The Power of Friendship Cliché

Hey everyone, it’s time for another cliché! However, I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to pick this time. Like I said before, there are so many different ones to choose from in this series. However, I realized that this was the first time I was covering a JRPG series on this blog. For the record, I am ignoring Pokémon in this instance because it doesn’t count as a JRPG in my eyes. It has no interesting battle mechanics, no heavy emphasis on story, and you don’t end up winning through the power of friendship. Sure, you can say that your little monsters love you just because you captured them in a portable capsule, but you are only fooling yourself. However, this series screams the power of friendship since that is the main motivation for our main character’s every action. Sora spends each game embarking on some sort of journey so that he can save his friends. Especially in the first two games where all he wanted was to be reunited with everyone on Destiny Islands. He just basically wanders around through different worlds making friends wherever he goes and connects the hearts of others in the process. For those of you who are not aware, this is very typical of such protagonists in JRPGs, hence why I consider it to be a cliché. However, I do not consider this to be a bad thing. In fact, I find it to be a staple of the genre. Although, that does not mean that they all play out in the same way. The most typical way is that when all hope is lost the main character suddenly receives some power out of nowhere when all hope is lost due to their friends believing in them. This series is no stranger to that idea. However, they do take the idea in interesting directions and the reason they can is due to their focus on hearts.

You see, the series is entirely based around how hearts can connect to each other. So it naturally gives the whole friendship thing a bit more weight to it. Strong bonds lead to characters overcoming great challenges because they know they are not alone. Typically in the series, that is how many of the characters recovered from the darkness. For instance, in the first game when Sora becomes a heartless after setting Kairi’s heart free, he uses Kairi’s light of friendship as a guide to return to his original self. In the second game (or third if you want to be picky about it), after Sora and Riku get trapped in the realm of darkness, the light of their friends guides them back to the destiny islands. The entire game is built on its connections to people, so it makes sense that these connections would be capable of bringing people closer together. Does that excuse the cliché from happening. Nope. Absolutely not. However, if you know you are going to just ending up resorting to that cliché anyway, then it is probably for the best that you just go all out with it from the start.

One more thing I have to say about this before I sign off for today. I want it to be understood that the only reason this works in the Kingdom Hearts series is because the series is meant to be taken that seriously in addition to having a JRPG background. Framing the game around the power of friendship is only possible because of the characters and storyline they want to work with here. That does not mean it will work it other settings. For instance, there are some games where characters get through tough situations while being all buddy-buddy the whole way through and then expect us to take this all seriously when the only trait these characters seem to have is that they are like family. They expect that just because we are with a group of characters that are near each other for a considerable portion of the game, that we are just supposed to support them with everything they have despite them being not well characterized. The only reasons it works in JRPGs is because they spend a lot of time with each character (whether you wan to or not) and because they do things in such an over-the-top fashion that you can’t take them seriously. The cliché is definitely overused in JRPGs and games with a similar feel, but it still works. So, I just ask to all of the games industry people who totally read this random guy’s blog to not have friendship be a key part of the story if you are not going to use it properly. Just a suggestion, you know, if you’re out there. Alright people, see you next week for the conclusion to this crazy month.

Now Hear Me Out: Birth by Sleep and Prequels

Now in earlier posts I have mentioned that there were some prequels that I found feel cliché and do not really add anything on their own. Now I am not opposed to having prequels to games and I want to make that point clear. Prequels can be interesting as long as they are trying to do something with it. It could just be for the sake of having something different. It doesn’t have to be amazing since it is already based upon a preexisting idea. It just has to have some reason for why it exists on its own. So to illustrate this, I want to talk about Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep so that you understand what I consider to be good for a prequel game. So let’s first start with the most important aspect of understanding good prequels and that is the continuity should be kept consistent.

You see, the problem with setting the events of the game before the events of another can be a serious challenge for continuity. I should have to explain why the timeline could end up with continuity issues, but since I love hearing myself talk I’ll talk about it anyway. Now a game series usually has its gameplay become more refined as it goes forward. So naturally certain issues that existed in a preceding title with not exist in subsequent ones. I am not saying there is anything specific to the Kingdom Hearts series that needed this treatment but just hear me out for a bit. If there were changes that were made to gameplay later, then if would be harder to justify giving those same advantages to characters you already know in an earlier point on your timeline. So then the best thing to do is to simply not base your prequel around them. In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep you play as three keyblade wielders from before the event of the main story named Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. the three of them travel through different realms while each dealing with Master Xehanort’s schemes in different ways. Along the way you see some familiar faces from the current timeline including Riku, Sora, and Kairi. Each of the three plays a bit differently from the others and have their own pieces of story to tell. So we have established a story that adds some closure to the events of the other games while not making any sacrifices to the continuity on the timeline. However, it doesn’t end there.

