I have been delving into my gaming backlog recently, and decided that it was a riple old time to start finally playing The Witcher (2007).
I had no idea what to expect from this series, but even though the first game is now quite dated, I find the mixture of point and click and action-oriented battle interfaces refreshing at the best of times (mildly irritating at the worst so far!). The story is intriguing and often philosophical in nature, and I feel like I am just starting to get into it properly.
I’ve managed to get to Chapter II so far, which has me running around town trying to solve a murder mystery, P.I. style. As well as the main story quest chains, you can also initiate and follow side quests by interacting with certain characters in the world. One of these is a request by the gravedigger to cull off stray dogs and collect lard from them.
I’ll make Geralt of Rivia do many questionable things for money, but ending the virtual lives of innocent 3D models shaped like dogs? Got to draw a line there, mate!
This got me thinking: pets, especially dogs, are a sore point for western culture in general when it comes to killing them off in media. A quick jaunt online reveals that I’m not alone in my discomfort with this quest. It picks at a raw nerve that many have, and despite not being real dogs and real killing thereof, leaves me with a moral quandary. And this reflects itself in the actions I make Geralt take to solve it.
After avoiding the quest for as long as I could, I happened upon a way around obtaining the dog lard which didn’t involve killing dogs. This was to raid houses on the off-chance there will be some in a container, or kill members of the Salamandra criminal group who attack you in the streets at night, and there is a miniscule chance they will drop a jugful when they die. It’s a slow process, and I have just one more jug of lard to get but it’s taking forever … I could just … but no, Fido, I will not resort to … I can’t bring myself to do it!
Afterthought: This solution to the dog lard quest also, in a way, reflects the neutral personality of Geralt as I see it to be. As I play the game and am presented with one moral dilemma after the other, I make Geralt take the most neutral way out of it as possible, while still solving the problems presented.
By not killing the dogs, Geralt maintains his moral position regarding being the killer of only monsters, and upon this I am imprinting my own position of not killing innocent animals where they pose no threat. However, he also solves the initial problem by obtaining the required item for the quest giver, thereby making everyone happy. Including me!
While E3 was going on last week, I was delirious with a fever and confined to bed rest, without the energy even to go on online and watch the conferences as they were shown!
On Saturday, even though I was still nursing this summer cold I managed to sit down and catch up with all of them apart from Nintendo, which I’m watching as I write this just in case there’s anything that happens to catch my eye.
So, with out further ado, here I’m going to list five games shown over the course of E3 that got me hyped! Get your bottoms ready:
1. Beyond Good and Evil 2 (Ubisoft, release date TBC, platforms TBC)
I picked up the first game on a whim several years ago and within minutes I was captivated. There was a brilliant mix of well-crafted battles, stealth puzzles and a gripping storyline following the adventures of a young journalist, Jade, and her best friend/father figure Pey’j, who happens to be a giant pig. It was a beautiful title that left a lasting impression on me for years. Needless to say, ever since the open world prequel (yes, it’s a prequel, despite the title currently being “2”) was announced I was VERY EXCITED.
The trailer at this year’s E3 featured Pey’j, and we see him exclaim “Jade?!” when he sees a shadowy figure emerge from the darkness of an enemy ship, who happens to look a lot like Jade indeed. I am unsure as to how far in the past from the first game this one is set, as I have heard it to be “a few generations”, but I’m sure all will be revealed in time (preferably when I play it)!
So far, we know that as well as being set in the past, this title will have players create their own unique character as opposed to playing as anyone from the previous title. It won’t be released for a while yet, but I for one can’t wait to create my bottom-of-the-social-ladder alien pleb and get stuck in.
That reminds me; I have an untouched copy of Beyond Good and Evil HD installed on my PC…
2. Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix, releasing 29th January 2019, PS4/Xbox One)
Kingdom hearts III finally has a release date! As to whether it is honoured is yet to be seen, but what’s a few days/months on … over 12 years *cough* … Ahh, it’s not been all bad, I’ve enjoyed most of the interim games (Birth by Sleep is possibly my favourite title of the entire series).
I’m not going to write a whole lot about this one, other than I’m very much enjoying the visuals of the new footage shown at E3 and can’t wait to play!
