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Dee Yun Dee Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2007-05-11 13:08:46

Pretentious or Insightful?


I stumbled across actionbutton.net haphazardly via a labyrinthine series of video game links. It's a real gem. The most entertaining reviews employ the "indie" strategy of taking a game that's critically acclaimed and adored by the general populace, and controversially dubbing it as shit. Symphony of the Night - 2 out of 4 stars. Metal Gear Solid - 1 star. Final Fantasy VII - zero stars! And as mentioned in the strip, 1 measly star for Twilight Princess.

The FF7 entry was particularly amusing in its hyperbolic intensity. The reviewer sums up the title as "the deathknell of virtue". My favorite part was when he tackles the plot: "The main character is a loathsome emoling with a stupid sword and stupider hair. He is torn between his childhood friend Tits and his newfound love, Aeris Dies." Now, I fully sympathize with his hatred of what Final Fantasy has become, but to hate on FF7 to this degree is simply trying too hard to be cool. It's like hating Star Wars for giving birth to the crappy summer blockbuster event films. You can draw a direct line of pedigree from Star Wars to Armageddon, but it doesn't stop Darth Vader from still being fucking cool.

On the other hand, the occasional pertinent point is brought up. The visitors of the site tend to be more erudite than the "zOMG kingd0m <3s is teh r0xx0rz!" set. Heather Campbell excoriates Twilight Princess for being "video game busywork", as an endless parade of retards commission you to complete chore after mind-numbingly inconsequential chore.

There is a certain truth in that; at its heart, Zelda is still philosophically grounded in the video game vocabulary of using one item to access the next area to get the next item - of trading up from a stick to a can of dog food or whatever with only the most superficial pretext to justify it. However, any art form is invariably informed by its own history and culture. For example, people utterly unfamiliar with comic books get confused as to how to read them if the paneling/lettering is complicated. Dostoevsky is harder to comprehend without contextual knowledge of the upheavals of 19th century Russia. While universally appreciable "pick up and play" games are important, there's also nothing wrong with video games made for video gamers.

We also need to keep in mind that video gaming is still in its budding nascent stages as an art form. When filmmaking began, it was nothing more than the rules of theater recorded with a camera. Color, sound, special effects, and most importantly, the very language of film was absent. It took decades for even the most basic techniques of direction to evolve. Likewise, we've barely entered the 3-D era of video games. We're still struggling with technological aspects of the art form (even more important to video games than any other art form). To return to the conversation at hand, storytelling methodology is still in its rudimentary stages. Only in recent years have professional writers found employment in video game development. Clearly, Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima aren't competent writers, but let's cut them some slack. We take the very existence of video games for granted, but with the perspective of someone who lived through the Atari 2600 crash, I can confidently assert that individuals like them saved the industry.

My point is this: the "story" presented in Twilight Princess is a discardable vehicle to get you to the delicious meat of the game. The enjoyment of any Zelda game hinges on the quality of its dungeons. In the process of taking Twilight Princess to task for its insipid goals, Heather Campbell misses out on how enjoyable the actual journey to them is. Zelda joy is derived in the simple conquest of getting from point A to B, and Twilight Princess rules the roost in terms of quantity and quality of dungeon spelunking. Someday, we'll be playing games that fulfill every artistic requirement of expressing the human condition, but for the here and now, Twilight Princess is about as awesome as it gets. Her critiques could be applied universally to just about every current video game. True, Twilight Princess may not be the Rocky or Raging Bull of video games (those days are yet to come), but it at least is Body and Soul. Rent it; it still stands up today as a great boxing film, just as Twilight Princess will hold up years from now.



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