Archive for the Games Category

Hakuōki and emotion in video games

Posted in Games, Historical, Romance with tags , on June 9, 2014 by Cara Marie

Partway through my first playthrough of Hakuōki, I thought how strange it was, to be playing the character who doesn’t go out and fight, who is helpless in many situations. I thought, in a typical game, you’d be playing as one of the shinsengumi, and it could be a typical RPG …

And then I remembered my history, and remembered that it couldn’t be at all. Because there’s no victory at the end. You couldn’t frame the story in terms of action and have it conclude satisfyingly as a game.

It can only conclude satisfyingly on the personal level.

And I thought also, how there are certain emotions that games evoke better than any other medium. Betrayal, for instance. If a book makes me feel betrayed, it is at the author for some failing of theirs – I do not feel betrayed by the characters themselves. Not the way I felt betrayed when I discovered Chizuru’s father – ‘my’ father – didn’t care for my happiness, only saw me in terms of my ability to procreate. Or the way I felt betrayed playing Magical Diary, when I found out Damien had been lying to me the whole time.

And along with betrayal, there is frustration and hopelessness.

Chizuru is not able to contribute to the shinsengumi as a warrior. The tasks she comes up with for herself are rather less grand – serving the tea, doing the mending.

‘You don’t need to do that,’ she’s told, ‘the servants can do that.’

It’s frustrating. ‘Here’s what I can contribute.’ ‘No, no, your contributions aren’t necessary.’ You’re too valued to do that; not seen clearly enough to be given anything of use to do.

Chizuru’s father says, all you have to offer is your womb. Sannan says, all you have to offer is your blood. It’s a romance, so in the end, what you have to give is love – something you can choose.

Hakuōki is about finding a satisfying life when the roles open to you as a woman are very limited. The heroes’ journeys reflect this too – they must find a satisfying life when the role they currently fill is disappearing.

I think I found Hakuōki more satisfying as an exploration of the limitations of gender roles than I did Analogue, which is far more explicitly about gender roles. Because in Analogue, you play an observer; it is a game, but it is an epistolary game, and you are discovering the story as you read and are told about it, rather than living it. You are not Hyun-Ae, having things done to you, having to live with the expectations put on you. And so I never empathised when Hyan-Ae the way I did with Chizuru, because I never was Hyun-Ae.

Of course, when you think of the feelings a game can invoke, betrayal, frustration and hopelessness aren’t seen as desirable ones. But they can be very effective in a narrative game, and I’d like to play more games that take advantage of them.

(Why, yes, I did read too much shoujo manga growing up and I do enjoy stories that make me feel awful, why do you ask?)

Dangan Ronpa: Sakura + Hina, friends for life

Posted in Games, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on June 1, 2014 by Cara Marie

My Dangan Ronpa overview post turned into 2000+ words and counting comparing the game to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. So I thought I would write about two of my favourite characters instead. Most of the characters in Dangan Ronpa are understandably standoffish – the premise of the game is that they have all been kidnapped and are being compelled to kill one another.

There is a lot of distrust and fear, but Sakura and Hina can’t be bothered with that shit. They are FRIENDS and don’t you doubt it. Sakura is the Ultimate Martial Artist and Hina is the Ultimate Swimming Pro – they bond straight off over their exercise regimes and love of protein shakes. They keep believing in one another, even in the face of the most startling revelations.

The strength of their friendship would endear them to me on its own – but also, here is a picture of Sakura, don’t tell me you don’t love her already:

An extremely buff young woman, with white hair and an impressive scar across her face.

Any game that has a female character that looks like that is alright by me.

Funnily enough, I am also predisposed to like Hina on account of her body type, although it is very different from Sakura’s. Hina is slim and busty, and I automatically feel protective of slim, busty characters (provided that it’s not just a function of the art style …).

Hina gets a fair amount of flack for being busty – notably from Toko, a character whom I find it extremely difficult to like. It seems as if Hina finds it easy to brush off the harassment – until a scene where Makoto and Hina are going swimming, and Hina gets embarrassed, because she only has a T-shirt to swim in. And she says something along the lines of, I don’t know why it matters, I’m sure it never used to. Which I found heartbreaking.

