Monday, November 16, 2015

What exactly is "Beyond" Good and Evil?


     I recently finished cult classic Beyond Good and Evil for PS3 (the HD re-release) and found myself asking what the title means. Of course, there are a multitude of books and papers that discuss the difference between Good and Evil, how the concepts started, and the grey area beyond. My musings here will only cover the meaning within the game, as I don't have time to analyze the most controversial concept in human, nay, universal, history. For that, you can read Nietzsche. But I must wonder, why did the creators of this game decide to give it such a lofty title? Is the game deserving of such a heavy burden? Does it actually have anything to do with the pre-existing book of the same name?

     First, let me break the game's storyline down into its most basic plot points and symbols:
  • Family and Friendship
  • Human trafficking 
  • Finances
  • Aliens
  • Photography
Photography aside, these are pretty heavy concepts, to be sure. There isn't much that can bring a jolly conversation to a screeching halt quite like the topic of human trafficking. Aliens are no laughing matter, either. And yet Beyond Good and Evil somehow manages to bring all of these concepts together without receiving an AO rating.
     The game's protagonist, Jade, becomes involved with an underground organization whose purpose is to expose evil deeds being committed by a militarized government. Jade's task is seemingly simple: using her trusty camera, Jade must capture photographic evidence of the government's misdeeds. Jade soon discovers, to the player's likely horror, that the government is literally kidnapping people and shipping them off to the moon to take part in a The Matrix-like alien slave trade. Throughout the story players follow Jade's interactions with her motley crew of different-species family members and friends, and constantly hear little bits of proverb about not leaving team-mates behind (particularly when a NPC party member gets stuck behind a door or otherwise falls behind). In some ways, the lessons taught here are simplistic and Sesame Street-like, though I must defend Sesame Street; at least, in my youth, it was a pretty complex show that taught valuable lessons to children and their parents while taking kids seriously. Maybe, like Sesame Street, Beyond Good and Evil intends to reach an open and impressionable audience and spread the message that family and friends are important treasures to cherish and protect. Cue the Yip Yips.


So, maybe familial and platonic relationships are beyond good and evil: maybe one must put aside all of one's personal affects when the life of a family member is at stake. Jade fights for good by exposing the evil being perpetrated by the corrupt government, but she is more personally motivated to action when her uncle is kidnapped. In this way, Jade sees her family as being more important than, or beyond, the philosophical fight between good and evil.

     Have you played Beyond Good and Evil? What do you think is beyond the concept of good vs. evil? How might the game developers have concocted such a title? Of course, the most pressing question for most gamers is: will there be a sequel?

     Don't forget: this month is Sci-Fi Month! What are your favorite literary sci-fi games?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Thoughts on Mattel's "Monster High"


In a word: "Fangtastic". Okay, so the series is filled with enough bad puns to make any English major permanently stick their face in a cringe, but I have been a long-time fan of Monster High and the ways that they are changing the game in girls' toys. How does this fit the blog's theme of Video Games as Literature? Well, I'll get to that in a bit -- bear with me. I just want to mention a few things I like about what the toy line and show are teaching young girls:
  1. "Be Yourself. Be Unique. Be a Monster." This is the motto of Monster High, and it encourages girls to be different and not to be afraid of who they are. This theme is perpetuated throughout the movies and toy line, and is very different from the traditional message that Barbie has been giving children since time began: "You can do anything as long as you have the right hair color, proportions, and boyfriend."
  2. Monster High teaches girls that they aren't required to play with "girl toys" and do "girl" things. For instance, take a look at this skateboard (skateboarding is traditionally considered a boys' activity due to the amount of physical exertion required) made for Monster High fans:

So, video games. While Mattel has released several Monster High video games (which I have not played), my impression is that these games are not the greatest literary achievements in the gaming world (this impression comes from the following Let's Play videos that I have skimmed on YouTube -- warning for language).
What has recently impressed me, however, is an initiative by Mattel to teach young girls the very basics of coding (check out the website for this movement here). There is a large amount of controversy regarding the need for more girls to be involved in STEM fields, and every time a new "girl toy" is released that seems to move girls away from being interested in science and math the internet begins to complain. This is why I was so impressed to see the following video from Monster High: 

While the principles taught in these browser games are very, very basic, they are intended to get girls interested in real coding, and that's what really counts here. 

How does this relate to literature? Well, the more viewpoints (women, minorities, etc.) we find involved in the creation process of our newest medium (video games), the more potential there will be for creative variety. I can't wait to see what this generation of young girls will contribute to literature in all of its forms in the future.


