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Replay: Character Defect: Innovation vs. Stagnation
by Joey Núñez

Oh, videogame developers. You poor, poor fools. I ask myself, did you know what you were getting into? Did you have any idea just how rabid we gamers can be? I don't really believe you did, because who would willingly subject themselves to all this flaming? Here you are, pouring your hearts and souls into an idea, into a story, which somehow finds its way across all the industry bureaucracy and becomes a game; and here we are, just waiting to see you fail. Yours is a sad fate indeed.

What has launched me on this pity party for developers, you ask? Well, I’ve taken a step back and observed the gaming community in the last couple of months (myself included) and it has let me see what a tough bunch we really are. We constantly demand innovation from developers, we demand bigger and better things, but any attempt to modify or change our sacred cow franchises in any way and we go berserk.

Final Fantasy

The first case I 'observed' was Final Fantasy XIII. If one franchise defines Square-Enix, it’s the Final Fantasy series of games. Hell, Final Fantasy defines the RPG genre. I grew up with the series, and have been a fan ever since I popped Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III to us U.S. gamers) cartridge into my Super Nintendo. Terra and her pixellated green hair won me over the minute the game started up. With Final Fantasy I developed a love for RPG’s which has endured through the years: I have played every single major Final Fantasy game, and have generally been delighted with the results. Then along came Final Fantasy XIII, the Final Fantasy game for a new generation.

Even before I ever laid a finger on that shiny Blu-ray disc, I had all these preconceived notions about the game. It seemed like every gaming site and message board was crammed with Final Fantasy fans going into frenzy. Was it true? Could it be a linear Final Fantasy game? It was heresy. I’m a big fan, and the game, if nothing else, looked incredibly pretty. Coupled with my well-documented soft spot for tough chicks with guns, I was convinced to give the game a chance.

Was it a good game? Yes, it was. Was it the best Final Fantasy game in the series? Not for me personally. It was different from the normal Final Fantasy experience, in the sense that it tried something new; a different, more story-focused approach to how the game progressed. Some people liked it, others hated it. Square-Enix was just trying to innovate. Square-Enix was basically crucified by those 'hardcore' Final Fantasy fans. The message, I’m afraid, was heard by Square: "Take your innovation and shove it".

Infamous 2

Fast-forward a couple of months and another big franchise is starting to tease the content of its new game. Infamous 2 was on the horizon, and Sucker Punch, the game's developers, were excited to show off all the shiny new stuff they had packed into their sequel. First on their list was the new character design for the lead character of the series, Cole. This to me was not a big surprise. If I heard one complaint over and over regarding the original game, it was the main character design. The guy looked, and sounded, way too gruff. This is supposed to be a superhero? He looked more like a plumber (no offence Mario). I had no problem with the original design myself, although I did find some of the choices Sucker Punch made a bit odd. So, of course, the new character design looked like a first cousin of Nathan Drake: the ultimate good-guy-relatable-game-protagonist. The old voice actor was also given the shove, and a new, more 'good guy'-sounding voice actor was cast. I’m sure Sucker Punch were excited to hear what the fans thought.

Poor saps. They never saw it coming.

The fans were outraged. They dared to change Cole? Our Cole? Forget the fact that these loose-cannon game developers actually created the guy. Who cares that we’re only one game into the series. We want back the guy we loved to hate, and we want him now! The funny part is that Sucker Punch actually listened. Check out the latest Infamous screens and you will see the old Cole is alive and well. That’ll show those kooky game developers! That'll teach them that we don’t want any changes! Power to the people.


However, it looks like the message didn’t make it to Japan, and more specifically, Capcom. By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of DMC, the Devil May Cry reboot. You’ve seen the trailer. You’ve seen the new Dante.

Now, I have to come clean. I own, and have beaten, every single DMC game. I watched the anime. I have a DMC poster on my wall. I like the games. And if you’ve played these games, you'll know that Dante is what makes them work. Dante’s style and attitude; he's what makes the over-the-top Devil May Cry experience work. To change Dante is to change the game. You’d think Square-Enix was at the wheel.

So of course I - as a self respecting fan of the series - went onto the first message board I could find, and cried to the high heavens for someone’s head on a platter. Right? Well, no. See, I haven’t played the game; no one has. And whilst I think the change is a bit of a stretch, I trust these guys. They're the ones that gave me these awesome games in the first place.

I'm not a developer, I'm a gamer. That my friends, is the reality of things. It's what I’m trying to get at: we are all just gamers. Of course we are entitled to our opinions: our opinions fuel the industry. Hell, without opinions, this site wouldn’t even exist. This article that you’re reading right now is nothing but my opinion. But to flame a game incessantly without even having played it, without even knowing the motivation behind the changes and innovations which the game creators have chosen to implement is - to be honest - just kind of dumb. The gaming community is constantly asking for innovation in its games. Throw us a couple of sequels with nothing but rehash and your game will fail. On the other hand, if the developers try something new we collectively nail them to a cross.

Although I think the whole Infamous business is an incredible testament to the powers that we gamers have, I also think it sets a dangerous precedent, which may force developers and designers to hold back their artistic vision and creativity, in hopes of appeasing the masses. I, for one, hope that Capcom sticks to their guns with the choices they've made with DMC. Yes, the game might suck, but then again it might not, and Capcom amongst others will learn that it’s okay to try something new. When that happens, dear gamers, we will be much better off for it.

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- Joey Núñez

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