Flipping power dominance in more ways than one: A quick look at power politics in Horizon Zero Dawn.

The recent release of Guerrilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn was arguably a fairy tale-esque outcome both for publisher Sony and Developer Guerrilla Games. Aside from slight controversy / antagonism within fan communities between fans and fans of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (why this conflict even occurred, I don’t know – but that’s an article in itself) Horizon Zero Dawn achieved critical acclaim, successful sales figures and widespread fan appreciation.

While Horizon Zero Dawn could be argued to be ‘good’ for the video game industry at large, such as it’s fresh take on the open-world genre, higher than standard release quality and attempt to avoid some of the current (and nasty) trends in the development cycle, it is the conceptual and thematic freshness in Guerrilla’s machine-slaying action game that I would like to focus on today.

For anyone who hasn’t been following the game, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world action game set on Earth long after the ‘fall’ of humanity as the dominant power in favour of robotic beasts known as Machines. The story centers on eighteen(?) year old Aloy, a seemingly orphaned girl who was considered an outcast and given into the care of long-time outcast Rost, who trained her in combat and various other survival-handy arts.

From the game’s beginning it presents a complex and varied power structure; the player fits firmly within a faith based tribe culture known as the Nora, who are currently in the midst of recovering from a series of attempted genocides from a neighboring tribe / nation.  The Nora tribe rapidly establishes itself as a matriarchal society, in which the throws of nature are attributed to ‘the all mother’ a divine being said to dwell within a large mountain on the edge of the tribe lands. Human governance within the Nora tribe falls to figures called ‘matriarchs’, who establish their power by virtue of ‘speaking for many generations’, that is, power  is gained through having offsprings and continuing the Nora line.

It is in this construction of power that a subtle exploration of power and gender politics can be seen; Horizon Zero Dawn at once portrays females as inherently powerful, but similarly draws parallels between the Nora tribe’s matriarchal society and the patriarchal society many cultures in reality function under today. Through this parallel however, Horizon Zero Dawn arguably offers a veiled critique, questioning the power that males are attributed under patriarchal rule.

This can be seen in a conversation protagonist Aloy has with High Matriarch Teersa, in which Aloy questions the matriarch’s right to rule as achieved purely by having grandchildren and great grandchildren. Teersa in turn incredulously questions if a better way exists, refraining from offering a direct answer. While this conversation could be seen as undermining the power of the matriarchy, and thus questioning the political power of women generally, there is an implicit parallel between Teersa’s power and ‘traditional’ patriarchal negotiations of power, which in turn offers this question to viewers regarding the power of patriarchal societies in reality. Through Aloy’s questioning of the arbitrary nature of the matriarch’s power, there is similarly a veiled questioning of the arbitrary power attributed to patriarchal power organisations; is being male really adequate credentials for having power over society?

Horizon Zero Dawn instead offers an alternative negotiation of power, one based in individual ability and skill. While Aloy questions the matriarch’s rule generally, High Matriarch Teersa is presented as a highly capable and compassionate leader, by virtue of her persuasive and motivational skills, and her skills as a conflict arbiter. Similarly, the power structure of the neighbouring Carja clan – an imperial rule – is depicted as foreign, ineffectual and – in light of past atrocities committed in the name of said empire  – undesirable. In contrast to these power systems, Horizon Zero Dawn instead offers Aloy as a paradigm of female agency, but moreso, of individual agency. Frequently in conversation Aloy is discredited by virtue of her gender, which invariably is either refuted by Aloy’s actions, or dispelled by a third party. Instead of dispelling her association with her gender, Aloy presents a model of agency, in which her gender is secondary to her skill and compassion, both of which demand respect from characters across many cultures. In this respect Horizon Zero Dawn could be seen as offering post-feminist ideals; rather than Aloy necessarily distancing herself from the concept of ‘woman’, the concept of woman itself is presented as having no baring on Aloy’s assessment of herself.

Anyway, thanks for reading, this ended up far longer than I expected! I should stress this is purely one perception, and I would love to see what other people think of Power in Horizon Zero Dawn!

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Psychosis from mystery drugs and moeblob turned lethal – Higurashi Arc 1

I’ve been watching a little more of Higurashi: When They Cry today and I have just finished the first arv of the first series. While it seemed to almost be the ‘introductory’ arc, the narrative was well paced and set the scene for what I’m guessing will be a chilling series to come.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Higurashi: When They Cry  is a horror/suspense based anime series which has achieved much of it’s fame/infamy due to some highly graphic depictions of torture, violence and gore.

