Thursday, May 5, 2011

Game Studies: Lost Odyssey

Okay, I've been rather light on blogging of late. That is because I've been busy. Actually busy--actually even working busy. On the May long weekend, I'm going to a conference in Ottawa to give a paper on Text, Image, and Memory in Square Enix's 2008 game, Lost Odyssey. It's a good game for discussing video games and memories because it's about an amnesiac immortal who is slowly regaining his memories. And it's good for text and image for an entirely different reason.

The game is loaded end to end with cinematic segments--it's the inheritor of the worst of the Final Fantasy series' excesses, which means it's got random encounters, ridiculously dressed females, an overly complicated plot, and enough time between some fights that you can make a sandwich and get back without losing much. But it also has something different--throughout the game, encounters that Kaim (that's the protagonist) stumbles on to trigger memories--or rather, text stories that are presented as both memories and dreams. (It creates an interesting conjunction of dreams, stories, and memories, which is a discussion for another time.) These text stories are entirely different from the rest of the game, as they should be, since the people developing it hired a short story writer Kiyoshi Shigematsu to do the stories, and did their own writing on the game proper.

So what you have then, is a game whose story periodically rewards you with tangential stories. The strange thing about the game, then, is that these stories are often more emotionally effective (and affective) than the actual visual-laden interactive real game. The backstory isn't entirely text either, or rather, it treats its text as image: the words and letters appear on the screen at their own pace and with differing effects, creating new emphases in the text that a straight written story wouldn't convey. It also uses shifting backgrounds and music to bolster the effect. So it's extremely multimedia, but almost negligibly interactive. (When one "page" or screen of the story is finished, you hit A to go to the next screen.) What I want to do is a full analysis of both the game and the accompanying short stories, to compare how they work off each other, and how both play to different senses. The memory issue comes in when you consider how both are about memories, in terms of the story content, but both also form memories--Kaim's short stories are triggered by tertiary events (as Stiegler would call them), and after multiple playthroughs, I create my own secondary memories for the game, quite apart from what I force my Kaim avatar through.

The downside is I have to actually play the game to get this experience. Without the constant transcribing, it's an 80 hour game. With it... ugh. I'm writing down the effects and text for each of the text-based stories. (Yes, I could be using Youtube. But if you're not actually playing the game, I don't think I can analyse it in the same manner. So here I am.) Number #6, for example, was 4000 words long, and took me 4 hours to transcribe. I took a break from #7 to start this post. And if you're finding it as tediously boring to read about the transcription process as I do in implementing it, you'd better stay away from this blog for a while, because y'all are going to hear a lot about the next 24 "dreams."

The really annoying thing is that these text pieces are really wonderful, moving stories. They're what brought me to my dissertation topic in the first place. But analyzing them like this is just killing me. The first one was great. The second and third had diminishing returns. But by the time the fifth rolled around, I was already responding to the "Kaim has unwakened a memory locked deep within him" screen with a hearty "GodDAMMIt" as I faced the unpleasant knowledge that I had another 3+ hours of transcribing ahead.

But for those of you who haven't been ruined yet by overexposure, I thought I'd post my favorite story so you could see why I'm so fond of them. This one is called "The Upstreamers." Watch it in full screen for best effect--and when you have 10 minutes to spare.

It's beautiful, isn't it? Less beautiful if you're trying to transcribe them word by word, taking frequent pauses to describe the text effects. ("And now the word "wind" is blown in letter by letter, like an... um... windy thing. It's from the left to right. And the letters sort turn into place. Not all together, but separately." And so on.)

Stay tuned for the quick one-sentence post when I finish Dream #7.

*UPDATE* And at 12:24 (after a break for an episode of Sliders, and another for an episode of Community), I finish Dream 7, wherein Kaim comes across an Alhzeimer's patient on her last day of life who remembers him from a childhood encounter 80 years ago--heartbreaking commences shortly after. And between that and dream 6, and some thoughts on memory and the city of Numeria, I have written 19 pages of notes for Lost Odyssey today. Hurray!

Later Days.

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