Stuff You Should Really Be Into 3: Star Wars Reference


I, having completely infallible taste in everything ever, have come across a bunch of stuff that I think is cool and want to share with you all. I’m fantastic like that.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

A twelve issue Marvel Elseworlds miniseries, Nextwave is the story of a bunch of D list Marvel heroes and original characters forming the team Nextwave to take on H.A.T.E. It is the epitome of psychotic fun. I’ll take this over some “dark”, “mature” and “edgy” issue of whatever superhero or team DC has decided needs to be just as depressed and angsty as Batman any day.

It’s very difficult to find any words to adequately describe Nextwave, so below is an excerpt from the book. It has not been altered in any way.

Batman: The Brave And The Bold

A TV show dedicated to all that is wonderful and silly about DC Comics’ 75+ year history. It takes its name from DC’s old team-up book, and features the Caped Crusader teaming up with heroes ranging from mainstays like Green Arrow & Aquaman to more obscure characters like Detective Chimp & Bwana Beast. It also features some of DC’s wackier villains like Crazy Quilt & Ma Murder. Not to mention the fact that it has a musical episode with Neil Patrick Harris playing the villain. Yes. Batman had to stop Neil Patrick Harris from taking over the world through song. That is a thing that happened.

Teen Titans

I’m not talking about any of the comic book incarnations of the team, but rather their animated show from a few years back. Yes, it’s a kid’s show. Yes, the animation has a discernible anime influence. You know what else it is? Fun. And funny. With good characters, solid action and the most awesome theme song in kid’s TV history. Also, its quality is a lot more consistent than Brave and the Bold’s, which had three seasons with a lot of ups and downs.

Young Justice

I like superhero cartoons, OK? The first season of Young Justice impressed me for being a good team show with likeable, three dimensional characters and a tight story focus. The overarching plot of a villainous cabal called “The Light” can get grating, but overall the first season was fantastic.

The second season is a little less so, far too many new characters who don’t get enough time and far too many plot threads running. It’s still a good show, though it’s looking like it won’t get renewed for a third season.

Brows Held High

One of my favourite review shows over on TGWTG, it’s a series on art house films, delivered with humour and intelligence by Oancitizen. Check it out. It’s cool. And I said you should. So ner.

Do beware, there’s often sex and/or violence in the films he reviews. Censored, but still.

Stuff You Like

Another review show. Here’s the show’s description: “Ursa presents Stuff You Like, where fangirls + analysis + awesome examples of media = good times for all.”

The videos are a little short for my liking, but Ursa combines intelligence and insight with the enthusiasm of a fangirl. Highly recommended.

Needs More Gay

These things come in threes, OK? Another review show, looking at male homosexuality and its representation in the media. Again, a little short for my liking but if you’re interested in issues of media representation and such like I am, this is a good show.

don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story

The second game from Canadian indie developer Christine Love, who also created Digital: A Love Story Analogue: A Hate Story. It has a title that annoys me for being very long to type and not having any capital letters, which upsets the pedant in me.

The game itself is a short visual novel where you play a new teacher who is given unrestricted access to the social networking accounts of your students, and face the dilemma of how to act on this information when it comes to helping them with their personal problems. I don’t like the thesis of its ending, or the way it forces you to read all your students’ communications, but its certainly an interesting experience and I hope we see more from Christine Love and her fascination with communication in the digital age.

Katawa Shoujo

I’ve already talked about Katawa Shoujo here, so I won’t get into it much here. It’s a visual novel in which you date one of five disabled high school girls. Please don’t be squicked out by the premise, this is a game that deserves attention and discussion.

Depression Quest

A short text game about suffering from depression. Obviously, trigger warning for depression. As somebody who’s had problems with depression, it does a pretty good job of showing just how hopeless and crushing it can be. If you do play this, please don’t treat it like a ‘game’ to ‘beat’. Make the decisions you would make. Play it through a few times, going through all the ways you could conceivably see yourself acting in those situations. Whether or not you have or do suffer from depression, it’s a good tool for helping to understand the issue.

*Sigh* Remember when I started this post and I was talking about superheroes fighting evil monkeys? Those were good times.

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In Which I Don’t Review Katawa Shoujo


A freeware visual novel/eroge based on the drawings of a doujinshi artist, developed primarily by 4chan users in which the player romances and, yes, sleeps with one of five disabled girls. Oh, and the title’s best translation into English is “Cripple Girls”.

