Super Mario Odyssey – Best Mario Game Ever ?

Super Mario Odyssey is the latest grand adventure of Nintendo’s stubby, chubby Italian multi-talent exclusive to their new system, the Nintendo Switch.

And with approximately 2 million copies sold in just 3 days alone, it made one hell of an entrance as well!
Several reviewers already hail it as *the* best Mario title ever made and, depending on what metrics you find trustworthy, is the overall best reviewed game ever as well.

After finishing the game myself, im hesitant to join this choir though, but hear me out.
First of all, „finished“ might not be the right word here.
Much like its predecessors and collect-a-thon genre brethren, the amount of stuff you need to collect to beat the main story is just a fraction of what is discoverable in the grand scheme of things.
Take for instance your main collectible, the „Power Moon’s“, taking the place of Super Mario 64’s and Super Mario Galaxy’s Power Stars or Super Mario Sunshine’s Shine Sprites.
To put Super Mario Odyssey into perspective, lets compare the amount of main collectibles of the mentioned titles:
-Super Mario 64, Power Stars: 120
-Super Mario Sunshine, Shine Sprites: 120
-Super Mario Galaxy, Power Stars: 121
-Super Mario Galaxy 2, Power Stars: 242
-Super Mario Odyssey, Power Moons:………999(!)

Granted, the games hands these out like free candy from time to time, with bosses giving you three of these at once. But even then, the bare minimum required to beat the main story is a measly 124 of them. That makes 875 Power Moons optional, many of them being post-game content.
So there is plenty of game to be had and im far from finished.

But lets get to some aspects that make me hesitant to join the choir that praises Odyssey to high heavens.

When Odyssey is playing like a Mario title, its a phenomenal experience. Extremely tight controls, an adequate moveset, splendid level design, but…
The „but“ being, that a large portion of the game tried to tread some new grounds.
Much like „The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild“ before it, Super Mario Odyssey went for a more „open world“ kind of experience.
While it still has individual, thematically different worlds with a more-or-less de-facto end goal and boss, there are no set objectives besides that. The hunt for the above mentioned Power Moon’s happens at the players leisure, some of them obtained via more obvious means, some of them hidden rather well and often in pretty obscure ways.

So unlike the previously mentioned titles, you don’t get to pick a specific challenge end get awarded at the end, but you get thrown onto a giant playground to explore and discover on your own pace.

So why is this a negative? That sounds amazing!
Well, don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is. But it’s also much more tedious than previous games and thus, does not really invite you to play it over and over again. In fact, Odysseys Powe Moon’s are much more comparable to Sunshine’s Blue Coin’s, a collectible often ignored by many players once they finished their first 100% playthrough.

So, while offering much more freedom and exploration, i can not help myself but feel that it also lacks some sort of focus. But this is certainly down to personal preference and it is very likely that a large portion of gamer’s actually prefer this design choice.
I did it as well, just not as much as the previous set challenges.

In short, Odyssey often feels much more like the „Banjo Kazooie“ we have been waiting for, than a Mario game. Again, which is brilliant, just not quite what i was expecting.

Speaking of Rare’s Banjo Kazooie, one thing that made these games stand out from the crowd where their means of character development, meaning: The duo’s many learnable moves. Those made the inevitable backtracking quite a lot more fun, since now it wasn’t just about turning every stone to find the last Puzzle Pieces you missed the first time around, but to explore the level again with a whole new set of moves.

While the „Caper Ability“ (Throwing Mario’s cap onto enemies to possess them) offered a large variety of playstyles and let the player control some of the most iconic creatures the Mario universe has to offer, it would have been nice for Mario himself to learn something new over the course of his Odyssey.
But then again, this is just my personal preference speaking here.
In no way is a lack of it making the game any worse, it’s just that the implementation of it would have made it so much better in my opinion, at least for me.

Another tiny nitpick i have to mention is the presentation of its setting which felt extremely rushed to me.
Yeah yeah, i know, „who in their right mind plays a Mario game for its story and setting anyways“. And you’re perfectly right. But lets just take a quick look at the other collect-a-thon style Mario games, shall we?

In Mario 64, the premise is that Mario gets an invitation by Peach and upon arrival at the castle, finds that she has been abducted in the meantime.
In Sunshine, Mario goes on a vacation only to find him falsely convicted of polluting his holiday resort and sentenced to cleaning duty.
In Galaxy, Bower kidnaps Peach’s entire castle and flees with it into outer space, sending Mario onto a wild goose chase across the galaxy.