Honestly, I’m yet to see much influence of this, with the first arc placing far more emphasis on intrigue and a sense of dread than simply being a gorefest akin to Deadman Wonderland.

At this stage my biggest points of confusion are the seemingly dualistic natures of most of the characters; it almost seems as if the entire cast is suffering from dissociation identity disorder. I assume more information regarding that will come, but currently all I really know is, when you see a girl with cat-eye pupils, run. run far, run fast.

From a technical standpoint, I’m not the first to point out how lack lustre the animation and art is, even for it’s time. That being said, unless your hyper sensitive to animation and visuals, I would highly suggest giving this series a try, as in terms of narrative, particularly narrative structure, Higurashi: When They Cry is sizing up to be a largely enjoyable series.

Anyway, that’s all for now everyone, I hope you have a great day!

Stealth, strategy and sleek kills: Tomasz Wacławek’s RONIN

I picked up Tomasz Wacławek’s RONIN a few months back when I was in the mood for exploring some of the indie games available on the Humble store. It took a while before I got to playing it, but I’m very glad I did as RONIN ended up being one of the more unique ‘platformer’ titles I have played in a long time.

Set within a minimalist story of betrayal and revenge, RONIN casts the player as a nameless(?) heroine seeking to avenge the betrayal and murder of her father. As a result, said main character has trained to become a deadly assassin – making use of katana, aerobatics and a slew of gadgets.

The game plays as a relatively normal platformer / stealth game for certain sections – though the player’s ability to use a claw-shot-esque gadget to stick to walls, roofs and door ways makes moving through a level more interesting than many conventional platformers may be. As soon as combat initiates, however, the game becomes something akin to a spacial turn-based-strategy, in which the player must seek out and kill any enemies present while avoiding gunfire, melee attacks, and predicting the enemies next move.

Ronin 2

The seamless integration of real time movement outside combat, and the turn based strategy when in combat means that the player can seek to remain hidden until they are ready to strike, giving them the initiative in battle, or potentially entirely removing the need for battle should the player dispatch an enemy before she is noticed.

Ronin 3

RONIN is carefull constructed to let the player think for themselves, and ther are many ways in which rooms / levels can be cleared of enemies, providing the player with great opportunities to ‘think outside the box’ in terms of both combat and navigation. This coupled with the intensity of later levels lays the foundation for a highly satisfying game experience, and something that seems to punch well above its weight for a seemingly short indie game.

For those of you who are fans of strategy, stealth, or games with a cyberpunk aesthetic, I would strongly suggest checking RONIN out for yourselves!

[Neon Lotus Plays] Nobody But You (Part 2)

As it turns out, this series may not be as long as I thought it may have been originally, as I just absolutely ploughed my way through Unwonted Studios’ No One But You.

OH BOY. As someone who is a masochist for ‘tragedy’ anime, and a sucker for series like ClannadKanonYour Lie in April and the Ef~ series, No One But You (NOBY) was right up my alley. That being said, I wasn’t expecting the level of emotion and drama this indie visual novel brought to the table, and I’d be lying if I said my eyes were dry.

While I’m not going to review NOBY yet, as there are still at least 3-4 other routes to follow before I have a full picture of the title, I can say that Unwonted has delivered a thoroughly impressive narrative with some lovely art, a great soundtrack. Heck, they event went the extra mile and created an animated OP.

NOBY 7

For my first playthrough I opted for Yui’s route, because — as you will no doubt come to see through future posts — I’m a total sucker for a red-headed tsundere (I’m trash, I know!). I was not expecting the emotional load out this route gave, and honestly had I known I may have saved the route for another time, but hey, it was well crafted and enthralling, so I’m happy.

My only complaint with the route as yet was the fairly abrupt way the route ends, coupled with a lack of epilogue content or ‘follow on’ from the end of route hook up. That being said, there appears to be some ‘afterstory’ content that requires unlocking, so all could be rectified in the future.

Anyway, I will more than likely play more of No One But You  in the future, though I may give it a rest for a little while considering I feel like I have just marathoned Little Busters Refrain (think Rin in the white dress outside the school. That’s the level we’re talking here).

I would strongly suggest this title to anyone who has both an interest in visual novels and a love of emotion fueled narrative, because NOBY performs a great balance of emotional connection with great characters and some nice comedic relief.

And so, I leave you with a screen capture of a conversation with a girl who has more warning signs than an atomic power plant:

NOBY 12

 

[Neon Lotus Plays] No One But You (Part 1)

Despite having owned Unwonted Studios’ No One But You for a good few months, and starting it once before, this poor little thing has sat on my desktop with very little attention paid to it.

