Tag Archives: video games

The Friday Files

Square Enix is re-releasing Romancing SaGa 2 for the Nintendo DS (Final Fantasy Legend II as it’s known in the west). There’s also a retrospective video on the same site. It’s a crime how little of the SaGa series was actually translated into English. Via Gametrailers.com

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One more thing I forgot to mention about Tokyo: UFO catcher machines are everywhere. So much so that there’s apparently an industry event to showcase new toys. My favorite are these Gatchaman figures. There’s even a themed USB stick! Check out the rest of the 15th Prize Fair at Nekomagic.com

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I’ve never finished an Armored Core game before, but they sure put out some nice model kits. Check out the full review at CollectionDX.com

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Legend of Galactic Heroes. Seems like it’s the only science fiction series out there where the capital ships look built by an actual military. Via HobbyLink Japan

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There is absolutely no good reason why Tekkaman Blade is not in Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. They should’ve gotten an injunction or something and just slotted him in there. Here he is (foreground)  in Soul of Chogokin form. Via SRW Hotnews

The Symbology of Phoenix Wright

image provided by court-records.net

image provided by court-records.net

Like most people, I have a “to read” pile of books, but unlike most people, I’ve saddled myself with a “to Play” pile. This makes me perpetually late to the party on most video game crazes, but it also keeps me from wasting my time and money on launch day hype. If a game has the kind of quality to still be generating buzz six months after release, I consider it worthy of my attention. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is one such game.

In the game, you play the role of Phoenix Wright, a young defense lawyer. The goal of the game is similar to the “Perry Mason” novel series and television show, where you would prove the client innocent by proving the guilt of one of the witnesses. Each case would start out with an investigation section, where you would question witnesses and search crime scenes for clues. Later, the action would shift to the courtroom, where you would cross-examine witness testimony and present evidence to defend your client. The story is told via animated cut-scenes and text dialogue. In terms of technological power, the game is pretty primitive. The style of gameplay is similar to point and click graphic adventures that haven’t been popular in years. The story is also a little campy, taking fantastic liberties with the way the justice system works. They use character names like “Wendy Oldbag” and “Dick Gumshoe”.  “Professor Plum” from the board game “Clue” wouldn’t be out of place here. That didn’t stop Phoenix Wright from becoming a cult hit.

Phoenix Wright has spawned 3 sequels and a spinoff to be released later this year. The first game, “Ace Attorney”, is next to impossible to find on North American store shelves due to  excessive demand. Even Capcom, the game’s publisher, didn’t expect that kind of reception. There is even a Phoenix Wright Musical produced by the all-female Takarazuka Revue that recently opened in Japan. Top it all off with the legions of cosplayers, fanzines, and even fan-developed spinoff games, Phoenix Wright is nothing less than a minor phenomenon. Why was this point-and-click adventure game succeeding where so many others have failed?

It would be easy to write of the art style as the main attraction to the game. The game is filled with clean lines, dynamic poses, and attractive characters. However, there are many games that have superior art that don’t quite make it to the level of recognition that Phoenix Wright has. What about the gameplay? Well, Bejeweled has great gameplay. You don’t see anybody cosplaying as that. Yet. That leaves us the story and characters, which people seemed to have latched on to, but the question still remains, why these characters? Other character-based games, like Leisure Suit Larry, are having a terrible time regaining any kind of stature on the sales charts. What is it about Phoenix Wright and his friends that make them so special?

For the answer, you have to look at Phoenix Wright himself. He is chock full of symbology. His last name is an obvious pun (“That’s right, Mr. Wright”) and his first name refers to his ability to turn around cases that seem hopeless, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. His hair and facial features make him look like some stalwart bird of justice, and the arm that he points out has he gives an objection is foreshortened so it looks like a giant wing. Every part of Phoenix’s character is designed to make obvious who he is and what he does, along with every other character in the series.

Now what other characters are created this way? Check out all of the people the Phoenix Wright cosplayers are hanging out with. Every major media property has characters that are easily recognizable and have symbology. Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even James Joyce’s Ulysses are all guilty of this. When it comes to American comic books, character names just cross into the blatantly literal with names like Superman, Batman, and Wolverine.

