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  #571  
Old 03-15-2019, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by ShakeWell View Post
Things with problematic elements can still be enjoyed.
Yes, definitely.
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  #572  
Old 03-15-2019, 04:21 PM
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I'm going to add that enjoying problematic media (all media) carries with it an inherent responsibility in striving to recognize the problematic elements within and acknowledging them as you do. Willfully sweeping things out of mind only reflects poorly on oneself and the media being discussed while the ability to find meaning and value in works in spite of and in light of their failings can more often than not serve to elevate them and their successful aspects in the ways they deserve, if they're not beyond the point of support to begin with, as paxclara said.
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  #573  
Old 03-15-2019, 04:23 PM
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that's a good point, i like that point
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  #574  
Old 03-17-2019, 01:05 PM
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Yeah I did a double-take at this as well! Dang!
Same. Good one.
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  #575  
Old Yesterday, 09:46 PM
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What makes a game "bad"? So long as we highlight the medium through the language and formalism of a consumer product review, the answer seems within reach. We've engineered metrics and systems to gauge individual aspects of video games, compartmentalized them into neat categories and then further numerically rank them for their successes and failures in those areas. Through this arcane science, we can gauge the ultimate worth of art and present it as an unquestionable aggregate, to be consulted at a glance and a whim, detached from its original context; only the number matters--ending and creating careers--and legitimizes the creation. We know this to be true because it's how the industry has trained us to interact with itself: consult numbers, not people, for the latter are subjective and fickle while the symbols of worth they leave behind can be interpreted reliably and unquestionably. There is an ingrained habit in us even in the presence of conscious pushback to revere the score and the metric and let it guide the scope of our interests and explorations. It is difficult to shake off.

One way to mediate the disconnect between only accepting the proven best and the sheer scope of the medium is to introduce an element of "fandom" to the equation. This is a risky venture, for as much as being a "fan" has been normalized in language as harmless or desirable enthusiasm for a given subject, the etymological root of fanaticism brings to bear its inherent dangers--myopia and uncriticality. "For fans only" is a frequently applied qualifier meant to deter the unfamiliar and attract the faithful, and it can read as much a compliment as a slight. In the best and most personally worthwhile cases however, fandom does not imply a set of critical blinders but a contextual lens that magnifies the present and potentially obscured specifics that make media emotively real to us. It is with this in mind that we can talk about one such critical under- and personal overachiever.



Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
Developed by: Ankake Spa
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
Year of release: 2014



Remilia Scarlet is bored. So destitute of entertainment, in fact, that the usually homebound vampire lord is drawn away from holding court at her mansion and into the lands beyond in search of excitement to liven up her undead eternity with. The tengu newspaper is reporting mysterious cryptid sightings as of late, after all, and that warrants investigation. Barely outside her personal grounds, the earth shakes and the Misty Lake trembles--something gargantuan and undefined has wrecked the Scarlet Devil Mansion and left it in ruins. The stage is thus set for Remilia and her dutiful maid Sakuya to tear through Gensokyo's countryside in search of answers, retribution and hopefully a little bit of amusement along the way.



Scarlet Curiosity is a fan-derivative work in the Touhou series of independently developed shoot 'em ups. It owes its mythology to its source material, but as so many fan games based on the series do, recontextualizes its form to occupy a genre divergent from its parent. Ankake Spa previously developed Youyou Kengeki Musou in 2011 also based on the series, starring the half-ghost gardener Youmu Konpaku, cast in a top-down action milieu reminiscent of any number of Ys-adjacents, suited to her high-precision swordplay. Scarlet Curiosity acts as a nominal followup to said ghostly adventures, but with the priorities shifted, informed by who the game is about and from whose perspective its story is told: Remilia is an immortal vampire, subservient to none except her own whims, and so the stakes at play are strictly informal and diversionary in nature. It's a game about sating one's curiosity, for the world around oneself, and the myriad residents therein. It's the literal final boss of her own game taking a vacation from staid lordliness and throwing all her vampiric might and zest into the one thing that motivates her: finding something interesting to do.



