Category Archives: Games

The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Games #1

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As video games become more sophisticated, more complex and for lack of a better term, more artistically minded in their conception, production and execution, you wonder how detrimental the moniker of “video game” is for a medium with its own unique set of possibilities. “Video” remains indicative of a previous age – somewhat rubbish, a bit eccentric and certainly not something to be taken seriously – and “game” reinforces the idea that the video game is simply a way to waste away time, therapeutic all the same, but serving no great purpose other than that. Some day I am sure the video game moniker will fade away, with our society appropriating a more suitable term for a medium whose potential is only just being considered with any seriousness. Perhaps the Noughties – Ergck! – will eventually be defined as a key decade in which video games really began to explore this potential, or at least mainstream audiences and more importantly multi-national conglomerates began to recognise it. But then again, concerning how gaming has developed over the last few decades, in would be hard to discard any development cycle as worthless.

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (BIOWARE, 2003 for PC/XBOX)

Knights of the Old Republic, to me, was one of these transitory games where, even if it was not truly innovative, it had the polish and the instant appeal on top of an already well-crafted and satisfying core game, to absolutely enthral me. A large part of this comes down to the Star Wars license, this must be said, wielding all the hallmarks of the series – but the key for this is the quality of the story and the writing. If the Star Wars prequels proved anything, it was that the series is more than a number of repeated motifs, sounds, memorable dialogue and music. KOTOR, as it has since been known, arrived for me one Christmas and kept me busy for weeks, months even, suffering itself to be replayed by my younger self again and again, under an increasingly avid addiction to the flexibility available with the game.

Describing the plot again elicits nostalgic thoughts: 4000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, a Republic cruiser harbouring a powerful yet naive Jedi comes under attack above the planet Taris; you, an insignificant Republic soldier, are tasked with making sure the Jedi escapes the Sith. What follows is a terrifically enjoyable adventure that evokes all the fun and banter of the original Star Wars films as you begin to unravel the mysteries of the Galaxy, discovering the source of the Sith’s new found power. It’s an engaging story, populated with many lively and intriguing characters and involving numerous strange and wonderful worlds. The sheen and freshness may have diminished under repeated playthroughs, but its significance in many peoples gaming memories is inarguable and the popularity of its protagonist remains undwindling.

If there’s another thing that KOTOR did what other games didn’t do for me, it was to establish the name of a developer in my mind. Bioware, who have since flexed their muscles far and wide in the industry, would have already been familiar to veterans of RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, but for me this was the first time we met. Developing into a cerebral gamer as I have, I’ve been interested in whatever they have gone on to do – although circumstance has ruled the much celebrated Mass Effect out of my reach for now. But I’ve played Jade Empire (great, despite its somewhat unsatisfactory length) and I have my eyes on Dragon Age: Origins, and certainly optimistic towards Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Reflecting back on the decade, it is feasible to see how we all became bigger wankers.

There’s a nauseating outpouring of retrospectives on the decade that was, but still really IS, entering the public sphere at the moment, reflecting on these past 9 years with various insights, some of which are interesting, others vaguely hollow and glib but most simply leading you to a state of realisation: 10 years have past and I have achieved nothing. Literally nothing. You’ve only just started taking global warming seriously, because Leonardo DiCaprio told you to, let alone rescued the planet from it. You’ve not found a cure for AIDS yet, because lets face it, cancer was in vogue this decade, but you didn’t manage to find a cure for that either. You haven’t brought a stop to oppression, you’ve not stopped global conflict and you certainly haven’t managed to find any level of contentment. And 10 years have passed you by.

Many may have watched Big Brother, but in the end, Big Brother was watching us.

What you could do to better form some kind of contentment and happiness would be to draft a list, a countdown, a ten commandments of music, films and books that have infiltrated and successfully manipulated your decade into a kind of roller coaster ride of different emotions, all secured via financial means, that give meaning to your sad, pathetic life. This is precisely what I’ve done. I form my world view and then reinforce it with corresponding materials which give credence to my observations, from the politik of xenophobia and combating terrorism to paranoia and coincidence to the grotty halls our nocturnal selves inhabit at the weekends, gulping at malty beer and playing urban poetry in our heads as we resist and allure those of the opposite sex.

But even though I subscribe to this notion of representation and image governed by my tastes, likes and choices, I still do not like lists. Especially numbered, countdown lists, competitive lists that lift a piece of music, an album for example, out of its context and its specific time and place and supplant it in a sort of chronology of the decade, full of contrivances which all incite pedantry and naysaying because of the very nature of having lifted these albums from their belonging and putting them where they don’t. I’m struck by Paul Morley’s article. I’ve been following his series Showing Off… for a while now on the Guardian website for the Observer. I’ll readily admit that not all is to my taste, but I reserve enough humility and self-ridicule not to scoff at some of the people appearing in its many interviews in much the same way as Morley does not himself.

I’m going to write my own retrospective soon, on the music, films, games and books which have shaped my particular decade, whether they were made of this decade or not. My criteria is wide, but that’s because lists, especially competitive lists are so bloody reductive. There is no such thing as an objective list and as Morley says, even should there be great care taken with the choosing of such a list, the results will always reflect the readership and status of the publication it’s being written for, thus the Guardian’s will differ vehemently from that of Ok! magazine or the Daily Mail. So I’m going to make a consciously subjective list. No, hopefully my “list” – I would prefer to think of it as a kaleidoscope to be frank, documenting my tastes, triumphs and failings – will simply be reflective of me and my own, no one else.

