The miracle of life is a beautiful thing, especially in 16-bit. Opening a story with a birth isn’t exactly uncommon, but it does have a certain weight to it— it’s a statement. “This story starts from the beginning.” As far as game introductions go, Dragon Quest V juices everything it can out of its Hero’s birth. The tension is palpable as the player’s father, Pankraz, anxiously awaits the birth of his son. There’s value to a slow burn, and a more methodically paced plot works well considering the story ultimately takes place over the course of 26 years, chronicling an entire generation of the main character’s life. Such bold framing requires a delicate narrative touch, but that doesn’t mean the game is slow. Between excellent level design, a monster recruitment system that predates Pokémon, and a wide breadth of optional content, Dragon Quest V asserts itself as one of the most impressive RPGs of all time.
Originally released for the Super Famicom in 1992, Dragon Quest V is an important entry in the series for a number of reasons. For starters, it was the franchise’s first foray into 16-bit, and despite being an early Super Famicom title, DQV stands out as one of the most dense RPGs on the console. Not just that, V’s release would mark the last time that Chunsoft would work as the primary developer of a mainline Dragon Quest, with Heartbeat taking over development for VI, III’s Super Famicom remake, VII, and IV’s PlayStation remake. Not only that, Dragon Quest V sees the first directorial change in the series as Chunsoft founder, Koichi Nakamura, transitions into a supervisor position, leaving the director’s spot open for future Heartbeat founder, Manabu Yamana.
With an experienced dev team four games in and a new director bursting with ideas, it’s not difficult to piece together why Dragon Quest V was such a monumental title for the Super Famicom. This isn’t even considering Yuji Horii’s script for the game, arguably his best-written work. Covering roughly thirty years of a single character’s life is going to be compelling through concept alone, but Yuji Horii’s writing in Dragon Quest V has a layer of emotional maturity that even some of the best written modern games lack.
This isn’t to say the first four Dragon Quest games are poorly written by any stretch of the imagination, just that they’re understandably on the light side when it comes to the narrative given when they were released. Dragon Quest is charming, but its story doesn’t go beyond that; Dragon Quest II strives for more narratively but is bogged down by poor pacing & a lack of play-testing; Dragon Quest III finds a nice middle ground between I and II, but opts for a very traditional Hero’s Journey (which does have its place;) and Dragon Quest IV’s framing is the allure of the story, not the plot itself.
With Dragon Quest V, it’s possible to enjoy the story just for its writing. Although the Super Famicom original never left Japan, the game did see a Nintendo DS remake in 2008, followed by a worldwide localization in 2009. As if that weren’t enough, the Nintendo DS remake actually lifts narrative elements from the RPG’s 2004 Japan-exclusive PS2 remake that greatly expanded both the Super Famicom version’s gameplay and story. The DS remake would later be ported to mobile devices, but for all intents and purposes, Dragon Quest V’s definitive version is based off the DS remake.
It’s one thing for a remake to improve upon its base game to the point of replacing it, but it’s another when the title being remade was already one of the best entries in its genre. The Super Famicom version’s issues mainly stem from a forced party of three instead of four, and rather uninspired villains. While the latter is par for the course (save Psaro the Manslayer from DQ IV,) the former is a bit more suspect. It doesn’t hurt the game and is clearly in place to ensure that players vary up their party as much as possible, but that’s not exactly something audiences need to be forced to do in a game with dozens of recruitable party members.
The PlayStation 2 remake is the title actually deserving of praise as far as making Ladja a better antagonist and lightening up combat restrictions go, but the game features 3D models which, while nice, aren’t the best reimagining of the 2D sprites. On the other hand, the DS remake bases itself visually off of Dragon Quest IV’s PS1 remake, keeping the game’s aesthetic closer, generationally and stylistically, to the Super Famicom original’s art style. More importantly, the DS remake features even more new content in the form of a new bride, bolstering the game’s already alluring marriage system.
It’s not unusual for Dragon Quest V discourse to center itself almost solely around monster recruitment and marriage. While recruiting monsters has a natural appeal (especially those designed by legendary Dragon Ball mangaka Akira Toriyama,) getting married and starting a family isn’t exactly an RPG staple. At the same time, Dragon Quest V’s pacing is quite unlike other games, let alone the ones that predated it. The story itself is divided into three distinct chapters: the Hero’s childhood at the age of 6, his time as a freed slave 10 years later, and his life as a father 8 years after the end of the second chapter. It’s basically Dragon Quest’s love of vignettes framed through different eras of life instead of town associated story arcs.