Remilia is our point-of-view for interacting with Gensokyo, and her uniquely sovereign perspective casts the game in a light unseen should she not be present. An action RPG as Scarlet Curiosity is would most often be judged by its mechanical merits; what you fight and how you fight it. The question of engaging challenge is intrinsic to such evaluations, as dungeon crawling hack 'n slashers embrace repetition not as an inherent negative but as an integral part of pacing themselves and their whither-and-hither play loops. This is where Scarlet Curiosity appears to have lost the plot, as the enemies are just too passive; the damage values too modest; the patterns too simplistic; the player character too capable. Cutting a wide swathe through hordes of fairies, black dogs, tsuchinoko, kappa and more isn't just second-nature to the Eternally Young Scarlet Moon, it's inevitable, even demanding of her stature and position. As the textual narrative showcases Remilia's absolute confidence in herself, so does the game's mechanical makeup reflect her grand poise and intimidation factor just as aptly if not even more effectively. It is possible to slip up and run out of health in Scarlet Curiosity, but the game's attitude to such miscalculations is telling: there is no admonishing failure state screen, just an immediate respawn to a nearby location with nary a penalty to speak for it except a wounded aristocratic pride.



How does a game built so heavily on direct confrontation with enemies reconcile the fact that individually there isn't much to the opposition? To find the answer, one need only look towards the formative root of the production, at bullet hell shooters. It is one thing to play bullet hell; it is another to survive it; and still quite another to master it. These guiding principles are alive in Scarlet Curiosity, but reinterpreted for a different genre, and modified for the specifics of the narrative it's weaving and the world it's presenting. Remilia practically toys with her opponents--she isn't challenged by them in any way whatsoever. Her footsteps are a spectacle; her claws a pageantry; her dives a flourish. As innumerable stylish action protagonists inflict themselves on their enemies and are graded for their efforts--internally or externally--so does Remilia rely on the theatricality of her assault to elevate her mundane days and ours with it. There is no extensive integrated movelist here, but a set of tools each with a clear purpose: claws for comboing; wings for gliding with; a dash for repositioning and quick escapes; a divebomb for rapid traversal; a host of configurable special moves to learn the nuances of. All of them in unison amount to a pink whirldwind of momentum and ferocity barreling through crowds of enemies, racking up the combo counter.



Combos are what the game is built around of, in fact. It's not something where you chain together a handful of hits and are rewarded for it, starting the process anew--in Scarlet Curiosity 50-hit combos are a prelude, 200-hit combos a sustained note, and 500-hit combos a crescendo. The droves of enemies facilitate this, but also the specifics of the mechanics: combos decay and reset with time and upon taking damage, but neither is binary and there's always a grace period to connect with one more hit of your own and maintain the flow. Combos also aren't merely cosmetic but possess distinct play advantages, by activating a multiplier on attack and experience point values the higher the current counter is. Mechanically and psychologically, the game incentivizes the chase for ever higher combos, and it is through this that its overarching design clicks into place in all the ways that first impressions betrayed. The player begins observing each room of enemies not as a battle to survive, but a dancefloor to dazzle on, ripping their partners to shreds while remaining untouched themselves. Navigation, so sedate previously, becomes a time attack as you chase that one incidental jar placed on a long connecting path, because you just know it's there and can extend the combo timer on your way to the next melee. The specifics of the available moves become second-nature upon internalization--diving through the sky is incredibly fast and impactful even as it's difficult to wrangle all of Remilia's power into precise maneuvering; a dash is useful for rapid movement but lacks invincibility frames; said frames are often found in the meter-using special abilities. The distinct roles of the creature roster become clear in threat assessments: the individual hasslers; the stationary area denial turrets; the beefy meat-shields; the indirectly offensive oddities; the miniboss-like commanders, each capable of getting their potshots in and cutting a combo short in their own ways. This is ultimately the joy of Scarlet Curiosity as a dungeon crawler: the unrepentant commitment to player-dictated performance, dancing through the stages as gracefully and effortlessly as it all seems to Remilia.



