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Archive for the ‘NES’ Category

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki o kakeru shōjo) Part 4: The Mother Connection

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

I started this article series with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and arrived at Final Fantasy in the last installment because that’s the chronological order the works were released in and could have influenced one another. But me personally of course I started by playing Final Fantasy and then discovering the older works that had influenced it. And The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was one of the last sources I discovered, thanks to the Famitsū interview with NOJIMA.

Glory of Heracles I had discovered earlier and even without KITASE saying so in interviews the parallels between GoH3 and FFVII were very obvious. Not just that, the common theme of saving the planet made another influence on these games also very obvious. Let’s take a look at Gaia from Glory of Heracles III:

planet_gaia

She literally is the planet all the characters from the game live on and like a kind mother she forgives the injury humans caused her.

Now let’s compare Gaia to Aerith from FFVII. Aerith’s name closely resembles the word earth, even would be an anagram save for one letter. She can talk to the planet, kind of speaks for and represents it.

She is slightly older than Cloud, by Japanese custom of relating everyone in terms of family members she would be an older sister which by the same logic hierarchically puts her on a similar level as a mother. Cloud even accidentally calls her mother in the movie Advent Children, her and Zack appearing like his parents, the older generation. Cloud comes to Aerith asking for forgiveness.

Now let’s take a look at Aerith’s first appearance in the game’s opening:

planet_aerith01

planet_aerith02

A similar pose, standing and holding her hand(s) to her chest, looking at the screen. A similar backdrop, a starry sky surrounding Gaia, sparks surrounding Aerith. The color green, decorating Gaia’s head and neck and lighting Aerith’s face.

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Electric Pinocchio V: The Mute King

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

In the previous installments I illuminated different kinds of Geppettos and Pinocchios: creator and puppet, creator and robot, game creator and game character, parent and child, player and player character, bildungsroman and reader, game and player…

The Beginning of Dragon Quest

In this installment we will look at another one of these pairs: king and hero, as portrayed in Dragon Quest, the starting point of the Mario myth turned JRPG. The hero, being an avatar for the player, is mute, so the player can give him his own voice. The king on the other hand, being the most important non-player character (NPC), does talk. The function of the NPCs is to tell the player what to do, they are the voice of the game creator(s) explaining how the game is played, the king being the first one the hero meets in the original Dragon Quest (1986).

The king also commands the most authority, obviously, and can both save your progress and also tell you how much experience points you and your fellow party members need to reach the next level of your bildungsroman. In the Mother games (1989-2006) by ITOI Shigesato, where the Dragon Quest formula is transferred to a contemporary setting, the king in this function is replaced by an absent working father only reachable over the phone; in the later DQ games christianity-esque priests (fathers) serve these functions.

But at the end of their quest of becoming the legendary hero, the heroes themselves get to marry the princess and are crowned king. The hero of the sequel Dragon Quest II (1987) being their son. Finally in Dragon Quest III (1988) we get to play as the original hero Roto (or Erdrick, as he was called in the early NES Dragon Warrior translations), that served as a role model for the hero in DQI. In game he ends up being named what the player chose to name him, sent off by his mother to go out into the world and to again fulfill the king’s missions:

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Making Strange Allies… From Digital Devils to Electric Wave People

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

In 1987 a game changed the way we interact with opponents in JRPG battles: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei allowed the player to talk to and even befriend the enemies in addition to the option of fighting them. In the sequel from 1990 the player could even spare a boss’s life, capture him in a jar after his defeat and transformation into a measly frog. This act of mercy ultimately lead to the player being able to side with the demons against an absolutist god who would condemn all demons as evil. In Japan Megami Tensei II was considered one of the four great RPGs of its time, the other three being Dragon Quest IV, Final Fantasy III and Wizardry III.1 http://www.geocities.jp/dobiniq/4RPG-1.htm Two years later in 1992, the series reached its peak with Shin Megami Tensei for SNES:

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  1. http://www.geocities.jp/dobiniq/4RPG-1.htm []

Die beliebtesten Spiele auf der Wii in Japan

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Ich hab mir heute den Spaß gemacht, die Liste der beliebtesten Spiele, gewählt von den Nutzern des japanischen Nintendo-Kanals, abzuschreiben. Alle Spiele, die man auf der Wii gespielt hat, einschließlich der Virtual Console Downloads, können dort von ihren Besitzern auf einer fließenden Skala von überhaupt nicht empfehlenswert bis sehr empfehlenswert bewertet werden. Kriegt ein Spiel genügend solcher Bewertungen und fallen sie hoch genug aus, werden Auszeichnungen von Bronze bis Platin vergeben.

Diese können sich im Lauf der Zeit auch wieder ändern, der frühere Platingewinner 428 hat heute „nur“ noch eine Goldauszeichnung. Derzeit hat auch nur ein Spiel diese oberste Auszeichnung verdient, nämlich das RPG Xenoblade von Monolithsoft.

Alle Gold-, Silber- und Bronzegewinner in der jeweiligen umgekehrten Reihenfolge ihres Erscheinens:

Gold Silber Bronze
Golden Eye 007 LA-MULANA Rockman 5 Blues no Wana!?
Pandora no Tō: Kimi no Moto e kaeru made Super Mario Collection Special Pack THE LAST STORY
Chrono Trigger Keito no Kirby Hikari to Yami no Himegimi to Sekai Seifuku no Tō FFCC
Donkey Kong Returns Metroid Other M Downtown Special Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo Zen’inshūgō!
Mario Sports Mix Dragon Quest Monster Battle Road Victory Chindōchuu!! Pole no Daibōken
Sengoku Basara 3 Biohazard / Darkside Chronicles Karaoke JOYSOUND Wii
Wii Party PokéPark Wii ~Pikachu no Daibōken~ Minna no Pokémon Bokujō Platina Taiōban
Super Mario Galaxy 2 Sengoku Musō 3 Wii Music
Zangeki no Reginleiv Momotarou Dentetsu 2010 ~Sengoku, Ishin no Hero Daishūgō! No Maki Wi-Fi 8-nin Battle Bomberman
Tales of Graces Taiko no Tatsujin Wii Dodōn to 2-daime! DISASTER DAY OF CRISIS
New Super Mario Brothers Wii Wii Fit Plus GRADIUS ReBirth
Tsumi to Batsu: Sora no Kōkeisha Ransen! Pokémon Scramble Rei ~Tsukihame no Kamen~
Ōkami Arc Rise Fantasia Tales of Symphonia -Ratatosk no Kishi-
Monster Hunter 3 Monster Hunter G Totsugeki!! Famicon Wars VS
Wii Sports Resort Zelda no Densetsu Mujura no Kamen Hoshi no Kirby 64
Oboro Murasamasa Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū NEXT Kotoba no Puzzle Mojipittan Wii
Onepiece Unlimited Cruise Episode 2 Mezameru Yūsha Wii de asobu Pikmin 2 Chiisana Ō-sama to Yakusoku no Kuni FFCC
428 ~Fūsa sareta Shibuya de Nintendo Allstar! Dairantō Smash Brothers (Super Smash Bros. auf N64) Dr. Mario & Saikin Bokumetsu
Dairantō Smash Brothers X Taiko no Tatsujin Wii Minna no Jōshiki Katerepi
Rune Factory Fronteer Metroid Prime 3 Corruption
Machi e ikō yo Dōbutsu no Mori (Animal Crossing: Let’s Go to the City) Super Mario Brothers 3
Family Ski World Ski & Snowboard NO MORE HEROES
Rockman 9 Yabō no Fukkatsu!! Pokémon Snap
Onepiece Unlimited Cruise Episode 2 Nami ni yureru Hihō NARUTO Shippūden Gekitō Ninja Daisen! EX2
Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū 15 Minna no Nintendo Channel1 Der Nintendo-Kanal selbst ist also auch eine Bronze-Auszeichnung wert…
Super Mario RPG Mario & Sonic AT Beijing Olympic
Super Mario Stadium Family Baseball Biohazard Umbrella Chronicles
Mario Kart Wii Takarajima Z Barbaros no Hihō (Zack and Wiki)
Winning Eleven Playmaker 2008 Tsumi to Batsu Chikyū no Keishōsha (Sin and Punishment auf N64)
Family Ski Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū Wii
Wii Fit Momotarou Dentetsu 16 Hokkaidō Daiidō no Maki!
Sengoku Basara 2: Eiyū Gaiden (HEROES) Double Pack Mario Story (Paper Mario auf N64)
Super Mario Galaxy Onepiece Unlimited Adventure
Dragon Ball Z Sparking! Meteo Star Fox 64
Super Metroid Fire Emblem Toki no Megami
Fushigi no Dungeon 2 Fūrai no Shiren Wii Sports
Biohazard 4 Wii edition Super Mario Brothers
Zelda no Densetsu Toki no Ocarina Super Mario 64
Zelda no Densetsu Twilight Princess Super Mario World
Zelda no Densetsu Kamigami no Triforce
  1. Der Nintendo-Kanal selbst ist also auch eine Bronze-Auszeichnung wert… []

The Legend of Zelda: How the Passive Princess grew into a Participating Partner

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Fantasy describes all things not real so in actuality there really isn’t a video game that couldn’t aptly be called fantasy but most often we associate medieval settings mixed with magical abilities and creatures with this term, the Dungeon & Dragons kind of fantasy. Even before the first video games were invented these new story telling party rules (called role playing games or RPGs for short) established both a new kind of game as well as a new motivation for playing: story telling. Adaptations of these pen and paper RPGs to the video game medium constitute the most popular kind of fantasy games but they’ve been known to have entries to almost every genre.

