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August 27, 2015

Honoring the Past (AKA Voltech the Hypocrite)

You know, I’ve never thought of myself as a “crusader”.

I’m pretty easygoing -- if not apathetic -- when it comes to the big subjects.  Politics, religion, stuff like that -- it doesn’t really make me hot under the collar, so it’s not as if I’m going to get into a screaming match with someone with a different opinion from me.  Really, the only thing I try and campaign for is better fiction.  We want more, and we deserve more -- but we need the wits and savvy to understand what makes stories good in the first place.  I’m not asking for much, I hope.

But these days?  It feels like I’m campaigning and crusading against nostalgia-bait products more than anything else.  (Relatively speaking, given my tirades against grim and gritty fare…and before that, nearly everything Squeenix has put out semi-recently.)  People deserve good stories, and no matter the opinion on Joe Plumbers or sheeple or lowest common denominators, I’d like to think that when offered a genuinely good story, they’ll know what they’ve always wanted.  What they -- and we -- don’t need are retreads of the past, again and again and again.  We need something new.  Something different.  Something that at least has the potential to be good.

So why is it that I’ve been having more fun with stuff from the past?

The likely answer to that question is “because I’m a hypocrite”.  Then again, if I’m a hypocrite, then I guess a lot of gamers are as well.  I remember a time when people laughed at the Wii U, when its proposed third-party offerings were games that had (at the time) come out roughly a year ago.  Then you look at the PS4 and Xbone, and you see all the “remasters” of games that came out as early as a year prior, if that.  And just what’s getting remastered?  I mean, okay -- I get the idea behind a remaster of The Last of Us, because it’s the darling of the people and critics alike.  But Tomb Raider?  Sleeping Dogs?  Borderlands?  Darksiders 2?  Really?  Like...really?  

I thought the point of bringing back those old titles was to offer them up to people who wouldn’t have had access to them before.  So in the case of something like a revival of Grim Fandango, a decades-old game with lots of love behind it, I understand.  I can get behind that.  But then you get to stuff like a remaster of God of War 3 -- and ONLY God of War 3, despite the existence of God of War Saga and its FIVE PACKED-IN GAMES -- and it’s just like, “This is embarrassing, guys.”  Or “You have no idea how to move forward from here, do you?”  Or “You don’t have the money for a bank-busting sequel, so you’re restocking the war chest by releasing a slightly-different version of the same game.”

It’s almost as if the problem of funding big-budget AAA games could have been avoided if publishers and developers didn’t bet everything on huge releases, which in turn would have let them avoid skeezy nickel-and-diming business strategies that aim to hurt and hypnotize consumers.  But you didn’t hear that from me.

I’ve said before (in bold print, no less!) that the past is not sacrosanct, and I stand by that.  Yet here we are, in a world that revived Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, RoboCop, Godzilla, Terminator, and even Jem and the Holograms because…I don’t know, I guess names are more important than content or quality.  And sure, bringing back those titles with modern-age wizardry can let a fleet of creators and craftsmen pay respect to stories of old by bringing them into their ideal forms.  But these days, I feel like that’s not a given.  Either these new products (or if you prefer, the teams behind them) missed the point of the originals, or they simply didn’t feel like taking those points and lessons to heart and added in their own interpretations.  They only paid respect by tactlessly cramming in references.  (I’m surprised RoboCop fans the world over didn’t shed tears at the sound of the line “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.”)

In terms of video games -- the industry of which is getting too close to Hollywood shenanigans for comfort -- it’s not much better of a situation.  Tomb Raider’s already taken its fair share of heat over trivializing tombs, but for me?  It was, and always will be DmC that takes the cake.  The gameplay was the best part, but even that was a slow and clumsy mess that didn’t begin to understand the value of style.  And the story was so bad, it was flat-out insulting.  Plot holes open up in the first five minutes, there’s maybe one likable character throughout, and it had the self-awareness of a dead goat…so naturally, it got a remastered edition.  After it limped its way toward a fifth of Capcom’s projected sales.

And then this happened.

I guess Capcom decided to double-dip.  I mean, why bet the farm on one Devil May Cry game when you can double the odds with two?  So instead of letting people grab a cheap copy of either one of those games from their local store or any old bargain bin, lure them into a bigger purchase with the promise of a slightly-different edition!  It’s genius!  And clearly, it means that “the past” starts as early as a couple of years ago -- if that -- and everything else is fair game for a new iteration or installment, except when it isn’t!

It’s easy to get super-butthurt over remakes and reboots and remasters.  But lately, I find myself wondering something: if I’m so opposed to them, then why am I practically in love with DMC4’s slightly-different edition?

I shouldn’t be in love with it.  As of writing, the most substantial thing I’ve done is play through a story that wrapped up in 2008.  I haven’t even tried using Lady or Trish, and barely touched Vergil (but BOY does he seem strong).  I haven’t looked at some of the files, and haven’t decked anyone out in new costumes.  I only played on the normal difficulty, and haven’t done much with the Bloody Palace, despite it being the prime reward for clearing the story.  I shouldn’t have any attachment to the game.  But really, maybe that’s the secret.  I DON’T have any attachment to the game.