Here’s a link to it.

Depending on what corners of the internet you inhabit, that was either a stream of useless gobbledegook or a series of alarm bells. But I’m here to tell you today that such fears are actually pretty unfounded. I’m not sure I can really say I’m a fan of Katawa Shoujo, but it is a brave, bold game that deserves credit for even trying to tackle its subject matter in the way that it does.

Yes, 4chan looked at porn and said “let us come together to make a respectful game about love, relationships and disability.” Also, dear 4chan users out there, I know I am riffing on the bad reputation the site gets but I know that you and the site are not the greatest hive of scum and villainy on this side of the galaxy. You guys do have some freaky porn, though.

And yes, while I’m addressing things I feel the need to point out two things Katawa Shoujo has. Romance, and sex. If you’re not into romance, then only a real interest in the representation of disability and disabled characters could possibly get you interested in this game. If you’re just here to get your rocks off with the sex scenes, they are both brief and rare. This game is not porn. And finally, if the inclusion of sex is a dealbreaker for you, then…well there’s an option to turn the sex scenes off but I wouldn’t recommend it as the sex scenes help give us insight into the characters and they can be just as important, if not more so than a lot of the surrounding scenes.

Down to business. You play as Hisao Nikai, a third year Japanese high school student who has a heart attack when a girl asks him out. Insert joke here. As it turns out, Hisao actually suffers from a form of arrhythmia and this is just the first time it’s ever amounted to anything. After four months of depressing hospital care, his parents transfer him to Yamaku High School for the rest of his final year, as Yamaku specialises in providing care and assistance for physically disabled students.

While there, events contrive to ensure he meets five girls. Hyperactive sporty Emi (a double amputee with prosthetic legs), artist and all around oddball Rin (who was born with no arms), Student Council President Shizune (who was born a deaf mute), severe social anxiety sufferer Hanako (whose right side of her body is covered in severe burns) and the half-Scottish Lilly (who was born blind). Your actions will set you on the path to a relationship with one of these girls.

I’m no expert on the subject of disability in general or any of the specific disabilities the cast have, so I can’t really say how good the representation of disability is here. From what I can gather, there aren’t any major criticisms people have with this game’s handling of its subject matter from a representational standpoint.

Still, this is the internet and I’m sure somebody does have a problem with it. Nothing jumped out at me, and to be honest the way that the game incorporated both the practical issues of life with these disabilities as well as using them to inform rather than define the characters was what kept me playing well after the point when the saccharine romance was losing its charm.

For example, in Shizune’s path, Hisao starts learning Japanese Sign Language so he communicate with her when her friend Misha (her usual interpreter) isn’t around. He realises how the loss of vocal tone means that a lot of conversational nuance is difficult or impossible and comes to understand why Shizune can be so blunt. He also realises the difficulty in using a rather rigid language to articulate complex thoughts and emotions, and how something like holding a box or eating lunch renders you unable to communicate. Through this, we’re given hints as to why Shizune is the way she is without it ever having to be stated through character conversations or ever outright confirmed as the truth as it relates to Shizune.

Getting back to that ‘saccharine’ comment…Don’t get me wrong, there are external and internal problems for both characters in every romance path that complicate and impede things, but the prose here is rather purple.  Thus, when things are happy or contemplative, saccharine. When they’re downbeat or introspective, angsty purple. While the dialogue won’t win any prizes, it’s not a purple as Hisao’s internal monologue and each character has a distinct voice. A professional editor would gleefully take pruning shears to the script, but it’s by no means unreadable.

Though for a freeware indie title from a team of non-professionals, the production values are rather high. Each character has a range of expressions and poses, the background music is pleasant enough and each path gets its own little animated sequence. The backgrounds do kinda suck, but I can forgive that.

This not a review is starting to sound an awful lot like a review, but I’m not really here to critique or pass judgement on Katawa Shoujo. Instead, what I really want to say is how glad I am that this title exists. Also, SPOILER ALERT.

