Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DFB - Xenogears - Fraction III

*Warning, this is strictly a story-related summary. Skip down to “notes and observations” if you want to avoid spoilers and such.*

Chapter Three: A Rainy Day For All

In order to save Margie, Sigurd suggests that Bart, Citan, and Fei scope out the kingdom of Aveh in order to construct a plan. Upon entering, the player is shown a scene which details the arrival of a Gebler (Solaris) official and his attendant. This official (Ramsus) converses with his colleague (Miang) about their current arrival in Aveh (while demonstrating an excessive prejudice for “Land Dwellers”). Greeting them upon their docking is Shakhan himself and a general known as Vanderkaum. Ramsus, Miang, and Shakhan then proceed to Marguerite’s room while discussing her current unwillingness to reveal the location of the other half of the Fatima Jasper. Ramsus asks to question her himself (Miang also accompanies him). They then chat with the young woman, who claims only to have an affinity for cake and no knowledge of missing half of the Fatima Jasper. Despite holding her against her will, Ramsus displays a very civil nature and prefers no “rough methods” are used to extract information from her.

Meanwhile, back in Aveh, Fei and company have found (through some mingling with the town) that they can use the waterway sneak into the castle’s reservoir. Needing a distraction, Citan volunteers an idea to place Fei in the annual 338thfighting tournament. This will allow Bart the lax in security he needs to navigate his way into the castle. Fei on the other hand, will be the attention of most of the guards as they place hefty bets on the tournaments. After a night of rest, Fei (accompanied by Citan) leaves Bart at an inn to go participate in the tournament. As Fei leaves Citan in the crowd, he enters the participant’s tent to find a his opponents, which include a strange hooded man, and Dan. Dan is appalled at Fei’s presence and vows to kill him on behalf of Lahan before storming out of the tent. Left only with the hooded figure, Fei gets addressed by name from this mysterious person, who then leaves him alone in the tent. This is unnerving for Fei, as he entered a false name for himself upon entering the tournament. Noticeably shaken, he proceeds out to the ring.

Overlooking the arena in the castle’s balcony, Shakhan gives a conceitedly heartfelt speech announcing the start of the tournament. Ramsus and Miang enter his balcony just as he finishes, announcing their departure. Ramsus shows no interest in Shakhan’s “impudent” tournament and departs. Miang on the other hand, states she’s interested in martial arts and accompanies Shakhan to observe the tournament. As Fei steps into the ring to face his first opponent, Miang makes the observation of Fei being attractive, and the battle then begins. Meanwhile, just as the tournament is starting, Bart makes his way into the water way of the castle. Swimming against the current, he is finally able to emerge in the castle’s reservoir. As he’s sneaking his way towards Margie, Fei is performing quite well in the tournament. Eventually Fei confronts Dan, and with no other option, he is forced to subdue the poor boy. After Dan’s defeat, the mysterious hooded figure serves as Fei’s final opponent. The figure appears to be strong, as he dodges all Fei’s attacks with relative ease (as if he knows his every move intimately). This eventually leads to him confronting Fei very personally, suggesting he shares a past with him. He acknowledges Fei’s growth, but then proceeds to scold him on his purpose for fighting, and advises him that he’s far too weak to face him. The figure then suddenly collapses to the ground, as if in pain; this causes him to flee the tournament, leaving Fei to be declared the winner.

Back in the castle, Bart has finally found Margie. As he leaves the room with her, he runs down the corridor and rounds a corner, to find himself face to face with Ramsus and Miang. Ramsus demands he return Margie to her room and unsheathes his sword. Bart, full of spunk, leaps gung ho into battle against him. Miang recognizes him as the rightful king of Aveh and assures him that they will treat the two well (despite Shakhan’s influence in the matter). Bart doesn’t care to hear her however, and the two proceed to do battle with Bart. Eventually Bart is worn down, but Fei shows up on the scene just in time and assaults Ramsus. Startled by this sudden entrance, Ramsus is taken aback completely by Fei’s fighting style. Ramsus then experiences a flashback of a destructively violent red-haired figure decimating gears with his bare hands. As he comes to, Fei and Bart begin their assault on more even grounds. Though Fei and Bart eventually gain the upper hand, it’s obvious that they’ll have to escape eventually. When a Gebler officer shows up in an elevator, Fei, Bart and Margie, shove her out of the way and hastily take the elevator down, not knowing where they’ll end up.

They eventually find themselves in the dock Ramsus and Miang arrived in earlier. Just as they notice the Solaris ship they arrived in, a small army of Gebler officers emerge from it and give chase. While running in some nearby corridors to avoid them, the gang turns a corner and Fei finds himself face to face with Elly once again. Though shocked, she impulsively hides the three in her office while the Gebler forces storm the corridor. Bart is clearly angered at Fei & Margie’s immediate trust of Elly as a Gebler officer, and he refuses to trust her. Elly on the other hand, shows them the way out by giving them access to a standard model gear in the hangar. Despite Fei’s pleas for Elly to come with him, Elly proclaims her loyalty for Solaris and informs Fei that the next time they meet, they will be enemies. Using the gear, Fei, Bart, and Margie escape back to the Yygdrassil.

While everyone is delighted to see Margie safe, Bart immediately reprimands her for getting herself caught. Sigurd advises Bart to show some leniency given her family was killed, which causes Bart to relent. The crew then descends into the ship while they make their way to Nisan. While travelling, Fei is eavesdropping on another surreptitious conversation between Sigurd and Citan (the latter mysteriously disappeared for a short while after Margie’s rescue). The exchange suggests that Citan and Sigurd have some personal ties to Solaris and they acknowledge Ramsus’ position as the commander-in-chief of Gebler (Solaris Special Forces). Sigurd also points out an unsettling feeling he has about Elly’s involvement in everything that has happened. Though Citan seems to suggest that she’s a good person, Sigurd states that he senses a dangerous fear in her. Citan concedes upon hearing this, as Sigurd apparently has some accurate intuition in such matters.

Eventually the Yydrassil finds it’s way to Nisan, and everyone departs. Everyone in Nisan is overjoyed for Marguerite’s safe return, and Margie herself immediately makes her way to nation’s cathedral to notify the sisters of her return. Citan, Fei, and Bart accompany her to the cathedral and in doing so they discover some interesting observations made by the inquisitive Citan. Among these findings is a beautiful (yet unfinished) portrait of Sophia, the founder of Nisan. Citan curiously notes that the style is not too much unlike Fei’s own method of painting. Fei on the other hand is captivated by Sophia’s resemblance to Elly (he even experiences a daydream portraying him painting her). Unfortunately, nobody is able to shed any light on the extensive history of the painting (not even sisters themselves), as those kind of things aren’t easily accessible on Ignas (due to the Ethos religion controlling historical information).

After departing the cathedral, the entire crew meets up at a paid-for house within Nisan, and Bart finally questions Sigurd about his involvement with Solaris. Sigurd finally divulges that he and Citan are from the sky city of Solaris. Citan is a natural-born Solarian, but Sigurd was an abducted from Ignas early in life as experimentation project used by the inhabitants of the sky city. Both Citan and Sigurd knew Ramsus as a talented officer in Jugend (Solaris’ military academy). Though initially attracted to Kahran’s (Ramsus) ideals at the time, they quickly saw that his ideology only differed from Solaris’ usual slavery-based industry by favoring elitism and talent above all else. Because of this, Sigurd and Citan eventually fled from Solaris to the surface and ended up where they are now. Bart, who has known Sigurd his whole life, needs time to process this so he departs. After a consoling discussion with Citan, they all meet up again and formulate a plan to take back Aveh.

