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How much nostalgia is too much nostalgia in games?

Screenshot: Yooka-Laylee/Playtonic Games
Screenshot: Yooka-Laylee/Playtonic Games

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

A Link To The Past

Earlier this week, I laid down some thoughts on Yooka-Laylee, Playtonic Games’ reskinned pseudo-sequel to the Banjo-Kazooie series. While I thought it did a fine job of recreating that very specific kind of game, I thought it was dragged down by the changes it did try to make and some less-than-ideal tropes it chased for nostalgia’s sake. Down in the comments, ItsTheShadsy kicked off a discussion about the challenge of invoking the past while maintaining your own identity:

One really disheartening thing Matt brought up is the game’s apparent obsession with fourth-wall breaking nostalgia. I get that people supported the Kickstarter because they have fond memories of Banjo-Kazooie and that these developers lean into self-deprecating humor. But from everything I’ve seen without playing it, Yooka-Laylee seems to be stuck constantly acknowledging Rare’s older games. Like the way it re-uses the rap opening or keeps joking about ’90s game tropes. Or how the protagonists are barely different from Banjo and Kazooie. It can’t exist as its own thing. It’s always subordinate, always in reference to something else, called into existence to invoke warm, fuzzy memories for 30-year-olds. That’s a dead end.

Nostalgia can be a strength when it’s a starting point to build from. It shouldn’t be a destination. I liked Banjo-Kazooie, but I don’t want to play a game that tells me how much I liked Banjo-Kazooie. I want a great new platformer! There’s are a lot of directions for a long-dormant genre to grow. Compare Yooka-Laylee with Broken Age or Obduction, which created something new inspired by the developer’s pedigree rather than chained to it. The goal of a spiritual successor like this should be to inspire new beloved memories, not just remind people of the old ones. What would foster the sort of experience that leads people to pitch in millions for a successor years later?

SafRev points out that maybe this is what happens when you’re beholden to some particular Kickstarter promises:

The Kickstarter made some very specific promises that apparently resonated with a lot of people. It sounds the final product delivered on those promises in near bullet-point form, but it’s still a disappointment. I think that says something about Kickstarter and its pitfalls: Sure, you can get funding for projects that wouldn’t get made otherwise, but at the same time, you’re locking yourself into making exactly the type of game your campaign promised. That’s just not a realistic way to approach game development. Think of how long Resident Evil 4 languished in development and how many iterations it had to go through (one of which turned into Devil May Cry) before Capcom was happy with it. If they’d been forced to work on a stricter timeline and commit to their first idea, we would have missed out on two fantastic games. That’s an extreme example, but I do think there needs to be more flexibility than a Kickstarter campaign allows.

Wolfman Jew brought up Rare’s history of self-reference and how Yooka fits right in:

Wasn’t Rare always like that? Everything fell back into this self-referential pool, becoming a miasma of in-jokes and reused level ideas. This doesn’t seem any more self-referential than Nuts & Bolts being a game about Banjo and Kazooie being trapped in a mediocre (to them) Banjo-Kazooie game, though that being a sequel to a preexisting story makes it a lot more palatable. And maybe this is me being less charitable to them because I’ve started playing one of the most deservedly disliked games in their history to write an article, but I really feel they were a studio that was interested much more in making incredible music and fun character designs than in strong gameplay. The gameplay always felt just unpolished enough to be noticeable.

What Are You Trying To Saying?

Screenshot: Persona 5/Atlus

Also this week, Clayton Purdom gave us the second part of his ongoing Persona 5 review. This entry focused primarily on the game’s Japanese-to-English translation, which he’s found to be clumsy in spots. Drinking With Skeletons agreed:

I’m glad I’m not the only one a little underwhelmed by the writing, or, I should say, the translation. It clearly prizes literal translation over just about anything else, making the barest effort to make the English dialogue sound sort-of normal. I’ve tried to view it as a cultural experience, like the game is trying to give me a linguistic taste of Japan to go along with the daily life stuff, but then you hit things like a class question that talks about God-given talent and it just seems completely bizarre that someone in Japan would talk about Western religious concepts in quite that way. I’m definitely enjoying the game, but I do feel like it would’ve been a better experience with a less-faithful localization.

Unexpected Dave, on the other hand, has found some charm in all the unnatural dialogue:

The dialogue in the game is definitely not naturalistic, but I still really like it. Frankly, I think natural-sounding dialogue is over-rated. Every once in a while, I love to get some over-wrought, stylized dialogue. Take “Are you hallucinating from an overdose?” Yes, most people in the so-called “real world” would be more likely to use the phrase “Are you high?” That’s exactly why I hate it. It’s such a boring and cliche phrase. It’s used as a laugh-line on Chuck Lorre sitcoms.

Naturalistic dialogue is inherently trite. It’s a hundred different people saying “Hot enough for you?” every day. It’s repetition of the same tired jokes and aphorisms. If Persona 5 used strictly naturalistic dialogue, it would be like spending a hundred hours on the bus, listening to other people’s conversations.

And you can have realistic dialogue without using a naturalistic style. Even with its current “non-naturalistic” translation, Persona 5 does “realistic” very well: the non-sequitur responses from people who are only half listening to you; the non-jokes delivered with the cadence of jokes; interrupting people whenever they take longer than a half-second pause in the middle of a sentence.

Elsewhere, Pedro Machado tried to figure out where Persona 5’s themes fit in with the last two games:

I’ve been thinking about the themes in the Persona games and trying to sort them out in my head.

P3: Perseverance. It says that clinging to false hope can only lead you further down a hole, and that accepting reality, instead of running from it, is the first step toward making things better. I was going to say Stoicism, but the game does seem to encourage fighting to make things better and that even if little or nothing can be accomplished, there is value in the struggle itself.

P4: Truth. Both the general concept and being true to one’s self. This is the easiest one. They put it right there in the theme song. It’s about how we shouldn’t let others’ opinions of us directly, or by actively trying to subvert them, shape who we are, and instead, we should let that naturally come from inside.

P5: Rebellion? It seems simple with all the mentions to a “Rebel soul” and all, but I haven’t fully completed any of the Confidant storylines yet, so I’m still looking to see what exactly they do with it. It appears to be about the effect of society’s expectations on individuals, just like P4, plus in this one, all the main characters are outcasts. Maybe here it’s less about personality and more about an outward pressure to conform to society’s norms?

I love all of them, but so far, P3 is still my favorite in terms of themes. P4 and P5‘s messages of being true to yourself or standing by your convictions are definitely important things to say, but are very often said. On the other hand, P3‘s message to be realistic and not cling to fantasies—as shown in stories like the high-school athlete with a sick mother and several siblings who stops waiting for a scholarship that’ll never come and instead gets a part-time job to try and help them—is equally and goes comparatively ignored in favor of the more pleasant “you can be/do everything you want.” It can be tempting to ignore your problems, especially the type that can’t be fixed, the type that simply shows up one day and turns your whole life upside down. Still, you have to deal with them. Most people won’t get everything they’ve dreamed. It’s only by keeping your chin up and facing life’s problems head on that you can, however slowly, make your life better.

That’ll do it for this week, friends. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!