3 years ago
Last time I wrote about linearity from the player’s perspective, today I’m taking a look at it from a developers point of view. Linearity is now how much the developer can control the way you can approach the situations they build. That might sound a little abstract so let me give some examples. Let’s take GTA for instance. It’s widely regarded as a sandbox game and the standard for what non-linear gaming should strive towards. Developers create missions for you to play through, but since you can do whatever you want between missions, there are often a lot of variables that can vary between two attempts at the same mission. Everything from the guns you carry, to the vehicle you’re driving to the amount of health you have can change, often drastically changing the ways you can play the mission. I always hated going through the bike mission in Vice City where you have to race across rooftops to promote your sucky movie. Instead I’d just grab the helicopter from the nearby building I owned and crash that around town for a quick and easy mission complete. Obviously the game wasn’t designed for me to beat it this way and that’s where non-linearity can lose its touch. The GTA developers often do try to sneak in linearity into their missions. Often they give you a weapon especially suited to the mission objectives, they’ll provide transport or downright force you into a certain car or other vehicle mode.
It's pretty cool to jump from building to building and it takes skill to accomplish the mission in the time limit. Or you just go around the block to get your helicopter, that works too. I like that thinking outside the box works, but it's pretty clear that that wasn't what you're supposed to do. In this mission you're not granted any freedom whatsoever. You're stuck in a van until you either complete or fail the mission and you have no choice but to use the plane. This does however create some interesting game sequences that would've otherwise never happened due to dominant strategy. That's the power of linearity.
Outside the missions you are also often blocked from going to different towns or otherwise restricted access to vehicles and weaponry. All of this isn’t just done so that you have an incentive to keep playing (though it definitely helps that too). It is also to limit the possible ways you can start a mission, so that the missions can be developed to give the best experience. In GTA this is relatively easy because besides flight, the controls don’t really vary that much with different gear. Some cars are faster than others, some guns shoot more bullets etc, but fundamentally what you can do as a player remains the same throughout the game. Compared to a game like super Metroid and the Legend of Zelda and, where the gear you obtain fundamentally changes your controls, the controls in GTA remain practically the same. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is how over time Nintendo has put more effort into stopping people from sequence breaking in the legend of Zelda games. In Zelda 1,2 and A link to the past, you could just do temples out of order, provided you had the appropriate gear. In Ocarina some song teaching cut scenes won’t trigger unless you’ve beaten certain bosses, which restricts your ability to enter some temples even after getting all your upgrades. After that it has become rare to be able to deviate from the set order at all, mostly due to the integration of the plot in the dungeon order.
I always liked how the fourth dungeon integrated the light coming into the dungeon here ind dark world Kakariko vilage into it's dungeon and boss fight. I also usually skip dungeon 3 in favor of first going through dungeon 4 because the item lets you get a sword upgrade, a bottle and easier dark world entry. Incidentally I tend to clear dungeon 6 before dungeon 5 too. This game just lets you do what you feel like and if it doesn't work out then you know where you were supposed to go because the dungeons are numbered. . On the other hand, in this dark version Kakariko village you can't enter the temple until you've actually beaten the previous temple. Not because you're not fully equipped, but just because this conversation won't trigger and you need that to enter the temple.
One of the cool things about Metroid zero mission on the other hand, is how it allows you to sequence break it all over the place. It’s a nice little touch to be sure. Going back to Zelda, most puzzles in the older game were very room focused. You beat the puzzle in the room, got the key or found the hidden exit and moved on to the next room. The dungeons mostly work with what you can do from the beginning of the game and don’t really incorporate the items you’ve obtained that much into the overall dungeon design. A link to the past has multiple dungeon items that don’t even give you any new abilities, like the tunics and the mirror shield. You can beat the game without ever obtaining them. From Ocarina onward, dungeon items became an essential part of beating the dungeon. Partly because the game has forced you to beat the dungeons in a particular order, the developers have a better grasp of your abilities when you enter the level. This allows them to play with those abilities more and create dungeon wide puzzles that make each level feel like more than the collection of their rooms.
Don't get me wrong, this power-up is incredibly useful, because the dark world enemies were doing lots of damage before you got this item, but in terms of abilities it doesn't add anything. You can skip this item and beat the game. Same goes for the red tunic and the mirror shield. Also note how you can have 2 keys left over at this point. Keys were things you got from clearing rooms and weren't a big deal in the earlier games. Some of them were hidden under pots. In skyward sword keys are practically major items. Their value has really inflated over time. To be perfectly frank you can technically beat the game without the tunics in Ocarina as well, but they affect your play style more because the time limits inhibit the careful exploration required to get through the temples on your own. Still this isn't a dungeon item. All dungeon items in Ocarina needed to be obtained to beat the game.
Without a strict control on what abilities the player has obtained before entering the level, the temples would become way more frustrating. Imagine going all the way through the spirit temple, lowering the mirror thing and burning of the statue’s face, only to discover that your hookshot won’t reach the gates. Because of the more open level design, you now have a whole bunch of options to explore, adding hours of frustrating game time, before you come to the conclusion that this wasn’t the next temple you could beat after all. It’s exactly because of these increased options (added to the already slowed movement) that the water temple is so hated (wrongfully so in my opinion but that’s a topic for another day).
being lowered into the central room that you've been in several times both as a kid and an adult, solving different puzzles each time, really ties this dungeon together as a single entity. It is exactly because the game can force you to go through the temple in the one way it wants you to, that it all ties together so nicely in the end. Just imagine going all that way only to find out your hookshot won't reach. What do you do then? you don't know you need a longshot for this if you haven't played it before. There's still unpressed switches in the room, perhaps there's other stuff you haven't done yet. Realising you need to go back to the water temple because you skipped that item could take hours because of this.
Linearity allows developers to challenge players with challenges that are tough but beatable, to give players bigger and more complex puzzles without making solving those puzzles frustrating and it lets developers pace the succession of these things in as much detail as is desired. Linearity from a developers perspective is a good thing. It just needs to be communicated well to the players what the boundaries are. Nobody likes crashing into invisible walls, be they unfair constraints or you know, actual invisible walls.
3 years ago
This past winter anime season was a good season for those of us interested in philosophical questions posed through storytelling. We had the overtly philosophical Psycho-Pass and MaoYu , which just wrapped up, as well as Hyoubu Kyosuke the unlimited and From the new world, which are less overt, but not any less interesting from that perspective. The really fun thing is that the two overt series explicitely shouted the opposite message to the audience, while the two more convert series also battled it out in their philosophical implications. Today I’m taking a look at the conflict between MaoYu and Psycho-Pass. By the way, this discussion contains spoilers, so watch the series if you care about that stuff. Everything but MaoYu is definitely worth watching, and even MaoYu has strong moments.