I’ve decided to rectify that, and have booted up Nobody But You with the intent of playing it over the next couple of weeks – while juggling life and other commitments. I figured I may as well also turn this into a little blog series, so that I have some more regular, and possibly shorter content here on Neon Lotus. So check back here from time to time to see much luck in romancing some waifu, if there is any luck to be had.


No One But You: Part 1

Despite starting off in a way that may seem a little tired or cliche (pictured below), No One But You seems to sport some solid writing, a nice tone and a general level of finish that is honestly impressive — especially for an inexpensive indie title. I take my hat off to Unwonted Studios in this respect, you can tell No One But You is a labour of love.

NOBY 1.png

A few minutes in and I feel like there is one thing that must be acknowledged. The art. I don’t think I’ve ever seen art this good on an indie VN. I mean, the characters have a unique style that isn’t exactly anime, or at least, not the mainstream anime style. It’s undeniably taking inspiration from it, but whatever the case, it looks great.

And then there’s the scenery. Honestly it’s pretty impressive how aesthetically pleasing Unwonted managed to make 2D background graphics. I’ll throw in an example here to show what I mean, but wow, between the particles and the light effects, this is some top tier BGCs.

NOBY 2

Anyway, that’s all for now, I’ll keep this blog updated as I potter through No One But You. I may be going in blind at the moment, but Unwonted Studios definitely do not disappoint.

 

Descent in Madness – Diving in the deep end with Higurashi: When They Cry

I’d be lying if I said I was a fan of horror, or a fan of gore, so naturally Studio DEEN’s Higurashi: When They Cry wasn’t exactly at the top of my ‘to watch list’. Despite this, friend’s assertions that Higurashi is well worth a watch, and a habit of watching things on the basis of “I’ll try anything once”, I thought I would give Higurashi a try.

Over the next few weeks I’ll keep this blog updated with my progress, which is more than likely to vary between shades of intrigue and disgust. Currently onto episode 3, the series is faring far better than I thought it would, despite some, shall we say, unusual animation and a lot of expressions of horror with little to no explanation.

It should be an interesting ride, considering this is my first foray back into anime after over a year and a half with nothing. Have I totally thrown myself off the deep end? I guess I’ll find out!

Sword with Sauce: Stabbing with force and killing without remorse.

Terrible title puns aside, Diatomic Games’ Sword With Sauce is a (currently) alpha / early access title that squeezes a lot of fun into it’s tiny price tag.

While entirely lacking any sense of context, story or character, Sword With Sauce sets out immediately to accomplish what it aims to; creating  something akin to a Hitman game coupled with Spy vs. Spy destructive gadgetry. To lump it in with Hitman however seems to do little justice to this indie game, as though sharing in concept on many levels, Sword with Sauce presents an entirely different experience, opting for a more abstract, arguably lighthearted game environment.

Sword With Sauce presents itself as something akin to a sandbox combat sim; as the player you are spawned in a minimalist environment crawling with enemies with a few different loadouts. Your objective is simple, kill or be killed, with a modifier or two depending on the game mode. I’d be inclined to argue that it is this simplicity that manages to make Sword with Sauce so enjoyable to play, it is totally devoid of pretense or veneer, instead focusing on making gameplay dynamic and enjoyable.

And by heck, Diatomic Games do this well. Combat is speedy, unpredictable and chaotic, but somehow calm and efficient too. Depending on how you decide to play a level, you could go from hacking an enemy to pieces in one room to gassing a small army in the next. The variety of weapons and gadgets  serves to add to this joy in combat, as the various different weapons allow for many play styles and accommodate all tastes. Whether you like to play sleeper and rig a map full of traps, or you’d rather roll out with a shotgun and a load out of explosives, Sword With Sauce gives you the tools for the job.

At the moment gameplay is limited to four stages and a couple of dozen weapons / tools, however that is more than enough to unlock the potential of this neat indie title. Due to the erratic AI and varying play styles, playing doesn’t seem to cease being interesting in a short space of time.

As yet my only issue is the visuals of the game, which while aiming to be minimalist, appear a little drab. Looking a little like SUPERHOT without the pizzazz or the particles,Sword With Sauce sports visuals that aren’t exactly exciting. But hey, the game runs very nicely on a four year old laptop that wasn’t hugely beefy when it was released, so I’m certainly not complaining.

In short, if digital killing in many different ways is your thing, and you have a hankering to throw down $3 on something worth far more, check out Sword With Sauce and support this great indie gem.

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