Zelda 1 (1986)

Zelda 1 (1986)

Around the time fantasy RPGs became popular on Nintendo’s console Famicom (or NES as it is called outside Japan) Nintendo developed their own take on the medieval sword wielding hero called The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Fantasy. The story was a straight port of the Mario myth into the new setting, a male placeholder fighting a villain to free a damsel in distress. The Zelda from the title was another princess to be only seen after the hero conquers a number of levels (or dungeons as they are called in fantasy games). Yet the Mario games always had their hero’s name in their title whereas in The Legend of Zelda it’s the kidnapped woman who represents the series in name, even in those sequels in which she isn’t even part of the game’s narrative.

Zelda 2 (1987)

Zelda 2 (1987)

The only Zelda game that has the hero Link’s name in it was the first sequel, The Adventure of Link, which is also the black sheep in the series, an excellent game in its own right but not sharing most of the typical Zelda play mechanics to which the series returned for all further sequels. In this second Zelda game the player gets to see the princess from the very beginning but like Sleeping Beauty she fell into an eternal slumber remaining passive until Link seals away the evil left behind by his archenemy Ganon. In the previous game Link defeated Ganon but Ganon’s followers threaten to revive their lord by means of a blood sacrifice of his slayer Link. Link has to fight a phantom version of himself to make the seal complete, a metaphor hinting at the threat of Ganon’s revival referring to the possibility of Link becoming the next villain.

It must be noted that even at his oldest each Link of each Zelda game is a youth at most, Zelda always around the same age as the hero and Ganondorf, Ganon’s human form, always a grown up. His monstrous form Ganon, a horned boar, which in some installments is the only one to make a showing is always considerably larger than Link, keeping with the small versus big, child versus grown up antagonism.

Zelda 3 (1991)

Zelda 3 (1991)

The next The Legend of Zelda didn’t arrive until Nintendo moved on to their second generation of game hardware, the Super Famicom. It was called the Triforce of the Gods1 For the localized version Nintendo of America came up with a pun to sneak Link’s name into the title, calling it A Link to the Past (A Link to the Past outside Japan) and remakes the original Zelda vision on a grander scale, also introducing more complex interaction with both non-player characters (NPCs) in towns as you commonly find them in RPGs and the inanimate surroundings which stressed its action play mechanics. The player controlled hero gets to meet an awake and talking Zelda right at the beginning of the game, before her eventual final kidnapping, but she keeps on informing him telepathically about the state of the game world and his play objectives. She still is a woman who needs to be rescued but she already provides the hero with the wisdom he needs to take the actions necessary to beat the game. For the first time she is a partner instead of just a prize to look forward to.

Zelda 4 (1993)

Zelda 4 (1993)

The Legend for Zelda on Gameboy, Nintendo’s low tech but cheap and children friendly handheld, marked the first entry into the series to paradoxically not actually have Zelda in the game but there were more to follow. It’s more experimental both in gameplay and narrative than the usual Zelda games but still remains true to the core mechanics introduced in Zelda 1 and 3. In the Dream Island2 Yume wo miru shima can both mean The Dreaming Island or The Dreamt About Island, NoA avoided this ambiguity by coining the rather clever title Link’s Awakening. (Link’s Awakening outside Japan) the usual hero-villain roles are put upside down, since the island Link is trapped on is just a dream, to escape he must end the dream and effectively destroy the island. The demons on the other hand, who usually seek to destroy (or at least conquer) the world, try to stop Link from doing what would usually be their job.3 AYASHIGE Shōtarō discusses this role reversal aspect of the game’s story in detail on his site GAMIAN (Japanese). Like Zelda, Ganon is absent from the game world and Link is the only original Zelda character to make a showing.

But even Link isn’t really called Link, unless the player chooses this name. As opposed to the Mario games, where even in their RPG variety his name is always fixed, in Zelda the player could freely choose the hero’s name from the very first game. And whereas the usual Zelda cast is missing from the “story as coma” island, many of the characters of the Mario universe including Mario himself are parodied in some of Zelda 4‘s NPCs. Instead of a kidnapped princess Zelda the female lead Marin, who is the the daughter of the Mario look-a-like Tarin, helps Link both with her knowledge of the island and her singing voice which awakens a walrus obstructing Link’s path. This forecloses the song Link plays at the end of the game to wake the wind fish and in effect himself from the dream he’s trapped in.

Music has played a crucial role in all Zelda games from the very beginning, Link uses instruments (most of the time a kind of flute) to magically warp from one place to another or cast other kinds of spell-like effects. But in this game it also becomes pivotal in the game’s plot which surely takes its inspiration from Nintendo’s modern day SF-RPG Mother (1989) for the earlier Famicom, in which music even becomes a weapon to defeat the final boss. Another notable innovation in Zelda 4 is helping out the NPCs by trading items with them, to advance in the story and to get a powerful bonus weapon if you complete this partially optional side quest. The Zelda games try to provide a kind of moral guidance and 4 even gives the player the choice to make Link steal from the shop owner, only to harshly penalize him if they return to the shop later.

Zelda 5 (1998)

Zelda 5 (1998)

The next Zelda game for the N64 is another title reinventing the original game, this time in 3D. For Mario, which first made the switch to this new way of creating game environments, the change was very drastic and the difference in gameplay quite radical. But with Zelda the new technology enabled Nintendo’s game designers headed by MIYAMOTO Shigeru to finally make the Zelda game they always envisioned. AONUMA Eiji joins the Zelda team around this time and will become the developer representing 3D-generation Zelda together with MIYAMOTO. Apart from the more realistic environments and the new ways to interact with them, The Ocarina of Time also allows the player to play the notes on the flute themselves. Instead of just triggering preprogrammed melodies they have to learn them note by note and input them in sequence to create magical effects.4 Footnote preview: Music games have become one of the major genres in video game culture, utilizing all kinds of new interaction interfaces like instrument shaped controllers, dance mats and karaoke style microphones. This trend started in Japanese arcades with Konami’s music games like Guitar Freaks (1999) or Dance Dance Revolution (1998), before it was taken up by Western developers like Activision who late...

The more detailed graphics also raise the issue of Link’s age and appearance: in earlier pixel art representation he could be rather young or close to adulthood, it wasn’t very clear from the presentation and thus not much of a consideration to the player. But in 3D the age is quite evident and the developers had a very interesting idea to make him both a child and an almost adult youth. In Zelda 3 Link could travel in between a light and dark version of Hyrule by means of portals and a mirror. In Zelda 5 he can travel between past and future, the past being his carefree childhood and the future his early adulthood under Ganondorf’s reign.

Zelda also sets a new record of time spent in freedom, escaping Ganon until the very end and actively helping Link, disguised as a kind of male ninja knight called Sheik. Even the player doesn’t learn this before Ganondorf does and promptly captures her. To acquire complete domination of the fantasy world Hyrule, Ganondorf needs all three Triforces, each representing a virtue of the three main protagonists. Link has the Triforce of courage, Zelda the one of wisdom and Ganondorf himself the one of power. He kidnaps Zelda as a bait for Link to get all three. When Link finally confronts him and defeats his human form, he and Zelda have to flee from the castle which Ganondorf occupied. Zelda is much more active in this game, staying independent even during Ganondorf’s reign in Link’s adult world, helping Link with much more than her wisdom, but in the end she doesn’t participate in the last battle, even when Ganondorf comes back as the hellish beast Ganon.

