Zur deutschen Seite.
(Deutsche und englische Artikel,
deutsche Oberfläche.)

Read the German page.
(German and English articles,
with German interface.)

Read the English page.
(Only English articles,
with English interface.)

Zur englischen Seite.
(Nur englische Artikel,
englische Oberfläche.)

Posts Tagged ‘Zelda’

For the Frog the Bell Tolls

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Kaeru no tame ni kane wa naruI first heard about Kaeru no tame ni kane wa naru (For the Frog the Bell Tolls) during my stay in Kyoto in 2002. A female Japanese student named Minori I met at Kyoto University brought it up as a favorite game she had played when she was younger. This Gameboy classic from 1992 was never officially localized for the West and if it weren’t for the fan translation it would be still completely unknown to non Japanese gamers. The Gameboy Zelda game Link’s Awakening on the other hand, which reuses Kaeru‘s engine, is widely appreciated over here as well.

Unfortunately my exposure to this game which forms the base for one of my favorite games ever (Link’s Awakening) remained limited to what I heard from Minori, who also recommended Yami no purple eye to me, since I told her I liked Chie SHINOHARA’s manga, and the Momojiri musume series of books by Osamu HASHIMOTO. I bought and read the latter two recommendations but Kaeru escaped me until very recently when it was re-released on the Japanese 3DS virtual console.

It is a short and easy but very entertaining take on the RPG genre, using the classic Ernest Hemingway novel For Whom the Bell Tolls as a loose base to tell its parody fairy-tale story. It may not be immediately apparent but despite the change in setting, game and novel really share a wealth of motifs and themes and reading and comparing the original novel with the game further enhances understanding and enjoyment of the game’s scenario written by Yoshio SAKAMOTO (known in the West for his work on Metroid and Wario).

Takarazuka adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway’s novel is set during the time of the Spanish civil war in the 1930ies and describes the three days Robert Jordan, an American dynamiter, spends with a band of Spanish guerillas preparing for an important attack on a bridge, which could turn the tides of war in favor of the partisans. The planned attack remains central throughout the novel but the outsider Jordan also sheds light on the country Spain and its people in his interaction with the other characters. For this the author draws upon his experiences as a journalist in Spain covering the civil war as it happened.

In the last chapter when the bombing of the bridge finally happens, one of the characters becomes impatient and says, “Is he building a bridge or blowing one?” And this is exactly the point, for a non Spanish reader the novel becomes a window into Spanish culture as seen by Hemingway. It bridges cultures and ethnicities. Language becomes a bridge as well, a theme echoed in the Nintendo game where transforming into animals will also enable the player to speak the language of that animal.

The hero of the Nintendo game, a prince out of a European fairy-tale inspired fantasy and named by the player, also travels to a foreign land, to save a kidnapped princess or so he is lead to believe. His rival, Prince Richard, which our hero just never seems to be able to beat at fencing, turns the saving of the princess into yet another contest which in his opinion obviously only he can win. This rivalry is a central theme in Kaeru and one can easily get the impression that the game has nothing in common with Hemingway’s novel at all since this rivalry seems to have no counterpart in the similarly named Hemingway novel.

I will come back to this seeming disconnect between the two works later. Let’s just turn our attention to the more obvious references to Hemingway that also abound in the game. Jordan has to destroy a bridge and the whole narrative is a build up to this crucial event. The Gameboy hero, the Prince of Sable, on the other hand has to restore a bridge to even set foot into Mille-Feuille and travel to its first town, Alamode (wordplay on French à la mode meaning fashionable). The thief Jam tells the prince how to do this: the bridge is controlled by the Geronian invaders from Ecclere Shrine at the center of Mille-Feuille, which the invaders turned into their fortress.1 The player has to return to this temple several time to explore more and more of it. A similar design mechanic was later used in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS. The prince, who unlike Jam cannot swim, succeeds in finding the switch to close the draw bridge and makes his way to Alamode.

The bridge

(more…)

  1. The player has to return to this temple several time to explore more and more of it. A similar design mechanic was later used in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS. []

Wii Virtual Console 2006-2012

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

With the lifecycle of the Wii coming to a close and Nintendo concentrating their Virtual Console releases more and more on the newer 3DS it’s a good opportunity to look at how well the classic game download service did on Wii in Japan. I used the Wii Shopping Channel and the Nintendo Channel to count games, publishers and genres, as well as play time statistics to calculate minimum download numbers.

