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Tycho / on Mon, Oct 4 2004 at 4:30 am

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The Utility of Rare Erotica

We did not need to invent something ridiculous about Shadow Hearts: Covenant to prime it for inclusion in the site, that’s true - but the game actually knows how ridiculous it is pretty much all the time, and it’s right there with you, laughing along.  World War 1 era superheroes who turn into bats and steal people’s mailboxes.

Jeremy Parish (who is a personal hero) wrote a review of the game that should probably be read if you’re considering a purchase.  He’s wrong about the combat system, in that combos can go to four characters long, which activates an entire class of unique Combo Magic - but really, that’s not pertinent.   

Essentially he says that this form of RPG has been done, and done better, which is sort of hard to argue with in a raw production values sense.  Final Fantasy casts a shadow so large that it envelops the entire genre, which is well known.  Nobody does Final Fantasy better - a truism that now includes Square-Enix itself apparently, as with their XII iteration they’ve shrugged off the iconic turn-based combat and gone with one of these Goddamn real-time hybrids that so appeals to a game reviewer’s keen sense of novelty.  This is part of a larger discussion that I have with Gabriel the Elder, and I guess now you can have it, too. 

There are two branches to the discussion, one of which focuses on the mad rush to convert perfectly solid, genre defining 2d games into three dimensional piles of dogshit.  The urge must just be overwhelming, because the results of this process are almost universally reviled.  Gaze ye upon the insulting, monstrous Metal Slug 3D, for example.  It is true that when the Metal Slug series began, technology of the sort used to project 3D scenes like that was not available.  The presumption, I suppose, is that if two Ds are good, then three Ds must be glorious beyond imaginings.  When they sodomize classics in this way, do they think of themselves as selfless intercessors between the technology gods and huddling, primitive peoples?  Do they imagine that they are engaged in a work of unalloyed benevolence? 

As it turns out, just because we can manipulate 3D images doesn’t mean that they are the ultimate solution for every task, in terms of the gameplay or in any other kind of terms.  There are still marvelous possibilities inherent in the 2D plane which we have not discovered yet, and maybe we won’t ever, because that third dimension draws a man, like a nipple.  When I play a game in the Guilty Gear series or pop in the punishing Viewtiful Joe, I breathe a sigh of relief.  Somewhere, someone was able to resist the siren call.     

The other half of the conversation has to do with these Goddamn hybrid action systems that have come into phase in role-playing games.  Tales of Symphonia is one of the worst games I’ve played in recent memory.  Star Ocean is a joyless, grating exercise I could recommend only as penance for some grievous moral miscalculation.  Certainly, their stories are caricatures of cliches based on a half-understood mishmash of Western and Eastern folklore, but I have to be honest with you when I say that applies to virtually all content Japan produces.  I can’t claim ignorance of it at this point, and honestly the surreal experience of having my own culture digested and projected back into my cornea is one of the reasons I seek the genre out.  But both of them have different takes on this action/RPG hybrid that has bum-rushed the genre, and I’m glad that technology allows us to do things like this, but I have to tell you that I don’t see it as a substantial improvement.  I’m quick on the draw and I can push a button in sequence with the best of them.  But there is something natural and sensible and universal about a turn-based system that allows for absolute, explicit position, clear delineation, and genuine decision making.  Maybe that seems quaint to you, but dividing the sequence of play into turns has a validity that isn’t diminished by advancing technology. 

Oh look, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is now a footnote in this post, which wasn’t my intention.  At any rate, the other points are probably more important. 

My primary complaint with the new Shadow Hearts isn’t with the frequency of the random encounters, it’s with the content of them - there just aren’t that many creatures per area, though thankfully you move from area to area at a fairly brisk pace.  It’s been funny and engaging to us in ways that recent RPGs haven’t been, precisely because it hasn’t been snared by the modern manias that have latched on to recent role-playing games. 

(CW)TB out.

the more you’re slip-sliding away

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