In a previous article about the card game Netrunner, among other topics, I discussed how board games can combine thematic design with mechanical synergy – and how it is something which counteracts the lack of a narrative in something designed to be played over and over again. Board games, and to a similar extent miniatures-based wargames, need to be repeatable, almost non-narrative experiences because they involve large amounts of direct, unpredictable player interaction. Video games, on the other hand, have the scope in offering single-player experiences to tell a story – there may be different routes through that story, or different scenes to be selected, but there is still a story being told and the aim of the game is to experience it. This is ultimately the crux of the story versus theme dichotomy; the level of variance in the experience, and whether the narrative is crafted as part of the entire work, or emergent from interaction with it.
Kickbeat is marketed as an “innovative rhythm game with a Kung Fu theme,” but its level of innovation, when games like Final Fantasy Theatrhythm have explored adding combat and RPG elements to rhythm games in well-developed ways that closely tie licensed music to game theming, seems quite limited. Kickbeat is a straightforward rhythm game dressed up in theming that impedes play to an extent, and with a selection of music that is small compared to most competitors (Theatrhythm Curtain Call, which came out on handhelds around the same time, has a significantly larger and more varied song library – and even free-to-play rhythm games on mobile like Cytus and Love Live School Idol Festival have comparably sized or larger track lists.)
Kapsula is a puzzle game combining the reflex-testing of an endless runner with the block-matching of a game like Columns; the end result is something a little like Audiosurf but without the soundtrack element. It is well-suited to mobile formats, requiring only minimal inputs and – with a simple failure state and an interface designed to make repeat play as efficient as possible – being built from the ground up for intermittent play sessions. The mobile puzzle and skill game market is gaining a well-established set of ground-rules for designing a good mobile game – it should be as minimalist in terms of getting to play the game as possible, and as easy as possible to try again after a session, since mobile games are often played for short periods of time to fill a break. In this respect, Kapsula works well.
With the final preparations complete – in the form of an episode of down-time – Eureka Seven is finally ready to begin its ultimate confrontations. Renton is going beyond the Great Wall to find out some kind of truth, Stoner and Holland are preparing their expose of the Coralians and Eureka, and Dewey is planning his own operations to bring an end to the Coralian “threat.” The shift in focus is established with a new opening theme tune, probably the best of the series’ four themes. The theme tunes and credits sequences have throughout the series tonally reflected what is happening – the third, the punk-esque To the Centre of the Sun, played through the series’ impetuousness and kicking out – and now Sakura, the fourth theme, comes with its very heroic and spiritual sound for the show’s climax – established as something that must be religious.
The side story OVAs to the main Universal Century timeline of Gundam are, perhaps by virtue of a shorter running time, more focused in their approach to using the setting; each tells a single story seated within the world created that tries to be different in some way to other stories in the same world. The 08th MS Team makes aesthetic efforts at a kind of military-SF realism by attention to mechanical detail and at the same time is basically a love story about soldiers from opposing factions. War in the Pocket is even more personal and anti-action in its close focus on Al and Bernie, a soldier and the civilian who helps him try and carry out his mission against all odds – and its child’s viewpoint is specifically used to play with expectations of what this kind of story entails.
Episode 19 of Rahxephon is the end of an arc – the moment where Ayato’s impulsive heroism is finally put to the test as he must come to terms with what “saving” someone actually means – and whether, in this world, it is even possible.
Note: Episode 19 is a particularly unique episode, and probably one of the best-written episodes in mecha animé purely because of how it sits within the wider plot of the series – as a result, the remainder of this article will be placed after this tag so readers may choose not to read it and see the episode without being spoiled.
Aldnoah Zero shows its inspirations from across a number of science-fiction animé, but perhaps most clearly Turn-A Gundam in its invading empire from space bringing advanced technology against a more primitive Earth. While Turn-A took this to an extreme, with technology more advanced than many of the pure science-fiction Gundam series set against early 20th century weapons, Aldnoah has a “standard” military sci-fi setting, with its own war robots and advanced versions of existing weapons, set against a high-powered invading force with more fantastical equipment. Having greater technological parity in this way puts the focus more easily on conflict from the start; although very quickly in Turn-A the Earthrace finding and learning to use advanced weapons becomes the defining plot point, it makes it very clear from the start that without this, the Earthrace cannot even destroy a single Moonrace machine.
Choice of Games offer a wide selection of choose-your-own-adventure stories in a variety of genres, and were among the first to embrace the genre’s popularity on mobile. While the package on offer in their titles is significantly less polished than a title like Eighty Days or the Fighting Fantasy titles available, the variety of topics covered is refreshing. Mecha Ace represents a foray into animé pastiche, and arguably succeeds.
The rise of mobile gaming and the re-popularisation of the visual novel/management simulator via games such as Sunrider and Long Live the Queen has brought with it a number of solid entries in the genre, but few really capitalise on what computer games can offer the genre. Simply reproducing a gamebook is one thing, but what a piece of software can do is add vastly more options and statistic-tracking while keeping the player’s experience unchanged. Recent mobile release Eighty Days is a good example of this; it is a very pure choose-your-own-adventure experience but one which has depth and variety beyond many examples that add significant depth and interest to keep the player returning.
There are, really, two approaches to discussing the comparatively unpopular Episode 39 of Eureka Seven. One can either focus on what actually happens and talk about it as a sports animé, or one can discuss what it “means” within the framework of the series. It is ultimately a very silly episode, filled with visual jokes and cartoonish visuals, and its characters even admit themselves it is entirely superficial to the plot – yet it at the same time is so blatant and explicit in its exposition of the series’ themes it can be seen as clever in its stupidity. The plot is entirely incidental, and pure super-robot fluff; Holland, on orders from Norb, decides the Gekko’s crew must play a game of football before continuing with their mission. It is reminiscent of the strange training regimes of Gen Fudo in the later series Genesis of Aquarion, a series which is only really memorable for those episodes (which variously entail cross-dressing, characters parodying each others’ mannerisms, running foot-races and, in one case, playing football) and has the same heavy-handed way of delivering a “message” (in Aquarion‘s case it is usually punctuated with a suitably-themed special move for the main robot.)
This article also includes discussion of the plot of the serial Nearer My God To Thee (Abnett, Harrison, Parkhouse), printed in 2000AD issues 1883-8.