While the game itself does still follow the series’ established formula of going to a new town, dealing with a mini-arc, and moving on, the framing allows the story to make better use of these seemingly independent narrative beats while also keeping the plot focused. The passage of time also adds a sense of reality to the experience. Characters age, towns change, and how the Hero interacts with the world is directly related to how mature he is narratively. Not just that, it’s refreshing to see an RPG protagonist set out on a goal and not wrap up all his loose ends in what logically could only have been a month or two.
It really can’t be stressed enough just how much of a boon it is that Dragon Quest V takes place over the course of 26 years. A good chunk of time is indeed skipped, but the story is never afraid to linger. In any other RPG, playing as the 6-year-old Hero would take place in a half hour to hour-long prologue with restrictive gameplay. While monster recruitment is admittedly locked until after the first time skip (Dragon Quest V’s childhood takes a good few hours to get through) it isn’t a one and done deal. Rather, it has its own set of mini-arcs, all culminating in one of the most agonizingly tragic moments in the series.
Above all else, Dragon Quest V is a story about the rawness of life. The Hero’s father, expectedly, dies before his eyes, but Pankraz’ death goes beyond a father figure dying. He’s a genuinely fleshed-out character by this point in the story. Not just that, he’s the closest thing the plot has to an active protagonist. The Hero has his own adventures, but the prologue frames itself as Pankraz’s journey— which it initially is. After a surprisingly tense impossible to win boss fight, audiences are forced to sit back and watch as their father, through actual gameplay, lets down his guard and allows himself to be killed in order to save his son.
Dragon Quest V almost makes the audience think that Pankraz will be able to get himself out. He’s managed to live this long, why die now? But that’s the nature of life and where Yuji Horii’s writing shines. The script doesn’t pull punches when it comes to drama. Pankraz isn’t killed offscreen or in passing, he’s vaporized to nothing in front of players’ eyes. Pankraz isn’t just the Hero’s father dying, he’s the audience’s. It’s fitting that the prologue opens with a birth and closes with a death, introducing all parties involved— player or otherwise— to the circle of life.
Thematically, the circle of life rears its head up a few times, to the point where it appears as both a usable and item you can equip near the end of the game. Life is so general a theme that it’s almost fruitless to analyze as a broad concept, but Dragon Quest V’s 26 years end up more or less covering a definable generation of life. It isn’t as if the circle of life is the defining theme of the story, either. Rather, Dragon Quest V is ultimately about the merits of individual heroism.
The Hero, despite being referred to as such, isn’t the hero. That title instead belongs to his son, a character who only appears in the last act. This doesn’t stop the Hero from acting a hero, however. In typical DQ fashion, the protagonist will resolve virtually every town’s problems before the credits roll. Unlike II through IV, however, the Hero spends a good chunk of his journey as the only human in the party, much like the original Dragon Quest. While the player will always have a full party mid to late game, thanks to monster recruitment, the lack of spotlight given to human party members places more emphasis on the player’s individual actions.
More importantly, this style of game design helps immersion quite a bit. Since the Hero is by default alone, it’s not unusual for players to put the main story on hold to hunt for monsters. Dragon Quest V is story-driven to the point of being the most linear Chunsoft developed DQ game, but it never suffers for it, entirely because it loads itself with so much optional content. Monsters will be recruited just by playing the game naturally, but the fact that players can stop the plot dead in its tracks to goof off is a big reason why DQV is such a charming game.
There’s often an impulse to place strict emphasis on story in the RPG genre, but it’s for the best that Dragon Quest V resists here. The gameplay loop works because, like life, there’s time to stop and smell the roses. Should a player choose to map the overworld before they make any meaningful progress, they’re free to do so. Anyone tired of the main plot is welcome to sink hours upon hours in the genuinely addicting Casino. Those just eager to move on with the plot are welcome to comfortably power through as Dragon Quest V features the least amount of grinding of the Chunsoft games.
Dragon Quest V is the rare RPG that caters itself to any play style, all without compromising its own design. All things considered, it’s almost unrealistically ambitious for 1992. A turn-based RPG that features fully-fledged monster recruitment, the passage of time over the course of 26 years, and marriage that results in two kids? That’s a lot for an early Super Famicom game, but Chunsoft managed to pull virtually everything off seamlessly. By the time ArtePiazza began developing the PS2 remake (and later DS remake,) there wasn’t much that was in need of fixing or updating. Perhaps even more impressive is the level of conceptual depth Dragon Quest V has in comparison with its Famicom brethren.
Dragon Quest V is more sophisticated when it comes to game design. Its overworld alone puts virtually any other RPG overworld at the time to shame. Where most overworlds of the era featured maps that were fairly freeform and easy to travel once in late-game, Dragon Quest V keeps things complicated for as long as humanly possible. Like other entries in the series, the first half of the game sees the Hero traveling from continent to continent, each one serving as a pseudo stage of sorts before the plot moves on. Where Dragon Quest V differs especially is how it presents transportation.
