Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tender Gender Blender

I just finished reading this fanfic which on the whole is very good and touched on a lot of interesting things, but I think it suffers to much from only seeing gender as binary. I have touched on before how I dislike society's idea of binary gender, that time focusing on sexual attraction. I even mentioned the anime of which this fanfic is based as a key point in my developing sexual feelings, and that remains true with sexual identity as well. The problem as I see it, exactly like my discussion of sexual attraction, is the more people try to insist male and female gender roles are different the more they will be different. The more people insist that there is a inner "male" or "female" self, the more people are trapped by this idea. The more people insist they are born into roles they can't change the less they will ever be able to. People are driven I think more by memes then they realize, more by ideas about who they should be inside. They build up ideal personae and feel uncomfortable when they don't match it. And let me make this clear, in regards to this story, I think it would have ended up the same way if it was discussed this way. But there is so much grief and angst caused by this binary idea of male and female, of what the character "should" do, and no one, not one single person ever seemed to bring up the possibility of remaining both male and female, that you didn't have to choose like that. I don't think it would have changed the outcome that much, but I think it would have led to a deeper, less forced, and less fearful way of looking at the problem. I was even talking with someone not to long ago that seemed to be struggling with a transsexual identity crisis, and even I had a small struggle with one at one point. The thing is though, there are so many things, like make up and high heals, that I wouldn't put up with, even if I think it would be nice to have a female body sometimes. There are so many things, like sports crap and being macho, I refuse to put up with even when I have a male body. I roleplay as female or hermaphrodite characters a lot, and I am curious about it, but I really feel like my "true self" is something that gender just doesn't apply to. I still would like to be female some time, not because I hate being male so much as because I would simply like the freedom to choose and try it. The way technology is, that is just not practical, and so I stay male. I am not a fan of my body truth be told, nor of my gender, but I just don't see it as that important. My life doesn't revolve around it. I know it's just not that easy for some people, but I am not saying people should not live in the body they feel is right for them, I am just saying there is a lot more to it then "really being" "male" or "female". It shouldn't be something you have to force yourself into becoming another person for, and if you want to be another person that desperately, there might be something more then just your sexual identity behind it. I guess the real issue I see is that it's such a muddled and abused subject, caught up with so many preconceptions and confused messages. If people could just change their sex whenever they wanted, I don't think it would be anywhere near of an issue, and people would just be able to try it out and pick one, or not pick one. And maybe someday, but now this whole drudge of issues comes in to play, and for what? If you have a penis or vagina? If you want to put on dresses and pretty yourself up, do you need to be a girl? If you want to lay in pants and t-shirts and watch the game do you need to be a guy? Do what you want and live how you want to live, do that first and then worry about your naughty bits or how you present yourself to people.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Drag On Quest

Been a while, would like to say I had been busy, but that would be a blatant lie. Though no one is probably going to read this anyway. Regardless I press on, in the vain hope that... you know what I don't even know, I guess I just like to read my own rantings. Well whatever, today is going to be another silly game rant! Hold on to your hats kids!

Way back for my birthday I got a copy of both DragonQuest V and VI. I already played though V and am probably most of the way though VI. And let me tell you it should be Drag on Quest, because the games sure love to drag on... but that is actually true of most RPGs. Random battles and dungeons really only exist as filler to pad out the story more then anything else, and there are lots of "talk to everyone to trigger the random event flag" parts. Not that RPGs can't be fun though. Anyway, I really can't be truly fair to the whole DragonWarrior/DragonQuest series, partly because these two games are the only two in the series that held my interest for very long (and even did with their original snes versions though V was not translated yet and VI I don't think I played that much). It still seems to me that the series has not really evolved too much. V and VI have some interesting gimmicks, and I am sure the newer ones do to, but the same semi-generic fantasy setting and story style seems to have gone unchallenged. It helps I think to compare the series to both the series it inspired, Final Fantasy, and the series it was inspired by, Ultima. Final Fantasy started off generic fantasy for the most part, but even the first game included a hint of steampunk in the airship and floating fortress, though it didn't really expand on that theme till Final Fantasy 6, at which point it started going crazy with the sci-fi stuff, and just got weird at Final Fantasy 10. Gameplay wise, Final Fantasy started with a class-system gimmick that really became refined and nice after Final Fantasy 5, and after Final Fantasy 7 decided to experiment with weirder and weirder gimmicks for ability systems. So by contrast, DragonQuest seems stick with it's own thing and tries to slowly refine it without sacrificing it's core gameplay or story foundations. And both approaches, wild experimentation and slow refinement work well, though I think I like Final Fantasy a bit more over all despite the series basically being bogged down in needless gimmicks and flashy cutscenes. Because when it works, like Final Fantasy 5, 6, and 7, it's really a fantastic experience.