Now, it is one thing to create a previous storyline to help shed some light on things from the main series. For instance, the reason Sora’s nobody didn’t look like him at all was because of Ventus’ heart sleeping inside his own. However, that fact alone creates an explanation that needs its own form of closure. What I enjoy the most about this series is that everything has a purpose. While that can again be annoying since they add games on so many different platforms, they make each game feel like it is part of something bigger which I like. This is a prequel that not only answers questions that we had in Kingdom Hearts II, but it also paves the way for Kingdom Hearts III. You can’t help but respect that kind of ambition to have everything tied in like that. Of course, you only get the full effect after playing through each character’s campaign and even then Aqua is the one who actually knows the most about what is going on in the story. Terra spends most of his time just trying to not fall to darkness and Ventus just tries not to become one with Vanitas. In all honesty, Aqua might be the only one of the three who understands the full scope of what Xehanort did to her friends. However, even though the story is broken into fragments, the story at least has its own purpose.

If you haven’t seen what I am getting at here, it is probably because I beat around the bush too much. Or maybe I’m just that bad at writing. Who knows? So for the sake of making sure my point is crystal clear let me just cut to the chase. An acceptable prequel must be able to stand on it’s own two feet. It cannot be completely dependent on the original source material. It is totally find to reference things or have a similar structure to the original games, but it should have some reason for being there other than a tie-in. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep justifies its existence by adding necessary backstory to the events of the main series. However, other prequels just exist as a sideshow when writers have written themselves into a corner. There can’t be any progression if you are moving backwards. That’s just common sense. So why do we feel the need to bring in prequels that don’t add anything to the series they are from and don’t have any semblance of their own identity. I won’t name any names, at least not in this blog post, but I just want it to be understood that a prequel has to do more than a sequel to be interesting. A sequel is meant to build on a preexisting franchise, but a prequel needs to build up the existing franchise while still having its own identity. It’s crazy to think about when I put it like that huh? It’s my honest opinion though. Oh, and the game should be fun too. That’s kind of a given though. Anyway, thanks for hearing me out and see you next time!

Now Hear Me Out: Multiple Consoles and Kingdom Hearts

I see what the plan was Square Enix. You had ambition. You thought that you should use some of your greatest characters along with some of the most popular characters of all time to create an epic adventure across multiple games so that you could go nuts with all of the crazy ideas you have in your head. Now, I respect such ambition and the Kingdom Hearts series has come a long way. Here is my only gripe with that plan. Why did you feel the need to tell your epic adventure using so many different games and so many different consoles? This only leads to confusion since each game builds upon the last. It’s true that you have too much story for one game, but please tell me how you find it acceptable to just dump a bunch of important story elements in games that can have entirely different rule sets and don’t even seem relevant at first glance. To illustrate this point further, let us imagine how the development of this series went for a second.

Developer A-“Alright guys, we did great work on Kingdom Hearts. Now let’s get to work on the sequel everybody!”

Now at this point we will transition to a man named Josh and his opinions on how to move forward. (Note: Josh is a fictional character created to make a point and is in no way based on anyone that I know. I just felt like naming this guy Josh for some reason.)

Josh-“How about we do Kingdom Hearts 1.5 instead and have it be important to the beginning of the next game with an entirely different gameplay system?”

Now at this point Developer A, who will not be named since he is a sensible minded person and therefore doesn’t exist, believes this is a crazy idea but since he thinks it will be a short little side story to the main event, he thinks nothing of it and comes to regret it and this new game is on an entirely different system picking up right where the last game left off and shows important information of the upcoming villain threat in the true sequel.

Let’s fast forward again to after Kingdom Hearts II is released.

Developer A- “Alright everyone, that was great. now we can begin work on Kingdom Hearts III right? No objections?”

Josh-“…What if… we did Kingdoms Hearts 0.2 instead?”

Developer A- “Why?”

Josh-” To explain some plot holes and set up Kingdom Hearts III and the true final battle.”

Developer A-“…Fine, but not on a random console okay?”

Josh-“So…. the PSP?”

Developer A-“I hate you Josh.”

Josh- “I know. By the way, how do you feel about phone games?”

