Then as we walk down the street he gets hit by a bus making a U-turn. Mission Failed.
I always thought the growing realism of sandbox games only made them less fun. Things like having to elude the police in a stolen car should be fun, unless it’s getting in the way of something else I want to do.
Another big problem I’m having is that I’m sick of GTA protagonists somehow being “better” than the people they’re working for. Every word out of Franklin’s mouth is always about how dumb or petty other characters are, or how stupid the thing he’s being asked to do is.
What sucks about that is I also happen to think that all the characters are stupid and petty, and everything we do is stupid. I did three really dull missions in a row, and for each one Franklin mostly just complained through the whole thing.
For the most part, the player and the protagonist should want the same thing, and for the most part, that thing should be accomplishing the next mission objective. Contrast the self-aware reluctance of Franklin with the doggedly sadistic passions of the Third Street Saints in any given Saints Row. When the missions objective reads, “Save Shaundi,” and I Need a Hero is playing, you better believe the Boss is saying to his pals, “I’m gonna fucking save Shaundi!” When Bayonetta slinks into a room and says, “I’m here to beat up Angels,” and then Angels start coming after her, you’re gonna say, “I am also here to beat up angels.” The least you should do for the player is reinforce that what they’re being asked to do is worth doing, that they and the game are on the same page.
So the 15th time Franklin asked something to the effect of, “Why am I even doing this?” I was like, “Good question!” and quit the game.
I actually really like Franklin as a character. His reluctance to do dirty work despite his obvious skill at it says a lot about the unrelenting siren call of criminal life. That same struggle was easily the best part of Niko’s story in Grand Theft Auto 4, as well. But that motif is somewhat self-sabotaging in a game that doesn’t feel the need to invite deep thought about any of its other messages. The talk-news and the commercial segments that parodize vapid American pop culture seem less biting now than they did in 2008. Four whole seasons of South Park have come out since then.
There’s also a seeming confusion between what counts as satire and what is just biased observation. Yeah, west coast tennis instructors do have affairs with clients. Sure, aging black women do uses cliched mantras to inspire self-confidence. Uh-huh, pop sensations are actually older than they let on. And? The observations themselves fall flat since the characters themselves aren’t deep enough to invite scrutiny over their ways of life, nor are they broad enough as caricatures to invite laughter and derision. Cut scenes start up and I just twiddle my thumbs until Rockstar is done thinking they’ve made a point about some facet of modern life, waiting until I can pick the controller up again and play the goddamn game.
The parts of the story I’ve liked best so far are scenes with Franklin and his allies in crime, mostly because they’re actually focused on character growth. At this point there’s still a question of how far Franklin is willing to go to gain independence, and his respect for others shifts as he tries to answer that question for himself. What’s nice about this pre-Michael segment of the game is that there’s far less “parody” – more plot development and less lame “satire”.
The reasons there isn’t as much “biting satire” in this early segment of the game is that there is nothing to satirize. People like Franklin – stuck in a cycle of violence with friends and opportunities constantly drifting in and out of his life at with the whims of society at large – actually exist in the real world. If there are any jokes to be made here, they’re only to be touched by writers who know what the hell they’re doing. Even Rockstar’s writers know well enough.
So they stick with the same old targets: rich white people, Fox News, and most kinds of women. “Okay, writing staff, here are your Safe Topics. These things are funny. Everything else is off limits. We don’t want to confuse or alienate anyone who matters!”
I say “watched,” you may assume, to suggest that Beyond: Two Souls is more of a movie than a game. In reality, that isn’t quite true, either. Beyond: Two Souls isn’t really a game or a movie. And I don’t say this to suggest that Beyond: Two Souls is somehow bolder or more expansive than either a video game or a movie, or that it defies categorization. I refuse to put a label on Beyond: Two Souls because, if I were to do so, whatever category I were to put it into would be irrevocably worsened.
It is not a video game, nor is it a movie. If pressed to define it, I’d say it’s a twelve-hour piece of performance art where some innocent fuck is tricked into spending sixty dollars on a boring, useless item, then is compelled to use it despite a mounting sense of rage of disgust.
* * *
My relationship with David Cage, Beyond: Two Souls intrepid W R I T O R and D E R E K T O R, is a complicated one, except that it’s actually very simple, because I hate him and I think he’s a piece of crap (and a racist). I loathed Indigo Prophecy with the force of a thousand suns–enough to temporarily blind me to the surprising successes of the later Heavy Rain, which I now begrudgingly admit is an innovative and highly enjoyable piece of game-making, for all its wacky Europeanisms.
So I approached Beyond: Two Souls with a skeptical but overall neutral point-of-view. I didn’t want to deprive myself of a fun experience, but it’s hard not to feel twice-shy being once so bitten. And there was a very specific moment in our playthrough, towards the end of the first act, that made me go cold with incredulity, and erased any charitable feelings I’d allocated for Cage.
There was a point in which Jodie, our implausibly old-name-having protagonist, has to walk through a ruined medical facility. There is an encounter with an enemy that asks you to follow the on-screen prompts to evade danger and progress. We missed several prompts somewhat clumsily, and I was actually rather surprised that we cleared the challenge, remembering how easy it was for Madison Page to meet any number of context-sensitive grisly deaths in her encounter with the good doctor in Heavy Rain.
