Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Social Justice vs Games: “Solid Snake” on Persona 5

April 24, 2017

So, I was looking around for some information on the details of Shiho’s interaction with Kamoshida in Persona 5, and came across this thread on the Nuklear Power forums by “Solid Snake” talking about the flaws in Persona 5 and, eventually, the Persona series in general. I couldn’t register to the forums to reply, and it looks like the thread is winding down anyway, but I wanted to talk a bit about it because to me it really comes across as a combination of Social Justice vs Games with a helping of personal interpretation mixed in.

There will be spoilers past this point.

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More Thoughts on Persona 5

April 17, 2017

So, I’ve been pushing ahead in the game, and like the other Persona games it turns out that the details of the setting tend to fade into the background as the game progresses, so I’m getting more into the game as things go along. In fact, one of the reasons for this post is that I’m 30+ hours into the game and that stopped me from sitting down and writing a different post.

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Tropes vs Women: Not Your Exotic Fantasy.

April 12, 2017

So, in this video, Sarkeesian is trying to discuss the exotification of female characters, where they are portrayed as being sexy and/or sexual on the basis of the exotic ethnicity. As she herself describes it:

For instance, when certain white men falsely view Asian women as inherently more obedient or submissive than women from other cultures, and sexually fetishize them as a result of these false notions, those women are being exotified, and their race is falsely depicted as the defining aspect of their character and personality.

And if you are going to talk about this sort of thing, Asian women are indeed the typical example, as they are often used in various works to add an exotic sexual appeal just from the fact that they are Asian.

So, then, why does Sarkeesian focus on examples of blacks and indeed have hardly any examples of Asians?

The problem is that Sarkeesian has gone on and on about how women are sexualized in video games. Thus, the implication we are to take from her works is that women, in general, are sexualized and treated as sex objects. Thus, in order to make this video work, she’s going to have to find examples where the women in the games are being treated as sex objects just because of their race and thus it can’t be the case that if you put any woman in that position she’d be equally sexualized. This, of course, is potentially very hard to do. So what Sarkeesian is going to try to do here is instead focus on another use of “exotic”, this time in terms of locale, and thus focus on the idea of a stereotypical idea of a foreign and strange culture. In doing so, she can use games that either are set in an exotic locale or that stereotype a “strange” culture and then take the examples of sexualization from those games to make her overall point about the women being an exotic fantasy.

There would be issues with focusing on Asian cases for this. First, Sarkeesian is likely far less familiar with those stereotypical representations due to the odd relationship Asians have to Social Justice; often being seen as an oppressed class but not being placed front and centre as often due to their relative success when compared to other oppressed groups. Second, Asians wouldn’t fit into the current focus of the Social Justice movement, which is definitely focusing on blacks and Latios due to the political climate. And finally — and most importantly from an argument standpoint — this would run into a real issue since a lot of the most stereotypical presentations might well be presented in Japanese games, which would make the “cultural appropriation” line Sarkeesian wants to pull at a minimum problematic and at worst ridiculous. Thus, Sarkeesian will focus on black characters — who are best known for not being considered attractive because of their race, and so those black women who best fit into the white model being considered the most attractive — instead of focusing on the group that is best known for being considered attractive because of their exotic looks.

And we can see why we have the problem in looking at her first example, that of Far Cry 3:

Ubisoft’s 2012 game Far Cry 3 casts players as Jason Brody, a young white American man vacationing in Bangkok with his brother and their white friends. But their carefree fun comes to an end when a skydiving trip goes wrong and they all end up being kidnapped by evil pirates–who, you guessed it, are not white. Jason escapes and encounters a group of island natives called the Rakyat, who enlist his help to rid their island of the pirates. Ushering Jason into his exotic and exciting new role as a tribal warrior and white savior is Citra, a young woman who is viewed among her people as a “warrior goddess.” Under her guidance, Jason’s adventure rapidly becomes an absurd hodgepodge of racist stereotypes about tribal cultures and Brown women.