On the side of freedom: maoYu
For those of you not in the know, MaoYu is about a hero and a demon king who wish to end the war that has been going on between humans and demons without destroying both nations in the process. Due to the unifying nature of fighting an outgroup, the human nations have become united and the Demon nations have at least stopped warring amongst each other. If either the humans or the Demons were to win, the loser would be crushed and the winner would fall out and fight amongst themselves. As an alternative solution, the demon king wants to change the world from the inside out. Armed with knowledge about farming, disease prevention, navigation, economics, navigation and other technologies, she (the title is traditional, nothing she can do about it) disappears from the demon realm and starts helping out a human community under the new name of Crimson Scholar. Due to her inventions and plans people no longer starve and her influence keeps growing. She also picks up a slave girl and educates her along the way. Due to the rise of her importance the church loses influence in the area, which pisses them off. In the end they declare her a heretic and demand she be delivered to them. The people of her country don’t like this very much and come out in droves to the exchange point. Stuff comes to a head and the Crimson Scholar reveals she used to be a slave (it’s actually the slave girl in disguise). Even right now she still isn’t sure that she is actually a Person and not just a thing, but she’ll declare it with all her heart because that is the first step to being a Person. Her speech affirms that the value of thinking for yourself is a treasure like no other and something nobody can take away from you unless you let them.
The crowd is made complient by showing them what would happen to them if they start thinking for themselves. After getting beaten multiple times for speaking her mind, this statement gains a lot more weight.
As the church representative calls for people to stone her or share her fate, she tells them to stone her if they must, if they wish to protect their family or if they want to live, but if things just because someone else tells them to, then they’re as worthless as insects and have relinquished their light spirit (god) given claim to humanity.
People who give up their will to choose for themselves are insects huh? So does that make squashing them okay? See how similar these two statements are? They're core beleifs about human values.
The show portrays the speech in a positive light, showing how it motivates the people to stand up for what they believe in. However it is also a very harsh way to view humans. While the message sent by MaoYu is positive, it can easily be turned into a negative one and Psycho-Pass’s villain delights in showing that to people. In Psycho-pass, Japan has adopted a method to calculate how close people are to becoming criminals and judges people exclusively on that merit, which is summarized in the color and clarity of their Psycho-Pass. Besides deciding if you’re a criminal, the system also decides your aptitude for occupations. As such, all the tough decisions in life are made for people. Makeshima, the villain of the series, values diversity and autonomy and through his actions he always tests the people for those qualities. Halfway through the series he forces a confrontation between him and the protagonist detective. Her system linked gun (that judges people before allowing the detective to shoot them) tells her that he’s a perfectly good civilian, even as he’s hurting her friend.
the guy set up multiple murders, kidnapped your best friend and is clearly up to no good, but the gun says he wouldn't hurt a fly, so shooting him is wrong. While already a tough decision on it's own, for someone who hasn't had to make an ethical decision their entire life, this burden is downright crushing.
Makeshima then holds a speech that there is no value in people living their lives without consciously making choices. The only way the detective can stop him is by abandoning her gun and grabbing the old fashioned hunting rifle that Makeshima left for her. This means abandoning the authority of the system that has up until then shouldered the responsibility for judging people and determining for herself that Makeshima is an entity that should be removed. Makeshima is forcing people to think for themselves, but he tramples on those that don’t.
In the end, the difference in message lies in the way insects are to be treated. Makeshima delightfully steps on them and enjoys seeing them squirm in agony as he slowly takes them out, while the crimson scholar berates people for being insects, but is willing to put in the effort to make people to make people realise their own worth as autonomous individuals. Still, that's not why they feel so different. They feel different because in any speech Ethos and Pathos matter as much as if not more than the logic. Makeshima is very big on logos and uses the resentment that creates as part of his test for the detective. On the other hand, the slave girl's case is made specifically because the church officials move to silence and beat her. It's what gives her speech the emotional impact it needs to deliver the abstract concepts she speaks of to the slaves and common folk she speaks to. That's what's called the power of speech.
3 years ago
Just a quick reminder before I start gushing, this article contains spoilers on the series Magi the labyrinth of magic. I highly recommend the series to anime fans so go watch it or read it if you're more into manga. I won’t spoil major twists, but be warned if you hate getting anything spoiled. With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at Magi and Morgiana, our redheaded buttkicker.
Regular bandits are no match for Morgiana's fearsome feral fighting style. Even these massive tigers stand no chance against her as she takes down one sabertooth after the other.
Morgiana is a child of the Fanalis warrior tribe, a people with incredible physical power and stamina that rule in the wilderness known as the dark continent. However as a child she was sold into slavery, growing up under the tyranny of her master. To put things into perspective, Magi takes place in an alternative world largely inspired by the middle/far east and myths like the 1001 Arabian nights. The main character Aladdin is a Magi, a being incredibly in touch with the Ruhk (the semi-sentient source of all magic that also leads people towards their fate), making him an incredibly powerful mage. He travels along with his best friend Alibaba, who as a dungeon clearer, is able to equip a powerful fire genie onto his sword. While clearing said dungeon they run into the person who owns Morgiana. This ultimately leads to her being set free by another slave while that slave and their master are left behind in the vanishing dungeon. It’s important to note here that Morgiana didn’t choose her freedom. In fact, she declined an offer to be freed by Alibaba moments before they cleared the dungeon as she can’t even consider the proposition. That’s how much the mindset of a slave has been burned into her mind since early childhood. Even after being freed, her motivation to go back home is fueled by obligation to the slave that set her free.
Alibaba offers Morgiana a chance to be free and extends his hand expecting her to accept. Morgiana just takes it as an opportunity to throw him into the wall. They say rejection hurts, but this is on another leve.
After getting captured by another slave trader, she refuses the identity of a slave in order to comfort a sick child. When that child is in danger of being fed to the Hyena’s, Morgiana hears her former slave companion whisper support and decides on her own to break free of her chains, saving the rest of the slaves in the process. During the rest of the series, Morgiana’s development as an individual keeps going as she becomes more aware of her own desires and of her power to make decisions for herself. Of all the characters in the series, her development is arguably the most comlex. In my opinion that already qualifies her as a strong female character, but that’s not all Morgiana has to offer, not by a long shot.
Unable to break the reinforced restraints, Morgiana gives up. Then she hears the voice of her previous slave companion Goltas ask her why she's letting these petty restraints hold her down. She's already free. All she needs is the courage to break the fear in her heart. It's not entirely clear how his voice reached her. Was it the ruhk (magic fate butterflies) or was it just her imagination? In the end it doesn't matter. Fabricated by her or not, Morgiana relied on what she believed to be an outside source to provide her with what she needed to move forward. Once she does, she leaps into the air, breaking the restraints on the metal floor below.
When people think of strong female characters, literal power is often the first thing people think of. This doesn’t have to be physical strength per se, just the ablility to get stuff done. So often the reason for this puts the strong female apart from the rest of the women in their own story. Even Buffy couldn’t get away from the idea that she was strong precicely because she was the slayer. While it’s true that Morgiana is physically so strong because she is a Fanalis, that only puts her in the same category with all the super powered people. Aladdin is only powerful because he is a magi, who got a free djinn compation to boot. Alibaba, like most of the other strong fighters, was helped by a Magi in order to clear a dungeon and obtain weapons of great might. Besides the main characters, there's plenty of other characters in the series, both male and female that have similar powers and are capable at using them. What sets Morgiana apart from the crowd is that with her speed, she is often the one jumping around saving everyone’s butts. She never forgets that she’s powerful when being powerful is useful. It’s sad how refreshing that really is.