Anyway, immediately following this sequence, Jodie got stuck in the wall trying to exit the room, frozen and inanimate (but still crying and panting–thanks). Ah. Well. Glitches happen, it’s no Fallout: New Vegas–at least not yet. So we restarted the chapter, participating in the QTE fight again, this time never missing a prompt. It was at this point that we realized is that, despite how much better we were at pressing the appropriate buttons this time, the scene played out in exactly the same manner as it had previously. Our suceesses and failures merited no rewards or consequences within the scene.
What we realized is that were never really truly participating at all. We were just along for the ride, humoring Beyond: Two Souls.
What greatly angered us was another realization. Does David Cage know that we’re humoring him, or does he really think he’s humoring us?
* * *
There is another point in B:TS where Jodie has to run away from something terrible that’s chasing her. Just to see what would happen, I put the controller down on the floor. Would Jodie be captured by this monster and torn limb from limb? No. Some moments later, Jodie, on her own, ran away.
(Spoilers will get slightly more persistent from here forward, but only slightly. After all, you’ve seen everything that happens in this “game”–the reversals and surprises and betrayals and losses you encounter as Jodie are all rote recitations of the same Hollywood junk you’ve seen crammed into games for the last fifteen years. Even the least savvy of eight year-olds can tell you the most shocking twists to expect in such a formulaic offering. DUDES! Your idealized mentor father-figure is actually MORALLY AMBIGUOUS OMMMMMGGGGAAAAAAADD!?!?!?!?!?!)
* * *
Later, we wanted to find out if it was actually possible to get intimate with one of the other characters in the game during a romantically-charged scene. (And I don’t mean “emotionally close,” I mean “can we get THIS penis in THAT vagina?”) So I Googled “beyond two souls walkthrough”. What a redundant phrase. For the most part, Beyond: Two Souls is a walkthrough of itself.
We discovered that there was, indeed, a way that the chapter could end with sex AND a Playstation Network Trophy. We figured we’d go for it. As long as we’re going through this, we might as well get some gamer cred, or whatever.
However, there was a disclaimer in the walkthrough for this particular portion of the game:
NOTE! If in [the chapter] “Like Other Girls”, the protagonist was groped by the bar’s clientele, no closer relationship with Ryan will happen.
I know you’re probably reading this sentence because you had already finished the previous sentence, but I want you to go back and read it again.
In this story about the supposed complexity of a human being’s life and identity over the course of many years, it is suggested that because Jodie was sexually abused several years prior, she is incapable of intimacy in the present.
There aren’t many choices you can make in a chapter that actually affects the events of another chapter – just one reason the boneheaded achronological narrative is just a bloody smoking hole in the foot of the story – but Cage made sure to fit in the little moral that if you didn’t have the foresight not to avoid your attempted rape, you are damaged goods.
Not only is this thing void of good ideas, whatever ideas it manages to portray are toxic for society and antagonistic to humanity.
* * *
While experiencing B:TS I was often on Twitter, writing thoughts about it as they occurred to me. Although this form of expression is troubling in several ways, it is appropriate for the works of David Cage. Deep analysis isn’t terribly necessary. All that needs to be done is present without irony exactly what occurs in Beyond: Two Souls, and any intelligent person can construe that it is lesser than garbage.
What follows are more detailed extrapolations of my Tweets as I experienced B:TS. These are essentially a list of observations in the order they were made.
B:TS opens with Ellen Page’s talking head, sounding confused. This is running motif in Cage’s work – big heads seeming unhappy. Supposedly, this is the end of the events of the story, and the following chapters take place BEFORE this point. This scene is mostly meaningless considering we have no idea who this is or when this takes place. It’s not like Sunset Boulevard – there are no expectations set up here.
After every chapter, the wavy-looking “timeline” for Jodie’s life is displayed, along with the name of the next Chapter and at what point on the timeline it occurs. It would be neat if this were a screen in which you could select what chapter you wanted to experience next. It would even feel somewhat immersive if the next chapter did not proceed until you pressed X to indicate you were ready to relive this memory. Instead, the timeline is just a loading screen, loading whatever part of Jodie’s life Cage thinks you should walk through next. Though it is marginally useful in finding out at what point the next chapter occurs based on chapter you’ve already seen.
Child Jodie is a pretty good actor. Way better than the French kids Cage got to play children from Philadelphia in Heavy Rain.
Willem Dafoe plays Jodie’s mentor and father figure, Nathan, trying to find out how she connects to her invisible psychic/ghost friend, Aiden. He does it through all the usual bullshit ways movie paranormalologists detects psychics – by asking her to pick cards with pictures on them.
You can control Aiden by interacting with objects marked by blue dots and knocking them over. This is Aiden’s primary purpose: knocking shit over. The game asks you to knock things over. But then at some point you knock something over and everyone in the lab starts freaking out. We start to think, “Okay, I guess we’ll stop knocking shit over.” But the story doesn’t proceed if you don’t knock more shit over. In order to convey that Aiden is sometimes “out of control” and “dangerous” the story forces us to force Aiden to knock shit over. Aiden doesn’t feel “out of control” to me. He just seems to be stuck in a story in which he is “out of control,” despite the fact he is completely in my control.