At one point, Citra gives Jason a hallucination-inducing drink which leads him into battle with an imagined giant; after he defeats the monster, he’s rewarded with a topless Citra telling him that he is now part of the tribe. Citra’s strange mystical powers return later in the game when she blows a glowing dust into Jason’s face, triggering another hallucinatory sequence that culminates in the game-ending choice: to save Jason’s friends and leave the island, or to do Citra’s bidding: to savagely kill his friends, and stay on the island with her. If players choose to murder Jason’s friends and stay with Citra, a scene plays in which the two of them have sex, then she stabs him while stating that their child will become the new leader of the tribe. I guess those mystical tribal powers of hers just immediately let her know that she’s already pregnant.

Citra is, in fact, pretty much the stereotype of “Sinister Seductress”. So in order to get to “exotic fantasy”, she has to do more than that. And she tries:

On one hand, Citra is yet another example of a female character whose sexuality is presented as a motivator and reward for the presumed straight male player. But there’s something more insidious happening with Citra: Her body paint and magical powers which suggest she practices some sort of tribal mysticism, which also root her in a longstanding tradition of racist stereotypes. These elements of sexism and racism intersect, turning Citra into a stereotype of an exotic, primitive, mystical, savage, sexualized woman of color.

But all she’s doing here is linking the character to the stereotypes. She isn’t in any way establishing that we are supposed to see her as being more attractive because she’s “tribal”, just that we are supposed to find her attractive and she is stereotypically tribal. For Sarkeesian’s point to work, it can’t merely be the case that we have a black woman who happens to be sexually attractive and portrayed that way, but has to be the case that the attraction comes from their race and/or stereotypical presentation of their race and racial traits. And since Sarkeesian can’t do that, she’s hoping that simply pointing out that “intersection” will be enough. And it’s not.

This follows on from her other examples. She talks about an alternate costume in the Resident Evil games that is definitely fetishy … after talking about how all of the alternative outfits for the women in those games are fetishy. She also talks about the sexy stereotypical presentation of a character in Street Fighter … which is a game where all presentations are stereotypical and where she has commented that many of the female models are inappropriately sexualized. The examples don’t establish that the characters are being sexualized because of their race or the racial stereotypes because they are being presented in the same way as all characters are. Thus, all she has to complain about are the stereotypes, but if she just wanted to talk about that, she could, instead of trying to stuff that justification into a potentially related but in reality quite different topic.

The problem with this becomes clear as she discusses Diablo III:

In Diablo 3, there are six–soon to be seven–classes to choose from, but only one of them is represented by Black characters–the witch doctor. Employing just about every visual stereotype about tribal warriors in the book: elaborate piercings, skull masks and body paint, and carrying voodoo dolls and shrunken heads as items of power, the witch doctor is a caricature of tribal identity rooted in centuries-old racist imagery that has no place being perpetuated in the 21st century.

So, given the nature of the game, all of the characters are very stereotypical — or even archetypical — representations of their classes, as far as I can tell (I haven’t played any of the Diablo games). Given the sitting, a Witch Doctor/Shaman class seems like a good fit, and a way to provide a different style of gameplay or even of presentation in a way that everyone will get. Given that, that they’d load up on the visual stereotypes makes sense, and fits in with how the other classes are presented (they load up on the stereotypes for the others, too). So, given that they wanted to add that sort of class, would Sarkeesian have preferred that the character not be black? Would that have helped? Or is it more that Sarkeesian simply doesn’t want to see that sort of character in a game at all, whether it is black or not?

I suspect the latter, given how Sarkeesian ends with examples of non-stereotypical uses of other cultures, and ends with this:

This kind of respectful treatment of cultural history and traditions should be the norm, but instead games more often just plunder marginalized cultures with no sense of respect and no concern whatsoever about accurately reflecting the people and traditions they’re appropriating from. To put it simply, it’s not okay for games to reduce these cultures to stereotypical costumes and personality traits in an effort to add a bit of exotic flair to their worlds. It should not be too much to ask for and expect representations of people of color whose cultural backgrounds are acknowledged and woven into their characters in ways that are thoughtful, validating, and humanizing.