Deadly black death raining down from a dark djinn and you just don't have what it takes to dodge anymore, not to fear, Morgiana is here. Aladdin and Alibaba would've died so many times over if Morgiana hadn't been there to pull them out of danger at the last moment. Even when the super charismatic king Sinbad tells Morgiana to sit one out, she refuses to back down. Her stubbornness combined with her physical strength make her a hard person to say no to. Even though SInbad probably could take her out if he really wanted to, he is still intimidated.
But it's not just that the women are strong fighters, they can also be capable leaders, mentors, village elders, traders and villains Some of them have magical powers, some of them don't, but that doesn't mean they're not capable at what they do. Morgiana isn't the exception, she's part of a larger whole. The fact that she's not the 'the strong female character' means that she can develop much more as a person, which she does.
To me, Morgiana’s defining moment is when she interrupts what was up until then shaping up to be an emo, ‘I have this burden that I cannot share with you even though you’re my friend’ type of arc. I’ll elaborate a bit. Morgiana and Aladdin are traveling to Balbadd, the port city that connects their continent to the rest of the world via trade routes. Morgiana is going there to head off to the dark continent (to fulfill the request of the slave that freed her) while Aladdin is looking for their friend Alibaba. Upon arriving there, they find out trade has been halted because of a band of thieve that steal from the rich and give to the poor. Along with the mysterious king Sinbad Aladdin and Morgiana get roped into arresting the thieves. As they do this, they find out Alibaba is leading the thieves. It turns out Alibaba was a kid that grew up in the slumps of the city. As the illegitimate child of the king, he eventually got out of the slumps and into the comfort of the court, but he remembers those days and coming back it dawns to him how much worse it's gotten. Then he runs into his former adoptive brother from the slumps and finds out his adoptive sister has died since he was gone. The brother Yassim, talks him into joining his band of thieves and is clearly trying to stage a rebellion, something that Alibaba doesn’t want. All in all we have a perfect set up for an arc full of emo speeches about how Aladdin just doesn’t understand, how this is something Alibaba has to do etc.
We said we'd see the world together. Just look at those hopeful eyes, completely unaware of the type of story arc he's so obviously about to go through. Yeah sorry Aladdin, I'm too busy not knowing what I'm doing while being all conflicted about my past. It's really important and stuff. You as a magi, one of the worlds most powerful mages and guided by fate to choose proper kings, are obviously incapable of solving the problem that so obviously involves a bad king being in power. Also your super powerful djinn scares people, so that wouldn't be in any way helpful either. Now go away so I can go be emo about not being able to go see the world with you.
Instead, the night Aladdin and Morgiana discover Alibaba, she goes over to the thieves hideout, snatches up the sulking Alibaba, leaps buildings and throws Alibaba straight into Aladdins room, interrupting Aladdins sulking. When they do the whole refusing to talk thing, she gets straight to the point and gets the discussion going. The emo arc setup is still used to great effect later, but we don't have to suffer through episodes of will they, won't they garbage.
And there we have it, everyone is moping, being sad and stuff. Everyone but Morgiana, who confronts Alibaba, kidnaps him from his lair of thieves, leaps over tall buildings and throws him into a confrontation with Aladdin. This all happens in one episode by the way. Even after being reunited, Aladdin and Alibaba attempt to prolong the arc by refusing to address the topic at hand. Morgiana will have none of it though and forcefully starts the conversation herself. Note that while she's showing plenty of initiative, her motives, helping Aladdin and stopping the increase in slave trade are explicitly phrased as being wrong, not her finding them wrong.
Trough out the series, Morgiana's struggles represent overal themes of self discovery and self worth. Morgiana goes from a slave bound by law to obey her masters to someone who out of feelings of obligation helps those she considers more important. Over time as the idea that she herself is a person of value starts to sink in, the obligation to help turns into a desire to keep those she cares about safe. Parallel to this process, the meaning of chains change over the course of the series. Starting out as a tool to restrain slaves, turning from a reminder of her past as a slave to one of the people who set her free to something else entirely.
Goltas breaking Morgiana's chains, symbolically freeing her from her bonds to their shared slave master. After traveling as a free woman for half a year, the marks are still visible and serve as a painful reminder of her past. Still, as her first posessions after being freed, Morgiana kept the chains, her attitude towards them changing over time.
After the gang deals with Alibaba's kingdom problem, they head of to SIndria, the country that Sinbad built from the ground up. In order to prepare for future journeys, she'll need to be able to use her magic like the other two. To do that she needs a metal vessal, a metal item to channel her power through. People need a strong emotional connection to said item for it to work properly, so she chooses the chains. Naturally they get a thorough makeover, but in essence they're still the chains that once bound her. They receive a completely different purpose instilled into them by her. Through them she can grant herself and others far greater mobility, allowing her to support those dear to her.
Once they were chains that bound her, now they are the chains that represent the bonds she shares with her friends. Realising that the power she desires is the power to let her friends move as freely as she can, their purpose has been given to them, by her. All aboard the Mor train! When all else failed, Morgiana's chains activate, allowing her to catch everyone and give them a ride back to safety.
Morgiana's development into a full fledged person is one of the greatest things about Magi. It's a fun ride with heartwarming moments that make you think every once in a while too. Morgiana is without a doubt the star of the show.
It's the little things, you know, like apologizing for an inconvenience that happened months ago by bowing down completely. Even before Morgiana became aware of it her own desires, she'd already show them on her face. These are the metal vessels picked by Alibaba because he thought they'd look cool on her. Sinbad was already face palming because that's not a 'woman's taste', but Morgiana was actually pretty happy with the gloves. Later on, as Morgiana realises that doing what she herself wants to do can mean continuing to travel with Aladdin and Alibaba for as long as she likes (before that she thought she'd have to go back to the Dark continent because that's what Goltas told her she should do), she becomes aware of the extreme happiness she feels because of this, as well as the need to express it, which she does through dancing in her own unique way.
I highly recommend watching Magi if you're into anime, or at least watch episode 6 (watch 5 after that if you still feel like watching but aren't hooked on the show) even if you aren't usually a fan of anime.
3 years ago
Huge spoilers on Jojo’s bizarre adventure and Guren Lagann. Go look those up before reading this, they’re both awesome, or don’t but be warned, I will spoil the experience if you don’t watch them before reading this. That said, let's get this show on the road.
Most stories have a single protagonist, or group of protagonists that we follow throughout the entire narrative and bond with closely. Letting go of characters that an audience has come to love can be a risky move, but it also allows for new stories previously impossible because of certain character traits. When a writer wants to explore a setting without being constrained by a single main character having to go through all the scenario’s, changing main character becomes an enticing option. To be clear, I’m talking about a story where a character absolutely was the main character, only to be replaced by another character who then dons this role. For this reason Guren Lagann doesn’t fall under this category, as Simon was always meant to be the main character, but the show baited us into believing it was Kamina to make us identify more with Simon. That show might be featured here someday, but for now lets set it aside because we’re looking at JoJo’s bizarre adventure.
Indeed, Gurren Lagann wasn't the same after this episode. I think it's better for it over all, but damn is this scene heartwrenchiing. But enough talk of Gurren Lagann. It's time to talk Jojo's Bizarre adventure. This cocky fellow is Joseph Joestar, the protagonist of the second part of the story.