In Odyssey, we open up mid wedding between Peach and Bowers on the latter’s airship fortress, only for Mario to get kicked off, stranded in „Hat Land“, meeting Cappy, joining forces, traveling to a prehistoric land by…power line…to pick up the Odyssey, Cappy’s airship to try to catch up with Bowser’s flying fortress…

Yeah, its all over the place and not coherent at all. Like i said, the storyline is not at all the reason people play Mario games, but in universe, they have all been rather coherent, this one just isn’t.
Which is sad really, since Cappy is one of the most charming sidekicks Mario had over the years, yet, he feels less „personal“ than the Luma child (basically a Star in the making, not a Pop-Star, a celestial body) that accompanied him in Galaxy.

But enough of the nitpicking now, lets get to some of the things that give ample reason for praise.

Let’s start with the astonishing attention to detail put into this game.
One of the new main gimmicks of this game is Mario’s wardrobe. For the first time, you can play dress-up with the chubby plumber.
While every world offers a thematically matching outfit, like flippers and swimming goggles for the water themes world, many outfits reflect past promotional artwork.
Some of it even referencing extremely obscure one-shot designs, such as the „mad-scientist“ outfit worn by Mario in the TV-advert for the GameBoy game „Donkey Kong“.
The wardrobe alone is a trip down memory lane across 30 years of Super Mario history.

Another aspect would be the Caper-Ability, which lets you play as a plethora of different character, old and new.
Like a Goomba for instance. But waddling around as this adorable mushroom isn’t enough. They have the ability to stack on top of each other if you, playing as one, jump onto another waddling mushroom goon, like they did back in Super Mario 3D Land.
Or take the Hammer Bros. Their main gimmick is…that they cannot walk. Instead, your regular walk is replaced by shot hops, just like in the other games.

The sheer amount of references made to previous games is truly astonishing. Even more so since nothing feels like mere fanservice, everything is cleverly implemented into the core gameplay and serves a purpose.

Even more interesting is the fact that, while every thematic world has its distinct inhabitants, Nintendo didn’t recycle older staples, like the Pianta’s from Sunshine for instance. Every species is new to the universe.
The interesting part about this is, that during the WiiU era, Nintendo had a very bizarr policy to not invent new Mario universe characters and species.
It was especially noticable in the most recent Paper Mario entries, which populated their game world’s almost exclusively with Toad’s as friendly NPC’s and used only stock Super Mario Bros enemies, while previous titles were famous for their vibrant and colorful array of characters and foes.

Here, you have a wide arrangement of new enemies, species.
Even stock enemies like the Goomba’s get a special makeover depending on the levels theme. They all wear matching little hats!

It is rather refreshing to see so much love and creativity put into this title after so many drab and almost depressingly bland releases.

So, to come to an end, why am i so indecisive?
Well, good question. Like i said, its a phenomenal game, no questions about it. Its content rich, diverse, colorful, almost insanely creative and simply oozes charm but yet, something is missing for me.
With the sheer amount of collectibles that get handed out like candy, hunting all of them down can quickly become a chore, which is my main point of actual critique really.

Its basically the same flaw people pointed out in Donkey Kong 64 back then. Its just…too much, too unfocused. Again, its in no way bad, far far from it.
But its just not what i would call a perfect game, if something like that even exists.

So, is it the *Best Mario Game Ever* ?
Well, yes and no. It all depends on your perspective. Judging its gameplay alone, its a really solid, really fun game with just a little too much busy work on the sidelines.
Its story and setting is a little less coherent than past entries.
But one can not ignore the sheer nostalgia trip this game causes without being a heavy handed fan-service schlock. Its just the right mix of old, new; nostalgia and new innovations.

So bottom line:
It is a fantastic game on its own and a brilliant Mario title. The best of them?
Maybe, but it surely doesn’t need to hide in anything’s shadow!


The dismissal of „Repetition“

To say that i am a huge fan of KoeiTecmos „Musou“ series (Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors and several licensed tie-ins) would be a massive understatement.
I have a dedicated shelf for my ever growing collection which at this point, only lacks import titles and a couple of the newest releases.