The flight based vehicle which allows players to freely traverse the overworld isn’t obtained until basically right before the end of the game. Until then, the audience has to make do with a Ship and Flying Carpet. While the last act makes it easier to move the Ship just about anywhere, the second act actually locks players into the center of the map, gating progression in a rather clever manner.
As if that weren’t enough, the second “vehicle,” the Magic Carpet, can’t pass over rough terrain, meaning that players need to use the carpet strategically to traverse. The game itself also uses its world design in order to inject some rare moments of non-linearity. The only time Dragon Quest V doesn’t tell players where to go is when the map is at its most open, encouraging player-driven exploration. Slowly chipping away at the overworld over the course of an entire generation also lends greater weight to the idea that the Hero is globetrotting the entire world. It makes more sense to see the entire world over a course of 26 years than the average SNES RPG’s 26 hours.
Monster recruitment is almost deceptively simple when it comes to gameplay depth. On a surface level, there’s not much to it. The last defeated monster randomly joins the party, and not every monster is recruitable. Once they’ve joined, however, each unique monster type has its own level caps, max stats, and spells. Not just that, different monsters learn different spells at different points. RNG heavy by design, monster recruitment naturally leads to each player having their own personalized party. Party members themselves might not be as individually customizable as in Dragon Quest III, but the depth of party composition at play more than makes up for it.
Being able to make a new party on the fly thanks to the monster system keeps Dragon Quest V’s combat fresh throughout. Even without monster recruitment, dungeons are layered with optional areas and secrets, more so than previous entries. Not just that, dungeons are smarter designed in general, making use of the Super Famicom’s hardware in order to deepen the exploration that’s so inherent to Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest V hits that sweet spot between NES and SNES dungeon design where dungeons err on the side of short while also branching out in a way that keeps dungeons engaging without making players feel lost.
If there’s a single arc that best showcases Dragon Quest V’s qualities, it’s the wedding arc. Around midway through the game, the Hero, now an adult, finds himself tasked with completing a series of challenges in order to marry the daughter of a wealthy noble and get his hands on the Zenithian Shield. Narratively, that’s the only context given to the Hero’s mindset. From there, it’s up to the players to complete the challenges via gameplay and earn their marriage, but things aren’t so simple. The Hero’s childhood best friend enters the picture, complicating things romantically.
At this point in the story, it would make sense for the Hero to romantically pursue his childhood best friend, Bianca, and that is indeed what the story seems to push for, but the fact of the matter remains that players don’t need to follow through with this. If audiences find themselves smitten with Nera, they can reject Bianca’s advancements. The story doesn’t suffer for it and Nera herself grows as a character, forging a relationship with the Hero through party chat. Not just that, Nera’s sister, Deborah, declares herself a last-minute marriage candidate mere seconds before the player is tasked with choosing a wife, adding another layer to the decision.
In the grand scheme of things, the choice of wife doesn’t affect the greater narrative, but it does subtly influence the pathos of the story. After getting married, players are going to spend a good few hours with their wife, getting to know them and training alongside them (especially if Nera was chosen.) Party chat slowly develops the couple’s dynamic for all three wives, but each wife has her own arc. Bianca is the blandest of the three post-marriage, seeing most of her development before the wedding, but both Nera and Deborah grow extensively after marrying the player, and in their own, unique ways.
The choice of the wife also affects the hair color of the Hero’s children, how they reflect on their mother, and how they address the player’s relationship with their wife. Dragon Quest V opts for smaller, personalized changes stemming from marriage, and that’s frankly for the best as it allows the story to proceed as is without any of the three wives causing a narrative domino effect by being chosen. This approach also means that players who take the time to get to know their wife through party chat will end up connecting even deeper emotionally with the inevitable tragedy that plagues the Hero’s marriage.
Regardless of the monsters recruited, the wife married, or the optional content completed, More than one of the best RPGs ever made, Dragon Quest V is a title that anyone interested in the artistry of the medium needs to play. In general, the fourth generation was an incredibly important and creative time for game development, but Dragon Quest V is so forward-thinking— so ambitious— that it stands out in a vast sea of culturally important video games. Few games understand the importance of interactivity, immersion, or connecting emotionally with its audience as well as Dragon Quest V. An RPG about life in every sense, Dragon Quest V is a work of art.
What are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?
The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.
Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.
It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.
Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?
What Can We Expect?
Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.
Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.
Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.
Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.
What Can We Expect?
Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.
Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment
It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.
Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?
What Can We Expect?
A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.
Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.
What Can We Expect?
Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.
Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s keep it to two of the most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.
One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.
My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.
When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.
Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.
The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.
‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different
Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found?
About Death Stranding…
It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity.
Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer.
Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another.
On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.
Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.
Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right?
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy.
Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes.
In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves.
This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.
As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together.
Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity.
AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time.
The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity.
From Escape to Inspiration: How Video Games Promote Creativity
The stresses of everyday life are often enough to put heavy strain on even the sharpest and most durable of minds. No one is immune to the pressures of work, school, or even the personal struggles that weigh down on everyone. Now more than ever, with advancements in technology and the increased prominence of fantastical immersion, video games have become more of an escape for people of all ages.
No longer are video games considered the medium for children looking to “waste time.” Rather, these virtual worlds have transformed into an integral part of how a grand portion of the globe’s population interacts with each other. Moreover, video games offer a much-needed respite from one’s struggles, drawing people into a fictitious realm in which they journey with a hero on their adventures in a compelling fable, or compete with other players worldwide.
Whatever one’s reasons for playing, video games are an outlet through which gamers alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and a myriad of other emotions, giving rise to joy and relaxation alongside a sense of accomplishment. This escape provides users with an opportunity to not only temporarily get away from whatever troubles them, but also inspires them and promotes creativity.
The old ways of acquiring inspiration (books, role models, school, friends and colleagues, etc.) are still tried and true. However, just as humans have evolved over millennia, so, too, have the means of stimulus and influence. Alongside these traditional sources of encouragement comes video games—visual, interactive stories and competitions that stimulate one’s mind and get hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing.
From betrayal to romance, the most traditional storytelling tropes have been plucked from novels and cinema to create these immersive, interactive worlds. Video games offer lessons in commitment, dedication, persistence, and so much more. Repeatedly, fans see their favorite heroes get knocked down, and then those same fans take control of those heroes and take them through the journey of picking themselves back up.
Assassin’s Creed II has players take control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, even after they witness half the character’s family murdered before their very eyes. They join Ezio on his journey to avenge his family and develop into someone who refuses to give up, who uses ingenuity to learn and expand his own horizons to accomplish his goals—a tale of hope for anyone struggling to bounce back after trauma and tragedy.
Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, the advancement of video games in terms of how much they have evolved over the years is enough to inspire any aspiring video game developer. Taking one look at the beautiful worlds companies like Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix, 343 Industries, and so many more create does wonders to convincing a plethora of gamers to learn how to code or write a compelling story.
Despite previous misconceptions that video games only give people a space in which to waste time, this hobby (or often profession, if one considers the earnings of the top eSports competitors) has shifted opinions to a more curious perspective. It’s difficult to ignore something so popular that promotes so much creativity.
Initially, video games were a mere medium of entertainment. Simple games like Pong did little to foster the mental acuity of their users. However, since the 1980s, video games have surpassed their meager, albeit fun, precursors. Solving puzzles, exploring vast geographies, and overcoming challenging obstacles are just some of the facets of modern video games that force players to think a little deeper about the game’s objectives.
Sometimes, the direct path isn’t the answer, and video games teach players how to come up with alternative solutions to their problems. For example, titles like 2018’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance or 2001’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic give gamers the ability to choose how to complete certain missions, forcing them to deal with different consequences depending on the choices they make. Not all problems are easy, and video games can help equip players with the tools they will need to think about multiple possible solutions to a challenge.
Beyond ruminating about alternative solutions, the creativity avid gamers develop through video games will help them in other ways, such as their ability to think critically about certain concepts and form their own perspectives on complicated situations. Is the Dragonborn character gamers control in Skyrim defined only as the Dragonborn, or does that character bring more to the table than being a slayer who can communicate with mighty, scaly, winged lizards?
Video games keep fans’ minds churning with ideas for their own stories, whether those tales are reflections of their own lives or the inspiration for elements of their own literary or cinematic endeavors. Fans often draw courage from the heroes in their favorite titles, looking to them to help them out of a rut or learn how to deal with their own troubles.
Whether learning how to use a little more diplomacy to negotiate through a bad situation or finding the gumption to learn martial arts to stay in shape or for self-defense, much of gamers’ motivation can be traced back to the inspiration they garnered from the heroes they see in all forms of media, and video games are no exception.
Just as humans have to crawl before they walk, video games had to start small and gain traction before the world was ready to advance them to their current state. No longer are these virtual, interactive worlds a backdrop that people use to merely pass the time. Rather, they are the catalyst for courage, inspiration, creativity, and entertainment.
While video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong, they have still only progressed to a state of adolescence. Technology is advancing at a more rapid rate than ever before, and companies are no longer limiting themselves in terms of what they can achieve with one of the fastest-growing, financially prosperous, emotionally charged industries the world has ever seen.
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