By the way, one "girl" game that I can highly recommend is Disney's Brave -- for a licensed game supposedly intended for young girls, this game is rich and challenging! And, of course, the heroine, Merida, is anything but a traditional girl. If you haven't seen the movie, that's high on my list of recommendations, as well.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Welcome to Sci-Fi Month 2015!



As it is now November, Sci-Fi Month has officially begun! This year I'll be taking the month a bit slower than before, as I have too much work in my personal life and can't give this blog my full attention, but rest assured that I will be writing on some very good, well received (and under-appreciated) games this month. Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments, as usual, and click on the Sci-Fi Month logo to check out some of the other blogs that are participating!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Far Cry 3: An Intensely Immersive Experience


     Once again I am far behind when it comes to my extremely large backlog of games. Recently I finished playing Far Cry 3. Having never played the previous games, I knew little about what to expect -- I had mostly only heard that the game is very violent and that the open-world experience is incredible. When I was told (by multiple sources) that the story was also enjoyable, however, I knew this was a game I couldn't pass up. So I got a copy of the game for PS3 and started playing -- and couldn't stop. The story in this game was so well done I found myself reacting to the story as I would a mystery novel. Immediately upon completing the "tutorial" portion of the game, a character is killed. Before this point, I had already been thinking to myself, "He's a cool character -- too bad he'll be the first to be killed off." Note that I had no prior experience with this game or series -- the storyline is just good enough in its narrative that I was able to analyze the story as I played, much as I would analyze the story in a novel as I read.
     The creators of the game knew exactly what they were doing with the narrative when they created it. Like the great mystery authors of old, the creators of Far Cry 3 were able to predict exactly how their audience would react to situations and characters within the game, and they used a variety of techniques to let the player know that their thoughts were already known. As I said, the game is very violent. The violence does not detract from the story, however -- in fact, it adds to the experience and, if you are paying enough attention, it causes a lot of self-reflection. Much of the story revolves around villainous groups of modern-day pirates and those who do business with them. Many players will find that, though they can see that these villains are doing truly evil things, they actually like these characters. This is because the game's writers have made the pirates likeable, regardless of their evil deeds. After the battle with the first "boss" of the game, the game's writers make it clear that they know about your affection for the character that has just been killed by briefly showing a simple quote from Through the Looking-Glass (otherwise known as the second book in the "Alice in Wonderland" duo): "'I like the Walrus best,' said Alice: 'because he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.' 'He ate more than the Carpenter, though,' said Tweedledee" (Carroll 236).
     By viewing this simple literary quote, players know that the character they just battled -- a character they found themselves liking -- is a representation of the Walrus, while the player is Alice. The same introspection that Alice must go through when she learns that the Walrus only seemed sorry for the oysters he consumed is then felt by the player, who must then think about the terrible things that this seemingly fun and favorable character has done. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland quotes are actually used throughout the game. This is a common occurrence -- many modern media that revolve around a character lost in a strange and unusual land use references to Alice. What is important here is the way in which the quotes are used. They truly make the player take pause and think for a moment about what is happening in the game.
     Being an open-world game, there are a lot of opportunities for players to customize their experience with the game. In this game, however, the entire experience is created to elicit specific emotions from the player. At one moment, a player might be driving along in a car stolen from the pirates, listening to the radio that plays in most vehicles on the island. The player may suddenly see a person sitting in the middle of the road and have to stop or swerve to miss that person. When the player exits the car, she may find that the person in the road is a woman leaning over the corpse of a man and crying. One might infer that the man was killed by the pirates, or hit by another reckless driver on the road. Perhaps it was even the player who hit the man -- and now the player must see the results of her actions. Small moments like this are littered throughout the game. Even playing Poker can seem like a real experience. Though the NPCs that you are playing Poker with may repeat themselves from time to time, as NPCs tend to do, the atmosphere can make the experience seem more real than any other video poker game you have previously played. At one point I was playing poker with three other guys in a small bar on the beach. It was relatively dark in the bar, and it was night-time in the game. Suddenly, it began to storm in-game; the thunder was quite loud and realistic and the lightning could be seen through the windows. I felt a sense that I was actually playing cards with neighbors during a power outage.
     It's difficult to describe the incredible experience that this game provides without giving away too many spoilers, so I would recommend playing the game yourself so you can see exactly what kind of experience the game creates for you. And now it's time for me to get Far Cry 4.


