Where’s the magic gone in gaming? The fan reaction to Final Fantasy XV

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How could anyone not find that a marvel to look at?

After the amazing new trailer for Final Fantasy XV debuted at Tokyo Game Show, I decided to go and have a look at comments of numerous gaming sites to see how excited people were. Although most people were praising the trailer, there were a fair few people who urgently pushed the Majesty of the trailer to one side in order to wave their negative views of the series about. RPG fanatics were up in arms simply because the characters weren’t standing still waiting for the player to click attack. The seamless combat, the open world, the interesting characters, the colossal monsters, the flawless visuals, the stunning music, the diverse range of emotions, it all meant nothing for some people simply because the combat was not turn based. Is that what Final Fantasy represents? Is this amazing series, closely approaching it’s 30 year anniversary, only known for it’s turn based gameplay?

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A powerful logo that tells you all you need to know about Final Fantasy

See, that’s something that I simply cannot agree with; Final Fantasy is a series that represents something so much for me. Final fantasy, at it’s most basic, has always been about a romance story for me. My first real turning point in gaming was seeing Squall and Rinoa dancing together in Final Fantasy VIII and watching their relationship develop over four discs and sixty hours of story. Final Fantasy VII hit me hard after watching a charming relationship develop between Cloud and Aerith, only to be cut down through a single moment that has cemented itself as one of the most iconic death scenes ever. That same game then gave me hope when Cloud and Tifa rekindled a childhood romance that’s as deep, touching and flawed as any other relationship in the series. Final Fantasy IX saw Zidane and Garnet fall in love with a storyline, similar to Lady and The Tramp, that ends with one of the most heartfelt embraces I’ve ever seen in gaming. In fact, Final Fantasy IX is full of amazing romances, there’s Steiner and Beatrix’s blossoming love amongst war and sworn royal duty; Freya’s heartbreak and hope as her longtime love, Sir Fratley loses his memory but begins to show signs of falling in love with her all over again; and then Eiko who is forced to accept Zidane’s feelings for Garnet as she develops a crush on the charming bandit. Final Fantasy X sees the epic romance between Tidus and Yuna that sees them both defy time and death in order to be together after falling head over heels for another. Final Fantasy IV has conflicted Knights Cecil and Kain vying for the same woman, Rosa, in a love triangle that still remains as important now as it was in 1994. Then Final Fantasy VI has the endearing relationship that blooms between Locke and Celes, which is represented by Locke’s bandana; a memento that actually keeps Celes from taking her own life at a critical point in the story.

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This could prove to be a powerful and heartbreaking romance

One of the main reasons that Final Fantasy hasn’t impacted me as much since Final Fantasy X is mainly due to the story not having the same kind of emotion that was present in those early romances listed. Final Fantasy XII shunned most emotion to make way for the world driven and political tale, whilst XIII had characters that just weren’t as likeable as they could have been. Snow and Serah’s relationship didn’t impress me much due to the backstory for them doing most the talking instead of actual emotional storyelling. What has struck me as most important about Final Fantasy XV is the love story that the game will be telling between Noctis and Stella who, due to their warring nations, are forced to fight each other despite how strongly they feel for one another. It’s almost like an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet except with much bigger swords and spikier hair.

It isn’t just romance though, Final Fantasy is a series about adventure that sees all kinds of relationships form amongst a wide array of different plotlines, whether they be serious, heartbreaking, lighthearted, comedic or just downright bizarre. Final Fantasy XV looks to be recapturing some of the variety that was sorely missing in the last few titles, just listen to the conversations that are shown in the trailer which range from serious to lighthearted. If you don’t feel any emotion as Noctis looks up at the moon standing proudly in the sky, with the main theme of the series playing elegantly in the background, then there’s no hope for you as a fan of the series.

Sadly, it won’t be enough for some fans though, simply due to the fact it’s not a traditional RPG. If that’s all Final fantasy means to you then I really feel as if the magic of the series’ story and characters have been lost on you. That’s not the only example though, there are many recent games that it seems people just can’t help but be negative about.