People sometimes criticize works for being obvious or unsubtle with symbology. Others say we should be free of symbols and try to create something that is truly original.  Subtlety is fine, but it shouldn’t be an enemy of clear communication. People gravitate to the easy symbology because it leaves them free to appreciate other aspects of the story. If you want something that’s truly original and free of symbols, you will be disappointed. What is a symbol but a communication of a thing that exists? We can’t create new symbols from nothing, because we’ll eventually find a way to associate the new symbols to the old and we’re back to a symbol that’s inspired by something instead of nothing.

If you are trying to be creative and vexxed by the pressure to be original, remember that you can’t create anything new, you can only make new combinations of things that already exist. If you try to be truly original, you break the rules that govern the human experience, and you end up with something incomprehensible. Don’t try and make your poem, painting, or novel into something by Jackson Pollack or Walter Creeley. Deconstructionism is a failed experiment of 20th century art movements. Let’s pick up the old tools like structure, perspective, and rhyming couplet to create something that future generations will actually be able to understand.

EGM And the Ravages of Time

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The world felt a little poorer yesterday when Ziff Davis announced the cancellation of Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. It’s been years since I bought an issue, but I still vividly remember it as one of the joys promised by my weekly allowance in the early 90’s. The issues back then were monstrous, chock full of reviews, previews and curious looking ads. Large sections of the magazine were dedicated to Japanese games. They were primitive by today’s standards, but by 1993’s standards, they were all but magical. Some of them even offered a glimpse of this advanced form of cartoons known as “anime”, which at the time was mostly found on Nth generation VHS tapes in the back rooms of specialty comic book stores.

The passing of EGM makes sense. Over the internet I can get printed columns, talk radio, and even entire television shows dedicated to video games. Why bother with a magazine that’s going to be stuffing a closet within a month? Still, no one likes to see a piece of their youth dry up and blow away. Now that we have this recession on our hands, we can expect more of this sort of thing.

Everyone has a little corner of happiness that just isn’t economically viable anymore. It might be a favourite shop that’s closed down, a cancelled television show, or sports team that’s folded. We rationalize by telling ourselves that we’ve grown out of the things that we like, but when you’re fighting through the daily commute, getting yelled at at work, and paying your taxes, what’s so grown up about dealing with all that and gradually abandoning your happiness options?

In 2001, I attended Sakuracon, my first anime convention. It was a reward I gave myself after a university co-op, but it was really an excuse just to leave town for a while. It was apparent that I wasn’t going to graduate that year, and my social life was going nowhere. Thinking anime was still a rapidly shrinking niche genre, I was expecting a few card tables of merchandise in the dealers room and maybe a video room. I could not have been more wrong. There were at least a half dozen video rooms, a full dealers room, cosplayers, and riveting panel seminars. I also made friends that are still with me today.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t let go of those things you cherish, even if they seem silly. Following your passion can lead you to good places, even if that place is in an easy chair listening to a favorite album or reading a favorite book. It doesn’t matter that what you like isn’t economically viable at the time. Anime was on the rise when I went to that convention, but now most of the companies that translate and sell it in the west are scaling back like most companies these days. There’s a cycle to these things. Even as trends ebb and flow, we can always find new ways to experience what we like.

Parts Of My Geekiness I Am Losing

According to some I should have turned in my geek card the minute I got married. Then again, there are many married geeks, and even my wedding wasn’t completely Star Wars free. However, just as Superman gave up his powers to be with Lois Lane in Superman II, I find I am losing components of my geekiness to the mists of time, such as:

-The ability to be personally offended by following: the Wii’s game line-up, Anime voice acting, Live-action adaptations of comic-books, novels or video games

-The ability to discern anime character designers

-The ability to participate in the eternal Star Destroyer v. Enterprise debate.