Zelda 6 (2000)

Zelda 6 (2000)

The N64 sequel Majora’s Mask again takes Link to a world outside Hyrule, without Zelda and Ganondorf. He becomes a mask merchant, transforming into different characters and even making spiritual clones of his different guises to occupy spots that serve as step switches to open passages. In previous games Link could only activate those switches himself or put inanimate objects on them as weights to keep the switches triggered. Now the line separating inanimate and animate objects becomes blurred, although in actuality all things appearing in video games, including the characters, are really just objects given life by computer generated animation. Zelda 6 reflects this fact in aspects of the play mechanics like this one.

With Zelda missing, Link’s fairy cursor and tool tip provider introduced in Zelda 5 becomes the female lead so to speak, providing him with the wisdom and knowledge to perform the actions necessary to advance in the game. In Zelda 5 she was called Navi, like a navigator, in 6 her successor is called Tatl, who is more cheeky and less reliable than Navi. One could even go as far to call her a bit ill-spirited but she also has more character for that reason.

Ico (2001)

Ico (2001)

The next Zelda game isn’t really a Nintendo game. On Playstation 2 UEDA Fumito created his own interpretation of the Zelda myth, which really is the European medieval setting as Japanese fantasy that constitutes so many fantasy game narratives. His Zelda is called Yorda, a clever allusion to Zelda’s name. When written in Japanese syllable writing both names are made up of three characters; Zelda reads ゼルダ (ze ru da) and Yorda reads ヨルダ(yo ru da). Except for the first character the names are identical. The one character differing starts with a Z in the original name. The last letter of the alphabet and a rather rarely used one at that. UEDA’s Yorda has the initial Y which is the second to last letter and even rarer than Z. Yorda takes the Zelda myth back to its base, to the European medieval influences which is the origin of all fantasy literature.

The hero is called Ico, marking him as an iconic character rather than a real person. Like Link he is everybody, an avatar for the player in the truest sense of the word. Ico is born with horns and banished from his village at a young age. The village’s clerics lead him to the witch’s castle where he’ll be locked up. They open their way with a huge sword, a phallic key to a large room full of stone coffins and imprison Ico in one of them. Like in Zelda 5, where pulling the master sword makes Link an adult man, the phallic sword is a symbol of male adulthood, used to inseminate the castle’s womb with Ico.

When he pushes against his tomb, making it fall out of the wall where it is shelved with many more coffins, he is reborn as the child trapped in the witch’s castle. To get out of the castle he has to rescue Yorda from a cage in which she is kept like a bird. They can only progress through the castle together; Yorda needs to be protected from the shadows, who like Ico were imprisoned in the castle’s womb but mean Yorda ill, unable to escape from the witch’s castle themselves. Ico needs Yorda to pass the inanimate stone statue authorities, who will only make way if a female authority is holding the boy hero’s hand. She is his phallus5 Her authority as princess being her phallus or symbol of power. in the grown up world and he her phallus knight in the hero fantasy.6 I had read Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari shortly before I played Ico in 2003, also reading up on Freud in the process, making the phallic imagery all the more obvious even during my playthrough.

But Ico also has to leave Yorda alone many times to go to places she can’t, calling her to follow him or running back to her when she’s in danger. Yorda is as passive as princesses get, yet she is along for the ride for almost the whole playtime. The player gets his prize early, but since Yorda can’t do anything herself she is reduced to being a burden. Fighting is not a big part of the game but Yorda’s presence will always lure the shadows to her and Ico frequently has to drive them away with a stick before the shadows drag her inside the black hole appearing in the castle’s floors, taking her with them back to where they came from. The shadows’ birth remains incomplete and they don’t want Yorda to escape either.

The annoying and repetitive fights interrupt the exploring and puzzle solving which are also an important part of Zelda play mechanics but Ico puts the focus almost completely on these. In Zelda battle and exploration are pretty evenly balanced, whereas in Ico there’s only one boss battle. When the witch prevents his and Yorda’s escape and takes Yorda away from him he has to find a new phallus. With the huge sword the men from his village used to open the tomb he can make the obstacle statues move himself and can take on the witch to claim Yorda and his right to leave the castle. He loses both of his horns, the first one when he fails to escape with Yorda and falls down a bridge, the second during the battle with the witch. Ico‘s developers traveled Europe and visited authentic local castles to research their setting and maybe they found out about losing one’s horns being a metaphor for coming of age, based on the German idiom, which goes back to the middle ages.

Zelda 7 (2002)

Zelda 7 (2002)

As The Legend of Zelda influenced UEDA his game also made an impression on the following Zelda sequels. The development of involving Zelda more in both narrative and action is continued in Baton of the Wind (Wind Waker outside Japan) on Gamecube, which starts Zelda’s celshading subseries. Instead of the hyperrealistic aesthetics of Ico, which tries to hide its nature as a game as best as possible, striving for maturity in style, Zelda 7 aims to look like an interactive cartoon. The boy becoming the hero of the newest legend of Zelda is first shown as a normal kid, wearing normal clothes and doing normal, non-heroic things. As an initiation into adulthood he, like all boys his age, is given the green tunic the legendary hero is said to have worn, before Hyrule was swallowed by the sea, leaving only a few islands.

He will soon have to live up to this legacy as his little sister is kidnapped by a large bird who was looking for Tetra, who is princess Zelda turned pirate. Since it’s partially Tetra’s fault she helps Link to rescue his sister, making her a valuable ally from the beginning. In her pirate role she’s emancipated completely from the etiquette of a princess and with her ship she also first enables Link to leave his island and travel the world. She still gets kidnapped eventually, she does regain her memory of being a princess, but she also joins Link in the final fight versus Ganondorf. To defeat Ganondorf, traditionally a combination of master sword and light arrows has to be utilized, usually both by the hero. In Zelda 7 Tetra equips the bow to hit Ganondorf when Link creates the necessary opening by distracting him with sword attacks.

Defeating Ganondorf doesn’t restore Hyrule though. The king of Hyrule, turned boat with a lion head, has accompanied Link on his journey from island to island, guiding him like the fairies in previous 3D-Zeldas. He explains to his princess and her boy protector that it wasn’t just Ganondorf’s fault that Hyrule was lost. It cannot and should not be restored, instead they should find their own Hyrule somewhere in the world. The game thus ends with Tetra and Link starting on a new journey to find their future.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

The next Zelda on Gamecube and Wii, Twilight Princess returned to the more realistic designs of the N64-installments and was inevitably compared to Ico‘s sequel Wander and the Colossi (Shadow of the Colossus outside Japan). Wander tries to revive the corpse of an adult woman fighting huge stone statues, reinterpreting the setting of Ico, where the male hero was accompanied by an alive, but psychologically empty7 Footnote preview: This emptyness is reflected in a comment by the witch who says Yorda is a mere empty vessel now. It also expresses itself in her passiveness and in the fact that she isn’t characterized in dialogue. Ico and Yorda each have their own language and can’t understand what the other says. There are subtitles for the made up foreign language voice overs but only the lines spoken by Ico (and ... woman who allowed him to peacefully pass the authority statues. In the sequel Wander’s anger of a woman’s death makes him take on much fiercer versions of these authorities and he defeats all of them, reviving the woman and becoming a baby again himself, taken care of by the woman. Wander’s actions are reactionary, reverting him to a new born. The woman either dead, or alive and a mother figure.

Zelda 8 (2006)

Zelda 8 (2006)

Link riding his steed Epona in Twilight Princess reminded a lot of people of Wander riding on his horse Agro, as did some of the architecture, but in actuality UEDA was inspired by Nintendo in the first place, Epona making her first appearance in Zelda 5 for N64. The Twilight Princess is also an original character, serving as a second female lead even eclipsing Zelda, very active and powerful, she is the newest walking in-game tutorial accompanying Link, following the fairies Navi and Tatl and the lion head king boat of previous 3D-Zeldas. And she is even deeper as a character than her predecessors. Gameplaywise she doesn’t act as a supporting partner as Tetra did in Zelda 7 but this concept of cooperative single player is further developed in the celshading sequels of Zelda 7 on Nintendo DS.

Zelda 9 (2007)

Zelda 9 (2007)

The Phantom Hourglass continues where Wind Waker left off, Tetra and Link are on their journey to find their new home. The game isn’t about them finding it though, Tetra gets turned to stone right at the beginning taking her completely out of the action for most of the game. Instead Link again has to save the princess. But this time with completely new controls. The pen is mightier than the sword, as they say and in Phantom Hourglass the touchpen is your sword. In story heavy games the player spends a lot of time reading but writing was hard to incorporate into gameplay before the DS. You still only scribble a few notes on the map, mark spots and draw symbols, but this Zelda takes the first step into new gameplay fields that more actively involve the player in the game world, having them interact in new ways and broadening the definition of what games can be.