These are only displayed for games which get a certain amount of usage by enough users, and only by users who allowed Nintendo to use their data for statistics in the Nintendo Channel. This means they only indicate a minimum number, real download numbers might be even higher. I found the games which display these play time statistics to have at least 3000 confirmed downloads, so the missing titles should have sold less than that.

Nine different vintage platforms have been supported on Wii so far with 636 titles released:

Systems

System Current # Alltime # Best supporter Games # Percentage
FC: 148 148 Nintendo 44 29,73%
SFC: 101 103 Nintendo 27 26,21%
N64: 20 20 Nintendo 19 95,00%
PC-Engine: 111 122 Hudson/Konami 55 45,08%
MD: 89 92 Sega 68 73,91%
NG: 64 64 D4 Entertainment 64 100,00%
SMS: 13 15 Sega 14 93,33%
VCA: 77 77 Bandai Namco 50 64,94%
MSX: 13 15 Konami 13 86,67%
636 656
Games removed: 20

Not surprisingly Nintendo and Sega are the top supporters of their respective old hardware platforms. The PC-Engine got a lot of love from Hudson back in the day, which also shows here (Konami now holds the rights to the Hudson catalogue, but also contributed some titles of their own). Some minor platforms with limited success are almost exclusively represented by one company, like the Master System by Sega or the N64 by Nintendo.

D4 Entertainment has the rights to all the old SNK software on VC and ends up being the sole supporter of the NeoGeo, which has an impressive number of releases but none sold all too well (i. e. below 3000). The MSX seems to be the favorite vintage platform for Konami, who contribute all remaining titles available. Two games by D4 Entertainment for MSX, ALESTE and EGGY, were removed again. All in all 20 games which were once available were removed again.

The Virtual Console Arcade, which was added last, is mainly supported by the companies who dominated this field in the pre-Famicom age. Notably missing are Konami and Nintendo, who as opposed to Capcom, Sega and Namco haven’t even released the arcade versions of their Famicom hits like Gradius or Donkey Kong. The latter three did this with games like Ghost ‘n’ Goblins, Puyo Puyo and Xevious. Similar to the NeoGeo, downloads for VCA have remained underwhelming. This means that despite having released 86 games (50 of which for VCA), almost as many games as Nintendo and more than Sega, Bandai Namco’s success on VC was quite limited.

Publishers

Publisher Games Percentage Publisher Games Percentage
Arc System Works: 16 2,52% D4 Entertainment: 65 10,22%
Artdink: 3 0,47% Tecmo: 11 1,73%
Activision: 1 0,16% Tozai: 1 0,16%
Atlus: 6 0,94% naxat soft: 9 1,42%
Interplay: 2 0,31% Natsume: 1 0,16%
Enterbrain: 4 0,63% Nihon Computer System: 5 0,79%
Capcom: 30 4,72% Nihon Falcom: 8 1,26%
Koei: 5 0,79% Nintendo: 90 14,15%
Konami: 43 6,76% Netfarm: 2 0,31%
Sunsoft: 10 1,57% Paon: 3 0,47%
G-Mode: 2 0,31% Hudson: 69 10,85%
Square-Enix: 21 3,30% Hamster: 18 2,83%
Spike: 3 0,47% Hal Laboratories: 1 0,16%
Sega: 86 13,52% Bandai Namco: 86 13,52%
Taito: 26 4,09% Pony Canyon: 2 0,31%
Takara Tomy: 2 0,31% Marvelous: 1 0,16%
Chunsoft: 3 0,47% UPI Soft: 1 0,16%
All: 636

Maybe the number of titles adds up in sales for Namco, as they probably do for D4.

(more…)

The Relevance of Choice in Computer Game Narratives

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Interactivity, as the word activity implies, is what distinguishes games from passively received media. Non-linearity, which means giving players different choices in paths to follow, is what promises more freedom in comparison to linear narratives. Many approaches to other narrative media can be applied to games as well but both of these features of games have to be carefully considered when dealing with game stories. In regard to choice there are several aspects as to how it affects the nature of the story.

What kind of choices are present in computer games?