-The ability to stomach any Expanded universe Star Wars

-The ability to watch anime all night

-The idea that Freelancing is a romantic occupation of freedom and bad-assery as opposed to paper-work and shaking down clients for money

-The idea that spoilers will ruin any and all enjoyment of a book, movie or TV show

Does this mean that I’m just growing up? Hardly. I still watch Doctor Who and Macross Frontier. I check io9.com about twice a day and I often peruse Hobbylink Japan the way many people would peruse a Jaguar dealership. I still think professional sports is like paying to watch other people have fun. What has changed is how I perceive my free time. As I get older, time seems to move faster. It feels like high school lasted longer than my 20s. I no longer have the luxury of indulging my interests to completion. Delayed gratification has its merit, but not when you’re trying to be entertained. Slogging through a 52 episode series when 26 of those are filler is no way to go through life. In fact, it’s no way to enjoy a series. The same goes for relationships. Make an effort to enjoy yourself and those around you.

Standards of Misogyny in Video Games

Now, it’s been years since I’ve been anywhere near the video games industry, but I still like to keep up with it in an armchair capacity. One of my favorite sites by which to do this is a blog called gamesetwatch, a collection of essays and links to articles by many industry leaders. One article they had recently was a retrospective on “Time Gal”, one of those old laser disc arcade games that had animated cutscenes that you control via pressing the correct button or moving the joystick in the right way. The author, Todd Ciolek, (who also writes X-button, a fine column at the Anime News Network) pointed out that Time Gal was the first game to have a non-licensed character that players could recognize as human. He goes on to praise the game for having a heroine that was so cute and chirpy, but then there was one line that just made my head spin.

“Misogyny creeps in, of course: Time Gal’s already skimpy clothes get ripped away by T-Rexes and Fist of the North Star mutants alike, and she’ll scream about being struck on the chest or getting bitten on her partially exposed rear. Pioneers are not always proud.”

It wasn’t just what he said, it’s how he said it. Misogyny. You know, creeping in like that. Here you are, pushing through the glass ceiling, but let one of those things on your chest slip out and BOOM! There’s misogyny. The word here is written with such complacency, such blasé, that it’s almost as if the author was describing the sky as blue. To use such a powerful word as misogyny in that way tells me that he doesn’t even believe in what he says. And why should he have to? He’s only preaching the gospel truth. You can see it repeated all over the ‘net. To show women as sexual in any capacity is misogynist. That’s it. Finito. End of discussion.

When there’s an idea that becomes sacrosanct and, dare I say, unexamined, it bothers me. Untested truth is what keeps us from moving forward, making connections and seeing the greater scheme of things. This is part of a pattern I keep seeing again and again in video game criticism. Why is a scantily clad girl in a video game defined as misogyny? “How is that not misogyny!?” is not a valid answer.

Despite being male, I think I can put my liberal arts hat back on and take a crack at this one. Misogyny is the hatred of women. If a woman getting her clothes torn suggestively in a fight is misogyny, then there are a couple of assumptions at work here. The first is that this is sexual objectification, where a woman is judged by her physical attributes independent of her personality and intelligence. This is demeaning to women, and that makes it misogyny.

I have a problem with this. This also assumes that the way a woman looks and how she presents herself has nothing to do with her personal taste, her habits or the culture she comes from. It would seem that this imagery is only defined by how I see it. Big, white male me. Now this tells me that if I look at something and get a rise out of it, it immediately becomes misogynist. I am indirectly dictating what can and cannot be depicted in regards to women. It doesn’t matter if anyone else finds the game cute or funny. Is that feminist? Hell, is that even humanist?


So now that we’ve found out what misogyny is, what’s feminism? What images do game companies produce if they want to be forward-thinking and catch that ever-elusive female audience? Many would point to a game called Portal. It’s about a battle between a sarcastic computer and Chell, a barely seen female protagonist in a formless jumpsuit with no dialog, no expression, and no personality. She is seen as the perfect feminist archetype, as opposed to blond-haired traitors like Super Mario’s Princess Peach. Of course, this can’t explain why Peach herself has female fans all over the world and why her own game, Super Princess Peach, has sold over a million copies.

That, my friends, is why we can’t have compelling video game characters. This is why we live in a video game world populated by bald space marines and sullen amazonian axe-murderers. When we intentionally wall off a part of human nature, we blind ourselves to potential avenues of creativity. A specific, easily recognizable character can make the difference between millions of dollars in revenue and billions.