Indifference Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

I Am Setsuna (2016)

If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

Nostalgia is the core of I Am Setsuna, created and marketed as a conscious throwback to the heyday of '90s JRPGs.  On that measure alone, I Am Setsuna is of questionable quality as its slight tweaks to what made those '90s JRPGs special range from streamlining the experience too much to obtuse mechanisms so poorly implemented I decided not to bother.  But the nostalgia isn't just part of the gameplay - it's fused with the soundtrack, the eternally falling snow, character motivations, and dialogue.  What emerges is an overwhelming sense of melancholy, morphing the questionable quality of the game itself to an overall experience that is an interesting failure.

Folks who grew up on those '90s JRPGs, with Chrono Trigger the most heavily sampled game for I Am Setsuna, will take to the gameplay no problem.  I maneuvered around the top-down world with my party of three without the need for explanatory texts telling me I would get the drop on enemies if I initiated combat from behind.  Those texts were an unnecessary intrusion of flat explanation in this cold world, making me wish I Am Setsuna's developer - Tokyo RPG Factory - took the Chrono Trigger influence more to heart and introduced mechanics inside I Am Setsuna's world instead of signposting around them.  This made I Am Sesuna's opening act cumbersome as semi-silent protagonist Endir, who's supposed to be a skilled mercenary, lurches his way toward meeting the titular Setsuna.


Sonic Mania (2017)

If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

"Have I ever actually enjoyed Sonic?"

Weird that this question popped into my head about halfway through Sonic Mania as there's cartoon evidence that I did, at some point in my life, have an affection for both the character and his games.  It seems so far away now.  Nostalgia obviously has a bit to do with it, but that's because Sonic games were the mysterious property of my friends and not of my family.  We were a Nintendo family, so while I was whittling away on 100% completion of Yoshi's Island my friends were zipping around with a blue hedgehog.  I'd visit, pop whatever Sonic game was available, and have a grand old-time before heading home.

Which I think gets to the core of why Sonic, as a whole, is tiring and specifics about why Sonic Mania is underwhelming.  Sonic games are best played in bursts of one or two levels at a time.  Whenever I sit down and go for a longer session the cracks in the basic design philosophy of Sonic begin to spiderweb out.  About an hour and a half in, my enjoyment breaks, and it's back to something else.  There are only so many times I can revisit Green Hill Zone or a barely concealed reskin/rename of the same without feeling diminishing returns.


The Shivah: Kosher Edition (2013)

If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

There are two questions guiding the gameplay of The Shivah: Kosher Edition (TS:KE moving forward), the remake of the 2006 adventure game The Shivah.  First question, "Why would former synagogue member Jack Lauder leave Rabbi Russell Stone money in his will?"  The second, "Who killed Jack Lauder and why?"  That first question, which has grave implications for who Rabbi Stone is as a person, forms the intriguing web of long-held grudges and questions about the usefulness of faith in initial acts of TS:KE.  The second question brings TS:KE to the sort of bog-standard conspiracy thriller that feels out-of-place in the grounded struggle with faith that comes before.

While TS:KE is grappling with the first question it's excellent.  I was raised on a steady diet of Sierra adventure games with their varying degrees of punishment for using specific items or information in ways that would prevent a no-win state.  TS:KE is considerably more forgiving than those poorly aging titles, and - to my surprise - if you're studious in surveying the information and items available then you can solve the mystery using logical connections made through one of TS:KE's great investigative gameplay tools.


Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

Twenty years before the release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (just Shadow of Mordor moving forward), what I then knew as Final Fantasy III came out for the Super Nintendo.  In a sequence more inventive than anything in Shadow of Mordor, the main scenario splits into three paths and I followed the martial artist Sabin as he witnesses the kingdom of Doma withstand a siege from the Empire.  To break the siege, nihilistic antagonist Kefka poisons the water supply of the Doman people.  This sends the Doman warrior Cyan into a frenzy, trying to take on the Empire's siege camp alone, and puts Cyan on a collision course with his grief after deciding to join up with Sabin.

I might be old-fashioned - feel free to fire away if you agree - but I'm starting to miss protagonists who are heroic.  In an early mission of Shadow of Mordor, the player character Talion moves stealthily into an Uruk encampment to poison their food supply.  Upon completion of the mission I was treated with the sight of orcs foaming at the mouth as they writhed in pain to their eventual death.  This is more war crime than battle, and had Shadow of Mordor taken a nuanced look at Talion's rage then there might have been room for commentary on what we collectively accept in war when our side is in the "right."


Rings (2017)

Samara Morgan will never rest now that she's part of the digital age.  A researcher looking into the existence of the soul thinks he can control Samara's vengeance, but is unaware of the evil that can pour out of any screen.  F. Javier Gutiérrez directs Rings, with the screenplay written by David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman, and stars Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, and Vincent D'Onofrio.

It's been a long time since I felt this disappointed over a forced sequel hook.  Despite a meandering middle section filled with the kind of bog standard horror investigation that needs to be trimmed, there are fascinating aspects to the logical conclusions Rings arrives at.  I've long wondered what would happen if the literal viral video starring Samara Morgan was introduced to modern technology. Since we're in an age of quickly passed misinformation bordering on outright lies, Rings feels relevant in a way the previous American Ring films didn't.

Our society is saturated in violent propaganda right now with a Commander-in-chief callously using technology to seed fear into an already tense population.  There are easy parallels to the anxiety on the rise, Americans dying younger, and the only benefit going toward corporations who don't have to worry paying out as much in retirement.  Fitting - then - that the villain of Rings isn't Samara or casual ignorance.  Gabriel Brown (an excellently cast Johnny Galecki in full arrogant mode) thinks he can control the flow of information to prove there's some greater purpose to our existence.