Zelda 10 (2009)

Zelda 10 (2009)

The stone statues as authorities are reinterpreted in Phantom Hourglass as phantom guardians who Link has to sneak around in stealth gameplay, another Zelda play mechanic developed since Zelda 3.8 Footnote preview: The knight enemies in Zelda 3 didn’t just move around randomly (like most previous enemies) or outright hunt Link but walked along certain paths. If Link entered their field of vision they would start hunting and attacking him. The general idea must have been inspired by Konami’s Metal Gear (1987) for MSX which put more emphasis on avoiding enemies instead of just fighting every one o... He cannot defeat the phantoms until the very end when he acquires a sword strong enough, if they spot him it will usually end in him getting caught and having to start the floor over. In the sequel and third toon Zelda, Whistle of the Earth (Spirit Tracks outside Japan), Zelda is turned non-corporal spirit and can take over the body9 This is reminiscent of Glory of Heracles IV (1994) which also had protagonists robbed of their bodies who only could physically participate in the game world by taking over other people’s bodies. of a weakened phantom to become a mighty ally for Link. The player then controls both their avatar Link and his partner Zelda turned phantom knight, who they can direct along paths they draw, making her interact with the objects and enemies on her way. This makes for some of the most intuitive and deep multiple player character gameplay available today.10 Drawing paths for objects like Link’s boomerang which they followed was utilized in Phantom Hourglass already but Winning Eleven Play Maker 2008 by Konami on Wii first applied this method on multiple player characters, in this case a soccer team. Spirit Tracks was released after this soccer game but the general idea was already introduced in its prequel.

The Hyrule Tetra and Link must have discovered after Phantom Hourglass is the most modern yet, with magical steam trains substituting the boats from the two predecessors. Traveling the sea was much cause for criticism in Wind Waker, since it took too much time and there wasn’t enough to do to keep the player occupied. In Phantom Hourglass traveling is sped up by the touch controlled path drawing, and the game gives the player more things to interact with and take care off until they reach their destination. In Spirit Tracks the paths the player can draw for the train can of course only follow the tracks that are already there but since the enemy trains also run on the same tracks the player constantly has to plan ahead when to change their course. This is made easier by the fact that the player can change track switches at any time and go other ways than what they drew, the drawn path being simply a preselection of switches that can still spontaneously be altered.

One cannot deny the almost religious character of the Zelda series’ mythology. The spirit tracks provided by divine creation, they’re predetermined paths chosen by very high authorities, putting the player on rails and allowing them only little choice of their own. But this choice still makes all the difference in performance, how much Link travels, where he travels, what he does on his way, it’s completely up to the player. They can rush through the narrative or look for side quests, take the short cuts or go for lazy strolls, follow the rules or only obey them as not to anger their passengers, when they transport one.

Having a fantasy setting with modern elements like these must have seemed ridiculous to many purists but Spirit Tracks tries to give kids an alternative fantasy to the sword wielding ones. It’s a bit of a running gag in the game that instead of a kenshi (swordsman) Link becomes a kikanshi (locomotive driver). Although the words sound similar in Japanese, one must seem decidedly cooler than the other to most players. By turning trains into a divine institution it’s as if the shin in the Japanese bullet train shinkansen, which actually just means new (train line), is associated with the word god11 For another example of this homophone based wordplay see my article on Megami Tensei., which is also pronounced shin. Suddenly modern technology is elevated to the same mythical level as the idea of the swordsman, which almost only exists in fantasy anymore. This fantasy isn’t losing sight of reality though; at the end Zelda asks Link what he wants to become after their adventure is over and the player is free to choose either kenshi or kikanshi.

Spirit Tracks is also the story of Princess Zelda losing her body to a demonic chancellor who utilizes her divine powers to summon a fiend that would consume all of Hyrule. When she gets her body back at the end she again equips herself with the bow and light arrows and joins Link in his battle with the last boss, as she did in the first toon Zelda. But this time the player can freely position her and make her shoot at the unprotected backside of the fiend Link has to distract with his sword blows. Wind Waker used scripted action choreographies triggered by good timed sword blows, which was very visually appealing but less interactive than previous Zelda battles. Spirit Tracks manages to make this already great battle even more interesting by allowing the player to control both Zelda and Link at the same time and making the battle fully interactive.

  1. For the localized version Nintendo of America came up with a pun to sneak Link’s name into the title, calling it A Link to the Past []
  2. Yume wo miru shima can both mean The Dreaming Island or The Dreamt About Island, NoA avoided this ambiguity by coining the rather clever title Link’s Awakening. []
  3. AYASHIGE Shōtarō discusses this role reversal aspect of the game’s story in detail on his site GAMIAN (Japanese). []
  4. Music games have become one of the major genres in video game culture, utilizing all kinds of new interaction interfaces like instrument shaped controllers, dance mats and karaoke style microphones. This trend started in Japanese arcades with Konami’s music games like Guitar Freaks (1999) or Dance Dance Revolution (1998), before it was taken up by Western developers like Activision who later created Guitar Hero (2005) or SCEE (Sony Europe) who popularized home karaoke with SingStar (2004).

    But even before these elaborate musical controllers games like Ocarina of Time tried to create a similar experience with tradtional controllers. It might have been influenced by NanaOn-sha’s dedicated music game Parappa the Rapper (1996) for Playstation. But a more obvious influence would be the Glory of Heracles series for Famicom and Super Famicom by Data East, which featured harp playing courses and concerts as part of its role-paying gameplay. As with Zelda 5‘s ocarina the harp was played by pressing certain buttons on the controller. []

  5. Her authority as princess being her phallus or symbol of power. []
  6. I had read Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari shortly before I played Ico in 2003, also reading up on Freud in the process, making the phallic imagery all the more obvious even during my playthrough. []
  7. This emptyness is reflected in a comment by the witch who says Yorda is a mere empty vessel now. It also expresses itself in her passiveness and in the fact that she isn’t characterized in dialogue.

    Ico and Yorda each have their own language and can’t understand what the other says. There are subtitles for the made up foreign language voice overs but only the lines spoken by Ico (and the witch) are decipherable to the player, Yorda’s lines use also made up foreign symbols.

    Upon beating the game the player is given the choice to start it from the beginning, with altered puzzles. This is reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda‘s second playthrough which also had a new overworld and dungeon-levels. In Ico‘s case this second playthrough had decipherable subtitles for Yorda as well so the language gap between Ico and Yorda, which the first playthrough conveyed to the player by keeping the meaning of Yorda’s words secret, is closed.

    Female author MIYABE Miyuki was inspired to write a novel adaptation of the game in which she told the story in great detail from Yorda’s perspective, including the events that lead up to the castle becoming empty and her getting encaged. In this way MIYABE creates psychological depth for the female lead character that the male developed game lacked. []

  8. The knight enemies in Zelda 3 didn’t just move around randomly (like most previous enemies) or outright hunt Link but walked along certain paths. If Link entered their field of vision they would start hunting and attacking him. The general idea must have been inspired by Konami’s Metal Gear (1987) for MSX which put more emphasis on avoiding enemies instead of just fighting every one of them.

    The stealth gameplay became more defined in Zelda 5 where failing to avoid guards in certain areas would result in Link getting thrown out of the area and be forced to start over. In these areas Link cannot advance by fighting. The same kind of gameplay is also found in Glory of Heracles III (1992) for Super Famicom, which seems to have inspired both the ocarina playing (see the above footnote about music games) and stealth elements in Zelda 5. []

  9. This is reminiscent of Glory of Heracles IV (1994) which also had protagonists robbed of their bodies who only could physically participate in the game world by taking over other people’s bodies. []
  10. Drawing paths for objects like Link’s boomerang which they followed was utilized in Phantom Hourglass already but Winning Eleven Play Maker 2008 by Konami on Wii first applied this method on multiple player characters, in this case a soccer team. Spirit Tracks was released after this soccer game but the general idea was already introduced in its prequel. []
  11. For another example of this homophone based wordplay see my article on Megami Tensei. []

Zeichentrickgott Walt Disney und sein größter Held, Micky Maus

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Micky und Oswald

Mit Micky Epic erscheint die Tage eine Spieleperle, die mit Animationsfilm und Videospiel zwei Medien vereint und beide an ihre frühen Anfänge zurückführt. Micky wird mit dem Schicksal einiger seiner Toonkollegen konfrontiert, die es anders als er nicht in die Geschichtsbücher geschafft haben und in Vergessenheit geraten sind. Motive und Figuren stammen aus den ganz frühen Werken Disneys, von Oswald the Lucky Rabbit über die ersten Schwarzweißfilme seines heute immer noch bekannten Nachfolgers Micky Maus bis hin zu dessen späteren farbigen Kurzfilmen. Thematisch oft düsterer als man das heute von Micky Maus gewohnt ist, aber gerade deswegen interessant.

