20
Mar
2011

Asylum Hopping

Posted by Cha

I'm slightly ashamed to admit to how much I enjoy games featuring mental asylums (and similar locations). I suppose it goes with the territory when you appreciate dark themes, uncertain layers of reality, and an ominous atmosphere.

Pervasive ideas about mentally ill meaning creepy, dangerous, subhuman and so on... those aren't so cool. I know I'm treading through problematic territory on this one. I suppose I find creepiness here which has more to do with how patients are treated than the patients themselves.

Barbaric treatments for mental conditions are some of my top nightmarish-fears, with the additional frightening element that 'barbaric' doesn't always mean 'in the past'. Not having asylums anymore doesn't mean everything's rosy. So, I disturb myself by playing around in virtual asylums, then worry about the treatment of (and respect for) people with mental illnesses in the real word.

25
Feb
2011

Demon's Souls: Challenge and Despair

Posted by Cha

"Do not be concerned, life is hardly as precious as one might think" - Yurt, the Silent Chief, Demon's Souls

[Post includes spoilers for the early part of the game]

Returning to Demon's Souls after a long hiatus feels like falling back into the arms of an intense lover. Part of me regrets ever leaving, but it's hard to maintain so much passion and focus. From the outside this affair might seem unhealthy, but it's a willing submission to a fair master who always encourages the best from me.

In the past I've written about the difficulty in Demon's Souls being far less than many have suggested. I still feel that way, but it was also a knee-jerk reaction to difficulty dominating the conversation. My lover is not cruel. The first word I'd choose to describe Demon's Souls isn't brutal, punishing, or (gods forbid) hardcore. I'd call it 'coherent' – every element serves the overall dark fantasy vision.

(Enslaved: Odyssey to the West's fish tank scene occurs at the end of Chapter Two, but in some ways it's worth discovering for yourself, so consider yourself warned if sensitive to spoilers.)

The scene: Monkey and Trip come across something beautiful and incredible. A large fish tank is still thriving after approximately two hundred years in the ruins of New York. Trip explains that it's working as a perfect closed system. The sunlight feeds the plants, the small fish eat the plants, and the big fish eat the small fish.

16
Jan
2011

The Emotion of People and Place in Nier

Posted by Cha

Nier was one of the cult hits of 2010: clearly not a game for everyone, but still deserving of a place among my favourites. Several things make Nier special, but right now I want to talk about how its towns and cities feel (to me, at least).

The unnamed village Nier calls home is a somewhat idealised rural setting. Green fields extend to the north and south, and the marketplace is active, if not exactly bustling. The background music in the village is tinged with sadness, but always manages to feel like coming home. The waterwheel turns, the farmers fatten their stock, and residents share a drink at the local tavern.

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