JoJo’s bizarre adventure is a series that needs to be seen to be believed. Although I had heard of it and seen bits of it before, I really got hooked by the 2012 anime release. The series starts out with the rivalry between Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando. They clash multiple times over the years, starting out as boys. Dio wants to make Jonathan submissive so he takes everything away from Jonathan. His pride, his friends. His experience from the slums and his drive to be the best are overpowering for Jonahan.
Tha's Dio's nice greeting. It gets much, much worse. In the words of MasakoX: Jonathan got the shit beat out of him.
It's only when Dio moves in for the kill by cutting Jonathan off from his girlfriend that Jonathan gets pushed over the edge, turning the tables on Dio for the moment. Jonathan wins because he's stronger. Over time Dio has become a vampire and creates an army of zombies, while Jonathan learned a martial art that lets him channel the power of the sun through his fists (amongst many, many other things).
With the power of the stone Mask, Dio transforms into a poweful vampire. With his newfound powers he starts turining the greatest criminals in the world to do his bidding. After Jonathan learns of Dio's vampiric nature, he is approached by William A. Zeppeli. He teaches Jonathan the way of the ripple, which allows him to harness the power of the sun by controlling his breath.
At the end of part 1, Dio finally manages to kill Jojo and they appearantly die in an exploding ship in the middle of the ocean. After this emotional goodbye to our beloved Jonathan Joestar, we’re introduced to his grandson, the smartass and badass Joseph Joestar. Part 1 of the bizarre adventure had built up the rivalry between Dio and Jonathan and escalated it further and further, but it was always about these two guys. With both of them out of the picture, the story felt done. To an extent it was, because Part 2 is it’s own story, but it starts out brilliantly by making the first conflict of part 2 about something the reader deeply cares about. One of the characters from part 1: Speedwagon, gets betrayed by another character from part one: Straitz. Speedwagon is someone you can’t help but get attached to in part 1, so the fact that Straitz killed him pisses off the reader/viewer, but it also pisses of Joseph, because Speedwagon was like an uncle to him. This motivates him to take revenge on Straitz, which is exactly what a reader would want him to do. Combining this with his innate control of the ripple, the power obtained by Jonathan over the course of Part 1, makes it feel like we didn’t start from scratch and that what happened in part 1 is still relevant. Joseph’s knowledge of the ripple is incomplete, like that of the reader and he has to compensate for it with his wit, trickery and luck, while Jonathan had always powered through with is courage and power.
Jonathan manages to defeat Dio by punching him with all his might (and a burning glove). In terms of strenght, he turned out to be stronger than Dio. Joseph on the other hand had to rely on tricks, like sneaking grenades on his opponents scarf while they were distracted.
In summation, we have a setting populated with familiar characters, a main character that starts out more or less on the level of the previous main character, (though with heavy differences in the details), a motivation that perfectly syncs up with the readers feelings, a conflict in which he knows exactly as much as the reader, which avoids dumb questions and gets straight to the point. This allows the main character to immediately get to the good parts and show in what ways he’s different from the first protagonist. Around the time this is resolved, Joseph is already in deep shit with the origin of the conflict from part one, by which point he has proven himself as a protagonist and is capable of carrying the story on his own. Because in the end, that has to be the goal. The new protagonist starts out in the shadow of the old one, but one has to come out of it and stand on his own to feet if they want to captivate they audience into going along with him on this new adventure.
This previously mentioned grenade was actually part of a larger scheme. It was connected by wires to a bunch of other grenades. As Straitz nonchanantly slappe dthe grenade away, these wires start tugging on the pins. Leaving Straitz completely screwed. Throughout his fight with Straitz, Joseph has to keep outwitting Straitz because Straitz is so much more powerful. He's also on e of the weakest enemies Josep will face.
JoJo’s execution is so perfect I wanted to share it with everyone.
3 years ago
One of the things a lot of us enjoy in our gaming is exploring a big new world. However once we’re done exploring, we want to get from A to B quickly. Crossing a big world each time is cumbersome. When you don’t have the memory space to create a large world however, you have to make do with what you’ve got. The original Pokémon game did a fantastic job at giving us a big world to explore, and this is how they did it.
Even if you know what you're doing, you're still forced to go around Saffron city at least twice. Here the first part is depicted by the blue line. From the Diglett cave on the way to travel is depicted with a red line. Really though, since battling trainers ginds much faster than wild pokémon, there is no real reason to go through the game skipping the cycling bridge. If you don't know what you're doing however, you're probably going to wander around a bit more. A lot of the parts in the map are travelled across multiple times. If you don't know how to open up Saffron city, it's quite likely that you'll get to Fuschia city first. If you want to entangle the road travelled in this case, I'll give the order. First blue up until the Diglett cave, then Red up until the second visit to Lavender town, then purple until Saffron city is reached and finally Yellow to reach the Elite four. It's not really important though. The point is you travel around a lot and take a lot of detours.
When we look back to Gen 1 and the Kanto map, we can see that it’s really not that big. If you could just go from town to town directly, the world starts to become even smaller. However you can’t go from town to town directly. Sure at first the way is pretty straightforward, but after you reach Cerulean city you have to go up the bridge, get to Bill, go back down and only then can you leave for the next city. Since you can’t go to the right because you have no means to cut bushes, you are forced to go down to Saffron city. When you reach the gate however, you are forced to go through underground because Saffron City is closed off. Reaching Vermillion city you are forced onto the SS anne to get Cut, and a Snorlax blocks the way to the right. Going through the diglett cave leads all the way back to Pewter, and with flash obtained you can bravely enter the Dark cave. Then as you emerge in Lavender town, you’re still stuck because of that Snorlax and you can’t even catch any ghosts to boot. Instead you’re forced to go to Celadon city. By this time if you know what you’re doing you can open up Saffron by buying some water (or tea if you’re playing the remakes) but by then you’ve already been to all the towns Saffron connects to the roundabout way. All this running around makes the world feel a lot larger than it actually is. However once you’ve explored the roundabout ways, the game allows you to directly travel between the cities in a faster way. You can also obtain fly in Celadon, reducing the amount of travelling you need to do even more. This way, you can always go to where you want to go quickly. Flying around feels nice because you know how much you’re skipping, making it that much more of a reward. Pokémon doesn’t waste your time, so that you can focus on your one true goal. You’ve got to catch ém all after all.
3 years ago
Like how comics are a segmented representation of events, gameplay between cut-scenes is a representation of the thing that actually happened in story. Representation can be really close to the actual events, or it can be largely metaphorical. In comics, situations can be drawn realistically (I don’t mean style wise here, just in the position of characters and movements and the like) , or they can be drawn to fit the panels themselves. An example of this would be a two page spread where everyone is jumping towards other people in fighting stances, which is something you wouldn’t expect to happen in a disorganized brawl. It looks freaking awesome though. There is an understanding between the artist and the reader that such a scene represents a disorganized clash in a way that properly brings across the epic scale of the clash. The same goes for video games. If a plumber happens to go on a large journey to save a princess from a giant lizard wizard, that would probably involve a decent amount of walking through relatively straightforward terrain. Programming that into the game as levels would be really boring though. Instead you’re given a select amount of obstacles filled with enemies and pits to stomp on and jump over. The fact that enemies respawn in games like Kirby’s adventure doesn’t mean that they’re coming back to life, it’s just that there’s an army out there and they’re completely outnumbering you to the point where restationing people at the places you’ve killed them at is trivial. Story wise, they don’t really make sense. But there is an understanding between the designers and the players what these things mean and how they factor into the story.
the single word of dialog says it all, Pauline wants you to save her. Of course you can also go way too far in the 'making the level design a metaphor for the difficulty of crossing the terrain' thing. But then this is a fan mod.
