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DWN. 082 Essay Man
  June 3rd, 2013

06/03- 7:00PM EST

Welcome to an all essay edition of Q&A! A winner and runner-up have been chosen and I'll be sharing their essays today along with another. Winners were selected randomly so don't think not winning means I didn't enjoy your essays! I received a large volume of entries and I thank you all for taking the time to put them together.

Now let's get right to it...





The Letters
The Winner

Discursive and Immersive:
How non-linear storytelling promotes replayability
By Sam Vicchrilli

    Bethesda’s Fallout 3 is a sprawling open world RPG set in post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. Cyanide’s Game of Thrones (published by Atlus) game is an action RPG set in the fantasy world created by author George R.R. Martin. Although the former enjoys greater critical acclaim over the latter, both were experiences enjoyed by me, although Fallout 3 is more likely to be replayed again by me in the future, for reasons that include gameplay. But the primary factor, and one that can perhaps be extrapolated to compare other open world games and more linear ones, is that the story Fallout tells is determined primarily by the actions of the player. The increased freedom in the game makes it more worth re-visiting.

    Fallout 3 is one of the few games I have invested tens of hours into, beaten it, and then gone back for more, and even thrown more money at it via DLC. It’s one of the few games I have wandered aimlessly just for the pleasure of exploration, finding new towns and perhaps uncovering more quests. This is due to the emphasis on the “role” in the game’s genre -- RPG. I was that lone traveler fighting in the wasteland. The openness of the style allowed me to participate in the narrative in a more immersive way than Game of Thrones.

    Game of Thrones tells a well-written and engaging story, but therein lies a difference. I am being told the story, mainly through cut scenes and some few scenarios where I have a chance to be benevolent or wicked, which did not seem to have much of an effect on the game world. In Fallout 3 when you make a choice, the world is immediately affected. For example, early in the game, while still locked in the Vault, I had the choice of any number of ways to escape. My actions did not rely on a single moment of an illusion of choice (be bad or be good), but rather my own personality and style of play: whether I want to be sneaky, engaging, aggressive, persuasive, violent, or confusion, insofar as I didn’t understand the ramifications of my actions until they had concluded. This alone invites more replay than the mere “good action or bad action” dichotomy of Game of Thrones.

    Fallout 3 is an example of what separates video games from other forms of media. With rare exception, books and films tell a singular story, and that story never changes. Yes, some movies and books are worth revisiting, and even the story of Game of Thrones would warrant another listen, but the appeal of Fallout 3’s replayability is something different. It’s a good story that you have a decent amount of control over. Yes, certain events are scripted, but there is much that is open, open and inviting you to explore, debate, and act according to your desire.


Wheels

A fantastic essay. My only point would be that despite linear stories some RPGs can achieve a similar effect to Fallout 3 to some degree by by providing an openness to the gameplay systems. A great example of this would be Final Fantasy V. The story is the same every time, but the class system allows for an amazing diversity of abilities that can't fully be experienced in one playthrough. The overall point is the same of course. To keep a game engaging for many replays, the gameplay must allow some openness to the play on how they go about the tasks of the game. Your grade: A.

The Runner-Up

Hi! Here's my entry for your contest. I found it hard to stick to just 500 words, but rules are rules, and I hope you enjoy my take on it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 shares more than just time-travelling with Chrono Trigger—I believe XIII-2 is actually the cancelled/never-released Chrono Break that was reformed to fit in the Fabula Nova Crystallis universe. Releasing a third game in the Chrono series is tricky: Trigger introduced basic level time-travelling and multiple endings, while Cross took on inter-dimensional travel. I've always believed that a successful third entry would have to find some way to make time travelling fresh again by examining a different aspect of it, which XIII-2 has. The way the gates are set up, travel to the past is forbidden (something that was integral to resolving Trigger's story), and new possibilities are opened up by mixing time- and dimensional-travel by being able to access parallel realities (e.g. Academia 400AF and 4XX AF). Paradox endings are also another take on the multiple endings available in the two Chrono games. The ability to close gates also adds a new twist to time travel.