Yes, each girl does have an ‘issue’ that their relationship with Hisao helps them face. This issue is always ‘letting somebody get close to me’, and may or may not be related to their disability. Instead, it’s Hisao who has to grow and change to ensure the happy ever after. He comes to Yamaku as literally and figuratively a broken-hearted boy, and each of his relationships help him find a way of coping with what he’s going through. And in doing so, he develops the kind of unhealthy trait you get from putting all your eggs in one relationship basket. Then it’s the girl he’s romancing that helps him snap out of it.

Take Hanako. She suffers heavily from social anxiety in addition to her burn scars. When the game starts, the only people she can bring herself to talk to are Lilly and Lilly’s sister and she regularly skips class to hide away in her room or the library. When you romance her, Hisao is too afraid of acting on his feelings for her because he sees her as too fragile for such things and is happy with just taking care of her. When you finally get to the big climactic moment of her arc, she tells you that it’s exactly that kind of condescending ‘care’ that’s stopped her from wanting to enter a relationship with you. She calls you out on seeing her as some scared child, and not a person and equal who, yes, sometimes needs time to herself or that little extra bit of TLC. The only way to achieve the happy ending is to have recognised throughout her path that your smothering approach might not be right, leading to your ability to truly realise your mistake and want to change.

Contrast this to when you’re romancing her friend Lilly. Because Hisao isn’t worrying over how to treat her or whether to make a move on her he treats her much like any other person, but becomes mindful of the fact that she likes her space and that not every silence has to be filled, or every absence checked up on. Because she has this new friend that shows she can interact with the world around her and her past experiences won’t necessarily be indicative of her future, she becomes much more open and outgoing than she started out as. She even joins a club and makes a friend outside of her little trio with Lilly and Hisao, something that is done firmly on her own terms.

Also, with regards to the sex scenes. They’re not porn, or even really erotica. Yeah, there is plenty of amazing first times and simultaneous climaxes to go around but there’s also scenes that are uncomfortable for the characters, whether it’s because they’re not emotionally ready or they’re trying something physical that doesn’t pan out.

And like I said earlier, the attitudes of each of the girls to sex and their actions in the scenes aren’t the sort of stuff harem animes are made of. The sex scenes are, by and large, used to inform the characters. Any titillation is really more a side bonus than an intended effect.

Also also, the  most you’re going to see is some boobs. Everything else just so happens to be out of shot.

Katawa Shoujo deserves to exist. It has earned its place in this world more than any of the dozens of mediocre AAA titles that get shovelled out every year. It deserves to be played and examined and debated. There are plenty of reasons not to like this game, be it the premise, its handling of disability, relationships, sex or female characters, the writing, the setting, the genre or the characters themselves.  But that shouldn’t stop you from giving it a go.

If you’ve got time to spare that is. Seriously, there’s a damn lot of reading to do to get through this one. It can be a good few hours before you even start a romance path. Thankfully there are dialogue skip buttons available in the menus for repeated playthroughs.

Showing, Not Telling: How To Give Exposition Quickly And Effectively


Mild Spoilers ahead for the TV show “Young Justice”.

I’ve been on a binge of the TV show Young Justice recently, a well above average animated show from DC about a group of teenaged superheroes. Season 2 shakes things up by having a lot of important events having happened off-screen between seasons, and as such has a lot of information to be imparted.

Some of it is so clunky it’s near painful, such as when Lagoon Boy tells Nightwing that he used to be Robin so that we, the viewer know that he’s Robin from Season 1. Other times it’s so well integrated and multi-faceted that it looks like it belongs in a textbook.

I’m going to talk about one such time. The video below is not timestamped to play at the important part of the clip sadly (I did try). The section I’m talking about runs from 2:56-3:28.

That was one of the best 32 seconds of television I have ever watched, from a writing standpoint. Seriously, it shows and suggests a number of character traits and a relationship dynamic without ever outright stating any of them. OK, so the name “Wonder Girl” does get spoken, but I’m giving it a pass. Now, I shall list what those 32 seconds tell us.