One thing that really helped get the idea of representation across is the fact that most games were played in 2D. This means that we’re already looking at something that is clearly a simplification of real life. Most of the times we know that the characters are 3D and if a game has cut scenes they can often move around in all three of those dimensions as well. This naturally creates a divide between cut scenes and gameplay simply because a lot of the detailed interactions between people that need to be shown to make the player understand what is happening, can’t be shown in the 2D world the gameplay takes place in. The top-down perspectives most RPG’s use is already capable of showing a lot of these details. Games like final fantasy 6 integrate their narrative into the same overworld that most of the gameplay takes place in, but the characters themselves are still highly stylized. You still have to rely on the dialog to understand what it is they’re doing. These boundaries got blurred when 3D games started to become more realistic. When the sharp divide between cut-scene and gameplay fell away, so did a lot of the indicators that told players how to make sense of what is story and what isn’t. When this isn’t handled well, it can creates all sorts of problematic questions. Why can’t that character just kill these goons? We took out a whole bunch of them on the way in. Why aren’t these guys calling for help when there’s allies right around the corner? Why is my character now killing people left and right when she just had a traumatic experience killing one? How do little power shots hurt Dark Samus when I usually have to unload at least a super missile to do decent damage? The answer is because that’s not really what’s happening in the story. In story the group snuck past the guards, or knocked them out without giving them the chance to ring an alarm, she’s not really killing guards, she’s just escaping from them. Dark Samus isn’t really that strong of a tank, it’s just a game mechanic. When you have to actively realize this, it breaks the immersion. It’s even worse when in cut-scenes characters you have direct control over can do awesome stuff you can’t do in the game. It’s frustrating precisely because without the visual cues reminding you that this is just a representation, you instinctively feel like what you’re seeing is what is actually happening in story.
Man that was. I just escaped from jail and all of a sudden there were weird shamans throwing knives on pillars all over the place. Whoa big guy, who are you supposed to be? Yeah those are all plot important questions, but what about the giant dude with the massive weapon I just fought. What about him?
wow, a boss that actually gets a cut-scene before the fight. This guy must be really important. Oh you're the one who killed my father? Prepare to die. Hey look he actually looks like the guy from the cut-scene. They even filled up my health bar to full health. This is the stuff epic fights are made of.
Of course, not all games suffer from these issues. There are a few solutions to this problem that don’t require overly stylized graphics or two dimensional gameplay worlds. The first and least practical solution is to accept that whatever a player can do in the game is what is actually happening. A good example of this is Portal. All of the test rooms are rooms you actually go through in story. Glados, the narrative force in the game, remarks on what you’re doing constantly. If you’re slow she’ll tell you, if you mess around with stuff she’ll tell you and since you’re extremely constrained in what you can do, this has been tightly programmed to create a coherent experience. Everything that happened, happened. Another solution is to take the opposite approach. Completely write the story to fit the game mechanics. GTA (vice city) plays this pretty well. The story is basic and very hands off. Besides that, the world is as crazy as you are. If you tune into VCPR (my favorite radio station ever). You’ll hear people concerned about maniacs with guns coming going crazy, there’s a naked guest, a shootout on the air by a guy trying to raise money to build a statue that will be able to lift off into space and serve as a space colony when the Russians come. All of a sudden yeah, you feel like what you’re doing isn’t all that out of place. Official missions have you steal a tank from the military and bomb drug dealers with a remote controlled toy plane. Most of the stuff you do in your free time is pretty normal compared to that. The completely out there setting and story mesh well with the outrageous gameplay, never breaking that immersion.
You know, this probably wouldn't have felt so forced if you didn't just shrug off way more powerful looking attacks from enemies like the devil himself. Damn straight I'm worth as much as 10 guns. I just love it when games acknowledge the skill level your character has clearly displayed to be at at this point.
In general I prefer it if the story is told through the gameplay itself rather than segmented off into their own pieces. Sometimes this cannot be helped however and in those cases two questions should always be asked. 1. Could whatever problem presents itself in cut-scene immediately be resolved if the characters behaved like they do during gameplay? 2. Can all of the stuff playable characters do in cut-scenes that look cool and like you should be able to do them in the game, be done in the game? If the answer to either of those is no, then why is this? Is this clearly conveyed to the player? Can the story and gameplay be changed to match each other better? As you can see a lot of questions follow from these two that depending on the answer can lead to very different changes in the design. Games are an interactive medium. Telling a story through gameplay is something no other medium is capable. It also requires a new approach to writing stories.
3 years ago
Last time I talked about how two seemingly identical views on the worth of human beings can end up expressed in such different ways. Today I’m taking a look at the two other series: Hyoubu Kyosuke the Unlimited and From the new world. Both of these series feature ESPers, though the settings are quite different. Once again, this discussion contains spoilers, so read at your own disgression.
Hyoubu Kyosuke the unlimited is pretty similar to Xmen in its general setup. ESPers have been starting to become more and more frequent over the last decades and society has not adapted well to their prevalence. Low level ESPers are forced to wear power suppressors, but people who have high levels cannot be completely repressed by this. Really high level ESPers are also valuable military assets, but at the same time they’re feared by the people they protect and when you’re just a child that can be a lot of pressure.sure, flying around might look like fun,but when people are shooting youwith the intent to kill, it quicklystops being funny.60 years pass and all that'sreallychanged are the planesused to attack him.
Additionally espers are often treated as labrats to figure out how to amplify or reduce their power, or to make future predictions. In general, being a higher level esper is pretty miserable. Hyoubu Kyosukeis one of the world’s most powerful ESPers and the leader of the terrorist organisation P.A.N.D.R.A. Their main objective is to save ESPers that are being abused, but they strike out against anyone actively hurting ESPer equality rights and they protect people that stand up for ESPer rights. Throughout the series P.A.N.D.R.A is painted with moral amivilance, but looking at the general reaction of the world, are they justified? Setting aside the use of ESPers as labrats, forcing them to restrict their powers is a fair prerequisite to enter society if we wish to preserve current society.is that all an illusion does? ah wellthat's not too bad, I could livethrough that.AAAAH kill it with FIRE. Do whateveryou want, but keep those ESPerpowers repressed.
Still, do we have the right. One thing that surprises me is that all ESPers are forced in the same category. You’re either an ESPer and you need to be repressed, or you’re not and you’re fully free to move. But does being able to lift a pen telekinetically, or being able to vaguely read someone’s feelings really require repressing? Even further, if you know someone can teleport then why does it matter that they can? People can get into places they’re not allowed to with all sorts of different means and we generally don’t imprison them for developing those skills, just for applying them.. The same goes for strong telekinetic powers. Sure someone might be able to lift your car in the air, but someone else could mow your car over with a monster truck. We generally limit people’s actions by punishing people for going over the line. Really the only powers that truly endanger societies status quo are the telepaths. But then again, it all hinges on how much people are willing to invest in what telepaths tell you about other people. If people don’t put weight in telepathically acquired knowledge, that knowledge becomes less valuable. It might complicate personal relations, but there are ways of dealing with that. If we look at how much of our information is already online, there isn’t that much that a telepath can figure out that a hacker can’t. So in the end, ESPers are just humans you have to learn to deal with. Laws will have to change, as will things like security, but those are forced to change all the time when we invent new things, so that’s nothing fundamental.Sure, Hyoubu can punch a planeand make it explode with his mind,but there's so many of them,does one guy really matter that much?Oh.... my. Oh well I guess that does itthen. Maybe People probably shouldn'tmess with the guy, or ESPers in general.