I could go on with this little bit. I really could but I want you all to take away how absurd it sounds to split plot important games across multiple random consoles and adding new threads to each on of them. There is no way that you can add that many threads to that many different games without losing track of a couple of them. More importantly, there is no way the fanbase is going to be able to keep track of all that stuff so they just wonder what exactly is going on with certain characters every few games. I mean, why pout one of the most important games in the saga on the PSP of all things? It just boggles my mind how they could spend so much time developing threads that you actually have to hunt for and yet take forever actually trying to tie them all together. I have no problem adding in prequels that lead to answering important questions for future games. I do have a problem with the fact that they thought that anyone was actually going to be playing it on a PSP. I just can’t wrap my head around it. Look, if I had to boil all of this down, I just want to say that if Kingdom Hearts IV ever becomes a thing, I don’t want to be playing it on an iPad. However if you want to talk about VR, then I might be listening.

Kingdom Hearts and the Dialogue Cliché

Why did I decide to do this again? Someone please tell me why I though this was a good idea. I understand that there were other themes I could have gone with here. So tell me what I am doing theming a month around the Kingdom Hearts series. I must have officially lost my mind. Or maybe that has been because I have been watching some of the cutscenes from the games to refresh my memory on what the heck the storyline is about in this series. Okay, now I know I do not normally start off the month with a cliché and that I have talked about dialogue as a cliché before during Sonic month. however, I am giving myself a pass on this for two reasons. The first is because this is a criticism that is more focused on the Kingdom Hearts series as a whole. The second i that since I had to suffer through it, then you should allow me to share my pain. It’s only fair.

Truth be told, I was debating for the longest time whether I should do a light and darkness cliché or a heart cliché for this one because they are such prevalent themes in the series. However, I really that I actually did believe that they were doing enough to at least make the topics interesting. I enjoy that light and darkness aren’t entirely just good and evil and that there is a bit of grey area with what is light and what is darkness. I also enjoy the topic on what is required for something to have a soul heart. The villains are definitely the ones who play with the idea more, but it great to see it brought up. So if I like the main topics so much, why do I still get annoyed each time they talk about it. Then I realized that even if the themes are interesting, hearing the exact same argument over and over can really grate on your ears. Now in my opinion, this series suffers from a different dialogue problem than Sonic games. The problem with the dialogue is that since the game largely follows the same formula for each section and so the dialogue for each encounter can become painfully repetitive. It has the same back and forth each time and so I am left with the same feeling of some bad guy saying darkness is all powerful until we knock his shadows out. You see what I did there? The point is that despite it being a interesting storyline, you rarely get to see that intrigue in the actual game. In fact, going to the Disney worlds seems to be one of the least interesting parts of the whole franchise. The reason being is that you just keep watching a bunch of different actors read from the same script. It is honestly not that much of an issue, but after a while it can start getting on your nerves.

The worst part of all this though is that while each world may have a satisfactory conclusion, the problem is that outside of each world there is no real resolution to any of these questions. While they show how darkness does have its uses sometimes, I never quite understand how powerful darkness actually is or how much of it can be used without corruption. Also I really have trouble wrapping my head around where exactly hearts go once someone falls to darkness. It is probably super obvious to some people out there and all the power to you. However, I really have no idea how hearts work at all. I really can’t even tell if a heart is different from a soul or not. I want to assume to answer is yes, but goodness it is hard to even try and commit to that assumption. The dialogue isn’t helping there either as it just kind of introduces concepts and speeds along before I even said I was ready to move on. I would go into some examples about Heartless and Nobodies and all that, but if don’t want to do that to you guys. I would much rather you guys go and look for yourselves so that you can try and answer these questions for me. You would think for a game with Disney characters in it that it wouldn’t have such a convoluted plot. Whelp, now we know. Look, I am not saying the ideas are bad or that the presentation is bad. I am just saying that they don’t mix very well. Then again, you would have to be crazy to think that things wouldn’t get out of hand when creating a franchise that combines Disney and the Final Fantasy series. How do you even come up with that anyway? No joke, I serious am curious how loopy you have to be to come up with that idea. Who created this series again? Square Enix? Well, I guess I answered my own question. Hopefully, the next series they make will have a more coherent storyline that is easy to follow and engage with….. who am I kidding? Like that’ll ever happen. I can tell this is going to be a long month guys.

Thoughts on the Resident Evil Series

Resident Evil is fortunately one of the few times zombie games don’t get depressing. The benefit this series has is that you barely have any human interaction throughout the game. At most you will find maybe two people that aren’t completely insane monster hybrids or just monsters themselves. So it has more time to focus on the gameplay elements and story. I say focus on story, but it is that kind of incredibly cartoonish and evil plot where bad guys want to take over the world so it doesn’t really matter to the whole experience. It is kind of weird though that they always want to use zombies as a way to fulfill their goals. Then again, I guess you would technically rule the world if everyone else was just a mindless husk. So, for once I will not be delving tooo deep into story because it will not do much to illustrate the point I want to make. Instead, I feel that a good starting point would be to look at the name of this series and break it down for a bit. A resident is defined as a person who has lived in an area for an extended period of time. Evil is something I shouldn’t have to define but I will do it anyway for the sake of consistency. Evil is bad. When I say bad, I mean super duper bad stuff here. So upon breaking things down here the series is about some super duper bad stuff that has been in an area for a while. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the stuff I am referring to is zombies. So when zombies have control of an area for an extended period of time then that should be what makes a Resident Evil game.

