By Video_Game_King 11 Comments
Wait, where did this come from? Shouldn't I be playing Fire Emblem or Pandora'ing up my towers or something by now? Well, for reasons that currently escape me, I suddenly developed the itch for an old first person RPG, and Might and Magic VII is still sitting in the corner, thinking about what it's done. And on top of that, I'm sweatily making out with Fallout 3 right in front of the poor game, whispering, "You know what you've done. You know all too well" in between motions of the tongue.
OK, that got....ridiculously off track. Maybe I should get it back on track with the usual method: blandly describing the story. Washington DC's been blown to hell and everybody's forced to live in giant metal bunkers. After some genuinely warm family moments, your dad says "fuck this" and bails as soon as he gets an opportunity, and it's up to you to chase him down and ask him what it is he doesn't like about the cold metal life he embraced for near twenty years. It's largely a simple premise, and while it works for what it is, I still have a few issues with the execution. I'd say that I can't remember half the cast, but I'm willing to acknowledge that this may be just me. I can remember the non-human characters (and Three Dog) just fine and like what they did, but can't tell you much about anybody outside that limited selection of characters. But speaking of characters, where the hell is mine? I can't see my own feet, I ghost through environments without so much as a single step, and nobody seems to react to my presence when I'm jumping on tables like a madman. I know that technical limitations could go a long way toward explaining some of this, but it's the little touches like these that make or break my immersion in a game. A simple "stop messing up my lunch" would be enough.
But for all the things it messes up, I still have to give it credit for all the things it does right. For one, what the game sort of lacks in memorable characters, it more than makes up for in terms of events. I don't want to spoil them by simply listing off bland examples, so I'll just cut to the chase and say that you get a healthy variety of both lighthearted, funny moments and meatier, serious stuff. Also, a complete lack of emotional dissonance. What the hell does that mean? In this case, that the gameplay and atmosphere line up pretty damn well emotionally. Let's look at exiting the Vault as an example. What do you think a cave dweller's first instinct would be upon seeing the outside world for the first time? Probably what I did in this exact situation: explore every little facet with absolute glee and wonder. But what happens when you end up murdering an entire town of people on a whim? Well, personally, I felt like Badass Supreme after all that, but there's enough evidence in the game to suggest that other people may not have felt the same way. Stuff like seeing a once populated town become just as empty as the rest of the death-laden Wasteland. And it doesn't end with brutal murder. No matter where you go, Fallout 3's going to be one step ahead of you, making sure you only have fun when it wants you to (which just so happens to be a lot of the time).
For me, that was through being the most psychotic bastard the game would possibly allow me to be. It all begins with a character creator where being white is viewed as the default and every character ends up looking 40 years old, despite the incredibly robust amount of tools at your fingertips. Next, we add a stat and ability system on top of all that which lets you speck out your character however you please. And the final ingredient is a moral system that runs the gamut from Jesus Christ Superstar (there has to be a singing perk in there somewhere) to Anti Christ Booed Off the Stage. Bake for approximately fifteen to twenty hours and you have a game that allows you to be just about anything you could ever want to be. I should know; I've played this game twice over. The first time through, I played largely as a goody good saving the world from...robots? I think it was robots. Anyway, the game had no problem with this. Second time through, though, and I was a ruthless psychopath who would bash in somebody's brains for looking at me funny. Or refusing to look at me funny. Really, I just wanted to kill people as much as possible. The game didn't have much of a problem with this, either.
The best part, though, is that the game isn't.....actually, it will stop you from time to time. Sometimes, this takes the acceptable form of "you're not strong enough to murder everybody in Megaton". Come back in a few levels, and at its worst, the game will give you judgmental looks throughout. But then there are those other times when the game comes down with an iron fist and demands that you play the game a certain way. You want to play through the game as some sort of pacifist? Too bad. You're gonna have to kill somebody sooner or later, ya pansy. And while you're at it, pick up a gun. Everybody else is using them, and melee weapons are so tactically gimped that you'd stand a better chance fighting off the Mutants with a limp sausage.
Which brings us to the VATS system, also known as "DEAR FUCK, HOW COULD YOU BE SO GODDAMN PSYCHOTIC!" Who thought it would be a good idea to dedicate a feature solely to liberating people's limbs from their entire being? From a gameplay perspective, it makes sense. It gives you both an endless amount of strategy in each battle and oh so many ways to express yourself in the game. (Well, at least if you're using a gun; apparently, I can only aim a baseball bat "anywhere".) But from a moral perspective, it's downright uncomfortable. Any bullet you fire has a good chance of blowing a person's arm clean off and sending it five yards in the opposite direction. Sometimes, it's downright, cartoonish. I've seen bullets actually lift a person off the ground when they die, as if in sheer mockery of Galileo. Some of you might say that this should make the violence easier to deal with, given its now weaker connection with reality. Try saying that again after watching this. Why, Fallout 3? Why did you have to make the act of killing somebody so incredibly uncomfortable?.....Well played, game. Maybe not in terms of actually playing (as VATS feels like an awkward split between FPS and RPG), but in terms of the sto-
Hold up. RPG? As in "there's more to this game than just shooting dudes"? How the hell could I forget about that? Maybe because it's presented as a first person game where you shoot things a lot, but that doesn't excuse my forgetfulness. This isn't a game that deserves to be simplified. I mean, just look at the world: it's fucking huge. Even within abrupt invisible walls, there's just so much to do and steal and stab. I'd mention that experience and quests and such provide a nice enough incentive to go out and do this, but what more incentive do you need than the act of exploration itself? Why wouldn't you want to bum around a completely desolate Washington D.C, simply drinking in every last detail carefully wrought unto the land? Yea, the main campaign goes by oddly quickly, but given the large open world I just extolled, and the (mostly) unfettered ability to express yourself within it, I'm not complaining. Much.