Nathan, calming Jodie down, says, “It’s alright, Jodie, it’s over.” Jodie responds, “It will never be over.” ಠ_ಠ Yep, because real people talk this way.
The next chapter, bafflingly, takes place at Sheikh Ahmed’s black tie gala. At this point, Jodie is in the CIA, and she’s going to use Aiden to find out what important secrets she can find in Sheikh Ahmed’s house. It’s one of the few times you have reign to float around and do stuff. Unlike other games in which you can decide how to use your powers to solve the problem in front of you, Aiden can only use certain powers on certain objects that the story needs to be interacted with to progress. Imagine a Legend of Zelda game in which the room you are in has a locked door, and there are switches all over the walls, and there is only one switch that opens it, but that switch is glowing blue, and the other switches actually don’t do anything. That is every sequence with Aiden.
Jodie is wearing a dress with her entire back exposed. The texture of her back is somewhat terrifying – as though her skin is paper thin and you an see every muscle fiber under it. This is one of the most unsettling dips into the Uncanny Valley, but sure not the last.
The bathroom signs for Ahmed’s place feature a veiled face over the door for the women’s bathroom, and a bearded face over the door for the men’s bathroom. This seems racist to me, but then I’ve never been to the Middle East.
The next chapter involves a birthday party at some brat’s house. Nathan thinks it’ll be good to meet kids my age. He already picked out the present for the birthday girl: an old collection of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Our guess is that the girl will think it’s a terrible gift and that it will act as an additional reason we should feel absolved for torturing her later. We are right.
The party has beer and weed. We indulge in both. We also get to pick the music. We picked disco. Another brat said it was a stupid, and changed the song. We weren’t sure if that moment was to get us to hate that girl, or just B:TS trying to simply negate another one of my choices.
You can score with some limey kid, but in the end, he and the others turn on you for being a “witch.” Their bright idea for dealing with witches? Lock them in a closet. ‘Cause that won’t backfire.
It totally backfires. This is the only point in the story where we feel as though Jodie, Aiden, and us are on the same side. We toss knives and set fires. We’re finally having fun, despite how blurry and floaty Aiden is.
There is a chapter that has us training to be in a special division of the CIA. It plays out like an actual montage. Pressing X to run over tires. Pressing X to solve… math equations? Flicking the analog stick to punch dudes. Do we really need this shit? I have an invisible ghost friend.
Suddenly Aiden can “heal” wounds by just kind of floating over them. This is used again I think four more times afterward.
Jodie’s step parents are really funny. The mother might actually be a good actor, but it’s hard to tell in this game, since nobody says things that regular people say. The father is hilarious. He just is always angry and often shouting. At some point I think you get a Trophy based on whether or not you display hatred toward him.
For the most part, the only way for things to progress is for Aiden to knock hist over. This could easily be called Knock Shit Over Simulator Pro.
The first wham-bam “blockbuster” sequence involves going through a ruined medical facility where people are trying to harness the awesome power of ghosts for ??????? reasons. It is at this point that all the seams show, if they haven’t already.
All QTEs are rigged in your favor.
Solving puzzles means switching to Aiden to knock over the “correct” thing – Aiden, really, is just a more complicated QTE.
You can read memories from dead people’s corpses or possessions, but they only tell you what you already know.
People respond to crises and tragedy in ways that don’t make sense. “Go!… Nothing but… DEATH… in there!”
The logic of Aiden’s powers and the ghost world are completely inconsistent. Sometimes Aiden can help Jodie, and sometimes she’s all on her own. Aiden can beat up ghosts, but they can’t do anything to him.
Jodie does things she should know better than doing. Like taking the elevator instead of the stairs in an emergency. What the FUCK is actually wrong with you. I don’t care if you have a magic zombie-goast pal to bail you out–take the stairs, you lazy bum.
Jodie seems to know how to find and shut down the power for a unique piece of machinery. She doesn’t think to just cut all of the wires around her, but instead has to cross through a ghost tornado for reasons.
Fighting the ghosts – which should be a big deal, they’re fucking flying screaming horrors that have the power to make people kill themselves and each other – is exactly as fun as knocking shit over in the rest of B:TS, in that it’s not. They could have invented a different action specifically for fighting the ghosts, but it’s the some input as knocking over paper and water bottles and crap.
Nothing is scary or surprising, because most humans have seen a movie before, and sound cues indicate what’s going to happen all of the time.
The engine Cage uses to make these games only heightens the excitement and drama of small things – most famously The Lizard trial in Heavy Rain. It is incapable of capturing the complexity of a fantastic action sequences the same way most video games already can pretty well.
Jodie’s thighs are too fucking thin.
Jodie tells Nathan, “Don’t let them do that again. If they open a passage, there’ll be nothing left.” The bad news? I think we’re supposed to be surprised that they do it again. The worse news? Because of the way the story works, it won’t be relevant for another 10 hours.
