NieR, Violence, And The Humanity Spectrum: Part 1: Gestalt

Introduction

real cover

[Goes without saying that this post will have major spoilers for the original NieR, though not Automata, that’ll be in Part 2 sometime later]

NieR and Yoko Taro’s other games are about violence, and what drives people to go to such lengths to kill and be desensitized about it, or even feel righteous about it. Obviously, games as a medium are predicated on enacting violence, whether shooting space invaders, or stomping turtles, or gunning down an enemy squad in an FPS, often without delving into it as a moral issue. And when they do, the attempts, particularly in the big budget AAA space, seem rudimentary, offering simple binary “good acts” and “bad acts”: Will you kill the cute little sisters to gain power-ups, but end up with a bad ending? or will you not go the selfish route and save them (which in the end you would recuperate all the missed power-ups anyways) and get a good ending? Commit violence, and while you may get immediate benefits, you will eventually be in a worse outcome. Do good, and while you may be at a loss at first, you’ll eventually be in a prosperous state. Many of the games that try to tackle the moral issue this way end up actually undermining their point, because they inadvertently give a tangible benefit for doing the the right thing, giving you a reward later on, like power-ups, a happy ending, or even simple stuff like a trophy or achievement. And that’s not the best argument for the morality of pacifism if you just end up roping it with a reward. Doing good things can sometimes get you a good outcome, but other times it doesn’t, and it might even put you in a worse place.

Untitled
So what the NieR games look into is “why” people resort to violence, what drives people to use such a measure to get what they want, without really casting an explicit judgement on it. Unlike other games that look into the issue of violence, there is no “pacifist no-kill” route, you are required to use violence to progress in the game, with no other way to pass through. And while the games have multiple endings, they’re not an assessment of how good of a person you were. There are no bad endings, or good endings, or middle of the road endings. Violence has to happen, and the games try to show you the motives behind it, on both the player and enemy side of things, so that you can understand, or maybe even sympathize, with the the committers, painting a dire hopeless situation with no out, where the most positive outcome of the clash is “well at least one side will get to survive, or get something worthwhile out of it”.

Both NieR games also examine the morality of violence enacted on a sort of “humanity spectrum”. What do I mean by that? Let’s just say If we were to grade any entity, living or not, on how close it is to humans (or more importantly, how they are perceived to be close to humans): we start from the lowest point with inanimate objects, then to tiny organisms like bacteria, then to plants, to animals, and finally to humans with “souls” (I’m sure there’s a better term for this but for now lets use the clunky “humanity spectrum”). Normally, the average person won’t have much of a moral quandary breaking inanimate objects. But they might when going up the spectrum to plants, to small insects, to livestock animals, to wild animals, domesticated companion animals like dogs or cats or horses, and finally at the top, to humans. People even use higher levels of the spectrum as a justification not to enact violence on lower levels: “Don’t go breaking that car with a crowbar, it’s not Larry’s”, “Don’t chop down this tree or it’ll effect the ecosystem, which will deteriorate the environment and hurt animals and humans”, “Don’t eat beef cause cows are conscious and have thoughts and care about their young ones, just like humans do”. Or they might use someone’s pacifism and sympathy for lower levels as argument that that person wouldn’t hurt entities in the higher level: “so-and-so wouldn’t hurt a fly, so how could they punch someone?”. Things get a little bit more interesting when it’s about violence enacted between 2 entities in different positions on that spectrum. People can tolerate the killing of an animal if it means saving a person’s life, if say a wild animal attacks someone. Sometimes, even humans can go down the spectrum based on what they did or how they are perceived. People justify capital punishment done on criminals because they have done such inhumane acts, like murder, and they cannot ever be redeemed and become genuine human beings again, or that going through with the execution is the only path for their salvation to be a good soul again. Not to mention a lot of horrible genocides and enslavements throughout human history were justified by claiming that people of a certain race or religion or nationality or any form of social group they ascribe to are “subhuman”. The people who believe and act on this say they are not cruel because they aren’t killing actual people, they’re killing “animals” who’s existence is a threat to real humans (or precisely, their very strict definition of real humans, who have a particular look or follow a specific mindset or social belief).

And so the NieR games examine this topic in an interesting thought-experiment way by having you play as literal incomplete-humans or human-like characters fighting other quasi-human characters. The funniest thing about the NieR games (aside from the fact that it is a series that canonically originates from a crazy joke 5th ending of the original Drakengard) is that it’s a series about humanity’s propensity for violence with no real true complete human characters, whether in the protagonist or antagonist side. In the original NieR, this fact was hidden from you, but in Automata it is clear from the outset. The NieR games also love to showcase this via multiple playthroughs, where the first playthrough casts the enemy as seemingly mindless vicious monsters hell bent on ridding you and your kind. But the second adds in a little more context, or puts the player in a different perspective, which will help cement the player’s doubts about the player-character’s motives and justification for using violence that was have built up in the first playthrough.

Part1: Gestalt

In the original NieR, you play as a father (or brother in NieR Replicant, but I’m going with the story of NieR Gestalt) named Nier (just to keep things straight, “NieR” = Game, and “Nier” = character) who wants to save his daughter, Yonah, and his village from the threat of Shades, which manifest as these creepy shadowy monsters that attack the villagers, or as a disease that possess and ultimately kills people, known as the black scrawl. So papa Nier tries his best to go around the world questing and gathering a party and leveling up and acquiring new weapons and magic abilities and other RPG stuff to become strong enough to save his daughter, which halfway through gets kidnapped by the leader of the Shades, called, appropriately, “The Shadow Lord”. After the final confrontation, mysteries are revealed, and you learn that these shades are actually what’s called “Gestalts”, which are the souls of humans that were intentionally separated from their original physical bodies for a long backstory reason, and were planned to be inserted back into artificial bodies at a later time (called “Replicants”), which happen to be YOU!!! THE PLAYER CHARACTER!, and your family and friends and all the other village people.  So on one hand, the gestalts, which were once real humans and sat at the top of the humanity spectrum, got corrupted, became mindless and violent, losing some of their sentience and sense of identity, and slid down that spectrum. On the other side, Replicants, which are mere meat grown in some sort of process, developed a sense of consciousness and identity, and rose up that spectrum. (The NieR wiki mentions that the gestalts “relapsed”, became corrupted and started attacking replicants because their corresponding replicants became more and more self-aware. But I prefer an ambiguous reading of it that doesn’t state which side caused the other).

