When I saw the “Game of the Decade?” thread on the Cheap Ass Gamer forums, I took the title more into consideration than the post itself. The “best” game of the ’00s? Even now, I’m still not sure about that. However, the game that best defines the past decade? When I posted my reply, it was based largely on a gut feeling, and one I still feel pretty good about. So anyway, here is the answer I gave, and now, I will also tell you why this game fits the bill.
Game of the Decade: We ♥ Katamari (PS2, 2006)
Thought I’d say something grander and/or more obvious, huh? Nope. My pick for GotD is the sequel to the idiosyncratic Katamari Damacy which, on the surface, merely looks like more of the same. However, not only is it a bigger and better game than its predecessor, but it also serves as a compact time capsule of much of the past decade in gaming. Here is why We ♥ Katamari is important in these terms:
– It’s the quintessential auteur game in a decade full of them – …and few of the newer video game auteurs have been as genuinely creative as Keita Takahashi. The designer of the original Katamari, Takahashi wasn’t originally all that enthused about a sequel, but got on board for one all the same. What resulted wasn’t just a great game, but also one that was strikingly personal in a way that was and is rare for the medium: the plot this time around has to do with the King of All Cosmos (i.e., Takahashi) dealing with his newfound popularity (Katamari Damacy‘s global success) and trying to please his fans (the sequel’s new goals). The Japanese title—Minna Daisuki Katamari Damashii, literally “Everybody Loves Katamari Damacy”—reflects this theme much more directly than the Western one.
After We ♥ Katamari, Takahashi would not touch the series again, nor would he create another video game until 2009’s Noby Noby Boy. I haven’t played this new game, but I hear it’s interesting, and wonder how much of Takahashi’s sensibility shines through in it.
– It was one of the brightest spots in a period of turmoil for Japanese games – …to say the least. When a famed producer from a major Japanese publisher declares that their home country is “done” at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show, then there’s trouble. During the past decade, Japanese genre staples like shmups and fighting games continued their steady decline in the West, the JRPG began one of its own, Sega got out of the hardware business, several companies merged with each other, and certain Western PC genres (most notably first-person shooters) exploded in popularity on consoles. Oddly enough, while all this was going on, it tended to be the more “Japanese” Japanese games that really made an impression on people. ICO was one such title, as was Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and, yes, Katamari Damacy. While the latter game’s US sales defied Namco’s expectations, We ♥ Katamari proved that it wasn’t just its predecessor’s lower MSRP that led people to pick it up. The Japanese quirks were certainly a selling point for a large chunk of the audience, but for others, it might’ve been the positive buzz or the weird gameplay. Or the simple fact that the first game was genuinely good and fun, and the sequel was said to be great as well; when it comes down to it, that’s what it’s usually about, right?
– It’s the best game in one of the few new genres to emerge this past decade – …and there weren’t many of them. I’ve talked about garden games before—that nebulous new genre occupied not only by the likes of the Katamari series, but Elebits and de Blob, two others that take on the same basic concept of timed mass cultivation. We ♥ Katamari is the crème de la crème of the bunch in every way: tight controls, uniform graphics, witty writing, challenging-but-not-frustrating play, fresh levels, and a soundtrack that easily ranks among the best of the decade—for any game. In fact, the only quibble I have with it are the load times, but these are made a non-issue by the King of All Cosmos’ amusing chatter.
– It had co-op before it was cool – …and so did some other games of the time, but I just thought I’d throw that in there for shits and giggles. Hell, if the King of All Cosmos was writing this post, you know he’d do the same.
So, there you have it, my Game of the Decade. It might seem a bit underwhelming right now, but I’m sure a number of years down the road, We ♥ Katamari will be looked back upon with the fondness and reverence that it is deserved. It may not be the most important game of the decade (Halo? World of WarCraft? Brain Age? Second Life? There’s a lot to choose from here), it may not have been the most innovative (not games, but Steam and the Nintendo DS get my votes here), it may not have sold the most copies or inspired the most bits of fanart or been what people have played the most of these past ten years, but for me, it is emblematic of the tumultuous, chaotic, but still fun katamari that was gaming in the ’00s. Personally, I didn’t love everything about said decade, but I will always love We ♥ Katamari.
Recently-returned oldbie Keefy has started a thread at the Citadel’s Forums titled Your Top Ten Games – Ever. My post is here, mainly pulled from the top of my head. This being a Final Fantasy-related forum, I imagine I’ll get a lot of flak for not including any games from that series in the list.
Afterwards, I got to thinking about why hardcore gamers like the Final Fantasy series so much while dismissing the far more accessible likes of Pokemon. The latter’s “kiddy” trappings aside, the main complaint I hear leveled against Pokemon is that each new installment in the main series is too similar to what has come before. I won’t argue with that; as I said in my Pokemon Ruby impressions post, one Pokemon title should be enough for most people. However, can you imagine the backlash that would occur amongst Pokemon’s dedicated fanbase if the series did take a radical turn?
