Time and Place
One of the definitions of nihilism is “the belief that nothing can be known or communicated.” I was thinking about this the other day, when I was watching the anime Cross Game. See, I was watching Cross Game because someone had rated it very highly, 9 out of 10, and I am always on the lookout for such recommendations. As I talked about in my review of it though, I personally thought the show was okay… but not a 9 out of 10.
Which is fine, of course, as everyone has differing tastes in entertainment. For example, the acclaimed Breaking Bad series which I stopped watching around Season 2. I’m not sure whether it gets better or not, but I had a hard time getting over the initial premise (I didn’t buy into the main character’s reasoning) and I don’t much care for the whole “double-life tension mechanism” as a whole. I was able to put up with it in Dexter, but that’s about it.
So I then realized that for the people who were deeply moved by Cross Game or Breaking Bad or what have you, I will never be able to experience their same joy. I can certainly empathize with it, and of course I have my own personal joys as well. But in a sense, we’re alone.
And the problem isn’t just what we find meaningful, but also when we were exposed to it.
It should come to no surprise to anyone that one’s favorite games/movies/etc are generally correlated with what they watched first, typically when they are younger. It makes perfect sense after all – games and movies and so on are experiences too, occurring in a specific time and place in one’s life. There is a fundamental difference between playing FF7 back in 1997 when it was bringing the entire RPG genre into the mainstream… and playing it for the first time in 2015. Even putting the graphics aside, one would miss the zeitgeist, miss the novelty of a lot of its systems and character design, missing the power of one of the most recognizable spoilers in gaming history, and so on.
For me, FF7 ties with Xenogears for my favorite games of all time. The majority of that goodwill however is tied up in personal experiences unique to me. I can indicate to you that these two games are my favorites, and perhaps even attempt to explain why, but unless we shared similar experiences back then, the actual feelings would not be transmitted. You will not be able to feel what I felt; in that or any experience.
I am finding this realization incredibly tragic. Not just because my tastes in entertainment are clearly the best, but also because I could not even really begin to understand yours on a coherent level. Why was Cross Game a 9/10 for that person? What is it about EVE that is in any way appealing? Or Dark Age of Camelot? We can use words and arguments and perhaps even sales figures to convey as much as we can, but the words themselves aren’t experiences.
It seems the best we can do while stuck in the back of Plato’s cave, is to desperately use shadows to express to others the objects only we can see.
What PSX games would you actually play?
So my PSX problems from the other day were mostly solved by stumbling across an emulator website that specifically had a PSX-2-PSP section that already did the heavy lifting for you in terms of format conversion. From there, I simply had to choose any of their 1301 offerings
on sale to download.
And therein lies the rub: what would I actually play?
This September, I will be 31-years old. Holy shit, right? I grew up on the crest of the videogame revolution and rode it rather thoroughly until the end of the PS2. I was there to play games like A Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger and FF6 and Super Metroid while they were current. I still remember, with perfect clarity, unwrapping the Playstation for Christmas and popping in FF7 for the first time. When Tifa and Barret appeared onscreen together in the 7th Heaven Bar, my father walked by and quipped “Wow, that’s pretty progressive of them to include interracial dating.” This was in 1997, mind you. After that, I made sure to never play RPGs when other people were around.
Point being, the original Playstation era was one of unparallelled nostalgia for me. These were prime gaming years in my prime (14-17 years old). I still remember the shivers I felt when watching the promo video for Xenogears that was included in the packaging for Parasite Eve. In fact, I just spent 30 minutes trying to find that video, and I felt those same shivers sixteen years later.
Nevertheless, I sat looking at the PSX game list for a good ten minutes without selecting anything. Believe me, I understand the intoxicating effects of nostalgia and the risk one takes in replaying old games generally; not only is the game unlikely to hold up, you risk souring your memories by subjecting yourself to downright primitive graphics and design. But all of that was not actually my concern. My concern was: I still remember all these games.
For example, I was looking pretty intensely at SaGa Frontier 2 for a bit, as I remember it being a fun game with a beautiful art direction. But… I still remember the strategies I used to defeat the game, the places where I got stuck, and the end result of the progression. I’m pretty sure I remember crafting a pistol that shot rockets in Parasite Eve – and that awful final boss encounter. I have talked about Novelty being the essence of fun before, and my particular problem is that the intervening decades have not diminished my memory of the experience of these games. “Something something riding bikes,” in other words.
