It's all led up to this. Tim defends Too Human. Chi defends Dynasty Warriors. Who will live? Who will die? Find out in this, the second half of our "Out Of Our Comfort Zone" extravaganza. With Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik, and Tim "No Singing This Time" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: Well, hello there, everyone. Tim here. Quick program note: as you may recall from last week, our show ran so long we split it in half. What you're about to hear is the second half. Now, if you remember, our theme is "breaking out of our comfort zone." But my guess is, when you're gathered around the water cooler tomorrow, you'll call this "the Too Human/Dynasty Warriors show."
Now, this picks up right where we left off last time, so let me do a quick introduction. This week's cast, it's Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik, and [deep voice] me. I'm Shadoe Stevens. [end deep voice] That's a reference three of you willl get. And I think a classic show like this one deserves our classic theme song. So let's get to it. The GameCritics.com podcast, episode 40, starts right now.
Well, one of the really cool things about doing this show for the last two years has been getting to know you guys. And I mean that quite seriously. Over the last couple years, I feel like I have a pretty good handle not just on what you're like as people, but on what type of gamer you are. Richard is the PC guy; Mike is the RPG guy; Chi is the obsessive-compulsive min-maxer Pokémon guy.
Chi Kong Lui: Guilty as charged.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: [singsong] Nailed it.
Tim Spaeth: Brad is the "play every game released in the calendar year" guy. I've got a pretty good grasp on it.
Richard Naik: What does that make you?
Tim Spaeth: I was gonna say: How would you guys classify me?
Brad Gallaway: Hmmm.
Richard Naik: I don't know.
Chi Kong Lui: I was gonna say, the spreadsheet guy. [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: The Wild Card. The joker in the deck.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I think you're the guy we don't pay much attention to.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. I'm kind of getting that feeling. For God's sake, somebody answer the question! Gee!
Richard Naik: I just did. I called you the joker in the deck. That's a cool title.
Mike Bracken: I think of you as an MMO player who plays some other stuff, too. But I primarily think of you for World of Warcraft and Too Human.
Tim Spaeth: That's fair.
Mike Bracken: That's what pops into my head when somebody says: "Tim" and I think of games: Too Human and World of Warcraft.
Richard Naik: I think of you as my only Steam friend from the entire site.
Tim Spaeth: And you are my only Steam friend.
Richard Naik: Am I still your only Steam friend?
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Now, it's like a thing: now I'm not gonna add anyone else. I'm just gonna have one Steam friend.
Mike Bracken: I don't think I have any.
Tim Spaeth: Well, regardless, I'll try not to be too insulted by your answers.
But they say that you don't really know a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes, and that's the whole point behind our Gamer Exchange Program, in which we make each other play games that we wouldn't ordinarily play. So this time around, Chi made us all play Dynasty Warriors VI. And I made all of you play—yes—Too Human. The goal is to learn something new about each other, and in doing so, perhaps learn something about ourselves.
Chi Kong Lui: To be fair, Tim, I think we all volunteered for the job here. We didn't force each other. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: There was no guns.
Chi Kong Lui: There was no threats.
Tim Spaeth: I kind of felt forced to play Dynasty Warriors, but we'll get to that part. [Laughter] We'll get to that part. And guys, we have to start with Too Human, because I can't wait any longer. I want to hear you guys talk about Too Human so badly. So let me kick it off this way. We're going to start with what may be the greatest blog post I've ever read, written by one Mr. Brad Gallaway. I'm gonna read an excerpt.
Brad Gallaway: Go ahead. Go ahead, man.
Mike Bracken: I've got an excerpt, as well.
Tim Spaeth: Excellent. Excellent. I'm going to read an excerpt. I will do my best Brad voice in reading this from your blog [bad British accent]:
"After putting three hours into Too Human, I was actually wondering how so many people who reviewed it ended up being so negative… I do feel as though I owe both Too Human and Tim an apology—I'm definitely a believer in trying things before you talk and I've spent my review career giving underdogs the benefit of the doubt, but this is absolutely one time when I was too complacent. In Too Human's case, I was content to trust the consensus and go along with the crowd, and that was wrong. I'm certainly not proud.
Brad Gallaway: That actually does sound quite a bit like me. I'm impressed.
Mike Bracken: It does.
Chi Kong Lui: Dramatic, dramatic reading there.
Tim Spaeth: I listen to many hours of you on the podcast, Brad.
Brad Gallaway: It paid off. Totally paid off, man. My kudos.
Chi Kong Lui: That was almost as epic as Too Human. Almost.
Tim Spaeth: Really? I think so. And, Brad, I think it's safe to say that you held that opinion throughout your entire playthrough, so you really don't even need to comment on the game, do you?
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] Uh, I might have a thing or two to say.
Tim Spaeth: All right. Dig in, my friend.
Brad Gallaway: Dig in. Well, where to start? To perfectly frame this up, people who've been listening to this podcast, they know that Too Human's a running joke. We've all been mercilessly ribbing Tim, and I really…I really felt bad, honestly. Like the excerpt he just read said, I pride myself on giving bad games or unknown games or games that people kind of ignore a chance. Sometimes it turns out to be deserved; sometimes not. It was really an error on my part to join in the merriment at Too Human's expense without really having to try it first.
The blog post you read was very heartfelt, and I did mean that sincerely.After playing it, I think I see what you saw in it a little bit. I certainly understood more about the title, and where it was going, and the scope that Denis Dyack and Silicon Knights were trying to achieve. I ended up…well, of two minds, really.
On the one hand, I really did like the story and characters. I thought that was really fresh and interesting and exciting. That was the motivating factor to push through and complete the game, which I did. On the other hand, I can totally understand why so many people hate that game. I really think that the development team completely—pardon my French—just clusterfucked the gameplay. It's just a giant, hot mess. the one hand, I see some good. It's not a total disaster. On the other hand, totally understand why people rag on it the way they do.
Tim Spaeth: So you seemed very positive through about, I'd say, the three hour mark or so. What happened in the game where you started to turn?
Brad Gallaway: I can tell you exactly when it was, because it was very clear to me when that was happening. You start the game; you get introduced to the world and the characters. It's all very high-concept. It's very cool and I liked it—very sci-fi and fantasy mixing. Good stuff. The first level, it was a little long. It wasn't too special, but it was kinda cool. A few features, some little boss fights and stuff. It was nice, finding these little secret areas and getting some extra gear. Good stuff.
When I hit the second level was when everything totally went south. The second level is like the Bataan Death March.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Brad Gallaway: It is unending. It just goes on and on and on and on. At times, I thought the game had glitched. I thought it had looped me back to the beginning of the level wand was making me go through it again, because it was so long. It wasn't just that it was long. It was that nothing interesting was happening. It was killing the same groups of enemies over and over and over in the same hallways over and over and over. Nothing—no puzzles, barely any cut-scenes. Nothing interesting was happening.
Literally, I think it took me three hours to get through that section. It was ridiculous! I was ready to toss the game aside at that point, but I'm like: "No. We're gonna talk about this. I know Tim's gonna ask me about it. We're gonna talk, it's gonna be for sure on the podcast. I can't quit now." But I will tell you guys: hardcore, hardcore, hardcore wanted to quit in level two. It was so hard to power through it.
But I did, and it didn't really get any better. So it was a brutal play for me. It was one of those force of will things. But I will say, in fairness, that Tim, you made some comments that the story really picks up and you get some interesting bits, which was true. I thought the story was really great. I thought the story was really interesting. I liked the characters; I liked what happened; I liked where it was going. Conceptually, it was really working for me.
But the gameplay was awful. It was just too long, too repetitive, no high points, no drama, nothing interesting was happening there. If Too Human had been three hours long, I would've loved it. I would think it was perfect. But it ends up being nine hours long, and there's only three hours worth of content there. So there's six hours of just complete, boring-ass bullshit. And that, to me, really brought the experience down.
Richard Naik: That sounds exactly how I felt about Final Fantasy XII.
Mike Bracken: [Unknown]
Tim Spaeth: Okay, hold on. Hold on.
Brad Gallaway: Derailing already.
Tim Spaeth: I'm laser-focused in on every one of Brad's syllables here. There's a lot I want to say, but I'll give everyone else a chance to speak first. Chi, did you get a chance to play?