  1. Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl are partners (2:56-2:57): Both are flying in unison, with a serious expression. Their movements and temperaments match in this shot. It says “hello, these people are here now and they work together”.
  2. Wonder Woman’s physical prowess is established (2:57-3:04): OK, chances are you know that Wonder Woman is hella badass. But this is primarily a kid’s show, and kids (or adults) watching may not know who she is. You can’t count on “she fought in Season One” as a reason for people to know either, as not everyone will have watched from the beginning. Instead, a few brief seconds of Wonder Woman being badass introduces her and some of the gravitas she carries.
  3. Wonder Girl is relatively new to superheroics, and greatly admires Wonder Woman (3:05-3:10): Wonder Girl’s admiration for Wonder Woman is obvious, what with her fangirling right in the middle of battle and all, but what’s interesting is the implication. This does rely on further context, but all the necessary context can be found in the same episode. When Wonder Girl witnesses Wonder Woman’s prowess, she drops her defences and squees over her mentor. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Lagoon Boy and Superboy are all present with their mentors, yet none of them act this. Instead, they work in synch with each other and communicate (mostly) vital tactical messages. Wonder Girl is set apart by her lack of professionalism.
  4. Wonder Woman is a strict mentor, and far more professional than Wonder Girl (3:10-3:15): Wonder Woman sees that Wonder Girl is in danger, and immediately moves in to protect her from injury or death at the hands of her own unprofessional nature, while simultaneously admonishing Wonder Girl for her error. Wonder Woman’s tone is serious, and her expression is unchanged from her entrance. With this we can see that Wonder Woman is calm under fire, able to keep up with the flow of combat, attentive of her surroundings and that she does not let mistakes pass unnoticed.
  5. Wonder Girl, while raw, is a powerful and effective warrior keen to learn from Wonder Woman (3:16-3:26):  Once her mistake has been made clear to her, Wonder Girl composes herself for battle and defeats the two giant alien spider tanks that nearly hit her in short order. Her tactic is a revised version of Wonder Woman’s, using her lasso to destroy the machines from a distance. With this, it’s clear she’s trying to emulate her idol and mentor, but also that she recognises her own physical limits and adapts the tactic to suit her abilities. The next two points are also on this section of footage.
  6. She doesn’t have Wonder Woman’s level of strength: Instead of pulling the whole tank into the air, Wonder Girl is only able to rip off a vital part of the machine (with some difficulty). Also, note how when Wonder Woman uses her lasso, our attention is drawn to the fact that she was standing with both feet on the ground, lifting the machine into the air with brute strength before using its momentum to slam it down. Wonder Girl instead flies up so that she can pull the tank part towards her, which would require less strength.
  7. She’s a fast thinker: Whether she planned it from the beginning or it only occurred to her as that giant hunk of tank was flying towards her, at some point she realised she needed to deal with said tank hunk. Either way, she thought very fast, using a potential weakness and making it into her advantage.
  8. Wonder Woman cares about Wonder Girl (3:27-3:28): This is my favourite moment of the whole sequence, and it was what made this clip stick in my mind. These 32 seconds are a story unto themselves, and this brief smile from Wonder Woman is an amazing cap to it. Despite how strict and serious she is, and how much of a contrast this is compared to Wonder Girl’s demeanour, this smile shows Wonder Woman cares. Not just about her physical safety, but of her growth as a hero. She sees Wonder Girl pull out an impressive move on the fly and is proud of her. These 32 seconds say more about their characters and their relationship than some shows manage in an episode.

There, textbook. Eight important pieces of information delivered with very few words spoken. No need to have whole episode devoted to explaining this, 32 seconds will do. Although, dear Young Justice producers, I still want a Wonder Girl episode. And a Batgirl one. And a Robin one. And I want Zatanna back, dammit!

Why Tidus Saves Final Fantasy X


SPOILER WARNING

Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy X is a sombre, dark game. The peoples of Spira have spent 1000 years living to a strict religious code under the very real threat of wide scale death and destruction by Sin; a creature that can only be destroyed by a Summoner who has completed their Pilgrimage and will always come back when it is killed. There have been four such Summoners in the past 1000 years. Most die on their journey. And when you add into that an evil religion and a genocidal maniac, things don’t get any happier.

A lot of criticism has fallen on the game’s lead character, Tidus. His detractors call him whiny, stupid, vapid and all round inferior to Yuna or Auron, the game’s other main characters. I say no. Tidus may not be a great character like FFIX‘s Vivi, but he is absolutely necessary to allowing a player to experience the world and story of FFX and without him, the plot as is would suffer heavily.

If you don’t have Tidus in there, you need to completely rewrite the script.

