Pixels in Praxis Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
20Sep/180

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2018)

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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (just Echoes moving forward) is almost as traditional and conservative as turn-based RPGs can be.  Any gamer familiar with the series will slide in comfortably to Echoes' skill system, patient battles, and spiritual story. There's no pretense to buzzword-heavy originality, only skilled hands who have made a consistent product for decades returning to the series for a single-player game for the first time in nine years.

Even with that familiarity, I was shocked at the number of times Echoes moved me to tears.  This is a humbling game that reminds me how unnecessarily bombastic and leaden turn-based RPGs have been the last few years (even Persona 5 could have used a touch of subtlety at times).  Echoes asks us to lay still with the faith of its characters, to sit in quiet contemplation of their decisions as time moves on without them, and explore a beautifully lived-in world.

6Sep/180

Octopath Traveler (2018)

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Octopath Traveler confuses redundancy for depth.  Its eight characters, each with their own prologue and four chapters of adventuring, are a collection of differing accents occupying what seem to be unique spaces until you progress just a bit into its far-too-long narrative.  Then the similarities become too apparent and I started to wonder why developers Square Enix (SE) and Acquire focused so heavily on stretching out the concept instead of delivering a smaller choice of tight stories.

They did a fine job crafting Octopath Traveler as I felt compelled to stop then take in the often gorgeous soundtrack and meticulously constructed environments (dubbed HD-2D as diorama is apparently too old-fashioned a word). But the total is akin to a finely fluffed pastry puff around a hollowed and dusty center.  Yet this is all by design, the absurdly named HD-2D gives the travelers a stage show feel though one offered through a dusty looking-glass.  Its aesthetic feeds into the distance, compounded by inter-party conversation where these travelers occupy separate spotlights and talk to one another over a wide gulf.

17Jul/180

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (2018)

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There are exactly two moments in Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (just Revenant Kingdom moving forward) that I felt a bit of magic moving through me.  The first was when the deposed Prince Evan and new bodyguard / advisor / interdimensional time traveling President Roland (more on that in a moment) escaped Ding Dong Dell to enter the world at large.  Tiny chibi representations of the two and Evan's adorable jump animation were so precious I uttered, "That's darling," to myself.  The second occurred in Goldpaw - a gambling-based kingdom run by a dog - that enchants an annoying bird to follow around people who owe the kingdom money screeching, "U O ME U O ME".

Latter bit there might be an annoyance to some players, but it was the right amount of silly to make me think there would be some surprises in Revenant Kingdom.  I was wrong. Okay, not entirely wrong as the airship Freud would have had quite the time analyzing makes for a jarring midgame sight.  But that's not magical, or much fun, it's just a bit of grotesquerie that broke up the otherwise clean artistry of Revenant Kingdom that rarely challenged my skills or sparked my imagination.

10Jul/180

Detention (2017)

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Detention defines itself through absence and horrific spectacle.  The former weighs on the latter after Wei Chung Ting disappears searching for a phone to call for help.  The latter makes its presence felt as soon as Wei goes missing with Fang Ray Shin waking up in a nightmare version of her auditorium with Wei's corpse hanging upside-down above her.  There is no way this story can end well, at least in the way we're accustomed to with survival and acceptance.  The only way Detention can end is through repetition or resignation, repeating the horrific spectacle or wearily letting go of the time lost.

Playing Detention is a sometimes exhausting experience but - save for one break I needed to get some outside air - it's one I willingly took on myself from start-to-finish.  The only other game I felt compelled to do this with in recent memory is Night in the Woods.  The parallels aren't immediately apparent, yet they're pressing.  Both have to do with the ways struggling communities under the weight of some oppressive regime expect their young (women, in particular) to sacrifice themselves for temporary relief.  There are even matching scenes where the depressed protagonists stare at themselves in the mirror and are saddened or disgusted by the person peering back.

3Jun/180

LOCALHOST (2017)

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LOCALHOST can be purchased on itch.io.

"My mind feels too clear. My memories are automatically sorted, processed. And all of human experience isn't enough."

These words come from the red drive, arguably the most tragic of the artificial intelligences I'm tasked to delete in the middle of LOCALHOST's night.  I've felt that inability to stop the rush of memories before where every decision and feeling I've made or experienced blindsides me at once.  But that rush, that overwhelming sensation, is part of the human experience.  That the red drive, supposedly a man who uploaded his consciousness as he lay dying of cancer, never experienced the existential anguish of feeling the entirety of your existence laid bare brings up two important questions.

The first - am I being tricked?  Red has a personality and communicates terror but using broad strokes.  It's as if red's AI learned the words of existential angst but didn't quite get the hang of the helpless intensity of being painfully present.  The second - why don't I care?  Or, more to the point, why don't I empathize?

I'm aware as I make my conversation choices that these are fictionalized drives of AI, programmed by fictional programmers but made by a real team that had to include some programmers.  Even as I write that I realize I'm uncomfortably aware of exactly where I am and what I'm doing.  This collection of electronic signals communicates artificiality through carefully constructed encounters that are animated with uncomfortably familiar mannerisms.  My brain fires similar electrical signals to make these hands work, and I'm struggling to contain the associated feelings.