Archive for July, 2018

The Canterbury Traveler

Posted in Grumblings on July 18, 2018 by chemiclord

It’s not terribly often that a video game allows me to dip into my English Lit studies so blatantly, but Octopath Traveler for the Nintendo Switch isn’t your typical video game.

Square-Enix quite proudly declares that Octopath Traveler harkens back to the days of “old school RPGs,” and it indeed does that, both good and ill.  From the heavy grind elements, to the heavily padded play time created by the necessary grind, to the somewhat disjointed narrative elements, to the endless excuses the game presents to make you do anything but what you’re supposed to be doing… there’s a lot of things that modern games tend to not do, and for good reason.

Old-school RPGs generally did not respect a player’s time, and neither does Octopath Traveler.  Be prepared to either spend several days in deep marathon sessions, or be willing to spend months just taking it in piece by piece (and hope to remember just what you were trying to accomplish between sessions).

That said, there is definitely some good elements of old-school RPGs that I was happy to see again.  In many ways, the RPGs of those ol’ times were almost as much puzzle solvers as they were adventures.  Octopath Traveler brings that back in spades with a depth of turn-based combat I have not seen too many times before, if ever.  There is a delight of accomplishment in putting together a chain of attacks that completely turn the tide of battle that you really can’t do in the active time or hybrid combat that modern RPGs prefer to utilize.

The sprite artwork of the characters and environments doesn’t always mesh perfectly with the more modern particle and lighting effects the game uses, and if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might find the very obvious focus line as the scene shifts from foreground to background extremely jarring.  But said effects are breathtaking, especially in combat.

But honestly, the best analogy I could think of to describe Octopath Traveler is a Middle English long-form poem by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Much like the pilgrims in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the various stories of Octopath Traveler don’t overlap, and in fact have little to nothing to do with each other.  On one hand, having a game’s narrative that doesn’t have some central, puppet master type antagonist is a fairly novel one, and creates an illusion of a very big world, one in which no singular person could hope to wholly influence.

On the other hand, only the protagonist of any given story chapter will interact in said story (the other members of your party completely vanish outside of combat).  It can be jarring to suddenly lose those you had been fighting alongside up until that narrative step.  In fact, interactions between party members are restricted to occasional events in various pubs, and it feels like a tremendous missed opportunity to create a much more engaging narrative.

As a result, Octopath Traveler feels unfinished in a way, much like the poem that Chaucer was unable to complete.  It feels like there was so much more that could have been done to turn what is a very good RPG into a great one.

How much you enjoy Octopath Traveler will depend entirely on how much your enjoyment of “old school RPGs” is tainted by the rose colored glasses of nostalgia.  You’ll either be delighted by all the things that have slowly vanished from the genre… or be reminded why games aren’t really made this way anymore.

On the Role of Journalism…

Posted in Grumblings on July 12, 2018 by chemiclord

Between President Donald Trump’s “fake news” and the media’s constant hand wringing about the president’s “War on Journalism,” it really does feel like the people reporting the news have become as much of the story as the news itself.

As much as I am loathe to say that President Trump is right about anything, perhaps he has stumbled unwittingly on a very good point.

What good is professional journalism at this point?  What is it actually doing right now that isn’t already being done by less professional outlets for less cost and much more effectively?

I know the obvious answer is that the people are so poorly informed nowadays, but is that really true?  Or, I should say, are people really any more poorly informed than they ever have been?

Are the crazy conspiracy theorist, or the hate-filled ranting nutjob, or the inflexibly entrenched partisan really new things?  I’d say not really.  I think every single person can’t even count the number of horribly informed people they know using both hands and their toes, and that number probably really hasn’t particularly increased or decreased over the years.  Hell, the people you’re thinking of right now are probably even the same people you’d be thinking of twenty years ago.

Like with most things that are getting “worse” in our society, I’d contend that the only thing that’s really changed is how visible these terrible things in our society are.  Poorly informed people only seem worse now because there are so many more ways they can show their ass to the world than there used to be.

Mass media is failing not because people no longer care about the news.  It’s because the public no longer needs to pay someone (or serve as a receiver of advertising) to craft a slant, story, or opinion.  There are hundreds of “amateur” journalists or bloggers or newsgroup posters that are giving them the exact same level of “quality” but refined even further to hit the talking points they want to hear for a lot less time and/or monetary investment.

We no longer need journalists to tell a “story.”  Why go to Fox News at certain times of the day, when you can hit up The Blaze or The Raw Story or Breitbart at your leisure?  Why hit up The Guardian‘s website and be begged for money when you can get the same talking points (and get largely the same amount of garbage comments) just by following the right people on Twitter?

Now, with that said, I think journalists do potentially have a vital use… they just have to be willing to actually do it.

Journalists, in many ways, are the first responders of the media.  They have the quickest access to the actual facts of what has happened.  They have the most direct connection to the people who are actually responsible for the events we hear about.

We don’t need stories.  We need facts, and journalists remain our best and most effective way to get them.