Announcement: Video Games as Literature will be participating in Sci-Fi month November once again this year! You can read about the event here. Last year I had a number of great ideas to write about for the event, but this year my brain's a bit dry in the idea department. If you have any suggestions for sci-fi related games that I should write about, please leave a comment!

Works Consulted:

Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking
     Glass
. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1960. Print.

Friday, August 21, 2015

My name is Kirsten and I'm a fan of "Hatoful Boyfriend".


In fact, Hatoful Boyfriend might be one of my favorite games. Have I said that before about other games? I really do need to publish that top 100 list I've been working on... Anyway, it's hard to take a formal tone when I'm writing about my new-found fascination with a pigeon dating sim. So here's the story: I got the game long ago on Steam, but have been hesitant to play it for obvious reasons. Usually I don't care what people think of me, but I was worried about the messages that would start rolling in when my friends saw me playing it. So I put it off and forgot about it for a while. Over time, however, I heard more and more good things about the game and by the time it was released for Playstation, I was completely ready to immerse myself in the fowl experience. I bought the game (at full price!) for Vita and started playing immediately. My mind was blown.

This actually sounds like something I might say.

I'll admit, I haven't played many Dating Sims or Visual Novels. In fact, I'm trying to play more of them so I can write a piece on my opinion regarding how they fit into the literary game mold. The few games I have played in these genres, however, were worthless sap and plotless nonsense compared to Hatoful Boyfriend. Okay, so that may not sway many of you critics, so I'll drop this bomb: Hatoful Boyfriend has a more intense and endearing storyline than (dare I say it?) the Dragon Age games. And those are some of my favorite games, so don't take my words lightly! I even have my copy of Dragon Age II autographed by the series' lead writer -- that's how serious I am.

Yes, yes, many of the reviews and screenshots of Hatoful Boyfriend show the humorous side of the game: mainly the parts that involve a character named Okosan.

Okosan is the bird who is obsessed with pudding.

But if you play the game thoroughly, you'll find that there is a much deeper story buried beneath the humorous pudding. Many of the characters' endings have a strong potential to make you cry. I believe the tumblr crowd would say that this game gives you "all the feels". If you don't believe me, look up the enormous amount of fan art that this game has provoked from its fan base! 

I do not wish to give spoilers because this game is worth playing spoiler-free. Thus I will say the following: the game is extremely well written and well translated (I saw few, if any, grammar or punctuation errors) and the story is to die for. Perhaps literally. If you read reviews from people who have played the whole game (i.e. they didn't stop playing after reaching only one of the possible endings), you will learn that if you achieve ALL of the endings, you will unlock the "true" ending, which is a whole new game unto itself. As you play through the various different storylines, you'll find that you have a lot of unanswered questions and you're not sure who you can and can't trust. After a few playthroughs, it becomes obvious that not only is this a Dating Sim and a Visual Novel, but it is also a well-thought-out mystery story! Look at that -- Hatoful Boyfriend even transcends genres.

In all, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Hatoful Boyfriend is a shining example of compelling sci-fi (/mystery/dystopian future) literature in video game form.

Oh, and to answer the most pressing question: who is my favorite bird? That is a question I cannot answer, as I love them all.

But Sakuya's human form is pretty darn nice looking.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Diablo III: Reputation does not equal quality!

Source

Reputation does not equal quality -- especially when it comes to storytelling! In a Hack & Slash A-RPG like Diablo where most of the screenshots online resemble the above, one doesn't expect a highly detailed plot -- everyone knows the game is all about self-assurance through killing hordes of baddies and gaining ridiculously high stat points. Diablo III does, however, have a storyline. I'll admit, it's been many years since I played the previous installment in the Diablo series, and I do not remember a storyline at all (I know it had one, but for me it was definitely not memorable!). The plot of this game, however, seems to revolve primarily around which cutscenes the developers thought would look the coolest (and I'll admit, they do look pretty cool). Spoiler alert for the following Act II video:


But these glamorous cutscenes are quite few and far between. While they show an inkling of a plot, that plot is barely carried out through the actual active parts of the game. In fact, I became confused about what was actually going on in the story at a few points, just because I was being told to go out and, say, kill 100 zombies without getting a reasonable explanation for why I was doing this. And that's the point of an Action RPG such as this -- the player is not expected to be burdened with the storyline, instead you are expected to just do as you're told to advance through the game. At one point, the player character begins to be referred to as "The Nephilim," but his or her background is not given much detail. In chapter IV, the player is told that their character has no clear fate, and thus it is possible for that character to change fate itself. Again, this is not clearly explained. This part of the game, however, reminded me immediately of a much more story-driven, yet less well known game: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning


Though this game is more of an open world, traditional RPG, and despite its cheesy title, it seems to have everything that Diablo III lacks: a well thought-out plot, a vast history (see this linked video for more information on that), and a beautiful, huge world to explore. I tend to tell people that it's a lot like The Elder Scrolls series, but prettier. Like many other western RPGs, Kingdoms of Amalur allows players to create their own hero to play as. This is the case for Diablo III to some extent, though in Diablo's case players can only choose their class and gender. Even though the player has created their own character, however, that character has a rich and important backstory that is revealed little by little as the player progresses through the game, with the mystery of the player character's history finally made fully clear at the very end of the game. Not only does the main character have a rich history, but many of the surrounding characters have strong backgrounds and stories, as well. And here's the reason Diablo III reminded me so much of Kingdoms of Amalur: Diablo III's plot seems like a weak imitation of the plot of Kingdoms of Amalur! In both cases the hero has no visible fate, and can change the future accordingly. In Diablo's case, this is barely explained, yet in the case of Kingdoms of Amalur, this is the central plot point of the entire story.

Please share your thoughts on the matter below! Do you feel that Diablo III needed more of a plot, or are you fine with hacking and slashing for hours on end?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Some videos for your consideration

     Today my post is not going to focus on my own arguments, but on some well developed arguments in video form that I have recently watched. The first video is a TEDx presentation in which the speaker uses Bioshock, The Last of Us, and other recent games as examples to introduce the concept of video games as methods through which to convey relevant major ideas and philosophical topics to a broad audience. You may watch the video below:



     The second video is from a regular book vlogger who merely poses the question, "Are video games literature?" In asking this question, however, she makes some very nice points. Also, though I would normally advise against reading YouTube comments at all costs, there is some nice discussion in the comments on this video. If nothing else, the video sparks a lively debate on the controversy surrounding the concept of video games as literature.


     On this second video, I did post a response, which I will share below:
What I don't understand is why people are so intent on separating art and literature as though they are two distinct things. I have a MA in English Literature. That's a Master's of Art. Literature is considered a form of art, often even "fine art." So I think we can probably all agree that literature, video games, paintings, music, etc. all fall under the extremely broad category of "art." And the definition of art itself has been debated for literal millennia, so I don't think we'll find an adequate agreement to its definition here. The question is, are video games literature. And to know that you have to have a strong understanding of what literature actually is (and, unfortunately, one definition provided by google isn't going to give that understanding). Sometimes pamphlets you find in a doctor's office are called literature (Doctor: "I'm going to provide you with some literature on that deadly infectious disease you have. Good day."). Thus the word has several meanings. I personally believe that literature is any type of story being conveyed to an audience. That would include film, video games, comics, etc. Now, whether it's good, or "high" literature is dependent on general popular consensus.
 What are your thoughts regarding the concepts and questions posed by the speakers in these videos?


Also, remember that there is now a Steam Group! We've had some lively discussion on there so far, so feel free to jump into the mix! Expect some original new posts from me soon -- I have about three in the works at this moment, so I will finish at least one of them at any time now (I hope).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick


     Evan Skolnick, writer for a number of games with interesting variety such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, Over the Hedge, and Spider-Man 3 (the surprisingly better of the three Tobey Maguire-based Spider-Man games), has finally written a book that should have been brought to the public long ago: an honest guide to writing good stories in video games. Skolnick teaches the basics of storytelling, something that a veteran creative writing student would already know, but that a member of a video game development team may have yet to learn. He stresses that all members of the development team are responsible for creating an engaging story, and thus should have a basic understanding of how a story is created. Though I personally have learned many of the important techniques and terms that Skolnick presents to his audience through creative writing classes and my own personal study of the subject, someone who is not an English major and writer like myself would likely be unfamiliar with the concepts. And that is exactly the audience that Skolnick is looking for: those game developers, programmers, or even artists who have important roles in the creation of a game and thus should be familiar with the narrative writing process. In other words, Skolnick sets out to cure the creative writing illiteracy of the average game creator-to-be in the hopes of providing the world with more advanced and engaging narrative video games.
     Skolnick uses a number of examples throughout his book through which to demonstrate various storytelling techniques. He does fall back on Star Wars as an example many times because a) a large majority of the population has seen at least the original trilogy and b) the series is well known as being a prime example of "The Hero's Journey," one of the most basic and well known plot structures in existence. Skolnick doesn't only use film examples, however: he also gives many wonderfully detailed examples from popular video games and books.
     Another nice thing about Skolnick's work is that the writing is not too technical, nor is it condescendingly simple. The text is legitimately enjoyable to read. I even found myself re-learning old knowledge through a new lens, which I found helpful and fascinating. This book seems like something that anyone interested in writing or in video games would benefit from. I feel that Skolnick's book is a leap forward towards public understanding that video games can be literature, and often are. The next time I hear an argument against video games and their impact on society, I intend to direct the cynic to Skolnick's book.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of this book from BloggingForBooks.org. This in no way means that I have falsified my review -- had the book been garbage, I would certainly have let everyone know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"To Be or Not To Be": A Hilariously Irreverent Romp through Hamlet



