Thursday, 15 August 2013

Dragon's Crown: Impressions So Far (NSFW)


I want to get a lot of this out now, while it's still fresh in my mind; Dragon's Crown arrived through my door today. I've played it for a few hours and I think it's ... kind of repetitive, actually (although that may be because I'm playing as the Fighter; I briefly played as the Dwarf and had a great time but replaying all the levels I've already completed is a hassle). Certainly not the must-buy I thought it'd be based on gameplay videos. It's certainly not bad ... but it's not great. I haven't completed it yet though so hopefully I'll enjoy it more later on.

Right off the bat, I'd like to say this: I can see why some people are offended. I'm happy to defend Dragon's Crown's art style and character designs but only up to a certain point. When the artwork actually breaks my immersion from the game because the sexualisation is so blatant, that point is reached.

To explain, I think there are acceptable levels of sexualising characters in games and ... I don't want to say "unacceptable" levels -- I'm not in charge of what should and shouldn't be in games, nor would I want to be -- but levels where it seems less like the sexualisation is part of the game's universe and more part of our universe but an artist wanted to put it into the game anyway.

I'll give you some examples from other games. While I've heard a lot of criticism against the scantily-clad women of Soul Calibur, I've never had an issue with any of the series' content. Take Ivy, for example. Possibly the most heavily-criticised character but as far as I'm concerned, her dominatrix-esque outfit matches her dominant personality. Her dialogue is sexualised but she's the only character in the game with sexual lines. She's deliberately set up as the "fanservice" character, in spite of the large chests and "jiggle physics" of the rest of the female roster.

In my opinion, Ivy and the rest of the female characters in Soul Calibur are examples of acceptable sexualisation. Well, I could do without the chests expanding game after game but the female characters are more than just their sexualisation. Ivy included! Their backstories, fighting styles, relationships, etc. go towards making them fully-rounded. Plus, it's worth bearing this in mind when talking about sexualisation in fighting games:


I've played plenty of fighting games and noticed this a lot, particularly in games where you can customise/create your own fighters. I never got to enjoy them because I was always looking at my opponent.

Then there are moments of sexualisation that detract from the game. I don't feel like Ivy or any other female character in Soul Calibur detracts from the game because their sexualisation isn't focused on. I can't say the same for a game like ... Resonance Of Fate.

Resonance Of Fate is a Japanese RPG that came out a few years ago but I only bought this year. There's a minor character in the game called Cardinal Barbarella who only appears in one cutscene (although she can be spoken to and gives a few missions later on in the game) and that one cutscene sexualises the hell out of her.

video


(Blogspot's Youtube search was acting funny, so I had to download this, then upload it again myself. Credit to ReneidKlein for the video. Click his username if you'd prefer to watch on Youtube.)

For those of you who don't want to watch, the heroes -- three guns-for-hire -- visit the young and sexy Cardinal Barbarella and heroic pervert Vashyron is so overcome by her jiggling breasts and orgasm noises that he agrees to go into harsh danger to fetch her a bottle of wine.

Even though Barbarella's sexiness did serve a purpose -- Vashyron wouldn't have accepted the mission if Barbarella wasn't so attractive -- it was still enough to break my immersion from the game world. I don't usually mind "jiggle physics" but in this case, Barbarella's breasts had a mind of their own. Her orgasm noises were uncalled for. Vashyron, too, is the classic anime pervert archetype turned up to eleven. It certainly made playing as him for the rest of the game uncomfortable (and the other two characters were annoying in their own little ways too).

Dragon's Crown is closer to Resonance Of Fate than Soul Calibur. In fact, it's probably worse.

Now, in all the same ways that sexualisation didn't matter in Soul Calibur, they don't matter in Dragon's Crown either; you're not paying any attention to the Sorceress' jiggling breasts when you're in the middle of a hectic battle that takes up the entire screen. During the quieter moments, such as in the town, you start to notice a few things. The jiggling breasts while running around, for example. The one female civilian who always starts outside the tavern who has jiggling breasts while walking too. Morgan, the female shopkeeper who wears little more than strips of flowing cloth.

Truth be told, I could probably deal with all of that if they were the only examples. Unfortunately, there are times where the sexualisation goes even further than that. I can think of no better example than when the mermaid shows up in the middle of a level:


Every single mermaid I've seen before this one was very specifically "a fish from the waist-down" (or sometimes from the waist-up, when writers wanted to buck the trend). This mermaid, however, is a fish from the buttocks-down. As soon as I saw this, I immediately thought about how the "mermaid problem" -- mermaids are beautiful but men can't mate with them because they lack the appropriate parts -- probably doesn't apply to her. Which made the picture even less wholesome and made me wonder if that's why she was designed this way.

Like Barbarella, the mermaid doesn't play any significant role in the game (at least not as far as I've played) but she's not the only one. It struck me that a lot of Dragon's Crown is similar to a visual novel, especially when shopping or taking quests. We normally see a bright and colourful character taking up the entire screen and the narrator explaining the situation. As a result, we have a few characters cropping up out of the blue in the middle of missions. The mermaid is one. A hobgoblin chef is another. A female warrior monk in a very suggestive pose is another. She, in particular, looks like she was traced from a pornographic picture, something that artists such as Greg Land have been criticised for in the past. I may like George Kamitani's art far more than Greg Land's but I wouldn't let Greg off the hook. I can't do the same for George, no matter how impressive his art is.

