A Gamers Trivial Dilemma!

I find myself very much the console gamer, with a deep love of Japan, Japanese Culture and Japanese Games. Like many of my clan, I’ve found, in adulthood, there is much less time to play. And so, I find myself awkwardly divided between PS4 and Switch. While both consoles have their allures, I often find myself clinging to the latter and I can’t help but think about how much times have changed. Fortunately, in my youth, I never had to worry about the device I would use to drown my time, ‘PlayStation at Home, Gameboy on the Go’, it was really very simple.

Suddenly, something extremely strange happened. My friends joined late-night queues patiently anticipating clawing at the packaging of their PS3. However, I waited with bated breath. Over the years I had grown bored of Sony’s flagships, yet somehow, my devotion to Nintendo remained unscathed and was duly growing. I looked upon the ‘OG’ PS3 with disgust, all the while, sneaking glances at Nintendo’s: slim, slender and slick Wii, filled with anticipation and excitement about the introduction of motion and this new way to play.

It was during that strange season, Winter 2006, that I discovered I had turned into a Nintendo Fanboy.

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Final Fantasy X is probably the most important game of my childhood… After Pokemon.

For over 100 million people, PlayStation 2, is a console that defined a generation (and with over 150 million units sold, it’s the best selling console of all time). I can easily recount many ground-breaking moments; cycling through the streets of San Andreas, clamouring up colossi and my epic journey to rid ‘Spira’ of ‘Sin’ with Tidus, Yuna and a ‘rag-tag’ band of guardians. Unfortunately, the success of the PS2 didn’t naturally pass-over to PS3. In the early days of the console, sales were lacklustre; Sony lost out, month after month, thrashed by both: Microsoft and Nintendo.

However, unfair it is to compare PS3, 360 and Wii; Nintendo didn’t just win that generation, they destroyed it. During the era of Wii and DS, Nintendo dominated the market space – I remember Beyonce promoting ‘Rhythm Paradise’ (UK) and Ian Wright advertising ‘Mario Strikers Charged’. Yes, I know celebrities advertising products isn’t some mind-altering phenomena; nevertheless, seeing cultural icons playing the types of games I enjoyed, resonated with me as a young man. Nintendo during the 7th Gen taught we a valuable lesson… you’re never too old to play!

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The battle of what to play first: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn, was unrelenting. BOTW ultimately won. P.s. Both deserve to be Game of the Year!

Fortunately, the lifespan of the 7th generation lasted nearly a decade – so turning up late to the party wasn’t necessarily a problem. After spending a year flat-sharing with some of the most hardcore gamers in the British Isles, I purchased my very own PlayStation 3 (Christmas 2010). And I found myself once again, donning the phrase: ‘Nintendo in the Streets, PlayStation in the Sheets’. Unusually, the game that ultimately drew me to the console wasn’t some grand JRPG – although I couldn’t wait to quest with Lightning and company, instead, the FPSRPG ‘Borderlands’ was the game that sunk its talons in. Almost immediately, I realised the error I made: Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted 1 & 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Red Dead Redemption and Enslaved, are all among some of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. To think at one point in time I would’ve argued that the Uncharted series was a joint second for my favourite game, but then PS4 introduced me to the Witcher (sorry! Naughty Dog, you’re a very close third).

So now as I glance over at my desk, peering at the two consoles I brought in the space of a few months of each other (late again of PS4 and day-one on Switch). I find myself in a strange predicament. October 27th was a good day to be a geek: Mario Odyssey, AC: Origins and Wolfenstein 2; many would argue the choice was easy… Of course Mario! And yet, on the day I almost faltered. I have no love for first-person shooters, however, I do adore the historical fiction of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. When push came to shove, Mario won out; mostly down to the glowing review from Edge magazine. Where I find myself now as a gamer, is somewhat problematic; with the monetary resources, I’m able me to indulge my favourite pastime. Yet, the share amount of games that peak my interest and the number of new adventures I can devote time too – are challenged by the realities of adulthood.