In order to for their plan to go through, they decide that it would be best to manipulate general Vanderkaum’s weakness, who has been demoted to border patrol. Vanderkaum, who is renowned for favoring size and power over tact and skill serves as an easy crux in their plan. The plan requires that Gebler and Aveh think that Kislev and Nisan have united (and are leading an attack force). Fei, with his newfound desire to fight, instantly agrees to lead a strike team to create this ruse. Meanwhile, the Yygdrassil will return to Aveh, and Bart will attempt to storm Shakhan in order to take back his rightful kingdom. After their plan’s details are solidified, they decide to launch the attack as soon as possible (the next morning).

Later that night, Ramsus is seen lying in bed with Miang. Ramsus begins to have a dream that involves the same powerful red-haired figure destroying gears with his bare hands. This dream is obviously a nightmare for Kahran, as he can be seen being easily dispatched by this warrior as well. The enigmatic figure can also be seen utilizing an extremely powerful scarlet gear that decimates everyone in Kahran’s dream. After waking up startled, he leaves the room. Miang, also awoken by his nightmare, can be seen conversing with the figure that was taunting Fei in Lahan and in the desert (who calls himself Grahf). The two exchange words suggesting that they have far more knowledge about Fei’s situation than anyone. Miang sassily informs Grahf that she will not interfere with his plans and Grahf departs.
The next morning, the plan to recapture Aveh is set into motion. Fei and a squad are sent to slow down the border patrol fleet, while Bart, Sigurd, and Citan use the waterway as a means to swiftly put themselves in an advantageous position to take back the castle. As Fei scales the mountainside, he runs across a Gebler unit led by Elly herself. The Gebler unit is composed of the very same gears that ambushed the Yygdrassil’s docking bay not too long before. This strike force is very arrogant and refuses to act under Elly’s orders, despite the fact that she is their superior officer. This leads to them all receiving a swift beating by Fei aboard Wetall, which leaves Elly as the last member to oppose him. Elly, who is piloting a new model of gear (Vierge), is clearly torn between her loyalty to Solaris and not wanting to harm Fei. Elly finally makes her choice, choosing to dose herself with the battle enhancing drug “Drive”. Her unruly subordinates, who have already been excessively using “Drive”, watch in awe as Elly begins to perform fantastically under the influence of the drug.
It seems “Drive” is a substance that only unlocks the user’s already latent ability. The lower Gebler forces observe that Elly must be extremely powerful to operate so formidably under the influence of the drug. Elly on the other hand is haunted by her power, as it turns her into exuberant war-monger. Though a lethal force, Fei is able to talk Elly down enough to force Wetall on top of her gear while the drugs pass through her system. After the “Drive” wears off, they both disembark their respective gears and Fei questions Elly about her use of the drug and her loyalty to Solaris. Elly who still refuses to defect, watches as Fei boards Wetall once again, to continue on with his mission.

Back at the castle, Bart, Citan, Sigurd, and a small force raid the courtyard of the castle only to find Shakhan waiting for them (along with Miang as well). Miang reprimands Citan (recognizing him from Solaris) for not taking them seriously, as Ramsus long predicted that they would eventually try to feign a war in order to take back the capital. As Shakhan orders his men to fire, Maison (Bart’s butler and minder throughout his childhood), shows up in a land crab to save them. Clearly outmatched, they flee from Aveh and make their way back to the Yygdrassil. Fei and his strike force on the other hand, have had no communications with Bart or his team, so they continue carrying out their plan, despite it being fruitless at this point. They launch an attack on the border fleet and wind up face to face with Vanderkaum. As predicted, Vandekaum obstinately proceeds to use his horrifically slow sem cannon to dispatch the exponentially faster gears. After his ship (Kefeinzel) is destroyed, he uses his own gear model (Dora) as a last ditch effort to destroy Fei and his team. Fortunately, even Dora falls to Fei and his small yet competent band of soldiers.
As Fei and his team turn their back to leave, Grahf suddenly appears in front of a crushed Vanderkaum. He questions Vanderkaum’s desire for power and obliges his wish, which causes Dora to rise again with a noticeably larger amount of power. It easily kills the rest of Fei’s team, and as Fei looks on, he once again begins to feel the will of another and Wetall falls to it’s knees. Back on the Yygdrassil, the team is allowed a short moment to sulk in defeat before they find out that they’re already being pursued by Ramsus’ forces. Ramsus, who refuses to outright destroy the Yydrassil (due to his history with Citan and Sigurd), tries to diplomatically force the Yydrassil into surrendering for the sake of Nisan. Bart, still wounded by his failed attempt to take back Aveh, decides to use all the Yygdrassil’s remaining forces to make a stand against Ramsus’ fleet. Ramsus then relents on his mercy, telling all his ships to attack the Yysdrassil at once. As the assault begins, a new gear arrives on the scene and swiftly decimates Ramsus’ entire fleet with ease. Ramsus is excitedly horrified, as this mysterious scarlet gear is the same one from his dream the night before. He orders Miang to accompany him and they both rush to meet the mysterious presence.

As Bart watches the enigmatic gear, it suddenly appears directly in front of him, questioning his strength. Bart immediately flees, as he sees he’s clearly outmatched. Just as he escapes the scene however, the gear instantly reappears in behind him to his horror. Suddenly, Miang and Ramsus show up in their own gears and Ramsu abruptly proceeds to combat the mystery gear. The new gear easily defeats Ramsus, literally tearing his gear apart. It then turns it’s attention back to Bart, who reluctantly tries to fight it. Miang picks up the remnants of Ramsus’ gear and departs from the scene, leaving Bart to face the monster gear alone. Bart throws what’s left of his gear’s ability into the fight, but it’s pointless. The scarlet gear instantly launches a devastating assault on Bart’s gear leaving him helpless. Sigurd, who is witnessing this aboard the Yygdrassil, decides to use what’s left of warship to make a last ditch “jump” maneuver in an attempt to rescue Bart. The plan seems to work at first, the Yygdrassil makes a “jump” and lands directly on top of the scarlet gear, seemingly crushing it. Sigurd, calls to Bart, asking him of his condition and Bart boldly replies that the Yygdrassil is nearly done-for after that maneuver. Suddenly, the Yygdrassil shoots up into the air and the scarlett gear can be seen underneath, holding the entire warship up on one hand. It’s mysterious blood-drunk pilot acknowledges it as a interesting attempt to dispatch him and then tosses the entire ship on Bart’s gear.
The Yygdrassil, now torn apart under it’s own weight, is flooding with sand and will not last long. Sigurd orders everyone onto the bridge so he can close off all the sectors and attempt to keep everyone safe. Sigurd then advises Citan to leave in an escape pod, stating that he can’t ask Citan to stay aboard in such a situation. The doc hesitates at first, but eventually hops into an escape pod and is shot out into the desert alone. The Yydrassil is now destroyed, Bart’s fate is unclear, and Fei and team have fallen under Dora’s reanimated bloodlust.
Notes and Observations

“Well, If I’m Going to Watch…”
In the first few parts of this chapter, the player gets to watch a scene while Shakhan, Ramsus, and Miang make their way to Marguerite’s room. During this time, the sprites walk through the complex while the player manipulates the progression of the conversation. I actually prefer moments like this, if the game actually needs a scene, as the sense of progression is aided with the characters navigating the halls while conversing. Though I’d still love to see this game voiced, this area didn’t make me mind the text boxes as much. This makes me wonder if it would be overly ludicrous to essentially substitute the text-boxes with voice cues. When I thought about that however, it actually seemed a bit too gimmicky for my tastes, but the conversation caught my eye nonetheless. Watching characters move while talking is simply a novelty that videogames in general do not use enough. Titles like the last four Grand Theft Auto games bring this to mind as well (i.e. listening to conversations while driving). While the more ambitious RPGs try to painstakingly simulate conversations through elaborate trees and such (i.e. Mass Effect), a lot of the luster is lost when the characters remain in one place while engaging each other. It can’t be THAT hard in this age to give pixels mannerisms, can it? I’m not trying to discredit the nuances some of those “conversation-tree games”, but it’s just something that furthers my opinion that the animation of the characters themselves are a gold mine waiting to be excavated.