The chapter in which Jodie is homeless and makes friends with homeless people invites a question for anyone interested in seeing more scenarios that aren’t typically presented in video games: Why isn’t the whole game about using your ghost powers to overcome and navigate the challenges of being homeless? Because 1) Cage does not have anything poignant to say about being homeless, 2) he hasn’t met enough black people in his life to write about more than one in the same story for too long, and 3) despite all the smoke he blows about taking video games to a new level, he’s afraid NOT to put in more scenes that involve the same guns and violence that every video game has.
There’s a point where you can accept someone’s sexual proposition, but even if you do Jodie just changes her mind about it. Again, your choices are negated if David Cage doesn’t like them, yet he’s still willing to put women in dangerous and titillating situations without seriously confronting their consequences.
There are maybe one or two times where Jodie has prophetic visions in her dreams. These were likely put in so the plot would make slightly more sense. Since the story is presented out of order, it totally doesn’t work.
By the way. Aiden is pronounced throughout the game as “Eye-den,” except for one point when Willem Dafoe pronounces it “Ay-den.” He probably pronounced it that way because that is how you are supposed pronounce the name Aiden. Cage did not deign to correct Willem, even if it meant an inconsistency.
Women in David Cage games exist to 1) be fucked or threatened with unwanted fucking, 2) be beaten up, 3) be impregnated, 4) cry, or 5) all of the above.
Flashbacks to Child Jodie are mostly complete wastes of time. The only good part is when you have a snowball fight.
Girls’ Night Out is the chapter is which Jodie is whiny, entitled, and uses her powers for stupid reasons. Rather than making you appreciate Jodie’s growth, it only highlights how often Jodie is whiny and entitled throughout the story.
The Navajo chapter has already been equated to a bad episode of the X-Files. Doesn’t that sound great, though? What if every chapter was Jodie drifting into some town and solving their ghost problems?
Believe it or not, the sequence in which a white girl teaches a Navajo family how to deal with the vengeful spirit that their ancestors foolishly summoned to repel the White Man 200 years ago is still not the most racist thing David Cage has written.
The horses on the Navajo ranch are wearing English bridles, while they should be wearing Western bridles. They’re the only horses in the game, I mean, come on
Also, nearly every time there is an elevator in this game, a sign nearby refers to it as a “Lift”. It’s like in Heavy Rain when abandoned lots were referred to as “wastelands”. Cage would never let a copy editor near his precious script.
Nathan’s back story is illuminated very quicklyand very late. Cage probably had exactly 6 hours with Willem Dafoe to just cram everything in.
Also, I know I said Nathan was Jodie’s father figure, but is he really? Seriously.I can’t think of a single nice thing he does for Jodie, or even a single lasting lesson he imparts on her. Nathan’s assistant Cole is nicer to Jodie than basically anyone else in the story, and he’s still just a “supporting” member of the cast.
The one environment that gets reused over and over is the dorm that Jodie stays in while working with Nathan. It’s suggested at one point we should feel sentimental about it, even though it is the least impressive looking residence in the whole game and nothing pleasant ever happens there.
It’s during The Dinner scene where we had the brilliant revelation that the game might have been better if the chapters were divided between those in which you controlled Jodie and those in which you controlled Aiden. As is, the opportunites where you can control Aiden seem arbitrary, and when you actively control one to sabotage the other, as in this scene, it seems as though your presence at best deteriorates the story and its logic, and at worse puts you in control of the character who is in the least interesting situation at the time.
David Cage loooooves making women take showers with their hands against the wall being all live, “Uhhh, I just looove being NAKED and wet.” It’s not sexy, though, because Jodie washes her hair while it’s still pulled back in a ponytail. Grrrrrross. No shampoo, no conditioner, just a pile of wet, dirty, smelly hair trapped in a festering pile. Help me, Aiden!
It seems to be completely arbitrary, as well, what actions get QTE prompts. Opening a bottle of wine gets two. Putting on a diving suit doesn’t get any.
Ellen Page is a fine actress. But she just doesn’t have the range to hold my interest or sympathy for 20 hours.
Ellen Page is also one of the least expressive actors in Hollywood. She’s known for having a somewhat monotone voice and deadpan delivery, no matter her role. This may make her an excellent choice for some movie roles, but this makes her particularly poor one for an animated medium. Compare Ellen Page’s extremely faithful motion capture to that of Kristen Bell, from the Assassin’s Creed series, and you’ll see a markedly less wooden character model, despite the less sophisticated technology. Bell is a naturally more animated, physically/facially/vocally expressive actress, which makes her tremendously more interesting and engaging to look at when rendered as a 3D nonhuman.
There’s a scene in which someone gets news that someone they cared about died. It’s hard to tell, though, because literally no one acts like they would have had it occurred in reality. Think about it: if someone asks you, “What’s happened?” after getting this news (first off, fuck them for not figuring it out while they’re in the room with you) would you say, “A truck… wrong side of the road… drunk driver… sentence fragments… just phrases!”
The saddest part of the game is that there is a dedication to someone who had died. Which means, even having known the death of a friend and colleague, David Cage STILL wrote this scene. This man doesn’t know what empathy means. He can’t even empathize that Americans use elevators and not lifts!!