This year alone, I’ve dedicated hundreds if not thousands of hours to video games. Today marks my first anniversary with my PS4 and as I listen to music of Persona 5 play on a loop (currently paused while I finish off this mini-essay); I ponder over, Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Xenoblade Chronicles 2!

Yet again, two massive worlds begging to be explored and a limited amount of time until two more big releases: Ni No Kuni 2 (19/1/18)  and Monster Hunter World (26/1/18)!

FUCK!

Cover Images

(Switch Icon: hdwallsource.com) (PS Icon: qygjxz.com)

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On… The State of JRPGs in 2017

There is power in great storytelling. Novels, films and theatre, are built around the complex weaving of great narrative. When we think of narrative in video games, audience and critics consider ‘story’ with different perspectives. First person video games allow the player agency, they shape their own story. On the other hand, third-person video games turn the player into a guide, not unlike an unreliable narrator. One who glimpses at segments of the story; ultimately, lacking the power of complete omniscience.

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Final Fantasy VII remake developed by Square Enix announced for PlayStation 4.

The big difference between Japanese and Western RPG’s is perspective. Unlike Japanese developers, Western devs often prefer the first-person perspective; this is easily seen in franchises, such as Deux Ex, Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Grand Theft Auto. While games like Elder Scrolls and Fallout, allow the player to switch perspective between first and third; the definitive way to play is in first-person. Western RPG’s ask the player to live in their world, the protagonist on screen is an avatar, a capsule, enabling the player to live out their fantasy. Whereas Japanese devs focus on the third-person, the player like a fly on the wall watches the action unfold, giving commands from a distance. While the players in control, they’re the narrator of someone else’s story.

For many in the western audience, the pinnacle of JPRG’s is Final Fantasy VII, while the Final Fantasy franchise had found relative success in the ‘west’ prior to release on PlayStation, the debut console captivated audiences and FFVII was a gem within its canon. The importance of FFVII, cannot be understated; for a majority of fans throughout the United States and Europe, FFVII was the game that bore their love of JRPG’s. While more hardcore gamers debate whether FFVI or FFVII was the greater game. Many children across the world were and still are introduced and instantly captivated by Pokemon (myself included).

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Pokemon Sun and Moon developed by Game Freak, exclusive to Nintendo 3DS.

It’s unlikely that anybody suspected the popularity and cultural impact of the Pokemon franchise. The formulaic nature of Pokemon’s narrative and the deep, yet easily accessible turn-based battle system; make the Pokemon RPG’s a staple for gamers, young and old. In the winter of 2016, Pokemon Sun and Moon released, instantly selling out in many stores. However, the release of Pokemon S&M didn’t just move software, but hardware as well. Pokemon’s ease of access has made the JRPG a quintessential genre for handheld gamers around the world.

And yet, many still look at the archetypal JRPG with disdain when comparing them with western style RPGs. This has become evident with releases such as Final Fantasy XV, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Nier: Automata, blending western and Japanese game mechanics. The Japanese twist on the western style open-world, with action-based gameplay, has proven that this welding of styles, works. After close to 10 years in development, FFXV had many issues yet the common census on gameplay and the battle system was positive overall. The open world was vast, begging to be explored and the move from turn-based to an action orientated battle system; brought a new intensity to fights, making them more challenging all the while leaving the player with a sense of control.

With this new outlook for JRPGs, there’s also been an introspective outlook for many Japanese developers. The release of I Am Setsuna from new Square Enix developer Tokyo RPG Factory and more recently Atlus’s Persona 5, proves there is an audience for traditional turn-based RPGs. The Persona series has always rested securely in the niche category, blending high-school social simulator with low fantasy- slash- magical realist epic adventure. While the themes come across as obscure at best; Persona 5 has grasped the interests of many in the PlayStation die-hards.

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Persona 5 developed by Atlus, exclusive on PlayStation 4.

The first half of the year was fruitful for many Japanese developers and publishers. While many analysts predicted the decline of the Japanese game development; warning that many developers would move to mobile, instead, many of the biggest and best-selling console games this year, heralded from the land of the rising sun. And with the release of the Nintendo Switch, accompanied by the critical and commercial success of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Neir Automata and Persona 5; Japanese development is back at the forefront of the industry.