There’s action choices and dialog choices. Action choices might take the form of what part of the game world to interact with and what events to trigger by doing so. Or as part of an event there could be a multiple choice menu giving a set of action descriptions from which the player can choose one. This kind of action choice is almost identical to dialog choices, which can also be viewed as a special type of action, namely speaking. By means of microphone-based voice detection or certain words and phrases being mapped to button presses like other actions are, dialog choices have the potential to take the same form of free interaction (without menus) as more standardized actions but this potential is only beginning to be realized in adventure games like Hey you, Pikachu! (1998, 2000) or raising simulations like Wonder Project J (1994).

Are choices in computer games really free? Can the choice be escaped?

Of course the player can only make meaningful choices in regards to the narrative when the writer of this narrative has foreseen that the player might want to make this choice or planned to allow the player to make it. Thus the freedom is necessarily limited by what is feasible in including in the narrative without making production time and man power explode. It is further limited by what the game creator wants to allow to the player.

Also, if the player doesn’t want to choose they could just press the button to confirm whatever choice is preselected. Devil Survivor (2008) by Atlus is a rare case of a game that avoids this by not preselecting any option at all. The player has to press a direction button first before an option becomes selected and thus confirmable and the player can enter the ordered list from top or bottom, so the order doesn’t favor either one option by making it more quickly selectable than all others.

Initiating the predetermined1 Section added 22.01.2011

As mentioned above, apart from forced choices that take the form of menus where a selection has to be made to go back to the uninterrupted gameplay there’s also choices in free interaction screens, what parts of the game world to interact with and when. This can be treasures to be procured or information gained by talking to NPCs or observing certain parts of the world. In terms of dialog a considerable amount of in-game text is acquired this way, the player has to seek out the people who can tell them what they need to know about the setting of the narrative. Some of these interactions are necessary to progress in the game but many of them are optional and only enhance the gameplay experience. The player is in this way free to dictate pace and level of detail of the narrative to some degree.

In-game dialog is largely predetermined and little of it dynamically changing with players’ choices. The options the player has are often reduced to who and when to talk to, but even here there is room to create better player involvement. In early games talking to a NPC would always result in the same text said over and over again. If the narrative progressed beyond a certain point dialog for this NPC might also change but at any one point in the game conversation would be severely limited. This is not a problem per se, in the same way as a reader of a novel is allowed to browse back to a previous page and reread dialog or a movie viewer to rewind and rewatch a scene, this makes sure the player can ask for crucial information again they might have missed the first time.

But by splitting long dialog parts into several smaller bits where the player has to repeatedly talk to a NPC to get all the information, sympathy and interest towards a certain NPC can be expressed, creating another layer of choice. In recent games most NPCs have several things to say and the player will get new dialog at least for three or so tries, the actual amount varying by game and character. To get all out of a NPC the player actively has to initiate conversation again and again, and although they can’t control what to say themselves2 Most of the time the protagonist is mute (see Playing the role: Defined characters versus blank slate avatars) in this kind of conversation, regardless of his status in other situations. the choice how often to initiate conversation is meaningful.

Prince of Persia (2009) is an example where this choice of when and how much to talk is utilized very effectively. There’s only one character to talk to but since she is always by the protagonist’s side dialog can be initiated almost anytime, by pressing a dedicated button and without interrupting the action game play. While dialog text is displayed and voice overs are heard the player can go on interacting with and advancing in the game world. Dialog depends on the surroundings, is informative in regards of the game world but also characterizes the two characters having the conversation. Both length of dialog bits and their amount is high, giving interested players lots to listen to but without forcing them to do so. It’s an unintrusive way of mixing text and action.

The opposite example would be when a NPC conversation is unexpectedly long, interrupting the game flow until it’s over. Sometimes this kind of NPC (like Maechen in Final Fantasy X) might warn the player that their tale is a long one and ask them if they really want to hear it. It might be so long that the NPC will ask the player midway through if they should go on with their tale. The choice is the same as in the above cases, is the player patient and interested enough to listen to everything. But the way the choice is accentuated is different. In the above cases the player actively has to keep the conversation going, in this case they have to actively decide to turn it down or stop it.

How is the narrative affected by these choices?

Some choices only flag minor events, changing small details in an otherwise fixed narrative. In this case the non-linearity, i. e. the branching paths, are short lived, keeping the overall plot manageable for the writer. Other choices more immediately and drastically affect story development, with longer chains of events only available depending on what choices the player makes. Structurally this distinction is purely based on quantity or length and amount of branching paths. But for the player to experience the non-linearity as freedom high amounts and longer deviations are preferable. They are also what makes the plot increasingly harder to manage in terms of consistency. Traditional narrative concepts as derived from other media and playful freedom are thus two opposing poles in governing what form the game narrative should take.