There were some exceptions in the list. I let out an audible squeal when I saw Tactics Ogre. That and Final Fantasy Tactics seemed perfect for this little PSP experiment of mine, as they remain games I still somehow consider fun despite knowing everything about their systems. Maybe it is because a tactical game has many more possible permutations than your average RPG battle system? I felt no hesitation with Xenogears either, nor Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, although I’m going to hold off on FF7 until I play it via Steam.
For the rest of the list, I think what I’ll end up doing is actually picking titles I haven’t played. Enough people have talked about Legend of Dragoon to overcome my memories of renting the game and setting it down 15 minutes later. Suikoden 2 has been hyped beyond all reason, so that’s another easy one to test. Beyond that though? I dunno. I would solicit answers from you, dear readers, but I fear it would just be a bunch of “already played that” replies.
So allow me to turn the tables a bit: what PSX games would you actually play? Is there a title you would like to play again, or perhaps one you’d like to check off your bucket list? Would you even play any at all?
[Fake Edit]: The PSX-2-PSP website didn’t actually solve anything; all the PSX come up as “corrupted files” even though they are fine on my computer. It’s almost enough to drive a man to legitimacy.
Way back when, Gaben of Valve and Steam fame put forth an assertion that (game) piracy is an accessibility issue, not a monetary one. In other words, the primary driving force for piracy is because companies make it difficult to legitimately use/acquire their products, and not because people don’t want to pay for them. The economic argument can’t be dismissed, of course, but the accessibility one was particularly novel for its time. The meteoric rise of Steam as a PC game platform certainly has codified the argument as a truism.
I have a series of vacations coming up soon (in fact, I’m on one right now) that will see me far from my normal means of entertainment. Indeed, one such vacation will be 2 weeks in Japan, and the corresponding 13-hour one-way flight is particularly noteworthy. So, in order to assuage my upcoming gaming withdraw, I purchased a PSP from eBay for about $60. I was going to spring for the Vita instead, but the outrageous price of its memory sticks and lack of hackability dissuaded me from a purchase. How could it really compare to a cheaper PSP with nearly a hundred of the best NES/SNES/Genesis/GBA/PSX games on it?
Well, let me tell you how: by not being a giant pain in the ass.
This is truly a First World Pirate Problem, but setting up the PSP to play original PS1 games has consumed more time thus far than I would likely play any one of them. If I sat down and devoted an entire day to copyright infringement, no doubt I could get everything set up and likely streamline the process somehow. But every minute screwing around with POPS loaders and converting .ISO files to .eBoots and wading through sketchy websites for files is another minute I’m not using my leisure time for its titular purpose.
A friend of mine had gotten on the PSP pirate train early, so I hit him up for advice. “Get a Vita.” If the news passed you by, Sony has digitized a rather large selection of PS1 classics to be purchased and downloaded from the PSN service. Much like me with PC games, I’m relatively certain that my friend’s change of heart had more to do with ease of use than necessarily a moral epiphany. Nearly 5-10 hours into this process across as many days, I am certainly pondering how much I would be willing to spend to just have everything work.
$9.99 per 700MB game that came out in 1998 that I already legitimately paid for? Tactics Ogre at $19.99?! Ehhh… let me dick around with it a little bit longer.
In Defense of Nostalgia
“That’s just the nostalgia talking.”
After reading Liore’s post about starting to play Final Fantasy 7 for the first time (from the latest Steam sale), I started thinking about nostalgia. After all, I still consider FF7 in my top three favorite videogames of all time. I have undoubtedly played other games for longer – and it’s likely that I’ve played “better” games since then – but a component of what I describe as “favorite” includes impact on my life.
Nostalgia is always used as a pejorative in videogame discussions, a way of dismissing the assertion that X is better than Y, or that X is still good at all. Hell, I have probably used the term in the same manner. But it seems clear to me now that the “charge” of nostalgia is a bit too sweeping. Sure, sometimes you think something is (still) good simply because you liked it when you were younger. But sometimes you do just so happen to experience a revolution or cultural event as a child. Was the moon landing “just nostalgia talking”? Was MLK’s speeches “just nostalgia talking?”
The cultural impact of FF7 in gaming specifically cannot be overstated. It has sold 10 million copies as of 2010, which might not sound impressive for a game that came out in 1998, but keep in mind that that still makes it the best-selling Final Fantasy title of all time. It pretty much popularized the (J)RPG genre in the United States, and arguably sold the original PlayStation by itself. The graphics, which admittedly don’t hold up well at all today, were revolutionary at the time. And the music? The end of Disc 1? One-Winged Angel? There is a reason why so many people cosplay as FF7 characters and not, say, characters from FF6 or FF4 or FF9.
