Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Lost Dimension: Thoughts After Finishing It Once

September 30, 2015

So, I finished “Lost Dimension” once, and have restarted. This is because the game really, really is built to be finished more than once, because you only get the True Ending if you finish it having maxed out relationships with all of the characters, and you have to erase two, maybe three of them before you’d be able to do that, so that leaves three characters to do the second time around. After finishing the game once, the game itself points out that you need to do that to understand everything, and so it encourages you to play it more than once. However, this does make the first playthrough a bit disappointing, as the ending is more confusing than scary.

The biggest annoyance I have with the game is that it’s often a bit unfair. As far as I can tell, at least on the Vita, you only get one save slot, and if you restart the game it uses your clear data as the save slot. This is bad enough, but it autosaves a lot, and only warns you that it’s going to do that when you go to the Judgement Room, although it does that everywhere else, too. For example, I just accidentally selected Himeno for Deep Dive when I wanted Agito, reset and noticed that on loading my save it started me from the start of my Deep Dive into her mind. I suppose they do that to stop save scumming, but it’s really annoying as it forces you to be very, very careful. You can pretty much screw up your entire game by accident and be stuck because of this. Also, there’s a section where you have more than the usual number of traitors. The game doesn’t warn you about this at all, so if you don’t know it’s coming you don’t know what you need to do to avoid it, and so might end up killing off an innocent. That being said, the sequence with a traitor at the end is interesting. Still, I’d like to be able to avoid that.

But putting that aside, the game is interesting. The combat is fast-paced yet has some strategic elements to it, including how you use your characters and which enemies you target first. You have to manage HP, GP (Gift Points) and Sanity, so you can’t just spam your powers (although I did that a lot with Himeno and used items to heal her up). Being able to give other characters the abilities of characters you’ve erased leads to some interesting combinations, which I underused, other than giving Himeno the Levitation ability which let her move very quickly which, combined with her fire abilities, made her a very deadly character. I was very glad that she didn’t turn traitor on me in the first game.

The characters have interesting backgrounds, but you don’t get to interact with them in enough depth. You have conversations with them after missions, and doing so gets them to their highest level of affection with you, and then you run a special mission with them — the only missions that you can’t run more than once — which reveals something about them. But the general conversations are thin and often boring, and at least after the first time through there’s nothing at the end to say how these relationships turn out in the future. So they could be more, but end up being pretty much just asides that are mildly interesting and can help you develop feelings about the characters. As an example, the first time through by the second time you had to erase someone I had started to really like Yoko and hate Zenji, and when the possible traitor came down to those two I was very disappointed that it was Yoko. As another example, hearing about Himeno’s story made me far more sympathetic to the rather harsh and bitter person that she was. But a lot more could and, in my opinion, should have been done with that.

The way you influence your team members to vote properly is interesting. You do it through telling them who the traitor is, and by using them or not using them in combat, as the team thinks that people who do more in combat are less likely to be the traitor, despite the fact that it is made clear many times that the traitor fights just as hard as everyone else does. This leads to how the game facilitates grinding without actually pushing grinding, as you rarely have to grind just to get levels, but instead have to grind to determine who the traitor is, to make sure that your team votes the right way, or even just to get S ratings on all of your missions. I only officially grinded once on my first run — on Easy, of course — and that was just to get money to get the best equipment, not to get levels (I got levels along with it as well, which made the final mission pretty easy). I very much appreciated that, as grinding is much more fun when you’re doing it for another reason than grinding.

Overall, this game is similar to the Personas in terms of story and associations with your team mates, but it’s lacking a lot when compared to those games in terms of overall impact and effect. I’d say that this game is a good start to a potentially promising game series, and if they make a sequel I’d certainly be interested in checking it out, but it isn’t really there yet. It’s a fun game, worth playing, but it’s easy to see where it can be improved in the future. If they can do it, they might have a legitimate competitor to the Persona games there.

The Easy Road …

September 25, 2015

So, I was playing The Old Republic this morning, with a massively overleveled character — who got that way due to my normal XP gaining tricks as well as the 12X story mission XP bonus that’s currently running — and started thinking about games and difficulty in general, and thought that the ideal sort of game in terms of difficulty is one where if you are slow, cautious, meticulous and willing to spend a lot of time playing, you can breeze through the game fairly easily, but if you want to take more risks and be more adventurous you can get through faster, but require more skill and are more likely to die if you screw up. Also, given that, it’d be nice if you could give little options to help casual gamers along, such as little ways to gain extra XP with a bit of a cost, or little things that can give an advantage, but that you actually have to deliberately aim for in order to succeed. And the theory, then, is that if you do this then the hardcore gamers can simply avoid using them and retain the challenge, while the casual gamers can use them to avoid having the game be too overwhelming for them. In theory, everyone wins.

There’s only one slight problem with that: a lot of the time, the hardcore gamers are the ones who actually use those tricks, while the casual gamers simply never learn about them. If you make them hard to figure out — ie you only figure out that they exist if you’re trying to find them — it’s the hardcore gamers who figure them out and the casual gamers don’t even know they exist. This means that the hardcore gamers learn all of the tricks to make the game easier, and the casual gamers don’t, which means that the hardcore gamers complain that the game is too easy and the casual gamers complain that the game is too hard. This is the exact opposite of what you wanted. On the other hand, if you make it very obvious, then the casual gamers find out the tricks and at least manage to reduce the challenge of the game to a manageable level for them … but the hardcore gamers also figure that out and still complain that it’s too easy. This isn’t what you wanted either; you were hoping to provide challenge for those gamers who wanted that while allowing those who didn’t want that much of a challenge a way out.

