rionaleonhart: final fantasy xv: prompto, the best character, with a touch of swagger. (looking ahead)
I hope you like it when I talk at excessive length about videogames, because it's that time again. Ginger, old friend and new housemate, is replaying Life Is Strange, and it's got me thinking about narrative choices.

In the last year, I've experienced three games - Life Is Strange, Until Dawn, Oxenfree - in which the gameplay consists almost solely of making choices. There's the occasional puzzle in Life Is Strange, there are QTEs in Until Dawn, but fundamentally these games are about the player making choices to shape the story.

In theory.

In practice, these games have a linear story to tell. You can't drag the game down wholly different paths, in the way a Choose Your Own Adventure novel might offer. There are a handful of variables, but every playthrough will hit more or less the same story points and end in more or less the same way. Even in Until Dawn, where the way you play determines who lives and who dies, it's not possible to kill everyone off in the first few hours and make the game go '???? roll credits, I guess?' - certain characters are guaranteed to survive long enough to steer you to a predetermined endpoint. Ginger is currently doing an arsehole run of Life Is Strange, making all the horrible decisions they avoided on previous playthroughs, and at moments it's painful to watch, but it's still much the same story I experienced on my own run.

I mentioned this to Ginger, and their response was something I wasn't expecting: they put forward a case for games like this following roughly the same path and ending in roughly the same way, regardless of player choice. I'd always just assumed that 'your choices have as much impact as possible on the narrative' was the ideal point for these games to reach, and the current 'your choices can change small aspects of the story without actually changing the story's direction' situation was a result of budgetary and time constraints. But Ginger pointed out the social aspect to playing games like this: when you've finished a chapter or a game, you'll want to discuss it and theorise with other people playing the same game. If your choices could make Life Is Strange branch off onto one of ten different paths, that wouldn't be possible; you'd go, 'Hey, wasn't it strange when Max drank from the magical fountain and became a unicorn?' and nobody else would be able to discuss it with you, because only 10% of players even come across the magical fountain.

Thinking about it, this applies to fanfiction as well. In total, I've written ten works of fanfiction for these three narrative choice games, most of them set post-ending. If I hadn't been able to go 'yes, I know that the reader's playthrough will have ended in roughly the same way as mine and therefore they'll be able to tell what's going on here,' I'd never have been able to write them. I feel 'we'd better make things easier for the fanfic writers' is possibly not that high on the list of game developers' priorities, but I'm still glad that I was able to create things inspired by these games.

Life Is Strange also has strong themes of memory and nostalgia, of beautiful fleeting moments, of returning to where you came from and realising you're no longer the person you used to be. Would it be possible to write a game with twenty different endings and make its themes feel coherent?

You could argue that a game shouldn't try to be a film, and, while the developers going 'we know the story we're telling here; you can nudge the tiller occasionally, but we're the ones steering' makes for a better narrative, 'the reins are entirely in your hands! go wild!' would make for a better game. But I think I've been persuaded that greater freedom of choice shouldn't necessarily be the goal of all choice-based narrative games. Maybe Life Is Strange isn't an example of a genre that needs to develop; maybe it's a genre that's exactly where it needs to be.

It could still be fun to have the occasional cinematic game where your choices really do shape the narrative. But, for the moment, with all the budgetary issues involved, that might have to remain the domain of visual novels.

I do think choice-based games could do with fewer endings that explicitly undo the effects of all your choices, though. If the entire game consisted of the player making decisions, don't render those decisions meaningless!
rionaleonhart: ffxv: prompto is trying to listen but actually thinking about his giant crush on you (prompto has a crush on everyone) (i can be serious)
Why didn't I keep writing for Final Fantasy XV? I wrote a couple of fics there and went 'yes, this fandom's so alive, there's an AO3 audience of thousands, it feels great, TIME TO PLUNGE INTO YET ANOTHER DYING FANDOM.'

In fairness, Oxenfree does contain a lot of themes I find really hard to resist. Time shenanigans, sibling relationships, strangers bonding under intense pressure. Sibling relationships between strangers who bond under intense pressure! That's not a combination you get to see often. I was doomed from the start.


Title: A Thousand First Impressions
Fandom: Oxenfree
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 1,500
Summary: Spoilers for the entire game. Jonas meets his stepsister for the first time.