Take it from me, his art is impressive. Especially in motion. It's phenomenal, in fact. There are occasions in Dragon's Crown when I won't progress the dialogue just because I want to see the animation repeat itself (like seeing the wizard Lucain smoking his pipe). I'm glad I bought the game just to see a few of the characters alone, such as the Phantom Knight. Unfortunately, some of these characters, such as the three mentioned in the previous paragraph, only play a very small role in the quest the player meets them in. So characters like the sexualised mermaid -- and the hideous hobgoblin -- showing up can feel like they're there just for the sake of being there.

So again, I understand why people can be offended by Dragon's Crown. It doesn't offend me but it does break my immersion in the game world when a naked mermaid shows up in the middle of the quest just for a chat.

I hope my regular readers aren't too disappointed in me for not fighting Dragon's Crown's corner on this particular issue but what can I say? This all just occurred to me while playing, so I thought I'd let you know. Still, maybe I'm being premature. Maybe my view has been tainted from not being enthused with the gameplay. Maybe I'll stop seeing it as an issue in time. I can only hope, for the sake for immersion, that it's the case.

So where does this leave male characters? Well, every criticism against journalists such as Jason Schreier is still valid and my blog post about the game during development is still correct; with regards to the six playable characters, the men are just as exaggerated as the women. George Kamitani's art is still incredible and, even though I feel some of the pictures are too blatantly inserted into the game, I'm more convinced than ever that he's an unparalleled artist and certainly not deserving of the insults Schreier fired in his direction. Nothing has changed.

Other than that, there isn't much to say about the male characters. There are exaggerated examples, the most prominent being Roland The Brave; a hulking, barbarian-esque man with a lantern jaw and the hair from a L'Oréal commercial. The majority of the other male characters are built like Greek Gods too, from Samuel the Guildmaster to the Monk who offers resurrection services in the temple. It has to be said though, it's not the same. In my opinion, those characters are closer to the Soul Calibur example of sexualisation; acceptable because there's more to them than the sexualisation, with Roland as the Ivy of Dragon's Crown (if the Fighter hasn't already taken that spot). In fact, it's closer to say that Roland is the only one sexualised, with the others being victims of unrealistic body standards.

Then again, it's Dragon's Crown. Everyone is exaggerated. That's the argument I used when it was in development and I have to hold my own criticisms to the same standard.

I've been enjoying the comments I've received lately, so I'm looking forward to seeing what I get for this.

Important Note: I wrote this yesterday but thought I'd wait a day to see how I felt after I'd continued playing. After playing for a few hours today, I'm happy to say that firstly, I'm enjoying Dragon's Crown a lot more. It's a game that takes a while to introduce every element and now, the gameplay is starting to feel a lot less linear and a lot more challenging. It's closer to what I was hoping for at the start.

As for the objectification, I really have got used to it a lot more. The sexualised characters do break my immersion in the game but not as much as they used to. A few characters, like Morgan the shopkeeper, don't bother me at all anymore. Plus, I've played as the Amazon a little and she may be my favourite character.

Do I wish there were a few fewer sexualised characters? Yeah, sure. Particularly the mermaid. I wish there was more variation in the female character designs too, since I'm a big fan of the Amazon having a different body type from what we usually see on female characters. Having said that, just playing through the game a bit more has helped me to stop seeing the exaggerated designs as a hindrance and more as part of the charm. There are exceptions but for the most part, that's the case. It just took some time. Imagine jumping into a cold swimming pool; at first, you're freezing but you become used to it in time and it stops bothering you. It's the same thing with Dragon's Crown; the sexualisation stands out a lot at first but the more you play, the more you accept it as part of the game world that George Kamitani created.

5 comments:

  1. There are actually a number of depictions of mermaids with more... compatible parts, some of them fairly old. So there is a reasoning that the game developers simply wanted to show a more classical version of mermaids which was pushed back more modest later versions, though it's perfectly possible for the original mermaids like that were designed in order to avoid the Mermaid Problem in the first place. Starbucks for instance has a zoomed up picture of a mermaid with two tails. Guess what she has between them?

    Regarding the game in general, I should probably play it before I comment on it more, although this might take a while or I might not get it at all.

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    1. Huh, I wasn't aware of that. I suppose I should've known that there'd be a historical context to it, after reading the comment on Kotaku back when the controversy began.

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  2. to be honest, the only issue I have with female sexualization is when the creators want me to take their character seriously. this is a crippling issue in comic books, where all the tightly clad female characters are hip deep in some kind of overwrought melodrama. in video games, it just isn't as much of an issue.

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  3. anyway, if the game wasn't $50 I would buy it right now just out of principal. maybe next month.

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  4. The comment about sexualization breaking your immersion reminds me of something I ran into on... I believe Escher Girls. There was a picture of a girl in a rather strange fanservice pose, and two guys ogling her. The problem was that they wouldn't actually be able to see what they were theoretically looking at from where they were. It didn't make any sense within it's context.

    As for the mermaid thing, there were some not-especially-sexualized images of mermaids with that design posted to a forum thread I saw talking about it, so I'm not having a hard time seeing that part of it as something other than just being for titillation. That pose, on the other hand, I'm a bit more suspicious of...

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