Giving the player moral choices

One of the first systematical approaches to shape and guide player choice dates back to even before computer games. Dungeons & Dragons, the first pen and paper role-playing game, used a two axis moral alignment system to define how the character the player creates should act when faced with moral choices in the narrative conceived by the group of game master (the main narrator) and role players (the narrators or actors of one individual character in the story). One axis reflected the notion of good and evil, the other of lawfully governed order or random chaos. D&D already acknowledged that the ideas of good and evil were dependent on the society in which the character lived and the second axis reflected concepts like duty/reliability opposed to whim/fancy. A lawfully evil character would maraud and abuse without fail, whereas a chaotically good character might save the damsel in distress only if he was in the mood for it.

In computer games both this alignment system and the idea of moral choice were adapted, many recent Western games like Fable stress the freedom to play an either good or evil character, however in many cases little affecting the core narrative. This is actually true of older Japanese examples like Shin Megami Tensei as well which uses an law-chaos moral alignment axis. But when moral choice is given to the player another question arises. Are these choices judged, meaning that the game encourages one choice over the other, maybe even penalizing the opposite one?

An example for a judged moral choice

In Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993) for Gameboy instead of using a menu to select what to buy in the local shop players can pick up goods and carry them to the cashier to select them for purchase. If the player tries to carry it straight to the door and leave without paying the shop owner will scold them and disallow leaving. But the shop owner randomly looks the other way creating the opportunity to leave without paying. The creator actively leaves room for the player to decide to steal and also does this by utilizing standardized actions like item pick up and walking, making it feel much more intuitive and player initiated than a menu option which more explicitly alarms the player to both possibility and importance of the choice. In fact this is a brilliant inclusion of moral choice in game play.

It is also heavily judgmental, since on return to the shop the player will be killed by the shop owner (which in terms of the game’s rules is less gruesome than it sounds because the player has unlimited lives) and branded Thief which substitutes the name they inputted at the beginning. The player will then be reminded by every non-player character (or NPC for short) addressing him by his (now changed) name of his action and also denied the perfect play-through and its ending available to players who beat the game without dying. The choice is thus an example for a small scale alteration of the narrative affecting only some details, although sticking out by being so over the top.

And although it is judgmental the fact that this option is even there in a game appealing to all age groups including children is a refreshing taste of Eden’s apple in the most effective way this kind of experience can be created in games. Stealing is also an action that’s hard to escape consensus on its moral status, no matter what society. Although the penalty considered appropriate will vary. In the case of the Zelda Gameboy title the penalty happens to be the most drastic one imaginable.

The moral dilemma

In Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (1995) for Super Famicom the player has to make choices in a war situation, fighting for the freedom of his ethnic group. When the populace of a village enslaved by the leading ethnic group is freed but unwilling to go to battle to fight for their ethnicity’s cause, the leader of the army the player’s character is a member of commands him to kill all villagers and blame the other side, as to better persuade other civilians to make the “right” choice in the future, the right one being the one favored by the leaders of their army.

Depending on if the player carries out this order or opposes it they choose one of two very long branching paths, heavily affecting two out of four chapters in the game narrative. The law path, where the player followed this order, determines both next chapters, the chaos path initiated by opposing the order allows for another branching changing the alignment to neutral. While common moral notions would seem to judge the law path as evil and the chaos one as good the dialog reflects that utilitarian and political interpretations, in other words adult considerations, justify this path. The chaotic player on the other hand, while having a clear conscious, is considered childish and unable to join the grown ups in their ability to make the “right” decisions.

Again, the choice and its consequences are extreme, but the empowering sense of freedom is also very evident for exactly this reason, affirming or shaking the moral ideas the player might have had before.

Playing the role: Defined characters versus blank slate avatars

Most choices in games are not really moral ones though and some are even considered right or wrong in a non-moral sense.3 Footnote preview: In Computer Games have Words, Too: Dialogue Conventions in Final Fantasy VII Greg M. Smith assesses game text by comparing it to previous text narrative media, where he naturally has to deal with the opposing poles of linear narrative and playful freedom mentioned above. Unfortunately he misses many peculiarities of the new narrative medium, too quickly applying concepts that don’t quite fit... In Final Fantasy VI (1994) a girl named Terra was controlled by an evil empire to carry out their orders using her magical talent. Freed from the slave crown controlling her she is helped by a group of people who are members of the Returners and oppose the evil empire. Terra is characterized as scared and feeling guilty over using her magic for evil. When she and her new found friends reach the base of the Returners they ask for her help in fighting the evil empire. The player is given the choice to either answer their request or politely turn it down.

