Requiem for the Defiant
The Legacy of Kain continues to please

Now that I am knee-deep in completing art on a Quake mod as part of the Guildhall program, I've little time for idleness and the vagaries of the spirit. My mind has moved out from behind my eyes and into the muscles of the jaw. For those who've steeled themselves in a similar way, this will make sense, and for those who're at the mercies of a soiled scrap of self-pity that they call a 'soul', this will make no sense; but I've stood atop the speeding train heading towards pitiless hell at greatest possible speed, and enjoyed the sense of the rushing wind, as opposed to the passing scenery. All this is wandering around the following point; I've chosen a profession that requires 16+ hours of work in a day, and is simply uninterested in the fact that I'm glued to my chair for this entire period. Ah well. So much for finding a mate.

It's not all fuss-and-feathers, however, since despite all appearance to the contrary, I inevitably find time to subscribe to yet another MMORPG (Final Fantasy XI) and complete the latest installment in the legacy of Kain series. Defiance is the title of this latest batch.

I've been told by a number of people that my imagination tends to run wild with the art I take in. Inevitably, if it's a movie, then I create an ecosystem of philosophy for it to live in. If it's a book, then it's an allegory for all possible philosophy. If it's a game, then, by all means, please let me imagine that it is plumbing territory hereby restricted to the lord god himself. None of this is true, but feedback from my peergroup is a harsh and forboding wilderness of disdain and risibility. There's no point, to continue on, stating my opinion, except to hear myself talk, which in most cases, seems to be the imagined goal of my speech to the self-same peergroup. Inevitably, one asks, why the fuck do you keep writing or talking? Well, as we are all flawed monkies of a degenerate race, we each express a unique and utterly incurable fault of thought that is faith based. Until this very hour, I had no idea that I was subject to this particular fault. However, I now realize that my mind is seized by this enclosure of illogicality and nonsense as much as any zealot in a monastic order--and that is, that I should continue to write and talk. The most helpful side-effect of this particular malady is that I cannot enter a coma. Or if I did, it would cause a singular disturbance in physics which would result in a great release of energy, as when matter meets anti-matter. Oh what joy. Possibly I could be pacakaged in a bomb with a hammer suspended over my head for just such an occasion.

Irreunmalconantigardless, the point that was supposed to be made, is that I typically construct elaborate stories. However, this time, there is no such story to construct. I think all those who read the site on a regular basis, if ever there were such people, and if they didn't leave during one of the many times that the site has become a stagnant cesspool, will remember that I've discussed soul reaver 2 in the context of advancing the notion of telling a story, while simultaneously being some kind of alter upon which lesser marketers sacrifice their children in the hopes of earning more money. I've also discussed Blood Omen 2 in the context of eradicating and etching away at our fragile morality. Well, Defiance has no great themes which require expounding, no great expectations which require an endless number of chapters to crush, and certainly, no mindless repetition which makes the player loath life. There ARE certain amounts of ... well if not repetition, then at least... repetition. But if you're doing it right, you shouldn't notice. After all, Sex is essentially repetition in a wide variety of positions and with various differences in timing, but no one seems to complain about that.

And that's that! No great gnashing of teeth. No irritatingly persistent torture-themed metaphors about gameplay. Legacy of Kain is just a great story, with great camera work, wonderful levels, beautiful art, and fun gameplay. People will tend to complain about the camera [note: at this point, my train of thought was suspended for approxiamately ... 3 years? More? Something like that. I now resume as if nothing had happened...] since it is static in the same way that this unforgiveable website often appears to be.

Now, Final Fantasy XI, is another matter. It is not fun in the traditional sense. At least, so much as I recall, it is not fun, however, I've played, what is very possibly, a metric ton of WoW since I tried and gave up on Final Fantasy XI, so I will seemlessly merge my impressions of faraway japan with somewhat more nearby blizzard.