1651
This is expanded upon in the second playthrough, when you, the player (not the character you play as or his party), can now understand what the shades are saying with subtitles that translate their garbled unintelligible speech (2001’s ICO on PS2 did a similar thing). The second playthrough also adds extra cutscenes that center around some of the prominent shades you fight. The biggest examples are the wolves attacking the town of Facade, which show that the pack and their shade leader are just enacting a retaliatory revenge attack on the kingdom by attacking the wedding and killing the just-married Queen of the kingdom, all because the guards were previously killing the wolves on masse so that they wouldn’t attack the village during the wedding in the first place. In an attempt to protect the wedding from an attack, the guards only provoked the wolves to attack. Violence begets violence.

cover
The other example is the little shade controlling the robot. The cutscenes show that the shade is a child that was saddened by the death of their gestalt mother. And that in the shade’s grief, a robot comes and befriends the little shade, becoming determined to protect the kid at all costs. So the battle against the robot doesn’t frame the shade as an entity controlling the robot, it shows that the robot, by its own will, simply wants to protect its friend from getting killed by Nier. (note that the young shade has the most shrill voice, one that is almost literally painful to hear because Yoko Taro is a huge jerk).

robot
These examples expand the player’s understanding of the shades, showing that they are intelligent compassionate creatures that care not just for their own, but for others like animals and intelligent robots, with sympathetic reasons worthy for those animals and robots to befriend or side with in a conflict, which Nier just cannot fathom to understand, let alone see. But the most important example that explains most about what Nier thinks of the shades is in the village of Aerie, as this shows an example of replicants like Nier recognizing the humanity of shades, and really shows what Nier thinks of them:-

[If you played NieR or watched the part above till 1:39:00, you can skip the next 2 paragraphs, which just describes the above video section at length]

When entering the cave that leads to Aerie in the second playthrough, a short audio-only cutscene plays where we hear that the villagers are talking amongst each other (in an odd possessed tone), being worried about “that man” who will kill everyone. Being that it’s the second playthrough, you, the player, know that this must refer to Nier. You also learn that the villagers wish to be left, with their shades, alone. That they’re not being invaded or oppressed by them. That the villagers and shades want to co-exist in peace and that they do not need saving. This is supported when Kaine confronts and kills one of the villagers, believing that it’s a shade, while the villager and her young brother plead Kaine and her crew to stop attacking. But a shade does indeed manifest out of the still warm dead body of the villager, and starts attacking Kaine and her crew, slashing Kaine and knocking her out, and through the ensuing fight you hear the shade speaking, saying that it and the villagers wish to be left alone, and that what you are doing is monstrous, that you are the true villains for going around killing innocent people, whether shades or replicants.

Then, during the boss fight with the giant orb boss (Wendy), Emil exclaims that what’s in the orb is not shades, it is in fact people, and he becomes hesitant, but Weiss denounced that, saying that it’s shades. The boss fight ends with Emil going nuclear and blowing up the boss and the whole village with it. After that, the party regroups at the entrance of what was just moments ago, a village full of people. Stricken by his guilt, Emil starts crying, but Nier consoles him, saying that if not for him, the group would have been all dead. “don’t look back”, he says, as the cutscene ends.

[Continue below]

This section is probably just as dire and tragic as the ending, since it shows a possible future of peaceful coexistence between the shades and replicants. We don’t know whether this is an ideal coexistence or not. It’s possible that a lot of the shades were inhabiting bodies that don’t belong to them (which is possible, as is the case with Tyrann, who is a shade that’s partially possessing Kaine). It’s possible that even if they did inhabit their own bodies, they would basically write over the self consciousness that the replicants developed, maybe completely or partially, but there’s at least some elimination of character happening. A lot of this isn’t exactly known or explored, but the tragedy is Nier and his crew didn’t even look at this, or give them a chance to work this messy coexistence out. He didn’t understand the situation, or rather, he didn’t seek to understand the situation. Maybe it’s because Nier himself can’t understand what the shades are saying, but if robots and wolves and other replicants can communicate fine with them, why not Nier? Even then, Kaine, being already partially possessed with a shade, have been shown to understand what shades say when she fights the boss Gretel and even earlier against the boss shade Hook. Emil certainly does understood the situation as well. And it’s hard to imagine an all-knowing all-powerful flying wise book like Weiss can’t understand shades. But Kaine holds a grudge against shades, Weiss seem to have forgotten some of his abilities and just history of who the shades are, and Emil just keeps getting pushed around by the other three to do their bidding unwillingly. It shows how people who know what they’re doing is wrong can be complacent helping someone ignorant of the situation, like Nier, continue to enact violence.

Still, there’s a tiny chance Nier was right and all those villagers lost their self consciousness and free will, that they were all possessed and that they could not be saved, that their cries and fears and complaints are mere show, enacted by the shades puppeteering the replicants to instill guilt and hesitation on Nier’s party. This is hinted at in the dialogue cutscene when you enter the area, where the villagers aren’t speaking in a normal tone, but rather an odd “possessed” tone. It’s possible that killing the shades and their bodies, and destroying the village, did prevent the threat of shades from expanding to other villages, but this is merely a comforting scenario that you can believe that makes Nier’s action at least understandable, or righteous.