Confession time: there’s an argument to be made that I never played the original DMC4.  At the time, I just played piggyback on my brother’s file because he unlocked everything (or most of the stuff, at least), starting with the completion of the story.  I would have done the same, but there was an issue: he changed his controls to get the most out of Nero’s combos, and my muscle memory couldn’t deal.  So I played exclusively as Dante, and abandoned more than half of the story to play as the son of Sparda -- in his specific missions, and in the Bloody Palace.  But I couldn’t play consistently, or even well; I think I limped my way to the fortieth floor of the Palace (at best), while dear old big bro took Nero into the eighties. 

I probably spent more time watching the cutscenes than trying to learn how to play -- as Nero, as Dante, or as someone with even a shred of skill.  In a way, that kind of absolves me of guilt, doesn’t it?  I’m not just saying one game is better than the other because I’m blinded by nostalgia; I’m saying it because I’ve finished two games, looked past their chronological contexts, and can argue pretty strongly that one of them is significantly better than the other.  (And I will soon enough, so look forward to that.)  On the other hand, I have to wonder if I’ve substituted one mindset for another.  What if I’m buying into the mindset that “the things from the past are always better than things from the present” that’s threatened to grip every industry?

I ask that because of the other game I started semi-recently.

Coming off of hot garbage like The Lightning Saga -- and Type-0 in addition -- Final Fantasy 9 is an absolute godsend.  I’ve barely cracked it open, but I’ve already found plenty to love within the first couple of hours of play.  It’s more than just a game full of fun, energy, spirit, and warmth; it’s a game that stands as a reminder of what games used to be.  Really, the same could be said of DMC4.  They have different routes to the end goal, but I feel more from them than I have plenty of games in years.  I barely summoned the will to give Batman: Arkham Knight a try, because even now the Bloody Palace is calling out to me.  Or if not that, then stealing everything that isn’t nailed down or on fire with Zidane and crew. 

So doesn’t that make me a huge-ass hypocrite?  “Grrr, stuff from the past is stupid!  Give me new stuff!  Innovate!  That is, except when it’s something that appeals to my sense of nostalgia or particular set of tastes!  Then you can do whatever you want!”  And in this case, “whatever you want” means either throwing a slightly-different edition of a game in my face, or making me willingly flip the bird to the present by dropping a game literally from three generations ago into my lap. I don’t want to retreat to the warmth and safety of the past, but those two games are making me eat my words, my foot, my hat, and several other organs roasted by shame alone.

If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’ve seen some of my other posts before -- which means you know that I’m one of the first to point out the faults in some modern-day fare.  “Too many guns!”  “No levity!”  “It’s a boring power trip!”  Stuff like that and more -- and I won’t stop mentioning it until it stops happening at large.  The entertainment of today has some major problems that not a lot of people seem eager to fix (largely because they’re subjective problems, and they’re problems that can paradoxically make plenty of money). 

So going back to the past means dodging all of those shenanigans with ease.  Modern FF games full of nonsensical drama?  Here’s FF9 to let you go on an adventure!  Devs proving they have no idea what the hell they’re doing with stuff like DmC?  No problem!  No you can play DMC4 and get in deep with that amazing combat!  And so on, and so forth.  Into the folds of the security blanket I go. 

Here’s the thing, though: even if I have concerns about what I’m enjoying these days -- no matter my stance and opinions -- it’s not as if I’ve gone off the deep end.  It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game where you can only like things from the past, or only like things from the present; that’s especially the case when it seems like one media outlet after another is begging people to get sucked into the nostalgia pits.  It’s possible to honor the past without being completely dependent on it, whether it’s for sales or for simple enjoyment. 

After all, there are just some things from “the good old days” that really are better than their predecessors, so it’s only natural that they get the respect they deserve.  And no matter my arguments, I won’t turn away from a good story because of some drive to go on an anti-nostalgia crusade -- even if I don’t technically have any real nostalgia for DMC4, and this is legitimately the first time I’ve ever played FF9, but whatever.  Semantics.

But again, it’s not as if I’ve turned my back on the present or the future.  As the Eternal Optimist, I consider it my duty to look at the bright side of things -- and even now, I’m not about to cast away modern gaming.  If I did, then that would mean ignoring newer, better iterations of all the oldies; Zelda games and Street Fighter games may be built on the same decades-old core concepts, but their latest versions have offered up evolutions that have made them into unique beasts.  Bloodborne is the game that finally justifies the presence of the PS4, while Splatoon is the game that justifies the shooter genre (even while skewering it on a white-hot spike).

And then there’s The Witcher 3.

So I guess that’s pretty much where I stand.  Am I a hypocrite?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Frankly, it might not be up to me to decide -- because doing so would definitely make me a hypocrite.  Then again, it’s not as if there’s much to worry about.  I haven’t gone (further) off the deep end, so the most I can do is what I’ve always done: play the games, and give an honest opinion.

Look forward to that at some point in the future.  Because it’s not as if I can fling my posts back into the past.  Although…wouldn’t that be a pretty awesome superpower?  The ability to send figurative time capsules to your past self?  Imagine the applications -- or if not that, the inherent potential for evil!

I feel like there’s a JoJo villain who already has that power, though.  So maybe he’d make a good reference point and/or warning against reckless space-time shenanigans.

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