So let’s look at the other side of this coin. What happens if ESPers become the norm and society is forced to adapt to the general person having these powers. That is the question that From the new world explores and it’s not as nice as Hyobu would like to imagine. From the new world takes place in a post-apocalyptic future (caused by the increase in frequency of ESPers) in which all humans are ESPers (mainly telekinetic, though very versatile in use, but no teleporters or mindreaders). With the fear of discrimination by normal humans gone, they live in a world where everything is adapted to all Persons (yes, that capitalisation is deliberate. Watch the show if you wnat to know why.) having ESP powers. It’s what they get educated in at school, it’s what their transport routes are based on and it’s how they define their superiority to the other sentient species, the quuerats (think giant naked mole rats). In their world the biggest threat to their society is the new generation of ESPer’s. One of them might go out of control and take out the whole community. Every Person has been (genetically) engineered to have a death feedback so that if they ever kill another Person they die themselves and from birth until adulthood children are screened and gotten rid of if they show signs of having their psychic powers go berserk ( in which case the death feedback would fail, amongst other things).a field full of eggs with angelsready to hatch, but out of fearof that one monster, how manywould you be willing to smash?Then again, what if you miss one?are you willing to risk everyoneyou know and love becausea kid might not turn into a monster?
This process kills lots of children who would otherwise grow up to be perfectly healthy individuals. In this sense the price paid for a stable society is the same in the ESPer governed world as it is in Hyobu Kyosuke’s world. Fear of uncontrolled powers still govern in a world dominated by ESPers. As it turns out, even with all their powers, ESPers are still very much human.
3 years ago
Opinions, facts and preferences.
Over the years I’ve spent on the internet, a few phrases have grown to really piss me off. Amongst them are ‘in my opinion’ and ‘that’s just an opinion’. They are almost always used to either dodge responsibility for justifying an opinion, or to dismiss an opinion without reason. I realize that this article won’t change much of that, but I want to get this out there anyway.
Opinions vs preferences
Natural language is at best unclear about the difference between preferences and opinions, and at worst a a complete mess. It is then not surprising to see many people confuse preferences and opinions. Preferences are necessarily personal (by which I mean that they are always about what a person experiences). You can share your preferences and they can change over time, but in the end they are your own. You feel them, others hear about them from you or derive them from your behavior. Either way, they’ve got second hand information and you have first hand information on your own preferences. When you express a preference, that is a factual statement about your preferences. When you say you like a game or anime or whatever, that statement is in normal discussions (exceptions are when you are suspect of lying about your preferences, but that is normally not the case) are taken for true at face value. Things become a little different when you start to describe something as good. Saying a game is good is stating an opinion. Obviously it’s held by you (again exceptions exist, like people playing devil’s advocate but those are abnormal circumstances), it should be superfluous to mention that. Opinions are something you can disagree with. Opinions, for as far as they relate to reality, can be wrong. However, besides that, opinions are often also founded by preferences. Saying you like a game and saying you think a game is good often get conflated, because when you haven’t really thought about why you think a game is good, the opinion heavily relies on your personal preferences. However this is not the only way to support an opinion. Besides your own preferences, you can also support your opinion with additional arguments. You can argue that a game is good because it has good gameplay, graphics and a good story. Most of the time, these elements too will be at least partially subjective (by which I mean that they depend on your preferences). However as you delve deeper into these things, it becomes clearer what elements of the game rely on what preferences, and how personal those are.
A good example of a well supported opinion is offered by Egoraptor in his castlevania 1 vs castlevania 2 episode, Egoraptor goes through a thorough analysis of why he likes the gameplay. Instead of just saying the gameplay is good and leaving it up to preferences, he shows how well thought out the level layout is, how it leads to interesting situations and nerve wreckingly tough sequences that test your skill level and reward you for playing smart. These are things you can appreciate irregardless of your own specific preferences. Of course it's possible that someone doesn't like being challenged by a game, but everything about the game is made for those that do like that. It's not very convincing to say a game is bad because it doesn't do something that it didn't set out to do, especially when it does a lot of things that it did set out to do well. This way, even though preferences still play a role in evaluating aspects of a game, you can eliminate the subjectivity. You can also use reason this way to show that some opinions about games are wrong. That doesn't mean only one opinion is valid. Multiple opinions can be valid and you can recognize the validity of an opinion you don't hold. It's also possible for someone to recognize that a game is good, but not like it themselves as well as like a game without claiming it's a good game.
Preferences vs facts
A preference is a specific type of fact. People that state their preference about something are making a factual statement about themselves at that point in time. This only gets confusing when people express a preference as if it was universal. For example when someone says ice cream is good when they mean that they like ice cream, that is when confusion creeps in. After all, they just made a universal statement. This is where the ' it's just my opinion' defense comes from. The only time that defense is valid is when people are actually just stating a personal preference. The moment you try to argue that something actually is good, saying that that is just your opinion is invalidating everything about that opinion.
facts vs opinions
Facts are often raised to an exalted status, but really facts are just statements that are either true or false. (in everyday language only factual statements that are generally accepted as true are called facts though). The truth status of a claim however, is something that people can have an opinion on. When there is a clearly defined way of getting to know the answer to a factual statement, this is not a problem and people will agree on the truth status. For example the word ScrewAttack contains 2 letters is a factual statement with false as it's truth value. After all, if you count the letters you will find that the word has 11 letters. The problem with facts is that finding out their truth value in non-trivial situations can often be tricky or even impossible.
let's bring this back to gaming shall we? In this famous mario party 2 minigame, you have to pick the barrel that contains the item you want. In the game, you can follow the barrels to be sure of victory, but let's say you closed your eyes or couldn't otherwise follow them. In that case, if I asked you if you believed the boo bell was in the upper left barrel, you would probably answer no, because there are 5 other barrels that it could be in. If I went over all 6 barrels, you would answer me the same way each time. If at the end I conclude: "so you don't think it's in any of the barrels then?" you would probably disagree with that. After all you've seen the boo bell go into a barrel, but the probability of the boo bell being in any of the individual barrels is too small to justify believing it to be in any of the 6 barrels.
Had I asked you in advence (not knowing the outcome of the game myself) if you believed more strongly that the boo bell was not in the top right corner than that it was in the top right, the correct answer would have been to say yes. After all, a 5/6 chance is better than a 1/6 chance. However if your degree of belief was questioned, your answer might change. For example if I reward you with 8 coins for being right if you guess it's in the top right corner, but only 1 for being right if it's not in the corner (with no penalties for being wrong). All of a sudden you have to go against what you believe to be most likely, because you aren't justified to believe it strongly enough to weigh up against the difference in rewards. The point of all this was to demonstrate how complex a discussion you can get over what you are justified to believe, even though the actual fact is very simple. In this case the boo bell is in the upper right corner.