3. Two Point Hospital (Two Point Studios, release date TBC, PC)
When the trailer for Two Point Hospital was shown, I instantly thought of Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital (1997), and discussion of the game afterwards continually mentions it. Now, I still play Theme Hospital to this day (CorsixTH, anyone?) and having not heard of Two Point’s game before, I immediately sat up and took notice.
I have seen attempts at creating hospital games in a similar format to Theme Hospital on occasion, but never has anything projected the same energy that the original did. It seems running a hospital isn’t exactly a fun experience on paper (or screen?). Two things that Theme Hospital did brilliantly, and really made it shine, were the dry British humour—manifesting in fictional diseases and cures—and the art style, which was quirky and cartoon-like, but at the same time avoids being childish.
I have since discovered that Two point Hospital is being worked on by some of the original creators of Theme Hospital and is in fact considered to be a spiritual successor, which has given me the “Of course!” moment of why this is making me pay a lot more attention than similar hospital-themed games in recent years. I have a lot of faith in the creators to do a great job based on both this, and on what I witnessed of the gameplay during E3 and on Steam.
And the monobrow infestation weirdly creeps me out!
4. Sable (Shedworks/Raw Fury, releasing 2019, Xbox One)
One of the titles revealed by indie publisher Raw Fury was Sable, a Journey-esque non-combat exploration game set in a desolate desert world populated by bones, ancient ruins and fallen spaceships.
I’m very much drawn to the art style of this game, which is inspired by “the clear line style of French and Belgian comics”, and also Japanese animation such as those created by Studio Ghibli. I think it looks absolutely gorgeous and am intrigued by the premise of exploring this world to learn all about it.
The soundtrack is being crafted by the band Japanese Breakfast, and judging by the trailer it compliments the visual style perfectly.
Sable‘s official site: www.shed-works.co.uk (special mention to their excellent “About” page, which aptly states “We are shedworks. we work in a shed”).
5. Sea of Solitude (Jo-Mei Games/EA Originals, releasing early 2019, PS4/Xbox One/PC)
When creative director Cornelia Geppert was opening her heart to the E3 audience about her real life experiences informing the story of this game, I must admit it brought a jolt to mine.
Sea of Solitude explores the raw feelings behind loneliness, anxiety, and a whole host of negativity which one experiences during the darkest times of their lives, and manifests them as a world in which they take physical form. The protagonist has been overcome by such thoughts, and it has literally turned her monstrous. The game will follow her journey back from that dark place, to find what it is that will make her human again. I’m getting tearful from all of these metaphors. This will be a title to keep an eye on, definitely!
This was just five of the games that particularly grabbed my attention during E3, but there were so many that I didn’t mention here which looked incredible and that I will be following the progress of. I mentioned a fair few smaller-name indie titles in this post, but there were also some other AAA titles, such as The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog) and Death Stranding (Kojima Productions), which look like they are going to deliver outstanding gameplay and narrative experiences.
In early April of this year (2018), I was aware of the game series called NieR, had heard of its popularity and acclaim but knew nothing else about it. Fast-forward to June and I am now a devout worshipper. There are probably many others who are currently in the same mind about it as I was two months ago (ie. never really thought about it), but who would love it as I do if they got into it. So, below I am going to try and list what exactly made me turn, in some sort of chronological order. How did I become a NieR convert?
1. I watched a playthrough of Drakengard
Drakengard is the game series that NieR is a spin-off of, and by pure chance I happened to watch a playthrough of the first game towards the end of April. It started off quite tame, if a little dark. However, once I had witnessed the final alternate ending (the one which is canon for the beginning of NieR), and had gotten over my flabbergastedness over it, I felt as though I had sampled something special and wanted more.
2. I familiarised myself with NieR: Replicant
Following on from Drakengard, I started watching a playthrough of the first NieR game, as I am a little late to the party and it is now very difficult to get a hold of a copy. There are two versions of this game (bear with me); Replicant, which is a Japan-only PS3 release, and Gestalt, which was released on Xbox 360 in Japan and released in the west as simply NieR, on both PS3 and Xbox 360. The two games are identical story-wise, apart from the main character of Replicant being a teenage boy/young man and in Gestalt he is a middle-aged man.
‘This all sounds very confusing!’ I hear you cry.
Again, bear with me. Because of the nature of how the narratives Drakengard and NieR are structured, they deal with multiple endings and simultaneous realities. Gestalt and Replicant are both equally valid in their interpretation of the main character of the game, because in my opinion they should be looked at as simultaneous, alternate realities of each other.
