Well look at that, I never did make that brain dump about Persona 3 FES: The Answer.
I guess there just wasn't that much to say. Oh well, I'll say what there is to say:
The Answer turned out to be almost exactly what I expected going in. I expected it to be about the party (especially Aigis) learning what really happened to the MC and learning to move on as a result.
If there was one part of the ending I didn't expect, it was the true role of the Great Seal. It was not to keep Nyx back, but to keep others from summoning her. That was a nice twist.
But Metis described the Great Seal as having been formed from the MC's "life essence". In other words, he's well and truly dead and gone. Not just "became the Great Seal"; he really is dead! How sad! Somehow that's sadder than if he had simply physically become the seal, because at least then it would've been kinda like he was technically still alive. On the bright side, at least the seal was not made from his soul -- that seemed like it would have been the saddest and creepiest fate for him of all. And at least his "mere" death leaves open the idea that he could see them all again some day, on the other side -- ghosts and the afterlife seem to exist full-bore in the Personaverse, if previous games and Akinari's final social link scene (and inclusion in the climax) are any indication.
The biggest emotional stuff in The Answer was certainly the intra-group conflict near the end. I thought it was really well done -- believable, stemming credibly from the characters' personalities and group dynamics, and yet "unbelievable" at the same time in the colloquial sense of the word -- a balance that's hard to strike.
I still remember how shocked and aghast I was at Yukari when she actually suggested taking other people's keys by force. I think that was the lowest my opinion of her ever fell in the game -- and that was after what a game's-worth of her sometimes-grating personality (after falling in love with her at first sight of all things) had already done to it. It was lessened when Mitsuru seemed to be on her on side, because at least then it didn't seem like Yukari alone was to blame for the schism, but I still remember my feelings in those first moments. Strangely, even when it turned out later that Mitsuru was only following Yukari out of loyalty because of their major bonding scene in The Journey rather than because she actually agreed with her, and therefore it arguably really was Yukari alone who caused the schism in the first place, somehow by that time my anger at her had passed. It was still quite off-putting how much of a true villain she seemed in the meantime, though -- complete with evil, derisive laughter at some points. And the way she tried to grab the complete key away from Aigis even after losing fair and square, and the way she said those things through her teeth... At once I was continuing to be appalled, recalling how I felt about her when she first seemed to turn on everyone, and yet, all I could really feel for her was pity, because by that time I knew that what her actions really showed was just how deeply, even desperately, she really cared for the MC.
Huh. That turned out much longer than I'd expected.
Anyway, these past couple days I've been playing Amnesia: the Dark Descent
Not as scary as advertised. There's a number of reasons why, so I guess I'll do this in list form:
* The game is surprisingly rewarding of boldness. I don't know how I got it in my head, but I got into the habit of heading where I saw a monster after successfully hiding from it. There was always that little bit of fear but after the first umpteen times of it working it stopped being so frightening. I even started to actively pursue
the sounds of enemies (but not always) because that way I'd be approaching them on my own terms, ready to run and with an idea of where to go if I actually were to encounter them. Or maybe I didn't even think about it that rationally; I just got this strange boldness to face head-on what I knew the game was expecting me to shy away from, as if daring the game to scare me. And when each time I was not met with a frightening occurrence, to me that was like the game backing down, and before long I discovered how little power it really had over me. By the middle of the Prison level I was traipsing about the halls quite freely, understanding how rare an encounter actually was and what to do if one happened.
* Personally, I think games where you can't fight back are less
scary than games where you can. By limiting your options, it creates less uncertainty, which is the heart of any good scary game. In a game where you're supposed to run, you'll know that the game expects you to do that and will be designed with escape routes and hiding places, and that you'll likely not be found in any hiding place you're likely to take. This was the same problem that afflicted Clock Tower 3 -- it stopped being scary once I understood how much of a sure thing it was to run and hide. If you know you're supposed to run, there's no mystery about how to (generally) approach each threat. By contrast, hiding in a game like Crysis can actually be quite thrilling (if not exactly "scary" in a conventional sense) because in many cases you actually will
be found, even if you found a pretty good spot.
* Expanding upon and softening the previous point, I must say that on the other hand, being encouraged to run does a terrific
job of preserving the creep factor of the enemies because the inherent need to run from them at first sight means that even after several encounters you won't have gotten a good look at them. I'm a few hours in and I still
don't know what these creeps look like beyond the basic outline.
* Overuse of "creepy" music and sounds, underutilization of the scariest background music of all: silence. The strange noises and footsteps and groans are so constant that I quickly became immune to them, and after I realized that most of the sounds that I thought signaled danger in fact signaled nothing at all, I stopped being afraid of them. As I played I could easily imagine how it could have been done better: Make the game mostly silent
. Make the creepy sounds rare
and irregular, so that I'll wonder if I, the player, have in fact just imagined that noise I just heard. Some games and movies have used silence and the occasional strange noise effectively and they scared the shit out of me
. This is not one of those games.