Rustlin’ Bustlin’ Capital…
I’m sure at this point, the nature of “towns” in RPGs are on a kind of expected checklist of things to come across over the course of the game. Xenogears certainly isn’t alone, but it showed me that a town can have some life apart from people just waiting behind counters to sell me my next awesome weapon. In Aveh, I came across kids running around stealing things, people calling me left and right to buy bananas and radishes, and children playing hide and go seek. The fact that there are kids at all in this game are something I’ll credit Xenogears for, as it’s kind of taboo to stick children in games for some reason (I assume it’s because they typically center around flashy action?). Although the pattern never changed, the illusion of walking up the market street never lost it’s appeal, as there was an abundance of life while I was in Aveh. In an age where most gamers over twenty are “aware” of the technical underpinnings of situations like this, I think it’s imperative to notice that we can easily be fooled given the right situation. I don’t really care how developers pull their rabbits out of the hat, I just care that I believe that they did, even if it’s just for one second. Xenogears gave me this second, when most RPGS today don’t even pretend to try anymore.

“Driving” Time…
A sequence which I thought could have used a time adjustment was portion prior to the 338th fighting tournament in Aveh. Something I think a good deal of people found solace in during this game’s launch year (1998) was the fictional clock in Ocarina of Time. Having a simple night and day system can do wonders for instances like this. The tournament itself could have been exponentially increased by using time in areas like waiting in line for an upcoming fight. I’m sure representing a certain number of sprites on screen was taxing for the hardware, but I would have loved to have actually witness the Aveh crowd enamored with the tournament (possibly Citan humorously working the crowd as well). The point in that sequence was for Fei to provide a distraction while Bart snuck into the castle. Fei only fights in the tournament when Bart enters a new area of the castle, so it ended up being a cop-out experience for me. I would have actually preferred to have had some degree of anticipation build up beforehand while waiting for my fight (and possibly watching other matches). It also provides a mode of mingling with opponents and participants. Though the game kind of does this anyway by letting Fei enter the tents of the participants (in order to trigger the scene with Dan and the mysterious figure), it’s lost because the in itself a ruse, existing only as a cognitive bullet point for the player to engage with while making their way through the game. This demand is a ludicrous for a game of this period I know, but I thought it was something worth mentioning nonetheless.

Believe in Oppression!
Kings and Queens are trite in any medium of fiction, but the structure built around Bart and his desire to “be a man before lord” provides an admirable bit of characterization for him. Any fictional construct that can actually make someone want to see a fundamentally flawed mode of human government put into place is doing it’s job right. Between Maison and Sigurd, Fei is fed a link that allows the player to empathize with Bart on a deeper level than just “another guy in your party”. It’s not a question of believability, which flew out the window with the start of this game. It is a question of the game providing a window for the player. Games like Xenogears require people look just a bit at themselves in order to enjoy it more. Royalty is an absurdity in 2009’s North America, but it’s not such a bad thing on the continent of Ignas. Any title that makes you buy that illusion for a second is choice stuff.

It’s Not As Ludicrous As Most Make It…
It’s hard to admire “faith” in a game when most people don’t even bother to do so in real life anymore. Everyone these days either identifies more as an atheist or an overly-dependant-out-of-fear religious person. Listening to Margie explain the creation myth for mankind brought me to question how dangerous it is for a game to even touch on religion. Xenogears is obviously using Christianity (original sin) as a color of crayola and I kind of admire that. Games still have a very short list of titles that directly try to do this. People are quick to denounce a game such as Xenogears that directly tries to implement these tools, but their alternatives usually have no greater merit. For example, Is reading the bible really a more substantial solution to conveying messages about metaphysical life and it’s nature? One alternative does it quite effectively enough to teach (rather enjoyably) a child an actual lesson or two, while the other is filled with countless accounts of cruel bloodshed that will just either bore most people or instill the” fear of the sky bully” in them. Give me an open minded child playing Xenogears over a practicing Protestant any day…

Believable Buddies

For a horribly infantile-yet-derivative medium like video games, Xenogears is still impressive as a narrative based game. Something like Xenosaga is either hit or miss formost, but both tales rely on characterization as a major vehicle for the plot. Though I personally like the characters of Xenosaga better, I have to admit that Xenogears’ fellows are far richer. Citan is like a very fine threading between himself, the player, and every other character. Bart represents that age-old hot-blooded yet likeable nobility that’s easy to empathize with, and Fei is for lack of a better a phrase “A easily more lovable Cloud”. Characters in most videogames rarely carry their weight here. For RPGS, this is a cheap burn, as the player is already dedicated to spending 40-50 hours with the characters anyway. In other genres, the popular fault lies in characters relying too much of flash and tawdry appeal. Xenogears has given me at least four characters I’m not already sick of, and I actually look forward to (and genuinely care about) their fates.

Flashbacks (With Distortions of Perspectival Memory)
Flashback sequences are one of the few rare tools that are cliché, yet still immensely effective when utilized right. Ramsus’ nightmare should have in some way been playable. His character obviously has some immense fear of the mysterious individual that Fei reminds him of. It would be nice to capitalize on this by making the player effectively “feel” Ramsus’ dread. Even if it’s just the derivative standard RPG “impossible fight”, I’d rather experience it rather than watch it. For a more innovative approach, a dream can be distorted as memories and perspectives vary from person to person vastly. Twisting the situation so that the player feels some degree of sympathy for an” antagonist” such as Ramsus, is something I’d be impressed to see. The best stories involve tales where the antagonistic side has an understandable point of reason for their mindset. Plots where the line between good and evil are blurred usually cement themselves in rich value. Xenogears showcases this blur, but it’s weakened left and right by “watching” rather than “playing”.

Kefeinzel For Kicks…

The fight with Kefeinzel centers on a very humorous scene, which gives the player a sort of omnipresent power through humor. Vanderkaum is played up as being a “Brawn-over-Brains” kind of guy and it culminates excellently in this fight. Much to it’s credit, the fight with Vanderkaum’s precious cannon proves to be ridiculously easy, furthering the grasp that this macho general is indeed an idiot. In between-the-play sequences, the player watches as the entire bridge yells at Vanderkaum for obstinately forcing his doomed plan of attack down on a small group of gears. In many ways, I really wanted to see the two sides coalesce more efficiently, but I suddenly remembered this battle’s spiritual successor (Xenosaga Episode II), which does the exact same thing, but the player can only hear Vanderkaum (he has the same name and appearance in Xenosaga as well) yelling at his crew through the radio. It worked well, but the visuals were still a nice touch. The only way I can think to have my cake and eat it as well, would be to offer desire for the underused picture-in-picture tool (i.e. something like Heavenly Sword). There are plenty creative ways to offer visual scenes without them degenerating into becoming JUST scenes.