But let’s assume that is just nostalgia talking. Well… when does nostalgia not talk? Is everything from the past suspect? Do things only get better over time? Are all the good things in gaming just conveniently occurring right now? (Hint: Many MMO bloggers are saying no.) I am not entirely sure that a hyper-focus on the present is any less ridiculous than a longing for the past.
I will be the first to admit I have criticized someone for having “rose-colored glasses” in regards to wistfully looking back to, say, TBC WoW game design. And I do actually still stand by those criticisms: there is nothing about TBC that I don’t honestly and truly believe Wrath improved (with the exception of Kara, maybe). But… I dunno. I’m not sure anymore that I can legitimately claim “that’s just nostalgia talking” in one instance and not levy the same damnation on a game like FF7. Vanilla WoW or even TBC WoW were just as groundbreaking at the time, in their contexts, as FF7 or anything else. Cataclysm? Much less so.
Nostalgia remains a tricky subject though. Can something be both legitimately revolutionary and not hold up to today’s scrutiny? Probably. Like… Pong, maybe. And surely there are others too, although the first thing that came to mind, Super Mario Bros, actually holds up IMO. Secret of Mana? The music alone buoys the game. And, again, I’m not entirely sure why a game “not holding up” is necessarily a deficiency of the game anyway. A timeless classic in other mediums remains amazing by definition, but it is not as though we continuously invent new ways of reading books or watching movies. Meanwhile, there are millions of different iterations on combat systems or simple object interaction. Holding games to the same standards of books and other mediums seems like an unfair comparison in that regard.
And really, who cares if it is “just nostalgia”? Regardless of whether FF7 holds up, it had a significant impact on my (gaming) life if nothing else. I created save files in front of every CG cutscene and showed my friends when they came for sleep-overs. Remember the
Mako Junon Cannon firing? I was showing them that one and my friend David quipped “Is that the gun?” when the camera was panning to the side turrets. I paused a beat and then said “No, that’s the gun” as the Cannon came on-screen. That IRL moment couldn’t get more cinematic if we tried.
As I mentioned at the top, I have undoubtedly played other games for longer amounts of time, and probably have played objectively better games too. Nevertheless, I’m not entirely sure whether my favorite games of all time list have really changed. To be honest, I haven’t thought about it all that much. Bastion was good enough to dislodge some SNES game, surely, but which one? Hell, can I even get myself to play my supposedly favorite games again? And if I can’t, should that even mean anything?
I dunno. I also purchased FF7 during the latest Steam sale, and am looking forward to playing it again with no mods (besides the music one that makes it sound like the PS1 original). Will it hold up? Will my opinion on it change? We’ll see. Maybe not soon, but eventually. And then perhaps I should give Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics another try too, seeing as they hold spots #1 and #3 respectfully.
Just for fun, the following is the list of old games/systems/etc that I’m selling to that website:
- Nintendo console w/ cords
- Nintendo console without cords (may not work)
- Two Original controllers
- Nintendo Advantage controller (arcade-style gamepad)
- Blaster Master
- Metal Gear
- Battle Chess
- Super Mario Bros
- Super Mario Bros 2
- Super Mario Bros 3 (two copies)
- Dr Mario
- Metroid (+instructions)
- Mega Man 3
- Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
- Top Gun
- Duck Tales
- Super Nintendo console w/ cords
- Original controller
- 3rd party controller (unknown brand, has turbo and slow buttons)
- Mouse and Mouse pad (two mouse pads) for Mario Paint
- Zombies Ate My Neighbors (+box plus instructions)
- Chrono Trigger (+box plus instructions)
- Illusion of Gaia (+box plus instructions)
- Populous (+box plus instructions)
- The Chessmaster
- Secret of Mana
- Sim City (+box plus instructions)
- Super Metroid (+box plus instructions)
- TMNT Tournament Fighters (+instructions)
- Star Fox (+instructions)
- Mario Paint (+instructions)
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (+instructions)
- Super Mario All-Stars
- Final Fantasy 3
- Beavis & Butthead (+box plus instructions)
- Jurassic Park (+box plus instructions)
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (+box)
- Streets of Rage 2 (+box)
- Madden ’94 (+box)
- Nintendo 64 console w/ cords and box
- Two Original controllers
I seem to have misplaced all my N64 games, but I still have boxes/instructions for:
- The Legend of Zelda: Orcarina of Time Collector’s edition box + instructions
- Perfect Dark box + instructions
- Conker’s Bad Fur Day box + instructions
- Turok 2: Seeds of Evil box + instructions
- Golden Eye: 007 box + instructions
- Star Fox 64 box + instructions
Similar to the N64 situation, I have loose sets of instructional manuals for the following games:
- Battletoads (NES)
- Super Mario 64 (N64)
- Wave Race 64 (N64)
- Gamecube console w/ cords
- Four Original controllers (silver, purple, black x2)
- Resident Evil Zero (+case and instructions)
- Super Smash Bros Melee (+case and instructions)
- Tales of Symphonia (+case and instructions)
The whole collection above is being bought for $375. I did do some research beforehand, and realize that a lot of those SNES games could fetch ~$50 by themselves. Indeed, Conker’s Bad Fur Day for N64 could have sold for $45 to the same website – it is supposedly a very Rare game (get it, get it… oh nevermind). Regardless, I feel pretty comfortable with $375 if only because it saves me the trouble of having to micromanage dozens of individual eBay auctions.