It’d be easy to simply tell those hardcore or challenge gamers that if they don’t want the game to be too easy they should just deliberately avoid taking advantage of the tricks, and in fact that’s what’s done a lot of the time. It’s an argument that I myself have made and found reasonable in the past. But I now think that the challenge gamers generally don’t like that argument because it comes across as saying that if they want the game to be challenging, they ought to deliberately play inefficiently and play deliberately less competently than they can. They have to deliberately hamstring themselves to have anything like a challenge in the game. But, they can protest, shouldn’t it be the game that sets the challenge, not them? I think that for them one of the main things that they take pride in is in playing the game by its own rules to the highest standard possible. That means that if the game puts in tricks to allow players to gain experience, items, money, powers or whatever more efficiently, they take pride in finding those tricks and exploiting them. If this makes the game too easy, telling them that they were free not to do that really misses the point of what they want out of a game. Essentially, it becomes a case of telling them to stop having fun because their having fun will eventually make it so that they’re bored to tears. It’s reasonable, when thought of that way, to say that that’s a problem with the game.

This is why the only way to make it work is, in fact, to present them as deliberate, conscious choices outside of the game, not in-game. So, difficulty levels, difficulty sliders or menu options work, because then the player isn’t, in fact, simply exploiting the rules in-game, but instead is determining what the rules of the game are. If a player decides to play on “Easy” and then complains that the game is too easy, it’s definitely reasonable to tell them to play on a higher difficulty level then. The same thing would apply to someone who, say, decided to activate a 25% increase in XP item that then means that they level faster than normal, as long as they had to purchase it. But something like Rest XP wouldn’t fit into that, because all that requires is stopping in the right places when you log out, and maybe cycling characters … all of which are exploiting things that are just in the game, not something that you consciously have to seek out.

At any rate, balancing the challenge of a game so that all players can enjoy the game and get what they want out of it is a monumentally difficult task. And game developers need to hit as broad an audience as they can in the age of the AAA blockbusters, so they can’t just make games for casual or for hardcore gamers (generally; there are still a lot of games that can focus on an audience). This is an issue that simply isn’t going to go away.

Lost Dimension: First Impressions

September 23, 2015

So, as hinted at in my last post, I did put Dungeon Travelers 2 aside for a while, and instead turned to Lost Dimension. The main reason for this was that the grind was getting me down a bit, and Dungeon Travelers 2 is a good game to play when I want to play something for a couple of hours … and I’m off for a while, and so have time to play for longer stretches.

Anyway, Lost Dimension is a game built around a climb to the top of a tower to face a terrible evil (stop me if you’ve heard that one before). In this case, the evil is a terrorist known as “The End”, who’s blowing up parts of cities from orbit and threatens to detonate nukes in most of the major cities of the world. You are part of a team of psychic-powered teens sent in to stop him. So far, a pretty standard JRPG setup. However, there’s a difference. There are traitors in your team, and you have to root them out. One of them is either revealed or remembers being one every floor — I’m not sure what the procedure is supposed to be — and at the end of each floor, before moving on, you have to choose one team member to be “erased”. But it isn’t the case that you simply decide that, as it’s determined by vote, with the three characters with the best record in the battles getting two votes each. You, of course, are always one of those characters, as you’re the only one guaranteed to fight in every fight. Okay, I suppose it’s possible if you take mostly the same characters every time and you don’t really do anything, but at least on “Easy” that’d be hard to pull off.

At any rate, it isn’t just guesswork and randomness. First, after every battle you “hear” the voices of your team mates. There are three potential traitors generated each turn, and their text is displayed in red. By subbing team mates in and out and watching the text, you can get an idea of which of those three are the ones that might be the traitor. From that, you can then move on and deep scan each of them, which involves a little mini-game where you run through their heads chasing their words, and once you reach them you’ll know if they’re the traitor or not. This means that you should know who the traitor is long before the “Judgement” phase, especially since you can replay almost any mission at any time (the exceptions to this are the character specific missions you need to run to build up bonds).

Okay, so you’ve figured out who the traitor is. Now all you have to do is convince the others that that is who the traitor is. You, in general, have two main ways to do this. First, the characters with the worst record in the battles are automatically suspected. So if you have a traitor with an excellent battle record, all you have to do is run a number of missions without them and with the current character that is believed to be the traitor and eventually that will change. In addition, the rest of the team will talk to you after every battle, and either suggest a traitor, or else ask you who you think it is. Tell them the truth, and the projected vote will change to be the way you want it to go.

The combat system itself is interesting. It’s a turn based approach, where you have to face a number of enemies with different abilities. Early in the game, there’s not much to it, but later you actually have to learn strategies and know what your objectives are. For example, one mission threw a number of enemies and a number of devastating fixed emplacements at you, and I died a couple of times with it … before realizing that the objectives were only to kill the two main tank mechs. Focusing on them and taking some deaths led to my getting an S-rank on that mission, after getting slaughtered the first couple of times (I did grind a little to get more levels as well). You have a number of weapons and a number of powers at your disposal, and you even get to use the abilities, to some extent, of the characters that you’ve “erased”, which is how I now have a really, really nasty Himeno (I hope she doesn’t turn traitor).

The number of missions is a little light, and the game is probably a bit short (I’m almost to the final floor after playing it a bit starting on the weekend). But the game seems to be built for you to play it once and then immediately play it again to get the true ending, which I might do considering how short it is. So far, it’s fun and worth playing, and the character interactions are deeper than the first part of the game would suggest … but the character interactions are also a bit repetitive, and so doesn’t have the depth that you get in a Persona game or even, really, Conception II (which might shock people, I know). At any rate, so far, like Dungeon Travelers 2, it’s a good game and I’m thinking about looking for other games like that for the Vita or PS3.

