Nier Automata: A Game Better With — And Because Of — Its Narrative

Writing for The Atlantic, academic and media commentator Ian Bogost put forth the rather bold claim that “video games are better without stories” and asked “film, television and literature all tell them better, so why are games still obsessed with narrative?”

This is an interesting question to ponder in light of any discussion of video games, but it’s a particularly pertinent discussion to have when we’re considering something as ambitious and audacious as Nier: Automata — a game which not only tells a compelling story, it tells it in an incredibly fascinating way.

Bogost’s article meanders around the point somewhat, but ultimately seems to come to the conclusion that purely environmental storytelling — be it through the use of audiologs, a la BioShock, or less explicitly through the environment itself, as in “walking simulators” such as Gone Home — is not a particularly effective approach to presenting an interactive narrative, though it can provide an interesting playground for a player to explore.

And he’s not really wrong in this regard… apart from the fact that it’s only in relatively rare cases that a game exclusively relies on this approach.

Continue reading Nier Automata: A Game Better With — And Because Of — Its Narrative

Virtual Intimacy

The arrival of relatively affordable virtual reality solutions has the potential to allow us to explore narrative and characterisation in all-new ways — and I’m especially excited to see what Japan comes up with. 

An oft-cited strength of narrative-centric Japanese interactive entertainment is the sense of “intimacy” it engenders between the player, the protagonist and the core cast. Visual novels in particular are noteworthy for their in-depth explorations of characters and in allowing the player to “ride along” inside the protagonist’s head as they encounter various situations.

So what might virtual reality bring to this kind of experience? It’s an interesting question to ponder, and an exciting prospect to imagine.

Continue reading Virtual Intimacy

Wii U Essentials: Nintendo Land

It’s easy to write off a pack-in bundle of minigames as being somehow “lesser” than full-scale titles. But the Wii U’s Nintendo Land was special — and in a different way from its spiritual predecessor Wii Sports.

Functioning as a joyous celebration of Nintendo’s most beloved properties — and a few slightly more obscure ones, too — Nintendo Land is an enjoyable enough experience in single-player, with several games specifically designed with solo play in mind, but it’s in multiplayer that it truly shines: Nintendo’s same-room party gaming at its finest.

And it’s an evergreen title, too; some five years after its initial release, for many Wii U owners it’s a game that still gets regular play, particularly when friends come to visit. Let’s take a closer look at what makes it so special.

Continue reading Wii U Essentials: Nintendo Land

From the Archives: Battle Systems I Have Loved

Given the amount of time you spend kicking the crap out of everything from small woodland creatures to skyscraper-sized giant robots in JRPGs, it’s fair to say that the battle system is one of the most important aspects of the game.

It’s also one of the most commonly-cited reasons for the genre’s supposed stagnation, as many assume that modern JRPGs still make use of the old Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest-style “Attack, Magic, Item” menu systems rather than doing something a bit more interesting.

While many JRPGs certainly do still make use of simple turn-based menu systems, there are just as many out there that either put an interesting twist on this basic formula or mix things up entirely with something completely wild.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

Continue reading From the Archives: Battle Systems I Have Loved

From the Archives: Make Some Time for Magical Diary

You know how every so often you take a look at your Steam library and start to feel guilty about games you purchased because they sounded like just your sort of thing, but then you never got around to playing them?

Well, that was the thought that was going through my mind when I decided to finally fire up Magical Diary, a game I’ve owned for well over a year [at the time of original writing – Ed.] but which I was yet to try.

Magical Diary, if you’re unfamiliar, is a visual novel by Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar. Despite the distinctly Japanese-style presentation, it’s actually a Western-developed game — Hanako Games’ founder Georgina Bensley has long been a big fan of anime, and this influence clearly and obviously shows through both in Magical Diary and her other games, all of which are marketed as “girl-friendly.”

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

Continue reading From the Archives: Make Some Time for Magical Diary

Nier Automata: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

Nier creator Taro Yoko is particularly fascinated with death: not only the concept itself, but also how different people respond to it.

Yoko’s interest in the subject, as we’ve previously discussed, stems from a traumatic experience in his youth when he witnessed the accidental, easily avoidable death of a friend and discovered, to his surprise, that there was something oddly humorous in the moment as well as it being horrifying. Someone’s existence had come to a premature end, yes, but there was something fundamentally ridiculous about how it had happened; how sudden it was; and how everyone was powerless in the moment to prevent it from happening.

The inherent ridiculousness of death — particularly accidental death — is something that gamers have been familiar with for many years. And so what better medium through which to explore the concept itself — and what better characters to do so with than those that can’t die through conventional means?

Continue reading Nier Automata: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

Games & Girls: Embracing the Stereotype

Among the denizens of the Internet, particularly those who are interested in video games, anime and other such nerdy things — especially those nerdy things that are a little outside the mainstream — there’s a strong trend of self-deprecation.

It’s not uncommon to hear people referring to themselves with something akin to “pride” when they describe their own awkwardness, their loneliness, their enjoyment of solitary activities over socialisation and the indulging of their passions in increasingly extravagant manners.

In practice, this sort of self-deprecation has a few different social purposes: firstly, to provide a shared sense of struggling against perceived adversity with fellow “outcasts” and consequently help to form something of a community; secondly, an attempt to prove to themselves and others that, despite what they may apparently believe and/or acknowledge to be their drawbacks, they’re comfortable in themselves; and thirdly, in some cases, simply to try and entertain others through voluntarily creating a sense of schadenfreude about themselves and their life.

Whatever the exact reason for it, it’s this sort of self-consciously lonely nerd stereotype that new episodic visual novel Games & Girls from the heavily Japanese-inspired German outfit Yume Creations fully embraces and begins to explore in its first installment.

Continue reading Games & Girls: Embracing the Stereotype

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