Brother Nier (from Nier:Replicant promotional material)
Papi Nier (from Nier: Gestalt promotional material)
The main character “Nier” in Replicant is the older brother of the young girl character called “Yonah”, whereas in Gestalt he is her father. This alters the relationship dynamic between them in subtle yet significant ways between the two versions, and also gives a different point of view to the player of certain story elements.
The main point I noted was in the tragedy of the main plot point; trying to save Yonah from the deadly disease she has. “Father” Nier gives the aura of being physically strong and capable of protecting the people he cares about, and obviously Yonah’s protector as her dad, yet is powerless against the disease that is attacking her from the inside. You can pretty much feel his failure, and it’s bloody painful.
“Brother” Nier is just a child himself in the beginning of the game, and is having to cope with the burden of finding ways to survive for both of them in the absence of parents, along with locating a cure for Yonah. In this manner, Brother Nier and Yonah have a more equal relationship, as even though Nier still plays a protective role it isn’t laid out as obviously to the player as it is with hulking Papa Nier. This results in the feeling of a different sort of tragedy, as young Nier’s powerlessness is like a constant barrage coming at him from all directions.
I chose to watch a playthrough of an unofficial translation of Replicant mainly because it is the version I would never be able to play—being in Japanese, a language I don’t speak, and never being released in the west. And if I ever do get a hold of Gestalt, it’ll at least be partly a new experience.
You can watch the playthrough I saw here. Note, however, that it is patched with the English script. It has been tweeked a bit, but you have to use your imagination in several places to change references of Yonah/Nier being daughter/father to sister/brother. A minor flaw compared to the rest of the experience, trust me!
3. I read Grimoire NieR
Another Japan-only release, Grimoire NieR was a book that detailed a lot of aspects from NieR that weren’t completely covered in the game itself. Backstories for characters, concept work, game guides, information on items; much like the Ultimania guides available for Square Enix titles. Too bad it was only ever published in Japanese.
As well as the extra story segments, often shocking (including a particularly sad one that alludes to a certain character prostituting himself to get by), the interviews with the creators give some very interesting insights into the thought processes behind the game. I’m even satisfied with the explanation behind why the tritagonist, Kainé, runs around in her knickers the whole time. Okay, maybe it is a little tongue in cheek. But that is what makes it great!
Not subtle enough? Okay 😛 I’m still trying to find the original credit for this image. Unfortunately I don’t recognise the artist’s signature!
4. I listened to the soundtrack
No, hang on. I lied. The final cog that locked me into the machine that is NieR was in fact the OST. It is beautiful. I was tempted to buy it on vinyl a little while ago, even though I don’t have a record player.
Here is one track I enjoy (out of many. MANY. This was a difficult decision to only put one, but I think it’s gotta be this one):
So there we go. After all this, I went on to inevitably purchase NieR: Automata. And it was the best darn game purchase I could have made at that point in time. Would I have enjoyed Automata if I hadn’t have done all of the above? Most likely. A huge chunk of the overall game sales are probably people who haven’t made this same journey, and I bet most of them love it all the same.
But am I glad I took this route? YES.
Part of what I enjoy about a series (any series, be that book/TV/film/game), is getting into the world around it, the characters, how everything works; the lore. If I had dived right in with Automata, I would have eventually gone back to research all of the above if I hadn’t already seen it, simply because it is part of my personality to want to know all I can about a series I’m interested in.
By becoming familiar with NieR beforehand, I was able to recognise references made to various aspects of the lore, be they subtle or not, in Automata. A piece of music here, an entry in the Weapons Data there, some rather odd-familiar-terrifying-looking giant spherical objects way out in the desert …
It might be a bit late for this, but long story short, experiencing what Automata was built upon helped me to enjoy it all the more. And if you haven’t yet looked into it but are at all interested, please do!
Back in Ye Olde Days, the video games we played were just that—you put the cartridge or disc/k in, turn it on, and you’re away.
Fast-forward to now, and there are all sorts of features which punctuate the average gaming experience: screenshots and video capture, voice features, multiplayer and other network features, trophies/achievements, community-created content and DLC, and so on. It can get quite noisy.