And so, at this point, it’s worth looking at how a lot of games tend to use “exotic” locales and characters. See, another way of looking at “exotic”, as I’ve highlighted above, is simply as “different”. A lot of games don’t delve into their settings much at all, using them as backdrops to the action and drawing on some shallow elements of them to drive things forward. This holds even for Western games in Western cultures. However, for various reasons a particular game might not want to use the typical settings of, say, a standard Western city, but instead might want to try something different, to at least give the player something new to look at. They still don’t want to go into detail on the culture and cultural details, but want some different background cultural elements to mess with player expectations and want some different landmarks to players to look at. They might, for example, want to set a horror game in someplace like, say, Canada and shallowly adopt some of the Canadian myths and legends as the background for the story. And, speaking as a Canadian, I think I’m okay with that as long as they aren’t exceedingly offensive about Canadian stereotypes (and I admit that there will be games that do that for the cultures Sarkeesian is focusing on). But Sarkeesian wants — as her examples show — a deep examination of the culture, which is what the games explicitly didn’t want to do. If they get called out for being merely shallow examinations even if they aren’t egregiously offensive — and even Sarkeesian doesn’t argue that the Far Cry 3 case, for example, is egregiously offensive, just overly and overtly sexual and stereotypical — game companies will be forced into a dilemma: do they add time and money to do this deeper research and examination of the culture for a game where no one in their expected audience really cares and where they only wanted to do something different, or do they instead simply not bother including any culture that might be problematic? I expect them to pick the latter, and I’m pretty sure that them choosing that one more of the time will reduced the “representation” of minority characters in their games, which Sarkeesian also doesn’t like.

There’s nothing wrong with games that deeply explore their cultures, even if that culture is, indeed, the Western culture that we are all immersed in. But not all games are going to want to do that, and Sarkeesian needs to find a way to allow games to set themselves in different cultures without having to make a game that a) they don’t want to make and b) most of the audience doesn’t want to play at the moment. So, in this video, Sarkeesian fails to establish her stated main point, and also fails to make clear how to achieve her actual main point in the context of games in general. That seems like a double failure to me.

First Thoughts on Persona 5

April 10, 2017

So, Persona 5 came out last week, and as a big fan of the Persona series, this as a game that I had pre-ordered. I’ve started playing it and am about 12 hours in, just past the first “Palace”. What do I think of it so far?

I think it doesn’t have the charm of Persona 3 and Persona 4.

As I’m going to talk about the early plot, there will likely be some spoilers, so I’m going to put it below the fold:

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Musings on Star Trek …

April 3, 2017

So, recently I re-watched the entire series of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m also right now re-watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (I’m currently on season 6). And I’ve watched the original Star Trek a number of times. And one thing that has struck me is how different my reaction to the various series are. When I watch TOS, I am always struck by just how good the series and episodes actually were. This run-through of DS9, at least in the early seasons, I felt the same way. But for TNG I didn’t feel that. Instead, I was struck by a feeling that the episodes weren’t as bad as I thought they were, which isn’t quite the same thing. I did enjoy watching TNG — even some of the first season — but again my main reaction was that I seemed to remember the episodes being worse and there being more episodes that were bad than I noticed this time around. That says something, to me, about the overall quality of the various series.

Also, this time around I’m definitely feeling that the later seasons of DS9 aren’t as interesting as the earlier ones, even though they’re still good. The reason for that, I think, is that the earlier seasons are much more focused on character, while the later ones build into the Dominion War and so are focused much more on plot. But I think that character-focused works stand up better to rewatchings than plot-focused ones do, because once you know the plot there isn’t really anything there to surprise you, and if you’ve forgotten the details of the plot you won’t notice the little details that build into the plot points that you’ve forgotten about. For characters, though, little things that you never really noticed about them come out, and come out even more when you remember details of their character progression. For example, when Doctor Bashir is told that he’s been nominated for the prestigious Carrington Award, he comes across as absolutely panicked … a fact that I had never noticed before, and one that becomes all the more important when it is revealed that he is genetically engineered and spent a lot of effort on making sure that he flew somewhat under the radar to ensure that no one ever found out. Suddenly being thrust into the spotlight had to make him feel the panic of potentially having failed at that and now being very much at risk for being found out.