Walt Disney gehört mit seinem Auftreten während der 20er Jahre nicht nur zu den Pionieren des Zeichentrickfilms, sondern des Mediums Film allgemein, prägte es in seinen frühen Jahren. Er war dabei, als die ersten Ton- und Farbfilme produziert wurden, und machte diese neuen Technologien einem großen Publikum schmackhaft. Zwar setzt er mit gezeichneten Bildern auf eine aufwendigere Methode als der die Wirklichkeit abbildende fotografierte Film, doch eignet sich diese besonders für die fantastischen Stoffe, mit denen Disney sein Publikum faszinierte. Disneys Einfluss ist bis heute weltweit spürbar, zwar werden in seinem Namen kaum noch Zeichentrickfilme produziert, dafür aber Unterhaltung in allen Medien und Genres. Am bekanntesten ist er jedoch nach wie vor für seine Trickfilmklassiker und seinen Star, Micky Maus.

Professor: Die wissenschaftliche Bezeichnung für dieses Tier ist Mickeymouse Waltdisniney! Generalinspektor: Aha. Sagt mir gar nichts. (Aus TEZUKA Osamus Metropolis, 1949.)

Natürlich hat Disney auch in den Werken der ihm folgenden Trickfilmschaffenden Spuren hinterlassen, so finden sich schon Einflüsse in den frühen Comics des japanischen Nachkriegscomic- und -trickfilmpioniers TEZUKA Osamu. Dieser bediente sich für seine längeren Storycomics der Techniken nicht nur des Zeichentrickfilms sondern des Kinos allgemein, mit dynamischen Perspektiven, die den eigentlich statischen Bildern bereits Leben einhauchten. In Metropolis, einem seiner Frühwerke, das dem Fritz-Lang-Klassiker das Motiv des menschenähnlichen Roboters entlehnte und Grundlage für seinen späteren Held Astro Boy (Tetsuwan atomu) war, taucht auch eine riesengroße Mäusegattung (siehe rechts) auf, die dort für einige Seiten Unruhe stiftet. Später machte er seinen Traum war und folgte auch im Trickfilm in die Fußstapfen seines großen Vorbilds, heute wird er zu Recht als japanischer Disney und Gott des Comics (manga no kami-sama) bezeichnet.

Mittlerweile wird der Zeichentrickfilm zunehmend vom computergenerierten Animationsfilm verdrängt, eine Entwicklung, die eng verbunden ist mit dem des Mediums Videospiel, in dem viele Techniken dieser Neuerfindung einer alten Kunst ihren Ursprung haben. Noch mehr als beim Zeichentrickfilm, der noch heute durch zahlreiche japanische Vertreter auch im Kino am Leben erhalten wird, hat Japan bei den Videospielen eine entscheidende Rolle gespielt. Und die Comictradition TEZUKAs schlägt sich auch dort nieder, Capcoms Roboterheld Megaman (in Japan Rockman) erinnert nicht von ungefähr an TEZUKAs Astro Boy.

Die Spieleschaffenden in Japan sind sich aber auch durchaus der Ursprünge ihrer Zeichentrickhelden bewusst und Capcom schuf mit Magical Quest eine der gelungeneren Umsetzungen eines Disneystoffes im Medium Spiel. Der Disney-Konzern setzte mit gutem Grund auf japanisches Know-How beim Erobern des neuen Mediums, hatte doch der große Star des Videospielwelt, Nintendos Mario, in den 90er Jahren in Punkto Erkennungswert seinem Vorgänger Micky Maus auch in dessen Heimat den Rang abgelaufen.1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario#cite_ref-75 Neue Technologien schaffen neue Helden und die alten Hasen müssen schon versuchen, mit dem Lauf der Dinge mitzuhalten, wenn sie nicht von ihnen verdrängt werden wollen, wie das bereits Oswald durch Micky widerfahren war. Also hüpfte Micky in Capcoms „Jump ‘n’ Run“-Spiel wie Mario durch horizontal scrollende Level.

Auch Nintendo musste sich dem technologischen Fortschritt beugen und von teuren Modulen auf das günstigere Massenmedium der optischen Disks wechseln, leider etwas spät und mittlerweile vom ehemaligen Verbündeten Sony ausgebotet. Dieser entwickelte sein geplantes CD-Addon für das Super Nintendo stattdessen zu einer eigenen Spielekonsole weiter, die optisch und namenstechnisch stärker an die Nintendo-Tradition anknüpfte als Nintendos eigene neue Konsole, das N64. Konservativ und progressiv zugleich, was für das N64 in der Kombination Module und wegweisende 3D-Grafik nicht klappte, gelang der Playstation mit günstigem Speichermedium. Dieses ermöglichte auch das Abspielen von vorab gespeichterten Filmsequenzen, die zwar weniger interaktiv waren, aber auch die computeranimierten Trickfilme aus dem Disneystudio Pixar vorwegnahmen, das Disneys eigener Trickfilmschmiede starke Konkurrenz machte.

So ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass Disneys nächstes Videospiel-Großprojekt bei Squaresoft entstand, die mit computeranimierten Filmen in Spieleform entscheidend zum Erfolg der Playstation beitrugen. Mit der auf CDs gespeicherten Grafikpracht von Final Fantasy VII konnte trotz besserer Technik kein Spiel auf dem N64 mithalten. Nintendos ehemaliger Topspielelieferant machte so Sony zum Thronfolger und durfte auf dessen zweiter Playstation mit Kingdom Hearts japanische RPG-Stories und abendfüllende Disneyfilmwelten vereinen. Man spielt Sora, eine originale Squarefigur, die optisch auch aus Final Fantasy stammen könnte. Begleitet wird er von Donald und Goofy und bereist die Welten aus bekannten Disney-Kinofilmen, auf der Suche nach dem verschwundenen König Micky.

Immer bessere Grafik, das schien das Erfolgsrezept der Zukunft zu sein, doch Nintendo überraschte alle mit einem unwahrscheinlichen Comeback, indem sie mit intuitiver Bewegungssteuerung auf Innovationen abseits der simplen grafischen Aufwertung der ewig selben Spiele setzten. Dementsprechend kommt der neueste Disney-Toptitel Micky Epic wieder für eine Nintendo-Konsole und im Gegensatz zu den beiden oben erwähnten Adaptionen diesmal von einem westlichen Entwickler. Diese haben ebenfalls ein Comeback erlebt, durch verstärkten Einsatz auf den kommerziell aussichtsreicheren TV-Konsolen haben sich PC-typische Genres auch dort etabliert und laufen den japanischen Topspielen mehr und mehr den Rang ab. Lediglich Nintendo scheint einen völlig anderen Geschmack zu bedienen und feiert größere Erfolge als je zuvor. Dementsprechend setzt Disney auf die beiden Gewinner dieser Generation, Hardwareentwickler Nintendo und westliche Spielestudios.

Warren Spector, der sich unter anderem mit Deus Ex auf dem PC einen Namen machen konnte, legt hier seinen ersten Konsolenexklusivtitel vor. Seine Neuinterpretation des Micky-Maus-Mythos ist eine Geschichtsstunde des Trickfilms, zitiert alte Klassiker und thematisiert den ewigen Konflikt zwischen Alt und Neu. Mickys Charakter  ist dabei bei weitem nicht so flach wie sein Toondesign, wie in vielen neueren Spielen üblich kann der Spieler als Micky moralische Entscheidungen treffen, statt simplem Gut oder Böse ist man aber etwas subtiler entweder schöpferisch mit Farbe tätig oder eben zerstörend mit ätzendem Verdünner. Beides sind für das Vorankommen notwendige Werkzeuge, doch ab und zu hat man die freie Wahl, eine Situation eher mit Farbe oder mit Verdünner zu bewältigen und so seinen eigenen Präferenze Ausdruck zu verleihen.

