Here’s a quick recap of Freedom Wars’ setting, in case you missed Anthony John Agnello’s review of the game earlier this week: In the distant future, Earth is a barren mess and humans live in sovereign underground city-states called Panopticons that are constantly at war over what little resources remain. Panopticons are also surveillance states with laws ridiculous enough to make Draco himself ask, “What the hell, man?” Any citizen who is thought to be wasting resources is immediately sentenced to at least 1,000,000 years of military servitude, battling against giant monsters that raid Panopticons and kidnap their more productive members of society. Time gets knocked off a prisoner’s sentence with every monster they kill, and the more labor they undertake, the more human rights they slowly earn.
A handful of commenters applauded this batshit crazy setup, and duwease also wondered why we don’t see as many role-playing games developed outside of Japan taking a similarly bizarre tact:
The story and setting at least sound unique. That’s one of the things I like about Japanese RPGs: They often prioritize completely out-of-left-field central concepts like that, and they provide a lot of enjoyment through novelty.
That’s not to say western RPGs don’t have their strengths that I adore, but setting-wise, most break down to fairly generic Tolkien-esque or sci-fi worlds that are differentiated by how well the writers are able to flesh out the characters or background details on the way to taking down the big bad critter or political faction. I’m not battling demon senators trying to get a bill passed so I can run the Netherworld. I’m not traipsing around during a mysterious 25th hour during which people turn into coffins and fighting monsters with aspects of my personality that I unlocked by being nice to people in my town. I’m not escaping a computer simulation that pits religions against each other, turning my algorithms into flesh and blood, and flying into the sun to punch God in the face. I’m not—every weird thing that happens in EarthBound.
Novelty isn’t everything, but dang it, I’m glad someone is out there turning their most off-the-wall concepts into games.
Shinigami Apple Merchant had some thoughts about this divide between Japanese RPG developers and the rest of the world:
I find on average (not always, but in general) Japanese RPGs tend to focus on basic story conventions and instead make the premise and individual characters unique. It seems to me these conventions are most often Beowulf-descends-into-hell-and-emerges-stronger affairs or Joseph Campbell “Hero’s Journey” type stuff, but really, Japanese RPGs can jump off from any point, as it’s about the storytelling (no matter how out-there it gets) and the play is sectioned off as a separate entity.
On the flip side, I think western RPGs try harder to immerse players in the worlds the developers create. They aren’t tying you into a conventional narrative so much as trying to get you to feel connected to the world in which you’re adventuring. They want what you experience and feel to be visceral and unique to the reality they’re presenting and preserving through the combat.
For example, in Freedom Wars you can fight multiple Abductors/Giant Robots at once. They can seemingly pass right through each other, and you get thrashed about but are always equally hurt from being hit, whether it’s by their tail or their arms or their feet. But the story itself is trying to get you to connect to its archetypal characters and the themes it’s trying to present, separate from the immediate gameplay.
I’d imagine for a lot of western developers, were they to work on this game, they’d endeavor to make sure the combat is better constructed and give more impact to your individual actions, but in exchange, you’d be more likely to have a bare-bones narrative. The focus is different. It’s all about making each moment of gameplay keep you engaged rather than telling a story with gameplay that compliments it.
In other words, in accordance with duwaese’s Persona and Disgaea and EarthBound examples: Japanese RPGs seem to focus on storytelling and use the gameplay to complement that, while western RPGs seem to focus on integrating the gameplay into the world and molding the story overtime to match that. Story as the base versus immersion as the base.
In his review of the latest Call Of Duty game, Calum Marsh talked about how the series’ move to a full-on sci-fi setting helps to invigorate its firefights but also robs the game of any teeth its reflection of real-world conflict might have once had. He called out missions from CODs past, including Modern Warfare 2’s infamous “No Russian” level, which has undercover players complicit in the terrorist-perpetrated massacre of a Russian airport. Down in the comments, TheKappa started a conversation about this controversial chapter:
For all the things I hate about Call Of Duty, “No Russian” was a really great stage. It’s so memorable for a lot of the wrong reasons. I played through the first time and was just merrily gunning down folks before the reality of what I was doing slowly dawned on me. I stopped shooting, and it took on an almost surreal feel for the remainder of the mission. It didn’t have the impact of say, Spec Ops: The Line’s white phosphorous scene, but it shifted the tone and was something that I think was genuinely in an artistic vein. So while I see how one might be enthused about that part of Call Of Duty slipping away, I actually think it’s kind of a loss to stop trying to say anything about war or the people that fight wars or the politics behind why we fight wars and instead just go from set piece to set piece.
LoveWaffle thought it didn’t push hard enough:
I’m of the opinion that “No Russian” didn’t go far enough. It gives you an easy out by having your character be an American soldier embedded in Makarov’s organization. You can somewhat justify your character’s participation in the event as maintaining his cover. He’s not someone allied with Makarov. (Never mind how nonsensical it is that your character would even let that happen. Keeping an eye on the Ultranationalists was his one job.) I think it would have been more effective if it let you be the bad guy if only for a single mission.
Mister Evil also thought the story behind the level was a bit preposterous:
Why wouldn’t you stop thi? The whole scenario as presented is that Makarov is extremely dangerous, so what does attempting to infiltrate his organization gain you that just killing him then and there wouldn’t? This isn’t like a Face/Off scenario where you need Makarov alive for some reason. If you kill Makarov, ALL YOUR PROBLEMS ARE OVER. It’s Miller time!
And famaskitty shared their reaction to the scene:
If you really want to know a person, ask them about their “No Russian” playthrough. If someone’s immediate reaction isn’t to try and cut Makarov and company down with that M240, then I’d be a little wary.
Even after realizing that I just had to go along with it all, I just impotently followed along, swallowing my horror as the atrocity unfolded. Even in replays I could never bring myself to actually shoot anyone, but I was worried I’d blow my cover, so I just fired near people or over their heads. I always imagined making eye contact with a wounded or hiding civilian that the others had missed or passed over and how confused they’d be when my bullets didn’t hit them at such close range. Could they tell it was purposeful? That I was sorry?
That does it for this week. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!