But it doesn't end there. All the characters in XIII-2 either once existed in the Chrono universe or are heavily influenced by them. While Serah's search for Lightning might look like an extension/reversal of Lightning's quest to save Serah in XIII, it resembles much more closely the story of Janus and Schala. XIII-2/Chrono Break has two universes colliding, and just as alternate realities co-exist, so do alternate versions of the characters. Serah and Noel represent the two fractured pieces of the Janus/Magus dichotomy. Serah is Janus; she is scarred by the events that separated her from her protective and altruistic sister (Lightning/Schala), but not yet damaged and jaded. Noel shares Magus' pessimism, and is hardened by his years spent in the grim future. He catches a glimpse of Lightning as he passes through time, chasing after Yeul, who, together with Caius form the Dream/Time Devourer. Yeul is attached to her host, doomed to bring destruction with her wherever she goes just as she tries to save those around her. Caius' ultimate goal is to end time itself, though he is slightly more human than his Chrono counterpart.

Valhalla could very well be the fallen kingdom of Zeal, that which houses Schala as she eternally watches over her little brother, blessed and cursed by the entity that grants magic and allows gates to appear. Just as Etro guided her l'Cie and chosen warriors, so too did she watch over Crono and Serge. Dreams were born from Zeal, the place from which Masa, Mune and Doreen hail. Masa and Mune take on a more literal form as Noel's two swords—it is possible their dreams had died by the time of Noel's era. However, Doreen/Mog step in as the magical being capable of becoming a weapon to be used for good in the right hands.

I think it's unlikely we'll see another Chrono game, but for me, XIII-2 is the next best thing, and stood well on its own without explicitly being tied to the franchise.

Regards,
Simon


Wheels

Wow, the theory of XIII-2 as the canceled Chrono Break (if it ever existed) is quite interesting. It would explain the seemingly abrupt change in plot between XIII and XIII-2. Still, I found XIII-2's take on time travel much too jumbled and nonsensical. If this was to be the next Chrono game, then I would be glad it ended up as something else instead. The similarities you point out are very interesting. Your grade: A-.

Part the Second

Comparing the Obvious

No two game series spark so much discussion as Final Fantasy and Suikoden. The discussions are different, the game series are different, but in the end they fall more or less in the same camp of RPG type.
In the majority of the games, both series feature turn based combat by a party of characters that band together for the good cause. Both series have had spin-offs in the Tactics division as well as other series, both had games that were mostly loved and mostly loathed. Both series tried new things and kept things the same. Both series, as a whole, are wildly loved.

Then the main difference. Final Fantasy games, for the most part, are stand-alone games in original universes. Suikoden games, for the most part, are a series of games all tied together in the same universe. And it is here why we find the main difference for the love (and hate) and why I believe that Suikoden, as a series, is the better historically, and why FF is the more popular.

Disclaimer: FF6 is my favourite game, Suikoden my favourite series. I care more for story than I care for game systems.

Since Final Fantasy games are usually set in a new universe, the love or hate stems from both the game system as well as the story and the game world. It is why FF6 and FF7 are mostly loved, FF8 not so much, then FF9 is loved again. The love starts with the game, and ends with the game, it doesn’t flow through into the next installment. Investment starts fresh with every new game. FF13 is an exception, being serialized, but from what I’ve heard neither the story nor the game system has garnered much love. (note; no more than hearsay) The obvious positive side to this is you do not need previous experience with any of the FF games to enjoy the next. It seems continuation doesn’t work well for the FF games.

Suikoden, on the other hand, continues where the previous game left off. In this sense, emotional investment into the characters and the game world can be brought into the next game, and is more rewarding. On the other hand, compared to FF, the game system has been kept relatively the same over the years and to those not invested from the start, the games may seem stale, but fans of the series are easy to forgive as they are desperate to know how their favourite characters will continue to fare in the next game. The love of this continuation of the series is why fans weren’t too pleased with the “non-canon” DS and PSP entries. However, this continuation makes getting into the series much harder (especially with the prices for Suikoden 1 and 2), but the rewards are all the bigger.
In short, as a series, Suikoden is more rewarding, but FF doesn’t need investment from the start and as such is easier to enjoy.

-Daniel


Wheels

A fantastic comparison of two of my favorite series. On the whole I think the Final Fantasy route is the best route to go for most series. You can see what happened to Suikoden. I think something like the Suikoden series can be successful, but making each game self contained but also continue a story can be quite daunting. A better way I think would be to actually be able to import some of your favorite characters from the previous game, and if you don't have those stars assigned to other new characters (or random ones from the previous game). Of course that would make the series even more difficult to produce, but I just want more Suikoden! Anyway my good sir, your grade is an A+. Well done!
IN CLOSING

That's it for this week, feel free to send in more essays just for fun if you'd like, or any comments on the ones that have been posted!

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