I’ve been chipping away at my to-play list over the last week, though (surprisingly) spending time with family doesn’t leave a lot of time to sit down and game, even when you’re out in the country and the entertainment options are considerably limited.
I managed to finally make myself finish The World Ends With You, a game which I’ve been playing, on-and-off, for about five years. It’s thoroughly engrossing, and I’m embarrassed that I’ve kept putting it off for so long. The best explanation for why it’s taken me so long to finally finish the dang thing is that playing it is so unbelievably frantic, scrabbling at the screen with the stylus and slamming on the directional pad, that the thought of picking it up and making progress in it is intimidating.
The game also lets you dial your level down manually, with a slider in the menu, and playing at lower levels increases the prizes and experience you receive from battles, which means that I felt compelled to play the whole thing on hard, about twenty levels below where I actually was, which made it considerably more difficult than it probably needed to be.
Oh well. I breezed through the endgame, at least, when I finally resigned myself to tuning the difficulty down and my level up.
The World Ends With You is also a collector’s dream/nightmare, with about seventy hojillion pins, items, food, and clothing to obtain, not to mention a bestiary to fill up and secret reports to obtain by meeting specific objectives. My to-play list is considerable in length and I’m anxious to get to it, so I don’t think I’ll be diving back in again immediately, but it’s calling me nevertheless.
The hints of a possible sequel are likewise tantalizing.
Next on my list, I think, is the Kingdom Hearts prequel that I never made it through, Birth By Sleep, and having loaded it back up again I’m finding myself wildly vacillating between my deep enthusiasm for the franchise and my considerable frustrations with its storytelling quirks.
I keep being distracted, however, by something else:
I’m not what you’d call an Adventure Time “devotee.” I’ve only seen about a season and a half’s worth of episodes, and while I can definitely admit to being wholly enraptured with the show’s goofy charm, I wouldn’t put it near the top of my (admittedly lengthy) list of nerd obsessions. I downloaded and played the game’s demo from the Nintendo eShop and liked their take on the Zelda II formula enough to jot this one down on my “play if I have time” list, but I didn’t throw down the thirty bucks to buy the whole thing.
But this one song! I must have listened to this thing on YouTube about eighty times over the last four or five days. I’ve long been a fan of Jake “virt” Kaufman‘s work on OCRemix, and his skill at producing rockin’ chiptunes is up there with the best people working in the form. This song from the Adventure Time game might be my favorite piece of chip-rock since Anamanaguchi‘s soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game.
Is it weird that I’m seriously considering moving this game up on my to-play list just because of the soundtrack? Why don’t you head over to SoundCloud and have a listen to this and some of the other tracks on offer.
Oh! It’s worth mentioning that the game’s developer, WayForward, is also the house that’s working on the upcoming DuckTales Remastered, and that virt is going to be doing the arranged score for that, too. It almost seems worth it to check out the Adventure Time game just to get a sense for how WayForward is going to handle Uncle Scrooge’s classic outing. What do you guys think?
This can’t be a very long post, because I’m only a few hours into the game, but I wanted to put to paper (figuratively speaking) some of my thoughts about the nature of the player/character relationship, as I see it, and how it manifests in the new Tomb Raider.
I’ve been watching my wife play Mass Effect 2 for the past couple weeks, and she (like me) is playing as a female Commander Shepard. Shepard, of course, is very much an avatar of the player–one can design Shep’s facial features, gender, hair color, and to a large extent, demeanor and personality. The dialogue system in the Mass Effect series offers enough variety that Shepard’s actions are able to mirror the player’s intent to a very large degree, even in cutscenes.
Shepard isn’t a perfect avatar, of course–sometimes you’ll pick a line of dialogue that doesn’t quite come out of the Commander’s mouth in the way you’d like it to–but there is enough control there, enough choice, that I have always associated myself with Shepard whenever I’ve played. I’ve noticed that my wife has been doing the same. Liara isn’t Shepard’s “space girlfriend,” she’s mine. (Same goes for Lt. Alenko and my wife. Space boyfriend.) Playing as a female avatar hasn’t made me feel less associated with Shepard. Gender doesn’t seem to have much to do with this association.