Overall 2017 has been exceptional for video games so far and by most estimates, it’s only going to get better. The end of 2017, has many big games listed: Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, just to mention a few (all releasing on 27th October 2017). Each of these titles is a heavy hitter of varying proportions, yet they’re surrounded by other Japanese stylised (Mario is also of Japanese design) time killers: Nights of Azure 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, all releasing in the coming months.

Recent years have been great for fans of lengthy story-based adventures and 2017 has been especially amazing. The resurgence of Japanese development, the current renaissance of JRPG’s and the positive mood around Nintendo Switch, means the future may be bright for 40 to 50-hour tales with spiralling plots. Beyond 2017, may herald greater games with broader scopes; Ni No Kuni 2, Lost Sphear, Project Octopath Traveler Pokemon and Shin Megami Tensei for Nintendo Switch, all may potentially take queues from many of the recent standout games or maybe they’ll push the envelope further helping to redefine the boundaries and our notions of the Japanese RPG.

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Why Games?

The cover image, Yo Videogames by Ry-Spirt was sourced from his DeviantArt page. Be sure to check out his awesome artwork! 

A question that often comes up in general conversation, about myself is why I play games? Not games in the sense of mind games, not board games but video games. While there are many philosophical reasons behind the escapist pursuit; my obsession with the interactive, visually magnificent time filler as a medium for entertainment stems from what I suppose is enjoyment.

Throughout my time spent on this big blue planet, I’ve been fortunate enough to own a variety of consoles; Sega Mega Drive, Nintendo 64, Playstation, Playstation 2, Gamecube, Wii, Playstation 3 and finally the Wii U as well as having owned every Nintendo handheld console since the yellow Gameboy colour. And now as an adult contented with such a diverse gaming history I find myself throwing my loyalty in with Nintendo (more on this later).

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Mario Galaxy had players flying around the galaxy on the Wii. Photo credit: pixelkin.org

There are words spread far wide that break down the success of the Wii on its ability to bring non-gamers into the world of video games. However, I find myself a gamer obsessed with the slimline minimalist white box, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Bro’s, Mario Kart, Zelda Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword all deserve an honourable mention. So pondering over possibly my favourite console and the words dispersed about it; I can’t help consider how the games listed above appealed to these new and casual gamers. Those who support Nintendo in the hardcore sense, usually own the home and portable device and find the franchises listed hit the pinnacle of what they expect from Nintendo and are considered hardcore games.

Game Theory, a fantastic Youtube channel with in-depth theorising about video games and game culture!

One of the issues people usually take with my love of games; the fact that they a generally considered anti-social by the non-gaming community, many of whom I somehow befriended. Yet I find playing video games; especially Nintendo games to be the most social experience, at my disposal (unless you enjoy watching people read). Pour me a tall glass of red wine, sit back, relax and play an intense game of WiiPartyU with some friends… something I’ve actually done on a few occasions. And while, like most, I’m concerned that my Villager in Animal Crossing may have a better social life than me (that isn’t due to lack of trying). The world and the media are very dark, often playing games is easily the best distraction; which more and more people are discovering daily.

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the 3DS instalment of Nintendo’s life simulator. Photo credit: animal-crossing.com

Since the mobile revolution, games have become the quintessential mode of distraction with only the most hardcore of gamers and a horde of teenagers owning handheld consoles. All around us games are being played: whether its Clash of Clans, Pokemon, Super Smash Bro’s Wii U or Destiny. However, the bone of contention still remains: Why are you playing video games? and the stale arguments stick. Apparently there anti-social, geeky and my favourite meant for children. My personal favourite argument is the last; as if gaining maturity on a yearly basis somehow means forgetting your youth and disowning whatever pastime you feel in love with… because playing games aren’t as mature as watching soaps, watching movies or going out on Friday night and getting so drunk that you don’t wake up until Monday.

To answer the question with a question: Why not Games? This a medium which is taking over the world; videos games have become literature, art, music and education as well as a great way to escape… So why not?