Schon im Vorspann tritt Micky eher als Störenfried auf, von einem Spiegel2 Micky ist wie zu sehen beim Lesen von Lewis Carolls Buch Alice Through the Looking Glass eingeschlafen. Dieses Buch diente auch einem Micky-Maus-Cartoon namens Thru the Mirror als Inspiration, der hier zitiert wird. Vor kurzem verfilmte Tim Burton diese Fortsetzung des vielfach bearbeiteten Kinderbuchklassikers. in das Labor eines Zauberers gelockt, spielt er mit dessen Kreation herum, malt sich selbst in seine Welt. Und als sich sein Abbild als schrecklicher Schatten gegen ihn richtet, versucht er es schnell wieder auszulöschen, verwüstet dabei aber nur die Welt, die der Magier für vergessene Trickfilmhelden3 Dieses Setting hat auch einiges gemein mit Captain Rainbow für Wii. geschaffen hat. Das Phantom lernt stattdessen selbst Verdünner einzusetzen und setzt die von Micky begonnene Verwüstung fort. Dementsprechend muss Micky sich und seinen Opfern erst wieder beweisen, dass er tatsächlich ein Held ist und kein bösartiges Phantom.

Das Spiel verbindet gekonnt Trickfilm- und Videospielelemente. Im Kern ist es so wie Capcoms SNES-Vertreter ein Jump ‘n’ Run, ausladende Sprachausgabe und langatmige Filmsequenzen wie im Action-RPG Kingdom Hearts sucht man hier vergebens, stattdessen darf man fast ständig selbst mit den Filmwelten auf vielfältige Arten interagieren. Die Missionsstruktur lässt dem Spieler über die zwingend zu treffenden Entscheidungen hinaus viele Freiheiten. Das Spiel deckt so fast alle modernen Standards des Spieldesigns ab und es ließen sich viele Vergleiche zu anderen Spielen anstellen, doch hat es vielleicht am meisten gemein mit Super Mario Sunshine. Auch dort musste man den Ruf des Helden retten, der wie die als Bühne dienende tropische Ferieninsel von einem Mario-Imitator beschmutzt wurde. Allerdings kann man dort nur die Graffitis des bösen Marios wegwaschen und nicht wie in Epic Micky ganze Objekte erschaffen oder zerstören. Micky Epic ist eben auch eine Göttersimulation, ein typisch westliches Genre aus dem Computersektor, also Spectors Metier.

Trotzdem, so ähnlich wie Micky Epic würde sich auch die Wasserpumpe aus Super Mario Sunshine auf der Wii steuern. Einfach mit der Fernbedienung zielen und mit dem Knopf Wasser bzw. Farbe und Verdünner verspritzen. Und so wie Sunshine die Waage zwischen frei erkundbaren 3D-Umgebungen und 2D-Retroabschnitten mit klarer Zielführung hielt, sind in Micky Epic die 3D-Areale durch Filmleinwände verbunden, die als 2D-Level gespielt werden können. Wie in Sunshine verzichtet man in diesen auf die innovativen Werkzeuge, zielbare Pinselfarbe und Verdünner sind für die 3D-Abschnitte reserviert. Der Wechsel von 2D zu 3D ist in beiden Medien, Film und Spiel, ein ganz entscheidender.

Das ganze Spiel macht unheimlich viel Spaß und zeugt von einem tiefen Verständnis der beiden Traditionen, die es verbindet. Kindgerecht aber nicht kindisch, düster aber nicht hoffnungslos, man kann es wirklich uneingeschränkt jedem empfehlen.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario#cite_ref-75 []
  2. Micky ist wie zu sehen beim Lesen von Lewis Carolls Buch Alice Through the Looking Glass eingeschlafen. Dieses Buch diente auch einem Micky-Maus-Cartoon namens Thru the Mirror als Inspiration, der hier zitiert wird. Vor kurzem verfilmte Tim Burton diese Fortsetzung des vielfach bearbeiteten Kinderbuchklassikers. []
  3. Dieses Setting hat auch einiges gemein mit Captain Rainbow für Wii. []

Megami Tensei: Novel turned game turned novel

Friday, September 24th, 2010

NISHITANI Aya, born in 1955 in Mie prefecture. Graduate student of economics at Hokkaidō University. Mostly known for his Digital Devil Story books but also for other horror/fantasy light novels.

While the Megami Tensei series never quite enjoyed the same kind of success the other two big JRPG series Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy have, it still is one of the major RPG franchises in Japan, spawning many sequels and countless spin-offs which in turn often grew into their own series, like Devil Children for Game Boy or Devil Summoner for disc based consoles. The anime-heavy Persona spin-off series even surpassed the original series’ success and also put Atlus on the Western JRPG publisher map during the Playstation era. After the first real Megami Tensei game published outside Japan, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne, was released in the US in 2004 Atlus USA started slapping the SMT moniker on every spin-off title including the recent Persona games but not many Western players are aware of the roots of the franchise which is based on a light novel series by NISHITANI Aya published starting in 1986.

DDS1: Megami Tensei (1986)

Megami Tensei was actually the subtitle of the first book in the Digital Devil Story series1 Digital Devil Story might remind some readers of the Digital Devil Saga games for PS2 which were named to allude to the series’ roots. which started as a trilogy but got an even longer running sequel. Like other light novels the DDS books feature manga-styled covers and both color and b/w illustrations, the former at the beginning and the latter spread throughout each volume, drawn by KITAZUME Hiroyuki. The story is a mix of SF, fantasy and horror and its aesthetics and subject matter strongly appeal to fans of manga and games which is typical of light novels. The original trilogy follows the adventures of genius programmer NAKAJIMA Akemi2 中島朱実. NAKAJIMA’s first name is sexually ambiguous, like many Japanese names it can be both male and female, this one being more commonly female. This fits in with NAKAJIMA often being described as effeminate and rivaling a girl’s beauty. The author’s first name Aya is equally ambiguous. and his female classmate SHIRASAGI Yumiko. NAKAJIMA writes a program that unleashes digitally summoned demons into the world, in part because, like any genius scientist who discovers something new, he can, but also because he wants to get revenge on two other classmates, the ruffian jock KONDŌ Hiroyuki and TAKAMIZAWA Kyōko, who instigated KONDŌ to beat up NAKAJIMA for allegedly harrassing her the day before. Realizing what he has done he rises to become the hero to fight the demons he himself unleashed. He gets help from the recently transferred3 Yumiko being a transfer student (転校生、tenkōsei) is linked to her being reincarnated by the characters used to write the word. If just one is left out tenkōsei becomes tensei, which means reincarnation. Yumiko, who not only becomes his lover but also turns out to be a reincarnation of Izananami-no-mikoto, an ancient goddess,4 Footnote preview: Izanami-no-mikoto is also the mother of the world. In the Japanese world creation myth a human-like goddess gives birth to the world after discovering sexual intercourse with her husband, Izanagi-no-mikoto. This myth is much more concrete and founded in real life experience than the Judaism/Christian equivalent, i.e. in the bible world creation (by an abstract being) and discovery of sexuality (by... hence the title Megami Tensei (Reincarnation of the goddess).

Yumiko finds out about the demon summon program making her a target of Loki.

The demons lead by the norse god Loki aren’t willing to retreat from the world once summoned and soon endanger Yumiko. With her divine abilities and NAKAJIMA’s demon summon program they manage to fight back Loki, getting help from another demon, Cerberos, who NAKAJIMA befriends. The demons represent NAKAJIMA’s violent and dangerous feelings, resulting in Loki killing NAKAJIMA’s classmates, as much as his potential for heroism, wielding a flame sword and riding Cerberos. In the world of the DDS novels NAKAJIMA’s ability to program computer games that make professional efforts pale in comparison, as his friend TAKAI comments, is exaggerated in the fantasy narrative enabling him to summon real demons by simulating their every detail on his computer. The esoteric and mysterious sounding assembly code becomes actual spells, IT becomes the spiritual successor of Kabbalah and witchcraft. It seems like a childish fantasy but is actually an interesting allegory for how games can be perceived by the player. It’s like the gruesome scenes seen in some games have become reality. Every game has its hero fighting the cruel villain but NISHITANI actually acknowledges the programmer’s role in also creating the adversary, the adversary actually being a part of the creator.5 Footnote preview: Hero and villain necessitating each other also is common theme in American superhero comics since the late 70-ies, when the mutant heroes of the Uncanny X-Men were becoming as feared as their evil counterparts. Should the victims be thankful of the hero saving them from the villain or the hero be thankful of the villain for making his adventures more interesting than saving cats from trees and cat...

Coming to the rescue

But the story is also one of coming of age and of sexual awakening. Like Yumiko NAKAJIMA is a reincarnation of an ancient god, Izanami’s husband Izanagi. Rescuing Yumiko from the demon attacks, like Loki’s tentacles, he often gets to hold her naked body aftwards. The aggressive sexual assaults of the demons are juxtaposed with NAKAJIMA’s own timid affection towards Yumiko. Unlike Kyōko, Yumiko is kind and doesn’t ridicule him for his effeminate looks, unlike his absent working mother she is there for him and stands by his side. A reincarnation of a kind ancient mother goddess she’s the one he chooses to protect, to be his lover.