Hina has a warm, bubbly personality, but she’s also one of the most sensitive characters in the game. Which I can’t talk about without getting into massive spoiler territory – but this also relates to why I like Sakura so much, and the friendship between the two of them.

Read more »

Area-X – 3/5 of the way through

Posted in Fantasy, Games, Science fiction with tags on October 9, 2013 by Cara Marie

Area-X is a game that I have greatly enjoyed from a story perspective – and I love the characters and the art – but which I find frustrating from a game perspective.

I would describe Area-X as a visual novel with adventure game elements. For the most part, you are reading, and making some decisions about what to say or do. Occasionally there are puzzles. There are five basic routes, but only two of these are available to you at the beginning.

It’s the closing-off of the other three routes that I found frustrating.

One of the things I enjoy most about visual novels and similar games is making choices and seeing how they pan out. But I found it difficult to judge in Area-X which choices would lead me to which ending. This is something I don’t mind the first time I play a game, or at all, if I don’t feel like I’m getting dead-ended. But in order to open up the other routes, you have to not only complete the first two routes but get all four endings.

At which point, you stop playing the game naturalistically, and start meta-gaming it.

For two of the three routes I’ve played, the choices I needed to make for the good ending weren’t always obvious, but they all seemed like they were choices I could reasonably make. For the third route, I can’t imagine that I would ever play the game naturalistically and get the good ending. Which I could accept as an artistic choice – except that I had to get that ending to open up the next two routes.

And the way the story plays out, those second two routes aren’t just ‘nice to haves’. I can see why the creator chose to close off those routes to begin with – although I’m not convinced it was necessary – but I don’t think the implementation worked. It highlighted the arbitrary nature of some of the decision points, and honestly, I don’t think you should need hints to feel like you’re able to explore a game in its entirety.

As it is, I feel like I was shoe-horned into consuming the story in a certain way – a way that made it feel less like a game, and more like an interlinking series of novellas. And I wanted the game. I wanted to explore the choices – but instead, I had to do as the author wanted.

The Royal Trap

Posted in Fantasy, Games with tags on April 21, 2013 by Cara Marie

The Royal Trap is by Hanako Games, the same company that made Long Live the Queen. However, unlike Long Live the Queen, it is not at all stressful! It’s strictly a visual novel, for one thing. No mini-games and little risk of dying.

In The Royal Trap, you’re Prince Oscar’s companion, accompanying him on a trip to the ‘debut’ of one Princess Cassidy; Oscar is one of three princes hoping to marry Cassidy. (Inheritance runs through the female line, so men have to show off and put themselves on display: I really like the world-building in this game, the gender roles that don’t match ours.)

For his sake, and for her to be successful at her job, Madeleine needs Oscar to come off well. But over the course of the game, Madeleine becomes increasingly aware that once Oscar is married, she’s out of a job. That no matter how much affection Madeleine feels for Oscar, their relationship has an end date. And Madeleine needs to make a place for herself afterward.

To up the awkwardness further, Oscar has just given her a letter proclaiming his love for her (in a fairly undramatic, ‘it cannot be’ way.)

So that’s the set-up. The drama starts when Oscar gets hit over the head … and Cassidy gets kidnapped!

The mystery of who’s responsible is revealed halfway through; but when you return to the royal family, you end up with the blame. So the second mystery is why are you taking the fall, and what are they covering up.

I’ve got two of the endings thus far. The first was with Callum, Cassidy’s ignored brother. Callum is kind of callous and violent, but he cares about Cassidy. And I liked his relationship with Madeleine because he seemed to bring out her ruthlessness and pragmatism. And also it meant you got a happy lovey-dovey ending, where Madeleine has a place of her own and a hot husband. (Although I got the ‘normal’ ending, not the ‘good’ one, I think because I broke Oscar’s heart, ha ha ha.) And it feels like you’re more involved with Cassidy and their story.

