Innocence has been explored as a concept in video games since storytelling methods became advanced enough to utilize themes. This is not just limited to the ability of youth overcoming evil (Ristar, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, etc.), but the destructive force created by the loss of innocence. Secret of Mana, Panzer Dragoon, Astal, and dozens of other titles have shown that capable hands can use the medium to express the power and sadness inherent in the transition from childhood to adolescence.
Ico takes this to another level entirely. Not simply content to utilize age-old motifs and themes (burgeoning sexuality as seen in the character of Yorda, the dark magic inherent in child sacrifice), it plays on the themes of simplicity with regards to gaming itself. This is a game simple enough for a child to play, to understand, to interact with… but one that does not reveal its darkness in full until the gamer has already become enmeshed in the story and mechanics.
The first time I fell in love, I remember having a lot of dreams. Some were the tame fantasies of boyhood, but for the most part, they were fairy tale inspired epics, a twist on the narratives of classic fairy tales, with us standing in for the leading players. Disney had done a good job on me, I guess. But falling in love is very much like a fantasy quest. There is a call to adventure, when you first meet your beloved, there is a pursuit, and complications, and then victory and jubilation (or defeat and self-improvement and reflection).
What is the nature of power? Is it the ability to destroy? The ability to create? The ability to choose? The ability to protect? The ability to lead? Is it ultimate freedom, or is it by its very nature a contract with society?
Jade Empire, Bioware’s 2003 Action-RPG for the Xbox, asks these questions as the player fights his/her way through a 50-hour odyssey of magic, martial arts, and mystery. Utilizing an East Asian aesthetic (principally derived from Chinese mythology and Wuxia) in an action-packed, modern tale of fantasy (from a Western perspective), it forges a modern synthesis that meditates on the nature of achievement in life.
Double Dragon is a lot of things. It’s an 80’s style beat-um-up. It’s one of the earliest examples of two-player co-op. It’s the most successful game ever released by the Taito Corporation. It’s a reason sibling-on-sibling violence increased in 1987, due to the ability to beat your own co-player (this may be a joke; maybe).
What it is not is a single title. This is not in reference to the sequels, but the original game itself. Originally an arcade title, DD has since been translated onto no less than twenty consoles and operating systems. Almost every single one of them—by the very nature of the platform’s limitations—looked and played much differently. The NES even changes the main antagonist and gets rid of the co-op. How can this possibly be considered the same game as the arcade version?
Remember how I said that I wanted to write about video game stories? It may not seem like Tetrisis the kind of game that I would gravitate towards, seeing as how there isn’t much of an arc to the stories of S-shape, I-shape, and L-shape. But sometimes the most compelling story isn’t the one in the game itself. It’s in the creation of the game, and the player’s experience of playing the game. Today I’d like to talk about two dreamers, who hoped big, got beaten down, but rose up, and eventually triumphed. The first is Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris, and the other is me.
Playing Final Fantasy VI some eighteen years after it was released is akin to reading Don Quixote in English: you can tell both that it’s a masterpiece and that something is missing in the context. The rapid development of video game tech hasn’t tarnished any of FFVI’s shining narrative, of course. It is still a tale of horror, wonder, wit, and hope. Yet even as I played through it for the first time—ever—I could see that I was going to have to dig deep to really get at the importance of the title. Something was speaking to me, I just didn’t know what.
What was it that kept me away from it for all these years? Why buy it now (aside from the fact that it is going for eight bucks on the Wii Store)? Why am I so enraged by its random battles yet so drawn to the game? Is it just the narrative or is it something more?