So its no wonder that i rushed out and got myself „Fire Emblem Warriors“ for the Nintendo Switch.
And while the overall reviews are generally positive, the series can’t quite escape the always present accusation of being „just a mindless, repetitive button masher“.
And as someone who played the series since the very first iteration, which was a Tekken clone back on the PS1, i never quite understood this accusation.

Sure, in essence, the core gameplay resolves around mowing down thousands of enemy soldiers with a rather simple moveset.
But i can’t help myself thinking that these reviews have been written after just a stage or two, since later stages, and especially later difficulties, ask quite a lot more from you than just mashing your way through cannon fodder.

As an example, lets take a stage from FE: Warriors that was modeled after one of the newer Fire Emblem entries, FE: Fates, and depicts the conflict between its two major factions: The Hoshida and the Nohr with you in the middle of it.

The end goal of this stage is simple: Prevent either side of gaining the upper hand.
And suffice it to say, button mashing doesn’t win you anything here.
Goals like this are often tied to a invisible „Morale“ stat, that slowly ticks down over time, meaning: If you take to long, a message that either general of an army was injured even though they were not physically present on the battlefield pops up and ends your round.

To prevent this from happening too soon, you have to fulfill certain conditions and clear missions during the stage. Prevent a messenger from calling reinforcements, defeat special elite units quickly, prevent ambushes etc.
All while still following your main goal of taking out strongholds and preventing either side to dominate.

It’s quite a lot more involved than simply pressing buttons willy nilly. You need to lay out a proper route throughout the stage, use the map to guide your other units to critical points or to guard a base while you are working elsewhere and have a constant eye on the map, should a mission pop up.

I actually had to get my better half involved to split the workload in multiplayer to beat this stage since it took longer to figure out a proper attack plan than the stage would give me time.

Granted, not every stage or scenario is that involved but still, it is quite a lot more than just „button mashing“ which, as i said earlier, leads me to believe that most reviewers only played a handful of stages in the lowest difficulties.

Speaking of difficulties:
Since this topic has become so heated, i can’t help myself but notice the irony of people complaining about a game being „too simple“ (on lower difficulties) when being too hard is now considered „exclusionary“.
On top of that: Musou games often hide quite a lot of content behind their higher difficulties as well.
FE: Warriors took some features from Hyrule Warriors, its Nintendo IP tie-in predecessor, in that a certain KO-count revealed a special event (A Skultulla appearing in Hyrule Warriors, Anna’s merchant shop opening in FE: Warriors) that granted you a collectible if you could find it in time.
After finishing the main story mode, each stage unlocked a second collectible to be found with harsher conditions to be triggered, mainly playing a certain stage on a higher difficulty.
In earlier titles, most of the gear (Signature weapons, equipable trinkets, mounts etc.) could only be found on difficulties higher than „Normal“ and under similar conditions.

So, while an easy / normal playthrough prepared your characters in terms of levels, the meat of the game begins once you crank up the difficulty and i fear that not a whole lot of people ever tried that out after being unchallenged by lower difficulties.

All that said: Im certainly heavily biased here. Like i said, im almost fanatical when it comes to this series, so my perspective will always be in favor of the series itself.
But i encourage anyone who found some enjoyment in these titles but quit for them being too easy to stick with it and see if „Nightmare“ difficulty does „provide them with a decent challenge“ !

And anyone who gets why that was in quotes can request their gold stars at the reception !

A response to „Secret Gamer Girl“

As the title suggests, this is a response to the following post written by „Secret Gamer Girl“: Link

Let me be brash from the start:
Not often do you see an article titled „How the public faces of anti abuse nearly killed a ton of trans people“ continue to call the movement who tried to warn about exactly that for 3 years now a „dangerous terrorist group“…

Lets make something clear here:
What happened to these people is absolutely abhorrent! But, and as cruel as that might sound, you enabled this yourselves.
No, this is *not* „Victim Blaming“, this is the sad truth.
It was very well known how Zoe Quinn treats the people around here. Not only from the by now infamous „Zoe Post“ by her ex Eron Gjoni, but also by the details unearthed about her treatment of the „Fine Young Capitalists“, by what happened around the Game Jam fiasco and the countless victims *created* by her so called „Anti-Harassment Network“.