DDS2: Mato no senshi (1986)

In the second novel Mato no senshi (The Warrior of the Demon Capitol) NAKAJIMA’s teacher EBARA, who was raped by Loki in part one, gives birth to Seth, another demon adversary, but only after killing NAKAJIMA’s mother before his and Yumiko’s eyes to get revenge for him slaying Loki. The demons infiltrate more and more of the world including the sphere of politics and the younger brother of Charles Feed of the MIT (a friend of Richard Craft who helped NAKAJIMA write the demon summon program) decides to use the demon summon program again even though NAKAJIMA chooses not to. Yumiko is summoned to a mythical plane to be trained by the real Izanami how to use her divine abilities while NAKAJIMA and his American friends keeps the demons at bay in their home town. They even go to outer space from where the demons start their big invasion.

Snake in Outer Space

When faced with the decision to either save the whole world from being overrun by demons or save Yumiko from dying he chooses to save his lover. After losing his mother, first to her career, then to his evil pregnant teacher (who in a way is the antithesis of his mother as the villains Loki and his son Seth are the antithesis to the heroic NAKAJIMA), he cannot bear to also lose the girl that is supposed to be her substitute, the reincarnation of the mother goddess.

DDS3: Tensei no shūen (1988)

In the last volume, Tensei no shūen (End of the Reincarnation), NAKAJIMA and Yumiko face off with Lucifer himself, whose advent to the human world is heralded by a spreading cult which the frightened humans succumb to. But first NAKAJIMA has to find a cure for Yumiko’s loss of her eyesight. NAKAJIMA seems destined to become the world’s Messiah but like Jesus he is seduced by Lucifer and unlike Jesus he cannot resist Lucifer’s control over his actions. Izanami has to kill NAKAJIMA as he turns on Yumiko. Of course the story doesn’t end with NAKAJIMA’s death, there’s a 6 volume sequel series, Shin Digital Devil Story (The New Digital Devil Story) which continues the battle against Lucifer.

Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei (1987)

The game adaption, which NISHITANI also wrote the scenario for, shares the same title as the first novel, Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei6 The only difference is that Story is written in Chinese characters instead of Latin or Japanese characters like in the novels but it still is meant to be read as Story. and adapts the story of NAKAJIMA. The game skips the exposition and depictions of real life Tokyo and instead starts right with NAKAJIMA and Yumiko entering the demon lair and is basically one big dungeon separated into five areas. NAKAJIMA and Yumiko have to fight off and negotiate with demons to make the needed allies to get through the dangerous mazes until their final confrontation with Lucifer. Unlike the book NAKAJIMA can become the Messiah this time. The series’ mainstays like befriending demons and the fusion system to make stronger demons are already introduced in this first installment. Unlike most other original Japanese RPGs of the time it also used a first-person perspective and an alignment system differentiating along the axis of Good-Neutral-Evil, which both were common in Western RPGs.

Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei II (1990)

The sequel Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei II was made without NISHITANI’s involvement and continues the story established in the first game ignoring the novel sequels. It actually has a much stronger narrative than the first game and introduces another element typical of the later Megami Tensei games, choice. The player still can’t choose or in any way affect his alignment, which remains fixed at Good, but depending on a few choices at crucial plot points he can get a different ending than the standard one.

Blinded Yumiko, NAKAJIMA and Cerberos

The story is set in a bleak future after World War III. The atom bomb has been dropped on Tokyo and people hide in shelters. In one such shelter a boy and his friend, both named by the player, play a video game called Devil Buster7 In the ending Devil Buster is revealed to be the demon summon program written by NAKAJIMA Akemi.. It is very similar to the first DDS: MT game but with a top down perspective switching to first person for the battles, reminiscent of the Dragon Quest style of presentation. A male hero is coupled with a magician girl, like NAKAJIMA and Yumiko in the first game. They befriend demons to beat the boss of the dungeon. Once the boy and his friend clear the dungeon something weird happens. A demon addresses them and tells them about demons coming to their own reality. He explains to them how they can use the game soft to summon demons in the real world and that they have to use them to save the world. When they stop playing they find themselves in the shelter which is seen from a first-person perspective indicating their return to the “real world”. The Dragon Quest-style game fantasy has been replaced with the more realistic game setting of Megami Tensei again.

NAKAJIMA chooses Yumiko.

The boy’s friend takes the place of the girl from the game and they travel ruined Tokyo together. Until they make their way to Tokyo Tower where they meet the girl from the game in the real world.8 The girl in the game is of course a symbol and a projection of the hero’s image of women as based on his closest female reference, his mother. Finding her in the real world outside the game is an allegory for the shift from affection towards the mother to love for same age girls. She seems to know how the player can become the Messiah but the boy’s friend doesn’t want him to listen to her. The player doesn’t have a real choice here and must ask the girl into the party at some point which causes him to have to split up with his male friend. Who then becomes an evil demon summoner trying to stop the player from restoring the world.

Lucifer battling Izanami

At a later stage the player can show mercy to a defeated boss turned frog. This decision leads to the possibility of uniting him with another boss to restore the god Ba’al who then can join the player. With Ba’al in his party the player doesn’t have to fight Lucifer who instead explains to him that devils are just gods of other religions.9 The two demons reunited as Ba’al, Bael and Beelzebub, are actually both interpretations of the same god Ba’al as an evil devil. The player can then choose polytheism over becoming the Messiah of a monotheistic god. This is actually the true ending which leads to the world being restored. If the player decides to become the Messiah he helps build the biblical 1000 year kingdom in which according to the game only the strong survive.10 This becomes the law ending in the later Shin Megami Tensei games. This can be seen as an expression of the mixed feelings of the Japanese towards the patriarchal values of post war Japan stressing importance of education and achievements in school and the work place and the suppression of some more lenient Japanese values like maternal kindness.

Shin Megami Tensei (1992), PSX Version (2001) Opening

For the next installment developer Atlus chose to reboot the series and interpret the original narrative of NISHITANI’s novel in new ways. The title was shortened to just Megami Tensei but with the prefix Shin added. Shin usually means new, as in the New Adventures of or the New Tales of, but here it is written with the character indicating true. In the opening someone is entering cryptic computer code that turns into ancient spells and when he enters the title Shin Digital Devil Story the beginning part Shin is at first converted to the usual New, then to God and finally to True. Digital Devil Story is then converted to Megami Tensei making the title read The True Reincarnation of the Goddess.

Major story motives of the original, like the demon summon program (this time written by Steven, a man in a wheel chair), the death of the hero’s mother, the friendly demon Cerberos (who is created by fusing the hero’s dog Pascal with any demon), politicians controlled by demons11 In the game the American ambassador Thorman turns out to be the Norse god Thor who drops an atom bomb on Tokyo because of the Japanese millitary allying themselves with demons. Thorman (トールマン) is obviously a play on words; if one character is displaced it becomes Truman (トルーマン), alluding the ambassador’s decision to the historical bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. and cults spreading are reinterpreted. Also a new alignment axis is introduced: Good-Neutral-Evil is changed to Light-Neutral-Dark and Law-Neutral-Chaos is added12 These are the same two types of alignment also present in D&D, the original RPG to come up with the alignment system in the first place.. This latter alignment changes with the player’s actions. There’s also two more heroes, the law hero who is accused of having killed his girl friend and the chaos hero who is beat up by ruffians. The law hero actually dies and comes back to life after 3 days to become the actual Messiah13 The alleged murder of the law hero’s girlfriend can be seen as a symbol for war crimes the generation of the law hero haven’t themselves committed. The law player seeks to distance himself from this past and becomes a Messiah type hero. while the chaos hero seeks strength so desperately that he decides to fuse with a demon to gain its power14 Being frequently bullied the chaos player seeks a way out of being pushed around, resulting in radicalization.. Both try to convince the player to join their side but it’s up to him to remain neutral or choose either one. Law is linked to the Messiah church and chaos to the Gaia church, the former representing patriarchal systems like Christianity in which the mother only serves to enforce male values, the latter maternal goddesses of the world which are similar to Japanese folklore.

Choosing when to fight, choosing who to treat as friend or foe, choosing your own actions and ideology to follow, if the game is a virtual mirror of the real world then giving the player this kind of freedom must be empowering. Shin Megami Tensei also avoids associating either religious stream with light/good or dark/evil. In fact both the law hero and the chaos hero are aligned with light.