Deep Space 9 was always one of my favourite of the Star Trek series, so that I’m enjoying it more than TNG is not a surprise. But TNG getting “It’s not as bad as I remember” is. If I ever watched Voyager or Enterprise, I wonder how my reactions would change to those over time …

And This Is Why I Don’t Buy Science Fiction Anymore …

March 31, 2017

So, again, there’s a new controversy — which by the time you read this will probably have settled — in science fiction that is drawing commentary from both P.Z. Myers and Vox Day. Here’s my understanding of what’s going on:

John Scalzi has a new book out, called “The Collapsing Empire”. Vox Day and Scalzi have had a minor feud going on for a while, over things like site hits and the like. Some claim that Day sees this as being more of a feud/rivalry than Scalzi does, but it’s not like Scalzi ignores Day either. At any rate, at some point in time Day and his publishing company “Castalia House” decided to publish a “parody” of “The Collapsing Empire” called “The Corroding Empire” authored by “Johan Kalsi”, with a nearly identical cover. Since Scalzi’s book, obviously, wasn’t out when they started it, the parody is not a page-by-page parody of the work itself, but seems to be a parody in the sense of taking what they knew about the underlying plot and the Scalzi’s explicit attempt to make a Foundation-style story. Then, right around the release date of Scalzi’s work, Amazon pulled “The Corroding Empire”. In response, Day redid the title and the cover to be different in an attempt to get it reinstated. Much bureaucracy ensued, but eventually Amazon has reinstated the book in its original form.

But, of course, the controversy doesn’t end there. The people on Day’s side insist that this was an invalid banning of the book done by the behest of a specific SJW at Amazon. This impression is buttressed by the fact that every time a manager at Amazon reinstated it the book went off again until things finally settled down, suggesting some kind of difference in opinion, at least, between management and some employees. On the other side, the idea is that Day did this deliberately to try to generate sales for his book by having people confuse his book for Scalzi’s and buying that one instead, with the main evidence being the similarities and the fact that Day said that he wanted his book to outsell Scalzi’s, thus leading to the argument that Day had a similar Foundation-inspired book on tap and used this as a way to artificially increase its sales.

Now, I wouldn’t put it past Day to try to do that, but in this case I’m inclined to believe Day here. In the lead-up to this, much was made over how bad Scalzi’s book was from the look ahead previews and about how bad the pre-order sales were, following on from comments that Tor was going to doom themselves by giving Scalzi such a huge advance when he wasn’t that great a writer. So the story they tell of cobbling something together quickly that could give Scalzi a run for his money is one that would appeal to them. Also, I can’t imagine that even with the similarities enough people would be fooled to really raise Day’s rank and lower Scalzi’s. That being said, I would actually have understood if Amazon had merely say “Hey, these are too similar, people are getting confused, please change it”, even as I’m not convinced that as many people who say in the reviews that they were confused really were.

What’s really interesting, though, is how this impacts reviews and views of the works themselves. There are believed to be a number of false “1 star” reviews of both books, where people who have not read either book are commenting on them saying how bad they are. This, then, skews the review scores which, well, makes them useless. But even more interesting is that if you read the comments on the book from people on either side — there’s more comments from the pro-Scalzi side on this post from file770 — they come down on the side that they politically favour. Those on Scalzi’s side love his book and hate the one Day is promoting. Those on Day’s side hate Scalzi’s book and love the one Day is promoting. So, how is someone who really doesn’t give a damn about all of this political crap supposed to filter through this?

