Friday, 16 March 2012

Soul Reaver

Yes! This is what I was supposed to do last post but other vampires got in the way. Actually, I was planning to overview Legacy of Kain, but I decided just to focus on Soul Reaver, it having the deepest plot of the 5 games. Actually, one of the peculiar things I realised recently about the first two games in the series is that they are both technically revenger's tragedies, interesting considering I'm studying Hamlet at the moment.

Soul Reaver itself is a mess, that's what it is, it's unbelievably messy. Between the beginning and the end nothing spectacular really happens, other than maybe Raziel's discovery of the the tomb of the Sarafan. However, one of the most spectacular things about the game is that it can be looked at in two ways, the way it was intended, or the way it was finished. Soul Reaver is peculiar in that it was supposed to be a standalone title (which managed to spring fourth no less than three sequels,) and that everything leading up to and including its intended conclusion is actually present on the game disk. But because the story thus splits into two at its moment of completion we're left with two different ways to interpret the story.

After Raziel wakes up from the cesspool of the dead, (having been thrown there by his father, Kain,) a being which calls itself the “Elder God,” explains that he is no longer a Vampire, but an undead Wraith, and orders him to slay his former vampire brethren in order to free up the “Wheel of fate.” Raziel, stricken with revenge, agrees.  He leaves to see that the world has decayed in 500 years, and his once “noble brethren” have decayed into monstrous forms.

A quick shot of Zephon from
The quest for nobility is a constant theme throughout the game, as Raziel sees the diminished glory of his brothers he mocks their frail rationalisations of their dispositions. An interesting one is Zephon, who comments that his sanctuary, of which his monstrous form leaves him bound to, is “a cocoon of brick and granite from which to watch a pupating world...” Zephon seems to take great joy in watching the world decay around him, and sees the decay as growth, mirroring the way in which he himself has grown to consume an entire building into his body. As Raziel says “Zephon, your visage becomes you. It’s an appropriate reflection of your soul...” It is possible that Zephon seeks to tide his degeneration by morbidly consuming as much of the world as he can, as Dumah hints later on, it's not unlikely that Raziel's brothers also have a detest towards their father and wish to overthrow him; if they but could. Instead Zephon sees himself resigned to his “crevice” of cowardice, as Raziel puts it. His only form of dealing with his inability to do anything as simple as even move is to command the legion of his own vampire children to do it for him. As poetic justice is to serve, we see Zephon die in an inferno of the home is he bound to, the manner of his death is significant in that his literal inability was the flaw he was running away from, and Raziel proves to him that his power was in fact a fa├žade. Zephon's grounded nature references the fact that he is unable to deal with his loss of power (as every one of Raziel's brothers soon realise.) His death tells us that divinity or status are not things that can be achieved passively, as Zephon's aim was to grow and grow, and that such a method becomes fruitless as long as competition (and Zephon had no former competition, even the remaining humans had been bowing down to him) interferes.

Seeing as this is a hobby more than anything else, I’m not going to finish the essay here (mainly because I’m writing this paragraph on the Friday the rest of the post goes up) and the real purpose of this is to prove that video games can have the literary depth of novels. I may finish it in the new future.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Spoiler Alert!

What's the problem with knowing what happens in a novel, movie or play before you've even seen it? The idea occurred to me when I learnt that in Victorian Theatre, a play would be preceded by a “dumb-show” or an acting out of the climatic points in the play, before the play has been seen by the audience. The thought which occurred to me was, “If a work is good enough to be seen, it can't be spoiled.” And thanks enough to our pal The Internet, it’s almost impossible to not have anything and everything spoiled to you. So is it really that big a deal? Granted, it is nicer to not know every detail ensuing before you delve into a medium, but if all you're interested in is plain discovery, you may as well read a plot summary.

The thing is, when we decide to engage ourselves in a plot, we're concerned with far more than simply what happens; but for some reason we tend to emphasise the actual events above everything else. This might be because most other things are either dependant on the plot (terrific acting is pointless if the written character is wooden,) or are too abstract to easily convey as a focal point (we're watching it to see what madness really is.) And it gets even more confusing when it’s put in perspective, because often, knowing the crucial plot point or twist can actually make us want to watch/play/read the work more. For example, a fair many of Shakespeare’s plays are known in plot by many of us, (Hamlet kills everyone, Romeo and Juliet both die, The Merchant of Venice never gets his pound of flesh,) and yet people still read and watch them, and yet are so taken aback when someone spoils something else to them. Sure, there are works such as The Usual Suspects (Which has been cited as two movies in one, due to its twists meaning that each subsequent watch is like a different movie.) Where it is important to the film as a whole that they are not spoiled, but these are few and far between, and we have to actually question if these movies, with their elaborate twists, are standing on any ground other than that of their twists.

Another way of looking at it is like seeing the “plot” as two entities, as an overall idea or object which is the “Plot” or as a journey. This diagram can probably explain it better than I can:

An example which comes to mind is the video-game Catherine, which, in my opinion, has an absurdly weak “Overall Plot,” which, ended up being completely underwhelming. Despite this, it is still one of my favourite games ever, and one of the reasons for that is its story. Taking the second definition of “Plot” as a journey, more accurately describes what Catherine has to offer. It’s a game that I’ve played through multiple times, and on each play through I’ve given time to the story, and it’s a story which asks “What would you do.” And while its actual basis for this question becomes absurdly weak towards the end, the vivacity of the journey there makes it worthwhile, and it also makes you realise that ignorance is bliss. In my experience, the game is more enjoyable before you get to the end, and yet, despite the feeling of dissatisfaction at the climax, that sour taste quickly fades away once you get into the game again, and all of the “why is this” and “what is that” of the plot becomes frivolous, because you already know and that lack of mystery allows you to have greater sympathy for the meaning of the story.

I’ve heard a saying that “You’ve never truly read a book until you’ve read it twice.” At first I thought that that saying meant that, upon a second reading, you would pick up what you previously missed, but then I thought, perhaps it meanings that with the clarity of knowing what happens, you will be more aware of what is happening. This isn’t pure speculation either, it’s obvious that many writers are aware of this idea, and use it to their advantage. Shakespeare as one example, the “dumb-show” before every play makes it clear what is going to happen, but this is also prevalent in other media too. Fate/Stay Night (and I must stress that any reference to this series is aimed at the Visual Novel and not the anime or manga) for example makes it clear from the beginning that Saber is going to die.

Now back to my original idea, “If a work is good enough to be seen, it can't be spoiled.” I actually tend to find it that “Work’s with the potential to be spoiled, aren’t good enough to be seen.” An example that springs to mind is Blazblue. Now, Blazblue has been cited again and again for its “in-depth and complex story,” but, as much as I love the game for its art, its personality, and its potential for fun, I honestly think the story is weak. Sure, it’s complicated as hell, and even though I’ve been through every game in the series I couldn’t even summarize it for anyone. And also the majority I know about it is through spoilers. Jin is Hakumen, Ragna is Bloodedge, Noel is a Murakumo unit, Hazama did everything, Arakune is a failed Black Beast. The list of twists and reveals goes on, and on, and on, with every story ending at a cliff-hanger. Sure, all of these complications are pretty cool, and the sheer absurdity of the pile-up give the game a flare in character that not much else could match, but the story doesn’t really say anything, and that’s its weakest point. I think that for something such as Blazblue, it’s the bringing together of many points that make the game enjoyable, story included, but the story alone doesn’t do the game justice.