Sunday, 2 January 2011

RPG fluff, and Castlevania stuff

Pieces of interchangeable equipment, augment-ready statistics and an EXP bar should be expected these days. I think the trend only seems insidious. It crept in so comfortably since the millennium that it took me a while to appreciate the fucked up notion that I was optimising the equipment on my Soul Calibur characters. I’m not certain this kind of investment marks an endearing quality for a game whose selling point is being able to chop up your friends. The RPG stuff cuts the game into two; the balanced, clean multiplayer, and the filthy, augmented single-player. Maybe that’s where my doubt’s coming from. But in single-player-only ventures, it’s tough to carve any meaningful criticism.

In any case, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It may just be me, but these kinds of visuals make me feel like I’m missing something. So rich. I’m left with the impression that the default pace of the game is fast. Mercilessly fast. Some games impart this feeling, typically AAA titles: you’re walking through someone else’s house, you want to check out the various furnishings in more detail, but everything looks so expensive, and you‘re being given some form of optimised tour anyway. The hours of raw labour behind what you’re seeing are quietly forgotten while you’re presented with the mere minutes of gameplay. Those minutes, though? Damn they look good.

My friend was irked at the acquisition of skill points in this title; it was the creeping RPG touch that slightly nudged at him. I pointed out that earlier Castlevania titles had used far more invasive RPG elements, and that this was a strong convention in third-person action games. The discussion didn’t move much further on that subject. It’s the kind of idea that works, and in a painfully demonstrable way. They’re these odd kinds of elements of acquisition and cumulative augmentation; do you want to find powerful equipment and gradually grow in power over the course of the game? Fuck yes, but there’s a problem on the horizon somewhere with this stuff. So far all I can muster is that it may lead to overly derivative productions, though I’ve yet to be jarred by the unexpected presence of the RPG essence. That might just be me.

The puzzles of this game waver between one of two positions: obvious and tedious, or obfuscating and tiring. With a couple of exceptions, they are old things; from a time when puzzles had just one answer. I’m not quite sure why it gives you the option to skip them, though. It might have something to do with the fact that the game is unusually long. I know what the developers would say if they were asked why they included such a mechanic: “We think giving players as many choices as possible is important.” Arguing against choice is hard.


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