First of all, the world of Spira contains a lot of key concepts like Summoners, Aeons, Yevon etc. that need explaining to us, the player. Yuna, Lulu, Wakka, Kinahri, Auron and Rikku already know this stuff ad verbatim and likely have done so since they were tiny children. Tidus serves as our viewpoint. The naive newcomer it’s justified to exposit to.

Imagine if, when setting out on her pilgrimage, Wakka said “So where we goin’, ya?” and Yuna followed up with “Well, you know how I’m a Summoner who is training to defeat that giant monster thingymabob Sin…”

Yeah. Wouldn’t work, would it? But Tidus does more than do the Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter uninformed newcomer role. He’s an important source of levity.

He has his moments of doubt and despair, relating to his personal story of being a stranger in an exotic land, his issues with Jecht and as reactions to Yuna’s Pilgrimage. But these are tempered by him being the only party member until Rikku to show enthusiasm and optimism as a rule rather than as an exceedingly rare exception.

Whether it’s cheering Yuna up with the oft-misunderstood and maligned laughing sequence (they’re meant to be laughing extremely forcedly, and at the end of the scene they break down into genuine laughter) or giving Aruon something to snark at, Tidus does a lot to offer a different emotional tone to a scene or plot point than weary resignation.

Also, without Tidus, how would we get anything out of Yuna? She does open up without Tidus instigating it a few times (notably in her “goodbye sphere” in which she leaves messages for her Guardians to find after her death) but for the most part the Guardians who aren’t Tidus or Rikku are just as resigned to Yuna’s upcoming sacrifice as she is.

Without Tidus they could have focused more on the emotional strain between old friends that this foreknowledge puts on her, but this would negate the emotional sucker punch of finding out about the fact that Yuna has to sacrifice herself earlier and would be a lot darker without as many of the light hearted moments the other, Tidus-oriented approach provides.

As Jim Sterling recently talked about on his web show The Jimquisition,  comedy is a very necessary element to tragedy. You need moments of levity and positivity in order to not become some dull depressing affair. He’s nowhere near as good a leading man as Zidane of FFIX, but he allows the tragedy to be stronger through his positive attitude.

Also consider this; Sin is a boring enemy. We don’t actually cares about the giant magic killer whale thingy blowing up towns, because it’s just a big whale monster. The investment comes from the characters, from Tidus’ relationship with Jecht and the corrupt church/crazy Seymour subplot. These are what keep our interest through the slog of going from temple to temple.

Seymour and the Yevon church are stories that operate entirely independent of Tidus, but they also both only engage for so long. The Seymour thread starts in Luca and is basically over by the time you leave Bevelle. Sure, he still turns up to be fought and kill off a shitload of Ronso, but he ceases to factor into the plot in any meaningful way.

This is a shame, as his “kill everybody” motivation could have been replaced by something deeper and he could have been a much more engaging villain with a greater longevity but alas, his potential does get rather squandered.

The other emotional journeys in the game are Tidus’ romantic attachment to Yuna and his relationship with his estranged father Jecht. The romance with Yuna is surprisingly out of focus, more a by-product of  his efforts to keep her spirits up than just him wanting to get his rocks off.

But the relationship he has with Jecht, who has since become Sin (or at least the power source for Sin) runs from roughly Besaid up until the penultimate boss battle. Jecht is a constant shadow over Tidus who has helped inform his entire character. While it may mean that Yuna doesn’t get much of a look in in the end-game emotional stakes, it does ensure that somebody does.

I will admit, you could have replaced Jecht as Sin’s heart with Yuna’s father Braska in order to create a a stronger emotional connection for Yuna at the endgame, though seeing as she only has love and not animosity for her father, I  feel the Jecht choice is superior as it’s not so emotionally one-note. Tidus’ final conflict with Jecht shows how Jecht has matured, accepted his wrongdoings and that he does love the son he mistreated, as well as allowing Tidues to vent his issues and come to accept his father. And tell me his “I hate you dad” line isn’t also saying “I love you” in the subtext.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the corrupt church of Yevon in the emotional stakes for this game. It does have some emotional relevance for Yuna, Auron and Wakka but Yuna puts it behind her before they reach the Calm Lands and never speaks of it again and Auron’s is more of a “now they finally know” vibe he gives off. Wakka is the only character to be really affected by this and it does serve as a nice little sub-plot for him, but ultimately doesn’t affect the emotional stakes of the game as a whole.