The other ending I’ve got so far is with Nazagi, one of the other princes come to court Madeleine. I think the Callum ending felt more natural, but I really liked the Nazagi ending anyway. He marries Cassidy, but because Cassidy can’t have children, he ends up proposing that you be his mistress! And having their heirs! You don’t get to know Cassidy so well in this version of the game, but you do end up being her advisor, and this whole ending is basically rife with fic possibility!

At some point I’ll be playing this game again to experience the other endings – especially because they take you on such alternate routes through the second half of the game. I’m sure one of them will explain what’s going on with the assassination attempts!

The Citadel DLC

Posted in Games, Science fiction with tags on March 28, 2013 by Cara Marie

I started playing the Citadel DLC shortly after I moved into my new flat. Shepard’s apartment is cooler than mine. It was quite nice though; I opened up Anderson’s recordings and I unpacked my own things while they way were playing.

(I guess it says something about my priorities that my computer was set up and my internet and I still hadn’t unpacked everything.)

Anyway, Citadel is fun and silly. Your companions all have their own dance animations! (Traynor is the best dancer. Kaidan is even worse than Shepard.) Zaeed struggles with a claw machine! There’s fights and things! Miranda makes a dig about your fish-murdering habits! Shut up, Miranda, Shepard has a lot on her mind!

It’s fun and silly and then the party is over and everyone heads back to the Normandy. And Kaidan tells Shepard that she’ll find a way to win, and he’ll be waiting when she does … and there’s sad music playing …

Let’s just say it was very emotional.

I think I’m going to have to go back and actually play Omega now. Because it would be very sad if the only female Turian I ever saw was when I was trying to get Garrus laid!

Long Live the Queen! … eventually

Posted in Fantasy, Games with tags , on March 12, 2013 by Cara Marie

Finally, I have bet Long Live the Queen! You play the game as Princess Elodie, whose mother has just died. This means Elodie has had to leave school to come home and learn to reign before her coronation next year. She has to learn quickly, because this game has almost as many deaths as Limbo.

I think I’ll wait a while before trying another run-through, because staying alive is exhausting. It’s a fun game though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other routes I can take. And making sure that printing press gets built! It’s quite frustrating when people come to you wanting money for awesome things and Elodie doesn’t know enough to realise those things are awesome. Dammit, Elodie. Or dammit, Elodie’s father for not giving her any actual advisors. Or poison-testers for that matter.

My Elodie ended up being quite warlike – I wasn’t nice enough to my nobles, I guess, to stop them rebelling. But putting down insurrections is quite satisfying. And I suppose I did prevent war with another nation. By forcing one of my nobles into marriage (no wonder the nobles hated me). I was forming alliances! And that’s what you get for sneaking troops into their country! Unwanted marriage!

And then said noble’s brother played the same trick on me. And not to prevent war: to get revenge for me marrying off his sister! And while I can see the political benefits … Elodie is going to be queen, after all … that really strikes me as the worst revenge ever.

It was kind of delightful – this is from the epilogue: ‘Attendees said that the ceremony was lovely, but the bride and the groom kept glaring at each other while taking their vows.’

Worst revenge ever :D

That’s basically all I’ve been doing these last two weeks – well, not just playing Long Live the Queen! but playing other games from Hanako as well. Life-sims are good stress relief.  (Also, I tried being a ‘proper’ gamer and playing a first-person stealth game but it made me feel ill. Life-sims and visual novels never made anyone throw up, I bet.) I’ll probably post about the others later. First I have to frame a response to Magical Diary that isn’t just  ‘fuck you, Damien’ …

Adventures in old Bioware games

Posted in Games, Science fiction with tags , , on January 6, 2013 by Cara Marie

After being coopted into a Star Wars marathon for new year’s, I’ve started playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. This is an older Bioware game (2003), which I had yet to get round to.

It’s interesting to see how things have evolved since KOTOR was released. For one thing, its D&D origins are much more transparent. I can play Dragon Age and not think about the numbers behind the scenes. I play KOTOR and I can see that, oh, this weapon is a 1d6, and it crits on 2×20. Or this is a cross-class skill, so it costs more than the others.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve played D&D. I wonder how much sense things like the crit number would have made to me before then?