Most, if not all, of these extra features have developed slowly over several years, driven by the demands of the gaming community as a whole. They can all be useful, and are all capable of enhancing the experience of whoever decides to pick up a controller. Some features, like screen capture, are indispensable for, for example, humans who have gaming blogs they need to make look pretty ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Along with all these additional features comes the need to keep track of them all. This is where “notifications” come in. Usually in the form of a small message box which pops up in the corner of the screen for a few seconds, they tell us when our friends have come online, when we’ve managed to collect every item in the game, or whatever else has happened in our virtual vicinity that isn’t directly within the game itself. On the PS4, which is what I will be concentrating on here, they are literally called notifications.
Now for the drawbacks, at least in my experience.
It’s all very well and good—incredible, even— to do all of these things. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT want these features to be gone! However, I find it impossible not to become sucked into engaging with every notification that pops up while I’m trying to enjoy a game and become absorbed in its atmosphere. Message in my message box? Hold on a moment while I push the PS button. I’m then distracted from concentrating on the events leading up to a particularly poignant scene in [artsy fartsy game name here].
Which leads me onto trophies.
Ever since I first encountered the concept of achievements on Steam, I’ve gradually become more obsessed with them. They help to encourage you to play games in ways which you wouldn’t necessarily on your own, and often lead you to discover its most deepest secrets. They are a mostly good thing, in my opinion.
When I first obtained a PS3 and was introduced to trophies and the elusive platinum trophy most games have for getting all the others, I slowly started becoming more motivated to get as many trophies as I was able to.
And then in rolls the PS4, whose trophy notifications come with a screenshot of what you were doing at the time the trophy “popped”, and also the ease of looking at your own and others’ trophy collections mid-game via the Quick Menu. Cue inevitable obsessions with trophy collecting!
I soon found that I was trying to collect as many trophies as I could during my first run through of any given game, often using guides to do so. And upon reflection, I realised that this was detracting from the main aspects of games that give me enjoyment; a sense of discovery, and the element of surprise (through plot, or as a result of discovering something unexpected in the game world). It was all too easy to run into major spoilers, and turned the game into a chore rather than an exciting unknown to explore and enjoy.
I tried to ignore the trophies, and just focus on the games themselves. But it was just too tempting to check on my trophy progress whenever one popped up. It was almost an automatic reaction.
So came the decision to just turn notifications off. At first it was the whole lot, but now I think I’ve figured out a happy medium.
When I’m playing a game for the first time, particularly a story-focused game, I turn off all notifications. No distractions. I find this helps to revive the enjoyment I used to feel before the days of video game “extras”, like achievements. I can discover the game on my own terms, make my own mistakes, enjoy the story, and when I complete it I feel satisfied.
Then, if I choose to revisit the game to hunt trophies (as despite my prior obsession and frustration at such, I still stand by them being something that can enhance our gaming experiences), I will turn on as many notifications as I think I need, this often being trophies and chat.
Now, if I have a gaming session approaching I will no longer be thinking about how I’m going to get this-or-that trophy and will instead be pondering the storyline and which way it might twist next. When something shocking happens during the game itself I will be left with my mouth agape, my emotions high and my mind racing, and no “ding!” will suddenly interrupt to tell me I’ve just finished chapter 7.
Sure, I might miss out on certain trophies because I wasn’t setting out to get them from the beginning, but in the end I have realised that my enjoyment of the storyline and the gameplay itself is more important to me than being a completionist. Note that other humans may vary.
I definitely think this is the right setup for me. If you’re also finding that trophy hunting and its subsequent notifications are dampening your enjoyment of video games, I strongly urge you to try it too!
Hark, and hear my story of how I fell through layer after layer of accidental discoveries and landed on a marshmallowy bed of NieR-y goodness. I suppose I should say that some of the video links are quite … gory. Oh and as always, spoilers. In this blog post I will be concentrating on exploring Drakengard, as it inevitably became how I arrived at being interested in NieR. When I eventually came to NieR itself, I quickly realised that it will need its own blog post as opposed to being briefly mentioned in this one!
(First, hello! I had a small break from writing while I was sorting out some other stuff. But here is a thing that I have written! With my fingers no less! …Maybe a bit of brain too. Watch out for it there.)