Speaking of flashy cutscenes that's another big difference in tone. Final Fantasy is block buster type excitement with explosions and flashiness and lots of anime melodrama, where DragonQuest seems to be a lot subtler. That isn't to say Final Fantasy is a mindless Michal Bay-style farce, nor is it to say it's style over substance. Nor is DragonQuest free from some drama and interesting stuff. It's just Final Fantasy seems to try and be more movie-like and visually engaging, where DragonQuest seems to try and be more novel-like, where information is presented to you more as text and conversation. And again both methods work, though I might argue Final Fantasy's method works better for RPGs, simply because there is a lot more motivating the player from moment to moment.

Ultima on the other hand is not quite as simple a comparison. The Ultima games the DragonQuest series most resembles are Ultima 3, 4, and 5 though which inspired the series I am not sure. Regardless, Ultima 6 and up completely went in a whole new direction, becoming the ancestor of modern sandbox RPGs like The Elder Scrolls (though I like the Ultima games better, more personality). Regardless, Ultima became popular in japan for some reason (they even have an exclusive fully voiced version of Ultima 6, though the voice work isn't that good) and DragonQuest was probably conceived as a simplified Ultima clone. To be honest, I am not entirely sure if 3, 4 or 5 was the main inspiration. Ultima 4 and 5 attempted to evolve RPGs past "go kill the bad guy" plots, which was basically what the first DragonQuest game was. Though 5 sort of did come close to being one of those types of plot. Really Ultima 5 resembles a Final Fantasy game plot-wise almost, and was probably the first attempt at a really involving dynamic story.

Anyway, the first DragonQuest game basically was a striped down simplified Ultima in the same way the first Final Fantasy was a striped down simplified DragonQuest. Combat was changed from an overhead grid-based step-by-step movement system to a system that eliminated all movement and just showed the pictures of the enemies you face, and let you choose attacks. This simplistic battle set up has continued throughout the series and pops up in a lot of other JRPGs as well. Eventually the DragonQuest series would add much more animation. Final Fantasy changed it to side view with mostly static monsters and animated players which really looks a whole lot better, and added the ATB system as well, but even still I think turn based battles lose something when there isn't any movement. Though having this simplified approach meant you could just hold down the button to select attack and grind much easier, it also encouraged grinding a bit too much I think.

Personally my favorite battle system has to be in Ultima 6, where unlike the previous Ultima games, you didn't need to switch screens for combat, and could switch between combat mode and non-combat mode at any time. It made combat part of the rest of the game world, flowing so seamlessly there was hardly a difference (in fact the only difference was how your party members acted and the music). It's also the Ultima where they started focusing less on hack and slash and more on world simulation, where almost every object, even decorative ones, can be picked up or interacted with. It's kind of a shame the older Ultimas inspired DragonQuest more then the newer. To Be honest I didn't like the Ultima's before 6 all that much, because I found them overly tedious. DragonQuest streamlined the combat, but this really just streamlined the tedium.