1561
This all culminates in the final confrontation between Nier and his Gestalt mirror self at the end of the playthrough. Gestalt Yonah, after possessing her corporeal replicant body, sees that replicant Yonah is a real self conscious entity that seeks to rejoin her father, like herself. Gestalt Yonah recognizes Replicant Yonah’s humanity, and seeing no other way out, Gestalt Yonah sacrifices herself in order to save Replicant Yonah. Contrast her act to what Nier does immediately after that scene. The Shadow Lord becomes stricken with grief over the loss of his daughter and goes crazy trying to kill Nier. And Nier says something important that sheds some light on how he justifies his violence: “You want me to understand your sadness?”, “You think I’m gonna sympathize with you?”, “I have something to defend! I have a reason to live!”. This isn’t just ignorance from Nier anymore, he knows who the Shadow Lord is and what his goals were. It’s no longer ambiguous, there is no benefit of the doubt to be given, and there hasn’t been for some time before the final hour or so of the playthrough, but Nier doesn’t care. It’s very antithetical to what Gestalt Yonah did: Yonah saw her counterpart as a real human worthy of saving, even at the price of her own, while Nier and the Shadow Lord saw each other as a monster that has to be killed.

4
NieR doesn’t cast sides as good vs evil, it just presents this sad hopeless dire situation as is. The shades and Shadow Lord particularly are far from innocent, even when they still have their sanity, and have not relapsed and gone into uncontrollable madness. It’s possible that a relapse is in itself a conscious act done by shades as they realize their own bodies grew their own consciousness, leaving no place for them to come back to, and they start killing or possessing replicants as a form of retaliation, or as some way to scare replicants from becoming conscious, or anything more than docile. A lot of gestalts never recognized the replicants’ humanity, so why should the replicants do?

In the end, after the player has gone through multiple repetitive playthroughs of the game, having to have collected all the weapons, NieR hopes that the player has learned from their experience by asking them to do something analogous to what Gestalt Yonah did. It asks if you, the player, have recognized the humanity of an in-game character who you have learned a lot about, how she was shunned by her hometown for her body, how she was raised by her loving grandma who was killed by a shade, thus igniting her life-long grudge against shades, and how she was possessed by a malevolent shade, corrupting her until she was completely taken. It asks you to do the ultimate sacrifice a game could possibly ask its player without probably venturing into illegal territory, all to save a video game character, to extend your gesture of goodwill across the TV and into the game’s world. It asks: “Are you a sympathetic enough dude to delete your save data to save Kaine?”

2
Next part, we will be talking about the real reason I have gone and wrote this whole thing, which started out just as a preamble that was pretty long already, and just grew and grew, and I thought “this is just way too big to just put as a supplementary intro so may as well cut it into parts and post it separately”, and that is obviously NieR Automata, where it tackles violence but the major difference being with entities on both sides that don’t:

  1. Really die (seemingly?)
  2. Feel pain (maybe?)
  3. Fight as a means for survival due to #1 but also because they don’t care for survival as a goal (or do they?)
  4. Have language barriers and can communicate freely with each other if they want to

I’m hoping to get that done before the end of the year but I might get lazy or busy or whatever. In any case, hope you enjoyed reading this.

All screenshots were acquired from Maggie Mui Longplays channel on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-LYw1TIOjA3hNhriA7535g
Advertisements

Shantae and the Half-Assed End Game

shantae-half-genie-hero-4

Hello, long time since I wrote here. Anyways, I managed to finish Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero last night. And for a game that started out great, one I’ve been excited to play (can’t say I’m the hugest Shantae or even Wayforward fan but I always enjoyed their games, and their great sprite work along with usual collaborator Jake Kaufman’s music), the last third of Shantae did just spend all the goodwill it accumulated in the first 2 thirds. It’s a problem that’s endemic of bad “Metroidvania” design, things that I sometimes think developers wrongly believe are what’s “fun” about Metroidvanias as a genre. Just to get the good stuff out of the way, I did really like the look and sound of the game (I’m writing this while listening to the OST). And the writing and story was good silly fun.

So like any Metroidvania, Shantae uses level design where you are hampered from progressing thru a level or a part of a level because of you not having the ability needed to get past an obstacle, whether it’s high ledges or underwater caverns or big blocks of rock. And you get the abilities needed via transformations dances, where Shantae can transform into all sorts of animals with a cute little dance. The problem can be probably summarized as “there are way too many transformations and progress-critical upgrades”. The game has about 8 critical dancing transformations (there are 4 more but they’re mostly optional). So Shantae can transform into 8 creatures. But that’s not it. Each of those transformations has its own ability upgrade. So basically there are 16 progress-critical ability upgrades that Shantae needs to get to complete the adventure.

16 is a number and it doesn’t really on its own determine whether a metroidvania has enough progress-critical upgrades or not, but the way they handled them here does clearly show that they kinda over did it by about 5 to 6 or maybe more upgrades, so much so that some of the abilities have like super specific uses that are only used in literally 1 screen of the whole game. Take for example the crab and mermaid forms.

Shantae in her normal form can only swim on the surface of water. She can’t dive under. So one of the first transformations she gets is the crab form, where she be a crab and crawl around and jump underwater. Sound good. Then underwater you’ll find ledges that are too high for you to jump to. And soon you’ll get the mermaid dance, which lets you turn into a mermaid and swim freely underwater. Two forms that are underwater related? Doesn’t it sound redundant, and if the mermaid form makes you move freely, why ever turn into a crab? Well, the crab is much smaller than the mermaid form, so you can go into small crevices underwater, where you couldn’t, Ok. So you go into one and then you find seaweeds and you can’t progress cause guess what, the crab form needs an ability upgrade so you can use your little claws to snap seaweed. Why is a crab snapping its tiny claws considered such an extraordinary ability that needs to be a distinct upgrade you collect out of a hidden treasure chest? I don’t know. It sounds so rudimentary, like having one of the later abilities in a Castlevania game be “swinging a sword” or “punching” or “whipping”. But anyways, so now you can break any obstructions underwater? No. There are big rocks and you need to get an upgrade for the mermaid form to shoot bubbles, which can break them. Ok, is that all of the water-related abilities? Well no, in the last like 30 min of the game, you can the ability to awkwardly climb waterfalls (tho it is functionally more like you warp up to the top of a waterfall or the bottom. You don’t freely move).