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This cast is apparently disappointing to some people

The new Super Smash Bros has recently revealed it’s full roster of characters, with a total number of a whopping 51 combatants. How could anyone possibly complain about a cast of characters this big in a fighting game? Blame Dark Pit and Dr Mario, two clone characters who have forced the game dead to some people. These two characters have ruined a game that contains Wii Fit Trainer and her bonkers set of attacks; Rosalina, who brings along the adorable Luma for a unique set of tag team moves; Bowser Jr, who has seven completely different skins based on each Koopaling; as well Pacman and Megaman, who join Mario and Sonic to form the four biggest icons in gaming. That isn’t enough for some gamers though; comments made include “Who’s Shulk”, Why has Mario got so many representatives”, “Why isn’t the game faster”? To put it simply, some gamers are never happy with the final product and want to have a negative reaction, even if the game looks great. Even the critically acclaimed darlings The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V couldn’t come out of last gen unscathed despite being hailed as two of the finest pieces of art ever.

So why are gamers are so negative? Gaming is much more varied than films and books in terms of ways to play which means fanboyism has reared it’s ugly head. You don’t see DVD and Blu Ray fans arguing over their player of choice, yet gamers argue over franchises and consoles as if their life depended on it. Nintendo gets the most hate for this unfortunately with a large consensus being that their childish games are churned out every year with hardly any updates, even though it’s usually only a single game per each franchise that sees a release each console cycle (that are always critically acclaimed). Sony get a lot of hate for making gaming too serious, but we’d obviously have to ignore their exclusive games like Littlebigplanet, Tearaway, Disgaea, Ratchet and Clank and Singstar. Finally, Microsoft are only known for their online shooter games that have ruined gaming, even though they have the Fable series, Sunset overdrive, Project Spark, Killer Instinct and Kinect.

I remember back to when I was a child playing on my first SNES console, and then a couple of years later starting up my first Playstation 1 along with a copy of Final Fantasy VIII. I didn’t care about why each game was one each console, I didn’t care about how each game played or other people’s opinions; I simply gave each game a chance and went in with a wide eyed sense of anticipation and wonder. Thankfully, I still have that magic even today. I’m willing to give any game a chance and if I don’t like it, then at least I can say I tried to experience what other people might hold it in high regard. Gaming is still as special and magical to me today as it was 16 years ago, and I can’t wait to forge new memories and experiences with no preconceptions holding me back.

 

Dissecting Horror: The Difficult Position of Horror Games

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The horror genre was once thought dead if the last generation of consoles is anything to go by. Resident Evil had abandoned it’s macabre atmosphere for a more multiplayer focused blockbuster image, Silent Hill had seen a string of mediocre releases that had lost the surreal charm of the original trilogy, and Dead Space managed to deliver brilliant body horror before quickly twisting it into yet another action packed co-operative experience. So it was left to the indie scene to make the intimate horror games that big studios were quickly becoming too scared to make. If the past year has proved anything though, it’s that horror is most definitely scaring it’s way back into the mainstream, but is history doomed to repeat itself for this precariously placed genre?

The first glimpse of horror’s downfall was instanced in Resident Evil 4, which many people, ironically enough, consider the pinnacle of horror. It was a game that showed how fear could be achieved in broad daylight, evidenced by the stunning first segment which pits Leon against an entire village. It crafted a horror icon through the chainsaw wielding maniac that caused many a heart attack as soon as you first heard that chainsaw being revved up. This was also a game that revolutionized shooting mechanics, something that would change gaming as a whole forever.

