Monday, July 16, 2012

VG Talk #13 Games need Character(s)

Video Game discussion.

For those not getting the low down on the down low, there happens to be info about a new PS3 title known as Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. It's essentially Super Smash Bros. for the Playstation. If you've never heard of Super Smash Bros. before then I need you to hit yourself a few times. No fibbing. I'll be able to tell if you're lying. That being said, today's discussion isn't about the game itself but rather something that I've been churning in my head for awhile (churning is the secret word of the day so expect the room to start screaming at you). Today's topic is about characters. You see, for me personally, the character(s) of a video game can sometimes be just as important as the game itself (if not more important at times). Sometimes I feel like I'm alone in this but then I simply have to look back at the existence of Super Smash Bros., Final Fantasy Dissidia, Kingdom Hearts, Marvel VS Capcom, and other crossover titles and realize that others are in the same boat as myself (now with open bar... and I don't even drink). That's not even considering characters that have their own on-going franchises by virtue of the character alone. Some of which will never die. Never die....

Something that I couldn't quite put my finger on for this console generation has been the sheer lack of character. Nintendo has actual iconic characters it can leverage that stick with us until the end of time, the Final Fantasy games that still existed in the single digits have characters we will forever love, and Capcom to its credit has built up entire universes and mythos around its major characters that have already become household staples. The list can definitely go on but let's face it: this current console generation has barely provided any new characters for us to latch onto. There's a reason we still want Ratchet and Clank games (and it's not just the gameplay).

I can't help but think this directly relates to the DMC reaction, even if I hate retreading that ground for the millionth time. Dante is a real character. He's already made himself iconic among fans and non-fans and the Dante shown in the DMC trailers isn't the same Dante. He's some Bizarro version where fun is replaced with angst and his need for parties is replaced with a nicotine addiction. If the character wasn't so loved, the game would have never received that reaction.

Rather than actual characters, there has been a shift in focus on three things for this generation: gritty realism, the player being the character, and sequels of sequels. Games like Skyrim don't actually have a main character with a story or dialogue. You're simply the one taking control and everything revolves around your decisions. Even if your decisions just involve you crafting shit for three days in real-time. I'm fine with these kinds of games existing for the people that enjoy that type of escapism but creating actual stories and characters has fallen to the wayside.

When studying story crafting you learn that it's not the actual story that sets a book or other piece of media apart. The real answer lies in the characters and how they interact with one another. The characters will create the story themselves. Their push and pull is what generates the tension and driving elements that make you invested in what is going on. There's a reason Final Fantasy 6 (the actual 6 in Japan but originally our 3 in the States until that was fixed later with the re-release in Final Fantasy Anthology... except for... oh screw it) is still considered the greatest.

So what does all of this have to do with All-Stars (full circle!)? A concern. Does Playstation have enough "characters" under its belt to warrant this kind of game? They did mention there would be third-party characters (that was obvious though) but that doesn't automatically dodge the question. We don't have a finished roster yet but I remember laughing uncontrollably at one of the first names to be made public knowledge: Mael Radec. If you have no idea who that character is then guess what: You're allowed to laugh uncontrollably as well because I imagine there aren't that many gamers that could easily recognize his name either. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that picking an antagonist from a niche title in only a single game of a series probably wasn't the way to go. That being said, I see why they did it. Killzone is one of their properties and it's not like it gave us any memorable characters to speak of so Radec was probably the best fit (even if he's only from Killzone 2).

Super Smash Bros. Brawl already had 35 characters and there are still hundreds of other characters that players want them to add into the next installment. All-Stars on the other hand may only be the first installment in its own series but can you really imagine such a rich history of characters to draw from for the future? I can see it now already, when the sequel comes out and almost the entire cast is from decade-old franchises and nothing really new to speak of exists. At least it's a better situation than Microsoft/X-box trying to attempt the same thing. Can you imagine that fighting game? The only three playable characters would consist of Marcus Fenix, Master Chief, and the dog from Fable. Who am I kidding? It would just be another multiplayer shooter.

Let's hope the end of this console generation brings back a focus on actual characters in our games. Sadly though, with the success of Call of Duty, Skyrim, and a million sequels, I can't imagine it happening for awhile.

This is Kylak signing out but not losing hope.


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