A criticism of originality, part 2: an exercise in madness.

Warning: the following piece may be so insane, conspiratorial, and otherwise idiotic that you may think the author is Dan Brown. Also, this isn't very good. You have been warned.
Warning: the following piece may be so insane, conspiratorial, and otherwise idiotic that you may think the author is Dan Brown. Also, this isn't very good. You have been warned.

(And we're back!) Last time, I left you guys with a bit of a cliffhanger, setting up an argument that I didn't end up making. Well, I'll fix that mistake and make the argument I couldn't make back then. How, you ask? Why, with Bastion, of course! What fault can we find with it? Well, not much...other than it's a total rip-off of Fragile Dreams. Don't believe me? Let's look at what they share:

  • Minor items that reveal a lot of world building backstory
  • A post-apocalyptic plot wherein a kid with a litany of weapons must go out into the world, searching for survivors
  • A grand science experiment that caused this Apocalypse and threatens to do so again
  • A guilt-ridden grandpa figure who was involved with the experiment and sends our hero out on his adventure
  • A stark white villain who, upon seeing the true intentions of those around him, becomes quite mad and wishes death on the world's survivors
  • This fucking scene

Wow, that is A LOT to take from a single game. But wait, what about Fragile Dreams? Is it innocent in all this? No, not really. Remember that scene I linked before? (If not, how? It's emblazoned in gold.) Turns out that shit came from Lunar: Eternal Blue. Although there is another game that shares even more with Fragile Dreams: Bastion Final Fantasy VI. Again, let's compare:

  • The apocalypse
  • The grandpa
  • The tower
  • The magical nihilist
  • The search for survivors
  • The letter

And again, quite a bit so specifically taken from another game. Here's what it all looks like mapped out:

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And so we are forced to call Bastion bad, simply because at least three games before it did quite similar things. Oh, I can already here it: "That doesn't necessarily mean the game is bad; certainly, we must devalue Bastion, but it can still be good." First off, I've seen games criticized for four games before them, so this is well within the territory of bad (at least on these grounds). Second, this introduces another problem beyond simply being bad. Now what were we saying before? About devaluing Bastion? What's the problem there? After all, we don't even have to hold an opinion of it, yet. It can still be good; it can still have any opinion. It just to be devalued in some way. Or, in math language, it's gonna be X-5 (or whatever number you want to assign it; I don't care, and it's not important). But wait a minute: did we just jam a value onto the game before we've seen any of it? Isn't that essentially forming some type of opinion of it (or at least limiting what our opinion will be)? Yea, I think Sherlock Holmes is gonna have a problem with that.

I sense that some of you still aren't convinced by that strange argument. Well, then, time to break out the big guns. That's right, we're going with...Phantom Brave: Heroes of the Hermuda Triangle? OK, what the hell is wrong with this? Yea, it had a story so utterly girly that scientists are still trying to understand the subvaginae it spawned (vaginae within vaginae), but the music was bitching, the customization had some teeth to it, and there could be some crazy maps. But how do I know about a game I've never played? Simple: it's a rip off of a game I have played, Phantom Brave: We Meet Again. What's that? Remakes aren't subject to this rule because they're being honest about their sources of inspiration? Then tell me why Super Street Fighter II Turbo elicited the response "Capcom can't count to three". Exactly. Honesty and openness account for jack shit. Of course, with this established, we can call We Meet Again a cheap Phantom Brave knock-off...with Phantom Brave stealing quite a lot from Disgaea (even Laharl makes the leap). But yet again, Disgaea is not innocent; it steals quite a few gameplay and graphical concepts from Final Fantasy Tactics. This is where things get interesting.

For you see, Final Fantasy Tactics rips off two video games primarily: Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu. The first is easy enough to spot, since they were both developed by pretty much the same team. The second, though, requires some elaboration: both games share the same damn plot. Sigurd becomes Ramza, Alvis becomes Delita, the Twelve Crusaders become the Zodiac Braves, their weapons the stones, the Loptous Sect becomes the Glabados Church, etc. Now I would like to analyze Fire Emblem a bit more, but given that it, too, is a rip-off of Tactics Ogre (the series only became as political as it is after Tactics Ogre, much like many strategy RPGs of the day), it would make more sense to start with Tactics Ogre.

You know why else it would make sense? Because it's infinitely more simple than what I shall do with Fire Emblem 4. You see, remove the isometric perspective, and all you have is a complicated variant of Shining Force. But is Shining Force unique? Hell no! It's nothing more than a derivative of the original Fire Emblem....which was open about its inspirations of "what if we combined Famicom Wars with Dragon Warrior." The rabbit hole goes deeper still, because Dragon Warrior is a rip off of Wizardry, which is a rip off of Ultima, which is a rip off of Akalabeth, which i-