Vicious Visuals

I’m a person who appreciates new visuals in games, but I don’t like the way the industry is right now. It’s moving into an area where people hide behind “supposed visual nuance” when they’re just moronically dancing around in the uncanny valley. Cel-Shading is what developers run to now when they want a “new look” and the truth is that the technique should be one of many on an already long list of visual options. Xenogears isn’t vastly different from any other 2D game utilizing sprites, but it does have it’s own novelty in terms of visual quality. Like I said before, I’d rather see some of these older games remade with the intent of simply playing around with the old hardware (If I had ANY money I’d do it myself), instead of simply trying to adapt it to run on already overpriced systems. I do own all the current gen systems, but I in no way support the HD generation. It’s only definitive result is that it definitely played some part into why the economy is the way it is right now (I’m not sensationally proposing it’s a significant factor but it is one nonetheless). The reason why games aren’t visually scattering in new and exciting ways are because most gamers are consumers, it’s that simple. People that share my desires shouldn’t be so quick to throw down money for a T.V. that costs over $300. Even if they have the money, it’s really hurting more than helping in the end. Unfortunately, I think the HD thing has embedded itself into the current infrastructure of the industry. It will not be easily removed at this point and developers (along with gamers as well) are going to have to work around it now (if they don’t want visuals to take the next century to evolve that is).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

DFB - Xenogears - Fraction II

Now that I don’t have the painstaking introduction to deal with this time, we can get right to it…so…

*Chapter 2 – The Royal Brigand and The Freudian Hero

Warning, this is strictly a story-related summary. Skip down to notes and observations if you want to avoid spoilers and such.*

When we last left Fei and Citan, they had just been captured by an Aveh transport looking to take Wetall back in order to gain the upper hand on their opponent-country (Kislev). When Fei awakens, he finds himself and the doctor in a prison cell, while the transport makes its way across a vast desert. After a heart-to-heart with Citan (which also shows a strange dialogue between Citan an unknown party), the transport is struck by a mysterious group of sand pirates and Fei and Citan have to make their way out while the transport quickly sinks into the sand. After they make their way to the top and Citan helps Fei regain Wetall, they make it off the transport just in time.

Unfortunately, their escape is short-lived, as the sand pirates who struck the ship attack them directly (mistaking them for Aveh soldiers). A brash young man in his own crimson gear confronts Fei and demands a fight, despite Fei’s claims he is not a part of the transport. After a brief scuffle, the two and their gears also find a similar fate with the Aveh transport by sinking into the sand. Underneath in an intricate stalagmite cave, the young man yells that Fei get out of the gear and is shocked to see that he is in fact not a Aveh guard. The man introduces himself as “Bart” and the two agree to make a truce while using their gears to make their way out of the cave safely. Citan who was picked up by the Yygdrassil (Bart’s sand pirate ship), has a mysterious conversation with a young man who looks very much like Bart (while the Yygdrassil’s occupants plunder the Aveh transport’s wreckage).

Back underground, Fei and Bart make their way through the stalagmite cave and eventually come across a hut set by a gate that they need to proceed through. Upon entering, they find a friendly old man who introduces himself as “Bal” and presents himself as an avid collector of artifacts and fossils (and fairly knowledgeable source on gears as well). Through some curious questioning and such, Bal ends up telling an old myth about the ultimate gear. This is a gear that is said to stand against God itself. After completing a mutually beneficial deal to shut some sensors off , Fei and Bart return and Bal opens the gate for them to proceed. However, when Bal goes out to check the two’s worn-out gears, he is awestruck by the sight of Fei’s Wetall. He rushes back inside and proceeds to rush Fei and Bart out under obvious false pretenses (very rudely). Though they agree to leave Bal alone, Fei is unnerved by what Bal let slip out of his mouth (referring to Fei as the “Slayer of god”).

After making their way forward a bit, Fei and Bart come across a large and powerful gear that stands in their way. After a long-winded battle, the two seemingly manage to defeat it and it falls down in storm of it’s own flames. As Bart cockily turns his back to proceed, the gear manages to get up and assault him, nearly crippling him. Fei then begins to show an odd intent of another’s will again. After yelling at Bart to get out of his way, Fei launches an all out combo on the big machine, destroying it. Bart, flabbergasted at what just happened, excitedly questions Fei on how he pulled such a maneuver off. Fei , once again shocked by his own aptitude in a gear , states that he has no idea at all. After the battle, the two are finally able to make their way back to the Yygdrassil and are greeted by the young man chatting with Citan earlier and Citan himself. He introduces himself as Sigurd, and everyone then makes their way to the bridge.

Over the course of having tea and looking at Bart’s old scrolls, Fei and Citan get filled in on the pirates' situation. “Bart” is actually Bartholomew Fatima, the prince of Aveh and rightful heir to the throne. He and his followers have been forced out their country by Shakhan (the current ruler). To make matters worse, it is revealed that Shakhan has Bart’s first cousin in captivity. This cousin (Marguerite) is the mother of Nisan (a small country), and she is also one of the last two living members of the royal family (along with Bart). Margie is being held because she possesses one half of the Fatima Jasper, which is a item said to unlock the route to a mysterious treasure. Bart, who possesses the other half, is currently planning to mount a rescue mission for her.

Bart, Citan, and Sigurd all seem to half-heartedly agree that Fei’s help would be a significant aid in their aid to rescue Margie. Fei, still haunted by his actions in Lahan, is angered by their “need for his power”. He only desires to live peacefully, and would be quite fine if he never had to set foot in Wetall ever again. The others think it’s best not to pressure him for his assistance and let him think about it while he rests. While sleeping however, some gears storm the hangar to Bart’s hideout and attempt to destroy his gear force. Bart immediately rushes to combat them, but Fei is still refusing to fight as chaos is falling out around him. Citan, who is clearly disappointed by this, hops into an unfinished gear in the hangar, and attempts to help Bart fight back the invaders. Fortunately, they are able to repel most of the hostiles (who are using drugs to help them maintain battle endurance), and just as a large gear makes its appearance to oppose Bart and Citan, Fei appears. Finally having found the resolve to fight, he aids the two in Wetall and aids in their fight against the large gear.

After overcoming the invading gear force, everyone meets up on the bridge. They decide that it’s time to put their plan into motion, and they proceed to Aveh to rescue Margie.

-To Be Continued

Notes and Observations
Navigational Portion Areas (anything outside battles).
Sometimes I look back on the many RPGs I’ve played over the years and wonder just how fun they actually were outside of battle. Much time is spent running around doing absolute dribble in terms of a “game trying to be fun”. I’m not saying it all has to be bells and whistles, of course not. Running through caves and experiencing set-pieces should be more than what they are though. Even in MMORPGs, the only joy that really comes to the player is level grinding, gathering a slew of weapons, and micro-managing a number of stats and items. The sequences outside the fights themselves are often drab and meaningless. I’m not saying the stealth portion in an RPG has to be Splinter Cell, but I expect something a tad more than standing behind a bush or something while a guard walks past. Chances are, it’s a one time sequence, so why not make something unique out of it? These areas account for the vast majority of playtime anyway, they should be memorable for the player, and not just stretches of…reality. No doubt, scenes that play out in Xenogears had to be what they were at the time because of technical limitations. Now, I think branching out can be done in scenes for RPGs. An example would be the scene in which Bart shows Fei the scrolls from his family archives. Fei inadvertently walks across the floor, which is in actuality the display for the scrolls. Bart yells for him to get off the screen so they can see and the sprite walks back. This is not handled by the player at all, and that’s kind of sad, because with the right degree of linearity, moments like that could build very strong connections with the player.

Building Artistic Legacies

The communities for this type of thing should be much larger than they are and the troves of artwork that actually go in these games (RPGS specifically) themselves should me more readily available for fans. It’s definitely a spark that lights a fire under all the asses of would be artists out there. Sure, there are communities and fanbases that perpetuate their own submissions of glorious artwork, but is it problematic to ask the developers to help cultivate it as well. I wonder how many storyboards went into some of the sequences for Xenogears and as a fan I’d love to see all of them. I know artists don’t like whoring their work past a certain extent, but they shouldn’t really be that damn hard-pressed to share their creations with the industry. I hate the cheesy artbooks that come with games as part of some preorder deal or whatever and this is certainly a reflection of that. I don’t even care if it’s an unlockable part of the game, that one can look at in a menu (most non-RPG games use this ironically enough). Of course, I like having tangible copies, but sometimes I end up having to take what I can get. Luckily for me, my favorite games (of all time) are the MGS games, so I’ve been able to easily get my hands on exquisite collections of Yoji Shinkawa’s illustrations.

