Stanley-sama, Parables is War

Welcome to Save State, where we do office work and chew bubblegum, and we’re all out of bubblegum. This week, we’re going to start off by visiting a game that I haven’t even had installed for years, solely because I thought the novelty of an achievement it had made the game worth returning to almost six years later. That game, of course, is The Stanley Parable, a first person exploration game, typically called a walking simulator, which were all the craze back in the early 2010s.

The Stanley Parable is a first person game driven entirely by its narrative, or more specifically, its narrator. The game begins in an office building, with you, playing as Stanley, following the instructions of a seemingly-omniscient narrator who guides Stanley along. Strangely, the entire allure of The Stanley Parable is not its story, but its attempt to tell you its story.

The Stanley Parable has a large number of endings, and you wander through the office building, following the adaptable narration given to you as the disembodied voice guides you throughout the halls of the complex. Or not, because when given an instruction of, “Stanley went through the red door” you can ignore it and go through the blue door, instead, putting you on a different path. The story branches of The Stanley Parable have branches, like the game was written as a humorous critique of illusory freedom in video games, to the point where there are specific moments in which the narrator sounds like a disappointed Dungeons & Dragons DM, specifically because you don’t have to tacitly follow along with the narration.

There’s no combat or action challenges to be had in The Stanley Parable, and you will be able to experience all of the game’s endings in around 2 hours, but the funny dialogue from the frequently disappointed, depressed, or even antagonistic narrator make this game a unique experience all the same. The entire purpose of the experience is to force Stanley, through your influence, to exhibit some kind of agency over the game’s narrative, much to the chagrin of the narrator. The voice work of said narrator, by the way, is top notch, and every exasperated plea or stubborn and impassioned declaration reinforces the player’s connection to the game even as ridiculous and irreverent references are being made by the game’s level design.

The way in which the player interacts with both the narrated voice lines and the level design in The Stanley Parable is something I still haven’t seen from other games eight years later. Confusing the narrator by walking off the beaten path, the furious shuffling of papers and closing of doors in front and behind you as he tries to figure out the best way for you to find the story… it’s truly a unique, albeit brief, experience. The narrator being part of the “action,” so to speak, is both surprising and insanely different approach to designing a first person exploration game.

Overall, The Stanley Parable is inventive, preposterous, and brilliant, all in equal measure. I stopped back in solely to get the infamous, “Go Outside” achievement which requires you not play the game for five years, and I wound up playing the game through again a couple of times just because I had so much fun with it, again (and yes, I got the achievement legit. The last time this game was played was 2015). Not much can be said about what actually happens in the game, simply because any of it would be spoilers that would best be experienced firsthand. That being said, however, The Stanley Parable came out at the height of the “walking simulator” craze, and is still easily one of the best among them if for nothing else than it’s incredible attempts at humor, contradicting itself in such a way that you can never be certain if you’ll ever find that story- if there was ever one to even be had!

The second game we’ll talk about this week is one that’s been on my backburner for a very, very long time: God Wars: The Complete Legend. A copy of this was picked up quite some time ago when the Switch version got a physical release, but it simply sat on a shelf, forlorn, with intent to play it after finishing Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna the Golden Country, which then just never happened. Such is the way of the backlog!

In God Wars you adventure in a fictional version of Japan, playing as Kaguya, the youngest daughter of Queen Tsukiyomi. Prior to the events of the story, Tsukiyomi had to sacrifice one of her daughters to quell the anger of the gods, and Kaguya was locked away in the event that another sacrifice would be needed, but she gets released by a friend of hers and his giant bear friend named Kuma, who is just the best. God Wars heavily relies on Japanese mythology for its themes, and you will no doubt get more out of its story should you be aware or at least interested in things like The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, though it’s obviously not required.

There are four separate campaigns in God Wars: The Complete Legend, and it would likely take a mortal man over a hundred hours to complete them all, so there is a lot to enjoy in this game. The dialogue does a great job of describing what characters plan to do, and the like, though there are some good moments where the story hits a lull- though that could have just been fatigue from doing back-to-back playthroughs in a row (it’s always nice to pace yourself, especially with extremely long games or compilations).

God Wars has tactical, turn-based combat like what you would expect to see from Final Fantasy Tactics or later Tactics Ogre games- maps are based on a grid, elevation and positioning matter, so your characters can perform hit and run tactics by selecting move after attacking, or you can group your units together like the turtle squad of death, everyone huddling like their very lives depend on it. One notable difference from other turn-based SRPGs is that in God Wars, you don’t start with full MP, you recover portions of your maximum MP value every turn, which means that liberal usage of spells and special attacks is encouraged.

Mastery of the job system in God Wars: The Complete Legend is paramount to conquering the difficult post-game content, and each character can use three separate jobs at a time, one of which is unique to each character and typically provides unique skills. The other two jobs, a main and sub, provide a wealth of customization options, as earning job points will let you spend them in your selected jobs to earn more powerful skills. Passive skills can be used no matter what class you have, and your main class will determine what kinds of weapons and other equipment you’re able to use. Active skills, like spells, are restricted to your equipped class- so that’s something important to keep in mind when dramatically changing the party composition in between battles.

There’s a wide swath of weapon variety, as swords, spears, bows, shields, staves, and more, and the abilities each class can learn offer equal variety. Some classes focus on melee or distance attacks, another on healing, attack magic, buffs and debuffs, and more. Depending on how you customize your units, even if they start off with very similar bases, you can wind up with substantially different party members that all offer a unique niche in combat, and a proper team composition can be useful during the main campaigns, but is nigh required by the time you hit the post game content.

In between battles, players will see story cutscenes, and be able to buy items or move along the world map to get to the next story event. Shrines exist where players can grind for experience on reused maps with random enemies, so if you need a little extra cash to afford a new item, or want more JP to master some new skills, you have the availability to grind if you want it.

The artwork of God Wars has to be one of its biggest selling points: Kaguya and company look phenomenal, with beautifully drawn character art. The actual in-game character models are a kind of super-deformed, chibi aesthetic that still looks pretty nice, but its main advantage is that the battles don’t lag or suffer frame rate drops which is unfortunately common on the Switch. The world map screen is done in a kind of woodblock printing style of art that is stylized and gorgeous. The soundtrack is very fitting with the Japanese themes of God Wars, but is also very formulaic. While almost everything fits perfectly scene-to-scene, with some exceptions, the OST may not be as memorable as one from some older SRPGs.

All in all, God Wars is a great execution on the SRPG formula. It hits all of the proper notes, is competent in balance and design, and has artwork that’s insanely pleasing to the eye. It’s a good strategy RPG by all accounts, and even average sound design doesn’t bring it down in the face of its immense customization options for players to lose themselves in, which is by far one of the most important elements in this kind of game. The stories are all quite reasonable, and for those who don’t know of the Japanese folklore importance of things like the red and blue oni, there’s a handy glossary of terms in the game so you can get more out of the themes of God Wars. If you’re looking for a great SPRG, God Wars: The Complete Legend regularly goes on sale on Switch and Steam for $10 (and is currently on sale as of this writing), so anyone who enjoys long SRPGs can get a whole lot of out a small price with this game.

With that, this week’s Save State has been ctrl+s’d, so join us in another two weeks when we play visual novels or something, because I need bright colors to keep me entertained while I read or I wind up chewing on the books.

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