And what stages they are. Scarlet Curiosity's world numbers among my favourites because it is so adept at melding together seemingly irreconcilable design elements and making them its own. It's a low-budget indie game, but it's giant in scale and atmosphere as you exist in it. It uses heavy, almost blinding use of post-processing effects like bloom lighting, depth of field and motion blur, communicating ambitions far beyond the expected scope, and wielding them as a point of charm and ambience instead of jarring tech-flexing. Its water, from the woodland puddles to the tiny streams and giant waterfalls and foamy rivers, is worthy of any adulatory Miiverse post. Its texturework wields anachronistic appeal to its advantage; rough and gnarly wood and stone reflecting off of mirror-sheen marble floors, while simplified and unadorned character models carve out their own space within. The colour range and application at play is unparalleled; blue and purple nights and shimmering-green days speckled by vivid luminosity in a rainbow of hues. The developers knew what they had, as made evident in a detail that absolutely did not need to be there but nonetheless is: choosing to play as Sakuya alters the time of day in stages that Remilia traversed in nighttime and vice versa, completely transforming their atmosphere through lighting changes alone. Even the game's primary genre definition is blurred at times to pleasing results--several stages play entirely or integrate seamlessly sidescrolling sections that cast the game more as a platformer than anything else. The camera is alive and active, balancing legibility and dramatic framing. Scarlet Curiosity is the story of a recluse spreading her literal wings in search of sights and sounds unfamiliar to herself, and it gives you all the tools needed to understand her sense of intrigue about her surroundings.



What it also gives is ample opportunities to enjoy and appreciate it as a fan work, by fans and for fans. Taken on its own, a statement like that would rightly engender suspicions of insularity, a precluding mark on something exclusionary. Like the best fan works though, Scarlet Curiosity isn't dependent on its inside baseball qualities to impress, only in adding layers of meaning to. Its soundtrack will always be good, and it can be elevated when you know what each remixed track is sourced from, what significance it holds in its usage here, and what emotive associations you bring to the mix yourself. Remilia's theme can be interpeted as a lax save point jam, or her central leitmotif can be integrated into the melodic progression of the final boss and secret boss themes, dueling and overtaking the few legitimate challenges she faces in audio form even as she bests them physically. It's the little hints alluding to the unseen and unexplored aspects of Gensokyo beyond the game's scope, like discovering one of Yukari Yakumo's dimensional gaps deep in a forest, uncommented by anyone and existing as if to remind the player that Gensokyo's creator goddess's influence extends even to the games and derivative media she does not directly appear in. It's reading the newspapers fueling the game's primary narrative which also suggest at the power dynamics at play in their margins. It's the opportunity to see bullet patterns and spell cards familiar from their sources reinterpreted into a format where three-dimensional movement is a factor. It's the ability to briefly occupy the role of someone even stronger than a final boss, and see their statistical reality reflect their reputation inside and outside of the game. Scarlet Curiosity is a fan game through and through, and while it has an informed depth to sate the interests of a series veteran, it can also do just what it titularly promises to a Touhou neophyte and make them curious of all its scarlet offerings.



