In a lot of computer games, moral choices can be reduced to personality tests; they may be interesting dilemmas, but my enduring memory of games even as enjoyable as Mass Effect and Dragon Age is the choices still led you, eventually, to a fight or not a fight and a vaguely equivalent reward. This is not inherently a bad thing, the games still had memorable character moments, and generally hold up well as stories. Even something like The Witcher 3, which does not simply fall into good/bad decisions, generally has a lot of situations where the options are bad/worse and you as a player are not quite sure what will be worse (because the people the characters interact with are irrational, bigoted or stupid). But, nevertheless, it is not for no reason that moral decisions in video games became typecast as “do a good thing for a small reward, or a bad thing for a possibly bigger reward and a fight”; idea like Mass Effect‘s Renegade and Paragon points provided clear mechanical incentives for making choices that were often empathy versus utilitarianism. Bioshock was probably the weakest example of all; there, moral choice was “do you murder someone who looks innocent for immediate fiscal reward, or spare them for a larger reward later”. Hardly an interesting dilemma and almost a purely mechanical one.
A key part of the quality of Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-Hen is its pacing and use of processions of dreamlike, almost wordless scenes; characters will move around and say little and yet the series uses visual and body language to make up for the lack of dialogue. It quite fits the characterisation that has been established in episode 1; Kenshin is willingly emotionless, childish in thought and deed, and Tomoe – the girl whose fiance he killed without knowing – is herself repressed and alone. I mentioned in my previous article on this OVA that it was rejecting, in a sense, all of the conventions of the typical assassin’s backstory; even now there is a humanising element (the thing that one would expect would lead to a sharp turn into mawkishness and saccharine cliché) it is in its own way different. It is two people both suffering unspoken emotional trauma (because the series has not even begun to address that Tomoe’s fiance is dead by Kenshin’s hand) talking at each other not about their problems.
When I began watching Rurouni Kenshin I felt a prequel showing the creation and life of the “Manslayer”, its central character (a retired, remorseful assassin who has laid down arms but cannot escape the past he created) would be superfluous; it seemed as a series to be showing a very “Ryosuke Takahashi” tale of someone with a past they were unprepared to share being reminded of it and trying to deal with it in ways which did not get in the way of their new life – even if they had to give up on that second chance for the greater good (Chirico Cuvie in Armored Trooper VOTOMS being the obvious parallel here but this is a theme that even turns up, in more optimistic terms, in Guy in King of Braves Gaogaigar – prepared to take up the mantle of hero which he believes has irreversibly dehumanised him unto death). Nevertheless, I was strongly recommended Tsuioku-hen, the prequel OVA, as one of the best pieces of animation the recommender had seen and I was richly rewarded by how in its first episode it set up something that far exceeded the usual sort of supersoldier backstory or “dark past seeking redemption” tale.
Warlord Games’ Test of Honour is best described as a pseudo-historical or pop-history wargame, a kind of midpoint between “serious” historical wargaming (focused strongly on accuracy over balance, and often breaking rules of what is considered “fun” in traditional miniatures gaming senses) and pure fantasy or speculation. Its mission statement, according to a Wargames Illustrated article was to “evoke samurai movies rather than a slavishly historical view of feudal Japan” (Graham Davey, quoted in WI354) and in this respect it achieves its aim. The rulebook is wholly free of historical context, the painting guides are genericised and do not even provide a list of historical coats of arms to imitate for historically-minded players.
In my longer review of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst I talked about how it was an ultimately anemic attempt at an activist piece of science-fiction; it failed to consider its liberal message on a level beyond what seemed to me to be the superficial. This was primarily a result of its creation of a bland dichotomy between terrorists on one end (who believed and exposited at great length that tacit acceptance of inequality made people a fair target for being killed in the name of the cause) and a peaceful progressive movement that seemed mostly to exist to make the protagonist appear to have agency. There was never a proper sense of struggle; the status quo seemed to be set up purely to hinge on the protagonist – and thus the player’s – actions.
Note: This article discusses in close detail the story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Having recently played both Dishonored games in succession, I have had the opportunity to compose my thoughts about the series; initially I was eager to discount it as not for me simply because stealth games are not my favourite type and the nonspecific steampunk-pseudo-British aesthetic of the first game, all whalers, fog and clunky technology, seemed overplayed and uninteresting. However, I came to quite enjoy the games as I played through them and even ended up playing the second in a mostly non-lethal fashion, with attempts at a much higher level of stealth and creativity than the first game (which ended up as a kind of farce as a masked assassin roamed the streets lobbing grenades and land-mines and shooting pistols at anything that moved).
Note: This review discusses a number of plot points from both Dishonored and Dishonored 2 and assumes some familiarity with the games’ stories.
The Eldran super-robot series is arguably less well-known than the Yuusha series, in part owing to a lack of translation available before the licensing of Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh. Before I watched any of the shows, I was aware of them only as younger-skewing adventure series which had largely interchangeable designs and often large casts of principal characters. However, after seeing that Nekketsu Saikyou Gosaurer (1993-4) (according to ANN translated as Matchless Passion Gosaurer) was receiving ongoing subtitles – and having seen a few episodes of the fully translated Ganbaruger – I decided to try it. The series proved highly enjoyable, standing out within a crowded and largely interchangeable genre as being among the better examples.
Official Trails of Cold Steel 2 art, Artist: Enami Katsumi
Currently I am playing Trails of Cold Steel 2, which picks up directly from a significant cliffhanger in the same way Trails in the Sky did; it begins with the cast divided, the enemy holding the upper hand and the situation generally bad except certain fundamental details of scale are different, which puts a very different tone on it and one that makes the whole “message” of the story different. It builds on a different set of pop-culture references, evoking more the “magical high school” kind of anime story rather than the easygoing pastoral fantasy Sky built on and so focuses on a cast of truly exceptional, highly-specialised heroes who fill various expected role of that sort of ensemble. Certain decisions in the sequel double down on this, taking the story outside of its initial high-school setting, which create some interesting questions about the story. As it stands I have yet to finish the game, but am some significant time into it, and this article reflects my initial thoughts on where Cold Steel stands as a series narratively.
Note: This article deals directly with story details of Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2, as well as referring to Trails in the Sky
While Macross Delta episode 19 provides numerous answers to the series’ mysteries, it does so in the least interesting way possible; an effective slideshow of revelations divided between Berger talking to Chaos and Roid talking to Keith. This technique of combining both the heroes and villains discussing what they know, and what they think they know, can work; one of the best episodes of Eureka Seven is an early one, just after a significant plot twist, where half the episode is the protagonist coming to terms with events and half is one of the junior lackeys of the villain trying to form a report to his superiors about the same events. That is an interesting episode not because it is expository, but because it provides two distinct takes on a set of events in a deeply personal way that both teach the viewer about the personalities of the speakers and how the different factions perceive their standing.