And that’s my thesis. You cannot have the story they told without Tidus, and without his kind of influence, you wouldn’t have a story as good and emotionally complex. I may still have problems with some his characterisation, but I find Tidus to be overall a good character.

In Which I Don’t Review Persona 3


WARNING – MILD SPOILERS FOR PERSONA 3 & 4 IMMINENT

I frikkin’ love Persona 4. It stands as one of my favourite games of all time and every few months I get pangs to go back and spend time with those characters again. So I was really excited to crack open Persona 3 FES and experience another such game.

I didn’t get it.

Let me just say that if you’re a fan of the game that’s great. It just wasn’t for me.

Setting aside the slightly differing mechanics and the darker tone, the real difference between and 4 is in its narrative railroading. One could quite reasonably argue that 4‘s gigantanormously long introduction and fairly frequent and lengthy cutscenes are too much and there’s not enough time spend playing the game as opposed watching it, but in my opinion it used that time to make me care for the characters and set up clear goals and conflicts.

Persona 3 was, for the twelve hours I logged on it, a hell of a lot more vague about what was happening or why I should care. I hadn’t met any characters that I *really* liked or was interested in and I had no idea what the overarching plot was. But in about four hours of cutscenes and exposition at the start of Persona 4, I knew very clearly the personalities of each of the characters I’d been introduced to. I had favourites and quotable lines and despite being more than a little fatigued at all the cutscenes, I knew where I stood, what I was doing and why I was doing it.

The third playable character in is introduced a little over half an hour in and becomes playable at about the four and a half hour mark, by this point I know her hobbies, mannerisms, relationships with other characters and why she’s with the team. The third playable character in 3 is just brought to the dorm one day with Akihiko informing us he’s a Persona User and part of the team now. Sure, he was in one cutscene or so before where I learnt he knows Yukari and she doesn’t like him very much (very, very understandable). That’s it. We don’t even get to see his “awakening” to his powers.

I get the 3 is meant to be more of a slow-burner, plot wise, but in not yanking me by the leash and giving me a reason to care like 4 did, I didn’t form any attachments to it. It’s kind of like how I feel about sandbox games and games with customisable protagonists. If I’m not given a narrative or mechanical ‘hook’ early on and have to find my own somewhere down the line, I’m likely to just not find one at all and if that happens, I won’t care and I won’t play.

Sometimes a game needs that freedom. It took me quite a while to ‘get’ Fallout 3, but I love that game. But then again I spent about three or four hours wandering around the countryside in Oblivion with no idea what I was doing, how anything worked or why I sould care and, well, I didn’t care. I turned it off and never a backwards glance did I throw it.

And that’s why Persona 3 disappointed me so. It didn’t give me enough of a reason to care. Seeing as I was renting it and therefore paying to be unimpressed with it, twelve hours is all it got from me. Sorry Persona 3. Maybe you got really good at the thirteen hour mark, but I’m not willing to search any further to find the brilliance in you.

In Which I Don’t Review Suikoden V


So I rented Suikoden V recently cause it’s Goddamn Suikoden and has a pretty impressive pedigree behind it. I didn’t really like it. The beginning was way too slow (after twelve hours of gameplay I’d barely gotten to the actual meat of the game) and left so many parts of its mechanics unexplained that even though I had a fleeting knowledge because of my time with Suikoden IV I just couldn’t get into it.

But I’m not here to review it. Instead, I want to talk about something that puzzled me.

See, the nation of Falena from which the hero hails is a Queendom. I’m all for gender diversity and alternative socio-political-economic-cultural structures in videogames but nothing’s ever done with it.

Well, OK, spoiler warning for the first 12 or so hours of the game. So you’re the Prince of Falena but in the Queendom, obviously only women can inherit the throne so it falls to your younger sister, Lymsleia, to inherit the throne.  This seems like it’d be setting up a female dominated society, which could let us see men undergoing gender based assumptions and persecutions, but instead it’s just a place with a queen. Sure, the people and her knights are loyal to her, and nobody questions her executive power, but in the hierarchy of Falena she’s the only woman (bar two others) of high office we ever get to meet.

