As I have previously said, I never had a Sony console until I bought a Playstation 2, but the first game I bought with it was the now classic Final Fantasy VII. I have mixed feelings on it now, but at the time I was in love. When I was first playing the game, I was immune to the polygon puppet people and the horrible localization. I wasn’t bothered by how easy it was to break the system during the endgame. I was having fun, and that’s all that mattered.
Within the first few hours of the game, your characters are captured and locked up in the holding cells of the Shinra Corporation building. When I wake up, the cell doors are all unlocked, and there’s a trail of blood leading down the corridor and up the stairs. All of the guards are dead. What in the hell happened here?
At the time, this was a huge moment to me. I distinctly remember running to my Livejournal and writing about this. I realized I was a few years late to the Final Fantasy VII party, but I didn’t care. This was an amazing, cinematic moment in gaming to me. This was also one of the first moments where I really thought of gaming as something more than just the stereotypical bleeps and bloops.
I don’t hold Final Fantasy VII in the highest regard, but I’ll always remember this scene because it helped sell me on a post Final Fantasy VI RPG, but it also gave me a real indication of what games could become within the next few years.
That was exactly what happened.
In the last few years, video games have become much more of a cinematic experience and are much less restricted to the limitations of the video game medium. Unfortunately, a side effect of this has been that games have become much more linear. Final Fantasy XIII was greatly criticized for being a series of corridors with a bunch of battles thrown in. I myself contributed to that criticism. It was a big part of what I didn’t like about the game. The majority of shooters have also followed this trend, becoming linear shootfests.
I don’t find anything wrong with games like Gears of War or Halo. I’ve put time into both series, and while they aren’t what I like to spend my time playing, I had a level of enjoyment with them. I don’t necessarily like how linear they are, but I understand that in games like that, that sense of linearity is a proper way to tell a story.
I really worry about gaming becoming more cinematic over time, because at some point I feel like it ceases to be a video game. I love interesting takes on narrative and storytelling, and to be able to do it within the constraints of video game logic is surely a great challenge. Games like Bastion do a great job of telling a story without forcing it upon you by way of a narrator that watches over you as you play and actually narrates what is going on on screen. Other games like To the Moon, which can barely be considered a “video game” in the true sense of the term uses the style of a 16-bit SNES game to visualize a strong, sorrow filled narrative.
This really is a hard topic to get into in a blog format, so I’m going to keep it at this: I love narrative in games, I love seeing interesting ideas involving said narratives. I don’t like it when the narrative itself forces me into a rigid, linear progression because of game design choices.
Let video games stay video games.