Like a lot of people I expect, I was aware of the NieR series existing, but hadn’t played it myself. This seems to happen a lot with me! Conversing with other games fanatics about it would often lead them to informing me how amazing it was, and increasingly so since NieR: Automata was released in 2017.
I have this in mind when I notice Automata has been on sale at a really reasonable price recently. I still don’t buy it, though. Then a little bit of time passes and I find myself needing to put a video on in the background while I sort out some admin stuff. Okay YouTube, do your worst.
I end up watching a playthrough by BuffMaister on YouTube of an oddball fantasy game developed by Cavia, and released in 2003/4 called Drakengard (or Drag-On Dragoon in Japan). It caught my eye because it looked a bit like the Dynasty Warriors games (Hyrule Warriors if you prefer), but with quite an intriguingly dark story that became increasingly so the more I watched. And you can control a FLYING DRAGON!
Taking place in a vaguely Medieval setting, it was about an ex-prince, called Caim, who loved killing (great?), but also wanted to save his sister Furiae (who happens to be the mortal form of a goddess, no big deal) from being killed by the evil Empire (standard!). He gets mortally wounded, and the only way he can live is to enter into a pact with a human-hating dragon called Angelus (who is also almost dead, conveniently), so their souls can merge and they can both live. Now he’s a psychopathic murderer with a psychic link to a dragon! The downside is, in exchange for the pact, he gives up his voice. For shame.
So they fly throughout the lands together failing to protect Furiae or any of the magic seals they need to protect, and collecting other weirdoes along the way who have all also entered pacts with supernatural creatures, exchanging something in return. A brief list: A baby-eating elf called Arioch (who gave up her womb), a paedophile priest called Leonard (gave up his sight), a little boy called Seere whose entire village was murdered (gives up growing older… Can I also reiterate that he is traveling with a psychopath, a child eater and a paedophile), and a tattooed monk/zombie impersonator called Verdelet, who has no pact but comes along for the ride because he wants to protect the goddess. Why not.
A Dark Turn…Or Four
Stuff happens, and then the player can get one of five endings labeled A-E, depending on what they do during the game and how many times they’ve played. In short, Ending A is quite unsurprising for a fantasy game; Angelus sacrifices herself to save everyone. A bit sad, but okay as far as finales go.
For those who decide to play again in the hopes of getting a better ending, Ending B is pretty alarming, as Furiae transforms into some kind of terrifying goddess monster and upon defeat is joined by countless others like her, who ultimately kill all of humanity.
Ending C sees Angelus become all-powerful; she breaks the pact she has with Caim, who gets his voice back. She then engages him in battle, and is killed. The world is overtaken by a million dragons, and Caim, being all excited about killing, runs out to meet them with his sword. That’s it. That’s the ending.
Then things get…weird. And I definitely start feeling like I’m falling down a rabbit hole.
Ending D is…well, it’s this:
I’ve been brainfucked, I think. And then for those who still can’t get enough, they can go on to get the final ending, Ending E:
Yes, the final boss is a rhythm game. Admittedly put in as a bit of a joke by the creators, Ending E is not quite as absolutely batploppy insane as Ending D in my opinion, but I’m unsure if that’s because I’ve already been desensitised to the weird by this point.
Want to know something else? As it turns out, Ending E is canon for the story of NieR. A little loosely, as I have since discovered, but the events that transpire where the giant monster falls between dimensions to end up in Tokyo, is destroyed and crumbles to dust, are what kick off the events at the beginning of NieR: Repicant/Gestalt.
Oh come on, I thought. I choose to watch some obscure game, which just so happened to REALLY CONVOLUTEDLY link to NieR? There must be some algorithms going on somewhere here.
And then, of course, I had to continue on to see what all this NieR business is all about. But I think I’ll save that for another post! I’ll just say that I am glad I…experienced…Drakengard first. Ever since I watched the playthrough above, my thoughts keep returning to different aspects of it, especially the controversial ones, and more and more I’m seeing it as a piece of art. It makes me think vaguely of the work of Goya and also a little of Dante’s Inferno. Hence the “art game” tag on this post! More than that though, it’s just so absolutely weird and worth witnessing.
The image of Angelus impaled on top of Tokyo Tower will haunt me for the rest of my days.
However, this time around—with my mind unclouded by a sort of post-nerdgasm kenjataimu, if you will—I’m going to relay a few thoughts I had during my experience of the game and in the time since completing the storyline. If you’d rather see my initial impressions, please go and read my first blog post about the SOTC remake!
