Can’t even imagine what was meant

Listening to: Alan Wake Soundtrack

There are some games that I replay many times. I’d like to say that they’re only the good ones that I play all the way through to the end every time. Most of them aren’t. The majority of the games that I keep replaying are games that are easy to get bored or frustrated with. The replaying merely comes from the fact that I feel I should finish them and need to start over with a new game because I can’t remember the plot points that led up to any of my existing saves.

Today I started one of those for the third time. Blue Dragon, a game that took one look at innovation and ran away weeping. Everything about this game is right out of Japanese media’s stock freezer. The character designs are by Toriyama Akira, a man who can draw about seven truly unique characters, the music is by Uematsu Nobuo–I’m a fan of Uematsu, but after scoring nearly forty games before this one and gaining international acclaim, he qualifies as a safe bet. The stock phrases are all there: “I’ll never give up”, “I want to avenge [blank]”, and my favourite, children using the word “bastard”.

The story starts up in the middle of action, but the characters are introduced and then utilised without any setup or development. Even if the story ever gets interesting (which it usually doesn’t) it doesn’t matter. If a player doesn’t care about any of the characters, then what story is even being told? I felt like I was just grinding battles until the next town showed up. There could be no twists or revelations because the characters are nothing and have nothing on the line.

It doesn’t surprise me that this game got an anime. It was designed for that, as calculating as I’ve ever seen. There’s not a hit on the shounen list it does not check off. The thing that really makes me laugh though, is that it’s the first game for what was a new studio. Started by a man who was famous for starving for innovation. And it looks like a 3D remake of a 1991 SNES title that nobody noticed.

But of course, it sold well. It’s a franchise in a bottle. There are a lot of things that the games industry needs, but one of the ones that really bothers me is that when someone releases an incredibly safe, boring, stock-heavy title like this, it’s lauded as retro. A traditional approach. Traditional should be a feeling, not an actual method of design. It’s traditional, not ritual. Although making a game with retro graphics would be cool, it would be cooler if the story was compelling, with strong characters (strong re:personality, not toughness) and PACING.

Think of it. A game that looks like the old days when the princess always needed saving, the girl or smart guy was the healer, and the bad guy wanted to destroy/enslave the world Just Because. But telling a story without stereotypes, predictable “twists”, and mechanics that are part and parcel with RPGMaker.

Sigh. There are moments in Blue Dragon where I think that “epic” is being shoved down my throat, but it’s all just stuff off the shounen checklist. When you get tired of “A new rival has appeared!” then a new rival appearing isn’t going to look like much of a development anymore. Now is it.

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