I would imagine that it would be huge. Mario and Zelda fans, among others, cry out for innovation and often get it, but also complain about new things that they don’t like. Most recently, Dragon Quest IX—the first mainline Dragon Quest to debut on a handheld—has encountered some backlash from dedicated fans. And of course, the Final Fantasy series is not exempt from this, despite its reputation for drastic change from installment to installment; the black sheep of that family include FFVIII with its Junction system, FFXII with its MMO-like trappings, and FFXI and FFXIV, which are MMOs.
Many hardcore gamers seem to crave innovation, but this doesn’t always translate to big hits, or even enjoyable games. Familiarity is a staple that many game series rely on—not just big hits like Pokemon, but also those with smaller yet dedicated fanbases. In any other medium, this same demand for innovation would be silly. Long-running TV shows like Wheel of Fortune may change some over time, and authors like Stephen King hone their craft over several years, but for the most part, people tend to follow specific entertainments (and entertainers) because they continually provide things that they like. I understand that video games, being a technology-dependent medium, are a little different, but there’s nothing wrong with following a series that doesn’t change very much. Innovation is all well and good, but so are high-quality stalwarts, and I hope that they’ll continue to stick around.
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First off, apologies for not posting in awhile. I had some computer problems to deal with, mixed in with some real-life stuff along the way. On top of that, I’ve also been enraptured by two excellent RPGs.
Serph, the hero of Digital Devil Saga
Right now, it seems like I’m nearing the end of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, and I know that’s the case with Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon (aka Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon: The Labyrinth of Lost Time). I started the former first, taking an initial dip into the one franchise which occupies my backlog more than any other, then the second afterwards, wanting something more lighthearted in tone to balance against the darker game. However, although they are certainly very different games in atmosphere—not to mention style, as Digital Devil Saga is your standard turn-based affair and Chocobo’s Dungeon is a roguelike—I eventually noticed that these two have far more in common than meets the eye in terms of story.
Digital Devil Saga centers around Serph and the group of fighters he leads, the Embryon. They live in the desolate Junkyard where tribes fight one another for the right to go to Nirvana; all this is overseen by the Karma Temple, which is headquartered in a tall, towering structure at the center of the environs. Serph’s world begins to change when a mysterious girl with strange powers emerges from a cocoon-like thing in the middle of a battlefield. He and the rest of the Junkyard’s inhabitants gain the ability to transform into the beastlike Atma, and little by little they start to see their world in a different light.
Chocobo’s Dungeon centers around a chocobo named, er, Chocobo and the group of friends he makes. He finds himself in the idyllic town of Lostime where residents live happily without memories; all this is overlooked by the Bell of Oblivion, which resides in a tall tower in the center of town. Lostime begins to change when a mysterious boy with strange powers emerges from a speckled egg which comes out of the sky. Chocobo gains the ability to enter Mysterious Dungeons enabled by lost memories, and later, change into Job forms. Little by little, the townsfolk start to see their world in a different light.
Chocobo, the hero of Chocobo's Dungeon
It’s important to note here one very crucial distinction between Serph and Chocobo: while Serph begins the game as a part of the Embryon and the world at large, Chocobo is a complete outsider, having been magically whisked away to Lostime during a treasure hunt in a desert. There’s also the matter of complexity, as Digital Devil Saga’s story is a bit more sophisticated and unpredictable than that of Chocobo’s Dungeon. Indeed, the foreshadowing in Chocobo’s Dungeon is fairly easy to interpret for this JRPG vet; I suppose that its overall light RPG trappings have much to do with it, despite the hardcore nature of the gameplay (more on that in a later post). As for Digital Devil Saga, I haven’t been able to figure out what exactly is going on, and am as curious to know more as the characters themselves.
Still, I could’ve never anticipated that these two would be this similar as far as their basic plots go. Much has been said of JRPG plots and how cliched they can get after awhile, but there generally tends to be a significant amount of variation between them (for some reason, this seems to be most true of strategy RPGs, but I digress). In the case of Digital Devil Saga and Chocobo’s Dungeon, the similarities don’t bother me in the least, as the actual meat of the games are vastly different, and that’s what I play RPGs for in the first place. I hope to have Chocobo’s Dungeon beaten this weekend, but will probably continue to play the game afterwards, depending on whatever post-ending content there is. Likewise, I’m going to try to wrap up Digital Devil Saga sometime next week. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see if the plot similarities continue on through these games’ endings.
Chocobo source art from Neoseeker (neoseeker.com).
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