So the Drama – Chrono Trigger and Dramatic Direction

What makes for a good dramatic moment in video games?

And to be clear, I’m talking about grand, sudden, striking events that stir us, not maudlin, over-the-top moments of melodrama. Of course it’s all too easy to mess something up and cross the line from the former to the latter, but I’m more concerned with what makes us feel the stakes in a game are real or care about the events transpiring. While I’ve talked before about how difficult it can be to convey emotional video game content to people who haven’t played the game themselves, I do want to offer some examples of dramatic elements in a game. For this, I’m going to look at Square’s Chrono Trigger.

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An Innocence in Admiration

What does it mean to admire someone in a video game?

Admiration for a fictional character is a tricky thing for me to wrap my head around, because the ideas and forms are often shaped so that we WILL admire them, thus making the writer or designer the source of our admiration. However, even I acknowledge that is missing the forest for the trees.

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But, I mean… They ARE in the way… (source)

Unlike an end to my stupid jokes, admirable characters usually aren’t that hard to find. Typically their actions are so noble or respectable that other characters in the game will see them too.

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General Lemon-Lime (source)

Consider General Leo – this honorable soldier for the Empire is admired by friend and foe alike. The men who serve under him follow him with unwavering loyalty. Even enemies of the Empire know that he is a just man and respectable leader.

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When someone whose wife and daughter was murdered by your side still thinks you’re worth complimenting, you might be doing something right. (source)

Even after his death, his outlook and advice provides strength and meaning to those he interacted with.

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“I think it was ‘Don’t let Kefka stab me’ or something like that…” (source)

Although sometimes a character doesn’t need to be lauded by everyone who meets them. Sometimes their drive and accomplishments just impress upon the player admiration without it being directly written into the story. For example, a character that I admire is Shion Uzuki from Xenosaga.

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From one Vector to another. (source)

Shion is the head of the research and development team of one of the most advanced and successful technology firms in the universe. She spearheaded a project that would revolutionize the already mind-blowing robotics and AI worlds of her time. On top of that, Shion recognizes her role in one of the biggest social issues plaguing humanity: the recognition of artifically created life forms (Realians) as sentient and deserving of rights.

To me, she’s both admirable as a character on her own, and as a representation of a strong female character. The feminine-typed traits of nurturing and compassion can be found within her, but they don’t water down her character and make her weak. Instead they temper her analytical and focused personality, allowing her to better understand her masculine-typed work – engineering. From beginning to end, Shion is concerned with her effect on humanity and technology, both the positive and the negative. (However, the sequels really don’t do this character justice, which I’ll probably talk about someday.)

So I’ll end my thoughts here. If you’d like, tell us about a character you really admire. Or shake things up! Tell us about a character everyone admires but you have misgivings towards. For example, Blastinus, whose LP I have found a lot of FFVI images, had this to say about General Leo:

“My main problem with Leo is that he seems to have confused idealism for childish naivete. The fact that this ends up being his downfall makes me appreciate Final Fantasy VI a little more, especially considering how many JRPG’s have had a General Leo-esque character inexplicably come out on top just due to the power of positive thinking.”

I hadn’t even considered that angle before! This is part of why I love doing this. I learn so many perspectives, it’s really awesome. Anyway, that’s that! See you in the comments maybe?

The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind

I actually do have a personal anecdote about video games and wind! Growing up, it was my favorite element in all the games I played, making me particularly fond of elementals like Sylph…

…wind-based gimmicks…

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I don’t care what people say, I love sailing in this game.

…and wind-oriented towns.

Heck, I liked the name “Windia” so much that it was what I called my Animal Crossing town until the last game.

I also used to love running around at the coast and pretending I could get carried away by the wind like The Flying Nun.

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Who needs things like wings to fly?

I was such a win-dork, that when I played Final Fantasy XI I lived in the Federation of Windhurst!

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Though the leveling system took the wind out of my sails.

I don’t really have much else to say than this though. I just really liked wind growing up. I’m still pretty partial to it, though now I find myself with a greater affinity towards water. So I guess I’ll just stop here, since I’m so full of hot air.