And its almost funny how you still call it a „conspiracy theory“ while confirming it yourself. And this is *exactly* the problem surrounding the whole GamerGate debacle:
Calling those who warned about her „Nazi Terrorists“ while herolding her (and her cohorts) to the high heavens, you enabled them to continue doing what people tried to warn you about…

And no, there was nothing „ironic“ about trying to break free from Quinn.
You described it perfectly fine why it was done: She came into your chatroom and claimed it for herself. I invite you to take a wild guess why the wide media narrative about GamerGate was almost always lead by a story about Quinn, and why the movement tried its best to get her out of the limelight…
Could it be, that she was a giant distraction, shifting the focus all onto herself and leaving no room to talk about actual foul play conducted by the very same people you also mentioned in your post ?

Quinn hurt us all. She inflicted damage on the whole sub-culture, made it nearly impossible to talk about issues not involving herself, tainted the hard work of actual anti-harassment workers and, as you yourself said, severely endangered the lives of those in dire need of help…
How in the world can you still call the folks who literally tried to help you „Nazi Terrorists“ with a straight face ? How are you still convinced that everything they said, that you now confirmed (!), was nothing but conspiracy theories and propaganda ?

And your post is littered with it to the brim, without you realizing that, again, you are confirming pretty much everything that has been said for the last 3 years about these attention seeking figureheads…
One specific paragraph from your post stood out to me:

„few days later she started lecturing someone else about the dangers of exposing people to the wrath of hate groups, I publicly threw this mess in her face, was rather rightfully blocked on twitter (and by extension, blacklisted from several industries), and subjected to bizarre accusations of being some sort of violent enforcer in some massive trans cabal headed up by Reed“

„Bizarre accusations“…that is exactly what you are doing yourself…with several thousand people, men, women, transfolk…
In your blind hatred, you subject these people to the same treatment you had to endure.

And the worst part about all of this ?
Your collective actions paved the way from them to continue their schemes unquestioned. Critiquing them became a taboo.
Why ? Well, you yourself showed that several times in your own post:
By labeling these people „dangerous Nazi terrorists“. Not unlike the namecalling you received after daring to question Harper.

Let me repeat myself:
This has all been known for years. Nothing of what you’ve said is even remotely new or surprising. And you all ignored it over your blind rage of a movement trying to expose these people, getting the word out about their corrupting ties to the industry.
Now, they have more power than ever before, thanks to all the people shoving her into the limelight instead of those who really, truly needed to get their voices heard.

And honestly ? I have no idea how to stop it now. You can’t criticize them without running the danger of loosing everything.
I guess the best cause of action now is to get used to be called „a dangerous, Nazi terrorist“ yourself…
I and many, many others experienced that for over 3 years now…you’ll get used to it…

The substitute for Practice

As i mentioned in my previous post, Studio MDHR’s „Cuphead“ caused quite a ruckus and continues to do so since its official launch.

More and more people, mostly professional reviewers, come out of the woodwork and complain that the game is way too hard.
I mean, make no mistake, it really is.

Apart from its sublime audio-visual presentation, Cuphead feels like a classic Contra game, with elements taken from other classics, such as Gunstar Heroes or Alien Soldier.
And these games all have one, core element in common:
All of them are brutally hard, with a heavy focus on twitch-reaction and pattern memorization.

But the question is… why is this a bad thing all of a sudden ?
Contra is still held in extremely high regards despite its difficulty and its enormous learning curve.
So why is it, that an homage to that very same design principle is now critically panned ?

The core complaint is Cupheads „inaccessibility“. That it „misses the mass market its presentation could have catered towards“ and that „younger and older gamers have a hard time getting into it“.
As i mentioned before, i stem from a generation that grew up with titles like these. We are used to hard games that require you to practice and learn them.
So for me, said complaints sound like people unwilling to invest time into games.
That they want to rush as fast as possible from start to finish to start the next game in their long backlog.

All in all, an understandable argument. Videogames are played by a majority of middle aged people with jobs and families after all.
Yet, games like „Divinity: Original Sin 2“, a several hundred hours long RPG broke sales records a couple of weeks ago. Why are people fine with putting many hours into a game like this, but not into properly mastering a Run&Gun game like Cuphead ?

Another factor would be the absence of easy and constant gratification.
You will lose, often.  And you will have to learn from your mistakes. You can’t just clobber weak enemies over the head to level up your characters, so later parts of the game become easier. Its not the character that has to improve, its you, the player.
And that takes time and dedication.
And yet, Dark Souls, a game series notorious for its difficulty and memorization based gameplay became a smash hit as well.
So, the majority of gamers clearly have no issue with „Trial & Error“ gameplay, with repeating game passages over and over until that one working strategy is figured out. Else, the Dark Souls series wouldn’t have sold approximately 8,5 million copies collectively.