So it felt a little weird to me, playing through the new Tomb Raider, when I realized that I wasn’t thinking of Lara as myself–I was thinking of her as a teammate. Immediately, I checked myself against all the patronizing controversy that I’d read in the run-up to the game’s release: Was I thinking of Lara as a scared little girl that I had to “protect?” Criminy, I hoped not.
And I wasn’t. Not really. But I was thinking of Lara as someone I was working with, rather than as, in order to keep her (us) alive through abominable circumstances. In moments of tension, I found myself talking aloud to my television, telling Lara what a terrible business we were in the middle of and asking her to work with me so we (she) wouldn’t die. Is this cognitive dissonance, or am I being pedantic?
I can tell you that I had the exact same relationship with Leon S. Kennedy when I first played through Resident Evil 4. In fact, some of my friends can attest to my intense frustration anytime I died playing that game, because I felt passionately as though I was failing my virtual partner (and in another sense, breaking the narrative–Leon wasn’t supposed to get his head chainsawed off; the story derailed because of my incompetence, etc.).
These characters are agents, not avatars, meaning they are not meant to be an embodiment of the player in the game’s world. But I find myself wondering, as I play through Lara’s story, how my relationship with her is going to change over the course of the narrative.
I’ve been spreading my attention far too thin lately among many games, at a time when my day job means my gaming hours pitiably thin. I’ve had to make do with an hour or two of Snake Eater here, a handful of random battles in Final Fantasy V there (though I did manage one of those elusive pleasures–a four-person session of Gears of War 3 with my bros. Scheduling, right?). Rather than buckling down and trying to finish a project, I went ahead and started fooling around with Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (which I highly recommend for anyone who, unlike me, has a couple hours to kill).
There have been one or two games that I’ve put a fair number of hours into this month. Before the deluge of media that is March (Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Game of Thrones–and did I mention I mean to squeeze PAX East in there, too?), I thought I would try and knock out a couple of entries in series I love but hadn’t gotten around to for one reason or another. I plowed through Professor Layton and the Last Specter probably more quickly than is healthy, and I meant to continue my streak by getting through Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, which is eminently more affordable now than it was at release (I got it off Amazon for fifteen bucks!).
Birth By Sleep has a narrative frame that I like a great deal–you get to play through three separate-yet-intertwining stories one at a time, leading up to a conclusion that sees them all brought together in the final climax. It’s something of a rare choice, as far as videogame storytelling goes (though it’s used to excellent effect in Suikoden III, if you’d like another good example).
Only I hit a roadblock. One of the persistent quirks of the Kingdom Hearts series is the ability to unlock secret epilogues–something akin to what’s known in cinema as a “stinger“–by beating the game on harder difficulties or by racking up 100% completion in most aspects of the game on normal difficulty.
So, foolishly avoiding researching the matter before setting out on my quest, I started up the game on normal difficulty as Terra, the brooding anti-hero, and set about enjoying my romp through delightful (yet still weirdly empty) Disney worlds. It wasn’t until my tenth hour of the game, when I was finally ready to clean up the loose ends before moving on to the final encounters, that I realized what a huge number of bullshit, trivial objectives the game expected me to accomplish in order to earn that secret epilogue.
It was a truly monumental amount of bullshit.
Here’s the thing–I love the Kingdom Hearts series. As much as I feel a little weird saying it, I’m very invested in its goofy, tangled, abstract melodrama. The core gameplay of the series, too, has never had any difficulty getting its hooks in me. I love whacking monsters with a sword! Birth By Sleep does some awesome things with that formula, too, with abilities that level up individually and a weird magic-fusing system that Squeenix salvaged from Crisis Core.
The rational thing would be to go ahead and beat the campaign I’ve started, play the other two, and then go ahead and watch the epilogue on YouTube. And I could do that. But deep down inside, I would know I haven’t earned it. How messed up is that? I’ve been so bred by JRPGs throughout my youth that the perception of “narrative as reward for slogging through repetitive gameplay” is THAT ingrained.
Oh well! With my schedule the way it is, my indecision means that Birth By Sleep is most likely going to end up on the shelf until another dry spell hits. I’ll have Lara Croft to pal around with in a week, and when Bioshock Infinite hits, well… I don’t imagine I’ll be emerging from Columbia anytime soon.