I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately… Like is any of this for real… Or not?
I don’t know why I did it, but last month I purchased the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 bundle. Since then it’s taken over my gaming life, its all I’ve been playing – and I’ve been having a lot of fun! I was really worried that these games would not hold up to the fond memories I have of them. (I’ve written about my fondness for KH before – see my Throwback Thursday post for more nostalgia musings.)
I thought it would be a nice way to revisit these games 17 years (!) after the first release by discussing the good (and the not so good) here. How well do these games hold up today? I’ll start with Kingdom Hearts 1 Final Mix and probably later move on to the others in the series, I’m sure enviably finding my way to KH3.
Hey pals. It’s been a really long time since I’ve done one of these. Because of that I want to show you a mix of more recent pieces, and some stuff that I really loved that came out over my break. Let’s go.
Let’s start with a game that came out over my hiatus: Mass Effect Andromeda. I have never played a Mass Effect game before, so I saw this newest title as a chance to jump into a series that is much loved by many of my friends. However I was left disappointed. And not just because of the terrible animations – I’ve played Dragon Age before, and that is by no means perfect. Mostly what got me was how joyless and boring the game was. I’m not sure exactly why, but I just didn’t find my time with the game enjoyable. Polygon’s Rowan Kaiser argues effectively that it is Bioware’s insistence on making open world games that really hinders them. I can agree with them – I was very frustrated moving around large maps full of nothing to get from one objective marker to the next – and it became even worse when I had to spend time, meaninglessly navigating across space to move the narrative onwards.
For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about my favourite virtual cities, inspired heavily by my love of Novigrad in The Witcher 3. Often cities in video games are reduced in size to make navigating them easier at the expense of believability. As I got lost looking for the barber’s, or somewhere to buy alchemy ingredients, I found myself marvelling at the size of Novigrad. It felt to me like a real city, not a digital approximation of one. And so I set out to create a visual essay on the city. However, I’ve ended up with too much to say (and show), and so I’m breaking my article down into districts of the Novigrad – of which there are several, each with its own distinct feel. Let’s begin in the slums of the city, The Bits.
The Bits is the slums of Novigrad, home to the poor. Later in the game it becomes a hiding place for magical outcasts (such as Triss Merigold), who have lost their previous wealth, homes and freedom due to political tensions in the city.
Much of the commerce and market stalls depicted sell mainly food stuffs – even the poor need to eat, drink and be merry. Signage for these shops are plain and descriptive.
The spine of the original settlement of Novigrad is still visible in some places, and the layering of architectural styles shows how the city has grown, and gives it a sense of history. The Bits features buildings that recall its name: mishmashes of various styles built on top each other, haphazardly expanded as needed. It’s easy to imagine large families squeezed into small or bizarrely shaped rooms, living in overcrowded accommodation.
Even the activities and clothing of the residents of the city varies district to district. We understand the social class of the people living here through these cues: clothes are frayed and dull in colour, labour is performed in the street, disabled beggars are left to fend for themselves. Even through the voices and accents of the various NPCs which populate these streets, we are shown, not told, that they are the poor, working underclass of the city.
At the point in the game at which I took these photos, the violence that later scars the city has only just begun. This pyre and the bloody stocks remaining as foreshadowing (or a reminder, for the returning player) of the darkness on the narrative horizon of Novigrad.
In the exercise of documenting Novigrad, I became aware of the differences in how the Shrines to the Eternal Fire were used, perhaps showing some insight into attitudes towards religion in each district. Here we see two poor, working women listening to a Priest and praying. Note the grandeur of the shrine compared with the surrounding buildings.
Heading further into The Bits the streets become narrower as the complicated mess of buildings looms up, blocking out the sun. It becomes easy to get lost in these parts of the district, and it’s no stretch to image these restricted alleys as providing plentiful opportunity for crime.
As a result of the tall buildings and narrow streets, a sense of claustrophobia is felt – fitting for a place of generational and inescapable poverty. The district conveys the sense of dark and dampness, a reminder to the player of the horrendous living conditions of the Medieval era poor.