And again, it’s even more jarring when, like, name actors have to work with horseshit.
There is a chapter that is, basically, just the first act of Metal Gear Solid 4, except with a lot more floating around and wondering, “What the hell do I do now?” Yep – that’s David Cage! Pushing the envelope by making you kill brown people in a blown-out desert town! In a video game, no less!
Jodie gets betrayed at some point. The suggestion is that we, too, should feel betrayed, but by this point she has made so many poor decisions – decision the game railroaded you and her into making – that it just feels like it’s her fault. In another game this would feel like a revelation. Here, it just doesn’t fit in with the birthday party and the homeless pregnancy and the estranged father figure and all the other stuff that happens in the story that has nothing to do with CIA missions.
There are no fat people in this game. Cage probably hates them, too.
In case you were wondering, yes, even while on a government mission, Jodie is still whiny and panicky and complaining.
Your purported love interest is a terrible person who lies to you. You have the option to forgive him, when you should have the option to push him into a fast-moving river.
As B:TS approaches its “climax,” several new characters are suddenly introduced who are conveniently “the bad guys”.
If you put down the controller during a bout with one of these villains, you will still live and they will still die. They are so inconsequential that you don’t even need to fight them to succeed.
Jodie is knocked out by antagonizing forces more than once after walking through a door. Considering she can see through walls, this likely means that she is an idiot.
The only reason that the climax occurs is because several people do really stupid things that make no sense.
Every once in a while B:TS made us say, “If only this was the whole game.” If only the whole game was spent spying on enemies governments. If only the whole game was exorcising ghosts. If only the whole game was trying to get a boyfriend. If only the whole game was stealing and turning tricks on the street.
One of the hallmarks of the truly great auteur is the ability to self-edit, and show self-restraint. Tarentino edited Gogo Yubari’s vengeance-seeking twin sister Sakura out of the already incredibly genre-bending and seemingly unrestrained KillBill. He prioritized a cohesive, coherent narrative over simply cramming in all the stories he’d originally hoped to. And Cage seems to think of himself as an auteur, but ultimately he shows no fidelity to his own narrative–he is too eager to spill his every thought to just buckle-down, focus, and tell us a goddamned good story. Like a five year-old recounting his day at school, Beyond: Two Souls is filled with “and thens.” And then she’s a witch with magic powers. And then she’s a secret agent. And then she’s an angsty teenager. And then she’s a jilted lover. And then she’s a homeless person. And then she’s a great white savior to a bunch of hunky Injuns. And, like listening to a five year-old, I can only nod my head woodenly, praying his mother will save me from his incoherent babble before I eat my own hands out of boredom and frustration.
Instead, it’s all of these things and more. Nothing lasts long enough for it to become important. It’s none of these things and less.
(I mean, it’s not really a game you complete, but I think I’d like to declare my being finished with it)
So a while ago, I talked about the method that games use to explore certain ideas. The conclusion I was trying to reach is that a story’s message doesn’t have to be clumsily delivered through its plot or parroted by characters when you can use things like game mechanics and world-building and repetition of ideas (in other mediums these are called motifs) to influence the tone of the story and the lasting impression the player takes from it.
Vagrant Story is not the Holy Grail of gaming I once thought, but its script is still a benchmark for video games. The plot focuses on an infiltration mission and political machinations, but through its protagonist it explored the nature of human memory and its importance in forming one’s identity several months before the Christopher Nolan’s Memento would do the same thing.
Certainly, Vagrant Story was not the first game where the nebulous nature of a character’s memories (or lack thereof, as many will remember how common amnesia was as a trope compared to now) were integral to the understanding of the story, but after Vagrant Story, I can think of plenty of games that put the nature of their characters memories, personalities, and identities front and center – especially where Square Enix was concerned.
In games like Final Fantasy IX, there was still some subtlety to the proceedings. At the game’s outset, the mystery of Vivi’s identity is planted, and finally bears fruit much later on when the difficult nature of Zidane’s memories echoes the turmoil we’ve known to be growing within Vivi. It’s a fitting payoff for such a long-term narrative, and answers are delivered in full at a decent pace.
In contrast, as the Kingdom Hearts games rolled on, all subtlety went out the window, and the nature of memory became the focus of the story. Though it’s probably untruthful to say the games discuss the “nature of memory” so much as memories are just weird, malleable plot points. While games like Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy IX ask the player to consider how important our perception of events in the past are to understanding our present selves and the way we are understood by others, games like Kingdom Hearts asks… similar questions in much less helpful ways, mostly by using terms that don’t reflect the complexity of the self. According to Wikipedia: “Roxas is a ‘Nobody’, a being created when the series’ main character Sora briefly lost his heart during the first game of the series.”
Games such as Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria, the Xeno- series, and… guh… The 3rd Birthday all consider memories and identities to be malleable things that can be lobbed around like softballs as major plot points. The thing about having confusing plots heavily focus on character’s identities shifting and changing is that, after going through all the effort to keep it all straight in my head, the last thing I want to do is think about the nature of memories as they apply to me.