And did I mention how amazingly good the game looks?......Actually, let's leave it there.
- Well, you get to destroy the 1950s, but you can't see your own feet while you're doing it. A strange complaint, I know, but still something that bothers me.
- As does the Scanners Combat System on display.
- Everything else is alright, though.
Sex joke? Check! Drug joke? Check! Weeaboo reference? Check! I think I've met my quota for today.
Hey, remember how Assassin's Creed III and Illusion of Gaia have strong gameplay coupled with mediocre stories? (If not, go refresh your memory here and here.) Well, Dragon Quest V is the complete and polar opposite. The story that is Dragon Quest V is masterfully pulled off and definitely something to be experienced. It's just that you have to play the game in order to experience it. Guess which one of these games I like more? Not Assassin's Creed III.
It all begins with you plopping out of your mother's vagina. Fast forward eight years (Christ, this is Fallout 3 all over again, isn't it?), and you're bumming around the land of.....let's call it Land....with your dad. And then you get to Reinhart Castle, and everything just goes to shit. Just horrible event after horrible event. But rather than making the game an emotional horror show, they're what make this game good in the first place. First, because there's that religious, saccharine tone there to keep the depression in check. Second, you're gonna feel pretty damn invested in the affairs of Land because holy hell, this game knows how to hold a man's moods captive. Every little iota of detail, each and every minutiae, from the cinematics to the gameplay scenarios, is calculated specifically to suck in your feelings and hold them sway with an iron vice-grip. When you hear this, you know Dragon Quest V has good fucking reason to do so.
Perhaps a stronger example is necessary. How about the very first town in the game? You're going to spend a lot of time here, and with your dad busy, all you can do is explore the town. Comb over every last detail and get a feel for the daily lives of the people occupying the burg of Santa Rosa. And then the terror happens (I could probably write a bit on that alone, if it wasn't laden with spoilers). After escaping that hellhole of a life, you decide to return to Santa Rosa, maybe to forget i-oh dear fuck, this is just awful. Now imagine an entire game that puts this level of work into even the most inconsequential of things. It's about as good as it sounds. I'd say that the gameplay gets in on the action, too, but breaking and rummaging through everything in sight becomes a lot less child-like when you age ten years. More drifter-like, really.
What's that? You want to know about the plot? Who gives two shits about the plot? The only overarching plot-lines are "find the legendary hero" and "find your missing momma", and while the story never loses focus on those two important goals, they're not the real meat the story. Rather, most of what you'll be experiencing are essentially short stories scattered about the world. Often times, they're simple, sparse on detail, and completely optional, but somehow, still interesting in the very brief time that you get to know them. They're like a small glimpse into the insignificant lives of the NPCs populating the world you're exploring. Maybe not to the extent of Dragon Quest IX, yet that shouldn't diminish this game's accomplishments. But side-story or main, you're getting the same stuff: wonderful pacing, a hefty emotional weight, and, outside a few minor bumps, mechanical perfection.
Now if only I could say the same about the actual game parts. Outside rifling through people's belongings to steal all their "medicinal herbs", a lot of the game is spent in and out of battles. Part of this is because that's the main gameplay system; part of it's also because the game is half random encounter by volume; but no part of it is because the battles are in themselves enjoyable. Given how high the random encounter rate is, you're going to be in a lot of battles, but sadly, the system isn't strong enough to support this level of engagement. You get some spells, some items, some....actually, that's really all there is. But all I really did in most of the random encounters was set all my allies to "eviscerate" while I mashed L1 and waited for the battle to end. No mental stimulation or even attention, really; just button mashing until I can just continue with the game. I'd say that it could use some more bosses to keep battles focused, but the ones that are there aren't especially challenging, at least if you stay on top of your healing. Instead, they're just really, really long. I imagine you could complete other Dragon Quest games in the time it takes to beat one of these bosses.
So what do you get instead of boss battles? A monster recruitment system! Sort of! Now in theory, this a pretty neat idea. Look at that picture just above this paragraph. Wouldn't you want to recruit that horrible thing? No? OK, well, no worries. There are tons of other monsters to recruit, all of them not that thing. Now how do you go about getting them? Well, you don't. Enix apparently never made it to that step in development. Just whack the shit out of an enemy (with love, somehow) and hope it joins you. What fun is a gameplay mechanic if you have absolutely no control over it and can't plan for it in any meaningful way? The one neat part of this game's battles, and it lucks itself out of relevance.
So with the battles completely busted, what else is there to do in this game? Look at and listen to it? Yea, that works, especially the latter, but what else? I'd say side-quests, but I can really only remember one: the largely pointless museum mini-game where you gather collectibles to exhibit to people in the most schizophrenic displays imaginable. And outside that, I can really only mention the dungeons. I don't know what it is about them, but there's something enjoyable about plundering their labyrinthine depths for untold treasures. The joy of discovery and whatnot. Hell, it's more enjoyable than the fights littered throughout wait what the fuck did I just say? How poorly does that reflect upon the feature you'll be seeing the most in this game? And how good does the story have to be that I'd still recommend the whole product?
- In the blue corner, we have a story wtih a small focus but the tools to make it work!
- And in the red corner, we have a battle system that interrupts instead of engages!
- I haven't even rung the bell, yet, but the story somehow still won. Go figure.