Now since we have gotten definitions out of the way, let’s look at where each game takes place. I will not be diving into spinoff games because I really don’t want to delve into story here. The first game takes place in the Spencer Mansion where you navigate the undead monstrosities within and occasionally solve puzzles that if they were in an actual mansion would be considered eccentric at best. Then the next two take place in place in Raccoon City during the outbreak of the virus that the Umbrella Corporation released on the population. After that we have a Spanish village for the next installment of the series. Then yet another village for the one after that with the main difference being that it is now in Africa. The we have the next installment taking place in a bunch of different areas. If I am being honest I do not remember the names of these places nor do I feel they are that important so we are moving on. The next installment was in a crazy residence with a family of psychos in Louisiana. Finally, the latest installment is some village in Europe. It is pretty clear to everyone at this point, especially after the latest installment that these monsters quite literally grow out of the freaking mildew. So my question is that if there seems to be no end to the amount of creatures that can pop up, then what is the endgame?

Now a series as long as this is bound to have its up and downs and it is pretty clear which games fall in which category. The thing I want to bring attention to is that when a series survives as long as this one has, it will go through a lot of different phases. It has gone from survival horror to survival action to everything in between with varying degrees of success. The question for this series in my mind is will there come a point where this series reaches an apocalyptic scenario. They seem to be on the verge of outbreaks all the time in various different areas around the world and yet we have it always contained in time. I just want to understand exactly how zombies work in this universe and if we are constantly trying to stop some psychotic villains from trying to create the apocalypse for their own personal gain. The main reason I didn’t want to talk about the story here is because I don’t know where it is headed. The most recent games have gone back to old formulas and refined them for a more modern experience, but they also leave me with more questions as to whether there is an endgame in mind or if they plan to continue this series until you wouldn’t be caught dead playing it. Pun intended. I know this series isn’t meant to be taken seriously and I don’t really intend to do so, but you have to wonder if one day Chris Redfield can finally retire and go punch boulders in peace. Thanks for listening to my rambling thoughts today and I look forward to next month. I think.

Morally Gray Cliché

I realize this is a bit late today, but in fairness I was recovering from the Metroid Dread announcement. So before we begin today, I would like to start off by saying that this post is somewhat based on ideas from the previous two posts, partially to highlight this cliché in games dealing with the zombie apocalypse and partially because I things it may clear a few things up about what I find to be annoying about it. I avoided really delving into games for the last two posts, but this time I will spend a bit more time specifically focusing on games where this cliché is prevalent. The two series of games that I have chosen to focus on is The Last of Us and its sequel as well as the games in Telltales The Walking Dead series. The reason as to why I picked them is because both games start out in roughly the same format and end up dealing with the same kinds of questions later on, especially in the sequels. So without further ado, let get rolling.

Now the zombie apocalypse is prevalent in many different games, but not every game gives you a glimpse as to what life was like before the zombies ran rampant. These two are no exception, but they do try and build up to it at least and give us some reason to care for the characters that they are presenting us with in the game. They even give us another character that we want to look out for as a way of redeeming the main character. I could go on about the similarities they have but in the end they both do their job well enough. The problem is that the threat in each game and especially their sequels transitions the villains to not be the apocalypse, but other humans who are fighting to survive. Which in my opinion is far less interesting because once the apocalypse happens, there are no standards for how people should live since society has crumbled. Due to this, every action taken exists in a moral gray area where no decision can be labeled clearly as right or wrong. Sure we can make a judgment based on our own society’s rules, but the characters aren’t playing the same game we are so the judgment is baseless. In The Walking Dead videogame series you are constantly making choices on how to survive, but they usually don’t make much of a difference on the story. Usually the choices themselves are two extremes on choosing who you should save but in the end the decisions you make mean nothing because there is no wrong answer. The ending never meaningfully changes so all of your choices are based on what you think is best in a strict time limit. However, you can never be wrong so none of your choices ever enhance the story. Zombie attacks and the like are just events that force you to navigate morally grey situations that don’t mean anything. there is no tension when you no there is no worth to your actions other than moving the story forward. After a while, you realize that you are just along for the ride and no matter what track you take, you still end at the same place.