As for story, the Ultima games are more or less direct sequels to one another that built up a long deep continuity (most of which isn't all that important, just little callbacks and conversations and such, but still) and I think DragonQuest started doing that, but I am not sure if they abandoned it later or not. DragonQuest V and VI seem to have a few place names and objects in common but not much else, though I read they are part of a trilogy in the same world. Final Fantasy of course discards continuity all together, but has lots of repeating monsters/names/weapons/summons/spells and such. Setting wise, Ultima starts out in standard medieval fantasy mode and aside form some slight sci-fi elements emerging in the early games that have been long abandoned, stays there until Ultima 7 which takes a slight shift to a more renaissance themed setting. The interesting thing about Ultima compared to DragonQuest and Final Fantasy is that the fantasy setting and the monsters really start to take a back seat to a slightly more mundane setting. Magic and monsters are still there, they just become far less important. In DragonQuest, and to a lesser extent in Final Fantasy, monsters usually are active antagonists, and magic is a powerful force for both good or evil. In Ultima by contrast, monsters are mostly mindless beasts, and the ones that aren't usually are on your side, or at least willing to talk it out. Magic in Ultima is more utilitarian, though you see powerful death spells (and one who can basically kill everyone on the planet), they aren't involved in the plot that much, and most magic users are healers or scholars who don't tend to be involved in combat or use their spells for all that much. DragonQuest and Final Fantasy are, more or less, escapist fantasy quests, and Ultima, while it may have started that way, after Ultima 3 the series really tried to not be that.

Though I still enjoy DragonQuest V and VI a lot, I just kind of wonder what they would have been like if DragonQuest took more after the later Ultimas instead. Oh well, that's just the way it goes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Legend of The Legend of Zelda

For Christmas, along with some other games, I received The Legend of Zelda the Ocarina of Time 3D for my 3DS. I have been playing it off and on since then, when I haven't be distracted by my latest mush obsession (this time with less creativity and more game, though you can still submit monsters and stuff... I did one myself, and I even coded the pull down menus on the site).

The new 3d version is pretty neat, though I end up playing with the 3d off most of the time. It's main draw for me is the higher res textures and better visuals that make the game look some much better then the blurry lowres N64 version. Other then that it doesn't look like much has changed, but then I probably wouldn't know because I actually, shockingly enough, haven't played much of it. Partly it was because I lacked a N64 when it came out, being more of a Playstation guy. But mostly it's that I, even more shockingly, just don't like the game all that much.

This is not to say I think it's a bad game, because I am enjoying it quite a lot, I just don't rank it highly as one of 'the best games evar' for various reasons. Probably the biggest is that I simply don't think it plays very much like a Zelda game should. This probably seems like an odd complaint, given that it has become THE standard for what Zelda has become, but when compared to the 2D Zeldas, there is a huge difference in controls and combat, though honestly yes, the 2D Zeldas have way too simplistic combat. Oddly enough the 3D game I think comes the closest to replicating the feel and style of the 2D Zelda games isn't a Zelda game at all, but instead is a quirky little gem by square called Brave Fencer Musashi. Not that I hate Ocarina of Time's gameplay, but it feels a bit too cumbersome and clunky when switching targets and dealing with the camera. I do like that combat is a bit more involved then 'flail your sword around' but it just doesn't feel that natural to me.

Story wise it's pretty much an expansion and retelling of the back story form A Link to the Past. It does change things around a bit and vastly expand on Ganondorf's backstory, making him an actual character instead of a vague threat, which I like a lot. All and all I like the story even if it was a bit basic but at the same time I was not really invested into it. It's main gimmick is pretty much the same as A Link to the Past but replacing the Light World and Dark World with two time periods. It's semi-sequel Majora's Mask on the other hand I absolutely loved to death because pretty much from the start your drawn deeper and deeper into an emotional roller coaster, and it's gimmick of reseting time and working on a schedule was new and innovative to me. I really hope they make a 3DS remake of Majora's Mask too.

Lastly one of my big gripes is that the world is so small and cramped, or feels that way compared to some earlier 2D games. I like the fact they made the hub area Hyrule Field so big and expansive, but honestly that only makes the rest of the game look more cramped. I liked the open exploration of the first Zelda a lot, and it took until The Wind Waker to really make exploring the overworld interesting again, though in a limited way (I am not sure if Skyward Sword continues this trend, but I hope so).

I am enjoying myself with Ocarina of Time 3D though. It's not a bad game at all, I just think it could be better. But I think that about almost every game.