This seems like one of the many non-choices present in games where only one will really advance the game plot and the player has to come back to it to make the “correct” choice this time. But in fact this choice can only be made once, and by the game’s evaluation turning down the request is even the better option, rewarding the player with some extra items to procure from Returner members trying to still convince her and new dialog by each of them expressing their understanding for her reluctance to join their fight. In fact, by interpreting Terra’s motives correctly the player can make a decision that better fits with her character as established by previous events.4 Footnote preview: So instead of making a moral decision (if it were a moral one then joining the Returners should always beat remaining passive) the player has to stay consistent with the story, another aspect Smith correctly identifies when dealing with FFVI‘s sequel but incorrectly applies. He writes: Often it offers two separate possible responses, only one of which is truly enticing or plausible. When giv... She does join them afterwards anyway, and the players taking the more obvious but misleading choice miss a part of the narrative that actually makes sense in the context of the story.

There’s really two approaches to role playing, either acting the role given to the player or the player being able to define their role themselves. The latter approach is hampered by the difficulty in granting the player enough freedom to really do this. The easiest way to somehow pull it off is to characterize the player character as little as possible and not involve him in the details of the story too much, leaving the actual characterization to the player’s imagination. In most cases such a player character will have no dialog at all and is referred to as a mute hero for that reason. Player freedom is pushed out of the scope of game play and into their imagination in this case, similar to linear narratives, like reader imposed characteristics on a character in a book for example.

Even if the hero is not mute, this type is very different from a strongly defined character like Terra, where the player has to act her role. Cloud in Final Fantasy VII (1997) is a mixture of defined and mute character and by giving him frequent dialog choices the player can bring some of their own personality to the narrative.

Relationships between characters

Most decisions in Final Fantasy VII lead up to a dating event and they involve distribution of information (being openly sincere or holding back information), trying to impress or alienate others, in general how to interact with fellow party members. This raises or lowers sympathy for Cloud in these fellow party members and determines who he will go out on a date with later.5 See Fergusson, FF7 ‘date’ mechanics, 1999~2009. In other games like the Star Ocean series (first game released in 1996) it might affect how well the characters interact in battle and allow for useful actions triggered by strong emotional reactions based on deep relationships.  Or simply open up or block paths to certain events, the most extreme being who to marry and have a child with, which will become the next player character, something first tried out in Phantasy Star III (1990). As opposed to the above example with Terra all options are equally valid since the rude choices fit his previous characterization but deviating from his rudeness can always be interpreted as affection for a certain character or more generally speaking growing into a more caring individual, thus allowing for player controlled character development inside the boundary of the fixed broader narrative which after the dating event cannot really be altered anymore, only parts of it missed.

This again is an example of small scale freedom by giving a high amount of very short branching paths. The earlier Shin Megami Tensei and Star Ocean games also follow this pattern of letting the player shape minor details, which add up to one big event with multiple versions, but instead of midway through the game as in FFVII‘s dating event this event is the final one, the ending. SMT uses it to show how the player’s alignment changes the world he helped rebuild, Star Ocean shows how character relationships end up depending on the player’s behavior during the game.6 See Welch, Ending/Relationships FAQ, and Feral, Star Ocean 2nd Story ending compendium, both 1999.

Bad or premature endings

One way of giving the player freedom without convoluting the narrative are dead ends. The player can frequently make decisions but one is clearly wrong, resulting in an undesirable ending. The player then has to go back to before this decision and take the “correct” path this time to go on with the canonical narrative. Not all of these premature endings are disappointing or straight out bad, in Chrono Trigger the game can be beat early at any time in the narrative, with the resulting ending focusing on the events the player was experiencing right before they beat the game, often hinting at the events that would have followed if they hadn’t prematurely ended the game.7 See Pringle, Chrono Trigger Endings, 2007~2009