In The Last of Us there was a big morally gray decision where Joel chose to save Ellie at the cost of potentially finding a cure for the infection that caused the zombie apocalypse. Man has really got his priorities on straight. Now that leads into the next game where Ellie ends up trying to get revenge on the person who killed Joel at the beginning of the game, Abby. Her reason was to get revenge on Joel for killing her father and saving Ellie. Of course you don’t really learn all of this until you play as Abby so you can understand her motivations. In the ends nothing is ever resolved since Ellie doesn’t get her revenge and they both end up alone on their respective paths. Now the problem is that the apocalypse has essentially become background noise at this point. This has become more about the struggle to survive each other rather than the apocalypse itself. Honestly, are zombies even needed in this game because world building has been tossed aside completely for this revenge drama where both sides have legitimate reasons to want to fight the other and yet both are unlikeable in their own ways. Why? Because since we understand both of their points of view, we know that there will be no winner. The people they lost will not be brought back and everything they do is pointless. I know that sounds cynical and that is because it is. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that this morally gray showdown can never reach a satisfying conclusion. It that is what they were going for then all the props to them. It will still feel like a miserable experience though.

Now I just wanted to bring this up because zombies have no moral compass and there is never any reason to feel guilty about killing them. There are very few things more satisfying than getting headshots on zombies as they line up to take your bullets. So then tell me why do we keep pushing the narrative to humans? Why can’t we enjoy trying to survive in a fiendish environment without having to deal with unnecessary drama? Can’t we have zombie games that we can actually enjoy that also have decent stories? I feel as though maybe that is trying to have my cake and eat it too at this point. I just wish there could be more of a balance between story and gameplay experiences where we can keep things simple and have some fun, but still have some direction in terms of who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. Maybe I am just speaking crazy things over here. After all, I am still reeling from the announcement of Metroid Dread. Wow, what a time to be alive. Anyway, see you next week where I’ll try to be a little more relaxed. Oh and I have decided that I might have to take a free day for October 8th. You should probably know why.

Now Hear Me Out: The Zombie Apocalypse

Now as people are no doubt aware, zombie games have been done in many different forms over the years and have since become a go-to of the gaming industry. In fact they are so popular that it almost feels like we secretly wish that the zombie apocalypse is going to happen. Personally, I don’t since I wouldn’t last very long at all in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. However, sometimes I am curious about how long I would last. This is an idea that I don’t think is explored enough in zombie games because the main focus of the zombie apocalypse is always the aftermath of the outbreak and how every is awful now because zombies roam everywhere now. Very rarely do games not jump forward in time to show what life is like in the aftermath of the outbreak. Personally I have always kind of found this to be a bit strange. I understand that not everyone is prepared for the zombie apocalypse, but I feel that it would really increase the all important fear factor by not having to skip the all important first stage of a zombie outbreak. That is where the chaos is at its peak! Chaos and confusion will no doubt make things more exciting no? So, I want you to hear me out for a bit on this while I talk a bit about the zombie apocalypse as a setting.

Now what usually happens in these apocalypse scenarios is that everyone is out for themselves and can’t trust anyone since they never know what moment will be their last. That is the way the world is built and there is nothing wrong with that. It makes more sense to start a story with the zombie apocalypse as the backdrop so there can be more emphasis on human relationships. However, this has been done quite a number of ways before so I think we can mix it up a bit. What if instead of focusing on the aftermath, we focus on the beginning of the tragedy? Let’s have someone who is at the center of a zombie apocalypse and see how long they last. I’m thinking something like Minecraft hardcore mode except that every mob is a zombie. So as the game goes on you have to deal with more and more as your resources begin to run dry and you make do with whatever you can find which will influence your chances of survival. I just feel like many zombies games follow a certain script once they get to a certain point. It becomes hunt for resources, don’t get hunted, kill anything that moves and repeat until you survive till the next day. I just feel like it would refreshing to at least try and go off script for a bit if we are going to continue using the zombie apocalypse as a setting for videogames.

The other reason I feel like we should focus on the start is because characters are generally not very interesting once things are well into the zombie apocalypse. People are always jaded and trying their hardest to survive so they are all out for themselves. What I am saying is that you never usually see a lot of character growth during the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. The reason is because that becomes the new normal so nothing really changes in people’s behaviors. People only really change through some kind of influence or pressure so why not start with the outbreak and see how it changes a person? I feel like that would make an interesting storyline. I am not saying that this hasn’t been done before, but I would rather see a general shift in the way the apocalypse is handled. After all, where can you build from after the apocalypse? Does anyone think that we would all band together and rebuild society after the end of the world? Probably not. Do choices really matter in a world where every choice is essentially morally gray? Not a chance. Do people really go through many changes after they have reached the point of no return? Well unless you count losing appendages, I don’t think that much will change. So why not have an experience where we see someone going through all of the pain, confusion, suffering, and all the other emotions that come with the apocalypse all at once. At least give me a reason to root for their tragic backstory. Just saying. Anyway, thanks for hearing me out today. See you next week.