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Also I’ll just leave this here…

Picture sources:
http://strategywiki.org/wiki/Secret_of_Mana/Magic
http://www.finalfantasykingdom.net/4gbasummons.php
http://blacknerdproblems.com/old-school-sunday-the-legend-of-zelda-the-wind-waker-link-is-that-you/
http://bof.wikia.com/wiki/Wyndia
http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Windia

http://ffxiclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Windurst
http://lparchive.org/Final-Fantasy-VI-(by-Blastinus)/Update%2009/

Don’t Stop Me Now!

So what about things that are unstoppable in video games?

My first thought is of RPGs with unwinnable fights. You know, the bosses that are there for the storyline and your defeat is scripted one way or another? Your enemy is certainly unstoppable at that point. It tends to be a good way to indicate just how powerful the evil you’re fighting is. Perversely, you must survive some of these fights until a certain event in the battle, while others regard your encounter as fulfilled even if you die before the enemy’s ultimate attack.

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She’s not just bragging. She will end you. (source)

 

What’s even more fun to me though is the near-unstoppable boss, the boss that often feels too hard and whose defeat of the hero doesn’t cause a game over, but progresses as if the loss were programmed anyway, but, with some planning, skill or just plain luck, you can actually beat them and sometimes get a prize (though usually it’s just bragging rights). Almost as fun are the fights where you are expected to die, but sometimes you have to force the enemy’s hand due to your preternatural ability to survive.

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With some stubbornness, even early-game characters can square off with endgame bosses. (source)

Of course, an unstoppable opponent, and thus inevitable defeat aren’t relegated solely to RPGs. Plenty of other games feature unstoppable enemies, weapons, even environmental elements that force the player to rethink their strategy, or simply give up on some objectives. Although the definitive example of this is probably the game that can’t be won.

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The World Ends With You Zero

But what’s the fun to be had with an enemy that can’t be beat, an objective that can’t be accomplished, or a boulder that’s inexplicably in your way? Indeed there are times where overpowering enemies just frustrate the player rather than inspire awe. But consider this: it isn’t very often we encounter these super-enemies, these deities that can smite us at their leisure. In fact, when you consider the premise of most games, the opposite is true. We, the player, are unstoppable. Think about it: we are given control of a character with a mission and, in most cases, we carry out that mission. No matter how much the forces of evil, or the corrupt government agency, or even the psychological manifestations of our own inner demons try to hold us back, we make it to the end.

To take this further, there are games where it’s impossible to lose. VVVVVV is a game in which even when you die you just immediately return to the last (often nearby) checkpoint. There’s a definite end point, and getting there is just a matter of sheer determination.

In another sense, our characters often become ludicrously unstoppable themselves. I mean, in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl you can catch God in a pokeball. In Shin Megami Tensei you face off with God as a final boss. In many forms. Over multiple games.

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Except you won’t. You’ll just come back in another game and be defeated by Lucifer just as easily.

Unstoppable elements in games are all over the place. Frankly, there’s no real definitive end to a game with a story if something in its universe isn’t at least situationally unhindered. It’s really a matter of execution that makes it cheap or exciting. So because I’m not unstoppable, I think I’ll end this here. But feel free to post some thoughts. Make this the post that never stops!

Slow Down, Bull Review

Today’s game is another simple one—a casual game centered on collecting items and bringing them to a goal. As innocuous and possibly uninteresting as that sounds, the game is actually an adorable little creation by the same people who brought us the more action-oriented games Ratchet & Clank and Spyro the Dragon, and it definitely represents their brightly-colored, whimsical style. So now let’s talk about Insomniac Games’ little PC offering, Slow Down, Bull.

Title Card

Slow Down, Bull is the story of Esteban the bull and his sister Mango the cat, as Esteban does his best to gather decorations for his art. Esteban is a little nervous, though, and has a tendency to worry because of his perfectionism. He’s also afraid that if he gets too stressed out, he’ll rampage and destroy all his pretty decorations. Mango pushes him forward, however, teaching him ways of finding more and more things (along with some bull stress tips) so he can collect to his heart’s content.

Buttons

Slow Down, Bull is a fairly inoffensive, even childish game, but anyone can play and enjoy it. You control Esteban by pressing the proper buttons (on the controller it’s left trigger and right trigger) to change his direction and send him trotting on his merry way. Be careful, however, because each repositioning will stress Esteban out. If he becomes all red, he’ll rampage and destroy the decorations in his path. Bump into fences or take a dip in a pool to calm down. Fences also cause Esteban to run faster, while water drops his speed back to normal. As levels progress, you can collect better decorations that count for more, and multiplier stickers to really up your collecting game.