Building with it’s own Tools Again
I think this is something I’m going to see more frequently as I press on through this game, but I feel like I should say something everytime I see it. Everytime a character references the continent of Ignas, something about it rubs me the right way. It doesn’t seem as forced or stilted as most other RPGs I’ve played. Even now, with it’s archaic technicalities as a game, Xenogears is spinning quite a tale for itself…

“The desert only covers around 1000 sharls of the outer layer of the earth. The stratus underneath that consists of igneous rock.”

It’s so small, it’s not even worth mentioning, but I don’t see enough games referencing their own worlds past a certain degree. What little most RPGs use is simply for navigational purposes. Sometimes small lines like Bart’s aforementioned quote give more than just a tad of life to a world of pixels.

For Fei…and the Funnies…
With a good voice actor, Fei’s “craziness” could easily be saved. This isn’t Final Fantasy, and he isn’t Cloud. Apart from some over-indulgence in his desire for peace, he’s not such a bad character (so far). His lines specifically are somewhat damaged left and right by how dry they can be read (rivaled only by a few of the antagonists'). Small portions that carry their weight would benefit here as well. There’s a particular scene where a nurse is checking guards after the ransacked Aveh transport survivors are found and she’s depressed that there are no serious injuries. I will admit however, that watching the pixelated sprite turn left and right was very hilarious to watch. Of course this is not so much against Xenogears itself as it is against any modern RPG with text-boxes. Little things like this leads me to wonder how well hand drawn sprites can be used in conjunction with voice acting now. It seems like something worth trying at least. What’s really interesting to note is that Xenogears does have very tiny moments of voice acting after and during a battle, this is part of the reason why I think it’s so important for this title in particular. Voicing just seems to resonate with this game specifically. Another thing I see as a desire in this area is for the voice acting to be purposefully flawed for the sake of communication.

A member of Bart’s sand pirate team mistakenly said “Police” instead of “Policy” in a conversation and I wondered how lovely it would be to hear some folky-dialect interpret lines like that. I don’t want fucked up lines left and right, but it’s kind of a back-end way for improv, which is actually something very scarce in games even now. Also, the intensity of some situations could be given a dose of steroids. The alarm sequence that goes off when Fei wakes up in the middle of the Yygdrassil’s attack made me think of the crackling fire I talked about in my last entry. When Fei awakens, the inhabitants of the ships are running around haphazardly to simulate panic and turmoil (for sprites it was actually kind of cool to watch). As a layer over that lovely antiquated alarm signal, it would have been nice to hear some voices yelling as well.

Xeno-family of What the Fuck
Ironically enough, Xenogears is actually a very small chunk of a larger portion of fiction detailed in the Japanese-only book known as Perfect Works. According to that book, Xenogears is actually the 5th entry in a six episode layout. This is also trumped by avid fans who waste countless hours trying to plug the Xenogears universe within Xenosaga. Quite frankly, the game makes it pretty easy, as characters such as Fei and Elly are seen as “eternal re-incarnations” of the cosmic order (basically Fei Fong Wong is the fifth incarnation of “Abel”). This is one of many reasons why many people will instantly link Xenosaga and and Xenogears. Personally, I just think it’s a spiritual predecessor with elements making their respective cameos (i.e. Abel/Fei & Nephlim/Elly). Though, superficially fun to contemplate, I find no extensive need to fangasm conspiracies over how Xenogears is secretly the fifth episode in the Xenosaga franchise. It’s all made so confusing by the dozens upon dozens of allusions both series reference each other with (especially Xenosaga Episode III: Also Spach Zaruthustra). It’s actually a more blatant crossover than the transition between Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake & Metal Gear Solid (Ironic that I like both the later incarnations over the originators).

They Never Found The Black Box
Another thing Xenogears and Xenosaga share is the “black box component” of the front stage mechanical instruments of power. In Xenosaga it was of course, KOS-MOS, and in Xenogears, it’s Wetall. They both play an integral part of the narrative and they’re never capitalized in the game once (in playtime). An engineer tells Fei that there are parts of Wetall, that are essentially “black box”, and are areas of extreme interest as well as power. Having an X-factor in play is something not used to great effect in most games. KOS-MOS uses these areas in Xenosaga constantly (typically when she enters her blue-eyed phase). Wetall usually manipulates such moments through Fei (and I’m sure we’ll find out why soon). The scene actually mentioned in the summary above actually spells out a moment which Fei uses an unknown force beyond what he comprehends as a means to decimate a boss character. This is in essence, just another cutscene. That one on the other hand could have easily been solved in it’s time period (without technical constraints), by simply giving Fei a ridiculous amount of AP (which would inexplicitly let the player perform a ridiculous combo out of nowhere). It just didn’t have to play out as a scene and that’s a big no-no for me to experience now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

DFB - Xenogears - Fraction I

You know, I’m puzzled when people are shocked to hear my favorite JRPG titles are the now-defunct Xenosaga games (Der Wille zur Macht, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Also sprach Zarathustra). I actually think it’s one of the easier logic tracks to follow with me. They’re pedantic, they’re preachy, and they focus way too much on their narrative at the expensive of the game itself. Anyway, I’ve decided to use a simple formula to “leak” me back into my RPG groove. Normally, this would involve me simply replaying my favorite aforementioned titles. Instead, I’ve decided to take one step back and retread their allusive older brother, Xenogears. While I have played a considerable amount of this game already, I remember nothing of it now (nor do I even remember beating it). That’s horrible in my book, so I’ve decided to go back through the game and fine-pick it through a series of these posts. For those with no inkling of what the game is, don’t worry. I’ll be writing with you in mind, as well as those well-versed in the Xeno-series overall.

Now, Xenogears is the “spiritual predecessor” to the Xenosaga series. As such, this is a game that perversely takes it’s plotline into priority. It uses tools ranging from areas in psychology, religion, and philosophy. It’s plot is it’s main focus and that’s what I’ll try to respect the most. Also, keep in mind that I’m not holding myself back from a spoiler-free write-up. I assume those who haven’t played Xenogears at this point will not be doing so anytime soon. This is a game though, and I will go to whatever lengths I can to point out how this could and probably should work more as a game. I’m expecting Xenogears to be more humble as a singular title, as Xenosaga is shameless in what it wants to do as a game and that is what served as it’s vice and subsequent coffin nail. In it’s defense however, Xenosaga had an extremely fragmented/problematic development that ultimately resulted in it’s premature end (it was initially planned to be six episodes).

So yes, the story will be the focus here while I look for ways for it to be conveyed more powerfully as a game. I should also mention that I play traditional RPG games very differently from most. I go to extensive ends to weaken myself in order to aberrantly enjoy my battles and drag out the game overall. It’s something I’ve always done and I’m not going to stop now, so keep that in mind when reading this. Some guidelines to keep in mind regarding this:

Rule 1 - Cutscenes no matter how efficient are the enemy and as thus we shall fight them.

Rule 2 - We will not get lost in what the plot itself is trying to say, rather we listen to WHAT it says instead.

Rule 3 - Xenosaga and Xenogears are games that actually have an obligation for characterization, and so we have to recognize this emphasis and act accordingly.

Rule 4 - Playtime and what it consists of. If there’s any area where the JRPG mold can be broken, it will be broken.

Rule 5 - The minutiae of the game itself is what we have to snatch at here and there, while not blowing it out of proportion.

Now, let’s get started…

Chapter 1 “We All Know You’re Well Endowed, but You Also Prove to be Shallow at Points”

Warning –This part is strictly a story related portion and contains many spoilers. Skip down to notes and observations if you want to avoid this.