Thoughts on Zombies in Videogames

Now I know that you are probably wondering why I wouldn’t save the theme of zombies for the month of October. Well, I don’t really have a reason for it except that I was in that sort of mood to look at games that deal with zombies and take a closer look at them. This will be bit broad in terms of scope for this post because I want to ask a question. What time of videogames are zombies most effectively utilized? I am not saying it is always a bad thing to include zombies in everything, but you have to admit that there has been a saturation of zombies in many different videogames. Some of those games have been good, some have been bad and some are split right down the middle in the gray area of basically alright. However the one that are good are not necessarily good for the same reasons. It is probably a bit difficult to understand what I am getting at without some examples. So, let’s move to some examples.

One of the things that zombies are most known for its that they are everywhere. People wouldn’t be afraid of the zombie apocalypse if only a few people became zombies. So naturally things get more tense in videogames when there are a lot of zombies trying to kill you. The Left 4 Dead series has always had a good core multiplayer focus and has been a good way to experience the horror of a zombie apocalypse. It is one of those series that you can play with friends and yet it enhances the experience rather than takes away from it. Why? Because it anything goes wrong then you can end up wiping pretty easily if you are not quick to react. It is important to have someone watching your back so you can move forward together, something that would hopefully happen in the real zombie apocalypse. Realistically, I would not make it very far in this scenario and I believe most people wouldn’t either. I feel that many people would hunker down in their basements like me and see how long they can last before they have to think about looking outside. Then again, maybe I am just a coward. However, what I want to get at is that there is something that is present whether it is my cowardly scenario or getting wrecked in Left 4 Dead games and that is fear. Especially the fear of being overwhelmed by the zombies and becoming their latest menu item. Heck even the Call of Duty series knows how to make zombies ramp up while still allowing for the catharsis of blowing something’s head off every now and again. As long as there is some tension without making things impossible, that is a great element for a good zombie game.

That is all there is to zombie games though. Sometimes they focus on the world surrounding the apocalypse and focus on the story of lone individuals who are coping with the apocalypse in their own ways. Some good examples are series such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead where there is a lot more time spent on different characters. In these types of games they like to slow down the pace a lot to tell their story and so due to that your options for fighting are usually limited. That basically means you end up in situations where you have to fight one zombie at a time or you will die a painful death. Well, the character will. You won’t feel anything unless VR gets to the next level and we start doing full body diving. Of course why we would choose to experience the apocalypse in that scenario is a different question altogether. The point is that things are usually deliberately paced to make you feel the tension and fear that is necessary in a zombie outbreak. Sure it is a pain when you waste ammo, but if you didn’t cry when you accidentally shot a bullet at a windshield because your aim was off, then you weren’t experience the unique appeal zombie games have to offer.

Now I no there is no right way to use zombies in zombie games. However, I do think that there are wrong ways to handle them. For instance, a game that moves at a slow pace for story reasons and yet enables you to get through most combat situations with little to know difficulty. Another example would be a game that moves at a fast pace, but your options in dealing with the situations are limited. I am not going to name any specific games this time, but consider this a friendly reminder. When making a game that involves zombies, there should be a certain amount of tension involved to justify their existence in the game. Otherwise you can make them regular humans and it would make little difference. So if you want to have tension, try to tailor the experience towards one area or the other. In the end it is a quantity vs. quality issue. Do you want hoards of zombies coming for your sweet, juicy brains or would you prefer one zombie that as soon as it spots you has already lunged at your to rip out your jugular? Either way your probably doomed, but at least you have save points. That’s all for now and see you next time. And yes I know this one was a little late. Spent a bit too long playing Cluedo.

Thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

You know, I have been looking forward to this post ever since I heard that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is going to be rereleased on the Nintendo Switch. My first thought when I heard this was “Why?” Then after thinking for a bit I released that it has been nearly ten years since that game was first released. So it is understandable that they would do a rerelease like they did with their previous 3D Zelda games when they brought The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess over to the Wii U. Hopefully those will come over to Switch soon because I really want to play those games again. Man those games are fun. Wait what were we talking about again? Oh right, The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword is coming to Switch soon. You know, after asking myself the question of why they are bringing it back, I started thinking about maybe I should go back and actually try to finish that game. After all, now that it is coming to Switch it may have less of a focus on motion controls. However, even with that I have no desire to play it. Partially because motion controls weren’t really difficult to get used to in that game. Sure, they were super sensitive and had to be recalibrated every time you left to use the bathroom, but I rarely had any trouble controlling Link while I was fighting. The only reason I might slip up is because I was getting an urgent reminder from Fi that enemies can be killed. Thanks Fi. There’s more to it than that though. I want to take a moment to express my thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Now before I get into the major gripes I have with the game I will take a second to mention the things I do like about the game. I think the dungeon designs are creative for the most part and incorporate some interesting ideas into the mix. I also really like the art design and I think the game looks very nice. In fact, it might be one of the nicest looking games the Wii has to offer. I also really love the fact that bombs flowers were just treated as bombs you could carry. The crafting system is while not necessary is a pleasant distraction and in some cases can even be useful. Also they did as god intended and made it so that only four heart pieces are needed for a heart container instead of five. Thank goodness. To be honest this game has so many ingredients to be one of the best Zelda games. Yet why does it end up feeling so lackluster compared to some of the other titles? The biggest reason is while all of these features are nice, they are not necessary to making a good Zelda game, save for maybe the dungeon designs. A Zelda game in my opinion is a game built about a mix of exploration and puzzle solving. Let me ask a serious question here. What is there to explore in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? Half the game is exploring an open sky with a few floating islands scattered around like bread crumbs for you to follow and not only is there no challenge to getting to these islands because flying is essentially in the game to pad out the runtime, but even when you get to them all you get are chests that you cannot access until you activate them on the surface. Since when did I need to find a key to open chests in the overworld in a Zelda game? Just why? It’s not even like they contain amazing items or anything so what is the point? Just making flying to the islands a challenge by having different flying mechanics or something else instead of this bogus scavenger hunt we are given to play. Crafting is a nice idea, but hunting for items to craft with is somehow even less rewarding than finding chests because now I have to deal with drop rates. Yay. The main problem though is that the game is too linear to allow for decent exploration. In this game you just constantly jump from Skyloft to surface and then back and forth and back and forth and so on and so on until eventually you complete the game. At least that is how I felt playing it. It just kind of feels draining after a while so that not only do I feel like I can’t explore, I also feel like I don’t want to explore. Props to the developers if this was intentional, but I wouldn’t want to give them the credit if that were the case.

So all in all, the gameplay is functional but boring for the most part. Now normally if the gameplay isn’t all that great then the story can potentially save it. Unfortunately there are three main reasons why that is not the case for this game. One reason is it’s a Zelda game and so the story will not surprise you. It might have its moments but unless this is your first Zelda game, you will not be surprised by the outcome. I don’t mean to spoil things but you end up defeating the bad guys. Crazy right? The second reason is related to one of my previous posts. For those of you unaware, this is a prequel game which essentially is a free license to tell whatever story it wants without it having any effect on the overall saga. All it can really do is expand the lore and explain a few details that no one really had questions about in the franchise. The only times prequels have added anything to the franchise were when they made The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, since they finally settled on a decent formula, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time which created two brand new timelines to explore. This game didn’t really add anything in comparison. the third and final reason why the story can’t enhance the game is because the story in some ways actually made things worse because it basically locked the timeline so that the same never ending struggle will always play out in the same way forever. Thanks for cursing your own franchise Nintendo. Look I will say that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t a bad game. It just isn’t a very interesting game. I’ll still get around to finishing it though. You know, eventually. In the meantime, now that I’ve gotten my thoughts out, I will probably stop thinking about it until the next time it’s brought up. Knowing my luck that will probably be tomorrow but what can you do? Anyway, see you next month for a new topic.

