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This is a review I started, and never finished, of Grandia III:
“ grandia iii
a game by square-enix
developed by game arts
a review by tim rogers
Game Arts is a game development house the employees of which presumably subsisted on three-hundred-yen soba noodles every day for nine years thanks to a game called Lunar: Silver Star Story. That game triumphed with a distinct, explosive element of surprise the future would later call attention to detail. I remember an interview with some of the game’s designers on the “Making of Lunar” video CD included with Working Designs’ English adaptation of the Japanese version of the game. One guy said, “We got so much fan mail, hundreds of post cards and everything, all from people saying they loved the game and the characters, or that they cried in the end.” This was motivation enough to inspire Game Arts to remake the game (slight exaggerration ahead) no less than forty-three times across six platforms, each time with marginally better animated cut-scenes, and remixed music.
What made Lunar sell so well? Surely, it wasn’t the first videogame to ever feature voices and redbook audio, and it certainly wasn’t the first game with a story that centered around a boy on a quest to do something involving dragons. Apparently — so say the fans — the game endures because of its heart: the characters have heart, and they speak their lines of dialogue as people with real, live hearts. As a person who has read a lot of literature and loved a lot of literary characters, maybe I’m jaded, and maybe that’s why I can’t see what is so endearing about a thick-headed boy on a quest to be a “Dragonmaster,” whatever that job title might entail. The story is, in objective terms, bland, sub-Disney stuff, most of the business being unspoken affection between a young boy and a girl who resembles a princess, and something about people living on the moon. There’s a sense of humor to it, to be certain, though most of the time, in both its original Japanese and its excellent (and by excellent, I mean “faithful”, and by “faithful” I mean “full of jokes ‘funny’ to the kinds of people who think the game is ‘great’”) English translation, it never rises above the “Christian rock and roll” mark on the hip-o-meter.
There was a sequel to Lunar, called Eternal Blue. It had more anime stereotyped characters, more music, a pink furry cat-thing companion (who is of course a baby dragon), and more silly conflicts. It of course took place thousands of years in the future, and many fans like it better than the original.
What the Lunar games have always done wrong (and by “always” I mean “twice,” and by “twice” I mean “forty-six times”), as far as I’m concerned, is forget to be videogames. They scarcely even attempt to be pieces of entertainment. They’re happy just to be around, just to be in your PlayStation, proud that someone is giving them the time of day. Gamers play them because, really, there’s nothing else to do. We know the guy is going to become a Dragonmaster, and of course we know he’s going to kind of get the girl, just as plainly as we know the little white cat on his shoulder is going to turn into a white dragon, because we meet a white dragon right at the beginning of the game and can’t help noticing the resemblance. Lunar‘s battle engine is turn-based fare in which every boss battle is winnable just by using the hero’s “Sword Dance” ability over and over again, while every one else heals. The producers must have noticed the vapidity, which is why they upped the variation in enemy formations in Eternal Blue, and made it so the enemies gain levels along with you, giving you even more incentive to avoid enemies on the field map. The previous incentive being that battles are never, ever, fun. In the case of a game of greater scope and emotional weight, a daring producer could say the battle system is boring and tedious because he wishes to educate children against the ways of violence. Not so, in Lunar; it’s apparent they merely couldn’t think of anything else.
Game Arts behaved like a magician, probably ever cautious that someone would step up and expose their trick — that people were playing Lunar games only because they wanted to hear anime voices because of a preexisting fetish for little girls and helium, or because they wanted to see cheesy Christian-rock-and-roll-hip animation because they were hardwired to endure the hardest of hardships in the name of viewing scant clips of animation. I pause for a second in this review to reflect on anime culture, once again. “
Then I realized, hell. There’s no reason to continue this. The only conclusion I was able to come through is that the game was jacking the player off vigorously with the “air combo” battle system — which, despite being really satisfying the first couple of times you use it, really isn’t that exciting. You’re juggling enemies in the air! Though not really! The first dozen times or so you’ll be slamming the buttons to get your attack off quickly, forgetting that the game action freezes (purposely — this is the hook of the battle system, in fact, and why it’s so brilliant) when a player character’s turn comes up, meaning that if you were lined up for an air combo, you’re going to get it, whether you use timing or not. Now, I’m not a dumb man (I think?) and I never believed in Santa Claus because I’d stumbled across physics textbooks before issues of Penthouse, so I am willing to say that if, the first dozen times or so, I was duped into believing that Grandia III‘s battle system involved reflexes and/or strategy, it was the game’s fault, which is a nice thing, because that means it was all very well-staged. Aside from that bit, I knew, when I reached the above point in the review, that I was just going to bash the game’s story (referencing specific instances of Christian rock, even) and making people angry. Still, I like some of the words I’d put to work there. So I saved it as a Gmail draft — and the next day, I kind of got hired for a job at a Major Videogame Manufacturer. Today, grasping at things to put in this year-end feature, I looked back at my Gmail drafts. Gmail is my current word-processor of choice. You can even do rich-text in there, now. You can’t indent paragraphs, though hell if unindented paragraphs with double returns aren’t the new indentation, anyway.
(edit: one year later: the entirety of fukubukuro 2006 was written using Google Docs. docs.google.com. If you have a Gmail address, you can use it! Fully endorsed!)
