Author Topic: Lobster Talk 2: Japanese Video Games  (Read 3411 times)

Brion Foulke

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Lobster Talk 2: Japanese Video Games
« on: April 03, 2011, 06:52:58 pm »
Yes, that's right... we did a podcast!  If you've ever wanted to me and Jen and some other people babble about Japanese video games for an hour, now you can!

Don't I sound good for a lobster?


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Re: Lobster Talk 2: Japanese Video Games
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2011, 03:21:35 am »
I would have wanted to participate in that so much. Too bad it was 2 in the morning from my point of view.

You do have quite the voice. Enthusiastic, powerful. And distinct enough for me to manage to decypher that without too much effort. The little saturation issues and small cuts in the sound are a bit bothering though, at some moments, the sounds of some guy or other typing on the keyboard can get a bit... Well, noticeable,and the girl whose name eluded me (sorry) is definitely on the hard-to-listen side though, sounding quite far from her mic. Too bad, it made my brain disconnect regularily so I feel I missed bits.

Anyway, from what I gathered, some of it probably redundant with what was already said, here are my two cents on that. If that discussion dwells too much on, I guess it can be moved to the pop culture section.

So , WRPG versus JRPG. I don't think I'm innately biased towards one of the other. I don't believe in good or bad genres. Only good or bad games. This being said, we didn't have any great WRPG in a looong, long time. Some pretty good ones, like Mass Effect or oblivion. But besides that one, the only other noteworthy ones are either game adaptation of existing tabletop roleplaying games licences (Vampire: Bloodlines, Neverwinter Nights 2: mask of the betrayer) or at least ten years old (Baldur's gate 2, Planescape: Torment, a bit later for Morrowind but still). I'm just stating a general opinion though here, I never really managed to get in Morrowind and couldn't run Oblivion on my dear old machine. I enjoyed Daggerfall in its time, but of course it was unfinishable due to its bugs, and I was ten years old tops. So that doesn't really counts.

Meanwhile on the JRPG side. Well, the main series (Final Fantasy of course) had its good times. FF6, 7, 9 come to most's minds of course, to which I'll shamelessly add the twelvth installment. But we'll focus a bit on that series and why these episodes precisely later. For now, let's just say that besides the final fantasy, there are other pretty good ones, like Breath of Fire IV (haven't played the third installment but heard good stuff about it too), Suikoden 2 and more recently 5, Dragon Quest IX, Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2, The World Ends With You, the Persona series as well... The list goes on. But don't get me wrong. For every great game such as these ones, there are many Ar Tonelico, Magna Carta, Wild Arms or Eternal Sonata that just don't quite reach that level.

Determining that WRPG are open-ended and JRPG are linear is an error in my book. Sure, the tendencies are here... But a game such as Final Fantasy X-2 or XII can hardly be considered a straight line, just as a game like Vampire: Bloodlines isn't exactly a wide open sandbox. Plus, the very expression "open-ended" always sounded a bit faulty to me. If the end is open, then, I guess it just means that you've got several endings. Every Suikoden have that. Valkyrie Profile has that. The feeling of openness doesn't comes from the very end to me. To veer a bit away from the RPGs strictly speaking, while the two endings per character depending on your input are nice in Soulcalibur 3, I don't think it can exactly be called open-ended. It's either "Be Tira, smack people, go to the room to the left and be ambushed or be Tira, smack people, go to the room to the right and give the Meat of Evil to a little kid".

I think what matters more is the exploration... Or more importantly, the ways plot and exploration can interact. Because I'll say it frankly, I could never get into Morrowind. Too much exploration, too little narration. Just as I could never get into FFXIII which reverses the vice completely, too little exploration, too much narration. (It does gets more terrible than Morrowind as well because of doubtful gameplay choices, and that dreaded series of files you've got to read to understand cutscenes you just saw... I mean, ugh. Worst storytelling ever. I don't even care if it improves after, it was too terrible, too soon.) In a game like Suikoden V, you know what to do quite nicely, you have a duty, justified, and should you forget it, you have a follower that will remind it to you (which, between you and me, is much better than an arrow pointing where you must go. I'M LOOKING AT YOU FINAL FANTASY X !) and if you want to revisit old cities, wander around to see if there isn't a member to add to your army here and there, or just grind in this or that area, well sure. I mean, of course in FFXIII you can backtrack along that long line if you want. But it's nothing compared to taking your flying ship and noticing new wonders, new islands and having an encounter with black pirates in Skies of Arcadia.

The process of coming to somewhere is as important as the destination. A boring path wastes a good destination just as an uninteresting end wastes a good path. A great example of that can be found in Babylon 5, which is of course one of if not the best sci-fi series in existence, just sayin'. And in that series, one race tends to have prophetic dreams about their death. We see that dream, and see that one of the characters will kill another, strangling him. So it's a in-universe spoiler... Except that it doesn't really spoils anything because the narration is done with enough bumps in its story, ups and downs, that the process of getting there remains interesting. And that when that scene DOES happens, it is surprising DESPITE happening exactly the way we see it !

