Mother 3: The first three-and-a-bit chapters

Earthbound was a pretty great, funny game about kids who save the world from aliens through courage and baseball bats. It has certainly left a lasting impression, as evidenced by the still prevalent boom in indie RPGs and Kickstarters citing it as an influence. I assumed that Mother 3 (a.k.a. Earthbound 2, never released outside of Japan) would be more of the same. I was wrong.

Maybe mild spoilers to follow.

If Earthbound was a game about hope, it’s sequel is a game about loss. Loss of old ways of life in the face of aggressive modernity and consumerism. More personally for the various characters you control, it’s about a family torn apart, simply for choosing the wrong night to walk home through a usually peaceful forest.

That the first chapter is called ‘Night of the Funeral’ should prepare you for the worst, yet by casting you as a father, whose whole family has gone missing in the woods, couples the inevitability with a mounting dread as the situation worsens. You know it’s going to end badly, but just how badly is left to play on your imagination as you plunge further into the forest in search of them.

However, games aren’t supposed to be all out depressing, and Mother 3 successfully counters all of its heavy themes with an all-round pleasantness. The world and it’s characters are so likeable, and so fully realised, and above all so creatively odd, that you want to keep going for their sake. It’s so damn charming. The save points are talking frogs! I just me one who was driving around town in a tiny sports car, but still willing to stop and let me save my game.

Also, I remember Earthbound’s battles being a bit dry. The designers probably thought this too, and decided to augment the whole thing with rhythm game aspects. It’s so fun, I wish all turn based RPGs would do the same.

Although I suspect bigger plots are afoot, the standout villain of Chapter 3, leading into Chapter 4 via a surprising, world-changing 3 year timeskip, is Fassad, a slimy overweight rich guy, determined to bring capitalism and conformity to the small town you live in, controlling peoples minds through total control of the media, and turning lifelong neighbours against one another if they won’t subscribe to his ideology of selfish enrichment at the expense of others.

Plus he’s all about torture.

Perhaps I inadvertently chose just the right game to finally get round to playing in 2017…

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I thought we were playing games?

Yes, plot driven games are a thing nowadays, and the clever melding of interactivity and narrative can lead to some amazingly immersive experiences. Just play me Rosie’s song (the original Japanese version of course) from Valkyria Chronicles and watch me suddenly get something in my eye.

But sometimes games just need to be judged as games first and foremost, and there has been an annoying trend emerging lately of truly excellent games being reviewed as such, but marked down severely at the end for ‘weak characters’ or ‘vague storytelling’.

Take the recent Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, which I adored for it’s sense of momentum and sheer twitchy point-to-point gameyness. However, a lot of reviewers chose to mark it down for having a generic cliched dystopian setting with a generic cliched dystopian evil coproration. Yes, it did, but how else are you going to build a game around a constant sense of urgency unless all of the enforcers you encounter are blind zealots who shoot first and ask questions never?

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The setting serves the gameplay, and shouldn’t that be what’s most important? Reviewers also objected to the new characterisation of Faith, who is this time younger, cockier, recklessly arrogant, when these are the very qualities which get her into the situations which fuel the game’s sense of tension in the first place.

The beguiling Hyper Light Drifter also lost a lot of review point recently for ‘vague storytelling’. Seriously, what? The atmosphere is everything in that game, coupled with the player’s own sense of exploration. Every weathered temple, or decaying god warrior laying dormant beneath a lake, or ancient half-organic machine ticking away for eternity conveys such a sense of subtle purpose and history, that having some narrator take the sense of discovery away from the player alone would have ruined the game.

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Seriously reviewers, just let certain games be games first. It’s what they’re best at. If you’d rather not, I’ve got some great suggestions below for games with rubbish plots, which deserve to be marked down severely.

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Spring Gaming Postcard: Paper Gravity Evo-Chronicles

Another batch of quickfire impressions on the game’s I’ve been playing recently!

