Recommending ‘Made in Abyss’ in Under 100 Words

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The closest to a modern adventure piece as one will get from anime. The most refreshing display of human passion and curiosity in what seems like decades. Worlds that inhabit our own, yet isolated from our understanding and culture. Fear and danger mold with excitement and elation. Real human beings, despite their odd shapes, come through as more than a single personality. Should a quick pace not pester, it flies at the speed it feels it must. Made in Abyss is both a delight and a surprise. Take the leap and discover the world inside.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Adhering to the Value of Narratives in Video Games

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Do not let the “Plan to Play” section of MyVideoGameList fool you; I have played a number of games throughout my life. Video games were, without a shred of exaggeration, my first love in life—the thing that I would most look forward to waking up to in the morning. It would make sense that throughout my time experiencing a wide variety of different games that I’ve come to develop a certain “fetish” for specific game types that appeal to me more than anything else. Pondering this for years, I always had an affinity for Nintendo games, games with colorful and cartoon-ish art direction, and games involving a lot of puzzle-solving. However, there is a specific aspect to games that has not only become more popular in recent years, but has evolved the state of video games into something that’s been debated on ever since. I am speaking of narratives, games with grandiose stories and moral messaging within its compact code.

For some time, I never realized how prevalent the impact of narratives in video games had on me as a gamer. In recent years, it’s become almost necessary for a game to have some sort of contextual motivation in order for me to care to try a game at all. Games such as Splatoon, Overwatch, and Sonic Mania are all titles that have fun features to their credit that make them enjoyable experiences, but none give me a lasting impression because there simply isn’t enough there for me to really care. And this isn’t to say the mentioned games don’t have narratives to them, they’re just not explored to the point where they become interesting on their own—whether because all further information is found through other sources or the game focuses more prominently on gameplay than story. This doesn’t bode so well for my standards, however, as my preferences have become more tailor-made to the manner in which a video game can immerse me within its world, something that is done best through world-building via characters and story. This leads me to uphold a likely unpopular opinion:

Narratives in video games usually make them better.

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There is no denying that a video game’s mechanics are what come first in a successful game. If gameplay is boring, then why bother? Gameplay, despite the message of this post, is the most important factor of a video game. With that in mind, the typical ratio for the critical player is usually 80/10/10 in accordance to gameplay/story and characters/art and sound. My own ratio is closer to 50/40/10, leaving games with stories/characters that utterly bore me and gameplay/art/sound direction that astounds me at best a 6/10.

Picking on Sonic Mania yet again (due to it being the inspiration behind this post), it follows this train of personal analysis. Gameplay is solid, smooth, and inspired. Art is perfect for what it’s trying to convey and adds even more pizzazz to the spirit of the Sonic series. Sound follows the same path as art style. Despite all of this, the story is bare-boned, and the characters’ personalities are only shown through very meager actions. I bought the game when it released ten days ago and I have yet to finish it, despite the game’s short-ish length. Why? Because I’m bored with it. Its gameplay and design aren’t enough to compensate for the lack of empathy I have to continue forth with the game, which is directly attributed to its simplistic story, and to some extent, its fan service. If I had to give it a rating at this moment, it would be a 6/10, verging on a 5.5/10. And I know that would make a lot of people upset.

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Alternatively, a video game like Undertale is capable of being rewarded a 7/10 from me, despite having gameplay that barely passes off for a typical bullet-hell/Earthbound type of gamestyle. From a gameplay standpoint, Undertale is a pretty dull game that doesn’t have much to offer. The most challenge one faces is trying to identify how to pacify a particular enemy while dodging their attacks in the meantime. Very typical RPG mechanics. Where it lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for in story and (especially) characters. While the narrative plays a little too much into THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!!, its characters are a wonderful variety of fun that makes the game far more entertaining than its gameplay would imply. This succeeds in pulling the player in with assisting (or playing along with) the trials that face the people around them, giving them more motivation to explore the world and find information about said characters or about the major goal.

Of course, there are times when a game gets too ahead of itself and focuses far too much on one aspect, most notably narrative, to compensate for the lack of anything else. Games such as Gone Home or Depression Quest are examples of the narrative > gameplay argument that people rattle over to this day. With the technology present to humanity today, in which we can create games that allow these narrative-driven wholes, are games that focus more on story than gameplay really video games? Such is a debate that rages on among the levels of “The Console Wars,” but in the end, more games are more games, and I’m all the happier for the people who dedicate their time to doing what they love.

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As I continued pondering, I began to understand that narratives in video games have always been the most prevalent and notably nostalgic games of my childhood. Hell, thinking about all the games on my Top 10 List of Nostalgic Games has more than half the list contain titles with heavy doses of dialogue/text or detailed story progression. It took me twenty-something years to realize that the difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Sunshine was the fact that Sunshine had more charm through its ridiculously idiotic story and character roster. Such is why I hold the latter to be a better experience, and a better game altogether.