Xenogears takes place on the “world” of Ignas, and focuses primarily on the tale of Fei Fong Wong, who is a young man living in the small and simple village of Lahan. Although he is well-known and liked by most of the town, he’s an outsider in that he wasn’t born there. Because of his orphan-status, some citizens of the town regard him with suspicion. He spends his free time painting and teaching martial arts to children. One day, after finishing his latest painting, Fei talks with a small boy (Dan) and is subsequently led into conversing with this young man’s sister Alice (whom Dan believes Fei should end up with). Alice, who is getting married the next day, requests that that Fei go to Doctor Uzuki’s house in the mountains to get equipment for her upcoming wedding (while leaving some obvious hints for an apparently clueless Fei). Upon reaching the doctor’s house, Fei is exposed to the doctor’s usual eccentricities and knowledgeable grasp of the world of Ignas. After a peaceful dinner, Fei sets off into the night to return to Lahan. About halfway home, Fei notices large humanoid robots (gears) flying toward his village. Dr. Uzuki catches up to Fei and informs him that he noticed this as well, and suggests that they get back to the town and find out what’s happening. When they reach Lahan, they find it in flames and serving as a battleground for fighting Gears. Alice and her bride (Timothy) are looking for young Dan who is nowhere to be found. Fei and the Doc suggest they evacuate while they look for Dan themselves.

Fei notices an unmanned gear nearby and against the Doc’s protests, hops in under the intent of fighting back the gears. The doctor eventually finds Dan and they evacuate to safety. Fei on the other hand, showcases an inexplicable aptitude for piloting the machine and even manages to take out a few (under the gaze of a silent gear watching the conflict). However, once Fei witnesses Timothy’s death by the surrounding gears, something odd happens. Visions flash, and Fei appears to lose control of himself; this causes a massive explosion which wipes out the entirety of Lahan, the hostile gears, and the remaining citizens of the town (including Alice). Fei falls unconscious and upon waking up, he’s greeted (or rather scorned), by the survivors of Lahan. Dan, who just saw his sister killed, runs off professing his hatred for Fei. Doctor Uzuki calmly advises Fei to leave the town and make his way to the Blackmoon Forest, as the remaining survivors (with the exception of Dr. Uzuki) all express a similar fear/aggression towards Fei.

Fei makes his way to the forest and eventually comes across a young woman who holds him up at gunpoint. Fei, who is overcome with grief & guilt at his unexplained explosion of power, runs at her demanding to be killed. The woman is obviously shocked and nervous, and after it’s clear she’s not going to harm Fei, she falls under the attack of a forest creature. Fei quickly dispatches the monster, and the woman (Elly) hesitantly offers her cooperation in order for them to find their way out of the forest. Along the way, Fei and Elly verbally confront each other regarding the tragedy at Lahan. Elly eventually ends up leaving Fei on the ground to wallow in his own grief while she progresses forward. Not to long afterwards, Elly is then knocked unconscious by large lizard. Fei who hears her scream, catches up to her and proceeds to confront the animal with his bare hands.

When it’s obvious that Fei isn’t doing enough damage, Dr. Uzuki shows up and offers Fei help in the form of the gear he used in Lahan (Wetall). Hesitant to operate a gear again, Fei has no choice but to use it in order to save Elly. After killing the creature, the three then continue to make their way out of the forest. Upon camping later that night, Uzuki suddenly confronts Elly and identifies her as the pilot the Gears were looking for in Lahan. Elly, who is surprised at the doctor’s degree of knowledge, confides in him. This includes expressing regret for screaming at Fei earlier (where she demanded he take responsibility for what happened to Lahan). The doctor advises her to leave them, as it’s safer for both parties if they part ways. Upon waking the next morning, Fei reveals he heard most of the conversation that took place prior. The doctor suggests that they make their way to a nearby sand-town in order to make repairs to Wetall. When they reach the town, they find out that it’s shop doesn’t carry parts for an advanced gear such as theirs. The doctor then uses a sand buggy to traverse the desert in hopes of finding parts from other gears that have fallen in battle over treasure-conflicts. Fei, who the doctor suggested stay in town, begins to grow impatient and then ventures out into the desert by himself.

After chasing gears, a large saucer-like machine, and some sand-bikers, Fei comes across two hostile gears. Suddenly the doc shows up in a temporarily repaired Wetall and fends the oncoming gears off. The doc then hops out and advises that Fei pilot the machine, as he’s displayed a far superior talent in operating it. Fei reluctantly hops in again and defeats the gears and a giant threatening worm. Upon defeating it, the silent gear from the Lahan incident shows itself once again. This time however, it’s pilot exits and confronts Fei. The pilot reveals that he orchestrated the events so that Fei would wind up in Wetall and unleash his destructive force. He also alludes towards knowing of Fei’s father, and acknowledges Fei as some sort of tool for his use. Upon hearing this news, Fei winds up unconscious once again. Two more gears arrive, capturing Dr. Uzuki and Fei while bringing them onboard a large sand transport.

To be continued in next post --->

Notes and Observations

A Useful toolbox
One thing that I’m noticing so far in this tale is that Xenogears is using it’s tools to build it’s own world. This is used to much greater effect than it’s successor (which is understandable as Xenosaga takes place on a much larger scale). Either way, it’s appreciated when the player has some footing of homely charm. Most world based RPG’s use this anyway, so it’s not like it’s anything new. Xenogears does start off a bit starker though, when considering it isn’t the usual depart-from-home-to-bigger-adventures deal. The flying civilization of Solaris is given some significance in the grounded thematic of immediately forcing the player to deal with a small-town, a forest, and then a desert in rapid succession. Elly, who is revealed to be a citizen of Solaris, uses little tools (no matter how forced) to illustrate this. She showcases an obvious prejudice between air-farers and surface dwellers (she calls Fei a “lamb” upon meeting him).

I Appreciate My Ps3 More when I’m Not Playing Ps3 Games
I’ve been using my Ps3’s remote play function to play through the game so far, as it’s more convenient for me to play the game out of my pocket when I’m bored. Although the stream lag can be a bit annoying at times (particularly the pseudo-platforming portions), I really have to express my gratitude for the function. If I’m at home, I can use the T.V., if I’m out, I can simply stream the game through my Ps3 and the internet.

Crackling of the Fire
Some sounds should be manipulated outside the realm of reality to be noticeable. This is especially apparent in this age where developers are horrifically obsessed with moving forward. Sound design is something that I’ve probably complained about the least in the gaming industry. Even in a game from 1998, the use of sfx were charming in their antiquity. The conversation between Fei, Citan, and Elly while in the woods, is more permeable in it’s immersion, simply because of the antiquated sound of a fire crackling in the background. When looking for style, developers really should start looking back in order build upon things. Visually, everyone is dumbly trapped in the uncanny valley, while auditorily, they’re all stuck in letting the technical joys of audio supplant what the audio actually is.

The True Fate of A/V Evolution
I love reading, it’s in the top three of my favorite pastimes. However, when I see an RPG that I have to cycle through text while various conversations play out, I get sickened…fast. Of course, with the technical limitations, this was tolerable, now it’s maddening. Modern RPGS still use text-boxes to convey most of the non-cinematic dialogue. This suggests control that I’m not comfortable with. The developers not giving the player options in terms of moment-to-moment relations with the game kind of kills the effect when it shouldn’t. This same thing could be said about the animated cutscenes that playout in Xenogears as well. Of course they’re cool to look at, but when it’s a 10 second sequence that is unusually ambiguous in design, it’s worthless to someone like me. I DO appreciate however, that Xenogears isn’t blatant in it’s overhauled cutscene usage (*coughfinalfantasycough*). The “scenes” typically play out in the in game’s own engine, and although they’re still cutscenes (broken in definition only by pressing X to move the text forward), they’re more effective than over-the-top graphically promiscuous cutscenes.