     A new game was released on February 4th that I knew would be a game changer (no pun intended) in the field of Video Games as Literature. As soon as I saw the game for sale, I gleefully purchased it. Unlike the bitter disappointment that was "Hamlet: Or the Last Game..." yadayada, I had faith that this new game, titled "To Be or Not to Be," would be excellent, regardless of its unoriginal title. After all, Kate Beaton of "Hark! A Vagrant" was involved!
   I got around to playing the game a week later, and played through several storyline options, of which there are probably hundreds or thousands, being that this game is based on the format of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel. Not only is this game hilarious, but it shows clear knowledge of its subject matter. The game satirizes the play upon which it is based (William Shakespeare's Hamlet) with finesse, but also finds time to parody or satirize many other cultures and ideas, such as modern teenage culture, feminism and anti-feminism, Elizabethan culture, etc. The humor is vast, yet retains some semblance of intellectualism in every passage.
     One of the greatest things about this game is that it IS, in fact, a video game, but is almost entirely text based. "Choose Your Own Adventure" books were often short and contained few individual "adventures," but in the case of "To Be or Not To Be," had it been in book form, it would have been thick and daunting, as there are so many different adventure options to choose from. It is possible to play through the story almost exactly as it goes in the play, and I tried to do this, but there are so many hilarious options to choose instead that I have yet to actually play the story in its truest form. The game also uses these options to pick apart the flaws in the original story (usually flaws as seen through a modern lens), and you can't help but to take a more rational route than the one chosen by the characters in the original story. I also hear there is a storyline in which you can become a pirate, but I haven't found that one yet.
     Most importantly, however, is the fact that the game almost achieves the impossible by making Hamlet (the person) actually likable! Ophelia is portrayed as a highly intelligent feminist, significantly ahead of her time, but Hamlet is shown for what he truly is: a 30-something-year-old teenager.
     To conclude: this game can be enjoyed by anyone. Even if you never read or saw the play (or any of the terrible film adaptations), you will enjoy this game. It is comedy at its best, while still teaching Shakespeare laymen the basic premise and plot of the story (just don't expect to be able to write a school paper having played this game alone! Your teacher will become suspicious when you start to talk about ninjas).

    You can read my brief Steam review here, and as another treat for Steam users, I have started a Steam group for anyone interested in the subject of Video Games as Literature! Check the group out here!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Updates and Intentions

Hello Friends and Followers!

Web Address Changes
     If any of you have tried to visit the blog in the last week, you will have noticed that the address has changed! I have purchased the domain videogamesasliterature.com and am still in the process of figuring out the mechanics of getting it re-hosted, etc. For the time being, the address for the blog is blog.videogamesasliterature.com. This may change in the future, but you can always still visit the old blogger/blogspot link and it will redirect you. I am working on changing my links on social media to reflect this, and if you have anything linking to my blog, it would be good if you changed your links, as well.


Intentions for Upcoming Posts
     I have several projects in the works to post over the course of the coming month or two. I was ecstatic to see that a game called To Be or Not to Be was released last Wednesday. Though I purchased the game on release day, I have yet to play it. Rest assured, however, that as soon as I have played the game you will be hearing my thoughts! My expectations may be high, but I hope that will not be the case. After all, the game's description promises "The greatest work in English literature, now in the greatest format of English literature: a chooseable-path adventure! William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has finally been restored to its original second-person non-linear branching narrative format. Now it’s up to YOU to decide what happens next. Play as Hamlet and revenge your father’s death. Play as Ophelia and make scientific discoveries. Play as King Hamlet, Sr. and die on the first page!" (Steam, About this Game) Finally, I may have discovered the true link between video games and literature! I feel like Sean Connery, when his son, Harrison Ford, found the Holy Grail! Except without the dying part.
     I will also be reviewing a book entitled Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques. I haven't nearly finished it yet, but I am excited to read about narrative technique from the point of view of a game developer. My hope is that this book will fit well with my arguments regarding the strong connection between what a video game is and what society perceives as "literature".