Dungeon Travelers 2: Thoughts as of Chapter 7

September 21, 2015

I wouldn’t have thought it possible … but Dungeon Travelers 2 is actually making me miss playing Conception II.

This is not because Dungeon Travelers 2 is a bad game. It is still at least a semi-addictive game, and one that I have and likely will put a lot of hours into. The problem, though, is that all that it really has going for it is the dungeon exploring … but the dungeon exploring seems, to me at least, to be needlessly annoying. They add a lot of things that could be really annoying — anti-magic zones where your magic doesn’t work but the enemies’ does, one way doors, hidden doors, dark zones, etc — and then seem to structure them to be maximally annoying. Not, for me at least, dangerous, but instead really, really annoying. It’s not like, say, Persona 3 or Persona 4 where there’s just a lot to explore if you want to explore everything, which sometimes requires backtracking, but instead there are sections that seem to be explicitly designed to force you to backtrack over and over and over again to explore everything, while you fight random bosses that move from a challenge to, essentially, “They’re going to take off some of my HP, so I’ll have to case Circle Heal after the battle, maybe”. Admittedly, I’m still a little overlevelled, but that really shouldn’t make someone like me like the game less … and if I wasn’t overlevelled, I’d be cursing this even more.

The main issue for me in the game right now is that outside of the dungeons, there really isn’t anything else to the game. Compared to, say, Conception II, the story is too shallow to sustain interest, as is the interaction with the characters, despite them being potentially interesting (mostly because I don’t see any way to actually directly interact with them outside of canned events). The only thing that it has over Conception II is the one thing that I really hated about Conception II: the grinding. Potentially, Dungeon Travelers 2 requires grinding, as bringing new characters up to appropriate levels can take a long, long time. But I’m able to create a relatively balanced party using 5 of the 6 initial characters, a party that with my overlevelling can pretty much handle anything I need handled. And so grinding so far, for me, has simply been wandering through the dungeons to get to the end, chasing optional bosses, and doing quests (which also aren’t as interesting as Conception II’s).

The story mode is about half the actual game, and if I get that far that will probably be it for me. I don’t know if I’ll continue with it, or if I’ll put it aside for a bit to play other things. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s one of the few games I have where I can play for an hour or two and feel like I’ve accomplished something, but also can keep playing it for hours and hours without getting incredibly bored. It’s a good game, but I’m not sure it’s really the sort of game for me. So it won’t be a classic for me, is what I’m saying.

Tropes vs Women: Damsel in Distress Part 1

September 11, 2015

So, in honour of Sarkeesian adding a new video — the first “Tropes vs Women” video this year — let’s start at the beginning and look at the first part of her examination of the “Damsel in Distress” trope.

Before we get into this, let me remind you of what I talked about last as a set-up for this on what the “Damsel in Distress” trope is supposed to do: it’s supposed to give the player a reason to play through the game. Thus, it has to provide something that the player cares about in order to push them to complete the game. Thus, any damsel has to be something that both the player and the character care about in order to provide that kind of motivation.

One way to think about Damsel’d characters is via what’s called the subject/object dichotomy. In the simplest terms, subjects act and objects are acted upon. The subject is the protagonist, one the story is centered on and the one doing most of the action. In video games this is almost always the main playable character and the one from whose perspective most of the story is seen.

So the damsel trope typically makes men the “subject” of the narratives while relegating women to the “object”. This is a form of objectification because as objects, damsel’ed women are being acted upon, most often becoming or reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found or a goal to be achieved.

The problem is that I think this is just the first place where she equivocates on the meanings of words in order to make her point. Sure, it’s the case that in literature you have a subject (the protagonist) and objects, which is pretty much everything else in the story. It’s obviously true that the plot will centre on the protagonist (or protagonists) and the everything else in the plot will be there only to further their plot and their goals, but this doesn’t reduce them to “objects”, in the sense that they’re considered to be the equivalent of, say, your equipped sword. They can indeed remain characters, and in fact the Damsel in Distress trope requires that. Simple games rely on us automatically considering them such in order to gain the motivation for us to try to save them, while more complicated games build them up as characters in order to, again, give us the motivation to go out and rescue them.

Let’s use Persona 4 as an example. In the game, the relationship with Nanako is one that is encouraged and established throughout the game. They insert her into various scenarios to encourage you to relate to and become attached to her throughout the game, including through her Social Link. At one point, she herself is abducted into the TV World, which drives you to try to rescue her. But unlike the others, as she is so young the effects of that world are worse for her, and she becomes hospitalized. At that point, the music becomes more somber, and I’ve definitely heard one fan of the series note just how empty coming home felt without her “Welcome home, Big Bro!” to welcome you. As the game progresses, Nanako, in fact, dies. This prompts the key encounter that can lead to one of the bad endings, as the protagonist and the members of the Investigation Team debate simply killing the abductor in revenge, which the protagonist must avoid doing despite desperately wanting to, as portrayed in the anime. The story builds her up as a character so that her abduction has meaning, and her death can drive the plot forward. So, in a sense, all of this really is to further the story arc of the protagonist, but that doesn’t mean that Nanako is just an object. She is and remains a strong character, and none of her qualities are removed in order to provide that. Which means that this:

Distilled down to its essence, the plot device works by trading the disempowerment of female characters FOR the empowerment of male characters.

