Friends, Stephen Beirne has penned one of my favourite articles of the year so far. Beirne, an Irishman, unpacks Folklore, a Japanese RPG based on Irish mythology and geography. Beirne discusses how the game handles and mishandles his native land while teasing out how it feels to see his country portrayed with uncommon respect and interest. The article is thoughtful and funny, snarky but not mean-spirited, personal but easily applicable. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in seeing cultural cross-pollination and a great piece of personal videogame criticism.
On his personal blog, Sub Specie, Oscar Strik contemplates why he hasn’t returned to a playthrough of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. First, he explains why he loves the game, then why he hates it. Strik concludes that his ability to place himself inside the game through roleplaying and personalizing his avatar with different dressup options keeps the game in the back of his mind even while he wishes he could set the the combat and exploration to perform itself. It’s a personal response to a game that does completely gel and Strik’s piece examines the diverging but totally valid ways to play.
Given rumors of a new Mass Effect floating around, Tor has reposted an article from Liz Bourke’s column, Sleeps With Monsters, about how the series normalizes women heroism through its player-created hero. You can especially tell how good the article is because I made it past the obligatory complaints about the trilogy’s ending, which was perfectly fine, by the way.
Over at the ever eclectic Overthinking It, Richard Rosenbaum overthinks Hearthstone as a “third space,” a sociological phenomenon where people use outside of home and work to connect to one another. Rosenbaum makes some compelling connections and uses the game to describe how complicated our understanding of “space” has become in the digital age.
In a 15-part retrospective of 2014, Haywire Magazine has gathered a long list of games writers, including yours truly, to pinpoint some of the outstanding titles released last year. Although it seems like a daunting list at first, each description hardly spans a few hundred words, and it’s a great starting point for those looking for a primer on what they might have missed in 2014 or for those looking for a second take on their favourite games of last year. While the list is no more exhaustive than it is exhausting, it’s a fun and positive look at the year that was and a decent measuring stick against what 2015 has to offer.
AJ Hollandsworth takes to Game Church‘s fine pages to discuss the various religions in the Dragon Age universe, with particular focus on the latest, Inquisition. Although Hollandsworth is a bit frustrated with “the Chosen One” trope guiding the narrative, he’s nonetheless impressed with how the player’s inquisitor must never shed their humanity.
As the author says, “DAI echoes Frank Herbert’s eternal warning to “Beware of heroes” and embrace mindfulness of the sometimes horrifying truths behind religion and fanaticism.”
A negative consequence of release hype is that the first word often gets mistaken for the last one. Speaking of the last of stuff, The Last of Us is one of those games that instantly enraptured the gaming world. Since summer of 2013, though, it’s quietly slipped off everyone’s radar.
Ben Matlock returns to The Last of Us two years removed from the hype to see how it holds up. While he enjoyed the game, he seems a lot more willing to criticize it without trying to protect or destroy it. He says of the ending:
…[protagonist] Joel wants to go into “John McClane” mode again, I am left further away from understanding his mentality than I was throughout the entire game. It’s not a matter of what I would have done in his position, but a matter of the game convincing me this is a natural way for him to act…
The entire retro-review can be found on Njoystic and it’s a good read for those still curious about the game or those interested in seeing a discussion about the game removed from the cacophony that erupted with its release.
Spend enough time playing games and sooner or later you’ll find “that game.” “That game” is not your favourite, it might not even be very good, but it is the one that fascinates you so deeply you can’t help but keep a special place for it in your heart. Tales of Symphonia seems to be “that game” for Devon Carter, who began an extensive and personal retrospective of it for his personal blog, Silver Grindings (great name, by the way).
Sure, Carver’s first essay on the game is plenty analytical, but at the same time it’s keeps a personal approach that often seems to get lost when we approach games either as a cold technical or literary artifact. Carver’s essay is a big one and it’s filled with spoilers, but it’s definitely worth a look. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that games can be looked at critically and personally without sacrificing the writer’s integrity.
In case you want to safeguard from Symphonia spoilers, Heather Alexandra wrote another personal critical essay on a different JRPG, Skies of Arcadia. Like Carver, Alexandra maintains her own voice during a retrospective of her personal experiences with a game.
Nintendo’s had it’s ups and downs, and while there’s no shortage of arimchair experts weighing in on the storied developer’s future, Eric Johnson compares its current rut with past ones to suggest that things might just be different this time:
By positioning itself as the gaming company for everyone, Nintendo was no longer competing against just Microsoft and Sony. It was now fighting all manner of distractions, from smartphones to online video streaming services. The original NES was called an “entertainment system” for marketing reasons, but now everything is an entertainment system.
Sure, sure, Nintendo has been declared dead enough times that it’s old hat by now, but Johnson’s piece is worth a look because it goes the extra step of contextualizing Nintendo’s current situation with previous ones. It’s less a death knell than it is an exploration of the ever limiting options the storied developer has available to them.
By no means will this be the last word on the subject, but it is an interesting one.