Which leaves us with the aforementioned „accessibility“.
And if you listen to people with this complaint about games like Cuphead, you’ll soon come to the conclusion that…most of them don’t seem to have a clue what the term actually means.

On the surface, it can be boiled down to „Everyone should be able to play the game“, which is a good point, but its not meant in the way these people interpret said term.
„Being able to play“ means overcoming barriers keeping you from fully interacting with the medium in question.
Changes in color palettes for the color blind, subtitles for the deaf, dominant hand settings, fully customizable button layouts and makros, just to name a few things that enable people to still play games, even if they should be handicapped.
It does *not* mean, that everyone should be able to finish the game or „be good at it“ by default.

And, quite frankly, i don’t see a way of making difficulty more „accessible“ through means other than practice, dedication and self improvement.
Sure, you could remove any and all aspects that make up said challenge, but it wouldn’t be the same game, the same experience. And one could argue that you wont learn anything from it.

So, instead of pleading for things to be made easier for you, let me give you a tip that we old geezers learned back in the day:
Get yourself a rival.
There is no better motivation than a friendly competition. Try to beat each others scores, exchange strategies, try to develop new ones together.
And the most interesting thing:
Help your rival to improve, so that you have even more reason to become even better!

It’s an incredible bonding experience and some of my best friendships have formed that way. And if you ask me, it is what gaming these days lacks the most: Friendly competition.
But we can always lead by good example, right ?

Bottom line: There is no substitute for practice.
To make things artificially easy is to lie to yourself about your true potential that will probably never really surface because you won’t let it be challenged.
So do yourself a favor: Sit down with a hard game, practice it and finally beat it.
The sheer rush will be worth it.

The difficulty with difficulty

Difficulty has become a rather controversial subject matter in gaming media as of recently.
More and more professional game reviewers are struggling to finish and sometimes even fully experience a game.
Granted, the competition in this field is harsh and deadlines are short. There is not much room to properly learn a certain title.

But here’s the thing:
This criticism rarely involves games that are universally seen as hard or demanding.
One such example which sparked quite a lot of controversy was Dean Takahashi’s Preview to Cuphead, a Run&Gun game heavily inspired by classic Contra game by small indie developer „Studio MDHR“.

While no one in their right mind would argue that a game like Contra is anywhere near „easy“, many will certainly agree that its underlying mechanics are as easy as it gets.
So, what was the issue with Cuphead then ? Boss patterns to hard ? Enemy spawns too frequent ?
Sadly, no. It was something far worse than that:

I present to you the culprit: A box, a cylinder, instructions and a man who had no clue what to do with all of that.
After a few minutes, he finally understood the games core movement options…
You know, the ones explained on the wall in both text and pictographs.

I think i don’t lean myself too far out of the window when i say that many people would sympathize with reviewers not being able to 100% complete a behemoth of a game such as, say, an Elder Scrolls title, master several loops of Dark Souls, achieve a „1 Credit Clear“ on an arcade game and all of that within their deadlines.
In short, no one expects anyone to be perfect, or even „good“ at anything.

But this lack of basic pattern recognition, contextual thinking and fine motor controls paints a rather grim picture.

But why am i writing about this now „old“ story again ?
You see, while having a trip down memory lane with my SNES retro game collection, i stumbled upon a game from my childhood that put the above story in a pretty frightening perspective.

The game im talking about is „Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest“ released in 1992.
Or as it is known in Japan: „Final Fantasy USA Easy Type: Mystic Quest“.
Square felt the need to develop a JRPG that was as watered down as it could get.
No exploration so no one can get lost on the world map. Players are guided on rails from one scene to the next.
No random enemy encounters. On the world map, there are so called „Battlefields“ where you can summon up to 10 battles to gain a few extra experience points.
Enemies in dungeons are visible, static and stay dead even when you move out of the dungeon to restock and heal.
No character or team customization. Your one party member is dictated by the plot, always several levels stronger (since they don’t level up) and there is no gear to manage. Every piece of equipment you find simply adds its defense points to the pile.
No game overs. Should you still lose a battle, the game simply asks you if you want to try it again or leave combat to restock. Loss has no consequence.
No checkpoints. The game can be saved anytime, anywhere.