Also, inside of the big narrative there are many little narratives dealing with a specific character. If that character is allowed to die by the rules of the game, their part of the narrative will also end prematurely and all of their personal story will be missed in the rest of the game. This is only the case for certain characters in most games8 Cid and Shadow in FFVI being prime examples. Shadow can be saved if the player decides to wait for their ally in face of great danger, Cid can be saved by feeding him with healthy fish when he’s lying on his sick bed. If the player fails to take these chances they will die, complete with dramatic scenes reflecting their loss. but in many strategy RPGs like the above mentioned Tactics Ogre any character but the one representing the player can die without ending the game as a whole.9 Footnote preview: The Fire Emblem series, which started this genre of strategy RPGs, is also the one most representative of this mortal game characters concept. In Fire Emblem: Genealogy of Holy-War the series also incorporated the opposite concept of lovers having children. Like in the above mentioned Phantasy Star III (1990) and after it also in Dragon Quest V (1992) characters in this FE game could fall in love ...

Dynamically shaping the narrative

Little choices adding up later are the most frequent type and there’s also fake-choices that don’t affect anything and only draw the player’s attention to their own behavior but the most powerful ones are still those that have immediate and lasting consequences, like the ones in the above mentioned Tactics Ogre. This game relies heavily on explicit menu choices that are less frequent in number and less intuitive than free input actions which the player doesn’t even notice they are choices at first, but TO manages to also include little choices into the equation by basing alignment and sympathy towards the player character also on battle performance. Basically each time a character is killed or saved from death this adds up and affects the ending,10 See the section dealing with the chaos frame in TO at the end of this article over at http://luct.tacticsogre.com/. as in some other games mentioned above. But even though these are small scale details because of the subject matter (death) and the increasing difficulty having to fight without a potentially valuable ally they have a more lasting effect than other small scale choices, because they are more strongly interwoven into game play, linking it more strongly to the narrative. Player triggered dialog by choice of party members gets a lot of variation out of the seemingly formalized game play.

A good balance of small scale and large scale choices, appropriate usage of obvious menu options and naturally played out action events and a complex statistical evaluation of alignment and relationships between characters, as well as linking game play and player strength to events in the narrative, with each one of these techniques utilized further layers of free narration are brought to the game. When skillfully applied and combined they can even enhance the narrative rather than hinder its natural development.

  1. Section added 22.01.2011 []
  2. Most of the time the protagonist is mute (see Playing the role: Defined characters versus blank slate avatars) in this kind of conversation, regardless of his status in other situations. []
  3. In Computer Games have Words, Too: Dialogue Conventions in Final Fantasy VII Greg M. Smith assesses game text by comparing it to previous text narrative media, where he naturally has to deal with the opposing poles of linear narrative and playful freedom mentioned above. Unfortunately he misses many peculiarities of the new narrative medium, too quickly applying concepts that don’t quite fit his subject. The points he raises on character moral alignment hold true when he discusses the characters other than the protagonist because they match the conventions he is used to from film, but when he discusses the multiple choice options he doesn’t seem to notice that the examples he gives aren’t actually moral choices, which are in fact mostly absent from the game he discusses. He writes:

    One significant way that this moral evaluation differs between games and film is that we occasionally have options to choose conversational responses in Final Fantasy VII. By choosing to deny vehemently a romantic attraction to Tifa (the “no way” response), we take a different kind of ownership of the character’s moral stance. If we are allied with a film character who then does an action we morally disapprove of, we can more easily detach ourselves from this allegiance. After all, the character has made the choice, not us. But when we choose for Cloud to behave gallantly or badly, we are complicit in a more complicated involvement. Final Fantasy VII does not allow totally free choice in these “interactive” dialogue situations.

    If the player has romantic feelings for Tifa they want to reflect in their choices or decide to either admit or deny something for their player character isn’t a moral decision in any way. There can’t be moral consensus on what individual to have feelings for. So it escapes the notion of morality altogether. Regarding decisions on how to make Cloud behave, again this is etiquette rather than morals and the significance of these choices lies in shaping relationships, more on which I write in section Relationships between characters. []

  4. So instead of making a moral decision (if it were a moral one then joining the Returners should always beat remaining passive) the player has to stay consistent with the story, another aspect Smith correctly identifies when dealing with FFVI‘s sequel but incorrectly applies. He writes:

    Often it offers two separate possible responses, only one of which is truly enticing or plausible. When given the choice of making sweet feminine Aeris a flower seller or the town drunk, only one choice maintains any kind of narrative consistency.