Shin Megami Tensei Jerusalem 1 (1994)

This element of choice made a big impression on the Japanese gaming scene and NISHITANI was inspired by this game to revisit his creation, writing his own version of Shin Megami Tensei (The True Reincarnation of the Goddess). The hero-heroine team of reincarnated ancient Japanese gods is replaced by a heroine becoming the mother of god and a secondary hero protecting her (or failing to protect her from the demon rape). In the afterword of the first volume NISHITANI explains his aim with this new novel:

I belief that no work of art is ever created by just one single individual. The music of Wagner for example could only exist because of traditional German folk tales, opera, the environment of his family and the harsh historical background he lived in.

The Pillow Book15 Makura no sōshi, written by court lady SEI Shōnagon in the Heian period. also is a literary work which could only exist because of the overripe culture of the nobility, the life at court and the author’s hereditary genius.

A great artist is like a priestess medium, sucking a certain something out of his era. The part emerging as a work of art is but the tip of the iceberg and in the depths of it there is a hidden huge core, of which the artist isn’t even aware.

The bigger this hidden core is, the deeper its layers and the more profound its meanings. The game Shin Megami Tensei seems to me like a large bloom coming out of the border line of such a core.

I’ve heard that most of the development staff of Shin Megami Tensei created the game leaning towards chaos or neutral.

Among the people close to me at least there is no one who played the game taking the lawful route.

As for myself, I only beat the game the lawful way.

Many people assume that the lawful hero route is, in a nutshell, just like any other RPG, but I don’t agree.

Law is not about doing what is right but believing in an absolute ruler and accepting the fate you’re given.

The conduct of a typical benevolent hero like the one in Ultima is not what you would call lawful virtue in theological theory. That is nothing more than a relativistic law. In fact Shin Megami Tensei is the only RPG that contains a lawful standpoint in the true sense of the word.

But there’s something severly missing from the lawful world portrayed in Shin Megami Tensei.

I’m speaking about “Mary”.

Christianity, which represents the lawful ideology, could only become a world religion because of Mary worship. The protestants deny Mary worship but in catholic belief Mary, who in theology is positioned only slightly beneath Jesus, sustains Christianity.

A few years back when I visited Jerusalem I went to a graveyard church built on mount Golgotha, the most holy of places.

The statue of Mary standing there didn’t smile gently like the depictions of the holy mother usually do.

She was grieving for her crucified son, shedding tears and calling to the heavens.

As I saw her sobbing expression all the doubts I had about Christianity were suddenly cleared up.

The world portrayed in the game is truly like the year 0. It’s the world just before Mary would give birth to the son of god.

Just like the prophets of old were telling of coming change this game is now telling of something being born.

I’m giving my all to draw out the lawful element in this.

NISHITANI understands that his novel has taken a life of its own, that it has grown into something bigger than what he created. His world is now shaped by the software developers he teamed up with earlier. So maybe he seeks to claim his part in forming this techno pseudo religion. But he also stresses that Shin Megami Tensei‘s achievement isn’t just to provide an alternative to the standard good RPG hero. He points out that this law stance is unique to Shin Megami Tensei and that it might have more in common with the chaos stance than is first apparent. For NISHITANI law is still a viable choice and Shin Megami Tensei includes this option as well.

  1. Digital Devil Story might remind some readers of the Digital Devil Saga games for PS2 which were named to allude to the series’ roots. []
  2. 中島朱実. NAKAJIMA’s first name is sexually ambiguous, like many Japanese names it can be both male and female, this one being more commonly female. This fits in with NAKAJIMA often being described as effeminate and rivaling a girl’s beauty. The author’s first name Aya is equally ambiguous. []
  3. Yumiko being a transfer student (転校生、tenkōsei) is linked to her being reincarnated by the characters used to write the word. If just one is left out tenkōsei becomes tensei, which means reincarnation. []
  4. Izanami-no-mikoto is also the mother of the world. In the Japanese world creation myth a human-like goddess gives birth to the world after discovering sexual intercourse with her husband, Izanagi-no-mikoto. This myth is much more concrete and founded in real life experience than the Judaism/Christian equivalent, i.e. in the bible world creation (by an abstract being) and discovery of sexuality (by humans created in god’s image) are split up into two stories. Izanagi and Izanami are thus at the same time similar to Adam and Eve and to the Jewish/Christian creator god. []
  5. Hero and villain necessitating each other also is common theme in American superhero comics since the late 70-ies, when the mutant heroes of the Uncanny X-Men were becoming as feared as their evil counterparts. Should the victims be thankful of the hero saving them from the villain or the hero be thankful of the villain for making his adventures more interesting than saving cats from trees and catching bank robbers? In the end both are projections of the comic creator. Same is true of novels and games. []
  6. The only difference is that Story is written in Chinese characters instead of Latin or Japanese characters like in the novels but it still is meant to be read as Story. []
  7. In the ending Devil Buster is revealed to be the demon summon program written by NAKAJIMA Akemi. []
  8. The girl in the game is of course a symbol and a projection of the hero’s image of women as based on his closest female reference, his mother. Finding her in the real world outside the game is an allegory for the shift from affection towards the mother to love for same age girls. []
  9. The two demons reunited as Ba’al, Bael and Beelzebub, are actually both interpretations of the same god Ba’al as an evil devil. []
  10. This becomes the law ending in the later Shin Megami Tensei games. []
  11. In the game the American ambassador Thorman turns out to be the Norse god Thor who drops an atom bomb on Tokyo because of the Japanese millitary allying themselves with demons. Thorman (トールマン) is obviously a play on words; if one character is displaced it becomes Truman (トルーマン), alluding the ambassador’s decision to the historical bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. []
  12. These are the same two types of alignment also present in D&D, the original RPG to come up with the alignment system in the first place. []
  13. The alleged murder of the law hero’s girlfriend can be seen as a symbol for war crimes the generation of the law hero haven’t themselves committed. The law player seeks to distance himself from this past and becomes a Messiah type hero. []
  14. Being frequently bullied the chaos player seeks a way out of being pushed around, resulting in radicalization. []
  15. Makura no sōshi, written by court lady SEI Shōnagon in the Heian period. []

Moe: Einen Baum pflanzen

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Vorsicht: Dieser Artikel enthält Spoiler zu Ys, Mystic Quest, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VII, Vagrant Story und No More Heroes 2!

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Das Videospiel als Kinderbuch

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Video: Mario isst einen Pilz

Wenn Alice im Wunderland einen Pilz isst und dadurch ihre Größe ändert, ist das natürlich eine Metapher für ihren eigenen wachsenden Körper an der Schwelle zum Erwachsenwerden. Durch ihn kann sie sofort groß werden, aber auch wieder klein. Nachdem MIYAMOTO Shigeru dieses Motiv in Super Mario Bros. aufgegriffen hatte, variierte er es in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in der Zeitreise als Ziehen eines mythischen Schwerts, ein Akt durch den Artus der Legende nach zum König von England wurde.

Video: Link wird erwachsen

Video: Link wird erwachsen

Video: Link wird ein Kind

Video: Link wird ein Kind

Das Videospiel ist wie so ein Pilz oder so ein Schwert, es kann Kinder zu Erwachsenen machen und Erwachsene zu Kindern, so auch der Packungstext der Spielesammlung Mother 1+2 für den Gameboy Advance.

Ein Rollenspiel, mit dem Kinder zu Erwachsenen und Erwachsene zu Kindern werden können! (Text unten)

Video: Auf einen Drink eingeladen

Video: Auf einen Drink eingeladen

Ein Beispiel für diesen doppelten Rollentausch ist die Szene in Mother, in der der junge Ninten in einem Konzertschuppen von einer Frau auf einen Drink eingeladen wird. Sowas erleben Kinder normalerweise nicht. Als er annimmt, wird er von der Polizei wegen Alkohokonsums als Minderjähriger verhaftet, unter Arrest gestellt und gescholten. Sowas erleben Erwachsene normalerweise nicht (mehr).

Etwas weiter oben auf dem Packungstext heißt es außerdem: Erwachsene wie Kinder, und auch die große Schwester [können diese Klassiker] erneut [erleben]. Videospiele bauen nicht nur eine Brücke zwischen Jung und Alt, sondern auch zwischen den Geschlechtern. Auch Mädchen können als Link ein Schwert führen. So wie männliche Leser zu Alice im Wunderland werden können.

Song Wars: Kultur als „Waffe“

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Vorsicht: Dieser Artikel spoilert Macross, Mother/Earthbound Zero und Chrono Cross!

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