A digestible plot and satisfying mechanics keep my reptilian brain happy and occupied while my mammal brain considers the implications of the game’s message. A complicated plot where I have to spend time drawing parallels between characters’ predicaments and my own is order to make sense of the importance of the proceedings is a waste of brain activity better spent on anything more fulfilling.
Which brings me to Soul Sacrifice, possibly the only game to use malleable memories as a valid plot point.
Soul Sacrifice is a grotesque fairy tale. The premise is simple. You are imprisoned by an evil wizard with plans to sacrifice you when a magical talking journal bound in flesh slides into your cell and tells you that if you read and relive the events of the entries within, you will be able gain the powers of the long-dead sorcerers detailed, learn the nature of your captor, and defeat him.
I say that Soul Sacrifice is a fairy tale because the nebulousness of the world allows for a certain suspension of disbelief. You are told very little, so that when very strange and unlikely things happen, you say to yourself, “I guess that’s how things are in this world.”
This is a world were magic is not clean energy, but more like a nuclear weapon, leaving fallout about to mutate lands and beasts. Magic is an extension of the greed within every living thing, from trees to rats to children. Magic is constantly threatening to make things worse for everyone.
Only state-sanctioned sorcerers are capable of wielding magic safely, paradoxically for the purpose of eradicating the monstrous abominations created by magical radiation. Sorcerers are widely feared and hated as a symbol of violence and degradation, but are the only things keeping people safe.
The way sorcerers in particular are able to deal with monsters is through the art of sacrifice. They absorb the essence of fallen foes (who, in their weakened states, take on the form they once had, whether it be a mangy cat or a wrathful man) and seal it within their right arms. As a rule, sacrificing more foes makes the sorcerer stronger.
In doing this, though, sorcerers also takes some of their target’s essence into them, their soul, the thing that is the sum of their experiences and feelings.
Absorbing a very powerful, very willful soul can affect the behavior and, YES, the memories of the sorcerer.
But you can save monsters, too. Instead of increasing your attack power through sacrifice, being a savior can boost your life and defensive power, as well as allow you to recruit allies to your cause. However, although saving some monsters can provide certain passive boons when saved, the rewards are often dubious (powers aren’t as good, allies are dumb), and on the whole (at least according to the game’s lore) authorities do not tolerate sorcerers acting as saviors, since they are contracted executioners, not judges.
Still, as the one in the field, you have the choice. Every time you fell a monster, you can choose to either save it or sacrifice it.
What’s great about the story is that rules of a sorcerers duties are set forward very early on. Sorcerers kill monsters, and they sacrifice them, becoming living silos of malice. You take these rules for granted. The game keeps you so focused on killing monsters and getting stronger that, after a while, you don’t think twice about the nature of what you’re doing, and the progression of the story becomes secondary to the progression of the challenge. As with any diligent sorcerer, it becomes a numbers game. How many of what kind of monsters do I need to kill to get enough powers to kill that next monster?
By keeping the player focused on the mechanics of play, the game frees itself to influence the player’s thoughts from behind the scenes, rather than awkwardly confronting them about the game’s “point” via cutscene. In Soul Sacrifice, the mechanics drive the player forward, but they also connect directly to the nature of the story and the plights of the characters. The way that a single decision annihilates all other realities, the way we value or cast aside things based on their usefulness, the ways in which growth may transform us or make us more like who we truly are.
When the game finally reveals its hand – when the nature of the relationships between the very small cast of characters starts to slide into focus – that’s when you finally start to think about the implications of what you’ve been doing. Not because the game begins navel-gazing and actively discusses the nature of itself, but because you are put in a situation where you can’t help but wonder what it means.
Soul Sacrifice does this in the same way every good game has done it. At the game’s climax, you are asked to do something you’ve done a thousand times before, but for an entirely different reason that puts your entire experience up until that point in a different perspective.
And while the ending does indeed come down to a binary decision, I am pleased to inform that neither ending is truly good or bad – or, well, I didn’t think so. Though I felt that one ending was, dare I say, more poetic and more in keeping with the tone of the game than the other. Believe or not, this dopey, macabre little game, like a fairy tale, has a very beautiful moral. From the creator, Keiji Inafune:
My own life story has been the inspiration of this game. I was put in a lot of situations where I had to make tough decisions. I learned that things don’t go well just because you want to be famous or rich or a better person. You have to constantly think what you’re willing to give up or sacrifice to make things happen.
Sometimes I feel like the importance of a story can be broken down into an equation. (Decisions made x frequency) / time = importance, or something. The more time you spend thinking you understand something only to find how wrong you were always seems to pack an emotional punch, no matter the situation.
Time, however, is also Soul Sacrifice’s draw back. As glad as I am that I played it, it’s hard for me to say that it’s truly a great game because it is exceedingly repetitive. I literally stopped playing for a few months for that reason. Often times you’ll find yourself asked to do missions very similar to those you’ve done before with very meager rewards. These rewards do build up over time, but they don’t feel as essentially fulfilling as other similar kill-thing-and-receive-loot games like Monster Hunter or Dragon’s Crown.
But, hey, there’s a new version coming out. Maybe then I could suggest this game unequivocally. Until then, Soul Sacrifice is probably the best boring game I’ve played all year.