    In fact, the choice being present (though inconsequential) hints at Cloud’s memory being fuzzy, foreshadowing a majot plot detail, Cloud being amnesiac and impersonating his dead friend without even being aware of it. The player doesn’t notice it yet but whatever they choose it will end up being consistent with the narrative.

    Smith also talks about non-choices that make the player drop out of the narrative, but ironically in this case to stay consistent they have to make the decision that is easily mistaken for a non-choice or drop out. The examples of drop outs Smith gives are from a different game but also in fact viable choices. He writes:

    Frequently we are given a choice between doing something that advances the plot or doing nothing (“No thanks,” “I don’t care”), providing the appearance of choice while allowing the game to continue its story arc. To make such a “non-choice” is to drop outside the game.

    Again, Smith seems to be too quick to assume that a bias formed in encountering previous games will apply in his examples as well. Although he previously acknowledges how protagonist Cloud is characterized in the game, being a non-caring mercenary, he dismisses these choices as drop outs even though they allow the player to act the role staying true to previous characterization. This is where the notion of consistency, which he misused earlier, actually applies. The “non-drop out” choices would be the player trying to change Cloud’s previously established characteristics, a process that will be advanced by the plot even if the player doesn’t take these earlier chances to advance it. He goes on stating this about decision making in games:

    Final Fantasy VII loads the dice to induce us to make the right choice. We inhabit the characters’ behavior more fully partly because we choose that behavior, even when that choice is rigged. One of the many ideas implicit in the concept of “interactivity” is this more complex notion of moral judgment that is no longer as externalizable as it is in film.

    I very much agree with Smith stating that judgment isn’t as externalizable anymore as it is in film, but as I pointed out above not all or even most of this judgment is of the moral kind. Instead the notion of the “right” decision refers to consistency, if the player is supposed to act out a defined character, or to what the player feels to be the right choice in developing their player character, if they have the opportunity to shape the character.

    Also the choices aren’t rigged as they do affect the narrative or illuminate details of it, a fact Smith ignores completely. []

  5. See Fergusson, FF7 ‘date’ mechanics, 1999~2009. []
  6. See Welch, Ending/Relationships FAQ, and Feral, Star Ocean 2nd Story ending compendium, both 1999. []
  7. See Pringle, Chrono Trigger Endings, 2007~2009 []
  8. Cid and Shadow in FFVI being prime examples. Shadow can be saved if the player decides to wait for their ally in face of great danger, Cid can be saved by feeding him with healthy fish when he’s lying on his sick bed. If the player fails to take these chances they will die, complete with dramatic scenes reflecting their loss. []
  9. The Fire Emblem series, which started this genre of strategy RPGs, is also the one most representative of this mortal game characters concept. In Fire Emblem: Genealogy of Holy-War the series also incorporated the opposite concept of lovers having children. Like in the above mentioned Phantasy Star III (1990) and after it also in Dragon Quest V (1992) characters in this FE game could fall in love and have children, only this time it wasn’t limited to just the main character anymore. []
  10. See the section dealing with the chaos frame in TO at the end of this article over at http://luct.tacticsogre.com/. []

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. []

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.

Himmelskörper im elektronischen Bildungsroman, Teil 2: Satelliten und ihre Potentiale

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Vorsicht: Dieser Artikel enthält Spoiler zu Final Fantasy VII und The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask!

(more…)

Elektronische Literatur: Die Träume anderer spielen

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Vorsicht: Dieser Artikel spoilert das Ende von Super Mario Bros. 2, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Kaze no Klonoa: door to phantomile und Final Fantasy X! Auch einige Details aus NIER und Radical Dreamers werden gespoilert!

(more…)

Meine Arbeiten als Übersetzer (Japanisch-Deutsch, Englisch-Deutsch)

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

2006

September 2006

Death Note Band 1

Text von Tsugumi Ohba und Zeichnungen von Takeshi Obata

Veröffentlicht von TOKYOPOP

Auszug aus dem Impressum:

Aus dem Japanischen von Kay Hermann

Redaktion: Karsten Küstner

Oktober 2006

Charming Junkie Band 1

Von Ryoko Fukuyama

Veröffentlicht von Carlsen

Auszug aus dem Impressum:

Aus dem Japanischen von Kay-Michael Hermann

Redaktion: Britta Harms

Textbearbeitung: Heike Drescher

November 2006

Death Note Band 2

Text von Tsugumi Ohba und Zeichnungen von Takeshi Obata

Veröffentlicht von TOKYOPOP

Auszug aus dem Impressum:

Aus dem Japanischen von Kay Hermann

Redaktion: Karsten Küstner

2007

Januar 2007

Charming Junkie Band 2

Von Ryoko Fukuyama

Veröffentlicht von Carlsen

Auszug aus dem Impressum:

Aus dem Japanischen von Kay-Michael Hermann

Redaktion: Heike Drescher und Britta Harms

April 2007

Charming Junkie Band 3

Von Ryoko Fukuyama

Veröffentlicht von Carlsen

Auszug aus dem Impressum:

Aus dem Japanischen von Kay-Michael Hermann

Redaktion: Heike Drescher

Textbearbeitung: Andrea Rahmeyer

Juli 2007

Wild Fish

Von Reiichi Hiiro

Veröffentlicht von Carlsen

Auszug aus dem Impressum:

Aus dem Japanischen von Kay Michael Hermann

Redaktion: Britta Harms

19. Oktober 2007

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Nintendo DS

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

Credits

16. November 2007

Super Mario Galaxy

Nintendo Wii

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

Auszug aus der Anleitung:

Credits

European Localisation Management

Andy Fey

Martin Weers

Translation

Martina Deimel

Kay Hermann

Testing

NOE Testing Team

2008

6. Juni 2008

Actionloop Twist

Nintendo WiiWare

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

29. August 2008

MaBoShi: Drei-Formen-Action

Nintendo WiiWare

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

26. September 2008

10 gewinnt: Ein mathematisches Abenteuer

Nintendo DS

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

Auszug aus den Credits:

European Localisation Management

Andy Fey

Martin Weers

Translation

Kay Hermann

Testing

NOE Testing Team

Anmerkung: Die Raptexte von MC Wandale sowie sein Name wurden beigesteuert von Sandra Pommer aus dem Testing Team.

5. Dezember 2008

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Nintendo DS

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

2009

24. Juli 2009

Wii Sports Resort

Nintendo Wii

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

Auszug aus der Anleitung:

Credits

LOCALISATION MANAGEMENT

Andy Fey

Martin Weers

COORDINATION LOCALISATION PRODUCER

Palma Sánchez de Moya Rodríguez

TRANSLATION

Thomas Ito

Kay Hermann

QUALITY ASSURANCE

Coordination

Marton Varga

German

Petra Gyarmaty

Patrick Thorenz

Heike Berthold

2010

30. April 2010

WarioWare: Do It Yourself

Nintendo DS

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

30. April 2010

WarioWare: Do It Yourself – Showcase

Nintendo Wii

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

21. Mai 2010

Jam With The Band

Nintendo DS

Veröffentlicht von Nintendo

Auszüge aus Impressum, Anleitungen u. ä. sind unvollständig und Lücken zwischen den Angaben wurden nicht kenntlich gemacht.

3D Dot Game Heroes

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Gestern bei der Arbeit hat mich ein Kollege auf ein neues von für die aufmerksam gemacht, 3D Dot Game Heroes. Nach Ansehen des Trailers kann ich nur sagen: Wow!

Mit diesem Spiel erreicht die japanische -Welle einen neuen Höhepunkt. Gaiden: 4 Warriors of Light für DS besinnt sich ja ebenfalls auf Ästhetik und simples Gameplay der Famicom ()-Zeit zurück, aber dieses Spiel geht noch ein paar Schritte weiter. Spielerisch ein 8-bit -Clone, storytechnisch ein I und II Remake und grafisch eine Mischung aus pixeliger 8-bit Optik und opulenten 3D-Umgebungen. Das sieht nach dermaßen viel Spaß aus, dass ich mich frage, warum es so lange gedauert hat, bis jemand auf den HD-Konsolen so hübsch beim Original-Zelda klaut.

Erscheinen wird der Titel am 05.11. in Japan, am selben Tag wie Sakura Note, ein Spiel über die Kindheit, als noch jeder Tag Fantasy war. Der zweite 3D Dot Game Heroes-Trailer bemüht ähnliche Nostalgiegefühle, man könnte fast meinen, die Spielehersteller hätten sich abgesprochen.

Link: Offizielle Seite des Spiels (japanisch).