Play Nice: A Games Journal

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9/05/2018

What up worldwide web, we’re back and it hasn’t even been like four months so that’s good. I’ve been rather light on the game playing in the last few weeks but there is still a fair bit of backlog stuff to talk about regarding games I played in the last two or so months. In the next entry I’ll start to get into Bloodbourne discussion as I’m slowly working my way towards the halfway point of that game. I run hot and cold on on it but I know that a large perspective shift occurs around the halfway point, so decisions about whether or not to continue are put off until then. This thought actually leads directly into the contents of today’s discussion, Mario +Rabbids and Nier: Automata, as the experience of playing both of these games was largely defined by own confusion about whether or not I liked playing the game and how determined I was to see the end credits roll. This isn’t and ideal thought process to be engaging in as you work through a game but this was a significant part of my experience with both of these games and something that I still need to work through with Nier in particular. About two months later the time I spent with that game is still confusing and unresolved, so let’s start there.

Saying that Nier isn’t the type of game that I normally play, while “true”, doesn’t mean anything because I’m still very much trying to figure out what it is that draws me into a game. I love Breath of the Wild and Horizon (facts), but those are exceptional games in the “open world” category and so further examination and focusing needs to happen. To that end I am trying to look for games that are mechanically/thematically/narratively different from anything I’ve played before or am comfortable with. In every respect Nier is that game. The artistic style isn’t something I’ve really seen before and the sort of simple combo mechanics that emphasis how you chain together light attacks, heavy attacks and jumps (not too dissimilar to the original God of War games) is wholly new. But the more classic ‘open world’/rpg elements that make up the rest of the game ground these unfamiliar elements in a familiar structure so that the way forward into this new experience was not entirely obscured. I was never confused about what to do while playing (looking at you Bloodbourne), but the general unfamiliarity in almost every other area put me in this constant negotiation about whether or not it was enjoyable and how committed I was finishing. With Nier, even if you come down on the yes side during the initial five hours, you have to be committed to replaying some aspects of the game multiple time. That isn’t to imply in any way that Nier does not respect the player’s time, but you have to be there for the setting and combat a little more intensely than you do for other games as there are some repetitive aspects to the narrative. Becoming comfortable, or at east familiar, with the mechanical loop is part of the experience of any game, but if you’re engaged with a game the narrative keeps those loops fresh. As I’m writing this I see how vague and cagey all of these ‘observations’ sounds which is mostly because I don’t want to admit that I didn’t finish this game because I sucked at the combat and didn’t think it was very pretty. Both of these things are true, but writing that invokes in me the same feeling that occurs when I can’t finish a book that is part of the literature pantheon (eg. A People’s History of the United States). I can’t write that this is not a good game (first because I don’t believe it) because there is a mound of criticism and opinions that say otherwise, but this game just fully missed me (or I really missed it, however that works).

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Nier: Automata, Square Enix

There are a ton of great little pieces in this game, the way you slide down sand dunes, how you jump to grab your pod and float down, the weird characters at the base camps, the dialogue from the robots. I can also very much appreciate what the art style is invoking, even if I don’t love it. The world is, and has been for a while, absolutely ruined. The washed out colors, and encroaching desert indicate that maybe the atmosphere has deteriorated and the sunlight is more intense. The carnival that you run through a couple times is fantastic. There’s a point as you are running towards a forest robot village that you are moving parallel to the carnival grounds and the silhouette of the castle behind you is straight up Disney magic. But these remain just moments for me and I see them as disparate splashes of enjoyment in a game I didn’t finish. The rest of my time was spent running back and forth in a color washed world, collecting items that I wasn’t sure the use of, and struggling with an unfamiliar combat system. I can’t say anything stronger than that about the fighting as I think the fault lies more in my inability to internalize the rules than in some deficiency in the controls. I’ve never played a bullet hell game or an Arkham game or God of War game or any JRPG (I don’t think Zelda counts) and so these are systems that I have absolutely no handle on. I managed to cheese my way through one ending (the game has multiple endings, A-Z, and the first five, A-E are sort of ‘canon’) by setting the difficulty to easy and relying mostly on my gun to wear bosses down. This is neither a fun nor an efficient way to play and even doing this most fights still took four or five attempts. But I’m getting away from the question that follows me away from this game which is does my inability to finish Nier, to muddle through some how and experience a narrative that is emotional, existential, and lauded, reveal some inner shallowness? My first instinct is to say no, somewhat for personal reasons, but also because of the nature of video games (especially in the open world genre). The character is how the player expresses themselves in the game world, and the characters expression between and during narrative events (boss fights) all become part of the story, and potentially a story you don’t enjoy. If your character is supposed to be powerful, or competent, or just able to hold their own, then you should feel that as you express yourself in the game world. But the narrative of my character (2B) and my expression of her in the game world just never meshed (I was shit at fighting, and she was supposed to be great). And thats where I left Nier, It’s a story and narrative structure that I respect. that I’ve enjoyed as a third party via lets play videos, but I did not enjoy my story through that game. I also totally acknowledge the other option that all those words might be bullshit I am just shallow and bad at games.

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NieR: Automata, Square Enix

Alright that is way way more my than I intended to say about Nier, but it seems kind of par for the course to let these journal entries get away from me. To talk a little Mario+Rabbids before we get out of here and bring back the idea of inflection points. There was a moment where I fell out with Nier and a moment where I fell in with Mario+Rabbids. This was the first turn based game I’ve played and it’s fair to say that this game doesn’t start fast. It was a fair assumption by Ubisoft to assume that this will be the first turn-based tactics games for a lot of people, but even so the first hour could have used a bit more challenge. The game probably doesn’t really start to get interesting until the end of world one (about 4 or 5 hours in) and the motivation to push through wasn’t really there. This happened about the time I started watching a tactical Tuesday stream, by Austin Walker and Rob Zachny from Waypoint, of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The comparisons between XCOM and Mario+Rabbids mostly start and end with the fact that they are turn based tactics games, but watching these two agonize over every move and explore the depth in that game encouraged me to find that same complexity in Mario + Rabbids. The team customization, skill trees, and weapons aren’t nearly as deep as XCOM, but there is a lot to experiment with especially in how your team moves around the battle area. The enemies becomes a lot more interesting in worlds 2, 3, and 4 and the only criticism I can offer is that it doesn’t hint at its complexity earlier in the game to keep you going and figuring out new tactics. Other than that this game is just a lot of very satisfying and corny fun. The Rabbids are ridiculous, Mario is Mario, and team jumps and health stealing dashes are very satisfying. I’m happy I stuck with this game but, the much lighter tone made that an easier decision when compared to the more serious Nier, which if I kept going was going to demand a lot from me.

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Nintendo

Alright I should probably get out of here on that. I think this brings it up to speed with where I am in my video gaming. I will be back soon with a lot of thoughts about Bloodbourne which I’m slowly approaching the half way point of. I haven’t been playing anything else really as I want to get through Bloodbourne and Wolfenstein: The New Order and Old Blood before replaying Horizon or going in on Spider-Man this winter. Anyways catch you all later and be good internet.

P.S. one Horizon pic for the road.

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Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerilla Games

 

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