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The REmake is one of the last truly great horror games

This is unfortunately what Capcom decided was the only thing to expand upon in further Resident Evil installments. Resident Evil 5 ditched any kind of attempt to frighten it’s fans and instead added a partner character to dispatch any kind of tense situations. In Resident Evil 6, the horror element was all but annihilated in a hail of bullets and superhuman acrobatics; a decision that represented Capcom’s unwillingness to invest in pure horror again. Although it should be noted that Resident Evil Revelations was a genuine attempt to bring this horror element back, even if the 3DS architecture stopped it from wholly succeeding in terms of sound and design. Capcom have also recently revealed that an HD remaster of the critically acclaimed Resident Evil “REmake”, originally released for the Gamecube, will be released sometime next year. If you’re after an example of horror perfection then definitely consider looking up the REmake; considered the perfect amalgamation of brooding visuals, stellar sound design, gruesome enemies, limited exploration and a genuine dread inducing atmosphere.

The other big franchise in horror, Silent Hill, also saw a sharp decline in quality after the fourth game, which is also when the original Japanese team terminated their involvement with the series. Silent Hill was once a journey into each character’s own personal hell, but this vision was later distorted, with enemies such as Pyramid Head turning up in any installment, purely because of the fact he was an iconic figure from Silent Hill 2. Silent Hill, much like the rest of the horror genre, was in a difficult position because of the nature of it’s gameplay. Being puzzle heavy and slow paced was starting to lose Konami the sales it craved for the series, which caused it to experiment with more action based gameplay and even going down a psychological route. None of these were working out though and Silent Hill was becoming increasingly irrelevant to gaming; it had no way to change with the times like Resident Evil and was eventually left in limbo (until recently).

This signaled the downfall of many horror franchises that were not doing enough satisfactory sales numbers. Horror slowly became less of a genre and more of an element being used in a variety of different games. Bioshock, much like System Shock before it, used sound and imagery to build an unbearable sense of dread at certain moments; Dead Space, whilst gradually turning more action based, had a truly gruesome creature design in the Necromorphs; and The Last of Us built up a strikingly bleak world and imaginative threat in it’s enemy, the “Clickers”. Horror could no longer achieve the sales numbers of blockbuster games, and so the genre was left to rot whilst action packed games ruled the roost.

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Slenderman was a triumph of visuals and sound design

The indie scene and PC market then took control of horror, forging effective experiences that ranged from short but brilliantly conceived free ideas to fully effective expansive games. Amnesia: The Dark Descent replaced the sight of a gun in hand with a simple lantern, the only tool you have to survive the events of the game. It tasked you with hiding from it’s frightening foes instead of killing them which in turn made them vastly more intimidating. This was something to be continued by the internet meme turned gaming phenomenon, Slenderman. The villainous entity received his own free to play game, Slender, in which players are tasked with navigating around a particular area in order to find 8 pages. Along the way, Slenderman will stalk the player and must be avoided at all costs or else the game will end abruptly. This led to many games exploiting the same mechanic, including two notable games, Outlast and Daylight, both of which revolved around very much the same mechanic, whilst including their own unique twists.

Horror was now gaining traction once again and the bigger studios were well aware of this. Capcom, after stating they wanted the Call of Duty audience with Resident Evil 6, were slowly backtracking on their comments and stated they were re-examining what Resident Evil meant to it’s fans. Bethesda then announced a new game by Shinji Mikami, the original Resident Evil creator entitled, The Evil Within. This was taking the gameplay of Resident Evil and placing it in a more twisted and dark universe with some truly evocative imagery. Sony then released The Last of Us, which sold in the millions, proving that gaming could tell bleak stories whilst still holding interest in the audience. It wasn’t until Gamescom this year that horror really showed that it was back with a vengeance.

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P.T has become the talk of Gamescom

Sony showed off a brand new trailer for it’s slasher inspired horror, Until Dawn, which takes the conventions of the genre allowing you to craft your own experience, with what is said to have hundreds of different outcomes. Then there was P.T, a brief mention in Sony’s conference that garnered a few scoffs when we saw the theatrical reactions of people screaming in the dark. Yet people logged and tried the free interactive teaser, only to be taken aback by the barrage of horrors and surprises that were in store for them; the biggest surprise being that it was actually a teaser for a new Silent Hill. Finally, Capcom may have also accidentally leaked information about a possible sequel to Resident Evil Revelations, which could be an excellent decision considering Revelations was a step in the right direction for the series.