And that’s the problem with having so many upgrades. The game splits-hairs on which specific ability can be used to access a specific place that 2 or 3 other abilities that do things similar don’t. Take the Spider-form. It allows you to shoot a web and cling to ceilings (not walls mind you. Spiders can’t do that you know). Taken on it’s own it seems like a fine ability. But it might be the most redundant ability because you can jump higher and climb walls with the monkey form, or outright fly with the harpy form, or use the bat form to float (not freely fly tho, that’s for the harpy form. Splitting hairs!). If Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero didn’t have all these other more immediate abilities, the spider form might be used more. But there aren’t many instances where it is needed unless it’s a high narrow spike-filled pathway that’s too small for the harpy to fly thru, and is inaccessible to the monkey due to spikes, and that there isn’t a nearby ledge that’s on the same height where the bat form can float thru safely, nor is there a nearby wall where the monkey form can climb and then spring over to the other side with the “monkey bullet” ability. Only then (that is if the ceiling isn’t filled with spikes) is the spider ability “useful”.

It also means a lot of the abilities aren’t useful in the “general action-platformy parts” aside from the obstacles that are put there specifically for you to use those abilities. The only 2 are the monkey form, which makes you move faster, be smaller, and jump higher than the human form, although you lose any attack ability. And the harpy form unlimited flight, always useful in platformers (although you only get it really late in the game because of how obviously useful flying is in a platformer). None of the other abilities are useful for taking out large hordes of enemies, nor get thru a level more quickly, or to do more damage against bosses (you’d think the Elephent charge attack might do a lot of damage vs bosses but from what I tried it doesn’t and it’s unsafe and you’re best staying in human form and spamming scimitar magic while attacking). So for the most part you may as well be just carrying around a set of very specific metaphorical “colored keys” that are only useful when you find the coordinating metaphorical “locked door” for you to use. And more often than not, after the excitement of opening those doors, you’ll more likely find another door behind that needs a different colored key that you most likely don’t have and need to do a bunch of backtracking and forthtracking 3 or 4 times in a stage doing tedious fetch quests of items that you can’t fetch because it requires an ability you get by finishing another fetch quest that you should have been doing first instead of this quest you’re doing.

I think Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero might be the ultimate argument of the banality of Metroidvania design if the only things a new power-up grants you is accessing tiny segments of a stage that only house either more locked doors, or another ability that then itself only grants you another tiny segment in another level with more locked doors and colored keys. And as a fan of metroidvanias, I believe this genre is more fun and worthwhile and meaningful than that.

Eva 3.3333333/Qqqqqq spoilery thoughts


I liked it, don’t think I like it more than 2.2222222 but I still liked it. I heard ppl didn’t like this as much. I guess I can see why. It feels…short, not necessarily length wise but it def lacks a conclusion? especially for most of the cast since they kinda don’t go thru any sort of arc (well besides poor Kowaru), even for Shinji. It feels like how the part 1 of the 7th Harry Potter movie (or one of many “we had to split the last movie of our planned trilogy into 2” movie) feels, like it ends on the end of the second act & you are waiting for the 3rd act to start & the oops it ends. Looks hella beautiful as always.
Other thoughts:

– I liked that it’s post-apocalyptic, & it’s post-apocalyptic like nothing else. Like with End of Eva you only get to see what happens after the third impact & then poof, movie over. Here you get to see a little bit more of the world & its red & crazy, it does look like hell on earth.

– I’m kind of a sucker for drastic time jumps, I know it’s an easy gimmick to freshen things up but the fact this takes 14 years after is pretty cool. Almost everyone looks different now, & it’s a new world with new bases & ships & stuff, helps sink in how just foreign this must feel to Shinji.  Although how convenient it is that people who pilot Eva’s “don’t age up”. Like I can get that Ayanami & Kowaru might not age up because Ayanami is just a weird clone/vessel & Kowaru is an angel, & Shinji has been stuck in his Eva Unit all this time (besides the whole Eva saga is about sad teenage feels so it would be kinda counter to the ethos of Eva to have Shinki grown up), but I would have liked an aged up Asuka & what’s her face with glasses…uh…shit…*googles*….Mari Illustrious Makinami. Actually I don’t think they ever even called her name her (she was just called four eyes by Asuka, lol). I will give them credit cause it seems like Asuka has grown up at least mentally & isn’t just her same old hot head self.

– boy they rrrreally made this for Shinji X Kowaru fans. I’m kinda surprised they didn’t do as much “fanservice” as usual tho, beyond the Kowaru X Shinji stuff.

– I think for an Eva movie, they did do more explanation & exposition than usual, like that old dude who hangs out with Ikari did explain quite a bit to Shinji when he played Shoji with him.

– so uh…this was out in Nov 2012 & we are close to 4 years from its release & from what I hear there’s been no info on when the fourth (& I believe last) rebuild would come out. Like Hideaki Anno managed to make a new Godzilla movie out (which I hear is pretty great so I def do wanna watch it) but I guess animation & live action are so different that they can each be in production without hampering the others progress…I guess that’s what I hope the situation is. I really wanna watch the 4th one soon cause I fear I might forget where things were & what happened in the previous movies by the time that comes up. 