Chi Kong Lui: Yes, I did.
Brad Gallaway: Did you finish it?
Chi Kong Lui: No, I didn't, really.
Brad Gallaway: Where'd you stop? Where'd you stop? Tell me—where'd you stop? Level two?
Chi Kong Lui: I did complete the second stage, and then I stopped there.
Brad Gallaway: Ah, okay.
Chi Kong Lui: Wasn't it especially infuriating when the boss kept running away from you? You are thinking you're gonna finish the stage now; you finally got to the end and he's running away from you, further extending that stage.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, that was an insult. That was salt in a wound, man.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Right, right. And it wasn't much of a climactic finish with him, either, unfortunately.
Brad Gallaway: No, not at all. You're sitting there…that was the thing, too. Those boss battles—I'm sorry to hijack the thread again here, but the boss battles were all ten times longer than they needed to be. It was ridiculous. The boss battles [were] an hour long, and you're just sitting there pea-shooting the guy. It's not lik you're doing cool things. It's not like you're seeing this crazy action.
Mike Bracken: Or fucking balancing on his head, trying to stab him in the head—the trolls.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, that'd be cool, but you're circling this dude in an arena, shooting him for a fucking hour. It's like: Dude!
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: This is not cool. It is not fun; it is not good.
Tim Spaeth: Did you experiment—?
Mike Bracken: You're making me feel like a real badass.
Tim Spaeth: Now, wait.
Mike Bracken: Takaing an hour to kill a boss.
Tim Spaeth: Hold on. Did you experiment with the different weapont types? There's three different types of guns, and the bosses are susceptible to the different types of weapons.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, but if you pick Berserker, you're fucked with guns, anyway.
Tim Spaeth: I'm holding back; holding back. Chi, I need to hear your words on Too Human.
Chi Kong Lui: Here's the first three words I jotted down in my notes: "Very pretentious game."
Brad Gallaway: Oh! Sting!
Chi Kong Lui: Let me finish. It's actually not all bad, despite that. But let's face it: any game that's gonna lead off with a quote of a German philosopher, you know you're in for it.
Mike Bracken: And then follow it up with fucking cyberpunk Vikings.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right. [Laughter] It's great that you said that, because it's my overall thing. Why do we need cybernetic Vikings and Norse gods? What is the point of this game, really?
Brad Gallaway: Hold on; hold on; hold on. I gotta jump in.
Chi Kong Lui: Let me finish. A couple of shows back, we talked about how we just weren't getting the most out of technology. We were thinking back to earlier days—the 16-bit or the 32-bit era, or even the 64-bit era. How games were really about something that resonated. It's not that I'm saying [this game] is completely pointless, but it just seemed out of nowhere. Who's asking for this type of a game? Norse gods, this very convoluted plotline. It just didn't seem to fulfill any sort of niche at all.
But at the same time, that was something to be respected, because it was just completely out there. It was like: "What are these guys smoking?"
Tim Spaeth: Yes.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Chi Kong Lui: Where did these guys get into some kind of a room, and what kind of psychedelic drugs were they on that inspired this completely out of the blue concept? It's a very conceptual game. I respect that. I totally respect the ambition of it, but unfortunately, none of it comes together. It's not an epic fail. It's so flawed, it's gonna be epic. A hundred years from now, people are gonna be talking about how epically flawed this game was. Instead of calling it Too Human, it should've been called Too Much.
Tim Spaeth: No. But, Chi, I love the idea that in the 22nd century, people are still gonna be talking about Too Human, because I feel the same way.
Chi Kong Lui: I agree, but not necessarily in a good way. Again, nothing comes together in this game: cut-scenes are too long, the story is too convoluted.
Mike Bracken: When they actually bother to tell it.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. There's a town that you gotta walk through, and then the combat drags on forever before you get back to the town. And then the hack-and-slash gameplay, it's so disjointed. I love it when it comes together; when you start getting in a really good rhythm. You're getting guys up in the air, dashing left and right. Although it's so awkward to get to that point, because the flow of the combos are so awkward. But once you actually figure it out and get into a good rhythm, that was my favorite part of the game: just being able to do the combos in an impressive fashion.
But then they turn around and they throw all these bosses at you. The combo system at that point completely does not apply. You have to use completely different mechanics at that point. So it just takes the best part of the game and just clusterfucks it at that point. Again, nothing fit. It was just a complete Frankenstein's monster of all different kinds of things.
And again, I mean that in a somewhat good way as well. I think, again, the ambition is just unbelievable.
Brad Gallaway: Wait, wait, wait. We gotta frame that properly: "Too Human is a clusterfucked Frankenstein's monster, but I mean that in a good way."
Chi Kong Lui: You gotta appreciate the balls, man. Where'd the guy get the balls to put this shit out there? [Laughter] It's really like: "Man!" Like I said, they're gonna be talking about this game 100 years from now. They're not gonna be talking about a lot of other games, but they'll be talking about this one. So that's a good thing.
Richard Naik: Will they be talking about this in the way people used to talk about the Titanic? As a monument to the failure of hubris?
Chi Kong Lui: I was gonna compare it to Waterworld, but, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckling] Oh, no. Oh, no. How are you keeping your silence, Tim? You must be dying over there.
Tim Spaeth: I'm so happy…I'm so happy to hear you guys talking about this game. I'm holding it all in. I have responses to just about everything. But let me go now to Mike Bracken. Mike, I know you had played this previously.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Talk about your impressions of Too Human.
Mike Bracken: All right. I actually had written a review that I don't think went up at GameCritics; I wrotte it for somewhere else. I thought the best way to talk about Too Human would be to excerpt some of my thoughts from the review, because I think I did it really well. So we'll start with:
"Someone, somewhere, said that Too Human was "the worst game they ever loved". I wish I'd written that line—just with the "loved" changed to "liked". The long-awaited, much debated hack-and-slasher from Silicon Knights is an enigma to me—one of the worst games I've played in ages, yet compelling enough that I keep coming back for more even after finishing it. Discussing it before a podcast taping, the conclusion was that playing it was like being in an abusive relationship. The game hurts me at every turn, but I get over it and come back for another round because I love it in some twisted and strange way that makes no sense to anyone who listens to me curse in rage as I play it. I've become Tina Turner and Too Human is my Ike.
[Laughter and groans]
"It didn't start out this way. My relationship with the game wasn't exactly love at first sight (the cheesy opening cinematic—one of many to come—would ensure that) but I didn't start off hating the game either. We had an odd courtship—there was a 'getting to know you' phase, a very brief love affair, and then the hurting started. Like any classic abusive relationship, Too Human beat me up for the most inane reasons. I wasn't utilizing the dive-roll maneuver properly…I wasn't air juggling the right way…I picked the melee class with no defense. Each transgression led to the game pummeling me with an endless and infuriating barrage of deaths. Then, like all good abusers, the game would apologize to me-maybe shed a few tears, even-and assure me this would never happen again. To prove it, Too Human would let me succeed in killing enemies for awhile-even going so far as allowing me have some fun in the process. It never lasted though-before you knew it, I'd committed another grievous offense and the game was once again beating me in the face with a belt buckle."
[Laughter and groans]
That pretty much sums up Too Human for me. I had this thing where it's a loot whore game, and I'm a loot whore. It's a terrible loot whore game, though, because as soon as you get a good schematic for something and you fucking level up and you get the money to make it, you've already got something better sitting in your inventory for the next level. So it's a really funny loot whore game that way.
I hate to talk about the games-as-art thing, but whenever somebody comes up with the games-as-art thing, if you're one of the anti games-as-art people: when somebody brings up ICO or Limbo or something like that as proof that games are art, you can bring up Too Human's story as [the] number one example in your case why games are not art. It is the most stupid, asinine, bullshit nerd crap that anyone has ever written on paper. There are fucking kids in fourth grade who would think: "Yeah! Vikings and cyborgs! That would be fucking awesome!" No fucking grownup in the world… Who fucking cares about cyborg Vikings?
And the funny thing is, this game had that nine-year fucking development cycle. I think what they were really trying to do was: Remember GunValkyrie on the Xbox?