The Legend of Zelda: Dual Worlds Cliché

This month has caused me to look back at a lot of different Zelda games. I can’t say I have played all of them, but I have definitely played a good portion of them and one thing I have noticed is that a lot of the games have a similar gimmick. This gimmick is one where you have to traverse between two different worlds in order to go further in your quest. The most obvious examples are the light world and the dark world from games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as well as it’s sequel game The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. There are other instances of this such as when you are traveling between the past and the present in games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. Then finally there are instances where it isn’t the world that changes, but rather it is the way you interact with the world that changes in games like The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. This series usually has a lot of time spent traversing through different worlds, but it makes sense most of the time. I don’t actually want to knock this cliché too much because when used effectively, it can be a great way to introduce interesting puzzles into your series of games that involve a lot of puzzle-solving elements. However this usually applies best to the 2D games that I have listed as they usually find interesting ways to make the most of these mechanics. I usually have more problems with it in the 3D games where it feels as though the extra world is there to add more meat to the game and doesn’t really come into play in terms of puzzle-solving. That is not to say they are bad games, I just think that adding a dual world in more recent Zelda games is mainly there just to give us more stuff to explore. To talk more about what I mean let’s delve a bit into The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Now I know I talked about this game a lot in my previous post, but this time I want to incorporate a bit more gameplay into my thoughts today. Now after reaching the second half of the game you eventually reach a point where you get the ability to travel back and forth between the past and present using the Master Sword. The mysterious Sheik (Zelda) even gives you a song allowing you to warp there at will. There still remains the question however of why there is a need to allow us to have this feature. The game obliges by having you use time travel to access two different dungeons in the past in order to collect items for the dungeons in the second half. There are other things that allow you to collect special items by traveling between times. However, it never really feels as though the time travel itself is an actual puzzle mechanic. I wouldn’t really call it a puzzle if you can’t progress further until you find an obvious spot that only your child self would be able to access. At least getting the Song of Storms has some puzzle elements and makes you work for it a little bit but there are no real puzzles other than getting two items in the dungeons you are working on as an adult in the past before proceeding. Now the lack of more uses with the time mechanic is disheartening since is can be used in more interesting ways. For instance there is one dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword that involves using time mechanics to affect the movements of the actual dungeon. Yet in the game based around time travel it is only used in one spot which completely kills any way for it to be used as anything more than a warp point. I get there is a reason for this in the game and locking off the past would make completion of certain aspects impossible, but I think the switching between timelines can be used for more than getting beans to grow faster.

Now another game that I feel doesn’t use it’s dual world as effectively is honestly the one whose whole game was advertised around that very concept. That’s right it is the Zelda game with the time you turn into a wolf: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I introduce it that way because the game is most well for that and having an insanely long tutorial, but I didn’t want anyone to confuse this game with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword so I went with the former option. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually really like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. It has one of my favorite Zelda game boss fights as well as one of my favorite dungeons. Feel free to guess which ones, but I will say they are at the later parts of the game. The point is that this game is a lot of fun, but does anyone else feel that the Twilight Realm never really seemed to have a lot of presence in the game. For the most part they were just there to turn you into Wolf Link and collect orbs of light so you could bring the people back from the Twilight Realm. It barely had any presence other than being just mini puzzle sections. And later when you get the ability to transform into Wolf Link at will, the Twilight Realm vanishes until the end of the game. Hello? Darkness? Why did you run away all of a sudden? I get that I am the destined hero and all thanks to this triangle on my hand but could you at least put up a bit more of a fight? I understand there is no reason to travel to the Twilight Realm once I have the item that lets me become Wolf Link whenever I want, but wasn’t the whole plan of the main bad guy to bring the Twilight Realm over to ours. Instead he just kind of disappears after the fact and we don’t see any more Twilight until the end of the game. I feel like there was no reason why we couldn’t have more interaction with the Twilight Realm and instead of just giving us the wolf form, maybe instead give us the human form in the Twilight Realm. Look I still like the game and all, but if you completely remove the Twilight areas from the game, then it seems to me as though the developers couldn’t find anything interesting to do with the Twilight Realm. Just saying.

Now as I move onto The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons I would like to say I enjoy how the mechanics listed in these ones remain consistently useful throughout their respective games. Switching between seasons and shrinking yourself down both allow for different way to explore the world while making things feel like the item has more than just a one off use for some puzzles and is more integrated in the actual design. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons does have an alternate world where you get the different upgrades to your item, but unlike some other games in the series such as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, it doesn’t take a year to travel back and forth getting an upgrade. Alright, I understand that I am being incredibly nitpicky here, but I just want it to be understood that these games add dual world mechanics without usually making you feel like you are in another world. And even if things do feel different, half the time it is only an excuse to pad out the playtime. How can a series with so much focus on time have only two games that have decent time mechanics? How can they underutilize this assets so often? I don’t have a problem with these games, but don’t add in mechanics if they are used for just item collection. Item collection is not a puzzle. Changing the environment with things we can alter are puzzles and so while I appreciate being able to turn into a wolf more than Sonic the Hedgehog ever will, I would appreciate if there was more to an entire realm than just a different control scheme. To my mind the most interesting Zelda games are not ones that change the environment, but rather it is the ones that change the way we can look at the land of Hyrule. Don’t just turn out the lights and call it a day. It is fine to have alternate worlds, but could we please have more than just a story justification for them. I am definitely not trying to go for item collection either. I am not about to spend a bunch of time only to get a golden pile of poop for my efforts. Thanks but no thanks.