I have played bad video games. There are games I'm repulsed by, that send my skin crawling and my morals tested. Those are the kinds of games and offenses I save my ire for, and if these elements are not present, I'm primed to find and apply worth to creative works and freely indulge in them without reservations. History may know Scarlet Curiosity as a failed experiment or an undercooked derivation. All that matters to me is that I enjoyed it from beginning to end.



~~~

It's a pretty good time to be into Touhou. Official games have started trickling into Western marketplaces and interesting fan games are also being developed and localized in their own right. Scarlet Curiosity itself was originally released in 2014, updated and localized for consoles in 2016, and made its way back to PC in upgraded form last year. Not a bad lifecycle at all.
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  #576  
Old Yesterday, 09:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Peklo View Post
What makes a game "bad"? So long as we highlight the medium through the language and formalism of a consumer product review, the answer seems within reach. We've engineered metrics and systems to gauge individual aspects of video games, compartmentalized them into neat categories and then further numerically rank them for their successes and failures in those areas. Through this arcane science, we can gauge the ultimate worth of art and present it as an unquestionable aggregate, to be consulted at a glance and a whim, detached from its original context; only the number matters--ending and creating careers--and legitimizes the creation. We know this to be true because it's how the industry has trained us to interact with itself: consult numbers, not people, for the latter are subjective and fickle while the symbols of worth they leave behind can be interpreted reliably and unquestionably. There is an ingrained habit in us even in the presence of conscious pushback to revere the score and the metric and let it guide the scope of our interests and explorations. It is difficult to shake off.
I have rallied against this for years. I wrote a post for onthestick.com (before that just redirected to either our Extra Life page or the YouTube channel) about "The Cult of 8.5." A videogame is not a toaster, and it shouldn't be analyzed like one. I only care if the toaster makes toast. How much toast will it make at once? Will it do that thing with bagels and english muffins where only the inside will be toasty? That's what I need to know about a toaster. A game, a film, a record... there's a lot more to art than that.

"Does God Hand make toast?" God Hand does everything God Hand needs to. Are the controls hard to grok at first? Yes. Do some of the objects clip in and out? Yes. Are there sections that are kinda ugly? Yes. Is it still one of my favorite PS2 games, nay, one of my favorite games ever, anyways? Yes. And I don't really know how to distill that down to a number. And I don't care that I don't know how to distill that down to a number.

Related: despite being a big shoot-'em-up guy, I have nothing to contribute about the Touhou games.
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  #577  
Old Yesterday, 10:08 PM
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You post that “such and such a game is bad” a bunch though. I think that if we accept that an 8.5 or 7.0 game can have worth beyond what a consumer reports value can measure, then we have to (have to) extend that consideration to 5.5, 4.3, 2.0 and so on.

I was reading an article just today on Ikki. The author details that game’s numerous flaws and outlines a fair case for it being the first kosage. However, they speak to an essential charm, vogue, and importantness that give the game value. Even horribly flawed, the game has worth.

If we’re going to accept that games are, if not art, at least works produced from a creative drive and that they have worth beyond that of a consumer product then we have to stop judiging them on dichotomy of Good/Bad.
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  #578  
Old Yesterday, 10:11 PM
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Not trying to call you out specifically, Shakes. It’s as Peklo says, we’ve been trained to think this way and we default to it. It takes work to fix. That’s why I’m a broken record and annoy everyone on this forum!
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  #579  
Old Yesterday, 10:12 PM
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I do. Because I think there are games that are bad. Also movies and albums and songs and tv shows and paintings that are bad. Saying "numbers are not a good way to represent the quality of a piece of art" and "creative works aren't toasters" is not saying "all art is good."

I mean, I started this thread specifically to defend 5s and 3s and whatever, but not in those terms, because I view those numbers as essentially meaningless. I mean, what makes a 7.5 different than an 8? And let's not even get into places that use a full 100 point scale.

But that doesn't mean games can't be bad, it just means explain what's bad about them instead of going "It's a 6/10, it sucks."
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  #580  
Old Yesterday, 10:23 PM
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I get what you’re saying, and I do think it’s worthwhile to examine what design choices lead to a game’s successes and missteps. Rejecting the consumer mindset doesn’t mean abandoning critical facilities. But, because we’re so ingrained in that mindset, so so so often a critical assessment of a misstep will then extrapolate that misstep to be representative of the whole. “BotW’s weapon durability is why it’s a bad game” for a recent example. If we drop the Good/Bad pretense we can then look at a game honestly, defining both ups and downs, appreciating it for what it truely is, without utter condemnation.
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  #581  
Old Yesterday, 10:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Loki View Post
I think that if we accept that an 8.5 or 7.0 game can have worth beyond what a consumer reports value can measure, then we have to (have to) extend that consideration to 5.5, 4.3, 2.0 and so on.
Definitely agreed. If I judged games solely by review scores or a Good/Bad scale, I wouldn't have played half the cool indies I've played. Love me some walking sims.

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Originally Posted by Loki View Post
Rejecting the consumer mindset doesn’t mean abandoning critical facilities. But, because we’re so ingrained in that mindset, so so so often a critical assessment of a misstep will then extrapolate that misstep to be representative of the whole. “BotW’s weapon durability is why it’s a bad game” for a recent example. If we drop the Good/Bad pretense we can then look at a game honestly, defining both ups and downs, appreciating it for what it truely is, without utter condemnation.
This too. I admit, I have a bad tendency to compare games to other games. But I don't want people to think I hate them just 'cuz I might dwell on a thing or two I don't like about them.

Last edited by MetManMas; Yesterday at 10:44 PM.
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  #582  
Old Yesterday, 11:27 PM
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Something positive about numbers: 5 star rating systems are way better than the 10 point scale.

@Peklo: This wasn't that bad honestly. A pretty and easy Ys clone with some nice boss fights. It even has the same cheesy music. I think I like it more than Ys 6 lol.

Last edited by JOJ; Yesterday at 11:39 PM.
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