It is the middle of December, 2005. I spent the whole day playing Kingdom Hearts II. I had written some things about it on this website’s forum, and a bunch of kids who don’t know what a “milf” is came in by the droves to tell me that I suck because I’m biased toward something they’re also biased toward, in a different way.
I pause here to reflect on people in general.
I’m not going to finish Kingdom Hearts II. I’m simply not enjoying it. I had planned on writing a review that would pick apart every one of its little problems and horrible horrors, one that would make even die-hard fans understand, and proclaim, “Yeah, I guess this game does kind of suck!” Then I realized: there’s no pleasing those people by upsetting them. That, and they’re people I don’t want to please, anyway. I’d rather see them trampled by wild mustangs.
I have preached for a long time, usually of my own writing, that if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t bother reading it. People never seemed to understand this, probably because I was the kind of guy to play videogames like Kingdom Hearts II even though I don’t enjoy them at all. I don’t even enjoy sitting there and making fun of the game. This is important: you see, I’m not a “professional” when it comes to reviewing videogames. I just . . . do it. It’s a hobby. I have to say this again and again. Just because this website (which I didn’t make) looks, you know, better than anything you could make without paying someone doesn’t mean that we actually get paid to make it. It’s just a hobby. I could go on and on. (I usually do.)
2004′s “Fukubukuro” was loved and despised. It was big. It was written mostly during three days. This year’s Fukubukuro is written by, I guess, someone else. He’s still me, though. It’s like James Bond. I used to be Sean Connery, then Roger Moore came along. The me who is writing this year’s Fukubukuro might as well be George Lazenby. I have a job, I have new hair, I will soon move into a new apartment (later revision: yep, just got a washing machine/refrigerator/microwave yesterday, and ordering a sofa today), and after that, I’m paying a very, very gay Japanese man to hand-make me a unique leather jacket. (Unique as in, like, if it were an item in Diablo II, its name would be written in a pale kind of yellow.) How the hell did I go from being poor to being gorgeous? (There was a period we could probably describe as being “poorgeous” in between.)
We will not bother to investigate. Instead, this year’s Fukubukuro will be almost entirely about my penis. You see, I have come to work for a videogame company now; this nonetheless makes videogames not so entertaining anymore. Well, I guess you could say I was working for this same videogame company about a year ago. Anyway. Now with money and food, I see that playing videogames is kind of useless. Even with a really nice television, one of the most gloriously amazing ones ever made (Shadow of the Colossus) doesn’t impress someone who hasn’t already been hard-wired to care. That’s what life is about, you must understand — sharing. We must share with people. If you’re not sharing, you’re just jerking off. Videogames don’t seek to share; in an online deathmatch of Halo 2, the pleasure is created and terminated within an individual player. Now, in my enlightenment, I’ve finally reailzed that playing a guitar is far more rewarding to everyone than, say, memorizing a King of Fighters move list.
Anyway, at the end of this introduction, I’m going to give a shout-out to This One Guy. This One Guy is always angry, and uses the internet to talk about things he hates, hoping that people will comment on his writings and say, “Yeah, that was awesome the destructive way you expressed how you hate that guy.” This one guy happens to hate me. This One Guy: You Rock. Someone will love you someday, probably on accident. I mentioned you in my Fukubukuro article last year because a Google search done at the time of that writing revealed your hatred for my article as the number-two result for “Fukubukuro.” You then mentioned me again, as I have been informed by something like fifty emails, on some forum, saying, “Yeah, I hated this guy once, and then he totally wrote about how I hated him in his next article. What an egotistical fuck!” or something like that. Yes, I’m egotistical! And yes! Thanks for reading! Give me a call if you’re ever in Tokyo!! I’ll take you to a restaurant and invite you to spew your hatred at me for as long as you like. And then I’ll return your hatred with love! I’ll even buy you a Coke! You’ll either feel silly, or you’ll just be a sack of shit!! And here’s the real kicker! I don’t even like you! I’ll just be pretending!
I wrote all of the above a year ago. Man. Maybe there was something wrong with me, or maybe there was something wrong with the world. Pretty much everything I wrote for last year’s fukubukuro was awful.
Who knows what the hell is in this one. The least I’ll say here is that it has been designed, from the ground up, to repel anyone who won’t like it. You’ll know within two paragraphs if you’re going to be able to read it. If you manage to force yourself to read it despite burning hatred, you deserve to be shot and then posthumously awarded a medal.
I’m not going to twist anyone’s arm or anything.
At any rate, I’d like to thank bort, persona, and ashura for some of the images.
And yeah, let’s get ahead with this thing. Lots to do.
And yes, for those of you who don’t know what a “fukubukuro” is, I quote myself in 2004:
“A “fukubukuro” is a paper shopping bag sealed up with staples and set in a wire tray in front of a Tokyo department store on New Year’s Day and sold for low prices to customers oblivious of their contents while men in multicolored bathrobes stand on folding chairs screaming about great values into megaphones.
The most important thing to note is that, sometimes, a fukubukuro (the word is made up of the two Chinese characters “lucky” and “bag”) contains something like a new CD-player, an iPod, or a gold bar. I’ve heard that at Bic Camera in Ikebukuro, one of the cheaper fukubukuros you can get — I think it’s 4000 yen — has a brand new copy of Gran Turismo 4 inside. The bag probably also contains some Gokiburi Hoi-hoi cockroach traps and a single used blank CD, which is somehow blank, despite also being used. In the end, though, hey, you still get that Gran Turismo 4. “
On that note, let it begin.