Uncharted 4 spoiler-filled quick post-game review thing

s-l1000.jpg

  • No where near as good as The Last of Us, it might not even be my fav Uncharted. But I liked it still
  • Villains were both meh in their own ways. Rafe was never threatening, while Nadine was never really invested in taking down Drake or getting the treasure. I feel like a combination of the two would have been better.
  • Super happy ending was unearned. It’s like the most optimal ending, which kind of goes against the whole theme of greed having bad repercussions. The whole game is about how Nathan should NOT be going back to treasure hunting, and that’s clearly showcased in Henry Avery’s story. But…in the end he does find the treasure and does end up working as a legit explorer whatever and he becomes super rich and famous and has a daughter and Sam and Sully are now cool uncles who do their own adventuring.
  • Sam could have been a bit more interesting. Him having a lot of banter doesn’t equal character development. I can’t really describe him any different than Nathan to be honest.
  • I wish the tension between Sam and Nathan would have happened earlier in the game. Nathan should have learned that Sam lied to him earlier, because for quite a long time there’s not much that happens once Sam joins up with Nathan right until that point, I mean in terms of character development of Sam particularly and the relationship between Sam and Nathan.
  • Flashback scenes were great, probably the best parts in the game maybe. And they were very The Last Of Us
  • Final Boss battle was up there with MGS4 in terms of being super dumb. Games with final bosses that use a brand new mechanic or are very QTE-ish are dumb. And again, Rafe was NEVER threatening. I never believed for a second that Rafe could take down Nathan in a stupid sword fight, and when he does I blame the stupid new mechanic Naughty Dog just threw at me at this moment
  • Had pacing problems? Lots of long stretches of climbing parts and then shooting parts. It’s kind of repeats itself: get to a place, explore it a bit by jumping and climbing, reach a critical point in whatever location they’re exploring that shows them more clues about the treasure whereabouts and the backstory of Henry Avery, and this point usually has a puzzle to solve, then you exit the place to head to the next cave/island/tower and you find out that bad guys are there blocking your exit so more stealth+shooting commences.
  • Lots of boxes with wheels. The exact same boxes with wheels that are apparently everywhere whether in Panama or Italy or Scotland or Madagascar or a tiny pirate island near Madagascar. It becomes even more comical when you realize that Drake has a rope that he can perfectly throw and hook trees mid-jump but he cant use to climb a wall with?
  • I really liked the backstory of Libertalia and Henry Avery and the pirates. Usually the legends in these Uncharted games never made me interested as much as this one. They seem to always be just enough exposition to service the adventuring and exploring part of the main narrative, and to simply point to where Drake and crew should go next. But this one was pretty cool, first with Avery’s fascination with Saint Dismis, then him amassing his treasure in Madagascar, then the establishment of Libertalia, the Pirate version of “Outer Heaven” I suppose, a nation of pirates. And then the in-fighting and downfall of the nation and ultimately Avery himself due to his greed.
  • It’s probably why I spent more time reading all the notes in this one more than other Uncharteds.
  • I’m also glad that a modern AAA game can still deliver backstory thru stuff like environmental clues or by written notes WITHOUT relying on audio recordings, which is becoming rather tiresome in these games. If you think the backstory itself is not interesting or short enough for me the player to stand there to read/observe, then I don’t think I’ll be interested if I can consume it in a more passive form with audio recordings.
  • Guybrush Threepwood being one of the founding pirates was a cute nod

All in all, I enjoyed my time with the story mode, I just don’t see this as being something I’ll look back to fondly or think it has Game Of The Year potential. Maybe I’m tired of this franchise, maybe this one really wasn’t that great anyways but I’m glad Naughty Dog can now move away from Uncharted to do other stuff.

Games of the Year 2014 (Part2: Indie console games)

BADOORSNK GOTY

Transistor

Transistor GOTY

Because Transistor exemplifies the best of what indie games can offer

It’s not a surprise that Transistor became the poster child for indie games this year, as it clearly demonstrates all the best qualities a self-motivated, self-monetized, and self-managed game made by a smaller team has over a larger budget AAA title: Innovative mechanics, stark new art direction, some oldschool sensibilities (this is an isometric game after all) bucking of trends (a game that stars a female protagonist and with a love interest? Not something you see, except for maybe Otome games but those are centralized around that idea).

Plus, there’s a great sense of just plain fun in the game. There’s a hum button, where protagonist Red would hum to the great soundtrack. There’s a flourish button, where Red would just twirl the sword, which has no discernible purpose. You can hang-around in the beach areas, play with a robo-dog, or just sleep on the hammock and enjoy listening to different tracks of the game. It’s all just there because they’re fun things to do.

Towerfall GOTY

Because a great competitive game must start with a solid simple basis

2014 has been a strong year for local “couch” competitive games. Nidhogg, Sportsfriends (on Playstation at least), Samurai Gunn (which was technically December of 2013 but I only managed to play it this year), and the new Smash Bros. But Towerfall is definitely the best of them all. Even Smash. which while great, essentially incorporates the same exact mechanics from Brawl (if not Melee) with a little bit of fine-tuning and a general increase in speed. I mean take out all the new stages and new characters and you pretty much have Brawl but in HD. It’s a shame there is no online-mode of sorts. And it’s also a shame that the new expansion is probably not going to add Online multiplayer. But if you have even a single couch-buddy, Towerfall is so much fun.

Octodad GOTY

 Because it’s a silly little game with a lot of heart

Octodad reminds me of SEGA’s Virtual-On, of all things. Now I love Virtual-On, it’s a great mecha-action series with a fun, deeper-than-it-looks competitive edge and great iconic mech designs that take advantage of the chunky polygonal look of early 3D games. But it seems the game’s convoluted controls may have turned off people from playing it. But to me, it’s that weird controls that makes Virtual-On so fun. Because the complex controls gives the game plenty of nuance on what you can and cannot do at a specific time, which is all important information that players need to learn in order to up their competitive game. Plus I imagine piloting giant mechs like those won’t be as easy say driving a car.

