For me, there’s a special feeling to the first few hours of a new JRPG. It’s a comfortable feeling, like sinking slowly into a hot bath, or curling up under a blanket in front a well-loved film. It’s anticipation of many adventures to come, and acclimatisation to a world you know you’re going to be spending many hours in.
These games always take me back to my childhood, recalling adolescent years spent with games like Final Fantasy VII and Skies of Arcadia. I guess a part of me pines for a time when I could spend entire days absorbed in a massive RPG, a part of me that’s strong enough that if I’m given half a chance, I’ll still spend entire days sitting in front a massive RPG.
It’s a mixture of familiarity and uncertainty. In a sense, you know exactly what you’re getting; monsters will be defeated, levels will be upped, bosses will transform into bigger bosses and Some Bad Guy will threaten to Destroy The World. There will be a desert level. There will be at least one magic sword. The world, ultimately, will be saved, but only after a three-part final boss fight set to a thunderous orchestral score. (more…)
In videogames nothing can be said to be certain, except death and poor checkpointing.
Modern videogames seem to be at a loss with how to handle death. Player death used to make sense in the days of the arcade, when a dwindling stock of lives meant a dwindling pile of quarters in a gamer’s pocket. Death used to be the game designers’ main revenue stream, and in a pay-per-play world it made sense to challenge a player with fiendish difficulty, to always keep the next checkpoint tantalisingly out of reach.
In the age of the cinematic AAA blockbuster, this model doesn’t work so well. Increasingly, designers build their games as glamorous content tours, devices to show off explosive visuals and movie-aping storylines, delivered to a mass market with a lower threshold for punishment than the arcade gamer of old. So games get easier. Checkpoints more generous. The challenge of staying alive is rarely allowed to get in the way of accessibility.
But we still have to die. (more…)
People say dumb things all the time. On the whole I approve of this. If no one ever said dumb things, then the world would be pretty damn boring. Sometimes, though, people say dumb things that aren’t OK. Sometimes, these dumb things smack of ignorance, or border on being offensive. These things I am not OK with.
Recently, Assassin’s Creed III developer Alex Hutchinson claimed that the games industry exhibits a ‘subtle racism’ in favour of Japanese games, specifically in regards to theme and story. Hello there. That’s a rather sweeping statement, is it not? Some might say poorly thought out; others might say straight up offensive. As the understandably taken-aback interviewer put it: seriously?
Let’s dissect. (more…)
‘Fandom’ is a curious thing. Fans become passionately attached to a game, to a franchise, to a developer, even to a hardware manufacturer, often to the point that they begin to view the object of their fandom as more than just a form of entertainment. It becomes something personal for them, and when something becomes personal, any sense of rationality regarding that thing can become impaired.
In my time, I’ve been a Playstation fan, a Final Fantasy fan, a JRPG fan in a broader sense, a console game fan, and a fan of numerous other things besides. Note that when I use ‘fan’ here, I mean it in the personal, jealous, ‘how dare they release Metal Gear on Xbox’ sense. I still like all of the things I used to be a fan of, to varying degrees, but now I like to think I can judge them by their objective qualities rather than by some blind sense of ownership.
Perhaps it’s just because I got older. Perhaps it’s because I had to watch companies that I used to pledge allegiance to make some unarguably bad decisions, and was unable to rationally square these decisions with my own fandom. Perhaps it’s just because I don’t take videogames so seriously these days. But I stopped being a fan of things. And when you follow videogames and videogame culture, which is steeped in often alarming levels of fandom, you start to realise something. Fandom is pretty childish. (more…)
I remember when I decided that videogames didn’t need to look any better. It was 2001, I was twelve years old, and I was hunched over a biege PC in the school library watching clips of Final Fantasy X on some precursor to YouTube. I watched Yuna summon Valefor and I thought to myself: “Wow. This is it. This is as good as videogames will ever need to look.”
Eleven years later, I still largely stick by that statement. The PS2 era will always represent, for me, a pinnacle moment where graphical fidelity and the imagination of game creators perfectly overlapped.
This was the first time that designers could create in-game models that actually looked human. Their faces were no longer textured on; they had real (digital) lips that could be synced to dialogue tracks, and eyes that could move and express emotion. There was no longer any need to cut away to pre-rendered cutscenes for narrative impact – these videogame people actually looked like people. (more…)