Besides that, the truth value of a claim can depend on your model of reality. Depending on what definitions you use, a statement can change in meaning. Because of this, the truth value of factual claims is often disputed. To make matters more confusing, people can have an opinion on the truth value of a factual claim. So when I say 'I believe the world is roughly 4.6 billion years old' I'm expressing my opinion on the truth value of claims about the age of the earth. To make matters even worse, an opinion on the truth value of a claim can be valid even if it turns out to be wrong. Opinions cannot be false, but they can be wrong. If they are internally inconsistent they are wrong and should either be reconstructed or discarded entirely. Even when they're not internally inconsistent, if they rely on factual statements with highly disputed truth values, it is wise to doubt them. In this case, genuine expertise is worth more than the raw number of people disputing the truth value.
If this article helps one person think more clearly on the distinction between facts, preferences and opinions, then I consider this a success. Additionally if you think a little about what about some games you like, or why you think it's good, that'd be great too. You don't need to analyze your preferences into the ground, nor do you need to justify reasons for liking every game you like. But thinking about what constitutes good games and sharing this opinion with others can give you a greater appreciation for some games, or elements of some games, that you would previously have overlooked. Give it a shot.
3 years ago
Linearity is often put as detrimental to replayability of a game. Intuitively this makes sense. The more a game branches off in different possibilities, the more new content it offers on subsequent playthroughs. Sounds simple enough, but things that seem simple can be deceiving.
For the sake of brevity I’m going to ignore games that go the distance and incorporate non-linear storytelling. I love how games like Majora’s Mask and Fire Emblem (7) allow you to explore different stories in different playthroughs, hiding the truth in plain sight. That’s a topic for another day. Right now I’m just talking about gameplay, specifically about gameplay from a players perspective. I intend to write another piece about linearity from the developers perspective as it is quite different, but for now I’m focusing on the way people experience linearity as they play.
When people complain a game is too linear, they tend to mean that the game is forcing them to go do something in a way that makes them feel unfairly constricted. Stuff like the hallways that is final fantasy 13 or how Metroid fusion locks off large parts of the space station for long periods of time. In both cases, previous games in the series allowed for far greater exploration. In fact, sequence breaking is one of the reasons super Metroid is loved so much. This creates expectations for the sequel. Metroid fusion still rewards players for exploring the station and going off the beaten path. It just has a more sequential story that requires you to be places for stuff to happen and sequence breaking would make the story fall apart.
Ah yes, that's the stuff. Flying around the world, exploring whatever site looks interesting. That's the sense of freedom you get from the earlier Final fantasies. Note how the map shows full continents and how free you are to move between them. Multiple console generations later the scenery sure looks nice, but all we have is a straight road ahead, also note how the map is completely unrepresentative of the actual surroundings. Where in final fantasy 6 it made you feel like you were actually travelling across a world, here it just reminds you that this is one big pretty corridor.
It also plays a lot more with changing environments. All of these make fusion an entirely different game from super Metroid, but the decreased linearity isn’t proportionate to the generally negative reaction people give to fusion for that. What’s interesting is that from a story perspective, super Metroid is really linear. You deliver the baby Metroid, Ridley steals it, you go get it back, it dies for you and you make it out alive. All of this happens in sequence and there’s nothing you can do to change any of it. Instead, the non-linearity in Metroid comes from your ability to directly have your play style effect the rest of the game. The power-ups you gather change your abilities and gathering them out of sequence presents you with all new problems and forces you to rely on advanced techniques. This is the key to understanding linearity. Adding branches in a path that you can venture into, be they sidequests or literal branches in your road, don’t diminish the feeling of linearity if following up on different branches doesn’t meaningfully impact the rest of the game.
Where Super metroid locked off sections by requiring weapons to destroy lock, fusion has locks that are opened by getting to the controls. This is impossible to sequence break because the way to the controls is locked off outside your control. On the other hand the linearity allows for stuff like this. Encountering the Sa-X here for the first time is nerve wrecking. If you think you're a badass and go fight it, because you can, you find yourself completely curb stomped all in gameplay. A perfect example of meaningful conflict in gameplay in my book.
Why do sidescrolling platformers in general not feel linear? For one because you’re not moving from point A to point B to do something at point B, but because getting to point B is the intrinsic goal of why you’re currently moving. The other reason is that we make a whole bunch of meaningful choices along the way to get to the goal. Where you decide to jump, how fast you’re going, what power-ups you’ve managed to get your hands on, all of these things impact the rest of the level in a meaningful way. Fail to jump at the proper time and it results in a collision with a baddie? Guess what now you have to play without a projectile. On the flip side if you manage to hang on to a weapon that was suboptimal in one part, it might pay off later. Games like Castlevania 1 were great at this. In fact, the linearity of the level design directly contributes to the non-linearity of the gameplay. It’s exactly because you know that a boss is immune to time freezing, that you might want to hold on to your holy water instead of grabbing the clock, even though the clock is more convenient right now because it freezes those damn Medusa’s. These choices meaningfully influence the rest of the game and that in turn makes you feel like you are the one who is in control. Your friend would play differently and it would show because different parts become tough and others become a breeze. This is also why even though Super Castlevania 4 has branching paths, I’d call Castlevania 1 more non-linear. In Castlevania 4 the whip dominates the other items so much that it diminishes the value of the sub weapons to the point where they no longer fundamentally alter your abilities. The fact that some stages can only be played in a certain order may give the illusion of choice, but in the end it’s the game that keeps letting you reinvent your play-style that gives you the greater freedom.
subweapons make a big difference to your attack range and having the right one at the right time can mean the difference between a gruelling fight or just spamming holy water. Beating castlevania 1 without subweapons way more difficult than with subweapons. On the other hand, one 'Woopah' as Arin put it in his castlevania 4 sequelitis video, can take care of just about anything your subweapons can. You don't really need the axe when you can just whip diagonally and you have freedom to control your jumps. The whip is just such a dominant strategy that subweapons don't even really matter anymore.
In the end, this type of linearity is more of a communication issue than something to strive towards. If a game feels linear, it does so because the player expected to be able to move somewhere when they can’t. This can be because the game presents itself as being exploration based when in actuality it’s a hallway, or because earlier games in the series create a precedence that must then be lived up to. It’s kind of similar to camera controls in that in games that pull it off well, you won’t notice the linearity of the game like they don’t realise the camera controls are good, only when it’s something that starts to piss you off because you can’t do what the game let you believe you should be able to do.
Because the linear feel of a game is so heavily influenced by expectations, it’s hard to counter this with good design alone. Instead, the solution lies more in managing the expectations of people properly. Don’t emphasize exploration in advertisements if you’re stuck going one way all the time. If the game feel is different, perhaps add on a sub title or completely change the title of the game to indicate that this won’t be a similar experience. If the game itself is well designed, then the change in linearity should be accompanied by new stuff to advertise. In Metroid fusion’s case, the fact that it delves into the past of Samus Aran and that it is generally more story based could’ve been great advertisement hooks. If you’re breaking too many genre standards then perhaps dubbing yourself a new type of game (like Metroid prime did with the first person adventure classification) could help reset expectations. Of course this won't really do any good if the game itself is poorly designed.
