Saturday, January 16, 2016

Undertale and determination, power, and passivity

SPOILERS for Undertale

I was pumped to beat Undertale. I had given up on learning how to dodge all of Asgore's attacks and I decided to go back and get the Temy armor. I farmed glasses for gold and sent Tem to college for 1000 G, and then farmed some more to get the armor. And... I was able to beat the boss this time! Except he wasn't the final boss! I died a few times to Photoshop Flowey, but I soon gave up. I watched the endings on YouTube. I might not have beaten the game but I enjoyed the time I spent playing it, and it made me reflect on the nature of determination, power, and mercy in games. I wish I had time to make these thoughts longer and more organized, but I don't, so I'll consider myself lucky to just get them down. Also I LOVE the soundtrack.

Undertale is a game about determination--the determination to forgive or kill everyone. By giving up, did I lose the game? In a normal RPG, if I had lost to the boss, I could go level up some more, or make some cooler armor, or possibly go do some sidequests and just forget about the final boss. But since Flowey takes away your ability to save (the game goes straight into his fight, and there's no option to run away or defer the fight), it makes the game more frustrating. And while the game's bullet-hell-based combat system is innovative, I suck at it. I don't have the patience or determination to play those kinds of games, so I didn't get to officially exercise mercy or "get" to the end. I think game-wise, I'm okay with that, because boss fights have never been my favorite part of a game.  

Control and power and major themes of Undertale. I didn't like the parts where I lost control over what happened to my save file, but it was necessary for the plot. And the best, pacifist ending doesn't give you any levels, which is a way for the player to say, "hey, I care more about seeing what happens if I don't kill anyone than feeling powerful right now." Undertale without leveling is kind of an anti-rpg because there's no satisfaction from seeing arbitrary numbers climb up (so by necessity, combat must be skill-based). The idea that you'll be happiest if you give up power and control over the world is a very religious one (and one that many religions share--Christianity, Zen Buddhism, and Taoism at least). The way the game lets you choose between fighting and "action"ing an enemy feels like the difference between choosing "fight" and "skill" in a JRPG. It doesn't even feel like it will be relevant later on, but it definitely is. Oh, and the way you could actually "flee" the boss fight with Undyne was genius, even though I felt stupid when I had to look it up.

The idea that you have to get to know someone before they'll stop fighting you is an interesting metaphor for relationships--are there some people that you have to put up with some quirks or even abuse before you can really forgive them? The protagonist's passivity in the pacifist route is admirable, but in real life not everyone will change if they encounter someone who is nice to them. But I think the charming and heartfelt part of Undertale is that everyone can and does change in the pacifist route. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I'm not buying games on sale this year

I love shopping for videogame sales, and it's sort of fun to "hold out" on buying a game until the price drops. I have bought and played some cool games from bundles and oh-my-gosh-it's-only-$1-sales, but now I have a giant library of unplayed games, many of which I don't feel excited to play.

If I were more disciplined, I'd resolve not to buy any more games until I've played more of the ones I already own. But instead, I'm going to restrict myself to paying full price for any new videogames I want (and yeah, I'm trying to buy fewer games in general too). If I buy a game for full price, then I'll feel more invested in playing it and maybe writing about it (how would you feel if you never played a game you paid $1 for? $20? $40?). Of course, I have the luxury of being a rich woman who can afford to buy games at full price too. And if the "thrill" of getting a good deal is gone, my videogame shopping can be more purposeful.

I'm also sort-of trying to play certain games before buying certain other ones. So here are the games I'm most looking forward to playing more of this year:

The Talos Principle - I love looking at this game, I feel smart when I manage to solve its puzzles, and the story is enough assassin's-creed-y to be exciting, but not so much that I feel cheezed out... yet, anyway. 

Undertale - I love the soundtrack for this game. I'm just stuck on the final boss fight the first time through--I did a pacifist run not realizing that was a new game+ thing? So it's really hard :-(. I love how the choice to kill or interact with enemies was more meaningful in this game. I just really suck at dodging stuff. 

Dragon Age 2 - When I play this game I feel like I don't want to rush through it to be "done" with it. Sure, I wish I could just skip all the combat and cut to the conversations, but sometimes the combat is narratively interesting too--like when you do the companion quest for the dwarf guy and he goes it alone, slaying guards left and right with his crossbow, only to find his brother and have him grovel before him... but oh wait, that's now how it happened! I also want to finish this game before playing Inquisition because I'm methodical like that.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask - great for if I can only get intervals of a few minutes to play something between entertaining my daughter. After I beat this one I'll have played all the Professor Layton games for the DS and 3DS, which I consider some sort of achievement, I guess. 

Steins; Gate - I'm at least halfway through this visual novel, and I've been sticking it out because I've heard so many great things about it. The SF elements are very interesting, but the internet-bro characters are really annoying (but I'm hoping the main character has some cool explanation for his weird personality). After I play this one I'll let myself play either Norn 9 or Code:Realize. I played through Amnesia (an otome VN) which I liked pretty well, although some of the consequences of conversation choices were frustratingly opaque. 

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer - sometimes I just want a break from frenetic games where the world is ending. When that happens I design houses for adorable animals. I love the Animal Crossing community on Tumblr--I like posting designs there occasionally. Accessible, shareable pixel art! I don't really ever plan on "beating" this game, it's just always there for me. :-)