The other thing that makes me aware of the game’s age is how frustratingly far apart the auto-saves are. I expect my games to save after a boss battle or similar sort of achievement! Especially if it’s going to lead almost immediately to something else I might die in. Because chances are I will.

But some things haven’t changed: the first companion you get is still voiced by Raphael Sbarge. He voiced Kaiden, who was my Shepard’s love interest in Mass Effect. And Carth in KOTOR sounds pretty much the same. Which means I keep calling him ‘Kaiden’ when I talk to my computer screen. And I put up with a lot more of his, ‘look, you can’t trust anyone’ angst than I otherwise might!

On the other hand, there’s another companion who has the same voice actor as Commander Shepard, and they sound completely different! I don’t think I would have realised if I hadn’t already known. (When I say the same VA as Shepard, I mean Jennifer Hale. The voice of the one true Shepard. Not that dude they have on the cover.)

Part of it is that Bastila, your KOTOR companion, has a British accent, and Shepard does not. But even aside from that, their voices are distinctive. Bastila has a softer, breathier voice. Shepard’s is stronger, more authoritative – maybe that second part is more how the dialogue is expressed, I don’t know. But I could never get the two of them confused.

Storywise, I’m enjoying the game thus far – certainly more than I enjoy the actual Star Wars movies /bad sci-fi nerd. My favourite companion at this point is Mission, who’s a teenage girl, with a convincingly teenaged view of things. She and Carth have some pretty entertaining conversations. I like it when my companions argue with one another, but I like it best when they end up getting along.

Moral choices and Mass Effect

Posted in Games, Science fiction with tags , on April 3, 2012 by Cara Marie

Read more »

That ending

Posted in Games, Science fiction with tags on March 24, 2012 by Cara Marie

So I was having trouble imagining what sort of an ending could have everyone so pissed off.

Now I’ve finished Mass Effect 3, and I know. Because my thoughts on finishing the game were, ‘Wait, what the hell just happened?’ Read more »

My favourite game, again

Posted in Action/adventure, Fantasy, Games with tags on December 4, 2011 by Cara Marie

The last few weeks have basically been work work work, but the site I’ve been working on went live yesterday – hooray! – so the stress is of and I have energy to do things other than blob in the evenings.

One thing I like to do to blob is play computer games. This probably isn’t good for me, because when you’ve been staring at a screen all day, your eyes don’t thank you for staring at a screen at night as well. But it’s what I do.

I started playing Skyrim, but my inability to walk in a straight line sent me quickly back to Dragon Age 2. For the third time – this is a new record for me and RPGs! So most of it’s very familiar, but there are still new things.

For one, I finally know why people were always talking about Anders’ Manifesto! I somehow never came across it in my earlier games – and I did look for it. Obviously, when you are unambiguously pro-mage, Anders doesn’t feel the need to leave it lying around.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not pro-mage in this run-through. I’m just trying to play a character who’s a bit more skeptical. It’s difficult. I would like to have a run where I side with the Templars, but I don’t know if I’ll manage it. I’ve read people saying they found it hard to understand how anyone could side with the mages at the end, after all that’s happened, but my brain can’t hook into that perspective. Wanting to tell them to screw themselves, sure. Helping the Templars slaughter them for a crime they didn’t commit – and which I can’t necessarily even condemn – no way.

But I feel I should try it at least once. I’ve even metagamed it so Bethany would be off with the Grey Wardens, because siding with the Templars when she’s in the Circle would be too much. (Although from her character’s perspective, seems like she’d be better off there, or would be, if Kirkwall weren’t so messed up.)

I was a bit worried heading into the Deep Roads with two mages and two archers was a bad idea – it was the only way I’d get the result I wanted – but turns out it was an awesome idea. Tank? I don’t need no tank. The more mages, the better.

Basically, roleplaying a pro-Templar character is hard and I just fail at it. But asides from that, I’m having fun! And that’s all I’ve had energy for, working on a giant site migration. Hopefully my pastimes will be more diverse again now.