Why is parkour still a thing in video games now? It was a key component in Assassins Creed and Mirror’s Edge, and it should have stopped there. (I’ll accept inFamous, too, because at least it’s fun then.)
But, here we are, still climbing up the sides of buildings. Like, EVERYONE can climb the sides of buildings so easily. Doesn’t that seem like a really hard thing to do? That didn’t used to be a thing. In older video games, when we came to a wall we were like, “Well, I guess we better find a way around it.” But now everyone’s trying to just climb over it.
It’s a cute idea, but you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. In the old days the question was, “If I have a grenade launcher, why can’t I explode that locked door off its hinges?” Now it’s, “If I can climb THAT wall, why can’t I climb EVERY wall??” It’s funny. As aesthetics get more realistic, the occasional inconsistencies with video game verisimilitude become more insufferable.
But then, hey, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised parkour is so present in a French game. A French sci-fi game. About memories. Called Remember Me.
The Ghost in the Shell series was a very dire and realistic meditation on the nature of technological progress and its influence on politics, the planet, and the self. It’s a crime drama first, but the themes of memories and identity run throughout all of the proceedings.
Meanwhile, Remember Me opens like, “You lost your memories! Because a company called Memorize decided they could do whatever they wanted with your memories! Now take ’em down, so we can all have our memories back! Even if you have to mess with other people’s memories! And remember to remember to memorize memories!”
Now, isn’t it kind of obvious that the big twist is gonna come when you get your memories back? I know it’s a sci-fi, but it feels really silly and regressive to just make your plot actually involve what your game is thematically addressing.
Maybe I’m getting stuck on this, but… You’re supposed to use the plot to convey the point, the same way you use a frying pan to cook a steak. You can’t take the meaning of the game and then build the plot on that. You can’t cook a steak with another steak.
To be fair, there is other stuff going on in the game: the haves vs. the have-nots. The rich can afford to relive their own happy memories, while the impoverished can only scrape together the memories of others and go nuts in the process. There’s even a character early on whose decision to do something drastic is based on a very expensive hospital bill she has to pay. It actually feels just barely relevant at times.
But it’s not just plot and aesthetics you use to convey meaning: it’s mechanics. The script seems to be telling us that the game is about the malleability of the human psyche, and that my character is a genius hacker. If that’s so, how come I spend less time rewriting people’s memories – which is, in fact, a very neat and juicy bit of the game – and more time punching junkies and climbing up and down the sides of walls?
The thing is, Remember Me isn’t the first game that’s about running toward a glowing waypoint or climbing and punching things like a drunk amnesiac baboon. But it’s the last one I deign to play.
This is the E3 trailer for Bioshock. I was pumped by this. I fell in love with the unusual locale and the gritty, visceral combat. The effectiveness of the trailer is that it’s so open-ended. What happened here? What am I doing with this little girl? What is THAT thing doing with this little girl? What other horrible powers can I use? Even the fact that it ends with the player’s death suggests that the player will have to be re-equipped with a whole bevvy of new combat options upon the game’s release.
Infinite pushed this kind of presentation to the limit with this 10 minute “gameplay” video.
Hype is a powerful thing, and Ken Levine certainly knows how to wield it.
The thing is, these videos are all just ideas. Sequential ideas. Lists in the form of a videos.
Truthfully, others have already gone through the broad issues I have with Infinite, like this guy, and this guy. All I have left is my own list of ideas.
The voice direction. Booker and Elizabeth have two very different problems. Troy Baker plays Booker as a very distinctly dull dude. He sounds like a good actor who received very little direction. But since Troy is a pro, he manages.
To me, it sounds like Courtnee Draper did not deal as well with the lack of direction. On the surface I understand what Elizabeth feels, but I often don’t get why.
Also, Elizabeth just sounds like some lady I could meet on the street today – her throaty casualness doesn’t click in 1912. I kept waiting for a plot reason why that should be. There isn’t one.
Elizabeth’s character frequently doesn’t make sense. The sequences up till meeting her in captivity is pretty intriguing – she seems to be pretty okay with her station in life. But then the moment the shit hits the fan, she’s like, “Let’s get out of here! The exit is this way!” and basically completely stops acting like someone who’s spent a huge portion of her life under lock and key.
The writing. “The only difference between Fitzroy and Comstock is how you spell the name.”
Aside from some real clunkers, Booker and Elizabeth constantly waver back and forth between period speak and modern colloquialisms. It’s especially infuriating since basically every other character actually pretty effectively acts like someone from 1912.
I mean, listen to the guy selling the Voxophones at the start of the game, and then listen to Elizabeth. (Or, shit, look at Elizabeth standing next to Mrs. Lin) Are they even from the same world?
Oh, yeah, the fucking Voxophone recordings. Some things never change, huh? This method of information diffusion was tolerable in the kooky world of Rapture. This shit makes zero sense in Columbia. Are you telling me an old black janitor would 1) be able afford a Voxophone, 2) buy a Voxophone, even though he clearly needs that money for other stuff, and 3) carry it around and use it while he is working?