Brad Gallaway: Yes—all too well.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. That had a weird control scheme, and that's what Too Human reminds me of. Except GunValkyrie was actually kind of fun, because there was a learning curve to it. And then once you mastered that curve and understood the mechanics of how to get around, you actually had fun killing shit with it.
Too Human is like that, except you never learn the mechanics of the game, really. The mechanics are so borked that you could spend a year playing it, and I don't know that you ever get comfortable with it. The fucking two-analogue stick system is a nice idea in theory, except that did nobody at fucking Silicon Knights there realize that the right fucking stick is supposed to control the camera—not to control combat?
So every time you get into a fight, the camera's all fucked up. It's always caught on some piece of the environment, or it's spun around on top. And then you get to watch the fucking valkyrie come down for 15 seconds and clip through the ground, because she's not animated properly, and then take you up to Heaven and then she can put you right back where you were—but for some reason, that takes 15 seconds—so you can get pummeled all over again.
Chi Kong Lui: I love how that makes no sense, even in the context of the story.
Mike Bracken: The context of the story, yeah. It is literally the worst game I've ever liked. That's just the truth. I don't love it, but I see where people who do love it, I see why they love it in a way, because there are some interesting ideas there. And even though they never come together the way they're supposed to, you have to admire the effort. It's fun to look at it and think what might've been if it had. But at the same time, I understand where the haters come from, because there are points of that game that feel so fucking broken, I can't believe it ever got released. And that's how I feel about Too Human.
Tim Spaeth: Wow.
Brad Gallaway: [sarcastically] I think Mike liked it, then.
Mike Bracken: It's a love-hate relationship; it really is. I was telling Chi earlier tonight: Before playing Too Human, I hadn't thrown a controller or broken one since something on the Super Nintendo. But I actually chucked an Xbox controller, and those things are fucking expensive. But Too Human made me chuck an Xbox controller. I didn't break it, but I did chuck it.
Tim Spaeth: First of all, thank you all for playing Too Human.
Mike Bracken: Wait. We didn't hear from Richard, did we?
Richard Naik: Um, I actually only spent about an hour with it. This was a year, two years ago. I don't remember when, exactly, it came out. But I remember playing it. The first time that I died—when the little valkyrie came down and it takes 15 seconds to have her respawn you—my roommate at the time walked in the door, and he's walking up the stairs to his room.
He's like: "What are you playing?" I'm like: "Too Human." He's like: "Is it any good?" I'm like: "Uh, I don't really know yet. It's really weird. It's kinda strange; might be kinda stupid." And we're both standing their watching the valkyrie take me up to Heaven and spawn me back. He's like: "What the fuck does this take so long? It's fucking stupid."
Mike Bracken: Exactly.
Richard Naik: He's like: "This is fucking stupid." I'm like: "Yeah, you're probably right." So I turned it off and then went and had dinner. And never touched it again.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It doesn't even go to another scene. It just respawns you right on the same fucking spot. It doesn't reload anything. Why did they need 15 seconds to put you back on the same fucking place you were?
Richard Naik: I'm just like: "This is ridiculous." And this was far before I was reviewing games, so I didn't feel compelled to waste my time with it just so I could have an opinion of it. I'm like: "This is terrible. There are better things that I can do with my life. I'm going to go do dishes or something, because I think that's a more worthwhile use of my time than playing this game."
Tim Spaeth: [sighs heavily]
Richard Naik: Tim is ready to go into Berserk Mode.
Mike Bracken: He's ready to go.
Tim Spaeth: No. Here's the thing. First of all, again, thank you all for playing Too Human and allowing this segment to happen on the podcast. In many ways, I agree with a lot of what you're all saying. There are tremendous flaws in this game. Brad, I was disappointed that you didn't mention the part in level three where you actually have to repeat the first 20 minutes of the level. It turns out that it was just a mirage.
Mike Bracken: I forgot about that.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, dude! After level two, it didn't even phase me. It was just all washing over me at that point. I don't think I was even consciously aware of it.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Okay, let's talk about combat. I clearly had a different experience with the combat than any of you, and Chi, you used the word "rhythm." To me, that is why I love the combat in Too Human. And I would love for the right stick combat to become a standard in console hack-and-slash. It is frustrating until you find the rhythm. To me, it goes beyond rhythm, though. I was completely in tune with this combat system. I've been refering to it privately as this sexual congress with the game.
I didn't have to think about it. I was just in this zone, and I was annihilating everything. I just stopped seeing the valkyrie after a while. I stopped dying completely. I knew exactly when to dodge; I knew exactly when to flip somebody in the air; I knew exactly when to juggle enemies. I had figured out the boss strategies. There are very, very correct strategies for taking down the bosses: certain types of weapons that you should use; certain types of bonuses that you should equp on your armor to take down bosses very quickly. I enjoyed the combat enough to experiment with that. The game doesn't educate you on any of that.
Mike Bracken: No.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: You have to experiment with it, and that is a failure of the game—no question. There are bonuses on the armor that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and actually, bonuses that aren't applicable to single-player gaming at all. I think the Enhancer class has a bunch of buffs that only effect the other person, if you happen to be playing co-op. There's really no point to equipping those types of armor, unless you're playing co-op.
But I'll be honest: This year I also played Batman: Arkham Asylum, which has a melee combat system that most people herald as the best melee combat system that's ever been. And I'll be frank: I prefer Too Human's, which is asinine to 99 percent of people listening, I'm sure. But I never found the rhythm in Batman. I think Hargrada on Twitter was saying he Platinumed Batman, and he passed all the melee challenges and he was getting 80, 90-hit combos. And I just button-mashed my way through, because I couldn't figure out that timing of block-counter-punch. It just never clicked with me. But Too Human, something about that game, something about my brain was wired to just make love to that combat system. It just felt so right.
Brad Gallaway: Well, Tim, I hear what you're saying. And I don't necessarily disagree with what you're saying. There were certain times during the play when I would hit that rhythm. It wasn't an extendd rhythm through the whole level. But when I would get into the zone and I'd be taking out guys—one hit, guy down, one hit, guy down, one hit, guy down, one hit, guy down—and you're shooting back and forth doing that, that was good. That was entertaining and fun.
But the problem comes when you hit these other types of enemies where, for whatever reason, and they take four or five hits, and so the combo stops; the flow stops. You're getting these guys shooting you from way across the room, and they're just tearing you apart. You get poisoned, and I didn't even figure out until after I had beat the game how to stop being poisoned. I was just constantly dying from the poison and getting pissed off.
Chi Kong Lui: How do you stop the poison?
Brad Gallaway: Evidently, you have to roll. And if you roll enough, I guess it stops the poison. I didn't go back and try it.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Oh, man.
Brad Gallaway: It's things like that where I think that there really were correct and interesting and exciting things going on, except for the fact that a) I don't think they were fully polished as much as they should've been, and b) you cannot keep the player in the dark about that kind of stuff. I hear what you're saying about experimenting, but, dude. Every time it stopped, I just go so disappointed and bored with it and frustrated. It wouldn't have taken much to point the player in the right directions. I wanna agree with what you're saying, but I think that Silicon Knights just completely clusterfucked where they needed to have a home run, instead.
Chi Kong Lui: Bits and pieces of it worked, but it just never comes together.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's the most underdeveloped and overdeveloped game at the same time. Which doesn't seem possible, but it is completely underdeveloped in so many areas, and yet, other areas, you can see where they just fucking tweaked it to the point of extremeism, like the combat system. They had nine years to tinker around with it, and they made it so fucking goofy. Not even goofy in a bad way, but just so different. And then nobody realized: "Well, maybe we should explain this to people, because this is completely fucking different than any other hack-and-slash that's ever been made."
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I totally agree with you, Mike. To piggyback on that, what you said about it being overdeveloped and underdeveloped is totally right. There's the seeds of all kinds of different systems that are there, but they're all underdeveloped and the players don't really hit any of those. When you look at the individual sections, it seems like each thing should be a win on paper. But when you really start picking it apart, like Chi said, nothing really comes together.
For example, the loot thing you mentioned: you get your blueprints, and the thing you get is way better than the next 50 drops that you get. I didn't even understand why there was even a repair system, because I was getting weapons so often—literally, one a minute. It was like: "Why in the world would I ever invest runes in one of these? And why would I keep one of these weapons for more than five minutes? I'm getting stuff all the time." It seemed like good ideas, but they didn't think them through.
