By Video_Game_King 24 Comments
No, this game has absolutely nothing to do with Holocaust denial. Instead, it's a classic prisoner's dilemma situation given human wrappings...and then wrapped around that is talk about Kurt Vonnegut. And digital roots! And prosopagnosia! And morphic psycho-resonance field sciences! Now do you see what happened as I went on with that? Things just got crazier and crazier, loopier and loopier, for no goddamn reason. Well, in the end, that's exactly what 999 is: a very good idea surrounded by utterly stupid bullshit.
The game begins with a narrative describing the various details of a warmly lit room, awkwardly juxtaposed alongside a college aged student swearing and screaming at the top of his lungs. Eventually, though, he moves past this and into a group of escaped mental patients. After all, their first priority is to look down at the numbered bracelets on their wrists, and their second priority is to spend 90 minutes using them as the basis for dumb code names like Pineapple and O. Henry and Quelitofaximon Supreme. Yes, none of these strange events make a lot of sense, but right now, that's kind of the point. They're under serious pressure and clearly aren't thinking straight, so of course they're going to come up with stupid names. Hell, one of them even uses their actual name as a codename (and I'm not talking about Junpei). But even ignoring these circumstances I most likely made up, I'm still not giving up the overall strangeness these characters have. Their quirky nature makes them more memorable, relateable, likable, and maybe some other positive words that don't end in "-able". Developed and fleshed-out will suffice. Oh, and I might as well add that this even carries over to how the characters are presented. No, I'm not talking about their portraits (although those are good, too), but more the fact that the developers used the text advancing sound to give each character unique voices. How much more identity can they have?
Good thing, too, because otherwise, I doubt the philosophical aspects behind the game could have succeeded to the extent that they do. I mean, can you ima.....I haven't even explained where the philosophical implications are coming from, have I? It's the prisoner's dilemma thing from before: everybody's playing a math game where cheating results in explosions. Now if we were given nothing more than a collection of generic bumblefucks to play the game, then the dilemma wouldn't hold much weight. After all, I could just write them off as being mentally ill-prepared weaklings, and I don't want to make that mistake again. Fortunately, that never happens. The characters have some level of depth, so it's a lot easier to understand how fucked they can be at any given time, thus lending the whole thought experiment some depth and credibility. I'd follow that up with some other examples of how thought out this one aspect of the story is, but I feel like I'd be rambling on and driving the point way too deep.
Like, you know, the game does with everything I haven't mentioned so far. What? You thought 999 was just the ethical thought experiments? There's so much more to this game. Ice-9! Drowning rats! Bloody Santa (IE plagiarism)! Inaccurate trailers! It's like somebody dropped out of college after their freshman year and decided to mash all their textbooks together into something resembling a plot. And it's here where the game starts to break the eff down. You simply can't have that many ideas on display at once, because none of them are going to receive any focus or purpose. Your best case scenario is that your characters come off as needlessly strange, bringing up Titanic mummies for seemingly no goddamn reason, and then dropping said story as soon as they mentioned it. The middle case scenario is that you leave your audience wanting more. For instance, how does that Titanic stuff tie into the overall story? Never mind that; there's lube behind the cheese. Also, Kurt Vonnegut. To be fair, it may tie into a larger picture later on, but damn if it doesn't come off as scatter-brained and unable to focus.
