Archive for October, 2016

Where can Paper Mario go from here?

October 27, 2016

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Reviewers are feeling a mite uncharitable about Paper Mario:Color Splash. The papercraft world is gorgeous, the dialogue is hilarious. But that combat system.

Helpless Mario can’t act on his own, instead playing cards for every action. Cards that need to be scrolled through, one by one. Cards that need to be selected, painted, then flicked upwards to start combat. Really, it’s not a terrible system, just a bit overfluffed. If you look at it from the outside, it’s more or less the same as Paper Mario’s combat has always been, excepting Super Paper Mario on Wii.

A large part of the problem, though, is that players don’t feel rewarded. Color Splash does away with almost all the series’ roleplaying game elements. There are no level ups, no badges, no flower points. Your reward for using cards to defeat enemies is that you get new, different cards. They might not even be more powerful than the cards you used during the battle.

This isn’t a problem with Color Splash so much as it’s a problem with every pure roleplaying game ever made. Barring the occasional eccentric oddball (Chrono Cross, I’m looking at you), the point of battling, the enjoyment of battling, is not the battle itself. It’s the reward. That experience meter that ticks up, granting you extra power so you can, I dunno, be more powerful. See those numbers go up. Get excited.

Paper Mario has found itself in a hard place. The Mario and Luigi series has become Nintendo’s flagship Mario roleplaying game, and Paper Mario has become… what? Looking at Color Splash, it’s clear where the series’ strengths now lie: great worldbuilding and dialogue. Paper Mario gives players a chance to explore the hidden, personal side of all of Mario’s friends and enemies. That’s a pretty powerful thing.

Color Splash is a modern adventure game with an RPG battle system thrown into the mix, a holdover from a different game altogether. I don’t want to overstate the case: battles in Color Splash are really not that bad. But I just want to solve puzzles and talk to Toads, dammit! Because that’s where Color Splash shines.

If it can’t be a roleplaying game, please don’t make it play like one. A pure adventure game where Mario colors the world and has ludicrous conversations with piranha plants is good enough for me. Perhaps he could –gasp!– solve altercations by taking advantage of environmental puzzles. Make it a pure adventure game, and double down on its strengths.

But maybe that would be boring. I’ll admit that I’m not an adventure gamer, plus, Mario has always been an action series. So put that hammer to use, Nintendo, and make an action adventure game. Nix the turn-based battles but bring back the badges; let Mario hammer blocks and stomp Goombas in real time. And for god’s sake, let Peach in on the action.

West-washing the world’s games

October 21, 2016

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“I can’t remember the last time I played a Japanese game,” my friend Mike said to me.

Our tastes are largely different. He plays primarily open-world games, racers, and first person shooters, pillar genres of “western” game design. It’s true that I tend more toward Japanese games, and occasionally games that are garishly and loudly Japanese. So his statement should have been unsurprising. We just have different tastes. But it was when he said it that surprised me.

I asked him what game we’d been playing.

“Mario Kart. Ah, yeah. Yeah. I didn’t really think about it, huh? I meant really Japanese games, you know?”

In Mike’s defense, Mario is difficult to pin down as Japanese. He’s an Italian plumber, after all, and basically the Mickey Mouse of videogames. He’s so famous that he can’t be said to belong to one culture at all–he’s globally recognized, and every tuned-in culture likely has “their” version of Mario, the same as they have “their” Mickey Mouse or McDonalds.

But it’s been weird, seeing this trend from Japan’s complete dominance of console gaming to a sort of coup by western game developers. In large part I suppose that’s due to the Xbox brand: gamers can play a largely western catalogue of games on an American-made console. It’s also due to the lopsided categorization: Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Forza; these are all considered “our” games, despite being from three different countries. Meanwhile, Japan is just Japan.

Many gamers seem content to let Japan just be dead. After all, where are all the Japanese role-playing games? We have The Witcher (Poland), Elder Scrolls (US), and Dragon Age (Canada). This despite the massive number of Japanese role-playing games that get released on 3DS and Vita to critical acclaim. Well, those are handhelds, they don’t really count. Small in size, they’re assumed to be small in scope.

I suspect that much of the American gaming public is holding their breath for Final Fantasy 15. SquareEnix have been in and out of gamers’ graces for a while. Can the Japanese prove they’ve still got it? The massive success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne should prove that they have, in fact, got it. Nevermind that both series are wrapped in the bleak cloak of western fantasy; us westerners wouldn’t accept anything less.

If Final Fantasy 15 flops, will American gamers write off Japanese role-playing games entirely? That’d be a very sad thing, with Persona 5 just over the horizon.

Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of an Epic Adventure

October 17, 2016

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Dragon Quest 7’s 3DS remake trades adventure for accents and accessibility

To read reviews of the 3DS remake, you’d think Dragon Quest 7 on Playstation was a plodding bore. It ain’t so. Dragon Quest 7 was and is a succession of beautiful, melancholy fables.

I don’t think I ever fully understood the purpose of Dragon Quest’s town stories before playing it. Each town acts as its own bite-sized JRPG so that you can come home after a busy day at the office and make real progress. And each story is so damned compelling, in large part, because of the Playstation game’s translation.

Many JRPGs are stripped of ‘offensive’ content or altered so that they make sense to a western audience. Dragon Quest 7 instead provides a very literal translation, but one that’s clear and concise. It feels in many ways like a modern translation of a literary or religious text. Since that’s what we’re dealing with here–fables where rain turns men to stone, a town is turned into animals, or a young boy is raised by wolves–the original translation is vital for establishing the tone of the game.

The 3DS remake, in contrast, injects such a heavy dose of colloquialism and accent into the dialogue as to be insufferable. For example, when multiple characters say they need to “put their skates on.” Maybe the translations were this excessive in the other DS remakes; I don’t know. What I do know is that here it feels especially egregious. No dialogue box can go without multiple injections of old-timey slang.

Instead of feeling like holy fables, passed down over generations, these stories are chopped up bedtime stories, stripped of their original meaning. By cutesying themselves up, they lose their pathos.

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But there’s more about this remake that grates. The opening hours of the game have lost a very great deal. Originally, Dragon Quest 7 required 4-6 hours(!) of exposition before letting players fight even one measly slime, time spent exploring the first island and its ancient ruin. The ruin acts as the game’s first dungeon–it has no enemies, but it is large and there are numerous puzzles to solve. Exploration is a meaningful part of the adventure, and it establishes the pace of the game. If that opener sounds boring, well, it’s not. It’s just slow, contemplative even.

The remake’s stripping down of this dungeon, on the other hand, is incredibly lame. There is no opening dungeon within the ruins, and there are no puzzles. Your characters go back and forth, fetching items and having them translated. In all it takes about two tedious hours to get through this opening segment. You get all the worst parts and very little of what’s interesting.

Much is lost. The sense of exploration and anticipation over hours of gametime, that slow burn of an opening as the player works their way deeper and deeper into the torchlit ruins. And then finally, once they’ve solved the trials, assembled tablet shards together on a pedestal and proved their heroism, they’re whisked away.

To where? Somewhere far away, somewhere strange, another land. They’re off their quaint fishing island and walking through a dark forest, when there’s a screech from the trees and–suddenly, finally, after all. this. time.

A SLIME ATTACKS.

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