Chi Kong Lui: We gotta let Tim talk now. We've talked enough.
Tim Spaeth: I think the game, though, does a really good job of helping you manage the loot. There is a lot of loot, and a lot of it becomes obsolete. But the game auto-sells your old loot so that you don't have to go in and manually do it. Every single item in the game is shown on your character. So the loot that you pick up, it matters. It affects how you look. You get a new helmet, you get the new helmet. You see it on your character.
I've said many times on this show, the way it handles loot drops and what happens when you pick up loot, and that magnificent fanfare. You guys had to love the magnificent audio fanfare when you pick up hot loot. Yes?
Chi Kong Lui: Huh?
Brad Gallaway: I can't even remember it. I don't know what you're talking about.
Chi Kong Lui: Ah, no.
Tim Spaeth: You pick up a purple item, and there's just this: "ba-ba-ba-BA! ba-ba-BA!" or something like that.
Brad Gallaway: I totally don't remember that at all.
Chi Kong Lui: Half the time, I'm hitting guys and [there's] explosions all over the place as I'm trying to pick up these items at the same time, so it's hard to notice that.
Tim Spaeth: I don't know. I noticed it every single time. It was a huge part of the experience for me. I don't know. Clearly, you guys were not in sexual congress with the game.
I do wanna talk about the story, and Chi, I love the way you put it. Just the audacity of Denis Dyack to put this game out there and to have this story. What did you call them, Mike? Cybernetic Vikings?
Mike Bracken: Yes. I called them cyberpunk Vikings.
Tim Spaeth: Cyberpunk Vikings. I called them warrior business executives.
Because it's the Norse gods basically running a company. My favorite thing about Too Human is how Denis Dyack spun this story, and comparing what he said about it to what's actually in the game. For those who don't know, there's the Norse gods who are running this corporation, and there are humans who live in what is the last human city. They are together fighting a war against machines. It's pretty much The Matrix.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's fucking Terminator, The Matrix, and Thor rolled all into one.
Tim Spaeth: So the Norse gods, to make themselves more powerful, they take on these cybernetic implants. Dyack is explaining this as…You play Baulder, and you have to make a critical decision: are you, as the player, going to take on cybernetic implants? If you do that, and you take on too many cybernetic implants, aren't you becoming the very enemy that you came to destroy? Or do you remain human and, if so, will you be too human to defeat the enemy? And I'm listening to Dyack and I'm like: "Yes, man! I believe! I believe what you're saying!"
And then how this is implemented in the game is, when you finish the first level, there's a menu that pops up on the screen. And it just says: "Do you want to be human or cybernetic?"
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: And that entire spiel—and I heard him speak for hours about it—is a choice on a menu screen! And that's it, and it has no bearing on the game whatsoever. I've played through the game both ways. The cut-scenes don't change; your powers don't really change; what the characters say doesn't change; nobody reacts to you any differently. The audacity of Denis Dyack to just come out and just lie to everybody is amazing! It just blows me away. And in a weird way, I kind of respect it. I was completely enthralled by that.
Richard Naik: Too Human sounds like a conundrum wrapped in a paradox.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, it is.
Richard Naik: 'Cause it seems like people…It's just like: "Man, I just had to play it. I just couldn't stop playing it, even though it was so terrible. I just had to keep going."
Tim Spaeth: And here's the thing, guys. If a sequel came out tomorrow—
Mike Bracken: I'd buy it.
Tim Spaeth: All of you would either buy it or put it at the top of your GameFly queue.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: I wouldn't put it at the top.
Tim Spaeth: Yes, you would, Richard.
Richard Naik: No, I wouldn't.
Chi Kong Lui: No. I'd wait till it was $15, maybe.
Mike Bracken: If they fixed even half of the issues, I would buy it. Just half of them, I would be in.
Chi Kong Lui: No, but I wouldn't buy a better version of this game. I'd wanna play an even worse version to see how far they could go with it. [Laughter] That's the whole point. That's the whole point.
Richard Naik: Now you're basically talking about Mega Man X7. You cannot get worse than Mega Man X7.
Mike Bracken: I wanted to love this game. I was like Tim. I was excited about this game before it came out, because I love loot whoring and I love hack-and-slashing, and I love skill trees and making your character into gods. And this looked like: "Jesus, you're already a god, so now I can be a fucking super god!"
And instead, I get a mediocre loot thing. I like a game that drops a lot of loot, but, Jesus Christ! This game's insane with the loot it drops. And then the skill trees are so fucking pointless. There's nothing good on any of them. And the classes are all interchangeable. One is slightly different than the other, but there are no major differences, except for the one guy who has the self-healing.
Which is another thing that always pissed me off about it. You're totally at the game's mercy, because the only way you can heal is through health pack drops, and you can't carry them. You can only use them when they're there, by walking over them. So if the game decides arbitrarily not to drop any health packs, you're screwed.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, you're screwed. Yeah. For a long time, I thought I just wasn't seeing where those life-packs were. I thought there was a menu where I had 300 of them [that I wasn't seeing?]. When I finally realized you could not do it, I was like: "Wow."
Chi Kong Lui: The irony of this game, where it's so forward-thinking in some ways, and in other ways it's as primitive as Pac-Man.
Richard Naik: Paradox and a conundrum. Paradox and conundrum.
Brad Gallaway: Very true, very true. I think to me this is the ultimate example of Peter Molyneux Syndrome, when it's not actually Peter Molyneux. I see what Dyack was going for, and he obviously had big plans. Unlike most of you guys, I thought the story was really cool. I actually had great affection for the story and the premise. It really was very, very interesting to me and really spun things in a unique way—to my sensibilities, anyway.
Mike Bracken: I felt dumber for experiencing it, honestly. I'm sorry.
Brad Gallaway: We can agree to disagree on that. But I think his vision was so big, and he talked his mouth off so hard. He didn't even have the basics down, so it was no surprise when this thing crashed and burned when it came out. Just like with Molyneux and all the features he promised us for Fable, just like Tim said, that was the ultimate example of where the entire title of the game is hinging on this decision, which is supposed to resonate throughout the entire experience of being too human or more cybernetic. Like you said, it's a menu. There's no context; there's no setup. And that, to me, was the ultimate example of: "This game is just gonna be one giant broken promise." And it was. But at the same time, I think it was heading in the right direction. I think if Dyack had had—
Mike Bracken: Another nine years?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, another nine years and the 1,000 best coders in the industry, it would've been pretty fucking epic. But that didn't happen. He didn't manage his scale; he wasn't able to fulfil his promises. Good effort. Good for him for thinking big, but it just wasn't there. It just wasn't there, and as much as I want to admire it, it just wasn't there.
Richard Naik: Isn't this the game that Silicon Knights wound up suing Epic over, because they thought that the Unreal engine just didn't do a whole bunch of stuff that they thought it would? Or is that a different game?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, that was part of it. That was part of it.
Chi Kong Lui: One day, they're gonna write a book about the development of Too Human, and it's gonna include all the juicy dirt from that, as well as probably why all the decisions that led the game astray from being a coherent work.
Tim Spaeth: I think when it comes down to it, I look at my collection of games, and there is nothing quite like Too Human. I adore how unique it is. Is it flawed? Totally. Are you guys right in most of what you're saying? Yeah, probably. But it is such a unique experience, and it just clicked with me and resonated. It's one of those things where I think we all have games that we love and we're passionate about that no one else gets. For me, that game is Too Human. Chi, for you, that game may be Dynasty Warriors, which we're gonna talk about here in just a second.
I honestly don't know if I can mount a proper defense of this game, because, honestly, like I said, your arguments are all accurate. But I will forever cherish my time with Too Human as one of my fondest gaming memories.
Chi Kong Lui: The funny thing is, I wouldn't quite "cherish," but, yeah. I'm always gonna remember Too Human.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. You'll never forget it.
Chi Kong Lui: I'll never forget it. Exactly. And you know what? That's saying a lot, actually, in this crowded marketplace.
Brad Gallaway: Tim, just so you know, I kept my copy of Too Human. I have it. I wanna keep it. Honestly, I will walk away from that game with some fond feelings towards it. It was not a completely hateful situation. So even though I may not like it as much as you do, I certainly don't dislike it as much as Mike and Chi do.