Which reminds me: what's the worst case scenario I haven't mentioned yet? The story gets so utterly bloated with gimmicky ideas that you simply can't manage them all at once, and things start breaking down in front of you. I could explore how this plays out, but I believe an example will serve us better. Sort of spoilers follow, for those looking for a warning. Two of our characters (let's say Flapplejack and Nazi Olympics) discover a dead body, and one of them proposes this theory as to how the person died: long ago, an Egyptian priestess was frozen with future technology. I know, but it gets stupider. Somehow, the ice inside her turns into ice-9 (despite the fact that by the story's own logic, this would leave the world so deeply and thoroughly fucked that we should all be coughing up head), allowing her to survive death....somehow. Fast forward several centuries, and archaeologists discover her frozen corpse and decide to carry it across the desert. She doesn't melt (even though Egypt could very easily melt her necrotic ass), and eventually ends up on a Titanic replica where she does melt. Why? No idea. So what does she do when she comes back to life? Crawl through the ship's secret passageways (because, you know, all ships have secret passageways) and randomly murder somebody she's never met for absolutely no reason. How many paint chips do you have to eat to come up with such a dumb idea? And how many more do you have to quaff down to make this seem credible? Granted, this scenario (just barely) turns out to be incorrect, but never once does the narrator or any single character speak up and say, "There are more reasons why that's utterly stupid than there are words to express them."
And don't think that I'm simply picking on this one glaringly stupid plot hole; there are a billion more I could choose from. How did Zero make sure that the contestants in the Nonary Game wouldn't simply shit out their bombs? How does Snake's bracelet detect his heartbeat when the arm he's wearing it on is a fake? How do the endings even function? The most random details in the story seem to change to bend to the will of the ending, even if this opens up a plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon. Let's take a look at bracelet number 9: in one ending, it's super-ultra-vital to have it for the end of the game, yet in another, you can ignore the hell out of it, and in another, it wasn't even a 9 in the first place, but an upside-down six! Yea, that sounds perfectly reconcilable. The True ending (which, I have to admit, has its moments) tries to justify this by tying the bad endings into this, but how do bad endings change things that were very clearly established at the beginning of the game? Do you intend to resolve those major plot holes, 999? Do you intend to resolve anything? Because from what I've seen, the true ending only makes things more confusing, opening so many questions while answering so little. No amount of player agency and interactivity can salvage a mess like this!
Fortunately, the gameplay is strong en-*snrk* Sorry, but there's just no way I can finish that sentence with a straight face. Though that's not to say that the game parts are bad. It's all simple escape the room mechanics, which I know sounds bad, but it works in the game's favor. All the puzzles are small, contained and usually don't take long, which helps to balance out some of the more esoteric bullshit. Yep, it's even seeping into the gameplay, too. Do you know Morse code and chemical equations? What's that? You don't? Well, too bad. We're not telling you. Instead, we're gonna wait here while you inevitably look this shit up online. I realize that it's supposed to contribute to the feeling that somebody's fucking with me, and I guess it gets its job done, but try telling that to me when I'm solving puzzles that involve base-16 Roman numerals. No, having played it previously (because while you can skip the eff out of text on subsequent playthroughs, you still have to solve all those puzzles all over again) isn't gonna help. But to be fair, a lot of this only comes up near the end of the game, which appropriately lines up with the plot's stupidest moments, too. For the most part, though, the size helps balance out those whacko logic, leaving us with some mildly enjoyable puzzles.
But those are ultimately a minor aspect of the game, so they can do nothing to make up for the poorly written story. How did they mess up such a solid concept? While writing this blog, I categorized several of my observations into a plot hole category, something I remember doing for that abominable piece of ass known as Alone in the Dark. (Don't worry, you guys. This game isn't nearly as bad as Alone in the Dark.) Curious, I decided to compare my two plot hole categories. 999 won, hands down. It wasn't even close. And the worst part about is that I've already thought of several more plot holes popping up in this story. How do you test for something like morphic resonance? How do you know that the receivers aren't just solving these puzzles with their own intelligence? Why was Clover in the Nevada group when her brother was clearly so much smarter that he wouldn't need her psychic message bullshit? Why did the participants have to be in physical danger when the belief that they were in danger probably would have sufficed? Why was nobody arrested at any point in the story? Perhaps most importantly: why, Aksys Games, did you feel the need to complicate the hell out of 999? The premise sounded good enough: adding human elements to an otherwise sterile thought experiment. But then you just had to throw in everything else, and you bit off more than you could chew. Ugh.