Is flat-out wrong. The plot device works by building up a character such that the protagonist — whether male or female — wants to rescue them. If it applies more often to female than male characters, it’s likely for two reasons. The first is that a woman needing to be rescued is not likely to cause the audience to lose sympathy for her, which is not the case for male characters. The second is that in the shallower games all that a woman needs to do or bring to the table is to be attractive, and then she immediately becomes worthy of being saved and, in fact, having the male protagonist be willing to sacrifice their life to do that. This is, of course, not true of a game like Persona 4 where the character is developed to be one that you want to rescue, but in general it is quite easy to get away with a female Damsel in Distress having nothing more going for her than being beautiful and a woman, and it being expected that, again, the player and the character will be willing to go to extreme lengths to save her. This is the flip side of the sexist trope; men are expected to risk their lives to save women even if they have no other reason to do so than that the woman is attractive. They need bring nothing else to the table, while men need to be heroic and capable to get their happy ending.

So, from this, we can see:

The pattern of presenting women as fundamentally weak, ineffective or entirely incapable also has larger ramifications beyond the characters themselves and the specific games they inhabit. We have to remember that these games do not exist in a vacuum, they are an increasingly important and influential part of our larger social and cultural ecosystem.

That this, at best, outdated. Sarkeesian says this:

So the woman in question may or may not play the victim role for the entire game or series while our brave hero may or may not even be successful in his rescue attempt. All that is really required to fulfill the damsel in distress trope is for a female character to be reduced to a state of helplessness from which she requires rescuing by a typically male hero for the benefit of his story arc.

So, we can have a strong, capable heroine who is temporarily made a captive (sometimes in unbelievable ways). This, then, means that the trope doesn’t have to present women as being fundamentally weak, ineffective or incapable. For example, the entire plot of “I, Jedi” is about Corran Horn having to rescue Mirax Terrik, but that in no way presents her as being fundamentally weak or ineffective or incapable; in fact, other than his having Jedi powers Mirax is often presented as being far more capable than he is. But she’s incapacitated in a relatively credible way as a spur to drive him on. So, then, we can ask why it is that Mirax is captured. Well, we can return to what the trope aims for — she’s his wife and the most important person in his life. But, also, we can see that her being captured here doesn’t impact her character. Female characters can be captured and seem vulnerable without it spoiling their characters, much of the time. That isn’t true for most male characters, which is something that we should indeed fix. But the key point her is that the Damsel in Distress trope relies on it being the case that women can be vulnerable without it undermining their characters in a way that men can’t. So it isn’t that women are seem as necessarily weak or vulnerable, but that women can been seen as weak or vulnerable while still being sympathetic characters that we should all want to save.

At its heart the damsel trope is not really about women at all, she simply becomes the central object of a competition between men (at least in the traditional incarnations). I’ve heard it said that “In the game of patriarchy women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.” So for example, we can think of the Super Mario franchise as a grand game being played between Mario and Bowser. And Princess Peach’s role is essentially that of the ball.

The two men are tossing her back and forth over the course of the main series, each trying to keep and take possession of the damsel-ball.

The problem is that this representation is actually massively rare in the Damsel in Distress trope. As even Sarkeesian pointed out right above that, the woman’s love is seen as a prize or reward, as something that has inherent value, while the ball only has value as a way to score points off of the other person. There are a number of plots that rely on the woman simply being another way to prove that one of the people is better than the other, but typically these end with the hero winning out because he sees her as more than that. For example, in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, the Sheriff of Rottingham forces Marian to marry him in order to save Robin’s life. She agrees, but says that he can only have her body, but he could never have her mind or her soul … to which he replies that he’s totally okay with that. The joke works because, typically, we expect that to be something that would bother the villain, that he couldn’t possess her entirely and so, somehow, still loses to the hero, while in this case he doesn’t care about that at all. Following on from this, the reason we want the hero to win in these cases is that he doesn’t merely want to possess her, but instead wants to win her, where winning her means that she accepts him and comes to love him, and love him for the qualities that he possesses and demonstrates. In short, the hero wants to earn her love, while the villain wants to force it. In essence, the villain is bad because he treats her as an object, while the hero is good because he doesn’t. And who wins is determined by the decision of the damsel, and her feelings; a damsel that felt that the hero didn’t really love her wouldn’t, in fact, give him her heart and soul either. No one cares to have the ball unless it gets them further to their other goals, and no one asks the trophy who they think ought to win the game.

So, that’s pretty much all I want to say about the first part.

Dungeon Travelers 2: First Impressions

September 9, 2015

So, as of writing this post, I’ve been playing Dungeon Travelers 2 for a while. I’m just starting Chapter 5 out of supposedly 10 Chapters, but there’s supposedly a lot of game to play after the story ends, with optional dungeons and the like. I’m hearing that there’s about 88 hours of content in the entire game, but if that includes dungeons then it might be more or less depending on how quickly you do dungeons. I think I’m a little slower than average.

Anyway, the game is pretty fun. One of the things that could make it addictive is that it does a good job of always giving you something to do or to be striving for. You need to explore the dungeon to find the mutant, or find the person you need to recruit, or finish off a quest or two, or, well, any number of things. But each chapter has both a dungeon and a dividing line, so there are always places where you can think “Here’s a good place to stop for the day”, making it a bit more casual friendly. It’s a game that you can play for a couple of hours and feel that you’ve made some progress.