Gears and Orbital Frames
I wonder how much significance the gear units themselves will gain over the course of this game. I’m seeing some odd correlations between this and the Zone of Enders franchise for Ps2. Of course, giant humanoid robots aren’t exactly rare coming out of Japan. However, when looking at characters like Elly (Xenogears) and Ken (ZOE: The 2nd Runner), it really starts to make me wonder. Then again, maybe I’m just hoping that ZOE’s combat somehow will make it’s way back into an RPG this grand someday. This leads me to my next topic…

After You Sir,
For those new to me and my writings, I am not a fan of turn based combat. It’s something I’ve loathed since I first made contact with it, and it’s something I’m never going to enjoy fully. Whatever novelty it DID have disappeared in the 90’s when it hit it’s peak (and was more tolerable due to it pressing technical limits). Since then, we’ve had to wade through ages of trash that has tried to blasphemously incorporate some degree of action in order to make the combat appear like combat. Make no mistake, I DO love strategy, I DO love carefully planning out my moves, but turn-based combat fundamentally tries to honor that ideal while spitting in it’s face at the same time. Combat isn’t combat if the action-pace degrades past a certain point. If I want chess, I’ll go and play chess, I don’t need a game trying some pseudo-play nonsense, it pisses me off to no end. This is also why I weaken myself as I mentioned before. It’s a cheap tactic, but it’s something I’ve realized I been doing since I was eight. Keeping myself under-leveled actually builds the illusion of action where there absolutely is none.

With that said, I will admit that Xenogears’ battle system is definitely in the top-tier of what I’ve played over the past two decades. The animations and AP system is charming to work with once you adapt to it’s pacing (which is much faster than most). So far, it’s just the gears’ combat that makes me cringe. This is definitely “slamming” (see previous post) on my part, as all I can think about is ZOE when I see game-based mecha combat.

Serene Swordsman
Having dinner with and chatting up Citan Uzuki has been one of my more surprisingly beloved moments with the game in this early stage. Of course Citan is the spiritual ancestor of Jin Uzuki (Xenosaga), a skilled swordsman with a serene curiosity for academics (both serve in the player's party as well). Even in the scenes (which I stalwartly stand against), he’s the voice of reason that always seems to stand in your favor (which in turn can help with Fei’s characterization itself).

It’s not exactly super-rare, but having a JRPG where you can actually jump around outside of battling is appreciated…

Random Shots of Annoyance
I really don’t think I’m the only one that hates random battles. Luckily, the use of on-screen enemies is something that has actually gotten better over the past few years, but it’s still something that’s mind-numbing to experience in these times. Xenogears does have on-screen enemies in some scripted portions, but I really appreciate knowing what, when, where, and how I’m going to fight (something that Xenosaga picked up on despite being incredibly stilted).

The Head-Clutching Main Crybaby…I Mean Character…
You know, people appreciate subtlety and nuance; they always have, and they always will. However, being flagrantly ambiguous is something that I’ve seen RPG’s in particular trip themselves with constantly. Characters like Cloud (FFVII) and Fei (Xenogears), are rightfully put on a stage and tossed tomatoes at for a reason. If it isn’t some psychologically tormented young male, it’s the cliché and useless silent protagonist. Xenogears is no different (so far), as foreshadowing is already spelling out that Fei is going to have to come to terms with his own tormented past in some form or another later in the game. It would be nice to have a character that’s toned down for once. Not being effective is the best way to be effective sometimes (which speaks tenfold in epic plots). Fans love to get behind a main character if he/she is showcasing some genuine form of charm. It’s not fair at all to simply make a paradigm for the story itself out of the main character. Usually, they will just end up cancelling each other out, but developers have started to play this up where they actually start damaging each other instead. Given that this game is ten years old, I can be forgiving here, but I won’t pretend like Xenogears hasn’t served as one of the progenitors for this issue, which is where the industry stands now.

Melodrama and The Nature of God
Given that this is Xenogears, I’m sure I’ll end up having to delve into this deeper as this DFB progresses. Right now however, I have to express disdainful admiration for Xenogears so far. I like any game that wears it’s epic narrative on it’s sleeve. Usually, these games will use tools that incorporate the areas of human civilization that can only be expressed pleasurably through artistic endeavors (i.e. Religion, Philosophy, Psychology, etc.). Xenogears is no different, as it uses these tools as vehicles for it’s plot. I’m sure these will begin to crumble under the weight of the sheer enormity of the narrative it’s trying to portray, which is in direct conflict with people’s preconceived notions of it’s concepts (i.e. Fei’s consciousness). This is a line I’m willing to meet the game half-way with though, as it’s easier to tear the game down if you’re a narrow-minded take-it-at-face-value kind of guy/gal. Like I said way up there, I listen to what the game is saying, not what I think it’s trying to say. Some of the dialogue does suffer under these circumstances, as anything using the term “God” will instantly be misconstrued by 90% of the world’s population. Voice acting could save the vast majority of these melodramatic lines, but it also runs the risk of being botched by dull voice acting as well. It’s in a lame middle-ground right now with the on-screen text, and that doesn’t bode well in my book. Good voice actors are up and coming in this industry and can literally exalt some games far past their breaking point (not too unlike how literature has an unfair advantage with imagination).

Perhaps this is just me, but I think I enjoy these games the most because of my own stances on the nature of life and it’s purpose. I consider myself a “stalwart ideal”, an amalgamation of existentialism, anarchism, pseudo-nihilism, and a mothering concept of misanthropy. I’ve had many people call me a wanna-be-Nietzsche. Nietzsche in particular has scared me ever since childhood and I stay away from his concepts (Outside the Xenosaga games), because I’m worried I’m going to end up agreeing too much with his philosophy and involuntarily let his perceptions color my own. I do plan on drowning myself with his writings once I’m completely comfortable with my own philosophy on life, I’m just being very cautious right now (I’m only 22). With that said, I won’t deny what I’ve skimmed, as many of his notions are what I will side with when I lay down at night. I’m not narrow minded-enough to be an atheist, and I’m not delusional enough to be a religious-nut. So this leaves me on a thin tightrope where I’m able to focus on games like this with a certain degree of fictitious spirituality. The nature and concept of God is obsolete to me, it’s existence is not an area of debate because it’s irrelevant in my life either way. This means a story about “God” will instantly start me at ground zero where I build my own lego-house, nothing more.

This will of course, continue next week. It's a long and fairly epic RPG, I think these posts should reflect that.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Video Games as Art 5-2

I realized today, as I perused my outline for these blogs, that I have way more ideas for these blogs than I originally thought. So, I’m actually thinking about continuing past 8-4, while labeling the subsequent entries “hacks” or “lost worlds” or whatever nifty subset I can think of to title them. It should still take quite a while before I have to cross that bridge though; I just thought I’d share that for the people who told me they enjoy these blogs. They’re already long enough as it is, I just decided that I’d do this, so it will keep me from trying to cram 3-4 part entries into a single “level”.

Repititous Ripoffs , Slamming, and Sequel Satisfaction

These are two of my older ideas that I kept in my aforementioned outline. I found out today that they are almost directly contradictory, so I morphed them together for this blog.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that most things that can garner a sequel WILL garner a sequel (it‘s a business based industry after all), be it a movie, book, or game. This worries plenty of people, it worried me until I sat back and thought about it for a bit too. Dangerous things happen every time a story or world is continued, and change is not something people adapt well to, unless they have some bead of control over it. Three things in particular have an impact upon the way stories perpetuate themselves, and it’s something we criticize day in and day out:

1 - Nature of the Developer
As an example, I’m pretty sure most people (the “nerd” subculture in particular) can safely say that they have a problem with George Lucas now. Sometimes a developer gets so caught up in what he/she can do, they never stop to think about whether they SHOULD do it.