Mike Bracken: Oh, wait! Wait! I don't hate it. I kept playing after I was done.
Brad Gallaway: I didn't call it Ike Turner. I'll put it that way.
Mike Bracken: Well, yeah. It is Ike Turner. I'm sorry; it's Ike Turner, dude. It beat the shit out of me repeatedly.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, Tina did love Ike.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. And Tina loved Ike, that's right. I'm partially to blame here. I stuck around for the abuse.
Tim Spaeth: So I feel great. I feel great right now, and I think we should move on to Dynasty Warriors and give Chi a chance to feel as great as I feel.
Chi Kong Lui: I don't know if that's gonna be possible.
Tim Spaeth: So, Dynasty Warriors VI is the game I played. Brad, you had a chance to play it as well, yes?
Brad Gallaway: I did; I did. Yes, I did.
Tim Spaeth: And Mike, did you get a chance to play this one?
Mike Bracken: I didn't get a chance to play VI because I couldn't get a copy in time, but I did pull out II and go back and spend some time with it, so I can sort of talk about the game. I'm sure it's come a long way since then, though.
Brad Gallaway: It's a totally different experience, man.
Mike Bracken: I'm sure it's totally different, yeah. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Not even the same.
Tim Spaeth: And, Richard? Any Dynasty Warriors history with you?
Richard Naik: No. Like Mike, I couldn't get a copy of VI to me in time. I did watch Red Cliff on Netflix, however.
Tim Spaeth: And we'll talk about Red Cliff as well, 'cause that ties in to some of my thoughts. If you guys don't mind, there's a couple things I wanna say about Dynasty Warriors. And then why don't we do the same thing? I'll pass to Brad and Mike, and then we'll let Chi mount his defense.
I do wanna say something good about Dynasty Warriors first, so that we start on a positive note. I think Dynasty Warriors has a really tight logo.
When you boot up that game, there is no doubt that you are playing Dynasty Warriors VI. It says it right there on the screen. It's a hot font.
Mike Bracken: It's phenomenal.
Tim Spaeth: It is. Just some background: I've never played a Dynasty Warriors game before. All I know about Chinese history is from the movie that, Chi, you recommended we all watch before playing, and that's John Woo's Red Cliff, which is a great movie about the whole Romance of the the Three Kingdoms era, saga, that series of events. That ties into what happens in the game: you actually play the battle of Red Cliff in the game.
Chi Kong Lui: At one point, yeah. It's one level of the entire experience. The movie, yeah, it captures the feeling, but it's about one significant battle in the entire saga of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. So I came in with basically that as my knowledge of the characters, and the period, and the geography and so forth. But I will be very frank: I have not played a game this generation that is less newbie-friendly than Dynasty Warriors VI. Everything about this game screams: "We have no interest in finding a new audience!"
It is the first game this generation where I had to read the instruction manual. I actually had to crack the book. We talked about that a few weeks ago. I've never read an instruction manual for any game this generation. I had to do it with Dynasty Warriors, because it explains nothing. After that awesome logo, the first thing you see is the words "Musu mode," and I don't have a clue what "Musu" means. I know what a "mode" is, but it was only through looking at the other modes—like "free" mode, "challenge" mode— that I figured: "Okay, this must be the campaign."
So I go into Musu mode and then you have to choose from one of nine characters. It doesn't tell you anything about the characters. You basically have to determine based on their appearance what type of character they are. So there are some very slim-looking female charactes; there's some very husky male characters.
Brad Gallaway: Wait, wait, wait. Only one of those was a chick, dude. The rest were guys.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Are you sure?
Chi Kong Lui: There's two women; there's two women.
Brad Gallaway: Are you sure, dude? I'm pretty sure there was only one. [You'd better] go back and check, Chi. I think you're wrong.
Tim Spaeth: There's some ambiguity in gender.
Brad Gallaway: Which is fine, and I'm totally fine with people who are kind of intersexed. It's not an issue. But just for facts' sake…
Chi Kong Lui: Actually, each group does have three female characters. Whether they're immediately playable, I'm not quite sure, but there's definitely three.
Brad Gallaway: Okay. So maybe that's the difference, then.
Chi Kong Lui: But there's definitely three women in each group.
Brad Gallaway: But some of those dudes look like chicks.
Chi Kong Lui: [It's?] a famous part of the story. There's this one—
Brad Gallaway: Half the guys look like chicks.
Tim Spaeth: There are some effeminate-looking gentlemen in the game. I picked a dude with a moustache. I think he had a moustache.
Brad Gallaway: That was one chick.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, that was one of the women. Okay, all right. Gotcha. I'm sorry. Again, it's very vague. They should say: "male" or "female." So once you choose the character, it takes you immediately to a massive wall of text that communicates the story. As somebody who's a relative virgin to the story of Dynasty Warriors and the era of the Three Kingdoms, I struggled to understand what was happening.
It was the opposite of Limbo, where Limbo doesn't tell you anything that's going on, so you just invent the story. Dynasty Warriors told you too much, and it was difficult to discern who is who and what's a city and what's a person, and I just couldn't grasp it. Maybe my reading comprehension is just poor, but I just blew through it looking for things I recognized from Red Cliff. I recognized Chao Chao, who is the villain in Red Cliff, but he's an ally when you start Dynasty Warriors, and that was all very disconcerting.
So the next thing that happens is you go to a mission prep screen that just says: "Here are your goals." There are required goals; there are optional goals; it's not clear which is which. There is a section that says: "Preparation." One of the things you have to do there is select your horse, but it doesn't tell you that you have to take a horse, which I did not do for my first mission. So I was running around, not realizing that you really need a horse to finish these missions off. Again, it's not communicating anything to you.
It also said that I had a 90-minute time limit, which terrified me. I was going to have to play this mission for 90 minutes? Really? Oh, my Lord! When in fact, it turns out, the missions are 15 minutes long, if you can manage to finish them—which I did not for a very long time.
Once you get into the game, you're just thrown in. It doesn't tell you what any of the buttons do; you're left to figure that out for yourself. I really feel like games have a responsibility to educate the player, and this game does none of that. That's where I had to go to the manual.
But, in a nutshell, as I learned after dying several times, Dynasty Warriors is a game about control points. It's kind of like Battlefield in that respect: that you go to a fort or a castle, and you defeat enough enemies and you take control of that location. The problem I had with the gameplay—I didn't have a problem so much with the control point aspect of it—but the problem I had was, you're fighting hordes of enemies, and that's fine. But there are also generals that you have to defeat. And some of the generals are very weak, and you can defeat them quite easily. And some of the generals will kill you in two hits.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: And because the game doesn't tell you about blocking, about rolling, about evading, about how to chain attacks and how to power up the various gauges. I spent a staggering amount of time just getting through the mission—ten minutes into the mission—and then finding a general and just dying immediately. And then having to replay the entire mission over again.
What the game doesn't tell you is that you can save during the mission, and you can only save three times. So I'm a guy who likes to save constantly. I'm used to quick-saving in Half-Life or other PC games. But here, you only get three saves, so you have to use them sparingly. And it just frustrated me to no end.
So, ultimately, what I had to do to make any headway in this game, in addition to reading the manual, is I had to drop down to Easy and I ended up grinding in Free mode to get my character up to level ten or 15, before I even began the campaign.
And in that respect, I was actually able to finish a campaign. I think I spent way more time playing this game than I probably should have. I think the seeds of a really good game are there, but the lack of education is infuriating, and, frankly, inexcuseable in the modern era. If Koei wants anyone other than Dynasty Warriors fans to play this game, they have to that. They have to explain what's going on in this game—both from a gameplay and a story perspective. I've babbled long enough. Let me pass it on to Brad, and get his experience with Dynasty Warriors.
Brad Gallaway: Well, it kind of mirrors what you said. I've listened to that story of horror, and I don't disagree with any of it. Just to give the readers some context, I got my copy through GameFly, and as anybody who goes to GameFly knows, you get the disc and that's all you get.
