Pixels in Praxis Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (2017)

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Historical context in video games is difficult to grasp.  Since so many companies are primarily interested in rehashing the past either in the form of copy/pasted emulation ports or remakes of varying quality, it means the core experience or appeal of different franchises may be lost as the game is tinkered with from one generation to the next.  Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (just Echoes moving forward) is trying to preserve video game history without losing touch with the advancements of technology.  As a player who only got into the Fire Emblem series starting with Awakening, Echoes came as a shock for the features it cuts out and streamlined combat.  One similar map to another led to quick boredom, and the vanilla heroics of deuteragonist Alm didn't thrill me.

Then, as it happens sometimes, Echoes clicked.  It wasn't because of Alm and his growing army counterattacking an evil foreign power.  Instead, protagonist Celica (and I'll argue to my grave she's the protagonist), and her small crew of dedicated fighters got to my heart.  The Celica side of Echoes is less immediately gripping as she is journeying on what amounts to a religious pilgrimage which isn't helped by the number of similar boat maps she starts out on.  But the subtle shifts of the combat system in Echoes is felt more keenly on her side than the volume of soldiers available in Alms, and the intimate focus leads to better storytelling through the maps, dialogue, and tactics needed to succeed.


Virginia (2016)

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I've been playing through Final Fantasy XV and, unless something drastic happens, the overall experience has been one of gradual madness sometimes begging the game to perform the action I want it to.  The least of its insane approach to player interaction is the driving, billed as a selling point, but one where you listen to the same inane conversations, answer the same questions, and assuming you want to take the wheel yourself are reduced to holding R2.  Last night I took an unskippable boat ride lasting about five minutes where absolutely nothing of note happened.  This isn't fun, nor insightful, and makes me wish more games realized that the chatter in-between long stretches of unskippable travel is a devolution of the art form.

Enter Virginia, that I played and completed before I picked up FFXV, and while I can't recommend it there are enough promising ideas in play that other developers might learn a thing or two.  FFXV hyped its travel and bonding experience while Virginia showcases editing and a thrilling mystery.  The effectiveness of both are shaky, at best, but when I know my destination and I'm controlling the player character the courtesy of cutting the boring middle part of walking to get to "the good stuff" is one I wish more developers would embrace.


Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)

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Horizon: Zero Dawn (HZD moving forward) is as good a place as any to explain why I don't use star or numerical ratings when I give an up-front assessment of how I feel about a piece of art.  There are two good ideas in HZD plus a half good idea if I take one display feature into account.  Last week when I reviewed what I've now deemed the retroactively worst movie of 2016 - The Legend of Tarzan - I wrote that film had exactly two good ideas.  My save game clocked in around 79 hours for HZD, with The Legend of Tarzan running about 1 hour and 45 minutes or so.  Straight math using good ideas implemented in terms of hours spent with each would put HZD at a 3% success rate (2.5 good ideas/79 hours) while The Legend of Tarzan would be about 114% successful (2 good ideas/1.75 hours).

I bring this up because numerical ratings are silly and, though the mediums are different, HZD and The Legend of Tarzan share similar problems in storytelling.  Both have ciphers in the lead, they navigate a world with strong imperialist pressures that are unwittingly reproduced by the lead, and the call to action is less from a personal drive and more outside pressure.  They share similar issues with racial representation, with PoC bowing down to worship what sometimes felt like the only white girl in the world of HZD, while the slavery in The Legend of Tarzan required a benevolent white fella to stop black leaders from selling black slaves.

Both are repugnant, and my distaste experiencing both don't fit neatly into numerical ratings.  So, as a quick glance up at my rating bar would suggest, HZD  is a Dislike and boy howdy did I dislike it.


The Sexy Brutale (2017)

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My rules for reviewing movies are not the same for video games.  When it comes to movies, I carefully control my reading so that another critic's "voice" does not bleed into my own.  I made the mistake of sounding far too much like Roger Ebert when I started and it took a long time to shake that influence.  But when it comes to video games, I'm not secure in my "voice" outside of the collaborations I've done as part of Pixels In Praxis.  So, with The Sexy Brutale, I let myself drift a bit and speed through some other critic's words.  This brought me to what I think will be one of my guiding philosophies going forward - I am going to do my best not to compare video games with movies.

Article after article I see the same comparison with a varying second half, "The Sexy Brutale is like Groundhog Day meets..."

Considering one of the guiding principles of The Sexy Brutale's structure is that you can feel differently about the past, but you can't change it, critical comparisons to cinema instead of earlier video games counterproductive.  Let video games stand on their own history. For my money (and The Sexy Brutale was worth the money), the more applicable comparisons are the Laura Bow series of Sierra adventure games and the remarkable experimentation of The Last Express.  The former informs The Sexy Brutale with its nods to early 20th century speakeasy bars and inventory-minded adventure construction, the latter with a gaming apparatus that lets the player move throughout the timeline of the game world, and both with gameplay that requires paying close attention to the habits of the characters.


NieR: Automata (2017)

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"When we're down to eating our ancestors," she asked, "what is left?"
-The World Without Us, Alan Weisman-

Playing NieR: Automata (Automata after this point), a question kept popping into my head.  Since manic depression is a condition we deal with, can a lesser variation - a sort of joyful melancholy - exist as well?  I ask because Automata has no shortage of gaming pleasures, while the plot takes all sorts of detours that left me reflecting on the fragile beauty of the landscape in-between spots of robot-busting swordplay.  No matter how many shoot-em-up segments I completed, I'd be back to side-quests of community building where I watched and listened to survivors struggling to make a life for themselves.

I was shocked that Automata had such a deep affect on me considering the level of polish courtesy of Platinum Games.  The original NieR, directed by Yoko Taro, was an ugly duckling of a game.  There were traditional third-person action fighting scenes interspersed with top-down segments more akin to Smash TV before jettisoning most graphic assets to turn into a pure text adventure.  NieR wasn't smooth, but by going from one gameplay extreme to the other it fostered a sense of lonely identity between the different communities.  Even when the world is down to a handful of survivors, everyone's trying to find a way to isolate themselves from the other.