2 - Tonal, Stylistic, and Sacred Consistency
Most creators often try to shake things up and that’s fine, but a great deal of the time, they will try so hard to do this that they lose what heart their first work may have had in the first place. It’s an absolute obligation on the part of the artist to cherish and cultivate their works. Perhaps most think they are, but I’ve heard no such argument so I had to bring this up. This is why something like The Dark Knight impressed me, because it didn’t just contain a well told, respectable, iteration of a classic comic franchise, but it carried it’s weight in harmony with Batman Begins. The title alone is brilliant in that it has more meanings than just one (It’s not just Batman: Whatever). Ironically enough, Christopher Nolan is fantastically speculating whether or not he SHOULD create a sequel, and that’s wonderful anyone is thinking like that. I’m not naïve though, with the money The Dark Knight generated, I’m sure they’ll hire someone and force a sequel if they can.

3 - The Times
These things take time to make, and the with the glamour of things right now, the frame seems to be depressingly increasing. THIS is what I personally fear the most. With more and more people collaborating to solely make big budget sellers, they often end up at the will of their “God as a Machine” (I.e. the computer and it’s advancements). We often forget that we already have tools that produce the same effect for the same if not more amazing effects. Just because CG animation has progressed significantly in the past 20 years, doesn’t mean it has to be such a dominating factor in digital media now. It’s only a base necessity for games because such is the nature to giving rise to characters and worlds for us to love. However, where Star Wars didn’t need all the glitz in it’s prequel trilogy, Metal Gear Solid 4 didn’t need all the superficial production value (which is of the one few flaws I found in the game for myself). It takes some bold creativity to try and do something stylistically with old hardware. I would rather see the original Metal Gear Solid remade with some stylistic twist to the pixels (which had strong ties to Shinkawa’s work) rather than seeing it upped “realistically” with Twin Snakes. And no, I’m not a Twin Snakes hater either (it‘s actually one of the above average remakes to me), I’m just expressing my concern, and it shows symptoms of what I’m talking about.

These days, we HAVE to be the bigger people here, and not just another disgusting consumer. Seeing “the same things” over must cause one to judge them on their own merit, no matter how derivative it is. No doubt we should call out ripoffs when we see them, but that doesn’t mean already-told stories can’t be told again with equal impact. Just because it's not the first to do something, shouldn't mean that we all automatically hold a slight against it, and it shouldn’t exactly demand that the task be carried off with the “bigger and better” mentality either.

How do we care for sequels then? It’s a “perfect problem” and it’s the duty to any artist to tackle it as such. Some examples of things I’d try myself though:

1 - Many developers would do better to obsess over the outside perspective, rather than the internal one they typically spend years using to sculpt the game. Time management is key here, and I understand that, but even a good excuse (I.e. a family), is still not something one should hide behind.

2 - Take more time for themselves to “cross influence” themselves. Just because games are a unique vehicle for art, doesn’t mean “gameplay” must strictly dominate it. Don’t just look around in the game industry to make games. REALLY Read a book far away from said hypothetical game, Go REALLY watch a movie far away from said hypothetical game, etc (notice I didn‘t say “good” or “bad“ concerning the movie/book either). Sometimes, distancing oneself from something is the best way to handle it.

3 - Hate your game guys. This is specifically hard for video games, because the teams consist of numerous talented individuals that don’t want to step on each others toes. In a perfect world, I’d love to be a game designer, but I’d be one of the most reviled in the industry. I demand absolute perfection (from my own sight), and I’d end up running around screaming at people by the end of the first day (this is coming from an extremely Zen-like person too). Some people don’t like using passion as fuel, as it’s a very combustible (albeit euphoric) emotion. If you regulate it to a minimum though, you’ll end up perpetuating dribble.

It will indeed be a long time before Games are truly able to begin generating their own version of “director’s cuts” (one could argue games like Subsistence are the first step), but it’s something to speculate over right? Seeing the developer’s extensive definition of their vision can sometimes offer a vast improvement over the original version (even if it’s a two minute sequence sometimes). Sure, we have to manage and regulate money sometimes (on both sides of the industry no less), but speaking outside of that for a second, it’d be nice wouldn’t it? It's something to ponder over at least.

I’m a science fiction junkie, so I’m no stranger to James Cameron. He’s actually a good example for this now that I think about it. Married five times, explosive temper, but was able to produce a number of great movies, many of which most sci-fi buffs hold in high regard. He’s also one of the few people I’ve seen pick up a franchise and successfully keep it’s spirit (no matter how downplayed) while moving it forward (Alien to Aliens). Anyway, I brought that up because I just watched The Abyss for the first time today (recommended from NeoJobe), and I was specifically told to watch to special edition, which I did. I realized that just a couple of minutes of extra footage upon a first impression can make the difference between life and death for some people (and experiences are supreme for me). How great would MGS4 be (a game structured on cinematic struts) if a simple sequence such as the PSX demo or Microwave hallway were omitted? Things that not only tied an almost spiritual window to the past, but made the player appreciate Snake’s truly horrible condition in that game. Just recently, I found that a game like Mirror’s Edge can actually tire me; Metal Gear Solid 4 uses a similar tool that actually made my back hurt, my mind weary, and my psyche crave a conclusion. This is also why I praise Guns of the Patriots so much and why I adamantly demand no more MGS games for a long time. It made me reach a point of solace in conclusion that was specifically designed for it as a game.

This is also another reason why I and many others should refrain from "slamming". Citing how "so in so is like so and so"/"If you like this, then you LOVE this!". When slamming is performed, one thing will indeed dent the other, that‘s just basic physics. Just because you throw a Wii at a 360 and the 360 breaks (and it will), it doesn't mean the Wii is superior, nor does it mean it's inferior.

The public's effect......on the creators of trilogies in particular worries me sometimes as well. It's what drives and what hinders them at the same time. Most of the flawed "twos" weren't as horrible to me as people cite them as, generally using them as a base standard for "BAD" (i.e. DMC2, Xenosaga 2, MGS2). The audience scares developers, directors, and even artists into altering their second takes for the sake of acceptance...which are both bad and good (and needed) all at the same time. The transition they make to the third entry is always what raises my eyebrow. Not necessarily the quality of the third entry itself, but everything that goes into it from the second one, even to the point of the creator admitting that they "made a mistake". Listening to fans is the greatest mistake any one creator can make. And yes, I just negated my entire blog with that…

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SnakeLinkSonic in 2009

So, this is my new blog for right now. It is a bit convenient that it happened during the mass 1up Exodus last night, but it was time for something a bit fresh. If you're coming from my 1up blog you pretty much know what to expect. Expect things to develop and progress this year. I'm following the same layout I left on my 1up page for the most part. This includes:

1 - Developing individual and experiential pieces for my returning "Digging for Beauty" series.

2 - Put even more substance in the coming Games as Art blogs (World 5). I just realized I'm halfway finished and I feel like I haven't "said" enough.

3 - Personal analysis on whatever contraversy stirs up this year. This industry is plenty fucked up and I usually have something to say about do many.

4 - Secret Project - "Dew Drops"

5 - Any of the various random/whimsical blogs that I feel like popping out when my mood warrants it. Also expect me to provide an outlet for artwork I happen to dig up or create myself.

Various DFB Entries Will Include:

Fable 2
Replaying of Donkey Kong (Gameboy)
Gears of War 2
Replaying of Tetris
The Last Remnant
Dead Space
Replaying of Super Mario Land
Valkyria Chronicles
Replaying of Xenogears
Tomb Raider Underworld
Persona 3/4
Replaying of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Resident Evil 5
Street Fighter IV
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the fuckshit NES one)
Sonic Adventure


"Exquisite Gaming Miasmas"
"Vice for Outbreak"
"Annual MGS Series PassioNerd Playthrough"
"Pipe-Dream Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 Revamps"
"Sonic The Hedgehog 5 Conceptuals"
"Recommended Pain Project" (suggest the crappiest game you can personally think of and I'll play it extensively)

More to come later this week.