As it turns out, I’ve glanced at the previews from both sides. After reading the prologue for Scalzi’s, I was tempted to get all three preview chapters and tear them apart because, well, the prologue was just plain bad, and what I’ve read of the next chapter was not any better (it involves someone holding a conversation with someone else while having sex). For Day’s, my impression was … meh. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t stand out much either. So I’m not inclined to think that those on Scalzi’s side are assessing the works fairly — and I disagree over how bad the big example on file770 is. They seem to be definitely letting their political views influence their assessment of the works. But while at least for now the pro-Day side seem to be, at least, saying that about a work where it’s debatable how good or bad it is, I can’t trust them to keep doing that — especially since their reactions here and during the Hugo Awards discussions certainly don’t match mine — just because in this case — and in the case of some of the Hugo Award pieces — they happened to be right. If the purportedly “SJW” side of the debate are as bad at judging the quality of works as I have reason to think they are, pointing out that those works are bad isn’t exactly a sign of fairness or deep insight.

I’d get these two works and analyze them myself except that a) at least for now, Day’s version isn’t available in paperback and b) I’m to lazy busy to do that, and really don’t care enough about it to put that much effort and pain in again. But I really wish these political wars would get out of the way so that we can trust works and reviews again.

Ah, well. I just bought new copies of all of the X-Wing series, so at least I still have that … and they can’t take that away from me.

Thoughts on X-23 (2010)

March 13, 2017

So, after deciding to focus more on buying and reading Trade Paperbacks, I’ve decided to comment on some of the ones I’ve read that I feel are worth commenting on. The first one of these is the TPB covering most of the X-23 comic books series from 2010. I admit that I was looking forward to reading this when I found it, because I’ve always, at least, found the idea of the character interesting, as well as what little of her history I gleaned from the other books. So I was very interested in seeing how she worked in what was, essentially, her own solo mag.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

The problem is that X-23, at least there, was a character that had no personality … or, at least, didn’t have a personality that she revealed. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, as that sort of personality was reasonable given her history and provided for an interesting contrast with Wolverine, who with a similar history had a very strong personality. However, that would make watching her go through issue after issue as the star of the comic fairly boring, so the writers decided to team her up with someone who had personality. Having that be Wolverine would risk making the book be all about Wolverine, so they gave her … Gambit. But Gambit is also established and also has a very flamboyant personality, so the risk was still there. To me, it seems that their attempt to deal this was to tone Gambit down so that he didn’t overwhelm X-23 and overshadow her in her own book. However, this left Gambit less interesting, and so they weren’t really able to leverage his personality to make up for X-23’s lack of personality. Thus, at the end of the day, adding Gambit ends up not solving the problem they wanted to solve while still at times having Gambit’s history overshadow X-23’s story.

The best parts of the TPB are when X-23 and a vampirized Jubliee are paired together, because this dynamic actually works. The two of them have similar issues and a similar link to Wolverine, which gives them a lot in common. But Jubilee has maintained — and possibly even enhanced — her personality, which provides an interesting counter to X-23’s stoicism. However, they are roughly of an age and, more important, are roughly of the same prominence (both of which are odd considering how much longer Jubliee has been around). Thus, they seem to be two contemporaries and even friends hanging out or working together, while with Gambit it seemed like X-23 was hanging out with her favourite uncle, which is a completely different dynamic. I think that it would have worked so much better if it had been X-23 and Jubilee for the entire run.

I’m not going to go into details on or talk about the story, as I found it passable but not particularly interesting in any way, good or bad. But the character dynamic between X-23 and Gambit and X-23’s lack of personality did, indeed interest me. I don’t regret buying it, will likely read it again, but don’t consider it particularly interesting.

No More Bad Ends!

March 6, 2017

So, a few comments and posts and games have gotten me thinking about Bad Ends, which are essentially where a game ends with a relatively full ending — it’s not just a “Game Over” screen — but one that is generally seen as at least an … incomplete ending. It can range from the world being destroyed to some important character dying to conditions not being what you’d like, but in general these are seen as being incomplete: you didn’t do something you should have and there are negative consequences for that across the game world.