In short, a complete departure from some of the series staple mechanics.
But don’t get me wrong. It might not be a great game, certainly not anywhere near close its actual Final Fantasy brethren on the same system, but it is not bad per se.

But all of this made me think.
Are we returning to a time, where developers feel the need to produce „dumbed down“ versions of their games under the impression that they might be too difficult, based on said reviews and previews ?

Is the fear of losing review score points over being „too difficult“ enough for them to change their vision and cater to these reviewers and thus, a wider market which bases its purchases on these scores ?

The most interesting thing to me however is, that this wave of „games are too hard“ followed right behind the massive successes of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series.
Games infamous for being extremely difficult and immensely demanding, yet highly rewarding for players who powered through.
And critics praised it for exactly these qualities back in the day.

So what exactly happened here ? Why the sudden shift from „the glorious return of early/mid 90’s difficulty“ to „Games are way too hard these days“ when they, quite frankly, aren’t ?

Several tinfoil hat theories aside, i honestly have no idea. And as a kid of the 90’s, i also have a really hard time getting into that mindset of „games being too difficult“ really.
Back in the day, that was our „normal“. Either you learned it the hard way, or you had to admit to your friends that you cant pass the first stage.

Maybe we old geezers are just too used to it and hold younger generations to higher standards, our standards ?
Whatever it might be, if reviews and previews like that send a signal, we might be confronted with the harsh reality that yes, developers might feel the need to purposefully water down their games again, since we „can’t cope with the real deal“.

Guilty Pleasures #1 – Two Worlds

Bad games, we all probably played a few here and there.
And most of the time, we just toss them aside, maybe rant a little about it and simply forget about them.

And then there are „guilty pleasures“. Games that, no matter how bad they might be, have something that intrigues you, something that regularly makes you pick them up again. You might never finish one of them, but not for a lack of trying…over and over again…

I actually happen to have a couple of those if im honest.
Let’s discuss one of them, shall we ?

-Two Worlds-
Developed by the polish studio „Reality Pump“ in 2007, Two Worlds was almost unanimously panned by critics.
It didn’t look great, it handled extremely wonky, its balancing was all over the place, the story sub-par and its characters as generic as it gets.
And yet, for some bizarre reason, i love this game and i can’t even put my finger on why exactly.

It’s something about how „raw“ many of its mechanics are.
Take upgrading your equipment for instance. All you need to do is stack two of the same items on top of each other. And since the game throws loot around like its trying to outshine Diablo, your gear gets upgraded big time…and fast.

The same goes for its alchemy system. Its comparable to the cooking system in the recent „The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild“ in that you simply throw stuff into a cauldron and see what comes out. And as with weapons, you find lots and lots of ingredients to do so. From 4 digit buff potions that last for days to permanent stat increases or even potions granting skill points. If you understand the system (and put the necessary points into the alchemy skill), alchemy stops being a crafting system and becomes a chear engine.

And then there is the magic system, one of the few features that actually managed to get some praise.
The premise is quite simple. Magic is represented by cards, which there are about 70 of them. You have your spell cards and so called „booster cards“, modifiers you can equip alongside a spell card for added effects, like reduced mana costs etc.
The real kicker is: These cards are literally handled like trading cards, meaning they can be found pretty much everywhere, from monster drops to shops or quest rewards.
And they work just like you equipment. Find a stack of spells, put them on top of each other and *boom* your dinky fireball becomes an atomic bomb.
Remember that reduced mana cost booster ? Yup, guess what happens if you stack those.

In short: Pretty much any system in this game is broken and highly abusable.
And it never seems to stop. Gear is randomly generated, seemingly without a cap. You will always find equipment with higher numbers, you stack more and more magic cards, brew more and more insane potions and just go to town on the monsters inhabiting the world.

And the best thing ?
Its sequel, Two World 2, released in 2010, keeps this insanity intact but adds some genuinely great ideas on top of all this.
There still is no fixed class system, and you are free to develop your character however you want, but you are given 3 loadout slots you can hotswap between whenever you want. So you can setup a proper set of armor and weapons for a warrior, mage and rogue archetype, pull an enemy with your rogue set, quickly switch to your mage set to apply buffs and lastly, switch to warrior and got to town on your foes.