Mike Bracken: That's all you get.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, that's all you get. So I didn't have the option of looking up a manual or anything like that, and to be perfectly honest, I don't think you should have to run up and run online to figure out how to play a game.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. [Unknown] the core mechanics.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. You shouldn't have to have a PC in order to figure out how to play any game—and I'm talking about any game. I'm not just talking about Dynasty Warriors—any game, you should be able to figure it out. Whether that means it's perfectly obvious, or whether there's an actual tutorial or whatever, I don't care. But you should be able to figure the game out.
So I took everybody's advice. Everybody said: "Hey, Brad. Don't read anything about it. Just put it in and just play it cold." So, I'm like: "Okay, fine."
Chi Kong Lui: Who gave you that advice?
Brad Gallaway: I think everybody but you.
I think Tim and Mike both said: "Play it cold." So I jump in, and to me, that's a pretty fair estimation. I think any game should be able to be played from the get-go—or at least, to have the option of education. So I'm sitting there playing it, and I get through the menus, and I was stunned at how much is in the front-end.
It was just like Tim said. To me, it was like Armored Core all over again, except for the fact that I know Armored Core. I've played every single Armored Core game, so I can understand what the game is trying to tell me. But if I didn't know Armored Core, I would feel exactly the same way that I did when I was playing Dynasty Warriors.
I was like: "Man! This game obviously has many years of history. There are many idiosyncratic things going on here, many important things that I have no clue what they mean. And I'm just gonna go for it. So I'm just gonna click through these menus and just start, and I'm hoping that the game will make itself understood to me as I start playing." So I pick who I think is a chick, and I start playing.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] "Who I think is a chick."
Brad Gallaway: I'm pretty sure. And it's like: "So-and-so's doing this. There's a battle. We gotta do this. We gotta go over here and save this person!" I'm like: "Woah, okay. Wait, wait, wait." Terrible storytelling here—absolutely atrocious storytelling. It confused me to no end; I had no idea what was going on. The game starts, and looking at the map, I can kind of figure out: "Okay, so I see that there's all these dots. I probably gotta change all the red dots to blue dots. That probably means I win. Okay, fine."
I didn't have a horse. I didn't even know you could have a horse. I saw the horse afterwards, but I thought that was just…I don't know what I thought that was. I didn't know you could even have the horse. So I'm sitting there playing it, and immediately, my first ten seconds of playing the game, my reaction was like outright laughter. My wife came running in from the other room. She's like: "What's so funny?" And I'm like: "This fucking game."
I can't even describe in words what this game is like. But the game starts, your character's in the middle. There's 42,000 cloned dudes running around [unknown]. They're just swarming, and there's dudes over here, and there's dudes over here. They're all the same, and I'm like: "What the fuck is going on!? This is completely ridiculous." You're just thrown right in the middle of it, so I'm like: "Okay, I'm just gonna start swinging my sword. Okay, those are my guys—don't hit those guys. Go to the other guys. Are these my guys? Are they not my guys? They're not. Okay, get 'em!"
And I just proceed along that path for a little while. I'm like: "Okay, this sucks." So I start trying to go in the menus again to see what I can figure out. It's like Greek, man. Or, I guess, more appropriately, Chinese.
I just can't figure it out. I'm just getting lost. And I'm trying to hang in there, but it's really losing me hardcore. So I go through killing a bunch of dudes, and then, all the sudden, maybe after about half an hour, the map is empty and yet I haven't won. I'm walking around and I'm like: "What's goin on? What did I lose? What am I missing?" There's no prompt; there's no information; there's nothing. I'm just wandering the goddamn map in circles. Every guy I approach turns out to be one of my own soldiers, so I can't affect them. There's nothing. I'm stuck, and I'm thinking maybe the game glitched. Is there a problem? Am I gonna get the Red Ring of Death any minute now? What's going on? There turns out to be one dude.
Mike Bracken: That one dude somewhere.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, one dude somewhere in a corner that I eventually—
Mike Bracken: Stuck in a wall.
Brad Gallaway: Exactly. He was between a fence and a piece of water. He was totally spazzing out, like the AI was busted. I'm like: "Okay." So I kill the dude, mission's over. Hooray! And I'm like: "Okay, I'm ejecting this, because I'm done with this." So that was it. I…stopped. There was no reason for me to continue. I didn't see anything of value there that was welcoming to me as a brand new player. I had no interest in the X-button mashing.
To me, you should be able to have a controller and figure out what the buttons do. But I had this chick, and she had a bow. So I would hit the button once, and she would do a regular attack. The next time I hit it, it would be a kick. And then the third time I did it, she would do a backflip. But it wasn't a one-two-three combo. It was random.
And then I would hit this other move, and she would do this power-move. Sometimes it'd work; sometimes it didn't. And I couldn't get the rhythm of the game. I couldn't get down with the mechanics. I had no idea what was going on, and honestly, to be perfectly frank, the graphics blew. The menus blew. Everything about it just blew. I'm like: "I'm not sticking around for this," so I bailed. One level, done.
Tim Spaeth: Now, Mike, how many of Brad's comments could be copied verbatim onto Dynasty Warriors II?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Pretty much all of them. And here's the thing, though: I don't hate Dynasty Warriors. I know we pick on it a lot. I kind of get what Chi likes about it. There's certainly something to be said for being able to weigh into battle against a screen full of enemies, and you're this general with all these powers. I'm sure as you go along, you get more powerful and everything.
But what amazes me about these games is that Koei is so narrowminded with them. They're just comfortable to keep churning out these games that appeal to the people who've been playing since Dynasty Warriors II. They don't care about expanding the brand in any way, or tweaking the gameplay. I've seen some of the recent games in the series, even though I haven't played them. Aside from slight—and I do mean slight—graphical upgrades, because the new games don't really look all that much better than the PS2 version to me, they're the same fucking game.
I guess this is why when you get to part VI they don't bother explaining anything: they figure: "Well, if you're buying VI, you've probably been playing since II, so you know it all anyway," because they didn't fucking change anything.
I don't understand it. There's potential in this franchise. We're gonna talk about Red Cliff and how these are actual historical characters, even though all the guys look like girls, even if they were guys in history.
But there's all this fucking potential there, and they're just so content to be this niche game that only appeals to this one tiny little crowd. I think it's a shame, really. Even going back through II again, I only played one level, and I never finished it before because it gets repetitive. I had the same problem Brad had, even back in II: you fucking clear the entire map and you're wandering around with your thumb up your ass, trying to figure out where the one guy who's glitching is, because that's why you can't move to the next level. And that even happened back in II.
But there's potential in this idea. It's fun to play hack-and-slash games. We're still playing these kind of games all these years later. And this is a cool hack-and-slash that isn't set in Dungeons and Dragons land, so it's an alternative to what every other hack-and-slash is. There are no cybernetic Vikings, which is also a plus.
But fucking do something with it! Quit just churning out the same fucking game. Hire somebody who's actually willing to take this and put it on modern hardware, and make it next-gen and spruce it up a little bit, so it's a little more exciting. You could teach people about Chinese history with these fucking games. Not realistically teach them, but people would know who some of these characters were, and you'd have a sense of how they fit into the history of China. But you don't get any of that. Instead, you just fucking run around this big map, smacking people with swords.
Chi Kong Lui: Just a quick sidenote: the actual historical text is actually highly mythologized and fictional, so the portrayal is actually in line with that mythology.
Mike Bracken: Dude, I am a huge Chinese, Hong Kong, Japan—I love Asian cinema. That's my other thing besides horror, is Asian cinema. So I'm totally down for a game that plays like Red Cliff or Bride with White Hair or any of those crazy Hong Kong period films. The Wuxia stuff, any of that, I'm interested in. There's an opportunity to take this franchise in that kind of a direction, based on this source material and the idea of a hack-and-slash game, and I just see Koei just fucking phoning it in over and over and over. And that really bums me out, because I want to like this franchise. But in its current state, and the state it's been in since the second game, there's no appeal to me. I just can't bring myself to play any more of them.
Tim Spaeth: Before we give Chi a chance to respond, Richard, I know you didn't have a chance to play a Dynasty Warriors game, but do you know any Chinese people that you wanna talk about?
Mike Bracken: Have you had Chinese food?
Richard Naik: It's like: "Have you looked at China on a map?" No.
Tim Spaeth: No? Okay.
