Photo by Dan Siney
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Dante’s Inferno is a good game only if you don’t want much out of your video games.
Specifics! Dante’s Inferno is, ostensibly, a video-game adaptation of the first third of The Divine Comedy, but really it just takes what elements it wants from that and uses them to tell a fairly conventional video-game yarn. The protagonist, Dante, is a crusader who… look, I’m not summarizing this, it gets explained about ten minutes into the game. The important part is that he dies in a state of sin, only instead of actually dying he beats up Death and takes his scythe. There’s more to it than that: Lucifer steals his girlfriend, Beatrice. She’s topless a lot, by the way, because it’s an M-rated game and they can do that now. Dante ends up descending into Hell to rescue Beatrice, and then the game has one level each for Limbo and the eight Circles of Hell that aren’t Limbo.
The actual gameplay is taken almost entirely from God of War. Granted, we’re still playing first-person shooters that have their gameplay taken almost entirely from Wolfenstein 3D, but when I say Dante’s Inferno plays almost exactly like God of War, I’m not kidding. It even uses the right analog stick for dodging.
This whole situation is kind of weird. Most video games aren’t very ambitious in their storytelling; even games that I really love for their stories—Mass Effect, say, or Uncharted 2—are mostly just clichéd escapist fantasies, absent literary value. If they’re memorable, it’s because their characters are entertainingly written and performed and because they exploit the connection between player and character: You as the player feel vicarious pride over your avatar’s achievements, or if not pride, at least catharsis. God of War’s Kratos isn’t exactly deep, but the character animation, combat system, and voice acting sell his anger. While playing as Kratos, you can remember all the times you were ever really angry and wanted to smash things and then feel how satisfying it would have felt to actually do it.
Dante’s Inferno isn’t like that. It’s ambitious. It actually tries to be a serious examination of the wages of sin. The problems are twofold:
1) It’s doing this while you’re fighting a giant Cleopatra who spits little demon babies out of her giant exposed nipples (Circle of Lust).
2) None of the characters are strongly or entertainingly characterized.
It feels wrong that I’d say these things—why condemn Dante’s Inferno, which tries to be more than stupid escapist pap, and praise God of War, which doesn’t? Aren’t ambitious failures more valuable than formulaic successes? It pains me to realize that, no, they’re not. At least, this one isn’t.
To be fair, it does its one thing well. The combat system worked elsewhere and works here, too. It’s fun to smash things up with the death scythe and the holy cross that shoots giant death beams. If that’s all you want, you’ll certainly get it heret.
NO MORE HEROES 2: DESPERATE STRUGGLE
Platform: Nintendo Wii
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is niche.
Directed by celebrated game designer Suda51, of Grasshopper Manufacture, it’s a satire of action video games and otaku culture in general. “Otaku,” in this context, means Japanese nerds or non-Japanese nerds who are into Japanese culture. The main character, Travis Touchdown, lives in the city of Santa Destroy and wants to work his way up to become the city’s No. 1 assassin. He wants to do this for two reasons: First, the current No. 1 assassin killed his best friend, and second, there’s a girl who’s promised to have freaky yoga sex with him if he succeeds. She is blatantly manipulating him. He doesn’t really mind; in the first game, he fought his way up to No. 1 assassin because she promised to have sex with him then too and also because he bought a beam sword off eBay, and if you have a beam sword, you might as well become your hometown’s No. 1 assassin, right?
In the opening cut scene, there’s a bit where he wants to know how he went from No. 1 assassin in the first game all the way back to the bottom, and she tells him that it’d be a waste of time to explain it because all the people who never played the first game aren’t going to care about the backstory.
There’s the core of the gameplay, where you fight your way through hordes of minions to reach ridiculous bosses, and then there are the minigames, which are all made out like eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System games and which earn you cash for new weapons, health and damage upgrades, and clothes. The fight gameplay is done by Wii remote, but largely without waggle—you do high slashes by holding the remote up and tapping A, you do low slashes by holding the remote down and tapping A, and you do finishing moves by swinging the remote according to a screen prompt.
It’s quirky, to say the least. If you’ve been playing video games for any length of time, especially video games out of Japan, you’ll probably find it hilarious. I am not sure, however, if I find actually playing it very fun—the swordplay didn’t do anything for me, and I liked only one of the minigames.
WHITE KNIGHT CHRONICLES: INTERNATIONAL EDITION
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
White Knight Chronicles: International Edition is a long-awaited disappointment, barely worth commentary.
Background! In Japan, this game was championed before the PS3’s launch as a big important next-gen title that’d wow everyone and show the world what the PS3 can do. It was finally released in Japan on Christmas Day, 2008. Us North American PS3 owners were eager to get our hands on it, but while most games take a couple of months at most to import nowadays, this one took a year. The result? An entirely forgettable action RPG.
It’s actually kind of weird going from Mass Effect 2 to this one, because as in ME2, in WKC you spend the beginning of the game making an avatar, choosing gender and facial features and default expression, etc., and then unlike in ME2, here your avatar never gets any lines of dialogue or anything important to do in the plot, instead following around the main character, Leonard, who accidentally bonds to a giant suit of armor called the White Knight and then sets off to rescue a kidnapped princess with your avatar and his childhood friend in tow (she clearly pines for him, but he’s too busy pining for the princess to notice, etc.).
It mostly controls like a traditional action RPG, the gimmick being that if Leonard stores up enough magic power he can transform into the gigantic White Knight, which lets him fight giant monsters that are a pain in the ass to kill if you can only hit them on the ankle.
I actually kind of like the system. You buy skills from a bunch of different categories, which you can build into custom combos, which take magic power to pull off. But the level maps are unreasonably huge, the combat is not tremendously fun, and nothing interesting ever happens.
The game’s one potential saving grace is its online component, which lets you tackle missions with friends, and in which you can gather loot. You can then build a custom town that serves as a store in which other players can buy the loot you collect, which helps you raise money for the loot you want to make your character more powerful. But MMORPGs aren’t for me.