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.
Recently there was some heated discussion online about a “new poetic form”, the “anchored terset.” Described in the literary media as “radically condensed” and coined by Lisa Matthews as part of the Northern Poetry Library’s celebration of National Libraries Day, the form comprises three words and a full stop. It is argued that such a condensed form is democratic and suited to social media; anyone may find the time to write three words. This was at the core of criticism of the form, and while much of the vitriol can be discounted there are fruitful lines of critical enquiry concerning the form. Poetry can be described as compressing or abbreviating complex ideas in concise ways which are then unpicked by the reader. Compressing an idea into three words that evoke the right associations to paint a picture or provoke thought is immensely challenging: it may be easy to write three words but picking the three best words is not easy.
In my previous article, concerning the genre of what is ultimately pulp, soapish historical fiction, I discussed the idea that it is impossible for a work dealing with an elite and a dispossessed to be be apolitical. By extension, a work which downplays or mocks the downfall of an elite for comic value – by presenting socialists or reformists as figures of fun and inconveniences – can not unreasonably be read as sympathetic to that elite. Downton Abbey, the aristocratic soap popular on British television of late, is a good example; modernity, and a world where the landed gentry are no longer so comfortable, is presented as something annoying and the humour is drawn from how the most posh members of the society are inconvenienced by it.
Recently, the newest Call of Duty game has been receiving significant online criticism for its apparently crass and ridiculous story; this, per se, is not interesting to me. The games have historically, since no longer being set during WW2, had exploitative and poorly-written stories which began as functional, genre-typical backdrops to a first-person shooter game but over time became even lower-quality and overreliant on shock value to try and recapture the success of Modern Warfare‘s nuclear bomb mission and execution sequence. Those were very good pieces of action storytelling for a computer game; the former was unexpected and brief enough to retain its impact, and the latter was a strong homage to things such as Half-Life‘s introductory sequence. The criticism of Advanced Warfare, though, is interesting because it shows, to me, that there are two very distinct approaches to criticising storytelling in video games. Having not played the game I can only discuss the critical debate around it, but that is the interesting part.