All of this doesn’t change that horror is still the same genre, and the majority of gaming audiences are still the gun toting multiplayer obsessed players they always were. If P.T is anything to go by, horror is still a decisive genre as ever, with many people claiming that P.T starts off brilliantly but becomes increasingly more tedious by the end. It would appear that game players today are used to destinations that are sign posted and puzzles that can solved with a few simple taps of a button. P.T harkens back to the days of atmosphere and enclosed exploration, but it still remains to be seen whether audiences today will take to this more methodical approach in the final game.

The pieces are all in place and all of the big names are in play for the horror genre to become mainstream again. All we can really do is wait and see how it all unfolds but one thing is for sure, horror is definitely in the best position it has ever been. Do you think horror will make it big again, or do you think it’s better off in the hands of indie developers?

Can Videogame based movies ever crack Hollywood?

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With the news that The Last of Us is getting the Hollywood treatment, it once again teases the idea of videogame adaptations making a big impact in the movie world.  The big screen is no stranger to game adaptations but the result is often…shall we say, abominable. There isn’t a single movie of this type that has made a good case for the game to film transition. Some films have flirted with greatness but always seem to fall short of a cohesive high quality production.

All of this started in 1993 with the release of a live action version of Super Mario Bros starring the late Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the legendary brothers, as well as Dennis Hopper as Bowser. The film was critically slaughtered and performed poorly at the box office, now relegated to a running joke within the gaming community. The crucial question is why did this film fail though? Mario is one of, if not the biggest, icons in gaming, surely the name alone would secure at least a financial victory, if not a critical one. The problem with this film, as well as every other game adaptation that has followed it, is that it fails to understand what makes the source material special during the transition to film.

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Looks just like Bowser…

Mario is all about a bright and colourful kingdom filled with cute and wonderful creatures. The film takes place in drab looking cities and deserts and features an entirely human cast, although one unintended disturbing looking creature makes an appearance. The Street Fighter movie, starring Kyle Minogue and Jean-Claude Van Damme, became a laughing stock for it’s terrible dialogue and cheesy fight scenes; a far cry from the brutal satisfying combat of the popular game series. Finally, who can forget Alone in the Dark, a Uwe Boll adaptation of the first survival horror game ever, which he skilfully managed to craft into a film that is considered one of the worst movies ever made.

The Resident Evil film series, although just as critically abhorred, has managed to become the most successful film series to be based on a game ever, but the problem still remains that it does not take the source material seriously apart from the odd name drop here and famous monster there. It’s carved out it’s own universe and tells a completely different story, but the overwhelming consensus seems to be that this is a world far inferior to the Videogame series that managed to redefine survival horror forever. The film franchise has long since buried the horror aspects and chosen to focus on action based set pieces instead.

Silent Hill is one of the most successful examples of staying true to the source material, but it still failed to understand the relevance of what the game series represented. The film understands the importance of cinematography, with skewed and disorienting camera angles that recapture the claustrophobic fixed camera of the game series. The mood is darkly surreal and the characters are a little more fleshed out than the usual kind of emotionless husks in game to film adaptations. The most notable characters being Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and Cybill Bennett (Laurie Holden) who are both portrayed surprisingly well with a good amount of likability. Where Silent Hill fails as a film is in how it fails to understand what the very essence of Silent Hill represents.

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The Silent Hill movie manages to capture some of overbearing surrealism of the game

Each individual monster from every game serve a metaphorical purpose that actually helps us to understand the characters and situations more. The convulsing fiends that hunt down James Sunderland in the second Silent Hill game are disturbing enough just through their physical appearance, but it is the sexual undertones that offer up a real gut punch once you discover the deeper secrets of the game. The film does not offer up this same kind of depth, essentially placing grotesque looking monsters in certain scenes just to please fans of the series. Pyramid Head, the large blade wielding monstrosity from Silent Hill 2, makes a notable appearance in the film, but it’s a meaningless role that makes no sense in the wider context of the Silent Hill mythology. Pyramid Head is a figure of judgement for James Sunderland that is employed in order to constantly remind him of the atrocities he has committed. The monster’s purpose in the film is merely to be present, almost like a frightening attraction at a theme park; he takes our attention for a brief second but does not offer up any real great significance.