Final Fantasy is an unparalleled joy. Like plush squid, or plush sea turtles, or real puppies. Except in as much as it makes you want to die. I believe my first inkling of morbidity was when I could afford better leather armor for my human, male, red mage, and found that I looked at least as sexy, if not moreso, than those who had chosen women. The Japanese artistic ability to make males subtly erotic, and women vaguely boring is, indeed, amazing. I didn't let it bother me too much though, what I saw of other, more advanced, outfits, was reassuring. Particularly the Red Mage update. In general, the choices made to bring the visuals of Final Fantasy into the era of 3d, and not just *any* 3d, but the incredibly refined and sculpted 3d of Japanese style, are good ones. The characters no longer have the comical strength of the squat images from early games, but they've gained an epic quality that sorts well with the nearly infinite amount of time which is possible to invest in FFXI.

Being sexy is fine, however, I think it's interesting to pause for a moment and make a point about personal identity as it relates to artistic endeavors, particularly games, and how the Japanese play their hand in this regard; FFXI has very little in the way to personally identify the player.

Yes, you can choose your name, and your outfit is a kind of visual history of your success in the world. Indeed, the various choices you make to power up as one particular class or another result in dramatic visual differences, but, in terms of the avatar, you have virtually no choices. There are, I think, 4 races in the game. Possibly 5. Please recall that in this, the post 3-year gap, I have difficulty remember what was, for me, an off-putting game. Of those races, you can select, I think, 3 or 4 faces/hairstyles, and in 2 cases, gender. However, if you are a cat person, you are a cat woman, and if you are a strange semi-hairy ogre person, you are an ogre man. The idea of defining race by gender is not only remarkable, and very japanese, but also an incredible statement about attitude. For the japanese, this seems to say, that differentiation beyond the level of race is an inconvenience.  Perhaps, like orthodox Islam, they fear that the mere visibility of desireable things (in this case, other faces and hairstyles which individualize the player) arouses dark impulses beyond our control, and therefore, cat men need to wear burkas--hiding their uniqueness from our lustful eyes. Meanwhile, in the US, the game City of Heroes offers a remarkable openness in character creation and personalization--relying little, if at all, on role to define the look of a character. A bulky bruiser can be lithe and small, if the player wishes. But not only this, the character is customizable with up to 4, and soon 5 individual costumes/looks, merely for your own entertainment, and no other reason. The creation of a costume is a statement about the personality playing, and the options available allow one to look like virtually anything--fantastic or mundane. Or Muntastic, which I will henceforth use to refer to anything really sexy and naughty.

Wow, which is not FFXI, but would like to be, I think, has the gaul to offer several facial characteristics, overall skin colors, hair styles and colors, as well as 'oddities', such as piercings or tatoos, which is fairly standard for most other MMOs. But, thankfully, it does it's best to make this utterly irrelevant, by making most high-level equipment completely cover the head. So the only remaining visible feature is the race, and in some cases not even the gender. Though, admittedly, blizzard goes out of their way to make women objects, and men, bulky inseminators. Which is nice, because it makes for a solid choice. In fact, it's muntastic. Regardless, the popularity of anonymity is a spooky commonality between the games that I won't get into. I would like to mention, however, that Blizzard, at least, relented and offered a toggle for the helmet, allowing you to have your +12 cake, and still eat your face. Which is a garbled metaphor to say the least. The homgenaeity of the looks available minimizes the difference. But at least it's something. You get hair color at the very least. 

When I set out on my adventures in FFXI-hood, I knew that I was in for a grind. After all, I'd heard, second and third hand, of Everquest, which was a game that supposedly took months to level in, toward the end of the player's career. I suppose, after that, there was still more time spent gathering impossible equipment. I never really saw the appeal, and once I'd leveled to 60 in WoW, I could see why. There isn't any appeal. The reason to do it is because of the time investment, the social connections, and the lack of superior alternatives. After all, for most people, what would you be doing in the evenings if you weren't playing this god forsaken game? Playing piano? Probably watching TV. And then, you'd go discuss what you saw on TV with your friends at work, or on the weekend, at the barbeque, consisting of the friends who enjoyed the same TV shows. The vaunted past holds illusions of time better spent, but that was when the work day stopped at sunset because it got too dark to farm, and the available activities were all on the order of chores around the house, the immeasurably precious boon of music, or the desperate distractions of wandering outside, torturing animals. See? It's not so bad, once you realize we haven't really progressed much.