Below is an example of what stands out to me as a bizarre piece of design planning from the devs. Geralt is standing on the edge of The Bits looking at neighbouring district Gildorf, the upper class district of the city. It seems like a poor thought out design that this neighbourhood would sit right next to one of the poorest areas. Of course, in many towns that expand over time, city planning does not always happen in a coordinated and logical way – sometimes settlements grow and expand organically, and a rich district ends up next to an impoverished one. However, considering the extreme wealth disparity in Medieval cities, and the inequality that exists in Novigrad, I find the proximity between the two districts unrealistic. Considering so much effort went into the world design of the rest of the city, it seems like a big oversight. I would have expected the elites of Novigrad to have at least built a wall between themselves and The Bits.
Out of nostalgia I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts 2.8 and… I’m really not enjoying it. I’m seeing it through for old times sake, but really it has me thinking about the golden days of the first Kingdom Hearts game.
While playing Fallout 4, I’ve been left with the feeling that, for a game that is purportedly about the effects of war, there was little real depth to it. This War of Mine (free on Playstation Plus for January) is the exact opposite, and probably has the emotional impact Fallout wishes it did.
This War of Mine was inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the 90s – this was the longest siege of a city in modern warfare, lasting almost 4 years or 1,425 long days. It’s estimated that over 5,000 civilians died during this time. Sarajevo was blockaded, limiting food and supplies entering the city, and under constant shelling. Snipers set up around the city making movement difficult and dangerous for citizens. I cannot image living day to day for years in a city where this was the norm.
Over a series of blog posts I’ve been exploring the role of faith (religious and secular) in the world of Dark Souls, which you can find under the tag Faith in Dark Souls. Continuing on similar themes, I’d like to take a moment to turn to Bloodborne and examine the way faith works in its world.
Hunters have told me about the church. About the gods, and their love. But… do the gods love their creations? I am a doll, created by you humans. Would you ever think to love me? Of course… I do love you. Isn’t that how you made me?
Bloodborne inhabits a world very different to the high fantasy of the Dark Souls series. Instead of dragons and divine power, Bloodborne gives us a Victorian, urban setting, complete with Lovecraftian Old Ones. Symbols of faith and religion play a prominent role in this world – central to Yharnam and its current crisis is the Healing Church. This religion functions differently to the way, say, The Way of the White functioned in Dark Souls. Rather than specifically look at religion, I’d like to examine faith in institutions in Yharnam.
Come in and seek some mental shelter from the word with my picks from this week’s writing on games.
This piece outlines the importance of preserving the history of video games and the lengths these historians must go to to do so. It’s something we may not always consider but new emerging technology does makes old game systems obsolete, and threatens their survival as historical artefacts. After all, who would keep old CDs of games on purpose when conducting a spring clean?
Offt, it’s been a wee while since I’ve put one of these up…sorry! Yesterday I was checking out the free games given out every month by PS Plus, and to my delight January’s game is Day of the Tentacle. I missed this point and click adventure game the first time around, but I adored Lucas Art’s other adventure franchise, Monkey Island. If you have PS Plus I recommend you play the free remaster of Day of the Tentacle, whether you played it first time or not. It’s not too long (you can complete it in one sitting) and it’s a fantastic game.
Fallout is fond of the soundbite “war never changes”, using it as something of a catchphrase for the franchise. But to what extent is this true? And how far is this just an empty phrase, a rhetoric device to make a game full of meaningless violence seem deep.
I will be upfront – I have a problem with Fallout. I don’t exactly know what that problem is. I have logged a good amount of hours in New Vegas and found it alright, but I haven’t picked it up in a while. I do prefer it to its sequel Fallout 4, a game that I’m wrestling with at the moment. I think this is my third attempt to get into the title, and while I’m making more progress that I have previously, I am aware of the enormous distance that exists between me and the game. Like I said I’m unsure why I’m not connecting with this series when everyone around me is replaying it for the hundredth time. This has caused me to scrutinise Fallout perhaps more keenly than I usually would in an attempt to discover the source of my discontent. So while I don’t think that negates any of my criticisms of the game, I do think it should signal to die hards that I’m not on the same hype train as you.
I skipped out on last week’s Swatch because I didn’t read much that caught my eye. So, sod’s law, I read and watched hunners of things that were fantastic this week. So forgive me if this week is a bit long, and consider it an apology for last week’s.