What I ended up thinking about, though, is that in general tragic ends aren’t necessarily bad ends. In Fatal Frame, the canon ending is that Mafuyu stays with Kirei. In Shadow Hearts, the canon ending is that Alice dies. In both cases, these were used to set things up for sequel games, and both worked relatively well. And it isn’t even necessarily the case that achieving a non-canon tragic ending is bad. In Suikoden V, when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get all 108 stars and, knowing what the endings were I decided to recruit less stars and try for the solitary ending. I was a little disappointed in it, but it seemed like the more interesting ending if I couldn’t get Lyon back.

And that really encapsulates my thinking on this matter. I don’t think I agree anymore that there even are really bad or good endings, just bad or good ways to play a character. What I want from a game is multiple endings, but where each ending follows from choices your character makes. In short, the idea is that you get the ending that your character, acting as your character would, would end up getting. What this means — and what is very hard for video games to do — is that these endings have to be predictable. Not in the sense that you necessarily have to see that specific ending coming, but that when the ending happens you say “Yep, that’s exactly what ought to happen given the character I was playing”. So, in a sense, I don’t want good or bad endings, but satisfying endings, which means that given the character I was playing and how I was playing that character, the story makes sense and is precisely what would happen.

An example of a “satisfying” ending might come from Akiba’s Trip. At the very beginning of the game, you are given the option to continually badger the Big Bad about the figurines you were promised, and can even refuse to accept the treatment because he refuses to give them to you. In frustrated rage, he kills you. Sure, this is more of a Non-Standard Game Over than a real ending, but it’s also consistent with the character and the world; the Big Bad is likely to be frustrated by that stupidity and you aren’t that important to them. Acting like an idiot to the Big Bad is indeed likely to get you killed, and I laughed when I saw that ending for the first time.

Now, some might counter that I’d find that ending less humourous if I had gotten through 20 hours of the game instead of less than 1. Which is true. But I submit that the problem isn’t so much that that sort of bad ending wasted my time, but that when those sorts of bad endings come up we feel that the game was incomplete, that I played for 20 hours and didn’t get to finish the game. Part of that can be from the game itself: the game either has the ending pop up out of nowhere — in short, it doesn’t follow from your actions — or the ending itself implies that this was incomplete. And part of that can be our expectations: we expect the game to allow us to complete everything, and if there is an ending that completes more we think that that is somehow the “True” ending, the one that we should be striving for.

I submit that we should and should be able to view each run through of a game as a separate story, and thus the ending we get should be the one we’d expect given the story we’re in. For the longest time, games weren’t really capable of giving us that, but from games like Knights of the Old Republic and into at least Dragon Age: Origins we now have the ability to change some and now significant parts of the story to make it feel like it is our story, and thus a story for our character. There is a difference in story between, say, an Elf who rejected the Dalish Elves and sided with the werewolves vs one who sided with the Elves, and Dragon Age in some sense will reflect that. I think that more endings should be thought out wrt that sort of experience rather than as punishments for not doing all the right things. Ideally, to my mind, multiple endings would follow from what the character does in the game, and so if you acted that way you’d get the ending you’d expect. We are, however, a long way from that really working out in today’s games.

Final Thoughts on Friday the 13th, The Series

February 13, 2017

So, after finishing Charmed, I went back to and finished Friday the 13th, The Series. And it’s interesting to watch it after watching Charmed, because they take a similar premise but explore it in different ways, with Charmed being much lighter and not having the depth in the supernatural explanations, but having much better production values and acting, while Friday the 13th has a better overall premise and in general a better grasp of the supernatural elements, but has in general fairly bad production values and acting. Chris Wiggins, who plays Jack Marshak, is generally good, but Robe, who plays Mickey, is uneven. The actor who plays Ryan is generally serviceable, and the actor who plays his replacement Johnny is okay, but mostly because he’s playing a stock character that isn’t that hard to do. The worst, though, tend to be the guest stars; some performances are good, but some are just awful. The scripts often seem awkward, as is the dialogue, but the backgrounds of the cursed objects tend to be interesting. It’s almost the anti-Charmed in a lot of ways: decent backstories for the supernatural elements, a focus on them rather than on the relationships between the leads, a very dark tone, but poor production values, dialogue, and acting.