A Thousand First Impressions )
rionaleonhart: final fantasy viii: found a draw point! no one can draw... (you're a terrible artist)
Someone commented on my horrible Oxenfree fic to say I'd made them 'ship Alex/Jonas, and I felt a bit weird about it. I don't think there's anything wrong with 'shipping it, but it seemed strange that I'd caused this, given that I don't 'ship it myself. How had I converted someone else to seeing a stepsibling relationship - a stepsibling relationship I enjoy a lot! - as romantic?

In retrospect, my first mistake was writing about said stepsiblings making out.


I received World of Final Fantasy for Christmas! I am pleased to report that, although it is very different from Final Fantasy XV in most respects, they share a penchant for terrible puns. When you activate a switch to progress in an early dungeon:

'A new path! Check out that switchcraft!'
'Now we know switch way to go!'
'Switchever one of you thinks you're being clever is about to get a knuckle sandswitch.'

I finished the game a week or so ago. It was cute, but I had little real emotional investment in it, sadly. I did very much enjoy having an adorable baby Behemoth on my head, though. Plus there's an absolutely incredible Final Fantasy X reference at one point.

Bizarre omissions from World of Final Fantasy: Bartz, Terra, Cloud, Squall, Tidus and Lightning are present, but no Zidane. There are no characters whatsoever from Final Fantasy XII. Aerith isn't there! For some reason, this is the one that really shocked me. I encountered Tifa and went 'well, obviously we'll be meeting Aerith at some point.' Nope!

Faris and Quistis have really poorly suited voices. This is particularly frustrating because Faris's voice would have worked perfectly well for Quistis; it's just not a voice for slinging pirate slang around in. I'm delighted that Faris is in the game, though!

I've started to come around to Doug Erholtz's voice for Squall at last, having disliked it in Kingdom Hearts II. This means that, for the first time, I've started to think seriously about the possibility of a Final Fantasy VIII remake. If the VII remake does well, is there a chance they'd do VIII as well? There's a part of me that really wants to see that, and there's a part that doesn't know whether my heart would be able to take it. This game means a lot to me.

If nothing else, I suppose it'd provide an excuse to replay it. I've played the original so many times I really can't justify doing it again. (I had to buy a replacement copy of Final Fantasy VIII a few years ago, having played my first copy until the discs just gave up and stopped working. The game lost the ability to tell when a battle had ended, so my party would defeat the enemies and then just... stand there, looking confused, waiting for orders to fight something that wasn't there.)
rionaleonhart: final fantasy xiii: lightning pays intense attention to you. (speak carefully)
WELL, THIS IS THE MOST HORRIBLE FIC I'VE WRITTEN IN A WHILE. The Alex-and-Jonas stepsibling relationship is my favourite thing about Oxenfree! Why did I have to do this to it?


Title: Passing Eternity (or, alternatively, Why Oxenfree Isn't a Dating Sim)
Fandom: Oxenfree
Rating: R
Pairing: Alex/Ren, Alex/Clarissa, Alex/Jonas, Alex/Nona
Wordcount: 4,100
Summary: Spoilers for the entire game. Alex sets out to seduce everyone on the island.
Warnings: Emotional manipulation, hatekissing, pseudo-incestuous kissing, references to canonical character death. The rating is for this fic generally being weird and horrible, not for explicitness; there's nothing beyond making out in here.


Passing Eternity )
rionaleonhart: twewy: joshua kiryu is being fabulously obnoxious and he knows it. (is that so?)
I've hugely enjoyed the last couple of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episodes ('Will Scarsdale Like Josh's Shayna Punim?' and 'Josh Is the Man of My Dreams, Right?'). In particular, I'm loving the Nathaniel storyline. He could be Jeff Winger's evil (well, more evil) brother; there's a definite physical resemblance, and half his lines sound like they could easily be coming out of Jeff's mouth. They're also both lawyers with father issues, come to think of it. (Plus, hey, Jeff canonically has an evil double.)

I don't love Nathaniel half as much as I love Jeff Winger, but he's fun. He also had a pretty incredible song in 'Josh Is the Man of My Dreams, Right?' (warning for weight-shaming, because Nathaniel is the worst).

I'm horrendously predictable when it comes to this character type.

Fiction: Hey, this guy's an arsehole!
Riona: Wow, what an arsehole!
Fiction: He occasionally shows glimpses of having feelings, though.
Riona: Uh-oh.
Fiction: What's this? Is he attracted to a young woman who he thinks of as off-limits?
Riona: Don't do this to me.
Fiction: He tries to resist! But he can't stop glancing over at her!
Riona: GOD, FINE.