- You know, for all the bad things I've said about this game, I have to admit the charac-WAIT A MINUTE! Egyptian priestesses involved in time-travel, wristy math games? This is that Yu-Gi-Oh crossover movie all over again. Seriously, listen to this and see if anything sounds vaguely familiar. I don't even need the other bullets. This will do just fine.
You know what? Enough negativity. It's time to dance. Dance! DANCE LIKE AN APPARENTLY OLD PROGRAMMER WOMAN WHO'S DRESSED LIKE A DANCER FOR NO GOOD REASON!
And here's Cadash! This was supposed to be Galaxy Express 999, but then I realized that it's a Japanese adventure game, and my Japanese is only good enough for pointing out the dumb plot points in 999 (Q? Seriously?). So instead, we get this obscure action game not even I have heard of. That's one part of the job down. The next part is to offer a blanket statement of "it's good" and call it a day.
And first up in making a generic blog for a generic game is starting with the story, even when there's not much to say. A demon captures a princess, and for some reason, people go to war over this. Now some heroes have to save her and....no, that's about it. Not much of a story, but whatever. This small amount of story works well as motivation to get you playing, unless you have something against princesses. And then the game decides to throw in more story for reasons I can't understand. Not in the 999 way from before, mind you, where everything just comes tumbling down, but more in a way that makes you question why it was included in the first place. Why, for instance, are you having me pull some Biblical grave-robbing? To talk to animals? Why? Isn't "wander through the land of the dead" enough for the game? Your scenarios are cool without the story, so all this extra stuff isn't really needed, Cadash. Sometimes, it can result in some really strange and really funny moments, like that Carl Sagan shit above, but for the most part, there's only one real reason any of these short story whatevers made it into the game:
Cadash thinks it's an RPG. As I've already told you, this doesn't work out well for the story, but for everything else, it works well. For instance, multiple characters! True, the game edges you toward the knight by making sure all the equipment in the game is meant for him, but from what I've read, it sounds like each of the other characters plays radically differently. Hell, a couple of them even get to use the MP bar! The mage has thunder, the priest is a defense guy, and I only played as the ninja because he's a fucking ninja. What more do you need? A lot more? Wow. Uh, how about NPCs and towns and stuff? Sure, it doesn't contribute to the story in any meaningful way, but it does offer some direction and rest from the winding level design, along with some means of healing, something you're not going to get in the game proper. It may sound like I'm insulting the level design like I am the story, but I'm fine with it. So what if the levels are more linear than they'd like you to believe? The "multiple" paths simply add more complexity to a game that's so in need of it.
Remember before, where I said Cadash only thinks it's an RPG? In reality, it's....I don't know. What do you call a game where you walk forward and bash dudes over the head? Not a beat-em-up or a character action game or a platformer, but something in between all that. After all, the focus does seem to be on the combat....sort of. OK, so you're not going to get complex combo systems or even multiple attacks (at least from what I can tell), but you do get a ton of enemies to whack about, and that's where the game is at its strongest. The game's always finding new enemies to shove in your face, each one equally fantasy to the last. How do you top a dumb cockatrice? With weird chimera things and that Cthulhu monster in the above screenshot. Plus the bosses are pretty awesome. Ignoring the fact that you're fighting bugs and jelly (it's a bit better than it sounds, you guys), they're usually fast enough to keep you on your toes and give you a good challenge. I say usually because of how disappointing the final boss is. If you have enough herbs, you can just sit in the back and literally wail on his ass.....Look, I know that none of this sounds particularly exciting, but Cadash isn't exactly the most ambitious game in the world. You get some characters, some levels, some fighting, several hours worth of gameplay, maybe even a story, and that's about it. It all works out well in the end, though, so it's pretty hard to complain about what's there.
- Carl Sagan, you disco devil, you.
- Yea, I only played as the ninja, but the point is that Cadash gives you good reason not to.
- Oh, and I think something about how the enemies are pretty cool.