I feel relatively blessed, having been born on at the fall of one decade and the eve of another. It affords me an easy way of judging such decades as they correlate with my own transitions to 30, to 40 and so on. The two decades I have spent in waking life have informed me a great deal and will, I suspect in more autumnal years, be full of nostalgia and golden meadows buried with gold and drizzled in Liefman’s Goudenband. No doubt this last decade shall appear integral to what later comes, and thus I, in the present, feel a great desire to reflect on the wanky “Noughties” – OW – while I can to learn what I can.

And if you’re wondering why we’re all become wankers, then remember to hit yourself in the face the next time you see, hear or write – OW – the “noughties.” The “noughties”…what an infuriatingly pathetic monicker for our infuriatingly pathetic days. Now I’m going to run off and grab a tissue to stop my nosebleed. It’s the step up from The Game. No only have you lost The Game, but you also live in the Noughties.

Revenge of the Nihilists?

Recently, yours truly rediscovered Squaresoft’s (Square-Enix, beg ya pardon) Final Fantasy series.  I last enjoyed the delights of Final Fantasy IX, which I must admit is my favourite FF – it had the fairytale premise, the lovable characters and the stunning visuals and sound.  It was a tour de force in storymaking for me at the time, and although signs of veritable age leap onto the Playstation 1 cycle of games now, it still evokes fun memories.  I had not played an FF before FFVII, yet have since enjoyed the re-releases of those games on the PS1 format.

I loved the plethora of anachronistic design, story-telling and scale of FFVII, got a little confused and distracted by FFVIII’s system (and a little disheartened at the premise, which did not seem inherently interesting at the time) and recently purchased the great FFXII title on the PS2.  I completely missed the cycle on the PS2 at the time and am only slowly rediscovering it now, having reached the latter stages of FFX – supposedly one of the best in the series.  I’m very impressed with it to an extent – the gameplay is fantastic and really improves on the turn based mechanic that lets my replays of FFIX down (and it also makes combat in FFXII a little “cheap”) – but I am noticing the distinct pattern of archetypes within the series.

I have no problem with archetypes.  Thiefs, Summoners, Black Mages and Honourable Knights are stock Final Fantasy, but I must admit to being a little disheartened at the the frequency of FF games to use a Nihilist as the main antagonist.  I understand that the majority of the game has the player experience the wonderful world and its wonderful peoples, so much so that the cause is worth fighting for – and this is typical narrative fare – especially against a Nihilist wishing to end it.  But the trait of nihilism seems almost an excuse for antagonism rather than a cause.  No, perhaps I should start at the beginning of my FF journey: FFVII and enter Sephiroth.

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Sephiroth is a great character and a great villain.  He is the archetypical nihilist, and much of his angst was conveyed to incredible effect, so much so that I enjoyed the game first time round wishing he was a lone wolf who would eventually join my party.  Sure, it was Shinra firing cannons, but Sephiroth’s story had pathos.  Next up would be the FFVIII villain, but considering I never played past the first few hours, it seems ingenious to consider the antagonist a nihilist when I had no clue for or against.

Then there is Kuja, villain of FFIX, my favourite game.  Kuja wants untold destructive upon the world because he knows he has an expiry date on his existence – he’s part of a project to ferry ancient souls from world to world yada yada.  Yes, FFIX gets weird near its finale, and the existence of another, older planet other than Gaia, is the “big reveal.”  Kuja is nothing too special in himself; if anything, he, like practically every character, is particuarly effeminite, rides a big silver dragon and lives above an Auction House, of all places.  Yet the notion of expiry dates calls into question alot of what the protagonist party in FFIX hold dear, especially Vivi, the toy shop doll/black mage made on a production line.  Maybe he wasn’t enough of a moaning, fatalistic git however, because the FFIX developers tacked on Necron-whatever, a strange being who appears once you do in Kuja, only to state his intentions of destroying the world.  Points for originality.

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In FFX however, and this is where my main gripe comes from, we get yet another Nihilist.  Maestor Seymour Guado: a character so feminine and strange looking, simply out of expectation, you know he is the villain.  Similar to all Nihilists, Seymour has a history, a reason for his madness; but to me, compared to Sephiroth’s tragedy or even Kuja’s minor inconvieniance, Seymour’s back story is weak, very weak.  And what I find almost disturbing is the stories reliance upon Seymour’s difference (he is half human-half Guado (bit like an Elf)) as a factor for this nihilism – racial difference no less.  Surely a more responsible – yes, it does matter! – way of dealing with this would be a reconilation with poorly Seymour on behalf of the protagonist, rather than blasting him off to space.  Poor show.  Anyway, here he is.

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Basically, all I am saying is that Square, in these games, rely to much on worn formulas.  The Nihilist can make a great character, but continued use of such archetypes can create stereotypes.  Yeah, there may be people who want to end it all, and Square can do the route of convincing us their worlds are worth saving well enough by now, but villains with plausibly attainable goals that are certainly easier to identify with (oh yeah, power, wealth, intolerance) should be the way forward, at least until that cycle wears thin.  Considering though, all I’ve just said is moot because Square went ahead and did it; they made a villain who wasn’t entirely obsessed with global destruction, just global domination; enter Vayne Soldior.

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Maybe next time I’ll moan about the plot devices used to tip the whole world on its head:  Genova, Garland, Occuri and Yunalesca, I’m looking at you.