There aren’t any difficulty levels, so I can actually comment on the combat. So far, the game hasn’t been all that difficult. There is some variance in skills and the like, but for the most part I tend to just do what my characters do best. That being said, I know that I under-utilize Alisia’s “Defender”, “Cover” and “War Cry” abilities, which might make some fights go easier than they have been. That being said, I lost one fight to a boss … and almost beat it the first time. The reason for this, I think, is because I’m a bit over-leveled in the game, mostly because I spend a lot of time wandering back and forth from the entrance. Early in the game, I did that to restore HP and TP and to cure statuses. Later, as TP became more plentiful and my Maid/Bard was able to restore it, I did it to sell off items before I lost them, and to generate seal books to generate some cash so I could top up on items. I’m pretty reliant on items, actually, especially in the final boss fights; there’s one item that you can buy from the treasure hunter that heals all of your characters for a large amount, and I’ve used one of those in each of the last two boss fights to get through it (Melvy’s “Circle Heal” works well enough, but sometimes I’d really rather she blast things). Because of this, I’ve found myself pretty short on cash for most of the game, especially since after starting to get quests I’ve been hesitant about selling the things you find in the dungeons because often those are needed to solve quests, and if you sell them all off you have to go out and get them again.

That being said, I’m disappointed in the quest system. I would have liked it to be something like the ones in Persona 4, where you get a list of things to do, you do them, they get completed, you get the reward, and then you get new ones. Here, there are multiple levels of quests, and they recommend quests for you to do, but you can do the same ones over and over again. Also, as far as I can see they only list some of the total quests, and it changes every time you return to the Library to check. Which means that if you know that you can solve a quest, you may not be able to trigger it when you want to, which is annoying. That being said, it does give you some rewards when you’re out doing things that you’d be doing anyway, so it isn’t bad that way, and might give you some kind of purpose if you have to grind some levels to be able to win a fight, which is nice.

The dungeons can get a bit convoluted, with traps and one way doors and locked doors and things like that. However, they almost always give you quicker ways to get places as you explore the dungeon and need to push further in to further your quest, like unlocked doors and portals. I got a little confused in the tower at times, but that had six floors … and, as per usual, I ended up spending a lot of time walking back and forth from the entrance to my latest explorations.

I guess I have to comment on the purported fanservice. I don’t really find it all that big a deal, really. Both the main characters and the monsters have a variety of costuming from demure to risque, depending on class and model. So, in-game, there’s really not much there to bother anyone that’s, well, played games at all. The events also range from fanservicey to normal. The worst are probably the defeats of your fellow party members (these are the ones that typically include the “tying up” scenes), but so far only one of them was all that explicit. So I don’t really see fanservice as an issue here, but your mileage may vary. I will say that there’s much more fanservice in Conception II than there is here; if you can tolerate that game, you should be able to tolerate this one.

In terms of characters, so far the women are quite stereotypical, but generally fun. At least to this point, the game is quite goofy and not particularly serious, and the personalities reflect that. There are more serious storylines coming up, but for the most part the story is shallow but kinda fun, which is probably all you want in an explicit dungeon crawler.

Overall, I’m enjoying the game. If the difficulty jumps up because I’m not sure how to build proper characters, that will probably end and the game might not get finished. But, so far, it’s looking like a game that I can play for short and long periods of time, which makes it a pretty good game. Although I can’t imagine restarting it once I finish it …

Atlus and Dungeon Travellers 2

September 4, 2015

So, Atlus has recently brought over a new game called “Dungeon Travelers 2”, which from every review I’ve read (see this one for an example) is essentially a good dungeon crawler type adventure with some interesting twists around combat that is pretty much shameless in its use of fanservice. I think the summary from the linked review sums it up nicely:

Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal is a perfectly fun dungeon crawler. It doesn’t do anything exceptional, but it does everything it needs to do. The game is utterly shameless, and it’s likely to drive away potential players due to the amount of almost-not-M-rated content that it contains. If that doesn’t scare you off, DT2 is one of the more accessible dungeon crawlers on the Vita because it balances difficulty and ease of play. The heavy sexual content is the only barrier, so it’s unfortunate that’s it’s rather significant, especially given some of the subject matter.

Now, I’ve actually just ordered this game (by the time this post goes up, I’ll have it and might have played it; yes, I actually am getting a bit ahead in my blog posting!). I was originally just browsing, saw “Lost Dimension” and thought that the traitor mechanism was a wonderful addition — I mean, it’s like the Battlestar Galactica board game in an RPG! — and took a look through the recommended or related games, saw Dungeon Travelers 2, sought out a review (it might have been that one for all I remember) and saw pretty much that line: you’ll like the game if you don’t mind the fanservice. And since I don’t mind the fanservice, I bought it.

So, most of the reviews essentially say that the fanservice is a bit much, but that if you like that sort of thing then it’d be a good purchase for you. However, Philip Kolar at Polygon has a different opinion. Before the game even reached North American shores, he decided to essentially argue that a company like Atlus — known for localizing many different kinds of Japanese games, including games like the Persona and Shadow Hearts series’ — were doing something wrong to localize this and a few other games:

But for as many refreshing, charming and obscure Japanese titles as Atlus brings to our shores, every once in a while it tosses out something a bit more disturbing. For example, there was last year’s Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars, a role-playing game where the main character creates allies to fight for him by “classmating” with various, lightly-clothed female co-stars.

Or there’s 2013’s Dragon’s Crown, a beautifully hand-drawn and relatively deep action-RPG dragged down by its obsession with sexualizing every woman character in the game, playable or not.

I have Conception 2, as readers of this blog know, and I think it’s in no way a bad thing to have brought that game over, even though I think the fanservice is a bit juvenile. I actually don’t own Dragon’s Crown, but that’s mostly because I don’t think the gameplay appeals to me. I’m not sure why it would be “disturbing” that Atlus would bring these over, but Kollar will helpfully, in the next section, explain the problem:

Let’s start with the cast: Dungeon Travelers 2 is that rare RPG that mostly stars women. 16 of them to be precise. Cool! However, like Conception 2, the main character is a dude, and the women are primarily presented as things for him to interact with; they’re in the game to be rescued, fought or used in combat rather than acting on their own.