And that’s what is fun about Octodad too, figuring out how to control Octodad IS THE WHOLE POINT of Octodad. And even failing that yields many hilarious moments. It brings back that tactile feeling of trying to figure out how to play Super Mario Bros for the first time, or Super Mario 64, and then being rejoiced once you learn how to Z-Jump. If you’ve been playing games for a while now, on different genres, you can probably discern how any of the upcoming games would probably controls like: The Order 1886 will probably control like a 3rd person cover shooter, Zelda Wii U will probably control like the last few Zeldas, even indie games have clear inspirations they take from and conventions they follow. In most of these games, controls are the medium to deliver a game’s main point, whether to showcase amazing graphics or an interesting story or a massive scope or exciting mechanics. But in Octodad, the controls are the message. And that is so rare these days (The last game I could think of that shares a similar idea may be EA’s Skate. ).

And this is all wrapped up in a super charming and funny story about a person trying to disguise their identity to fit-in to society’s expectations, only to find it so hard for themselves that they end up having to reveal their true personality, getting them both accepted by their family and friends and also shunned by others (well, a seafood cook in this case). It’s just a fantastic game, one that you won’t forget anytime soon.

Games of the Year 2014 (Part 1: Intro + Big Budget Console games)

BADOORSNK GOTY

I suppose it’s that time again, where everyone lists their games of the year and all that. So I wanted to do mine, which will be split into several parts put into very loose “categories” cause I don’t want a huge long post on this. Actually, there will probably be some games that weren’t released this year. Also, these aren’t the best games in an objective manner (cause no such thing exist). Anyway let us begin:

Big Console Games of the Year

It seems year by year, I become less in touch with more modern AAA games. Games like Far Cry 4, Sunset Overdrive, and Forza Horizon 2 would probably be something I would totally be into…if it was 2005. It’s not a slag on these games, it’s just that I’ve been drawn to more smaller niche portable/retro games over the last couple of years, this is especially true since I’ve been ramping up my retro game collecting this year to dangerous proportions. Still, I do play AAA games every now and then. I liked the Multiplayer in the new Call Of Duty, I enjoyed Destiny’s beta (but have yet to spend the time with the full release), and I did enjoy a few AAA games so much that they are now going to be listed below as some of my Games Of The Year:

 

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation GOTY

Because you don’t let the budget of your game design the game for you

A first person Stealth-survival horror game with no auto-saves, limited resources, and an invincible stalking enemy that follows you through the whole game does not sound at all like what you would expect from a AAA movie-franchise based game, but that is what Alien Isolation is.

It is a genuine stealth survival horror game through and through. I had some of the most tense moments ever in a game just slowly huddling into a tiny cupboard, looking at my grainy green motion tracker, noticing that the tiny number is ticking down, then seeing the green dot come into the screen, seeing it get closer and closer, the beeps going faster and faster, then you see it, you see the Alien through the tiny holes of the cupboard lumbering around the room, making that distinct Alien screeching sound. You wait, and wait for what seems like minutes on end. And then the alien leaves and you are immediately encumbered with relief.

And then there’s the amazing faux ’70s technology retro futurism aesthetics, which was realized so well and so fantastically recreates the look of the original Alien, something which could have only been achieved with a AAA budget.

There’s an argument that smaller indie games usually are more adventurous and innovative with gameplay mechanics, artsyles, and storylines, but they lack the scope and detail of AAA games. While AAA games have massive scope and intricate detail, but they usually incorporate very safe, very conventional game design, artstyles, and storylines. Alien Isolation is a little bit of both, and that’s why I think it’s special. Sure it has it’s flaws: it’s way too long. And it oddly ramps up in very “gamey” ways (like how the androids suddenly become immune to electricity because they put on raincoats late in the game, among other things) but even so, Alien Isolation is fantastic.

Strider (2014)

strider goty

Because sometimes borrowing ideas can be a great idea onto itself. “Good Artists copy, great artists steal” and all that.

The Playstation 1 was not an environment where Castlevania could succeed, specifically the old classic-style castlevanias. So Castlevania had to change from a simple, short but extremely hard platformer into to a more meaty experience with Symphony of the Night. Strider 2 didn’t adhere to that lesson, going for a more traditional design, which was sadly out-of-fashion when it was released in 2000. And it seems like it failed commercially speaking (I’ve yet to finish it, but so far it seems like a fun game. Maybe not as good as the original or Osman/Cannon Dancer).

So following Castlevanias path, the new Strider adopts a “metroidvania” design. And it’s not like there wasn’t a precedent made in the same series. Just like how Castlevania II on NES was a loose progenitor to SOTN, Strider did veer once before into similar territory with the NES version of the original. And this new Strider is well executed. The Power-ups are fun to use & work more than just “keys” to open up the next section of the map (see Castlevania: Mirror’s of Fate if you want a bad example of power-ups, some are LITERALLY just used to open doors). And the map design is large but always populated with engaging new enemies, new environments, interesting collectibles, and hidden areas. And once you’re near fully powered, you get that sheer awesome “metroidvana end game” feeling where you are just too powerful, and enemies that initially were so tough become mere weaklings. And the controls feel really nice, very reminiscent of the original (I love that Strider can mash his sword probably as fast as the player can input them).

The transition to a “metroidvania” design does make it lose a bit of the tight pacing and level design of the original arcade game (same thing was lost when Castlevania transitioned into SOTN frankly). Plus, having it be a metroidvania means you can’t have the globe trotting parts of the original, since it’s all taking place in one location. The music sucks, and the story is dull bad rather than insane non-nonsensical bad, like the original arcade game. And the same goes for a few of the boss-battles Still, it’s a great new adaptation of the series. And I hope a sequel comes up.

Bayonetta 2

bayo 2 goty

Because doing the things you know best, that everyone knows you do best, can be the best thing you could ever do!

