the Mouth of Madness:
By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
What's up this week in loonygames? Ask our editor.
elcome back to loonygames after our week-long hiatus...did you miss us? Aww...that's nice of you to say. We missed you too. :)
I had a nice break there...got plenty of much needed sleep, and had the pleasure of getting caught up on all of those console games that had been sitting around waiting to be played. I also used the break as an excuse to learn how to use Adobe Acrobat...I'm excited at the various applications that we might be soon utilizing it for here at loonygames. If you've got a suggestion, feel free to drop me a line. I'm very curious as to how many people would be interested in downloadable versions of our issues in Acrobat format. Which is really ideal, since we can use it to completely preserve our design, and perhaps even throw in some extra artwork as well! We've got some really nifty alternate covers and sketches and stuff lying around here that I've been looking for an excuse to put up, but in the interest of keeping loonygames nice and modem-friendly, I've just been sitting on all of it. Anyway, if you're interested in that sort of thing, drop me a line.
The response to our Artwork page has been very positive...expect to see some more stuff up there soon. We're currently experimenting with making some limited edition prints of the work, so if you can't afford an original, this is good news indeed. Again, if you've got any feedback to give on this, send it along (especially if you've got a favorite piece you'd like to see printed).
Anyway, I spent the majority of my vacation playing some of this year's best titles: Xenogears, The Legend of Zelda: the Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear Solid, and I must say that I was fairly suprised by how much more I enjoyed Xenogears than the other two. Now of course, all three titles are light years better than most games out there...they're definitely all superbly made, and extremely well designed...but I must say that I found myself struggling to get through Metal Gear Solid and Zelda after a while.
Why? Well, there are a bunch of reasons...first of all is a particular obsession of mine...the storytelling. Metal Gear Solid may be brilliantly executed, but I found just about every character in the game a bit...cliche'. The dialogue was horrendous at times, and the relentless cut scenes made playing it extremely difficult for me at first (for the first few hours, I think I actually had about five minutes of pure gameplay...the rest was all sitting and staring at the screen). Zelda was another shocker for me. I was really sucked into it, until I picked up Xenogears. After playing that game for a few hours, I just found Zelda's non-existant story too thin to keep going.
One of my biggest complaints about Zelda was the fact that even though it does have some of the most clever puzzles i've seen in any game to date, a number of the levels in the game degraded into an irritating "find the key" exercise. What happened there? This is something I grew tired of after Doom 2 for God's sake! You would think that Shigeru Myamoto would have been able to come up with something more original (and less frustrating).
But again, Zelda has that dang storytelling problem. What I felt made Mario 64 the classic that it is, was the fact that despite the fact that the game is very, very, long, it never gets frustrating, and the plot, however thin, never seems contrived to extend the gameplay. Perhaps it's the simplicity of the characters that does makes this possible, but Zelda simply doesn't have nearly the same effect. Zelda, despite admirable attempts by its creator, is still quite linear (as opposed to Mario's seemingly endless number of possible paths at any given time) and as a result, the game can be mind-numbingly frustrating.
Compare this to Xenogears, if you will. Now, bare in mind that these are two very different games, but I think comparisons can still be drawn between the two. Regardless of the fact that the game is in fact longer than Mario 64, and even more linear than Zelda, I never once got frustrated, and no matter how long I had been sitting there staring at the screen, no matter how much my back or eyes hurt, I still had a hard time pulling myself away. The plotline in Xenogears is so complex, so compelling, and so...brilliant, that I would have given anything to keep playing it. That's what SquareSoft does best, really...that was the case with Final Fantasy VII, and while I don't think Xenogears is that good, I do think it comes pretty damn close.
Xenogears is, if you will recall, a game that almost didn't make it to the U.S. at all, because it was feared that the game's religious themes would have been seen as offensive by some. Well, thank God Square decided to release it, as it deals with subjects that haven't been dealt with properly in a game before, and it does so with the grace and elegance that i've come to expect from a great RPG.
In Zelda, every character is pretty much paper-thin...one conversation with any of them, and you know who they all are, and the characters, despite the fact that they do age seven years during the course of the game, never actually change in any way. In Xenogears, like Final Fantasy VII before it, the characters you meet at the start of the game, barely resemble the same ones at the finale. And this isn't because they change physically in any way, mind you...it's simply because your perception of them has completely changed throughout the course of the game. Characters you thought were evil become likable, people you didn't understand you find yourself rooting for, and your own character has grown up in a major way.
Zelda might be the prettier of the two games, but it can't hold a candle to the sheer excellence of Xenogears' story. Of course, one might point to technology as a culprit here. Zelda was supposed to be released originally for the seemingly doomed 64DD add-on for the N64, which would have allowed for more space and a unique writability, but hey...Square managed to make more compelling stories back on the NES and SNES systems with such classics as Chrono Trigger...so I ain't buying that excuse.
I want to stress here again, for the record, that I don't dislike in any way Zelda...in fact, prior to playing Xenogears (and prior to getting genuinely stuck for the first time) I was in complete awe of the title. I suppose in the end all the games mentioned here are what I would call "great" games...and if you own any of these systems, I'd suggest playing them all. But if you're a PlayStation owner looking to get a Nintendo 64 to play Zelda...my advice to you is to go out and buy Xenogears. Zelda will still be there in six months...of course, by then, we'll have Final Fantasy VIII, and be really dang close to the U.S. launch of the Dreamcast.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief of loonygames.
Credits: From the Mouth of Madness logo illustrated by and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, you naughty boy, you.