As always, feel free to comment with suggestions on games that you believe fit the literary theme, or books that you have to recommend!

Friday, January 23, 2015

National Readathon Day!


     Today, January 24th, is National Readathon Day! For this auspicious event, I have pledged to read for a minimum of four hours between midnight and 11:59 p.m. (mainly from noon to 4:00 p.m., the official event hours) on the day itself, but I expect to read much, much more than that. You can follow my reading progression on my Goodreads page -- I will update as often as I am able. I expect to use this time to do some reading for my thesis studies, but also to read the large stack of graphic novels my brother loaned me -- so some reading will be high brow, some low brow, but who knows which will be which (seriously, I have read some really terrible academic writing).

     So, please visit THIS LINK to donate as much money as you are able to the National Book Foundation! 

     Your money will be going towards increasing national literacy, which is a very important cause! The more literate people are, the more understanding they will be able to be. You know what that means? Fewer internet trolls! So go donate now. :) 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Tale of Two Shops: "Hometown Story" vs. "Recettear"

     Okay, I'm ready to admit this: over the years, I have become addicted, little by little, to Natsume's "Harvest Moon" series and all of its spin-offs. The "Rune Factory" games have become especially prominent in my home. I think I've made it fairly clear that my favorite game genre is the RPG (generally the most story-based genre), and that I especially favor J-RPGs. So, of course, I recently picked up the latest title in the "Harvest Moon" universe: "Hometown Story". I knew little about the plot and play style of the game when I bought it, but when I began the game it became clear that the gameplay is very straight-forward.


    At the beginning of the game, your character arrives at a new town after receiving word that your grandmother (whom you don't seem to remember) has died. It is a pretty basic Natsume beginning. You must then meet the townsfolk and, ultimately, take it upon yourself to run your late grandmother's shop. The retail simulation is the main focus of the game, and there is often little reason to leave the shop at all, unless you want to look for things on the ground that you can sell. And really, this simple concept is enough to keep me interested... almost.
     Unfortunately, prior to playing "Hometown Story," I had already played the indie underdog retail sim "Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale". In "Recettear", you similarly play as Recette, a character who must take over her family's business, but in this story the driving force is the imminent threat of bankruptcy, which comes with a skeptical fairy to hover over the protagonist's shoulder and remind her every day how close she is to destitution. In "Hometown Story" there is no such urgency, and though one may find this to be a good thing (it certainly makes the game easier), the lack of a clear goal actually makes the game more dull. There are many other minute, yet important, details that "Recettear" boasts and that "Hometown Story" clearly lacks. The selling mechanics in the shop, for example, are much more simple in "Hometown Story" -- there is no bartering system or percentage mark-ups on item prices (as can be found in "Recettear") -- instead, you just set a price and hope the item sells.
     More importantly, however, "Recettear" leaves "Hometown Story" in the dust for two major reasons: 1) aside from the retail sim aspect, there is also an entire dungeon crawler side to the game. You can choose to spend all day in the shop, selling items, or you can hire a mercenary to accompany you in one of the many large dungeons found in the game. Here, in the dungeons, you can find items that you can either sell or synthesize into better items. 2) The storyline in "Recettear" is unbelievably good. The dialogue is filled with so many hilarious quips and the character development is so incredibly adorable, one might mistake this game as a G-Rated Nippon Ichi product.


     Why did I choose to write about these games, you might ask? Honestly, I've been playing "Hometown Story" and though it would still receive a recommendation from me (though it may be best suited for children), I am constantly wishing that it were a bit more like "Recettear" when I play it. I also feel that this is a good example of a small company performing significantly better than a more major, well known company (Natsume). Natsume may still be one of the less popular game companies in America (I was once told by a Gamestop employee that when a new "Harvest Moon" title is released they only order about two copies per store, since that's about all they expect to sell), but they still have a strong cult following. If they don't want to find themselves constantly upstaged by an indie game maker, they may want to put a bit more dressing into their future releases! Or just keep releasing "Rune Factory" titles. Especially on non-handheld consoles. Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny on PS3 is still one of my all time favorites.