Gravity Rush Remastered – Project Siren / Sony – PS4

Want some hyperbole? Ok. Gravity Rush is the best non-Nintendo platformer since the original Jak and Daxter. As mentioned in my previous article, this is a game where even falling or moving around is exhilarating. My only gripe is that they introduced the coolest character, badass amputee rocketeer Yunica, in the last 5th of the game. More of her in the sequel please!

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – Nintendo – Gamecube

Replayed this one as it contains some gameplay elements I wanted to research for an upcoming idea of my own, plus I wanted to see if I was right as a kid to compare it unfavourably to the original. Turns out it’s just a differently balanced game, maybe a bit overly padded with backtracking, but with more of a focus on variety and character than the original. Well worth another 30 hours worth of playthrough!

Valkyria Chronices 3 – Sony – PSP

Finally finished this beast! Pushing 80 hours by the end. Overall, they did an admirable job condensing Valkyria down to a smaller console, with the secret guerilla warfare angle being a good match for smaller, faster, riskier battles compared to the original.

Evoland II – Shiro Games – PC

Just started on this one a few days ago. It’s banking a lot on nostalgia and gameplay gimmicks, but so far it’s for the most part fast paced and varied enough to keep things moving along before you can tire of whatever genre or era the game has jumped to.

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Faith Restored: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta Impressions

I loved the original Mirror’s Edge. It had some glaring flaws, but such things were forgiveable at the time given how new an experience in gaming was being attempted. I’ve spent the past 8 years hoping for a sequel which keeps the bits that worked and jettisons what didn’t.

But DICE haven’t done that. They’ve done something far more impressive.

You see the combat in the original was almost game-ruiningly awful. They could have easily made a decent sequel by getting rid of it fighting entirely, but instead have taken a gamble at creating an entirely new combat system, and it’s astonishingly good so far, with a fantastic strafing feature reminiscent of Metroid Prime, and a focus on crowd control over damage, giving you lots of options to direct enemies into one another or make use of the environment. And no guns, thank goodness.

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Also worrying me was a move towards an open world, but it barely feels like such, as open world gaming generally implies lots of boring walking or driving to the  next location, while in Catalyst it feels more like an endless series of challenging, and fun to negotiate, levels being pulled together on the fly depending on where you are heading to.

And Mirror’s Edge still feels like nothing else. Even after 8 years there are still very few games that can bring so much enjoyment and challenge to just moving around. Hopefully it does well enough to justify EA’s gamble, and prove to their shareholders that DICE can be more than just a Battlefield factory.

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Falling with Style, or That Superhero Feeling

I’ve played a lot of games that tell you you’re a superhero, but Gravity Rush might be the first time I’ve truly felt like one.

It’s easy enough to give the main character a cape, serve up some superpowers, or set a game in a comic book styled universe, but more often than not, its more about presentation wrapped around a generic brawler/adventure/genre-may-vary, and the sense of empowerment is kept in check by the limited scope of conventional game design.

Gravity Rush works so well because you are WAY overpowered in comparison to the slow paced city life around you, and the challenges are designed to test the limits of your unique powers in full flow, not to keep them in check as you are funnelled through levels.

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Bullet points!

  • You first enter the city in a plaza next to a flashing tutorial icon, but it is entirely feasible to ignore this and launch yourself into the air and explore every peak and depth of the city before even starting the first mission.
  • I launched myself to the top of the tallest tower I could see (clumsily, due to the newness of my powers) before jumping off into the plaza, faceplanting amongst terrified citizens.
  • You are so damn powerful you can completely wreck yourself through throwing yourself around so much, but this is made all the more satisfying by the thrill of pulling off awesome superhero landings that look just right once it’s all clicked into place.
  • So much collateral damage! People and property routinely get displaced and shoved aside by the high level superheroing taking place.
  • Oh yeah, upgrade your speed attribute just by a single initial level and you can already fly so fast that Kat creates a sonic boom in her wake.
  • Your partner is a cat made out of OUTER SPACE.
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