Sunday, September 20, 2015

You're a kid now, ect.

I am writing this new blog post, something I suspected I might never do again, because I have it on good word that I am a veritable wealth of new and Fresh opinions on Nintendo’s new game, Splatoon.

Not to be confused with Nintendo's other hot new property

What is Splatoon? Well, you’ve heard the memes, I’m sure. You’re a kid, you’re a squid, you're a kid, you're a squid, you're a kid, you're a squid, and your hips are more truthful than Shakira after overdosing on Veritaserum. I don't know what's less realistic: The fact that none of the sea creatures can swim, or the fact that creatures with allegedly no bones can break it down as hard as Callie and Marie.

Staring at this image for long enough has revealed to me Great and Terrible Truths.

Splatoon is a 3rd person shooter on the Wii U, made by Nintendo, as well as an S+ rank pun in its own right. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be the very one that the game itself overuses: Fresh. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then to the denizens of Inkopolis, Freshness is above it. And what is it about Splatoon that makes it so fresh? Well, I could copy/paste my joke from earlier about how it’s Nintendo’s first new IP since Pikmin, which they’ve already driven into the ground. But what makes it even more exceptional is how supremely not Nintendo it is. Just one year ago, Nintendo was infamous for being incapable of providing a competent platform for online play. Hell, they probably still are. Remember how terrible trying to play Brawl online was? Neither do I, because I couldn’t even get it set up. Yet there are few console games out there as reliant on online play as Splatoon. Certainly none that I’ve played. Other than a short “campaign” that takes maybe 4 or 5 hours, and a 1v1 local multiplayer mode that requires you to arrange 5 Wii remotes into a pentagram to summon a real controller, everything is online play. But the online works. At least, it works when it works. When it doesn’t work, you’re a catastrophic disappointment to your team and yourself, but that doesn’t happen too often. Unless it does. But that’s probably because you have a shoddy internet connection, and your dad is good at computers, so any attempt to fiddle with the router is about as good an idea as trying to change the thermostat at a deck-building convention. But for real, the online is pretty fluid (lol) if you don’t have connection issues.

If you’re wondering why I said “lol” after fluid, don’t worry, it’s not because I’ve finally cracked and lost my grip on the concept of humor. Er, well, I mean, it’s also because of the mechanics of Splatoon. It is a shooter where the goal is not to kill your enemies. Your goal is to cover the most ground with ink of your color, using a wide assortment of weapons to do so. Killing enemies can help you accomplish this goal, as it sends them back to their respawn point, allowing you to capture their territory, but it is not necessary. However, ink is more than just how you win the game; it’s also how you play the game. Firing your weapons takes up ink, which is restored much more quickly while swimming in your own ink. Swimming in ink also allows you to move far more quickly and stealthily than walking. And even though it gives you almost no points, you can ink vertical walls and climb up them, allowing you to take strategic positions and get the drop on unsuspecting foes. In other shooters, most of the time isn’t spent shooting. If you’re good, then it’s probably spent taking key positions and doing, I don’t know, strategy or something. But if you’re me, it’s spent wandering around waiting to shoot or be shot. In Splatoon, there is no downtime. If you want to win, you have to make sure that each of the 180 seconds in a match is well-spent. Should you stay behind and make sure your base is thoroughly covered while your team charges ahead? Should you charge at an enemy who is entrenched in their territory, or sneak off to claim the ground they’ve left unguarded? Should you actually try to be good at the game, or just use a bucket to kill people without even deigning to see them first? (FULL DISCLOSURE: That wasn’t a jab at other people who do that, that is 100% my most effective strategy) You are making these decisions all throughout the game, and each one can mean victory or defeat for your team. Unless your team is made up of 3-4 bumbling chodes about whom you will say devastatingly clever things like “Inklings? More like stinklings!” The upshot to having a terrible team is that matches are short; you never have to put up with the same bunch of losers for more than 3 minutes, unless you’re like me, and there’s always that one loser on your team whom you’ll have to put up with for 80 years, if you’re lucky.

I'm a female inkling because they have a BETTER DESIGN, alright?

One of the great things about Splatoon is that there are so many ways to be good that there’s a good chance that you can manage one of them. Hate getting up close and personal? Rain death from afar with a Splatling gun. Can’t aim? Just use an ink roller and cover everything. Like killing people before they even know what’s happening? Haha, me too, man, but we’re talking about the game right now. Go with a .50 cal- er, I mean, .52 gal or .96 gal. Just bad at video games in general? Play during the day, when you’ll be against Americans.

Another thing I found notable about Splatoon was how it almost felt like an indie title, in a way that’s mostly good. There isn’t a lot of stuff, (The game shipped with just 5 stages, though there are now somewhere around 10, with more being added) but the stuff that is there is fun. The game has a quirky style that I’m going to compare to Skullgirls because you can’t stop me from doing that. I’m also going to compare it to Dangan Ronpa, and not just because neither game has very realistic-looking blood. Both games have a concept that’s very original and fresh, (it seriously took me like a week to start using that word unironically) yet seems so obvious when you hear it. For those of you who don’t know, Dangan Ronpa is a game where between 15 and 16 (inclusive… or is it?) high schoolers are trapped in a school, and the only way they can get out is by committing a murder and not getting caught. If you’re caught, you die; if you’re not, everyone else dies, and you go free. It’s what a physicist might call “elegant”, or what a philosopher might call “kinda fucked up”. Splatoon is a lot like that. Kinda fucked up. I mean, the inklings don’t even have bones. How do they carry those ink tanks (cartridges?) around? And the Squid Sisters? They’re not even sisters. They’re cousins. They could have called themselves the Kid Cousins, but they didn’t. They chose to lie to us.