Finally, for the record, I had more games for these systems than listed above; I just had a tendency to sell them back to the used game place for store credit.
I am not entirely sure I will ever sell my Playstation collection though. Final Fantasy Tactics, FF7, Xenogears, Tenchu 1 & 2, Chrono Cross, Silent Hill… sigh. Soon it will be 15 years since any of these cases were opened, but I suppose there are lines even I won’t yet cross. Then again, none of those games are backwards compatible with the PS3, so once my PS2 shuts down for good… damn.
I have obviously been posting a lot about Guild Wars 2, mainly because that is what I have been doing for the last few weeks. There are some additional such posts in the pipeline. But behind all this seeming enthusiasm lies the similar feeling of… offness that Spinks talked about.
While playing, I feel an irrational need to hit every resource node I come across. It feels good. Which is… good. Fine. But when I think about the game as a whole, I see no future in it for me. So many people online and in-game mention that the lack of endgame progression is not an issue because you are not paying a subscription. “Just stop playing.”
…but this is an MMO.
An MMO, to me, makes no sense to play sporadically. If you are not committed to the idea of playing often (or everyday), what are you doing? Why am I hitting resource nodes and selling things and hoarding gems if I will be uninstalling in a few months? Doing something only tangentially fun for weeks (e.g. dailies) makes sense to me if your final reward is something you can reasonably use for X amount of time. If you immediately stop after achieving the goal, my time retroactively feels wasted.
Nevermind how the “community” aspect is supposed to develop without player continuity.
Think about Tiny Tower, or 10000000, or any number of “time-management” iOS games. I bought 10000000 off of a Penny Arcade recommendation, and it is basically Bejeweled with RPG elements. I got really into it, maximizing resource gains, plotting out upgrades, “grinding,” and so on. Then I won. And felt empty.
I get post-game depression fairly often, a vague feeling of loss. Even if I had fun along the way, the post-game mood usually makes me question why I bothered in the first place. What mitigates such feelings is usually the sense that I still accumulated something, be it twitch-skills from FPS games (pro skills from Counter-Strike carry over into Battlefield 3, etc) or the experience of a story in the case of many RPGs or proper books. I played Xenogears over a decade ago for 80 hours one time, and I still think about it occasionally.
I will not think about Tiny Tower or 10000000 a decade from now. Nor, potentially, Guild Wars 2. Those games were/have been/are fun to play, respectively. But I am not looking for opportunities to kill time with amusing diversions. I do not have enough time, in fact. What I am looking for are opportunities to “invest” my time, or at least a simulation thereof, while having fun too.
Scott Adams once quipped that the last invention humanity will ever make is a Holodeck. As soon as that was built and marketed, humanity would collectively starve to death inside a Holodeck two weeks later. The future is actually much simpler than Holodecks or realistic VR headsets and such – the future is a wire in your brain that stimulates your nucleus accumbens directly. Watching college sports or playing MMOs or contemplating the vastness of the universe are all primitive methods of manually fondling your glands. The dark secret of The Matrix is that the overlay was completely unnecessary – a little bit of electricity in the right spot removes the inefficient middleman of reality.
The above may seem a non sequitur, but here is the connection: I feel Guild Wars 2 is simply a wire in my head. It generates good feelings, but doesn’t mean anything. It is a personal problem, of course. But all problems are ultimately personal problems. And I grow increasingly weary of doing fun things while simultaneously waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Playing Guild Wars 2 feels like going to Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.
