Friday, September 23, 2016

Once Upon a Pixel: Video Game Round-Up, Level 2.

You know, writing about folklore, fairy tales and related subjects in relation to video games can be a bit tough.  The truth is that, back in the day, there was kind of an unspoken stigma about basing video games on or around fairy tales.  In the back of most gamers’ minds, unless the game was part of a Disney movie license, a game based around a fairy tale was a sign that the game was either aimed at very little kids, was a cheap badly made game or both.  Part of that was because the “fairy tales are for little kids” stigma was still in full swing then.  Part of it was because fairy tales and their accompanying lore are just so unabashedly public domain.  So, you didn’t see a lot of games inspired by the old stories.  You might occasionally get something like Puss in Boots: Pero’s Great Adventure (which, truth be told, was more based on the Toei Animation logo than the fairy tale) but that was about it.

Well, thank goodness for indie and mobile gaming.

With indie game designers’ desire to think outside the box and a growing interest in the idea of “global games” we’re seeing more folklore making it into games.  And with the populist nature of mobile games, we’re seeing more games that draw from popular stories (though, I would suggest they draw from some of the less popular ones too).  It’s still not particularly common, but it is something.  So, I created a title card to celebrate.  Here’s hoping I get to use it once in a blue moon.
So, let’s move on to a new round up of what I’ve been playing!

Yo-Kai Watch (Nintendo, Level-5)- Okay, so I know Yo-Kai Watch is an odd one to start with considering I just said how it’s mainly indie and mobile games that are drawing on this stuff.  Yo-Kai Watch is a major handheld console release, but it does draw on Japanese folklore.  The basic premise is that a young boy or girl (you choose the character) is hunting for bugs when they comes across a capsule machine and releases a ghost named Whisper that gives them a watch that lets them see and hunt down Yokai (Japanese supernatural creatures) that are causing problems.  It’s a fighting monsters game like Pokemon but with some different mechanics.  If you know your Japanese creatures, there are some familiar creatures like Baku and a very frightening oni that appears during something called “Terror Time” (which is based on a common warning that Japanese parents give their kids about bad behavior).  It’s not bad.  I played it a lot when I bought it on vacation, but I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit now.

Fading Fairy Tales (Crescent Moon Games)- I downloaded this one onto my phone months ago.  The idea is that some dark force has descended on a world of fairy tale characters and that you play as characters that are trying to defeat that force.  For some reason, the characters you start out as are a bear, an anteater and a platypus though.  I guess talking animals are a fairy tale standard, but other than the bear, they don’t seem much like fairy tale creatures.  There’s a certain adventure/RPG quality to it.  But a lot of time is spent using turns to move the characters during fights and the difficulty spikes considerably after the first level.  I’ve kind of lost interest in it.

Song of the Deep (Insomniac Games)- This one is an interesting one.  It’s an underwater submarine exploration game that focuses on a young girl who has to set out to find her father when he's lost at sea.  However, instead of using the typical Atlantis stuff for the underwater world the developers drew on folklore and myth from Ireland.  So, there’s a lot of stuff about merrows and Fomorians.  I haven’t seen any selkies in the game yet, but I wouldn’t count it out.  The version I played is for the PC, downloaded through Steam.  I’m not crazy about the controls because it requires using the mouse to determine direction and the keyboard to move.  However, I’ve used far worse control schemes before.  I would say it’s a good game, but I can’t say much about it beyond the first level.  Why?  Because I can’t seem to get past the first boss!  It’s this big, frustrating underwater spider thing that always seems to kick my ass!  But other than that, it’s a nice little indie game.  (Note: despite similar subject matter, this game is not to be confused with the movie Song of the Sea).

Oz: Broken Kingdom (Nexon)- My newest gaming obsession.  This is a mobile RPG that’s set in the land of Oz.  The story goes that a dark force tried to steal Oz’s magic so Ozma split it all up and put it in gems rather than keeping it isolated in the Emerald City.  Seeing this, the dark forces start splitting up and searching for as many gems as they can and they kidnap the Wizard and Dorothy Gale for good measure.  Meanwhile, in our world a great war is going on and a girl named Ophelia Shen is on the run with her cat.  While on a ship, a storm comes and sweeps her away to Oz.  Ophelia soon joins up with the Scarecrow (a magic user), Tin Man (an armored tank) and Lion (a melee fighter) to beat back Oz’s enemies and save the kingdom.  Now, clearly this game doesn’t exactly conform to the spirit of L. Frank Baum’s books.  Baum was trying to create children’s fantasy that was less violent than the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen.  So, the constant presence of combat would probably have not sat well with Baum.  However, it’s hardly the first time an Oz adaptation strayed from that spirit.  Disney’s dark adaptation of the second and third books Return to Oz immediately comes to mind (say what you will about the Wheelers, Mombi or the Nome King, I am absolutely certain Baum would have never had Dorothy Gale almost receive electroshock therapy in a mental hospital).  Still, the game is a lot of fun.  It also embraces a whole lot of Baum’s text.  The game keeps reminding me of things I forgot were in the books.  The new character of Ophelia Shen is also a nice addition.  She fills the spot of the agile “rogue” in the party and her personality has a feisty, jaded edge that would not be there by using Dorothy in the same slot.  The biggest issue some might have is what gamers call “pay to win”.  The game is free to download, but there are numerous parts where it asks you if you want to make an in-app purchase.  Sometimes, you will get to points where your characters will simply not be strong enough to go any further, however you can’t enhance your characters without paying for resources.  There are ways around it.  The game gives you a bronze coin to use in the Pool of Wonders and emeralds to spend on resources once a day but it takes time for them to materialize.  So, if you want to proceed while spending as little real money in the game as possible, it will take patience (honestly, game developers have to eat too so I get the notion but I think I would have preferred to just pay for the game itself up front).
The closest the Oz books usually get to having combat.
So, those are the folk/fairy tale games I’ve played since last time.  I'd recommend Song of the Deep and Oz: Broken Kingdom while I wouldn't necessarily urge you to try Fading Fairy Tales.  As for Yo-Kai Watch, it's been out so long and is so mainstream that I figure that if you wanted to play it you probably have already (though, to be clear, it's a pretty good game).  I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to do this column again but if the need arises you know I’ll do it.  This post has also reminded me that I’ve never done a proper post about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, just my post-surgery reflections.  Oh well, I’ll get to it eventually.

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