The first two seasons are better than the third one, especially the last few episodes. Towards the end, you tended to get two types of episodes: episodes that were using the supernatural element as a framework to tell another type of story, and episodes the reveled in the evil and debauchery. As an example of the former, the episode “Jack-in-the-Box” focuses more on the mother and daughter dealing — badly — with their grief over the murder of the father, but most of it could have been done and has been done in standard dramatic series; the Jack-in-the-Box and the murders the little girl does with them are an aside to the story. For the latter, in the earlier seasons, there were more where the objects seemed to corrupt those who owned and used them, and more morally ambiguous cases, while in the later seasons for the most part those who used the items tended to be evil before getting it and just used it to fulfill their evil ends. Sure, that’s an important aspect of the show, but not to be focused on. And the last episode is about the Marquis de Sade, with Mickey writing about how charismatic he is, ramping up the focus on evil and what might well be called the prurient interest, which made the episodes less interesting to watch.

That being said, it’s was still an interesting show. I’d like to see it tried again with better production values, writing and acting, but I think it would end up more like the third season than like an improved version of the first. I might watch this series again.

First Thoughts on Trails of Cold Steel

February 6, 2017

So, I’ve started playing Trails of Cold Steel on the Vita, and so far it’s entertaining enough, but I think it suffers from a problem that I’ve been having with new games lately: For the most part, it reminds me of other games that are better or that I’d rather play than it.

The character models and how they work in cutscenes really remind me of Suikoden III. The calendar dates and how they move remind me of Persona 3 and Persona 4, as does the concept of “Bonding Events”. The Bonding Events themselves remind me a lot of Conception II, as does the dungeon crawling (although, so far, it’s less grindy). The problem is that Suikoden III is far more open world then Trails of Cold Steel is, the dates matter more in the Personas since you have a daily routine, and also the character relationships matter more because you have to find the time to spend with whomever you want to spend time with, and you get immediate in-game benefits for advancing S-links, and the dating relationships are deeper, at least so far, in Conception II. All of this means that the game keeps reminding me of better or deeper games that I could be playing instead. That’s not the way to create a pleasant gaming experience [grin].

I think part of the issue is that I’d like to see more games borrow some of the good elements from my old favourites, but few of those games end up doing more with the elements. Instead, they end up including them, but making them more shallow and providing less depth while providing little to nothing new to compensate. This, then, leads you to see those elements, think fondly of them … and then recall that there were other games that did them better. If a game does something new or takes the original ideas and does something unique with them, then that doesn’t trigger. Lost Dimension is probably the best example of this, as it takes the standard JRPG combat and social link tropes and uses them in a unique way by adding in the traitor element. Trails of Cold Steel doesn’t do that.

That being said, the game is still entertaining. The biggest issue other than the above is that too much is hidden. It isn’t clear what the bonding points and events are going to give me and what the consequences of doing a Bonding Event with one character or another will actually mean in the long run. It suffers from having a very set character with a set personality and even a clear hint of a relationship thing forming with Alisa while leaving it up to you to decide who to talk to — for the most part — in the free days you get. There’s not enough vagueness in the character to make that have meaning, and again the game is not clear on what the consequences of your choices are. Also, there are Hidden Quests for you to do, but it isn’t clear on what doing them actually does for you. Thus, in order to avoid missing out on something really, really cool, I’m using a walkthrough to ensure that I get everything. This is less than fun.

But the characters are interesting, for the most part. I find myself liking Laura a lot, and also Emma and Alisa. Jusis and Machias are annoying — but are supposed to be — and the others are interesting enough, if Fie is too eccentric for my tastes. The quests are relatively interesting, and the Field Trips to different places breaks things up enough to add to it as well. The story is just developing, and I hope they can deliver on all the things they’ve promised.