The Last of Us definitely has a lot of hurdles to jump over in order to convince videogame fans that the movie is worth watching, but it is in a substantially more effective position given that Neil Druckman, the original writer for The Last of Us, will be penning the script for the movie. The history of the medium is going against it, but if the production team understand what makes The Last of Us special, this could be the perfect chance to prove that some games do have the potential to be culturally valuable movies.

 

Evolution or Devolution? The Rise of the Indie Game

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Much like Sony’s many recent game showcases, their Gamescom conference put a massive emphasis on indie games, as well as giving the developers a prime spot on the stage to talk about their ideas. A variety of new and interesting titles were announced from a slew of both up and coming developers, as well as industry veteran teams. Mike Bithell, developer of Thomas was Alone, confidently took the stage, showing off gameplay from his brand new stealth title, Volume, which he stated is inspired by Metal Gear Solid 2. Ninja Theory, creators of popular games such as Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DMC, announced their new independent title, Hellblade, which looks to have an extremely high visual quality. Two other notable titles were shown; there was Rime, a gorgeous looking game that looks to be a mixture of Journey and Ico; as well as Wild, a brand new title from Rayman creator, Michel Ancel, which debuted to a rapturous applause from the audience.

It appears that more and more industry veterans are choosing to go indie, shunning the financial aid of a big studio in hopes they themselves can sell their idea to the market. Megaman legend, Keiji Inafune, set up a Kickstarter campaign last year for his heavily inspired Megaman game, Mighty No 9, which managed to raise over $4,000,000 by the end of it’s campaign. Project phoenix; another indie success story, being helmed by a number of industry veterans including famed Final Fantasy composer, Nobuo Uematsu, managed to make ten times its initial finding goal on Kickstarter.

With indie games becoming more popular by the day, it is inevitable that more amateur developers will also take the opportunity to create their own game ideas. Whilst a lot of these amateur games are highly unpolished and hardly innovative, there is the odd sensation here and there that proves what a simple concept is capable of. Papers Please, also revealed to be coming to Playstation 4 at Gamescom, is one such game that took the outlandish idea of putting the player in the shoes of an immigration officer, and eventually crafted a sensation from it. No Man’s Sky also made a big splash when it revealed it’s first gorgeous gameplay trailer, especially when the developers revealed that the game had an endless amount of worlds to explore.

This is why these types of strange and weird ideas are so important for gaming at the moment. The industry has proved to be in a slight crisis after the last generation of consoles which proved to be a costly one. Games are becoming ever more expensive to make for popular franchises which means risky new properties are a commodity most studios can’t afford to take. It appears that it falls to the indie market to come up with new wacky and innovative ideas; after all, what else can you afford to do with a small budget game other than attempt to innovate. It’s become very obvious that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have seen this rise in indie gaming and are attempting to secure as many titles as they can for themselves in order to steal the biggest market share possible.

Does this come at a cost though? gamer’s are evidently becoming more frustrated with the lack of AAA titles being shown at these popular gaming events. Sony’s own handheld, the Playstation Vita, has practically become an indie machine; a stark contrast to the promise of console quality gaming on the go that was initially pitched. The same goes for the Playstation 4 which has an overwhelming amount of indie games to buy from the PS store, with only the promise of more high quality games to come in the future. Either way, the indie scene is still growing and adapting; new ideas and concepts are being pitched by amateurs and veterans every day, and the quality is only getting higher with each game.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of the gradual shift to a more indie focused gaming scene? Or would you rather see more blockbuster titles getting revealed more frequently?