I wrote most of what I wanted out of this in an Ello post a few weeks ago, so I think I may just link that here:

https://ello.co/badoorsnk/post/qmJFwGAu3qNYAkIW-HCNkA

 

A Post about Ys V: Kefin, Lost City Of Sand

Ys_5_cover

Every long-running franchise has their black sheep, unorthodox entries that diverge from their respective series traditions and tropes. They usually appear early on in the series, when said traditions and tropes haven’t yet been clearly defined and solidified. You couldn’t stomp enemies in Super Mario Bros 2. Most of Zelda II: the Adventure Of Link was played in a sidescrolling perspective. Final Fantasy II (NES) had that weird exploitable leveling system based on character actions instead of experience points. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was, well, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Even in movies, Halloween III, for example, did not feature Michael Myers. Most of these were either immediately shunned at release or just ended up being decently received but not a favorite for most fans, aside from a small-pocket who either have genuine appreciation for these entries’ inventiveness, or just want to take the contrarian opinion in order to look cool (which I’m sometimes guilty of).

63926-Ys_III_-_Wanderers_from_Ys_[U][CD][TGXCD1015][Falcom][1991][PCE]-6

Ys III: The Adventure Of Adol

Ys V is NOT the blackest of sheep, or the oddest of ducks, within the Ys series. That honor belongs to Ys III: Wanderers From Ys. Just like Zelda II, Ys III changed the perspective from a top-down view into a sidescrolling platformer style. But Falcom soon went back by commissioning Hudson & Tonkin House to do a more traditional top-down Ys IV for PC-Engine & Super Famicom respectively. After Ys IV, Falcom announced that they were making Ys V exclusively for Super Famicom, to everyone’s surprise. And that it will be the final Ys game. Suffice to say, fans did not like this change at all. Kidfenris did a great blog about the fan reaction to Ys V at the time, encapsulated with scans of the Ys V review in GameFAN Magazine written mainly by Casey Loe (Nick name “Takuhi”), with added blurbs by Nick Des Barres (Nick Rox) and Dave Halverson (E. Storm).

Ys V translated rom.003

If I had a penny every time someone remarks about Adol’s red hair…

Here’s the thing. Ys V is not the first SNES Ys. The SNES had Ys III & Ys IV: Mask Of The Sun (which in a way can be considered the first SNES-exclusive Ys game since it’s quite different than the PC-Engine Ys IV: Dawn Of Ys). Heck, even Ys I and Ys II were on NES and other 8-bit consoles and microcomputers (remember when microcomputer was a term?). It’s just that fans didn’t care as long as they had a superior PC-Engine Super CD-ROM² version, with beautifully animated (and so incredibly ’90s anime) cutscenes, voice-acting, detailed character portraits, and of course that amazing CD-quality Falcom soundtrack, all only possible thanks to the power of Compact Discs. There were always a PC-Engine version of every Ys. It was always the best version. And that was always the case until Ys V’s sacrilege devolution to the scum that is 24-meg cartridges.

Note: Obviously exaggerating here, but I’m just trying to evoke the heated atmosphere of ’90s console war bickering.

Ys V translated rom.004

…or how Adol looks like an adventurer.

Falcom released Ys V on Super Famicom in December of 1995. And for a long while it seemed like it was the last Ys until Ys VI on Windows in 2003, which was then ported to PS2 in 2005. So not only did it hurt fans, it was also a wound that lasted around a decade before a new game tried to mend it. But did Ys V really deserve all this drama that I may have slightly exaggerated a bit? Is Ys V such a travesty? Let’s see then.

Ys V translated rom.032

Ys V centers around the desert kingdom city of Kefin in the region of Xandria within the Afrocan continent (basically the Africa of the Ys universe). Kefin mysteriously disappeared 500 years ago, leaving space for others to settle in and create new towns whence Kefin used to reside. But what actually happened to Kefin is that the city was dislodged from our plane, existing in a separate universe, its land and its people shielded from the eroding effects of the sands of time. This strange phenomena, however, created mass desertification that’s slowly engulfing towns in Xandria.

Contrary to what it seems, Phoenix Wright is NOT in Ys V.

Contrary to what it looks, Phoenix Wright is NOT in Ys V.

The mystery of this kingdom lured explorers from around the continent to search for clues of rumored gold and treasure left behind. One such explorer and central character to Ys V’s story is Stein, a renowned explorer who one day finds a lost girl in the middle of the desert. The girl seemed to have come out of nowhere, and has no recollection of who she is, what’s her name, or where she’s from. Since Stein couldn’t find the girl’s family, he ends up adopting her, and naming her Niena. 3 years after, Stein himself goes missing in one of his expeditions. That’s when around Adol comes into the scene (arriving by boat, as always) and starts his new quest.

Ys V translated rom.027

Some waterfall platforming action here

And Adol is quite more capable in Ys V, all thanks to the SNES’s 6 buttons as opposed to the 2 on PC-Engine. As Adol, you can swing your sword with an attack button instead of running and bumping into enemies as in previous Ys games. This is arguably a more intuitive method. But the hitbox is slightly wonky, certainly not as precise as something like Zelda: A Link To The Past. Add the fact that you can now jump in Ys V and are expected to fight enemies on different elevations, and things get messed up even more. But at least you can guard yourself from harm with the shield button. And you can cast magic spells obtained by finding different elemental stones hidden in fields or dungeons. Find an Alchemist and they’ll combine the stones and infuse the spells onto your equipped sword. Casting the magic spell, however, is done in a rather odd way by basically revving up a meter from 0 to 100 by holding R (or mashing R for a quicker method) then simply pressing attack to cast the spell. It seems like an unnecessary complication when just making the R button cast magic directly would probably be an easier and better method. And that’s not the only problem. Magic attacks take a long while to animate and they don’t freeze enemies on the screen during the process, making it easy to miss AND making Adol open for attacks, like a sitting duck. Also, it doesn’t do that much damage anyway AND you can’t seem to use magic on bosses. It’s almost impossible to make magic attacks anymore useless, even intentionally.