I’m not sure why that’s a problem. I suppose we could fix it by not letting the MC be a character, or making it a female character, but this isn’t any kind of reason to find the localization of the game disturbing. Kollar might find the game itself at least annoying because of that, but that doesn’t mean that the game’s existence itself or it being localized is a problem, right?

And above all else, they’re in the game to be ogled. As you can see in the trailer below, Dungeon Travelers 2 presents its hand-drawn female leads in various states of undress and, beyond that, in full-on sexual situations.

Yep, that’s the over-the-top fanservice. We all agree on that, so, again, what does this mean to the existence of the game or it being brought over to North America? Some of the images had to be censored to keep an “M” rating — instead of “AO” — as he mentions but, again, the fanservice is over-the-top. We all agree on that. To be absolutely clear, even without playing it myself, from all I’ve heard I agree that the fanservice is over-the-top and that a number of people will not like the game and will not play the game and ought not play the game for that reason. Having that heavy fanservice will cost them customers. But what does that have to do with whether Atlus should have localized the game … or the other two, for that matter?

I don’t think sex is bad. I don’t think games about sex are bad. If anything, I think there should be more games featuring sex! What distresses me about Dungeon Travelers 2 is the way it treats sexuality — i.e. if you do well and progress in the game, you’re rewarded with naughty images.

The goal is not to get one of the game’s many women to fight alongside you or to forge a deep relationship with them; it’s to eventually see them naked and probably doing something demeaning. Game design shouldn’t be a matter of putting Pokémon into the bodies of playmates in order to appeal to gaming’s worst instincts. That’s lazy and insulting.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a porn game, or the closest you can get to a porn game on the PlayStation Vita.

So, it’s that it’s the closest you can get to a porn game, but it being about sex isn’t the problem, but instead of how it shows sex? But, even given that, what does that have to do with Conception 2, which is indeed about getting them to fight alongside you and forge a deep relationship with them (even though the stories are, admittedly, shallow)? What does that have to with Dragon’s Crown, which doesn’t have that mechanism or view of sex at all (as far as I know)?

So we have to return to the beginning: it’s that it promotes what he feels is sexualization that’s the problem. Which, you know, might be true; I’d have to play it to see if the game encourages you to think of them as people as well. I suspect it does, but not to the extent of, say, the Personas (but, really, nothing does that). But then the question is: given that this is a good game outside of the fanservice, and that it seems to at least have a market in Japan and might have one here, again is that enough to say that Atlus shouldn’t have brought it over to North America?

Of course there’s one important way that Dungeon Travelers 2 sets itself apart from a game like The Witcher or even something like Dragon’s Crown: the age of its subjects. While we can’t say for sure what Dungeon Travelers 2’s protagonists are aged, many of them sure look disturbingly young.

Sure, this might be something that someone might find disturbing, and even something that might mean that the game ought not be localized, as it might be promoting underage sexual activity, which is not something to promote. I completely believe that the publishers and the game developers are doing the old “whistle in the air” in response to those questions by saying that, hey, they don’t say how old they are, so you can’t assume that they’re young as opposed to, say, young-looking. You can easily think that they’re all over 18 and avoid the squicky feeling. Again, it’d be a valid complaint to say that they should have made them look more obviously older … but, then, since Kollar specifically excludes Dragon’s Crown, at least, from this, how does he justify lumping it into the same criticisms? And how does he justify making this the big complaint when the entire rest of the article is about the sexualization, not the age of those sexualized? This starts to look like him finding a valid complaint and using it to try to justify his less valid arguments.

If the game really does promote pedophilia, then maybe it shouldn’t have been brought over. But that has no relation to the rest of his points, and can be challenged with the argument that the girls seem to be too, er, well-developed to actually be that young.

It’s not one issue here, it’s a combination of all of this wrapped into one very sleazy package. It’s the promotional materials winking at the fact that the players are supposed to find sexual representations of young women, uncomfortably young women, irresistible.

Or, rather, appealing. Which, um, isn’t untrue and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t have bought this game or Conception 2 if I hadn’t found the gameplay appealing, and I think that’s true of most of the people who buy it. The fanservice is at best a bonus; in my case it’s more something that I don’t mind and might even enjoy if the gameplay works for me. There are a number of people for whom it would be a major issue, and they will not play this game. And that’s fine, and Atlus and the creating company have to consider that when considering whether it’s worth bringing it over. So why shouldn’t they bring it over?

Above all else, I believe that Atlus specifically not only can but should do better. This is a publisher that, at its best, creates experiences that have incredibly enriched peoples’ lives.

In 2012, I praised Persona 4 Golden as a rare game that focuses on empathy and forging a connection between characters above all else. It’s a game I’ve played multiple times through and adored every time. This year, the same year that Dungeon Travelers 2 is released in North America, a Persona 4 sequel is finally coming. One of these things is sure not like the other.

So? If Atlus wanted to stay as a company that brings over deep RPGs, with interesting characters and deep stories, then that would be fine, and I’d still love them for it. But that’s not what they want to do. They want to localize obscure Japanese games that they think the market in North America will enjoy. That means bringing over the deep, enriching games like the Personas and the shallower games like Conception II. This means that if they think that they can make money bringing over a game like Dungeon Travelers 2, they will. Doing that doesn’t stop then from doing the deeper games too, so what’s the problem? Does every single game that everyone publishes have to provide the deep experiences that you think games ought to have?