The others are Raja, the Falenan Admiral who worked her way up from commoner status during the last civil war. But she runs the nomadic boat-based town of Raftfleet and seems to hold no sway in the kingdom except as the leader of Raftfleet. During the second civil war – the focus of this game – the Godwins have their own loyal contingent of the navy led by a man. Then there’s Lady Haswar, the Queen’s cousin and the Oracle of Falena. Despite it being an important religious role, she lives in a tiny mountain village and only ever seems to play a ceremonial role in proceedings.

All the members of the Senate we meet are men. The commander of the Queen’s Knights and, by extension, the entire Falenan army, has always been the Queen’s husband, the King. And he’s not selected by the Queen choosing a suitor, instead there’s a giant gladitorial tournament called the Sacred Games which determines the winner.

Even among the Queen’s Knights there’s only one woman and one young woman as an apprentice, and we never see any female guards or more than a handful of women in all of Falena who have jobs that weren’t traditionally associated with men. Those who do have what would be considered atypical jobs based on old fashioned gender assumptions, like doctors, are almost always one of the 108 recruitable Stars of Destiny or turn out to be a plot important NPC.

It’s also made clear that the Queen’s rule is not absolute. The Senate members have their own lands and loyal soldiers and citizens and so the Queen must play politics herself  to skirt around them in order to get things done.

What I’m really bemoaning here is the missed opportunity. I have a few theories about why the writers settled on having a Queendom but I’m not actually sure. It’s never explained. I’m not saying that I buy into Rune Magic and Dragon steeds but I can’t buy a woman being in charge. I’m saying that it strikes me as lazy to give no explanation as to how this socio-political structure (unique to Suikoden as far as I know) works and functions. The writers could at least follow through on the whole “women in charge” angle to gender-flip the traditional power structures. Like, it was the foundation for a great story with facets the series hasn’t really delved into before but instead we got the bog standard Suikoden plot.

Am I asking too much? Back in the PS2 era we hadn’t really started asking “Big Questions” as a community, so perhaps taking a series so grounded in tradition and making a radical shift in its gender policies would be too mu-no, wait, that’s stupid. Persona 4 gave us the stories of Kanji Tatsumi and his struggles against society’s perceptions and his possible homosexuality as just *one* of its character studies and that was a PS2 game.

Persona may well be “about” people, but Suikoden isn’t a game with a completely traditional take on gender politics. Since Suikoden I there’s been a healthy array of female fighters and not just in a “rebellious tomboy fighting even though she’s not meant to” kind of way. We’ve seen mercenaries, knights, magicians, strategists, explorers, heroes, villains; it’s had them all.

I don’t think the inclusion of a Queendom was meant to be a lip service to feminism (and if it was, it was pretty piss poor). It was probably because this game being set before all the other Suikoden games that Falena was mentioned to be a Queendom and they had to run with it.

Either that or it was an attempt at narrative convenience. They want you to play as a prince because “girl protagonists don’t sell videogames”, isn’t that right Samus Aran and Lara Croft (how sad is it that they were the only two consistently appearing, long running, mass recognised videogame heroines I could name)? And introducing a female lead to a long running franchise never works, does it Terra Brandford and Lightning? Also, the heir to the throne has to be a princess because no *woman* could manipulate a prince into being a figurehead, right?

There are arguments and counter-arguments to be made how necessary a Queendom is to the plot but it quickly gets convoluted. To reiterate, I am not attacking women in positions of power, or gender equality. I just really feel like Suikoden V missed a trick. With so many different ways they could have played it, it’s almost a shame they chose to tell the story they did with the world they’d created.

And here’s the really…heavy? important? controversial? whatever. Here’s That Part. As horrible as it is to admit, humankind has in 99.9% of cases created patriarchal societies with the role and power of women either never present or squashed as the patriarchal power structure became more entrenched. And we still don’t have true gender equality anywhere in the world.

I get the want to make our fictional worlds into utopias, like how the Federation of Star Trek was basically a socialist conclave of races based entirely around the promotion of peace and knowledge, and as Star Trek proved those settings can still give us amazing stories.

But as much as fiction is about escaping the unfairness of life, it’s also about dealing with it. Whether it’s speculative sci-fi or fantasy trying to understand how and why humanity could be changed by our advancement as a species, post-colonial literature bridging the gap between the cultures we destroyed and the ones we imposed on other people, romance novels letting us fulfill our unmet desires, adventure stories giving us the pulse-pounding thrill we crave or maybe we’re just empathising with how alone and under pressure Harry Potter feels as he struggles against the world around him.