Bottom line: I really, genuinely love this game (and its sequel).
It has some clever ideas behind its schlocky, „B-Movie“-esque facade.

Political Videogames – Statements Vs. Commentary

Politics in games is an ongoing discussion topic with seemingly no clear answer.
Should they be political or should they stay as far away from it as possible?

During debates like this, i often come across the claim that „Videogames always made political statements“.
While kinda true, there are some pretty big differences between making a political statement and having a political theme.

Take a game like „Tales of Zesteria“ to name something somewhat recent.
On first glance, it’s an „Anime Game“ with monsters, magic etc, part of a long running JRPG series, typical stuff and probably the last thing that comes to mind when politics in games is discussed.

On second glance, the game is stock full of political commentary.

The games plot centers around human malice taking shape and corrupting the land and its inhabitants.
The player takes control of Sorey who takes on the mantle of „The Shepard“, a somewhat religious / mythological leading figure.
Your role is to combat the imminent threat of malice spreading across the land by…
And this is where the plot gets interesting…
Not only by swinging your fancy sword to do battle with various monstrous abominations, but by helping people to overcome their grievances, hate, bias, fears etc. on a down-to-earth, every day level.
Your goal is to be a good roll model, just beating things up wont solve the issue.

And that is where the political commentary comes into play.
A war between two kingdoms is about to break out, and you are eager to fight alongside your new found friends to protect their homeland !
…only to be reminded that things aren’t always so black and white.
Fighting for your friends and protecting their homeland sure is a noble goal, but in war, there often is a losing side.
A side that might lose its own home, friends, family, loved ones…
Which in turn creates malice.

It tackles a rather important but often overlooked topic:
Wars are rarely „The good guys Vs. the bad guys“.

Add to this dilemma a bunch of opportunistic, political and/or royal influencers, tackling another delicate topic: The benefits of war.
Does the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few ? Can a war actually be beneficial to the people in the long run ?

All of these topics are viewed from the perspective of the Shepard.
The „True Neutral“ if you will. The one who can’t successfully accomplish his mission should there be a losing side in conflict…or is there another way ?

The neutrality of the players position does wonders to highlight these conflicts. I would lie if i said that there weren’t times when i even sympathized with the games main antagonist and his goals. They are the rational, logical conclusion to end the worlds ills, but not the morally right ones.

In short, the game is ripe with political and moral commentary, so why is it, that people don’t have issues with it in this instance, but shun away other games for basically doing the same ?

There are a few factors that play into this:
Its not presented in black and white. There is no clear good or bad, only the suffering caused by malice, ignorance, hatred, bias and fear on both sides of a conflict. Its more about the inevitable outcome of certain actions rather than their cause.
Mistakes happen, people aren’t perfect, but take your time and think about the consequences on all sides.

Its not the sole pillar that carries the story. Even though its permanently looming in the background, you also have plenty of other themes to lighten it up a bit. Sorey’s is a hobby spelunker and history buff which leads you on a sight seeing tour through the worlds ruins and caverns, learning about long lost civilizations along the way.
It doesn’t drown the player in this one, singular and heavy topic constantly. It gives enough room to relax and reflect.

And last but not least:
Its political themes are contained within the game, while simultaneously reflecting real life situations and conflicts.
It doesn’t shun away players upfront by a developer alienating groups of people holding certain beliefs or ideals simply because they might not share them. Everyone is invited to play it, no matter if they agree or disagree at the end.

This is by far the biggest mistake that is done in today’s gaming landscape and what has now come to be known as „Virtue Signaling“.
If your work doesn’t get people to think or even change their mind, rubbing your message into peoples faces won’t do it either.
Let them take away the moral of your story on their own, at their own pace. Let your work speak for itself.
It is far more effective than shouting people down for not sharing your world view.

And that is the key difference between making a political statement and creating your art with underlying political commentary.
The latter opens itself up to people from all slices of life and gives them all a chance to experience your message, no matter what they might take away from it.

Shunning them away upfront by declaring „I am X and let me tell you how much i hate Y“ surely wont give your art the chance to sway their minds.
It shuts down any form of thinking process, because you already gave the answer away.
No form of bias or ‚ism has ever been defeated by flat out assuming that it is there and that it won’t go away.

In short: Treat your audience neutrally, even if you disagree or if you might not like them. Who knows? Your work might get them to change their minds someday.