3 years ago
I’ve been playing Fire Emblem Awakening a lot. It has become my second favorite Fire Emblem (right after number seven, known in the west as just Fire Emblem). I could talk about either game for ages, but I’ll try to keep it short here.
Fire Emblem 7 is a serious contender for the top spot of my favorite games of all time because of how all of its elements come together. It’s got a story that is simple on the surface but shows more and more of its complexity once you start looking for it, offering side chapters that reveal more information if you clear special conditions hinted at by the narrative. The tight support system that takes into account when units have joined to give topical support conversations that explicitly reference plot events makes them feel grounded. The way the game limits your supplies by only letting you buy items on certain maps means that when the plot presses the party into a tight corner, your supplies reflect this and your units equipment will suffer as expected. The game wastes almost none of the characters. Almost everyone gets a chance to shine either because they were highlighted in Lyn's initial campaign (which had few characters, letting everyone play a relatively big role) or because their involvement in the story goes further than the standard "you saved my village, I will join you" that so many characters in other Fire Emblems seem be be left with.
Both of these guys were members of the Black Fang, the organization that serves as the main antagonistic force. Because the one on the right only joins your party extremely late into the game, a lot of events have happened, including the death of all the leaders of the Fang and the completion of it's corruption by the main villain. This conversation reflects on some of those from the points of view of certain characters, cleverly using the joining time to date the conversation. One of the pegasus riders that flies in from the left at the start of the chapter carries an Elysian whip, the promotion item for pegasus and wyvern riders. The only way to get it is to have a thief steal it before the pegasus rider is killed. Not getting this whip means it will take a long time for your pegasus riders to be promoted, so it's valuable, but all the way down the ship to the left is the boss character that holds a speedwing for a thief to steal. You have only 1 thief and only 11 turns. On top of that you're constantly flooded with enemy reinforcements. The easiest strategy is to turtle up, but that'll mean you won't get the items and it concentrates experience on your strongest unit. As such taking the easy way out is punished naturally.
On the tactical side of things, the limit of experience means that every battle is a struggle between the urge to complete the chapter and the need to plan ahead for future chapters. Every decision you make in the early chapters affect you over time. Every missed treasure chest means loot that you can never get back. Every promotion item that you don’t steal means a unit that can’t promote. Every unit that goes down to 0 HP is dead for the rest of the story too, so you have to be careful. That makes the hardest difficulty a struggle, but with the gradual increase in difficulty over the different modes, you get the training you need for it. As such, even though a lot of the four difficulties is similar, each of them is a different experience. From map variety to side chapters to the hard but not completely unforgiving difficulty, to the importance given to just about every unit in the game to the attachment you build up with your units as the game progresses, it is what I’d call a masterpiece.
The map of Fire Emblem 8 was pretty barren. There are some enemies here and there, but the only things of value are the multi-room towers like the tower of Valni, where you can level up outside the main campaign. The different places also offer their own selections of weapons to buy, making equipment far less of an issue. the map of Fire Emblem Awakening contains enemies as well, but it also has traders, parlaying strategists from other people and side-quests. When an enemy and a strategist are in the same spot, you have to take out the enemy together with the other team if you want to parley with them. If a trader and an enemy are in the same place you have to defend the traders if you want to trade with them. If you're successful they'll also reward you. You unlock new side chapters when you pair up people
Fire Emblem 8 introduced a few elements (over world exploration, class branching and exp grinding outside of plot centered battles) to an otherwise very similar game. I never liked the added elements because they clashed with what I feel is so great about the previous game, without taking full advantage of what those features offer. After that all of the Fire Emblems brought out in the west moved closer to the Fire Emblem 7 model, bringing in their own variations (Fire Emblem 10 had camp updates and a very free support system that allowed basically everyone to pair up and Shadow Dragon had a free class switch system where units could switch between a set of different classes outside of battles), but overall they stayed with the basic linear progression from chapter to chapter.
The One liners that go for support conversations in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (10) aren't all that deep as they have to apply to all units in the game. The same goes for the retort the other unit gives. They pale in comparison to the support conversations of previous titles, but do allow you to mix and match supports more freely. Fire Emblem Awakening has the same type of conversations between units in the barracks, but here they only serve to convey a small deepening of the relationship. Actual support conversations are written to be mostly on the witty side. A lot of characters join based on when their parents got together, making it hard to pin in-game events to them. Instead the game uses support conversations to explore the characters and have lots of witty banter.
Fire Emblem Awakening combines all of these elements to work really well together. Where the over world felt empty in Fire Emblem 8, it is now populated not only by enemies to fight, but other strategists visiting your game, additional side-quests, people to trade with and combinations of some of the above. When multiple enemies gather in the same place, they’ll all attack you when you confront them. When an enemy and a trader are in the same place you can defend the traders for extra loot. There’s also more of a point to grinding because relations are far more important and grinding helps you develop them. Allowing your unit to re-class into different types also lets you custom build your unit to gather up all the skills you desire, rewarding you for taking that extra time to grind. There’s a lot of interesting combinations to pick up and since they are transferred to the child units (along with stats gained) you can make some crazy combinations. You’ll need it too, because the side chapters that you get from the bonus box are no pushovers. During all this time you spend with different units, they’ll spend a lot of time on teams with different units. Awakening removed the 5 conversation limit previous games with similar support systems tended to limit you to and allows units to build up relations with as many other units you’ll let them interact with. Instead of making the conversations fit in with the plot, they are instead more humor and character focused. As such, Fire Emblem Awakening feels a lot more like a regular JRPG than it's predecessors. It makes the game more accessible too, something that they seem to have been aiming for. It's the first Fire Emblem that's been actively marketed after all. That doesn't mean the game is a pushover though. On higher difficulties the game still demands mastery of the mechanics, but with the ability to turn off permanent death Awakening sets itself apart from the other games in the series. It's stopped being one giant game and has instead become segmented. That makes it easier to enjoy in chunks over a large time span, but it also takes out that magical interplay between narrative and gameplay that made other Fire Emblems so compelling.
Ah yes, the fundamentals of any Fire Emblem game. Conveying so much information with such simplicity, it's one of the tacticians most useful tools. Unsurprisingly the basic outlay has remained virtually unchanged over the years. Behind this apparent similarity lies a completely different game though.
Even though on the basic level both Fire Emblem and Awakening are the same, everything about the way you play is changed because of a few simple additions. In the case of Fire Emblem Awakening it works out great because the changes complement each other and create interesting dynamics, but that doesn’t have to be the case. It goes to show that less can in fact be more when it comes to game design.
I ... like One Piece, (name that reference). It is probably my favourite manga, though I don't like the anime nearly as much. I tend to like anime more than manga, though. Clannad, Black Cat, Trigun, Elemental Gelade and Bodacious space pirates are current favourites of mine.
When it comes to games I'm mostly a retrogamer. I started out with a gameboy, so 8 bit graphics don't bother me. I don't own a PS3 nor an Xbox 360, so call me a nintendo fanboy if you must. I mostly use my Wii for brawl or the occasional game, but my real passion the last few years is beating really hard old school games. I've managed to beat Silver surfer, the Ninja gaiden and Castlevania trilogy, Zelda (2), Contra and Super C, Die Hard and Predator. Punch out and battletoads are works in progress, though progress is slow.
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