I mean, if you "purify" things too much, you remove the substance of the thing. In the end, it's just "press X to kill" so you might as well resume it into a button masher with pretty particles effects and nothing more. With choices if you like them. And then, you get a Farenheit/Indigo prophecy or a Heavy Rain. And that kind of game feels REALLY constrictive to me, which gets severely in the way of enjoyment. It's the difference between being tossed in a desert and being bound, gagged and dragged along a path. Neither of those are enjoyable to me. Just find an appropriate middle point, and stick to it mostly, making things a bit more linear in moments of intense scenario parts because something terrible is happening, and a bit more loose when you're in a calm moment.

And then, there's characterization, and I think that's really where a Planescape: Torment crushes an Oblivion down. Mute main characters aren't enticing. They are given a "hero" flag and as long as they wave it, all is good. But nothing really makes them particular. The only way to make that character interesting is to make decisions matter. And you make all the decisions, of course. Else, you might as well be given a character with a personality. Both approaches work, the uneasy "mute char that does nothing really" doesn't. Nor does the "fully customizable character with no given personality". Especially, for the latter, if you don't even have a party with you so at least they can interact ! Then you are just walking along in the silence, and you might as well play a platformer or an action game, because there's no roleplaying anymore !

What you have as a result is basically a MMORPG world without other players then. And it's just short of an actual MMORPG as far as immersion goes, only because you don't have in every town people screaming "wtb [G-string of the petulant gladiator] 10000g plz". Besides this, it's just a setting offered to you, with a plot you may follow that bears no importance compared to any other activity. It makes you think "If I don't do that, others can ! Why don't the city guards move their ass a little ?" And then you realize you're not a hero. Just a mobile piece in a still world.

Now, for a bit of talk about music, because it was told about and I enjoy that topic as well. Limiting the soundtracks strictly to genres or nationality is, then again, a bad idea. Still, the "hollywood influence" is indeed present in WRPGs. But I see it as a corollary to what I just mentioned. If there's no narrative importance, no great phenomenal points, then there's no reason to put a music with an identity. You just have to remain atmospheric... And even then, that's no reason to just be so bland ! There are some great examples still. The first Diablo had for its city and first series of level great tunes that set the mood right away. RTS manage to have in spite of a gameplay more consistent as RPGs some great music, like Command and Conquer (first only) or Red Alert (all three of them. Special mention for the third one who's just craaaazy) or Total Annihilation (I mean... Listen to this !). And MMORPGs which are in essence more static as well manage to pull it off quite well sometimes, the most triumphing example here remaining to me Granado Espada. Seriously. This is just the menu music. Every tune sets a mood while remaining EXTREMELY lively. One last great soundtrack that sets a mood without being bland ? Sure, here, have this city theme from Heroes of Might and Magic V.

Just because you can't tie your keys to a precise narration doesn't means you can't make something with a strong personality, a real presence, a part of the game as any others without being completely crushing or overwhelming. But if you try to make something discrete when there isn't even a worded narration around, you end up just throwing some things because you have to. And that isn't quite right. Not every game can have such great scores, and not every game should entirely revolve around its sound like an Elite Beat Agents or a Rez. But using boring music results in a game with boring music, not immersion.

Last thing, about the progressive instruments addition. The last pokémon games did something absolutely wonderful with that, adding one instrument at each of the eight gates leading to the Victory Road, thus giving it a real imposing presence. And if you're looking for old examples of music altered to reflect some changes, before Ocarina of Time, you had thing such as the level selection of Yoshi's Island which changed a bit, adding some instrument at every world. Or even much before that, just the theme of the level speeding up when you're running out of time in the first Super Mario Bros.

Hm. I got a little carried away there didn't I ? Oh well. Topic's interesting, so here I talk.
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Re: Lobster Talk 2: Japanese Video Games
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2011, 05:24:02 am »
man... i sucked; i was just "there", but i barely said a sentence and i felt like i was lifeless. (No wonder why my username speaks for itself.)
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Re: Lobster Talk 2: Japanese Video Games
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2011, 01:27:58 am »
I've got a few real JRPG, like Bubblegum Crisis RPG, Project A-Ko RPG. I think some of the mechs in Battletech are original japanese, even if the game itself originates from UK (they had to scrap a few mechs because of copyright issues concerning some japanese mecha designs from Gundam). I had in my hands Mekton Z but couldn afford it at the time, had before I moved home BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth) which is a completely freeform three-statt anime RPG (compatible with the Tenchi Muyo and Sailor Moon RPGs). Lets not forget also Cyberpunk, didn't own that one but played it a few times, Bubblegum Crisis is compatible to that one and its based on Cyber City Oedo 808.

I could continue this list a bit further but I only just woke up and still am sleeping.

Sure I also play Final Fantasy and other e-Entertainment games, but really: Videogames are for Geeks, REAL Nerds roll DICE