I wouldn't say I 'ship him with Rebecca, exactly. I definitely don't want them to be together. (I don't really want Rebecca to be in a romantic relationship with anyone; romantic relationships aren't good for her.) But I do want them to have lots of uncomfortable sexual tension and possibly make out sometimes.


Given Life Is Strange, Until Dawn and now Oxenfree, I seem to have fallen heavily into the Bad Teen Decisions Simulator genre of videogame. (Come to think of it, Dangan Ronpa is also a series of games about bad teen decisions, although it doesn't let you make those bad decisions yourself.)

This is a great genre because it lends itself so well to one of my favourite fanfiction themes: characters undergo traumatic experiences, and then the story focuses on them talking about them, or refusing to talk about them, or not having anyone to talk about them with. The entire concept of these games is 'a handful of people go through horrendous experiences that nobody else will ever understand or believe'. They're perfect.

I didn't actually realise I had such a fondness for this until I looked back at all the one-shots I posted in 2016. There are fifteen, and this theme crops up in no fewer than seven of them. Whoops.

At one point in Oxenfree, I accidentally chose a dialogue option that made Alex say she exercised a lot every morning. I was very annoyed with myself. No, I've made it canon that she's disciplined and she exercises and now I can't relate to her any more! (Alex is still great.)


I've suddenly remembered one of my all-time favourite YouTube videos, and I thought I'd link to it in case anyone hasn't seen it yet. It's two men dancing to Moulin Rouge's 'El Tango de Roxanne' in the street. The video itself is low-quality, sadly, but the intensity of the dance comes through so clearly that it barely matters (and the intensity of the song doesn't hurt). You can watch it over here!
rionaleonhart: the mentalist: lisbon, afraid but brave, makes an important call. (it's been an honour)
I finished Oxenfree last night! Twenty-four hours later, here I am, posting fanfiction. Incredibly spoilery fanfiction. I'm not sure I can even write a summary for this one.


Title: Rebuild
Fandom: Oxenfree
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 2,600
Summary: Spoilers! I'd recommend not reading this unless you have at least an idea of the major possible ending differences. But it's about (step)sibling relationships.


Rebuild )
rionaleonhart: the mentalist: lisbon, afraid but brave, makes an important call. (it's been an honour)
Played another hour or two of Oxenfree! I've just opened the gate to Adler's house.

I keep thinking about the dialogue choices in this game. When I play, Alex is a peacemaker. She worries about people and tries to see things from their point of view, even if she doesn't necessarily like them. She tries to get along with everyone, although she doesn't always succeed. She's inquisitive; she's interested in history; she can get excited about little things. She makes jokes to deflect serious conversations. She avoids talking about Michael if she can. She feels like such a complete, established character to me, and it's strange to think back on dialogue choices I turned down and realise I could have been playing her as apathetic and hostile the entire time.

The game's excellent voice acting helps. Whatever responses I choose for her seem to flow so naturally that it's hard to imagine she could have said anything else.

I'm also interested in 'Scrödinger's backstory' moments. Several hours into the game, Jonas asked whether I was religious. I said no. Up until that point, Alex's beliefs could have been anything, but the moment I picked 'no' she'd been an atheist all along. My Alex is a non-smoker because of a bad experience the last time she tried smoking. That's something that happened in the past, but it didn't become true until I declined Jonas's offer of a light. My decision in the present altered Alex's past.

Videogames are weird.

Another aspect of Oxenfree that's been playing on my mind is the moment where your reflection gives you advice for a later point in the game. Because it's not just the game giving you advice; it's an actual person. A PSN username shows up alongside your reflection. You see the dialogue options - 'do A', 'do B' - that the reflection is choosing from. The game makes it as clear as possible that the person giving you advice is a real person who's also playing this game, and that they're choosing to say what they do.

It's such an effective way of inducing paranoia. If my reflection had just given me advice, without the indication that there's a real person behind it, I'd have gone 'well, I suppose I'll take its advice!' But introducing a real person changes things. I don't know this person! Can I trust this person? Is this a helpful person trying to give me good advice, or is it a troll trying to lead me into disaster for their own amusement?