And so too our fiction should meet matters of gender equality and other Serious Issues head on and tackle them. Of course, there’s places for fiction that does that and fiction that doesn’t. I don’t ‘hate’ Suikoden V for not tackling these issues, and I don’t feel that whenever we see women with power in fiction it ‘needs’ an explanation.

But I do feel that whenever we get ‘feminism-but-not-really’ in our fiction, like a woman stated to be all kinds of badass but really does nothing like Kate from the BBC Robin Hood series that it kind of demeans the fight for women’s rights that are still being fought for today.

I just feel that Suikoden V had a chance to do something really interesting with its setup of a Queendom, and if it had done any of the things mentioned above I would probably have stuck it out just to see what they did.

Suikoden V isn’t bad. In the end, it just wasn’t for me, even though I can see it’s what a Suikoden game is meant to be and competently pulled off. But it was like seeing an advert for some “All new Big Mac! Like nothing you’ve ever tasted before!” and getting yourself worked up, only to find it’s no different than before.

Stuff You Should Really Be Into 2 – The Revengening of Blood Death


So over the past couple of months I’ve been enjoying a site called thatguywiththeglasses.com, a collaborative site where many, many video reviewers review stuff and I thought I’d share it with you all so in no particular here’s my top 5 That Guy With The Glasses reviewers.

1. Doug “The Nostalgia Critic” Walker

That guy with the glasses himself, Doug’s Nostalgia Critic character reviews nostalgic film and TV shows. Well, ones that are from roughly the 80’s to the 2000. They’re comedy skits in which his larger than life character makes jokes about the bad characters, writers, acting, effects, plotholes etc.

It’s a bit MST2Kish,  but the videos usually don’ t run any longer than 15 minutes, so it’s really him just picking the highlights to make fun of.  He’s got a huge backlog of stuff and it’s well worth checking out.

2. Lindsay “The Nostalgia Chick” Ellis

Like The Nostalgia Critic, the Chick is a comedic persona that reviews nostalgic films and TV shows. Although she was hired to be the female Critic, reviewing the girly stuff Doug couldn’t, she’s evolved into a more analytical reviewer and because of that is my favourite on the site. Sure you get to see somebody making fun of bad films and it’s still funny, but I often feel like I’ve learnt something from watching her videos. Also, her friends Nella and Elisa who appear in her videos are hilarious.

Also also check out Elisa’s Vampire Reviews too.

3. Lewis “Linkara” Lovhaug

The site’s comic book guy, the Linkara persona is an angry man dedicated to reviewing bad comics. He’s pretty forgiving to them though, and a lot of what he points out are from what he’s learnt from decades of reading comics. It gets a little continuity nitpicky at times, but he’s still funny and well worth a look for comic fans.

Oh, and he’s also got a series dedicated to breaking down each series of the Power Rangers and reviewing them. Fuck yeah.

4. Todd “Todd in the Shadows” Nathanson

Why do I like this guy? He reviews pop music, which I’m really not into, has terrible production values and never reveals his face. But he’s hilarious. His persona is that of a pitiable, angry young man and a lot of the humour comes from his over-analysing the lyrics and thematic content of the songs, exposing their bad writing. He does also cover the music and technical side of things, but it’s not the focus.

I haven’t even heard of most of the songs he’s reviewed, but I watch these videos just for his spin on things.

5. Hope “JesuOtaku” Chapman

JesuOtaku is the anime reviewer for the site. I’m not much into anime, but I still enjoy her serious breakdowns of the technical and story/character focused breakdowns of the shows she reviews. She hasn’t really got a comedic persona like the other reviewers, but does have comedy skits related to the show she’s looking at at the beginning of her videos that’re always worth checking out.

She’s also part of the Desu Des Brigade of anime reviewers, creating a Digimon retrospective like Linkara’s Power Rangers one and a lot more besides.

Honourable Mentions

I like both The Spoony One and the Blockbuster Buster as well, but I haven’t looked at as much of their stuff and they don’t quite break into my top five. Check them out too.

And there it is gang! I really urge you to explore the site, there’s a lot of great stuff there.

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