Ys V translated rom.047

Don’t fret. This boss can be defeated “with Ys”…sorry

But even so, even with the missing CD-features, the broken magic system, and the slightly flimsy sword swing. I still enjoyed Ys V quite a lot. For one, Falcom smartly had the SNES console in conscious when designing Ys V. This sets a new precedent considering that Ys V is the first Ys to be made completely from the ground up by Falcom for consoles, instead of initially for Japanese computers than ported to consoles a few years later. And that’s visible in the way Falcom utilized the SNES controller fully, in the more detailed sprites & backgrounds, and in how the soundtrack takes advantage of the SNES soundchip’s strength in orchestral style compositions as opposed to the more rocking affair of Ys I-IV (with great results as in here, here, here, and here). For better or worse, Ys V is a SNES Action RPG through and through. And it never compromises by trying to adapt a more authentic Ys game unto the SNES console’s limitation. This is analogous to how some developers try to create complex console-style games on touch-based mobile devices, rather than having the unique features of mobile devices in mind when designing the games in the first place. Ys V is a good SNES game with some Ys trappings rather than an inferior SNES port of a non-existent Ys on PC-Engine.

Ys V translated rom.036

More waterfall platforming action

Maybe this resulted in a generic SNES RPG. And I do have to confess that I have very little experience with SNES RPGs, so maybe the staleness of Ys V isn’t apparent to me. But I still think Ys V has plenty of merits. For one, I enjoyed the father-daughter dynamic between Stein and Niena, which is greatly encapsulated during the intro cutscene. I always loved that parent/child type of story whether it’s in games like NieR (or in a metaphorical sense like in The Last Of Us or Metal Gear Solid 3), or in animation like Neon Genesis Evangelion or even A Goofy Movie. Though I would have loved a bit more interaction between Stein and Niena. For most of the game, Stein never appears and is only mentioned in third person. But I liked how throughout that part you’re tracing Stein’s footsteps, exploring parts Stein has already been in. Then meeting people who met Stein, constantly speaking highly of him. It all helps build a great impression of Stein throughout the game. And when he appears in the last third of the game, it’s becomes very apparent why he’s such an important and just plain badass character. On the other hand, Niena gets kidnapped quite a few times and does nothing. And she plays an Ocarina. So that part of the story could have been better.

Ys V translated rom.042

It’s a very nice looking town.

But the most poignant part, the most emotional scene, came in the middle of the game. One of the last few town is situated in the middle of the desert, right where Kefin was. Adol actually arrives to this town by drifting ashore the river nearby after a storm has blown him off his raft, wherein a young girl notices his unconscious body, takes him to her home to heal him and save his life (a classic Ys trope). Soon after getting better, Adol is asked by the girl to save her father who is lost in the desert. And Adol does and ends up befriending them both. I found it interesting how these 2 characters are analogous to the main father-daughter characters, Stein and Niena. But anyway, the town becomes a hub for a couple of quests that you need to do, going in and out of it several times, buying from its shops, going to its pub, saving at its inn, becoming ever more familiar with its people and its layout. And it’s a very nice looking town.

Note: I consider the next paragraph to be huge spoilers, more so than the rest of this blogpost. Please scroll till you’re under END OF SPOILERS if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Ys V translated rom.049

However, one time after finishing up a quest and are on your way back to the town, you run right until the last screen of the field and enter the town area. You notice that the music cuts off, and that the screen is taking much longer to fade out, all while a sandstorm brews bigger and bigger, getting noisier and nosier. Then the town screen fades in very slowly through all this dust, slowly revealing that the town has been engulfed in sand. All the houses sunken, and many of its people missing, possibly dead, including the girl and her father. It was a very powerful scene that almost drove me to tears. You can watch it here if you want (skip to 3:40).

Ys V translated rom.079

What is this thing?

END OF SPOILERS. Continue reading here below.

Sure, the rest of the story follows your bog-standard RPG plot, with a “surprise” 2nd-in-command villain succeeding the main villain and becoming the ultimate evil (the Kefka effect, or more appropriately the Wild Dog effect). There’s a minor B-plot regarding an immortal alchemist named Stoker that at first seems like it’ll play a big role but ends up not adding to a whole lot the main plot. There’s a family of thieves who start out as your rival but end up joining forces with Adol. There’s a rebellious militia trying to overthrow the ruling royalty class. None of these story aspects are done exceptionally well or with a fresh new twist. But considering that the whole game is just around 9 hours long, it makes for quite an eventful game. So a short-game filled with your expected JRPG tropes is par for the course for an Ys title I’d say.

Ys V translated rom.071

I do wish the dungeons were longer. Though they do take advantage of Adol’s new jumping ability to add a little complexity and mulit-layering to the layouts. And I wish the bosses (and the whole game) were harder. In fact, Ys V was so easy that Falcom had to release Ys V Expert only 3 months later. Maybe that version resolves some of my issues. But Aeon Genesis chose to translate the regular Ys V so my hands are tied.

Ys V translated rom.101

But even with all these issues, I had a great time playing Ys V. It may not be the most definitive Ys game, but I think I’d rather have Ys V be different as it is than be another game that follows what was already done well in Ys I, Ys II, and Ys IV. And in some way, it’s design did plant the seed for future Ys games, specially Oath In Felghana, the game agreed upon by fans as the best Ys. If you’re one of these fans, don’t skip on checking Ys V out with the excellent translation by Aeon Genesis, who with this translation have managed to close the Ys book (heh) on making every Ys game available in English. And if you’re new to Ys, Ys V is a good introduction as it is one of the more accessible games in the series, even if it doesn’t resemble the older Ys games too much. In the context of 1995, I understand how Ys V could be such a disappointment. But now in 2014, Ys V manages to carve out its own unique place within the Ys lineage. I guess unlike the kingdom of Kefin, the passage of time has only done good to Ys V.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.