***SPOILERS WILL BE ABOUND in both words and images. I shalt not holdst back.***
***In fact, if I deem anything to be too story-spoilery I’ll put it in square brackets which you must highlight to reveal, like this: [[This is most definitely a spoiler and you’ve consented to see it!]]. Hopefully it works!***
***OKAY. HERE WE GO.***
❤ New Controls
The option to use updated controls really is a godsend, as they are much improved from the original in my opinion. For example, in the original SOTC in order to execute a jump-roll (if you are me you do this an awful lot) you had to push jump (triangle) and grab (R1) at the same time. This has now been refined to have its own button: circle. I CAN’T EXPRESS QUITE HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS.
I also observed that Wander’s stability whilst gripping colossi seems improved, allowing for less infuriating climbing but still retaining the challenge of it. Note that my experience of the original was on the PS3 remaster, which was notorious for causing people problems in regards to keeping a stable grip during battles. There was argument over whether and to what extent this was an issue, but I can definitely say from experience that this time around the grip and balance feel more solid.
❤ The Corruption
As the story progresses and [[Dormin’s spirit starts to take hold]], Wander looks more obviously corrupted than the original; you can see the blackness of his veins getting more pronounced, his skin becomes more translucent. His hair gets darker too and his clothes become grubbier, but this is the same as before.
In the original this was expressed a bit differently; Wander’s skin got paler and he looked dirtier, but it was less obvious that the effects were [[something coming from within him]] and I found it had a little more of an “Oh yeah I should’ve seen that coming” effect [[at the end]]. Both takes work well, although I enjoyed the new version in its own right and felt genuinely repulsed by how disgusting Wander was becoming as I progressed through the game.
I wish I could experience this transformation as though I were someone who had never played the original, though, to see how surprised I am by the ending where [[Dormin takes over Wander completely]].
⚡ Wander’s Expressions
I felt as though Wander could do with a bit more emotion in his facial expressions. One particular moment when I had this thought was towards the end, when [[Agro falls from a cliff into a chasm]]. Wander looked stony-faced as his voice told otherwise; I realise this game was made to be faithful to the original but a little more visible emotion would have gave it an extra oomph at times like these. I think the absence of expression is more pronounced with the updated graphics, as it is physically easier to see faces in a higher resolution.
Another opportunity to inject emotion would be when Wander is standing near to Mono’s body. I kept thinking, it would be great if he just looked at her, at least. Like in other games where you’re near another character, and your head turns towards them. Maybe he could look a bit sad or determined while he does so?
Perhaps, even, his expression could alter a bit as the game progresses (sadness->determination?). This has a risk of jeopardising the player’s interpretation of what is happening, but something similar could be a useful way of establishing the bond Wander has with Mono and the [[slow change occurring within him]].
❤ Getting Lost in the Beautiful Scenery
I enjoyed how realistic the new environments felt and looked. The forest leading to the southern desert area was a particular favourite of mine—I loaded up the original I have on PS3 and was taken aback by how sparse it is; in the remake I actually got lost a few times trying to find my way amongst the lush vegetation and myriad of trees.
I don’t know if it actually is, but the world of the remake looks physically bigger. It seems like it takes longer to traverse to one point of the map to another, which justifies this to me even more. However, this may require more investigation to verify!
❤ Easter Eggs
I loved the added little details which nodded towards the other games in the series. Specifically, I’m talking about the barrel in the forest cave (neither of which existed in the original) referencing The Last Guardian, and the watermelon on the beach on the west side of the map, which is a direct reference to ICO.
⚡Certain Unskippable Cutscenes
It would be nice to be able to skip the ending cutscenes once you complete the final sequence of the game, like you can skip the majority of the other cutscenes. The ending is superb, and I would like the ability to skip it because there are certain post-game extras which require you to complete the whole thing multiple times (eg building your stamina to the maximum for trophies/gaining access to the “secret garden”), and I don’t want to oversaturate myself with seeing it so many times that I don’t enjoy it anymore.
On my second viewing (and as will be the case for subsequent others until a time comes when I want to revisit the story) I ended up putting it on mute and leaving it alone to run itself to the end. It is pretty lengthly, which is awesome when you are actually playing the game for the story, but a pain when you don’t want to see it and simply want to explore the secrets of the game.