“When it comes down to it, we still have our roots as a niche publisher,” Atlus PR manager John Hardin told me. “It’s a good thing — there’s a new resurgence in Japanese-developed games, and we want as many of them to come over as possible.”

I will always be thankful that Atlus exists and continues bringing things to North America that we’d never see otherwise. However, I think it’s time the publisher starts giving much more serious consideration to what it brings over, instead of just thinking about what they can sell.

Why? If the game will sell, and they’re trying to bring more and even more diverse Japanese-developed games over, why in the world shouldn’t they bring over any game that they think will sell? Why is it the case that they should exclude games and potentially even genres of games that would sell because you personally don’t like them? Why should people who wouldn’t be bothered by the fanservice not get a localization of a game that they’d like, at least, to play, and maybe even love to play because you don’t like it and are bothered by it?

Ultimately, this is a prime example of how the concerns of those interested in Social Justice can oppose the interests of people who just want to play games. Kollar here is essentially taking the standard line that a game that they find problematic or disturbing has no right to exist. It’s not like they can even claim that the problem is that most games are like this because if we look at what Atlus has done for the Vita even if we put Dragon’s Crown and Conception 2 in the list of “games that aren’t right” we still have Lost Dimension, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 4: Dancing All Night that presumably aren’t on that list. It’s not like it’ll be the case that Atlus doing this will mean that they won’t localize those deep and interesting RPGs. They are doing Persona 5 already, as Kollar notes. So what Kollar is saying wrt these games is that he dislikes the fanservice in the games and he wouldn’t want to play them, so no one else should be able to play them either. Alternatively, he thinks that these games are so harmful that allowing anyone to play them will derail the cause of Social Justice, despite them still being a minority of the available games. Alternatively, he thinks that he can shame Atlus into only publishing what he wants to see despite how many other gamers want to see other games, too. Really, I’m out of options at this point. His article doesn’t insist that Dungeon Travelers 2 promotes pedophilia and so is bad for that reason, and instead links it to other games when all they have in common is over-the-top fanservice, so I think it reasonable to suggest that that’s his real problem with the game … but he’s never shown why that, in and of itself, is good enough reason for Atlus to think about the games they’re publishing beyond “There’s a market for that”.

Thoughts on the Mass Effect Trilogy …

August 19, 2015

Spoilers will abound:


Thoughts on Mass Effect 3 …

August 17, 2015

So, I’ve just finished the last game in the Mass Effect trilogy, Mass Effect 3. Let me start by saying that I think I liked it better than Mass Effect 2, but that Mass Effect is still my favourite game in the series.

There will be spoilers here, so let me continue below the fold:


Social Justice vs Games: Sarkeesian on E3 …

August 14, 2015

Well, when I introduced my “Social Justice vs Games” category, it was pretty much certain that eventually one of those posts would talk about Anita Sarkeesian, and her post discussing the games showcased at a recent E3 is a pretty good example how Social Justice concerns and gaming concerns can clash.

Let me start with probably the mildest example:

These numbers also reflect the fact that a purely binary understanding of gender was on display in the games featured at E3, with no options featured that might allow players to pick from a wider spectrum of gender identities or presentations.

Presumably, this is asking for consideration of trans* issues. The problem is that the estimates of trans* people is something like 1 – 2%, from what I’ve seen around. So, at best, you’re looking at an audience of 1 – 2% at base for these sorts of options. Now, there may be other players who might want to take those options — after all, my DA:O and Mass Effect characters are, in fact, homosexual females, despite my not being one — but it’s still likely to be a pretty low percentage of the audience that would want that, and so it’s not likely to be a big selling point (at least female protagonists can claim to appeal to a large base audience). And in the fact that, again, people who are trans* are going to be exceptionally rare in the video game design world — and not because of discrimination — and it’s going to be hard to pull this off in a convincing and reasonable way that doesn’t feel like mockery. So what the game designers are being asked to add is an option that only appeals to a small percentage of their potential audience, is hard to implement properly, and one that if they get it wrong they will receive far worse criticism than leaving it out. What reason could they have for even doing it? So it seems to me that, given this, it’s perfectly reasonable for game developers to continue to ignore these options and instead focus their time and effort on things that will improve the game for more potential players … and given the way games are these days, there are plenty.

Sarkeesian also, in a post that’s entitled “Gender Breakdown of Games Showcased at E3 2015”, talks about violence:

Rather, these numbers are presented here only to demonstrate how prevalent violence as a mechanic is in all sorts of games, because it is worth considering how, in relying so heavily on violence as a core component of game design, developers and publishers are not exploring opportunities to tell other kinds of stories and create other kinds of games. When game narratives consistently take place in inescapably hostile antagonistic environments, it severely limits the kinds of stories that can be told.

The medium has near-limitless potential, and in indie games like Tacoma, Firewatch and Beyond Eyes, we get a glimpse of what’s possible when games approach human experience through a lens of empathy rather than one of violence. Games have only begun to scratch the surface of what can be done, the stories that can be told and the experiences that can be illuminated when combat isn’t employed as a lynchpin of game design. Fully realizing this potential requires that game creators continue exploring the possibilities, investing in innovative mechanics and storytelling techniques to push the medium forward.