Richard Naik: Maybe we could talk about Red Cliff if you want, but that's about it.
Tim Spaeth: I'm sure we will get there, but, Chi, I'm sure you have a lot of things you want to respond to, so I will turn the floor over to you.
Chi Kong Lui: Okay.
Let me tell a little story first. And actually, it relates to Red Cliff, because it involves my love of John Woo and his movies. Let me talk about that first, and then we can sort of correlate that back to the game. I know this might be interesting for Mike to hear, because he knows what a big John Woo fan I am.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Chi Kong Lui: It was actually not love at first sight, believe it or not. I think I first was exposed to John Woo—and I didn't even know it was John Woo at the time—I saw A Better Tomorrow, Part 3, I think, in high school. I hated it. I thought it was just absolutely ridiculous: the bodies, the amount of bullets being poured out. You remember the final scene there, when they storm the gangster hideout headquarters, and the bodies are just pouring left and right—an insane amount of gunfire that obviously is the John Woo trademark.
Mike Bracken: Are you talking about 2 or 3?
Chi Kong Lui: You know what? You're right. It's 2.
Mike Bracken: Because 2 has the crazy ending, yeah—the katana and [unknown], yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, it's 2. Not 3. 3 was, I think, the flashback to Shanghai.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: So I didn't know it was John Woo at the time; I thought it was ridiculous, hated it. And it wasn't until later on, when I started developing a love of film and started reading up on John Woo, and really understood what he was trying to communicate through his films, in terms of creating a choreography.
That samurai scene at the end is actually a reference to Romance of the Three Kingdoms, because he loves those characters so much, it was actually a tribute to those three characters. It was a direct reference, because he positioned those characters in the final frame exactly the way they're traditionally displayed in pictures and things like that.
Again, if you're Chinese, you know this. If you're not, you don't. Does that make John Woo a bad filmmaker? At one point in my life I didn't like his films, and then later on, when I got it, I did love it. So it's a weird thing. It's somewhat similar here. I totally get where you guys are coming from; I'm not gonna dispute anything that you guys are saying, for the most part. There's little things I can counter about it, but on the whole, I get that.
But what I'm trying to say is, these games definitely do speak to a certain population. I wouldn't characterize it as Mike said, as a tiny population. We're talking about, first of all, Chinese people, [and China is] the most populous nation in the world.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I meant here, mostly. I'm an American pig; I only think about us. I don't think about the rest of the world. [Laughter]
Chi Kong Lui: That's fine. I get that, yeah. I wanted to put that in context, as well as the books are, again, internationally well-known. It's probably second only to the Bible, literally, in terms of its popularity. You can dispute that, but if you do the research, it's there.
Brad Gallaway: That would actually be third place, because I believe Harry Potter is in first place right now. So it's Harry, the Bible, then…
Chi Kong Lui: Fair enough; fair enough.
Mike Bracken: And then Lord of the Rings.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Number four. And a strong number four.
Chi Kong Lui: [Unknown] Lord of the Rings, no.
Mike Bracken: Twilight. I'm sorry, Twilight.
Tim Spaeth: Twilight.
Richard Naik: It has to be behind Too Human: The Book, as well.
Chi Kong Lui: So again, these games still do speak to a certain population. But at the same time, I totally hear what you guys are saying. Although Mike counters that, I do think when you're talking about part II or III, it was a simpler game than it was probably in VI. Yeah, as somebody who's followed the series the whole time through, yeah, I know what Mousou Mode is. That's just the start of the game. I totally understand that if you don't know that, then maybe it's a bit confusing.
All that stuff you guys thought was…as you were talking about it, you kept saying you thought it was important, you thought it was that, you thought it was this, actually, no. They're not important. You actually don't need a horse right from the beginning, because you're not supposed to have a horse right from the beginning. You need to earn the horse before you actually use it.
It's little things like that. If you're able to just block out all that stuff that looks important, and you're just able to find where it says "Start Battle," that's really what [unknown].
Brad Gallaway: So then, how come it doesn't say: "Start Battle," Chi?
Chi Kong Lui: It doesn't say it, again, because it's that idiosyncratic language. This is the sixth part in a series, unfortunately, and again, it's geared toward an audience. Like when Tim says: "They don't describe any of these characters." Well, of course they don't describe these characters, because these characters are so well-known. One of the characters, Guan Yu, who's in the movie also, Chinese people worship him like an idol. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you see a warrior figure at most of the entrances. That's Guan Yu.
Whether or not there's a bio in there buried somewhere…I think there is, actually, because almost every one of the games has a history section, which is not a good way to communicate, I agree. But yet, you gotta understand, for people who know who these characters are, it's almost ridiculous to have to describe who they are. We know, as the audience that the intended audience is…
Mike Bracken: But they're localizing them for here. I understand that. When they release them in Asia, I understand that. But when you bring it here, you have a whole culture that, unfortuntely, knows nothing about that.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm starting to understand this now, as I heard your perspectives. This is actually the third time we've talked about this now, and I totally understand that. Is Koei doing a shitty job of localizing these games? Absolutely. I agree 100 percent. I think for the most part, it's not the [Koei is] content. It's just that they know who their audience is, and really, they're throwing these things out there as a bone.
It's like the way they used to release subtitled anime. You were just lucky if you got it, because it was made in Japan. It was for Japanese audiences, and if you got a bootleg subtitled tape of Ranma 1/2, you just thanked the Lord that it showed up. You didn't really question it. You didn't say: "Did they do a good job?"
So it's kind of in that context. I think Koei doesn't really give a shit about us, for the most part. And that's a shame. I do think, as we discuss this over and over now, that they are missing somewhat of an opportunity to bridge an audience here. For example, this should be done as a JRPG, I think, in a lot of respects.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: It would communicate a lot of the elements that they are trying to communicate and explain it. But no. They never even attempted to do [that]. And incidentally, there is an NES game called Destiny of an Emperor It was released right at the time of Dragon Warrior, by Capcom.
Brad Gallaway: Is it Nobunaga's Ambition?
Chi Kong Lui: No, it was not Nobunaga's Ambition. That was from Koei. There was a game from Capcom. That was actually a JRPG based on the Three Kingdoms series, with Dragon Warrior, Dragon Quest 1 graphics. Look it up. It's actually kind of funny, just from an historical standpoint. So, yeah. That was the last time they even tried to put it in JRPG [format].
Tim Spaeth: Chi, if I could ask a question real fast: One of the things that I loved about Red Cliff the movie is that John Woo really took great strides to make the story accessible.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, absolutely.
Tim Spaeth: I thought, in that movie, you really just had to keep track of four characters. If you knew who Cao Cao was; if you knew who the leaders of the Center and Southern Territories [are], and then the strategist, the guy from House of Flying Daggers—if you knew who those four people were, you could track all of the events and the chronology, and keep track of everything nicely.
I just feel if Koei had just started the game with a single character [who] was your tutorial character, and gradually you're introducing the skills and the story just through one person the way they did in the movie—realizing they're not related at all—it's kind of what you're saying. I think it would work a lot better that way.
Richard Naik: Yeah. Red Cliff, it felt like the main characters of the movie really were…the strategist was Kong Ming, and then I forget who the other guy was. It wasn't the leader of the South, but it was—
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. It was his top advisor, Zhao Yun.
Richard Naik: Zhao Yun, yeah. The movie felt like it was about Kong Ming, Zhao Yun and Cao Cao. Everyone else was just this ancillary character.
Chi Kong Lui: And it is. John Woo, he's an international filmmaker. He tailors his movies for an international audience at this point, although this was his most Hong Kong-esque film in a long time, obviously. But his background comes from European-style filmmaking to begin with, and the whole film school generation, so that's unavoidable.
Not only does he distill it in a way that it's centralized around a few characters. He makes it about the human condition. It's about their ambitions and trying to conquer the land, and it really is about a woman. It always is about a woman, isn't it? [Laughter] It always comes down to a woman.