So. Grinding. I picked a red mage, because it was the class designed by technicians in an underground lab to appeal to me. Fight with a sword. Cast all the magic. Use all the items (maybe. didn't get that far).  It would be a good life. A friend of mine chose the same path, and we did have fun, initially, exploring, trying to get things sorted out, and blasting things with fire, which, as it turns out, is nearly always fatal. The game itself was done under an approach which Wow later adopted, where any monster you started fighting, became your karmic property. You were locked in epic combat which no other being could interrupt until you were either victorious, dead, or called for help like a sissy girl. Calling for help nullified the benefit of killing the beast--you recieved no reward, and no one could in any way interfere, unless you did so. It was an absolute protection of property. Wow is a little different. You claim the prize of a beast when you attack it and do some arbitrary threshold of damage, but anyone can help or hinder at any time. Regardless, the Final Fantasy experience involves alot of bunny killings. You then graduate to weird lizard things, and bats, and skeletons and so forth. I lost interest fairly quickly.

The game has a kind of profession sideline where you gather resources for making arts and crafts from the monsters you kill, but only if you ask a guard to enchant you with mystical item gathering ability on your way out of town. Remembering to do this each time was tedious. You more or less had to participate, since, without the money reaped from auctioning your crap to other players, you couldn't afford to keep upgrading your equipment. Monster inevitably got harder as you went, and there were more of them. The game embraced a wonderful mechanism of replenishment, which I like to call 'oops, you're fucked', whereby monsters would come back instantly and, I felt, arbitrarily (whether a timer was involved or not, the fact remained that you could not be in absolute sync with that timer, and therefore really had no idea when the damn thing was going to get you) added difficulty to the game. On top of everything else, you had to make friends with Chocobos before you could pay to ride one, which was just upsetting.

Anyway, when my Tauren Druid hit the mid 40s, I began spending all my time riding in tight circles in the forest on my Kodo (lizard rhino thing). This is months later in Wow. I had reached an impasse where the rate of progress when actively out hurting things which were minding their own business, and the rate of progress while riding in tight circles were so similar, that the processor in my brain dropped a decimal point and reported them as equal. Later, I would discover, it is possible to progress even more slowly. Wow, then, would have been the 3rd MMO I'd stopped playing before reaching the level cap. The other two being FFXI at level 11 or 13 or something, and City of Heroes, at the mid-30s in a game that capped at 50. Clearly I made it a little further each time.

Now, I escaped Wow, but was forced to come back for reasons I won't get into (He knows who he is, and the fact that he only plays Wow, forcing all social contact to occur in Azeroth). Sort of starting over from scratch with a lower character on a different server, I did, eventually, and with alot of kicking and screaming, get to level 60--the level cap in Wow. Only to discover that the level cap is a kind of cruel joke played on people by the arch-heinous baby rapist who's in charge of the quote 'gameplay' unquote which afflicts the subscribers of that hated service. Once at the cap, you are free to pursue a number of other treadmills cleverly disguised as 'reputation'-a means to access to content and better equipment, which was a means to a means to access to content. To say nothing of the abomination which is raiding, that I've mentioned in other rantings.

FFXI would have been no better. It had the unfathomable cruelty to allow you to level up in every class on a single character. Making the opportunity for sake-of-completeness an ever present burden. City of Heroes, which I've since come back to and played into the ground, is, overall, less of a burden in the linear sense, but more of a burden in redundancy. Anything you want to do once, you want to do 40 times with different characters and powersets. Pretending you're a slightly different sort of wrecking ball that is knocking aside the same obstacles ad infinitum.

The contrast between these bullshit experiences which account for months of playing time, and Legacy of Khain, which accounts for 2 days, but still gives me fond memories, is so stark, that I can't imagine how we got here from where we started. Mainstream gaming isn't.

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