“So stop playing.” I’m sorry, I cannot hear you over the humming of this wire in my head.
A Bridge Too Nier
Posted by Azuriel
I have completed Nier: Automata (N:A) all the way.
Again, the visuals were extremely good.
As I mentioned a few days ago, the major impetus for my buying N:A in the first place was the seemingly unrelenting stream of praise it received. “Best game ever!” “GOTY 2017, if not of all time!” Those sort of proclamations immediately actives my Bullshit Sense, honed as it is after the Bioshock: Infinite debacle. That was almost five years ago now, and I’m still mad that it gets any praise at all. Seriously, people, that was not a good game.
Suffice it to say, Nier: Automata is not Bioshock: Infinite. In fact, it is extremely good.
But does that mean N:A lives up to its hype? Well… yes and no.
When I look back on the games I view as true epics with moving storylines and compelling characters, I see games like Xenogears. FF7. Chrono Trigger. The Mass Effect trilogy. In this context, I did not feel that N:A’s plot achieved a spot on that pantheon. At the same time, I can also recognize that Xenogears was released in 1998, which is possibly before many fans of N:A were even born. So, in a sense, I can see how someone can view N:A as being the best story they have experienced.
However, pure epic story-telling is not the only prism through which a narrative can be judged. When I think about my experience with Far Cry 2, for example, I found it deeply moving and incredibly clever from a meta-narrative perspective.
Robotic hearts in the darkness.
Far Cry 2 was a slog of bloody, seemingly pointless firefights against interchangeable factions all the way to the very end. And that was the point. The gameplay itself was being used as an emotional vehicle for the player
to show themexperience the pointlessness of the conflict firsthand, and feel your own culpability in perpetuating a cycle of violence for ultimately selfish ends. When I was finally given the option at the end to either escape Africa or stay and sacrifice myself to save some refugees, the weariness and resignation I felt via the protagonist was real to me too. Staying behind to manually blow the bomb came as an immense, cathartic relief.
It is in this sort of reference point that Nier: Automata actually deserves the praise it receives. N:A is no Xenogears, but it is a Far Cry 2. Or Metal Gear Solid 2. Or Spec Ops: The Line. Not in the content of its message necessarily, but in its clever use of gameplay mechanics and subverting expectations to elicit emotions rather than relying on plot alone.
Indeed, one of the most poignant and moving sequences in the game occurs during the closing credits of the E ending. I went from rolling my eyes, to mild interest, to frustration, to finally… an emotion I had not experienced since Journey. And right at the very end of it all, the game asks a final, devastating question of the player, that I was not expecting nor prepared to answer.
And I blinked. Days later, I still feel somewhat guilty.
You would be forgiven for wondering why the above is not enough for Nier: Automata to take a seat next to Xenogears. I might just be obstinate. Or it may simply be as banal a reason that those PS1 classics came first, or were experienced in my more formative years, or both. But still, I hesitate.
Honestly, it is probably better for everyone to temper their expectations anyway. If you go into Nier: Automata thinking you will experience a 10/10, or something far and away better than whatever you view as your favorite game, you will probably be disappointed. If instead you go in with eyes open, acknowledging the fact that you will essentially need to beat the same game twice (from two different perspectives) before the “real” game begins, you will likely be more open to the emotional notes that the game elicits.
Plus, I hope you like action games. And twin-stick shooters. And… you get the idea.
And hacking! Can’t (ever) forget that.
Speaking of notes though, the soundtrack is every bit as amazing as they say. It is a complete aural experience, with familiar themes expanding during epic moments, or contracting when the action inverts for a hacking mini-game. Some soundtracks have a few good songs, but Nier: Automata is good the entire way through, at every moment. Haunting, melodic… perfect. It absolutely deserves a seat with Mitsuda’s Xenogears and Chrono Trigger, even if thematically they differ.
So, yeah. Nier: Automata is worth playing. It’s not perfect, but it’s so goddamn ridiculous and bold and eccentric and sometimes horrifying and sad. And, ultimately, meloncholy. There are bad bits, some boring parts, and some questionable design decisions. Yet, more than anything, this is a game that ignored what everyone else was doing and shot for the moon. That ain’t nothing.
Posted in Commentary, Review
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Tags: Far Cry 2, Metanarrative, Nier: Automata, Xenogears