* Concomitant to the above, the problem with the music in the game is that it communicates too much information. If you just pay attention to the music you'll know exactly when you're supposed to run and exactly when it's safe to come out. How can true fear be achieved with that kind of certainty? I guess plenty of people really were scared by the game, though, so maybe the musical cues are a necessary safety blanket. In my case, for sure, if it weren't for the musical cues I wouldn't have any idea when to come out, which might make the game scarier but would also make the game near-unplayable because I'd keep going insane waiting in the darkness.
* I'm not frightened by the invisible monsters. Something invisible would be frightening in real life, but the rules for video games are different. I remember the haunting images of the creatures I saw rather than the creatures I didn't. Turning around and being startled out of my wits by a freaky-looking monster that I can see is much scarier than being killed by one that I can't.
* Concomitant to the above, nothing frightens me more in the game than seeing an enemy suddenly, such as spotting one off in the distance after rounding a corner. It's always one of those "Oh shit run!" moments, and I love that I feel it every time. At times like that, I feel the best sense of fear the game has yet offered.
* Concomitant to the above, the one moment that was truly the scariest for me in the game so far, and quite memorable if not exactly scarring (which I guess actually makes this the best scare possible because I don't want
to be truly scarred), was the first time I died to one of those shambling things
in the Prison level. I spotted the first one as it was pounding against a door from the other side, ran, turned one way at the next intersection, spotted a second one, turned the other way to head back to the entrance of the level, got there, turned around to shut the iron bar door behind me and it was right the fuck there
and killed me in one hit and I just about shit my pants.
Now, arguably, to use Yahtzee's words, this was not "scary", it was "startling", but my oh my did my blood pump and I llloved it!
Or maybe the fact that I loved it is exactly how I know that I wasn't truly
scared? I'm not sure how that works... Anyway. Seriously, how did that guy catch up to me from so far away? I thought these guys were slow shamblers! A very pleasing surprise.
* However, after the above, I pretty much stopped
being quite so afraid of the same thing anymore because now the great thing I'd feared (getting caught by one of those things
) had gone and happened to me. The funny thing about fear is that in many cases (but certainly not all), having that thing you dread actually happen does a lot to break your fear of it. Can you ever really be scared the same way twice?
* On the other hand, hiding from those shambling enemies was still quite a thrill, even after that first time dying to one. Maybe it's because I still never got quite a good look at the thing that killed me, or maybe it's just inherent to the act of hiding and thinking to oneself "please don't find me please don't find me". I think the hiding tends to actually be scarier than running from them or getting caught by one (even if that's only happened once). It's that dread of not knowing whether that big jump scare is coming or not, or when.
When I think about it deeply, I realize (and this is not the first time) that what I'm really dreading in a game that makes me feel a prolonged, not-outright-terror sense of fear is that something horrifying and brain-scarring is going to flash before my eyes. Perhaps the only thing that can truly scare me in any screen-based medium is a shocking, sudden image -- a very particular kind of jump scare. And it has to be well-prepared, of course, which is where games like Dead Space always seem to fall flat.
Let me tell you a story about Silent Hill 3. One of the (but not the
) scariest parts of that game was sitting on the carousel going round and round, waiting to see what would happen if I stayed on for too long like I was warned not to. I was curious -- curious enough to test my fear.
And you know what? Turns out, nothing special happens. You just fall over dead.
You know what I was expecting? I'll tell you exactly
what I was expecting: A horrifying, startling image to flash on the screen, or better yet a series of them, accompanied by loud, horrible noises. If something like that had happened, I wonder if I would have been scarred for life and wound up crying in the bathroom or something. But nothing like that happened. If it had, maybe it would have been the best scare of my life.
Silent Hill 3 was probably the first time I was able to identify exactly what
I was dreading whenever the game creeped me out: the very "jump scare" that I deride "lesser" horror games like Dead Space for overusing.
And once I realized that no Silent Hill game would ever pull that trigger (and I had the Silent Hill 4 scare spoiled for me), I just stopped being truly afraid that it would ever happen. Although Team Silent are incredible at delivering atmosphere (few games use silence so excellently), once you realize that the jump scare you're expecting will never, ever happen, that that trigger will not be pulled, it really takes a lot out of the experience (or puts a lot back into it depending on whether or not it would otherwise be too much). Some people prefer jump scares, some people prefer slow-building atmosphere, but for me, there needs to be both.
Or rather, I guess I should say, there better not
be both. I think that might be crossing the line. I can get truly scared by all this shit sometimes and really regret ever indulging in the first place. Maybe Amnesia is exactly where it needs to be on the scale of scary.