Monday, February 25, 2013

Virtue's Last Reward fixes all the annoying things about 999

Remember when I was whining that visual novels should learn a thing or two from sequential art/comics? I think a designer over at Chunsoft must have felt the same way, because Virtue's Last Reward (VLR) solved most of the problems I had with 999. VLR is the sequel to 999 and is in the same genre: visual novel with periodic escape puzzles.

The worst thing about the writing in 999 was that it was redundant to visual information. It was like they were expecting a blind person to play the game and describing physical attributes and degree of passion on comments when we had a picture of the person and their expression to learn that from. Thankfully, VLR cut back on this annoying literary technique. It made the dialogue go by faster and helped it feel like a game where characters are talking to each other and not a novel being read to you.

By far my favorite part of VLR, which I think other branching stories should adopt, was the story flow chart.
After you get one ending, instead of starting from the beginning and skipping through lots of text, you can go back to the last story-branching decision and choose the other option. Or you can go to some other branch and see how that part unfolds. You still end up skipping a lot of text, but compared to the alternative it is relatively painless.

The other nice part is that after you escape from a room once, you don't need to ever solve it again to escape. This feature isn't used very often though, because the designers made it so every single path has a different puzzle room to solve. So the writing is better and the branching story is easier to navigate.

Another aspect I liked was that the things you learn in some branches of the storyline unlock other parts. It made it feel more like you were building up to the "true" ending and less like you were just seeing all the possible endings. The fact that your character can sometimes remember things from other timelines makes this like... a modernist visual novel? Or you know, just ridiculous sci-fi. There are so many crazy reveals and it made me look forward to each ending. I can't believe I actually LIKED the ridiculousness of it all. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Depression Quest!

For a long time, I've been somewhat fascinated by depression. I've had friends who suffered from it. I studied psychology in college, and depression was a part of those studies. I've read personal essays and fiction describing the abyss and clustercuss that is a depressive episode. But none of these experiences have made the experience as clear as Zoe's Depression Quest (well, Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey). If you choose to isolate yourself and give in to feeling crummy, your depression gets worse. These negative feedback loops are the things that feed depression. But you can't "just do" things or snap out of it--depending on your depression level, certain options will be unavailable.

Playing this game fills me with compassion for those who suffer from depression. It also helps me recognize my own "depressive"* thoughts--like when it seems like everyone is doing cooler things than me, or when I feel useless, or when I don't feel like talking to anyone I haven't known for more than two years. I think everyone should play this game--it will make you more compassionate and understanding if you haven't suffered from depression, and it might help you feel like you're not alone if you have. 

*I don't have clinical depression. But we all get down sometimes.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ni no Kuni is bringing the airship back

"I want an airship in my game. Not an airship where you just select where you want to go, but one you can actually move around the world in." This was my husband's one stipulation about what an RPG should have. After a bit of discussion, I wasn't sure if such a game existed this-gen (although I think Tales of the Abyss has one). I remember googling "airship JRPG" to try to find a JRPG with whole-world exploration, and not being able to find one (it's not the most searchable topic... so please comment with your favorite explorable JRPGs).

So you can imagine how we've been enjoying Ni no Kuni, the JRPG that incorporates some aspects of old-school design (including a way to explore the world aerially), while at the same time making the genre highly accessible.

And by "accessible," I mean, "a good introduction to JRPGs for this generation." Some JRPGs get difficult very quickly, and require strategies that a 10-year-old might not think of. I'm glad we have games that are difficult, but I still appreciate games that are made with children and adults in mind; Ni no Kuni does this excellently. The pun-filled "pieces of art" quests might go over a few kids' heads, but they made me chuckle. I don't mind that Drippy always tells me how to beat a boss, and I've enjoyed playing on easy to just enjoy the exploration and story.

Being able to explore a world is key to my enjoyment of an RPG. In some games the amount of possible exploration is overwhelming (like Oblivion), but I'd prefer that to a railroaded course like in FFXIII. Repeatable battles still strike me as a way to extend the "fun" content of exploring and story-reading, which makes me wonder if I'd like an RPG that completely got rid of combat (I probably would; I really enjoyed To the Moon).

Combat in Ni no Kuni is what has bothered me the most. In an effort to make the game easy for children to understand, the AI controls are very minimal (but exist!). It's very common for an ally to dump all their MP out on a battle they could have won using only one ability (the alternative is "no abilities"). It's probably a sign that I've matured in my RPG strategies; I doubt I would have cared about ally AI as a teenager.

The lack of AI control is completely forgivable given how well-written and gorgeous the art is. The creatures you fight have funny names like in Pokemon--one chick creature is a "Teeny Bopper" while a cat creature is a "Purrloiner." Yes, it's that kind of humor.

Have you been enjoying Ni No Kuni? I-I think you would probably like it.