Yeah, the games don't communicate that at all, at this point. I think what resonated early on with the earlier games is just this idea of putting a soldier on the field. That feeling you described, Brad, is actually what it's supposed to be. If you're this one soldier among millions, you're gonna feel overwhelmed, and it takes a while to get acclimated to that. It made sense when the menus were probably simpler, and it wasn't so entrenched in its own language. That's why you had guys like Vin Diesel saying he loved Dynasty Warriors out of nowhere. [Chuckle]
Brad Gallaway: Hey, Chi, let me ask you something, then. I hear what you're saying, so let me just frame this to see if I've got my head around this properly. So the way I'm getting Dynasty Warriors is that we should be looking at the Dynasty Warriors series as, like you said, a Ranma 1/2 bootleg tape. We're lucky that it comes here. It's intended for an audience that is not our audience, and the developer makes only the barest concessions to make it playable here.
So the proper context for us to look at Dynasty Warriors, then, would be that this is a game not made for us; not tailored for us, and not even really intended to be played by us. So if we play this game, we have to go into it knowing that we are missing out on a huge cultural aspect that obviously you're in touch with but most of us aren't, and that Koei doesn't make any attempt to convey. So look at it like: You got your hands on a bootleg, so if you like it, great. If you don't like it, then it wasn't for you in the first place. Is that kind of your [unknown]?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. I think that's very accurate, at this point. I'd probably recommend more getting in touch with the novels rather than getting in touch with the games, because I can clearly see that it's not gonna do it. It's not gonna communicate all the beauty of the novels, and of the history and the culture for the person who's just not aware of it. I was hoping, by pushing Tim toward Red Cliff that he'd have a greater appreciation for it, and I think he does. But the game is still too not user-friendly in that regard, and I totally get what you're saying.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I think that there's two aspects to it. You're talking about the cultural aspect, which I totally respect and which I fully admit I am not aware of. But looking at it from a critical perspective in terms of game design, game flow, ease of accessibility to the player, structure, to me, it's complete ass. It's like a pile of ass.
Chi Kong Lui: This is where I go back to my John Woo story. If I didn't know the references that John Woo was talking about, I would think his movies sucked, too, and at one point in my life I did think his movies sucked. It was only [when] I read up on what he was trying to do that I thought it was genius. So as a critic, it's a very difficult position, and I don't fault you for it. But that's why game criticism isn't about saying what's good and bad. We like to say it's about appreciating what's there.
Brad Gallaway: Right, right. So are you saying, then, that to look at the mechanical side, the production side of Dynasty Warriors, not adding the cultural part into it…You're saying that, from a critical perspective, it's okay to not walk the player through all the menus, and it's okay to have all this wall of text up at the front end, and it's okay to not explain all these different aspects? Just from a development standpoint? Is that what you're saying, because it sounds like it.
Chi Kong Lui: Well, keep this in mind, first of all. I gave Dynasty Warriors VI a 7. I didn't give it a 9 or a 10 or anything particularly glowing. I thought it was, for the most part, somewhat above adequate in terms of what it did, just from the experience standpoint, again, as someone who's familiar with the series. There's no right or wrong answer here. From your perspective, I understand that it doesn't quite cut it. But at the same time, there's just a lot of things that are being missed there.
Brad Gallaway: Well, let's open it up here to the guys, then. Not to insult anybody, or anything like that, but I think that if we were to look at this game, take all the cultural stuff out and just look at it from a mechanical perspective—
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, I agree. If you did that, I would agree 100 percent: the game would be horrible. I don't disagree with that.
Brad Gallaway: That was what I was trying to get at.
Chi Kong Lui: But keep this in mind. At the end of the day, there's only still one game out there that's based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels. You know how in the Oscars you have the Best Adaptation award? This game is still bar-none the best adaptation of another work you're ever gonna see.
Brad Gallaway: Well, if it's the only one, then it's also the worst.
Chi Kong Lui: Again, yeah, you can make that point. But I'm just saying, relatively speaking, there's no other. There isn't a Bible game out there.
Brad Gallaway: There's a lot of Bible games out there.
Richard Naik: Oh, there are several Bible games. They're terrible, but there are Bible games.
Chi Kong Lui: They're terrible. There isn't a Les Miserables video game; there isn't a Romeo and Juliet video game. And this is what these guys have done.
Brad Gallaway: Maybe it's because they don't make good games.
See? Dude, I hear what you're saying.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm talking more about it as…not taking the bait here. [Laughter] I'm totally talking about it more as a series as a whole now, and I'm not talking specifically about VI. Again, I've said it ten times now: that I see where you guys are coming from. Just in general, I'm very appreciative of the fact that we have any video game out there that's halfway decent or good in my mind that's based on this series, and I appreciate that.
Again, like a bootleg Japanese anime tape [laughter], it is what it is. Just the same way that you criticise anime for not being translated into English—no. You try to appreciate these things for what they are, and that's all I ask anyone to do.
Mike Bracken: Well, the only difference there is that you're talking about something like with anime, and you've mentioned it: a bootleg anime, you don't have any right to make any demands or expectations of it. But when a company releases something in this country and charges you a retail price for it, I think that makes it slightly different.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. I am by no means giving Koei a pass here. I think you're absolutely correct. They have done a terrible job, in hindsight, of localizing these games. It's kind of funny, actually, because when they first put the first Dynasty Warriors game out, which was actually a fighting game. It was a two player fighting game.
I actually had a conversation with the head PR guy at Koei at the time, and he asked me for my opinion as a fan. They wree thinking about changing all the names to more Anglo-friendly sounding names, as opposed to the original Chinese names. And I told him that was a horrible idea, because you would just piss off all the fans, and he understood that. So I think at some point or another, they were concerned about these things. But that was literally the PlayStation 1 [era]. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I don't want them to change the names. I just want them to fucking tell me who the guys are, and why I should care that I'm playing.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. These games have all been made by the same team, Omega Force, a part of Koei, and, yeah. They need to give the series to another company, if they care. And apparently, they don't. [Laughter] They're wildly successful.
It's just a no-win situation. That's the thing. It's a no-win situation. You can hate on them for it, and I guess that's your right. Like you said, they put the game out in the American market; they charge you full price, it's your right to criticize them. Do I wish they would make more of an effort? Yeah, I do. It's just not a great situation.
Richard Naik: Sounds like they need to have John Woo work on the next Dynasty Warriors game.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Richard Naik: And just have him contextualize it.
Mike Bracken: Stranglehold didn't come out bad. He's got video game experience.
Chi Kong Lui: Or a Red Cliff video game, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Boys, this is officially our longest podcast.
Brad Gallaway: Woo-hoo!
Tim Spaeth: I just checked the time. We are officially going longer than we ever have, so I think we should wrap things up. Chi, I'll give you the final word on Dynasty Warriors. Any last point you wanted to make before we say goodbye?
Chi Kong Lui: No. I've said everything ten times already. [Laughter] I am definitely good.
Tim Spaeth: All right. Well, let's bring this to a rapid conclusion. Brad, did you want to plug our PAX Tweetup one more time?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, yeah, absolutely. For anybody who's gonna be coming to PAX, it's gonna be September 3, 7 PM at the Cheesecake Factory. You can go online. If you do a Google search, you might be able to see…there's a form you have to sign up at to register. If you can't find the form, just send me an e-mail, or if you follow me on Twitter, send me a tweet and I'll hook you up with the info. But anybody coming to PAX, if you're gonna be there on September 3 at 7 PM, would love to see you come down.
Tim Spaeth: And for people meeting you, do you prefer hugs, handshakes, fist-bumps? How much touching do you want to do with your fanbase?
Brad Gallaway: I prefer cash. Barring cash, I will do with a friendly handshake.
Tim Spaeth: All right. Fair enough. Fair enough. Mike, any final words for the audience?
Mike Bracken: Uh, no. I got nothing. I gave you everything I had tonight. I hope you guys appreciate it.
Tim Spaeth: I am filled with your wisdom and good cheer.
Mike Bracken: Good to know.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, any final words from you, sir?
Richard Naik: You guys have to play Aquaria now.
Tim Spaeth: He couldn't let it go!
Richard Naik: No, I couldn't.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, my. Well, to our audience, please leave your feedback, questions, show ideas at GameCritics.com and do not forget to check out our new mini podcast, GameCritics After Dark. We'll be doing those again in the off weeks between these massive, massive podcasts that we do. Thanks so much for listening. We really appreciate it, and until next time, I'm Tim Spaeth. Good night and bonne chance.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.