The 10 Most Misunderstood Wii Games: Part 3
by Mike D.
This game is hard to categorize. It’s a diet JRPG. A survival/horror title that isn’t about terror. A third-person adventure game, in the purest sense of the phrase. An apocalyptic, coming-of-age story. And I can’t blame people for overlooking it – reviews made it seem like the game was broken. Of course, most reviews focused on the combat of an adventure-centric game, which is akin to complaining that Mario platformers don’t have the combat mechanics of Street Fighter. Yet when I played it, I found a game so thick with atmosphere, so fully realized, that it has become one of my favorite fictionalized universes to visit.
The best fiction creates wonderfully-imagined worlds to visit with characters worth being interested in. This is a game, yes, but it is more than that. It is a worthwhile tale set in a land worth saving, filled with genuine characters. It is proof that the method of delivering artistry doesn’t have to be paper or canvas or film. Code, pixels and polygons can make you laugh; they can make you feel empathy or anguish. They can make something more than digitized competition. They can make art.
However, were it not for Alex, I probably would have listened to mainstream reviews and never would have played this game at all. So it’s only right that he provides the meat of this entry, our penultimate most misunderstood Wii game.
2.) Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
By Alex B.
It’s totally understandable that this game got so badly reviewed when it came out. It has unpolished controls, very limited mechanics, a long introductory sequence, no enemies (besides the tutorial “boss”) during the first 30 minutes or so of gameplay, and an incredibly sad and lonely protagonist in a dark, desolate world. It goes against most principles of “fun”games, so it’s entirely understandable that it got so badly reviewed.
But it’s so wrong.
This is a game for very particular audiences: the loners, the people who are going through a rough time in their life, the drifters, the dreamers, and even the gamers that have simply gotten tired of running, jumping, and shooting in their games. This is a game for those that have learned to look past the controls or the odd design choices and focus in the meta-narrative of a game, focus not in the story itself but on the different interpretations of it. That is the kind of game Fragile Dreams is.
From the introductory sequence to the many short stories found in mementos left by the now-dead people of the Earth, this game’s stories reek of intimacy, as if they were a collection of the real life stories of the writers. The fact that several of these short stories were written by fans of the game only exacerbates the familiarity between their situations and our own.
Sometimes you read a story of a gamer who named his RPG character ‘AAAA’ out of complete disinterest, but when the game gave him the option to change his character’s name, he had already grown too fond of ‘AAAA’ to dare change his name. Other times you read stories about doppelganger cats, who take the colored bells of a family’s dead pet and pretend to be them, unexpectedly integrating themselves into the loving, unknowing family.
Many other times you read the backstories of the game’s many side characters: The little girl and her mother who got separated and died during an earthquake; the teenager whose relationship fails due to her boyfriend’s obsession with Botany; the puppet boy that you help experience a friendship just like the one he read of in a children’s book.
It is a story that makes use of the gameplay as a sacrifice, a fact that no doubt went over the heads of many critics. For example, a popular complaint (and one prominent in IGN’s review by Matt Casamassina) was about a certain “fetch quest” before the middle of the game, a quest that required you to backtrack multiple times and find lost items, each time further back. It’s a quest that certainly tries a gamer’s patience, and requires him to trust that the developers will reward him properly for finishing this “fetch quest.” Now I understand that does sound like an obscure lesson, but the fact of the matter is that the girl for which you collected these items immediately teaches you a lesson about trust when you finish the quest (and it is an unforgettable, heart-rending lesson to boot). Yet I understand the complaints: this idea of sacrificing gameplay for narrative is largely unheard of in the world of video games (except for perhaps Heavy Rain), and when the tradeoff is a slightly obscure lesson in the value of friendship then not all players will accept this willingly. Personally, I thought it was genius, and I’ve endured far more tedious game design conventions for far less fulfilling rewards (MMO grinding, for instance).
All in all, it’s entirely wrong that this game gets panned for all its awkward design choices, because though these complaints may seem valid in the crust of the game, in reality they are there to serve a purpose in the meta-narrative: Is there a single long, tedious fetch quest in the game? Yes, it is a stepping stone in a lesson about the importance of trust in relationships. The visuals are too dark and desolate? Yes, this game’s post-apocalyptic setting is a metaphor for loneliness and a lack of a sense of belonging. The music is too sparse? Yes, like the real feelings they represent, this game’s music tracks only surface during key moments in the story. Is the combat awkward or clumsy? Yes, one can only feel fear as a lack of power to control our destiny, so the combat must be clumsy. This isn’t even new to this game, since games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, and even Dead Space have benefited greatly from purposely impaired control mechanics before.
To be perfectly honest, I think Fragile Dream’s real issue is that it was far more ambitious than the industry could accept at the time (which I find is still true today). In fact, I would say there is only one other game that has been more ambitious for its time, and that’s the game you will read about in the next part of this series. Until then, you’ll just have to guess!