Speaking of lies, I lied to you about the topic of this post. From here on out, it’s all about Etrian Odyssey, which you may recognize as the origin of this screenshot of a girl saying “lady boner” which has featured in an astounding 100% of the blog posts I have written this year.

I see trees of green. Lady boners, too. I see them bloom. For me and for you. And I think to myself...
Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on your proclivities) Etrian Odyssey takes the term “lady boner” more figuratively than some JRPGs.  But that’s not what I came here to talk about, so I am hereby banning myself from using the word “boner” for the remainder of this post. Alright.
In particular, I’ve recently been playing Etrian Odyssey II Untold, a remake of Etrian Odyssey II, but with actual story and characters this time. Unless you prefer to play in Old Testament mode, where it’s business as usual; you’re free to pick your party however you like, and the only canon is headcanon. So, essentially, it’s a choice between having a party consisting of 5 little girls, and having a party with only 1 little girl, but she has a personality and a voice and weaves the thread of life.

Chloe in one word

If I had to describe Etrian Odyssey II Untold in one sentence, it would be “Etrian Odyssey II Untold is a game in which you can get headbutted by a hedgehog.” Given two sentences, I would go on to say “You then have the option to compliment said hedgehog on his headbutting skills”. My third sentence would probably just be “The defense rests”, because I really don’t know what more you want from me.

I don’t think any game has understood me on a personal level as much as EO2U since Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker (I realize now that I should probably just abbreviate that title, but I don’t want the effort that went into typing all that out to go to waste) featured a boss fight against a Billiken who tried to take all my money. (The joke is that I go to a university whose mascot is the Billiken. But student debt is no joke, kids) One example of this is when one of the characters said that eating is kind of bullshit. And you know what? I agree. Eating is kind of bullshit. Like, I’m a busy guy. I’ve got stuff to do. Theorems to prove. Shit to write. Other, stinkier shit to write. I don’t always have time to rend the remains of formerly living beings with the sharpest part of my skeleton, driven by the strongest voluntary muscles in my body, and… you know what? Screw what I said earlier. Eating is fuckin’ hype.

Alright, dim the lights, it’s time for a Real Talk about what makes Etrian Odyssey a good RPG. To do that, we must ask the question: What defines an RPG? Role playing, you say? Haha, OK guy who plays games from countries other than Japan. We’re talking about RPGs here, not Role-Playing Games. Get it together. In my opinion, RPGs are primarily characterized by growth. You start with a character or party who is weak, and as the game progresses, you level up and become stronger. This comes with a sense of achievement, as fictional accomplishments are the only thing you are capable of achieving anymore. No RPG that I’ve played has handled this more effectively than Etrian Odyssey. This is primarily thanks to FOEs (pronounced “Eff-Oh-EE”, which stands for “This is an Atlus game, we don’t explain our acronyms”). An FOE is a powerful monster that can be seen on the map, unlike standard random encounters. An FOE is more than just a boss; when you first encounter a new species, you will almost certainly be hopelessly outmatched by it. Fighting it simply is not an option. FOEs usually will move in predictable patterns which you must use to avoid them. Oftentimes you must use the environment to avoid them or incapacitate them without fighting them. Before you’re strong enough to take them head on, dealing with an FOE is often much like a puzzle, and they’re often well-crafted ones. But they can still be a bit of a headache, which makes it all the more satisfying when you are strong enough to take them head on. With enough cunning and patience, you see the enemy that once terrorized you fall, often giving material that can be used to craft cool weapons or armor. Become stronger still, and the once-dreadful FOE is little more than a nuisance, just another monster that takes a bit longer to kill than the others. This gives you a very concrete way of measuring how much stronger you are now than you once were. The ultimate example of this is the dragons of Etrian Odyssey IV. For much of the game, they are less monsters than they are Acts of God. The idea of trying to fight them is as ridiculous as trying to duel a hurricane. If they so much as touch your airship while you’re exploring the overworld, you’ll find yourself exploring The Underworld in no time. This makes it all the more satisfying when you finally get the chance to fight them. Memories of all the dozens of times you’ve carelessly strayed into their path and been reduced to rubble come rushing back. From Hell’s heart, you stab at them, but it’ll take so much more than that to emerge victorious. It’ll take cool weapons, and an even cooler head to prevail.

Back to Splatoon for a bit: The hat shop is called "Cooler Heads" This is The Greatest Thing.

OK, turn the lights back up, because, while this is still Real Talk, I’m making this one a lightning round. Maps: They’re cool. When you’re drawing a map, that’s how you know you’re having an adventure. There’s a reason that no Zelda game to date has given me a stronger feel of exploration than Wind Waker, and that’s because you drew a map. There’s a reason that no game to date given me a stronger feel of exploration than Etrian Odyssey IV, and that’s because you drew hella maps. That game has more maps than C(). (That’s a math joke. The punchline of the joke is me, the Worst Nerd.) When you draw a map, you’re not just wandering through a labyrinth; you’re conquering it. You are turning the vast, untamed wilderness into your home. You are making Nature into your Bitch. And, in the end, isn’t that the human success story? Homo sapiens looked at nature, with all its bullshit trees or whatever, and said “No. This will not do”. And then you know what he did? He made video games. For more information on the subject, please read my forthcoming essay: “Yggdrasil is Nature: Etrian Odyssey as a Metaphor for the Military-Industrial Complex”.

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