All in all, I loved the SOTC remake and will definitely be returning to it in future. I shall get into that secret garden, no matter how many times I have to see that flippin’ ending!
*There are some spoilers below pertaining to the general story/structure of Tales of Symphonia and screenshots of the game, however I don’t go into any in-depth specifics and definitely don’t give away the ending!*
Ahh, Tales of Symphonia.
You eluded me for so long, being stuck on my list-of-game-series-I-knew-about-and-would-probably-like-but-never-got-into (I’m also looking at you, Persona). I played about half of Tales of Phantasia several years ago but never finished it and never revisited.
But then Christmas 2017 came…and I was gifted a copy of Tales of Symphonia on Steam. I could avoid it no more, clearly.
In fact, it wasn’t going to be on my gaming agenda for quite some time, but then along came a few days before the Shadow of the Colossus remake was released and I wanted to play something but didn’t feel like playing Monster Hunter. I know, I thought. I’ll have a little go at Symphonia. Just a little go. Then when SOTC is out I’ll play that. I probably won’t even get that into Symphonia.
Well, one thing led to another, and…let’s just say Shadow of the Colossus is on hold for now. Sorry, Wander.
Something which is making Tales of Symphonia stand out in particular from other games for me is the integration of these sort-of animé kind-of cutscenes within the gameplay.
Often you’ll be wandering around in the overworld (or dungeon, or town), and then an icon will flash up in the bottom left of the screen telling you to push a certain button, or there’ll be a funny flashy light thing you can walk into. Then you’ll be treated to a little animated conversation between your party members, which could last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. They could discuss anything—from how bad one of your party smells, to food, to philosophy.
These conversations, or “skits” as I believe they’re referred to, serve to build a bond between the characters and the player, by demonstrating the forging of relationships between the characters themselves. Their individual personalities manifest in how they interact with each other; how they express their beliefs, weaknesses, humour, and affection (or disdain) for each other, for example. Over a long period of time, and many skits, you feel as though you know each individual intimately.
The way Tales of Symphonia unravels is similar to an animé, in my opinion. Aside from the obvious art style, the structure of the narrative uses a lot of the same devices.
It starts off small; you have a a small handful of seemingly stereotypical characters that you are introduced to (the brave but not-very-smart Lloyd, the clever but naïve Genis, the sweet but klutzy Colette). It then builds on this quickly, introducing you to more characters and advanced concepts, and the fact that one of them, being the Chosen One, must go on a perilous journey to save the world from destruction! So, standard animé really.
Each segment of the game is split into “tales”, each being very digestible fragments of story that build up over a long time into a cohesive whole; much like episodes of a series that eventually conclude in a finale. Some of them relate more directly to the overall arc that the story is building, and some serve more as “filler”, to allow you to obtain valuable items, learn more about the world, or get to know the characters more deeply.
At least for me, I have found the journey to be more important than the outcome in Symphonia. The interaction between the characters, and how they learn about the world along the way is very reminiscent of the slice of life genre common amongst manga and animé, which are very much about experiencing the journey along the way as opposed to the ultimate conclusion of the story threads.
Symphonia isn’t slice of life specifically, as it does have an overall story arc and keeps actively building towards it, but it does appear to employ storytelling techniques from the genre—especially during the more “filler”-type tales— in order to engage us as the audience with the world and characters in such a way that we become very attached. This aids greatly in investing the player emotionally during the trials and tribulations presented during the more “main story arc”-type tales.
Naturally, I became very nostalgic for animé series whilst playing Tales of Symphonia. I hadn’t watched any series for quite a few years, and then all of a sudden I broke and watched Cowboy Bebop. Then the floodgates were opened and I started watching Gin no Saji (Silver Spoon). Both of these are pretty slice of life-y, and have definitely helped to scratch the animé itch!
As to whether I’ll stop with these, though, is a Tale yet to be told.
Note: Between starting and finishing writing this I managed to complete Tales of Symphonia, and I need to say that it was a very satifying, fuzzly ending which I’d highly recommend if you’ve managed not to play it so far. It is a long game, but definitely worth it, even just for the journey along the way. Oh, and also entirely my personal opinion, but I completely and totally preferred to switch the voices over to Japanese in this instance.