#4iF Roundup - My Journey to find the Link between Pokemon & the Vanishing of my time

As you may know from a previous post of mine, February was all about knocking four games off of that massive Pile of Shame I have - in line with the hashtag #4iF, or Four in February.

The results - Kind of successful?

All right, lets get in to it. First up: the stats.

Hyrule Warriors - 3 hours, not finished
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter -3 hours, finished
Journey - 2 hours, finished
Pokemon Alpha Sapphire - 100 hours+, not finished

One glance is enough to show where I spent most of my time this month. Interestingly enough though, Pokemon isn't what I want to talk about today.

 

The Indies...

While it's no surprise that it's great fun, Pokemon is essentially comfort food. While the developers do add new and interesting things each generation (as I previously mentioned) the game boils down to the same formula each time - albeit a successful and fun one. While I can blab all day about the interesting features and amazing time that can be had playing these games, it is the smaller experiences that really get the creative juices flowing through the brain.

I chose both Journey and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to play this month both due to their compact size (allowing me to actually finish them) and the reportedly interesting and affecting stories they have to share. While I was quite looking forward to playing both of these games, I'm still not sure I came away from them with an experience that I was entirely happy with - that being said, there is so much to say about them. Please be aware that the rest of the article includes spoilers, so read on at your own risk.

 

Journey

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Journey is still a bit of a mystery to me. mechanically, the game is clever and well done - the limited flight ability is clever, incentivizing players to search out the little hidden upgrades to their scarf, while at the same time rewarding you for working together with player 2. On that, the multiplayer aspect is fantastic - I believe I would have been shocked and overjoyed at learning that there was another actual person in my game as opposed to a computer, if I hadn't have already known beforehand. The prior knowledge I had going into this game, I think, was part of why I didn't enjoy Journey as much as I could have.

At the end of my time with this game, I still didn't really feel much for it. I'd heard it was a truly emotional experience - when it comes to connecting with games emotionally, I'm usually pretty on point - but here, nothing. Was it the limited time I got to spend with this character? Was it the lack of actual words and communication that trumped me? Am I becoming desensitized to this kind of thing?

I feel like the answer, the feeling, everything about this game is just out of arms reach for me. Maybe I'm just too practical a thinker, not able to connect with this game in the same way that I don't really understand the emotions people can feel when looking at a great painting. Maybe I've shut off the part of my brain that is meant to be open to feeling these kinds of emotions due to passed experiences.

Maybe this game is teaching me more about myself than I realized.

The point is, I'm still thinking about it. 24 hours later, after sitting back on the couch and thinking, 'What did I just play?', I'm still not sure, and I still strangely want to know.

I have several overall theories about this game, but I have no idea if I'm on the money. Is it a literal journey for a last-of-their-race figure to make it to the safety of the mountaintop? Is it a about the oftentime fleeting friendships we sometimes have in real life? Is it an overall metaphor for our own lives - starting out life with little worry and not much to go on, working our way through the trials of life, only to come to the end of the road in heaven? Or is the fact of the light returning to the start again after you have finished the game allegoric to the circle of birth, life, death, rebirth?

It may not be a game that I 'enjoyed' as such, but it is definitely a game that leaves you with a lot of questions. It is the type of game that is certainly largely open to interpretation by the player - so what is yours? I'd love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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The thing that piqued my interest in this game, oddly enough, was the reported length of it. I hadn't even heard of Ethan Carter until I come across a comment somewhere on the internet made by one of the developers of this game, talking about game length - what is better, a great 4 hour experience, or a good 8 hour experience with 4 hours of filler? With the schedule I tend to run by when trying to fit gaming into my life, great experiences that I can finish in an afternoon sound perfect to me.

What I didn't realize until after I had played this game however, was just how close this game borders on horror.

Oh who am I kidding - it is a horror game.

I hate horror.

Yet, there was something worthwhile in this experience, even for me. While I am definitely not a fan of jump scares, and there are a few in this game (not too many, but more than enough for me) the actual horrific story of what happened to the boy known as Ethan Carter is truly an intriguing one.

But lets back up for a second. In the very beginning of this game, a sentence is flashed across the screen:

'This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.'

Hold your hand, it most certainly does not.

While I always appreciate a game that lets me figure out what to do without laying the answers on a silver platter, in this particular experience, I would have enjoyed a little more direction. It wasn't clear to me until halfway through the game exactly how to play out a scenario - and I only honestly knew what to do because I'd watched a friend work through this scene the night before.

To add to the frustration, most of the game can accidentally be skipped. If you don't know where to look, you'll often miss essential key parts of the story, leaving you on your own to figure out what the hell is going on three scenes later. Several of these stories are actually off on a side track that you can easily miss, leaving you unsure if you're actually on the right track. When you do get to the end, a map is revealed to you, showing you all the parts you did miss. Thankfully, the game allows you to teleport to whichever area you would like to go back to, but that doesn't necessarily help you understand what you are doing. I somehow managed to skip 4 out of 5 of the actual story puzzles, as well as the very first main story section.

After making it to the end of the game, because of how much I had actually missed, I didn't feel like I'd connected with the story and characters enough to go back and actually find everything. You can't truly learn what happened to Ethan until you complete all these puzzles however, leaving me in a bit of a tough spot. In the end, YouTube came to my rescue and showed me the final twist (which was really fantastic, I might add.)

It sounds like I'm giving this game a bad rap, but that is actually quite far from the truth - The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a very good game. If you love a great story in your games, with a few higher-than-novice-level puzzles, this is definitely something you'll want to pick up. My only advice is that you should try not to rush - explore every nook and cranny, turn over every rock you can find (literally.) This is a game that rewards curiosity and will not leave you feeling like a waste of your time, if done right.

 

... VS the AAA

I've already spoken my piece on Pokemon, so I'll spare you my gushing appraisal the second time round. Hyrule Warriors on the other hand, is a different story.

While I am no where near finished this game, the couple of hours I have spent with it have given me a good impression of what I'm likely to expect from the rest of it. As previously mentioned, I am a fan of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, and am practically in love with every Zelda game I've ever played. A re-skin of DW with Zelda characters was surely up my alley.

What I found however, was that the game takes much more inspiration from actual Zelda games than I thought it would. The item and weapon upgrade systems are a joy to use. The story woven into this game is able to give more characters a bit more spotlight witj intriguing plot points that actually make sense. The gameplay is dynasty warriors tight, while providing a much deeper experience than just hack-and-slash gaming.

Though I'm not able to provide more on this game at the moment, I will (eventually, anyway) play through the remainder of Hyrule Warriors - and will no doubt have something to say about it in article form.

 

Innovation and Discussion

Ultimately, The games that are the smallest and that I spent the least time with this month are the ones that are both the most interesting to me and the ones I want to talk most about. If you have played Journey or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, how did you find them? What were your thoughts? I would be very interested to know below.

One final note... As far as terrible puns weaving the story into a headline - not bad, right? Right?... Guys?