Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ni no Kuni: lemme get those digits

The JRPG is a troubled genre in a wild and unpredictable medium. Not one generation ago, the PlayStation 2 was host to everything from obscure one-shots (Ephemeral Fantasia, Tsugunai: Atonement) to celebrated series (Suikoden, Final Fantasy) and just about everything in between. Looking over Sony's RPG offerings for PS3 is a much more dismal enterprise. Most of the notable titles seem to be American-developed actioners with RPG elements, while the Japanese games are uninspired, halfhearted, or DLC packs for Hyperdimension Neptunia. Nearly every new IP released this generation was met with relative indifference, but the franchises have been hit just as hard. Suikoden is MIA, Tales has never been worse than the dismal Graces f, Star Ocean has lost its way completely, and Final Fantasy XIII is Square-Enix's signed confession that they've forgotten what made the series so great.

When Mass Effect 3 came out, I took the successes of the game to mean that the JRPG was obsolete. The genre was born with Dragon Quest to textually represent concepts that were too graphically complicated for the NES's eight bits, but twenty-seven years later we don't exactly have that problem anymore. (On that note, menu-based RPGs are still finding some popularity on handheld devices, which remain partially bound by these limitations.) ME3 revises the systems of its Japanese antecedents with a highly effective show-don't-tell attitude, streamlining combat and character development elegantly. Do you miss combat menus? They're there, but only when you need them to be. Bummed at the presence of skill trees instead of vital statistics? They fulfill very similar functions when you think about it. This quickened approach is in line with what the populace has come to expect from video gaming, but there are few titles that have managed to combine this satisfying sense of speed and immersion with the robust micromanagement that made these games so appealing in the first place. That's the sweet spot Ni no Kuni hits.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

No Kingdom Lasts Forever: Enlightened

This kingdom. This amazing kingdom we have made. This monstrous kingdom. Its castles are magic. They are beautiful. They are built on dreams and iron and greed. They are inorganic and cannot sustain. No kingdom lasts forever. Even this will end. And life and Earth will reign again.

I try to avoid talking about myself when I write these posts, primarily because I'm here to highlight media that catches my attention, not the toiling of a disenfranchised quarter-lifer. Most of you are probably within a year's distance of completing college, one direction or the other, and you already know what our lives are like.

But Enlightened resonates with me. So much of the show's appeal to me is a byproduct of how frankly it addresses some serious issues with our world, on both interpersonal and international levels. For those unfamiliar with Enlightened, which is likely most of you given the show's criminally low viewership, it tells the story of disgraced corporate drone Amy Jellicoe. After a manic breakdown and a revelatory stint in a new-age rehab center, she attempts to enter the world once again, her rage and confusion layered over with a new insurmountable optimism. Goal Number One: overnight reform of her previous employers, rapacious megacorpoation Abaddon. Abaddon, we come to learn, is Evil Capitalism incarnate, destroying the environment and inciting violent civil unrest and producing toxic products with no concerns but for the bottom line. They take delight in crushing the little guys and buy off politicians. Anyone who isn't Amy can infer the tremendous challenge present in realizing this degree of change.