Really? What specifically are the “stories” that can’t be told with a combat mechanism inside of their gameplay? Why can’t you have empathy and combat? Now, I’m all for variations in gameplay — one of the things I liked about Catherine was it’s unique twist on the traditional RPG dungeon gameplay (I wonder if Sarkeesian would consider it “violent”) — and I accept that there might be stories that work better with a non-violent overall mechanic, I don’t see this as being as critical as Sarkeesian says. Taking even the examples she gives, “Beyond Eyes” is probably the only game whose story is hard to tell with a combat mechanic, but mostly, in my opinion, because it would be far too hard to do, or else in lowering the difficulty you’d lose the ability to understand how hard being blind in the world can be. But “Tacoma” seems to be built around a similar exploration mechanism to “System Shock 2”, which had combat out the wazoo. And “Firewatch” could easily have combat as well, like, say, Silent Hill 2 does, to fill in the spaces around the exploration. What she thinks is key in those two games, it seems — the interaction between the lead and Odin, and the interaction between Henry and Delilah — could be done in a game with combat mechanisms. Now, I’m not saying that it would be better; suspense based games, for example, can be done better with less combat. Fatal Frame is an example where the meat is the exploration and the combat is mostly there to establish that Miku’s life is in danger. But there is no reason for her to count the number of games that use combat mechanisms, say that it’s only 15 or 24% (depending on whether you count sports games or not), and say that that’s a bad thing because having a combat mechanism means that it simply can’t tell a specific story that she, well, gives no examples of.

Again, from a gaming perspective unique and creative forms of gameplay are, in fact, good things. But Sarkeesian here comes across as being more anti-violence than pro-creative gameplay.

And, finally, we turn to the heart of the issue here: representation of women:

There were 7 games with exclusively playable female protagonists or 9% of a total 76 titles

There were 24 games with exclusively playable male protagonists or 32% of a total 76 titles

There were also 35 games in which players appear to be able to choose either a man or a woman. It’s always great to see more games with gender choice and this year we saw a few blockbuster franchises like FIFA and Call of Duty finally add playable women. Still, of those 35, titles only Dishonored 2 used its marketing and promotional space at E3 to predominantly focus on the female character option.

To start, let me highlight how very, very important that last sentence is. Note that it doesn’t distinguish between which games featured the male character option predominantly and games where they were given roughly equal presentation. No, for Sarkeesian it is important that the female character dominate. So, no, not equality, but dominance. She couldn’t do a better job arguing that feminism is really about female dominance if she tried.

Am I reading too much into this? Well, let’s look at the numbers above not in terms of “male dominant vs female dominant”, but instead in terms of “Can play as a male vs can play as a female”. For “Can play as a male”, we have 78%. For “Can play as a female”, we have 55%. I’d personally like that number to be higher, because from a gameplay perspective having more control over your character is generally a good thing. But over half of the games showcased allowing you to play as a female protagonist is pretty good, I’d think. And yet Sarkeesian, while saying that it’s great, mostly gripes about the marketing and then goes on to say this about it:

Some may ask why it is important that there be games led exclusively by women, and why we make a distinction between those games in which the sole protagonist is a woman (such as Mirror’s Edge) and those games in which you have the option to play as either a male or female character (such as Fallout 4).

One reason why we need more games that are fronted exclusively by female characters is that it works to counter the long-established, long-reinforced cultural notion that heroes are male by default. By and large girls and women are expected to project themselves onto male characters, but boys and men are not encouraged to project themselves onto or identify with female characters.

When players are given the opportunity to see a game universe exclusively through the eyes of a female character with her own unique story, it helps challenge the idea that men can’t or shouldn’t identify with women, their lives, and their struggles.

As long as games continue to give us significantly more stories centered on men than on women, they will continue to reinforce the idea that female experiences are secondary to male ones. Stories have the power to influence our understanding of the world around us and when we can virtually embody the lives and experiences of people different from ourselves it opens up greater possibilities for empathy and understanding.

Translation: Society is screwed, so we want games to fix that for us by forcing the choice of gender onto gamers playing the games instead of doing what is generally better for games and giving the choice and allowing the player to customize their character to their liking. It’s “Rust” all over again.

This is also a move that is likely to backfire on game designers because in order to achieve what Sarkeesian wants, they have to do more than simply stick a female avatar onto a game whose story was designed with a male protagonist in mind. So, they’d have to write stories from the female perspective. “And what’s wrong with that?” Sarkeesian will cry. You mean, aside from the fact that there isn’t really a female perspective? Well, the fact that any such attempt with either make a big deal about the character being female, rely on stereotypes, or end up reducing her to a generic character where they could just as easily have given the choice because there’s no character to project onto. The problems with the last one have already been given and the problems with the second option should be obvious, at least from the Social Justice perspective. The problem with the first one is that unless it’s done right it can be seen as insulting and patronizing, where the game goes out of its way to say “Look at me! I’m doing a female-centric story!”. To those who weren’t really interested in that sort of story, that will get annoying very quickly, and to those who were it can in fact ruin the story by how hard it’s trying to be that sort of story.

Thus, the right approach from a gaming perspective is this: if the story works best with a defined male protagonist, make one. If it works best with a defined female protagonist — I personally think survival horror games work best with a female protagonist — then make one. If you need a defined protagonist but neither gender is better for the role, flip a coin. Otherwise, give the choice. This achieves everything that Sarkeesian could want … except for changing society by forcing identification. But it’s not the job of video games to change society, even if they can have an impact on it.

Sarkeesian is less interested, it seems, in making good games than in making games that will help her achieve her Social Justice goals. But when the needs of the games and the needs of Social Justice clash, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that gamers ought to consider the needs of games first. Games are not the only way to promote Social Justice and don’t need to turn themselves completely over to that movement to be legitimate, or art, or fun, or valuable, or even not harmful. Let games be games, not necessarily treatises.


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