Start Over

It may have been misleading to call the game childish, as there is a little complexity to getting a decent score. In order to get all three stamps provided in each stage, you have to collect quite a few decorations before time runs out. You really have to get Esteban’s speed control down, turning him without making him stressed. While you only need some of the stamps to move to the next level, you could easily find yourself going back and trying and trying and trying and still not quite getting enough—especially after they introduce new skills like boosting and passersby who can knock all your decorations onto the ground.

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I find myself saying this a lot, but once again characterization is what wins me over. Esteban is just such an endearing character to me. He’s very sweet and bashful, anxious and overly analytical—his bullish temper gets the best of him, but he’s always sad afterwards. Wanting to see this big sap get all the pretty art supplies he wants, along with his super supportive sister cheering him on, is reason enough for me to go back and get as many things as I can. The crayon-like art makes them all the more endearing.

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Mango knows how to get Esteban feline better.

Interestingly enough, Slow Down, Bull was also Insomniac’s first game on Windows. It’s a cute diversion from some of their other titles. With a slightly out-of-place learning curve, this game can be a little much for younger players and a little easy for experienced gamers, but overall it’s a fun experience. The gameplay is engaging, and the characters are really likable—although it’s not just Esteban and Mango that’ll warm you heart. Part of the proceeds from this game go to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, providing support for hospitalized children and teens. Really, buying this game is a win for everyone. So buy it on Steam, and take a moment to just slow down.

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The Elusive Amuseuse – Final Fantasy VI

Elusive.

Sorry. I can’t help it. The word just makes me think of evasion. And magic evasion. Particularly the stats in Final Fantasy VI (III SNES, which is what I’m talking about specifically), and how one was wildly more useful than the other. As a kid, I didn’t realize that there was a now infamous bug rendering the Evade % stat useless, instead causing magic evade, or MBlock%, to cover both types of evasion. However, since I always leaned towards magic-use and magic-based items in games, I already prioritized the stat, which is something many people just learned to do it seems.

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Although this player seemed to prioritize Vigor! (source)

Although, to go back to the actual word, there were other elusive aspects of Final Fantasy VI. There was the randomly appearing boss in the sky, Doom Gaze, who (strangely) drops the Bahamut magicite when defeated. There was also the seemingly random appearances of Shadow’s dreams which, to this day, I can’t trigger without looking up a guide.

Come to think of it, for a lot of people Final Fantasy VI was the cut-off point in the series before the games changed in tone and style. While that’s debatable, it is true that the Final Fantasy series has stumbled a few times in an effort to restore that elusive feeling that so many felt when playing Final Fantasy VI and its predecessors. Perhaps that feeling is just nostalgia, or perhaps its a relic of a bygone era (pun intended), a game style that’s just not compatible with modern gaming. I don’t necessarily think any of these things are true or absolute, but they certainly are opinions people have regarding the older Final Fantasy games.

Of course, what do I know? My favorite Final Fantasy is IX.

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Now getting everything set up to make this fight easier? Elusive indeed! (source)

Gaming Around The Clock

Today’s prompt was “Clock.”

So this immediately brings to mind the many, many summer nights I spent without sleep, playing whatever video game I had become fixated on. Among those were Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Animal Crossing, and World of Warcraft.

Crystal Chronicles was a game intended to be played with other people via Gameboy Advance adapters for the Gamecube. World of Warcraft was also designed to be played at least part of the time with other people. That didn’t stop me from playing both by myself though.

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I didn’t have many friends that had this thing. Although I also didn’t have many friends. (source)

Now, that’s all well and good, but this is supposed to be about the word “clock!” Well, often times when I’d play Animal Crossing, I would just stand around and zone out, listening to the music that changed every hour. Standing idle causes the clock to pop up.

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See how it comes back around? Like hands on a… Well you get it. (source)

I would intentionally stay up late to hear my favorite track: 2:00 AM.

So enamored was I with these songs, I was disappointed when the next installments of Animal Crossing seemed to render them indistinguishable ambient music. However, all that changed when New Leaf came out!

Now I’ve always been a compulsive clock watcher, but games like this certainly make sure I get something out of it, besides a mild anxiety about being late I mean.

I guess that about covers my trip down memory lane, so I’ll just wrap this up with another one of my favorite video game clocks!