......Let's move onto Fire Emblem 4. At first, things seem simple, as (at first) it appears to be nothing more than a Fire Emblem rip off. After all, it's got the same gameplay, the same mechanics, the same art, even the same music. But wait, about that music: there's another source of inspiration, and a weird one at that. Listen to that last video again. Anything sticking out to you? That's right: it's the intro sound effects from Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World. What's that? Too esoteric? A helluva lot closer than the plagiarizing in this video (those two aren't even the same tone), so I think we're fine. Back to Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World. I don't think I need to make clear what this game is ripping off. Of course, All Stars rips off the games it compiles, and each game rips off the one before it (otherwise, it would be quite difficult to call Mario a series), with Super Mario World doing the same, so this issue only becomes more complicated, and it only becomes even more complicated when we look at the individual games. Super Mario Bros. 2 is but a Doki Doki Panic knock-off, and Super Mario Bros. borrows quite a bit from Mario Bros. (again, I refer you to Super Street Fighter II), which itself takes quite a bit from Donkey Kong. And so this mess ends there...right?

Oh, but why limit ourselves to video games? After all, we've seen so many comparisons to works outside our medium many times before, such as between Snatcher and Blade Runner (really, it applies to a lot of what Kojima does), Star Wars and anything, Donkey Kong and King Kong, and, why, something on our very forum. From there, it's not too large a leap to make a normative claim based on those comparisons (it's been done within games, after all). So what exactly do we get out of this? Well, first off, Akalabeth ultimately rips off Dungeons and Dragons, and....no, that's pretty much it. Things are equally simple for Doki Doki Panic, which is largely based off a Fuji TV show or something. Things only become truly complicated with two games in particular: Super Mario Bros. and Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu. Let's start with the first. Now, as I said before, Donkey Kong rips off King Kong, so we must add that to the mix. But this is about Super Mario Bros, which primarily derives from two other sources: Star Trek and Alice in Wonderland. Now how the fuck does Super Mario Bros rip off Star Trek? Simple: Miyamoto admitted that the idea of teleportation pipes came from Star Trek. He also admitted to inspirations from Alice in Wonderland, as where else can we find a magical land of nonsense where you can change size all over the place with the bite of a mushroom? (It's more apparent in the sequels, especially Super Mario 64.) But is Al-you should know by now that it isn't. It ripped off quite a few poems from its time (go back a bit in the video, and you'll see such in action).

Now onto Seisen no Keifu, or, as I shall call it only within this sentence, Medieval Star Wars. Don't believe me yet again? Well, time to break out some more charts. Clear enough now? Now we can move onto how Star Wars is unoriginal, which shouldn't be a difficult job at all. A lot of its unoriginality is public knowledge, whether it's ripping the general story and editing techniques of Flash Gordon, the general feel of many a samurai film, or the general plot structure of the all encompassing Monomyth of old. But it doesn't e....OK, this is getting fucking confusing. Maybe it will become clearer if I provide a visual representa-

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OH DEAR CHRIST! IT HASN'T BECOME CLEARER AT ALL! There's no way we can call anything here good with so much inbreeding and the threat of so much more on the horizon! If anything, we've plunged into some insane world where everything is either perfect because it resembles everything or abysmal for the exact same reason. And the worst part: it doesn't have to end here. I mean, what's to separate me from that child in the previous blog? True, I've played far more games than he has, but even my knowledge has its limits. Just because I'm not aware of other works being ripped off doesn't mean they don't exist; hell, there's probably a vaudeville act out there with the same plot as Phantom Brave or something. You know, I'm starting to think that there's absolutely nothing original.

But there's something worse about a focus on originality, something far worse: it removes from games their power to determine their own quality. Hanako Ikezawa is no longer a tragic figure whose plight moves my heart to and fro, but a mere rip-off of Turanga Leela. Trolls on Treasure Island is no longer to be criticized for its terrible idea realized through a confusing execution, but solely because it rips off Dudes with Attitude. Spiderman 3 is not to be hated for its dorky protagonist and...some other stuff (I should probably use things I've seen as examples), but because it derives much of its plot from a frigging Angry Beavers episode. In fact, go back to the insanity from before and tell me when I last even mentioned Phantom Brave at all. But why stop at mere works? Why, under this system of logic, remakes, parodies, compilations, rereleases, even delayed ports - all of them "inherently" worthless. (I put that in quotes because nothing is inherently original, since originality is a comparative thing.) Sports games, even, would be devalued from the start, if we wanted to extend either of my previous diagrams to include the real world. There's only one way to escape this logic that only examines a game so that it may make it irrelevant: cast off originality altogether.

So now what?

(I suspect that at least one of you thinks that I might hold sameness to be a virtue, after all the discussion.) I hope nobody does, but I can understand why you would think that. Although that line of thinking is closer to the truth I try to espouse, it would lead us to many of the same problems originality would have, as under this alternate system, a game could be good by virtue of its similarities to a bad game. Obviously, that's pretty fucked up.

So what exactly do I mean? Exactly what I meant waaaaay before: a game must only be evaluated in terms of the game itself. Other games must not be dragged into the discussion and should not be used to judge other games. Descriptive comparisons are fine, but not normative comparisons. And that's the end of that. I'd ask you what you think of all this, but if you've made it this far, you're no doubt scathing it at me already.