So, with this in mind, the next time you come across a video game review from me, know that there are types of games I enjoy and those I don’t, but I try to critique a game to the nature of its parts and what I feel it tries to exude most notably from them. Still, I’m not perfect, and games like Sonic Mania will end up getting somewhat low ratings because my mind is accustomed to games with a lot more narrative-focus. It’s something I’ve had to learn to get over, though these internal stipulations do have their share of exceptions, hence why I said games are “usually” better with narratives. My fondness of storytelling is something that happened to cross over into my gaming preferences, leaving me to feel encouraged by the future of video games and what they can offer. Such a path will not always be straight and narrow, unfortunately.

Entry #8: Isshuukan Friends (Rewatch) (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by the 101st blog about gaming.)

Watching Isshuukan Friends for the first time, I thought it was a charming display of developing a bond between two people, with some dramatic miscues along the way. I was able to ignore the logical flaws and the ending emphasis on drama for the sake of adhering to the aloofness of the magical aroma of friendship and underlying romantic intentions between two naive fools. Just the kind of thing that makes me short-circuit.

Watching Isshuukan Friends for the second time, I realize that the person I was roughly three years ago may have been suffering from an air of lonely bias. Watching this again, there wasn’t nearly the amount of charm through one-on-one relationship as I originally remembered, and though the naivety of the leads are somewhat alluring, the effort isn’t supported by anything more. Even the side characters, Kiryu and Saki, who I remembered as a cute side couple, have so little chemistry that I scratch my head wondering why I bothered at all. The atmosphere of nothing stressful eventually turned into just nothing.

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Unfortunately, there was some excitement with going back into this series with a fresh perspective. Fond memories rushed back, only to plummet into a realm of insipidity. In the back of my mind, I recall seeing various reviews of it at the time complaining how ordinary and average most aspects of this show were, and how I found myself disagreeing with how harmless the series seemed. If third time’s the charm, the second time’s the harm, as Isshuukan Friends has become “that one average show” that many others dubbed it to be years ago.

Something of a major problem that I didn’t notice the first time is that Isshuukan Friends has no idea what it wants to be. Some part drama, some part romance, some part slice-of-life; it manages to build upon each genre but can’t seem to drive home any of them effectively. Romance is an underlying motivation all throughout, while slice-of-life employs itself in the middle section of the series, with drama populating the first and last quarters. More than anything, however, is the focus on one other genre that employs too many anime… nothing. The “Nothing” genre. There is a disturbing amount of nothing that presents itself in the form of little flags that the male lead “triggers” through little events. Seeing the female lead smile. Having her compliment him. Worrying about her avoiding him for seven seconds. Surprisingly enough, the concept of the female lead’s condition is not really noted outside of the more dramatic episodes, leaving one to forget she even has it.

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Characters are somewhat shy, somewhat coy. Action is something that seems second nature to many of them. Aside from Saki, most are too sensitive to even touch one another. Isshuukan Friends would make for a nice example of the “Actions speak louder than words” argument, an example that would show how necessary the argument is. There is quite a bit of talking, introspection, regret, and wondering. Not a lot of time is spent on characters making heroic proclamations, being honest, or charging into battle without a strategy. With the aspect of teenagers, one would expect more of this, as the characters here seem to have a hesitance to them that undermines their age, which kills even more realism. Even after twelve episodes, not a lot really happens, as a lot more is only implied through the passing of time.

Thus begins the point about the female lead’s condition, which makes the show stand out. Every week, she loses all memory of her friends. It always triggers upon Monday’s arrival. She will not remember anyone she deems close enough to be her friend, as one scene shows a whited-out vision of the male lead the previous week. She seems to remember everything else just fine, it’s just the aspect of friends and the spell lasts a week on the nose without change. Easily, this is all very stupid. The absurd uniformity of this condition is so blatantly fiction that it feels like easy plot convenience. And the fact that it’s shrouded in mystery only allows the author to write whatever conveniences possible to make it more absurd. The final few episodes shed some light as to what caused her condition, but even with that, she still seems to be stricken with the same condition. More than anything though, how is the brain capable of identifying specific people and using white out on them as the planets align every week? Her brain is not a computer.

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Yet, one thing that stuck out was the art direction, as while the animation is fairly standard, the artistic style is somewhat unique. The appearances of characters are somewhat blocky, with lots of long, straight faces and clean, polished eyes. It creates a dream-like state that helps with the carefree atmosphere of the middle sections. Even the sides of the frames feel a little loose with the lighting, making every action seem like a fantasy. And most of all! Hair! There are little strands of hair that stick out from the characters’ heads! Don’t think I don’t notice all of your bed-heads! Comb your hair properly, you sleepy kids! Nice attention to detail, nonetheless.

Average, while somewhat lethargic. Coaxing it with a dash of overdramatic tension creates a series that tries to do something a little different in the guise of overimportance. The moral foundation is rather straightforward, with friends being friends and relationships taking work and the value of caring. Concepts of people resetting every week gives it an almost sci-fi charm, but it ends up hampering what could’ve been a pleasant slice-of-life, or an okay drama. While I personally don’t think the series is forgettable, many could take the female lead’s disability for themselves and forget this whole scenario.

Personal Score: C

Critical Score: C

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.