The possibilities I can think of:

- The other player knows that A is the right thing to do, and in saying 'do A' they're trying to help me. I should do A!
- The other player knows that A is a bad idea, and in saying 'do A' they're trying to screw up my playthrough. I shouldn't do A.
- The other player did B on their own playthrough, and something bad happened. They don't know whether A is good or bad, but they know that B is bad, so they're trying to give the best advice they can with limited knowledge. I should probably do A.
- The important question isn't whether I do A or B; it's whether I take the reflection's advice. The moment the reflection said 'do A', A became either the right or the wrong decision. The other player could be trying to give me good advice, but giving good advice isn't necessarily possible. I... either should or shouldn't do A, but I suspect I probably shouldn't.

I'm so fascinated by this game!
rionaleonhart: okami: amaterasu is startled. (NOT SO FAST)
I played a couple of hours of Oxenfree last night! It's very pretty and colourful, which is an interesting design choice for a horror game. All the landscapes sort of look like they've been made out of coloured paper.

You have to make decisions within a few seconds in Oxenfree, which I find very stressful, even when most of the decisions are just 'what do you want to say now?' (I feel a bit spoiled by Life Is Strange, which not only gives you as much time as you like to choose your response but allows you to rewind and redo things if you change your mind.)

At the very beginning of the game, just after you get off the boat, I refused to speak alone with Jonas because my mind was working by Until Dawn rules: DON'T SEPARATE, BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN. [livejournal.com profile] th_esaurus pointed out that this was very early in the game, nothing bad had happened yet, and a brief conversation with my stepbrother was unlikely to get anyone killed. I felt so bad for turning Jonas down that I restarted.

At this point I set the first and most important of several goals that would help me make decisions in the future: I want to get along with my stepbrother.

Later, after panicking during the 'who do you meet up with first?' decision at the radio tower, I came up with my second goal: I want to improve my relationship with Clarissa.

My third goal, after telling Ren there were other fish in the sea and TOO LATE realising that the game might think I want to be his fish: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES can I end up in a romantic relationship with Ren.

('The game won't let you romance your stepbrother,' [livejournal.com profile] th_esaurus said, with deeply felt sadness. I laughed at her.)

I feel a lot more comfortable making quick decisions now that I know what I'm aiming for. Even if I still miss Life Is Strange. (The soft colours and loading-screen Polaroids really remind me of Life Is Strange, actually. Although I'm puzzled by the fact that Jonas took a picture on his phone and it appeared on the loading screen as a Polaroid.)

I'm playing this game at [livejournal.com profile] th_esaurus's flat, so I don't know exactly when I'll be able to pick it up again, but I hope it'll be soon! There's a lot of intriguing mystery. And I like Alex, which is unusual; I usually have trouble warming to characters who communicate entirely through dialogue choices, because they can end up feeling like an empty vessel for the player rather than a character in their own right, but a lot of personality comes through in everything she says.


Here are a handful of things I experienced in 2016 but didn't post full entries on:

- I watched the anime ERASED (it's available legally on Crunchyroll here), which is about a man who goes back to his childhood and tries to prevent the abduction and murder of a classmate. It was very good and very gripping, but I don't know whether I'll ever watch it again; it might be a bit too bleak and serious without the 'but what happens next??' drive to keep going. Still, I loved that it told a very compact, intense story in just twelve episodes. It also has one of the coolest opening sequences I've ever seen. The shots of the empty school give me chills.

- I saw Your Name in the cinema and loved it. The basic concept (two strangers keep swapping bodies across a great distance and can only communicate with each other by leaving notes) is exactly the sort of idea I find irresistible: people being drawn together by weird experiences, unable to talk about them with anyone but each other! Inevitably, I'm now wondering whether it could be employed in fanfiction for other works.

- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a much, much better show than you'd think from the title. A couple of my favourite songs:

I've kind of got a girl crush on you, by which I mean I wanna kill you and wear your skin like a dress.
FACE YOUR FEARS. RUN WITH SCISSORS.

- The second series of How to Get Away with Murder is, I'm delighted to report, just as stupid as the first. The scene in 'Meet Bonnie' where the students were going 'pfft, we've screwed up our lives, might as well have an orgy' inevitably delighted me. Has anyone written the fic where they follow through? I'm going to be so disappointed in fandom if nobody's written that fic.


Inevitably, the combination of fandoms in this entry is making me ponder a How to Get Away with Murder scenario in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in which Rebecca somehow ends up killing someone and has to try not to get caught. It's actually a worryingly plausible scenario.