Who is dropping all this recording equipment everywhere?! (Answer: The same people who are throwing money in the garbage) I will say that I was initially impressed at the way that the other sound levels would drop out so that you could hear the recordings, until some inconsequential dialogue started up, cutting off what turned out to be a pretty crucial recording.
Tape recordings are joined this time by nickelodeon-style moving picture viewers that take up even more of your time because you have to STAND STILL to use them, and yet are even less illuminating. They actually find a more insufferable way to convey information than background blithering.
All the goddamn noise. As bored as Booker and Elizabeth sound most of time, all the bit characters fucking commit. Like, the way bad guys scream. All the time. When they spot you, when they’re shooting at you, when they’re dying, when they’re being burnt alive, when they’re falling. Everything screams when I do anything to it. With the Big Bad’s saying threatening things over the microphone, cronies of every size running at you and shouting, robot cannons chiming and rat-a-tatting, Elizabeth telling you she can’t find anything even though you never asked, and a recording of a horrible old white man shouting about Lambs and Shepherds – fucking kill me. I’m only glad I could turn off the reminders telling me, “Your shield is broken! Find cover!”
None of the encounters are special. My favorite part of the game was fighting this horrible, ghostly boss that can constantly summon cronies to fight for it. Not only did I have to fend off mobs of dudes using all of my wiles, I also had to isolate and kill the boss before it summoned even MORE dudes.
Apparently, they thought this fight was so fun, they made me fight it two more times afterward.
This happens throughout the game. A new enemy is introduced in a semi-effective way, it’s defeated, it feels like a triumph, and then you… fight it again. No battle is unique.
There are never really any milestones. Powers and guns are distributed without much attention paid to the pacing or the mounting action of the story. One obstacle requires attaining a particular power to overcome it. This power is never used for such a purpose again.
The whole thing is extremely linear and yet extremely disjointed. I feel like every set piece could have been put into any order. There isn’t any escalation from one event to another.
Elizabeth’s powers are wasted.
The only time Elizabeth’s power does something interesting while playing the game is when she can make baskets of food materialize in the most impoverished part of the city. It highlights the sheer range of her powers, and clearly represents how someone like Comstock believes in the good it can do. (I’m not suggesting Comstock has any of the limited complexity of Andrew Ryan – he’s doesn’t)
The rest of the time, she can make hip-high walls and freight hooks and sniper rifles appear… in locations that are conveniently empty. There are maybe one or two fights where this can be pretty exciting – it feels like you’re actively taking control of the battlefield, summoning a mechanized patriot to take on another patriot, making a freight hook to get over and behind bad guys, etc.
But it’s, like… why can’t all that stuff already be there?
She also gives you health, salts, ammo, money. Stuff you can all get yourself. It invalidates the purpose of scrounging through the garbage for loot, because Elizabeth always finds items in such greater quantities.
You know what Elizabeth’s powers should have been used for? Getting Infusions – the things that increase your health, salts, and shield. That way your growth is intrinsically tied to Elizabeth – your advantage over everyone else in the game is your relationship to Elizabeth.
The twist isn’t really a twist because I didn’t know what was going on. A mystery only works if you can guess what the answer could be. If I have no expectation for how or why someone did something, why should I be surprised when I find out the answer?
The reason it takes forever for any important clues or tangible story details to be revealed, despite the shortness of the story, is that any single clue would unravel the mystery immediately. Especially if you played Bioshock – you’re already looking for the true identity of certain characters.
The big thing for me, though, is, the tone.
At one point Elizabeth very tearfully sums up her very complicated relationship with someone she once knew, and then–
“Hey, Booker, need some ammo?”
For all the importance being placed on the story and my relationship to Elizabeth, I sure feel like I’m walking around with an ammunition dispenser in a video game.
The most exciting parts of the game have really nothing to do with any of the gameplay mechanics. It’s mostly something neat happening while you watch. Even the sky-lines, one of the more exhilarating parts of the game, are just roller-coasters. The ending, while infuriating, is quite beautiful (Yes, Ken Levine has seen Inception, sure, whatever).
The most interesting way you can look at Infinite is as a musing on the success of Bioshock. In Bioshock, your choices are stupidly distinct, leading to ending A or ending B. In Infinite, your choices all lead you to the same place.
If Infinite came out even half a year sooner, it would have seemed more clever. But literally every part of this game was done better in another game.
But Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it a 10 out of 10.
For years, the only perfect score EGM ever gave out was to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
The Ocarina of Time featured one-touch targeting, a giant interconnected world, a system distinguishing between day and night, and a world that changes over the course of time – all revolutionary ideas that are still visible in games being made today. A perfect score should indicate nothing short of revolutionary.
I don’t see anything revolutionary in Infinite. If anything, Infinite is regressive. No quick-time events, no cover system – things that were all true in Bioshock. Color-coded magic powers like in Bioshock, vending machines in silly voices like Bioshock, flavor text littered about the ground like Bioshock.
I DO see the appeal in Infinite. Really pretty, lots of things to listen to and look at, interesting ideas that almost flourish.
But 10 of out 10?
Come on, now.
You know the best part of the game? It’s whenever Elizabeth flips a coin at you. The animation and the sound effect are just… awesome.