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A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a second-hand copy of Dragon Age II for $8. It's been on my list for a while, and the upside of coming to games late is being able to pick them up for cheap. As it turns out, I've been getting a lot more than $8 worth of enjoyment out of DA2.

The plot. The world-building. The characters and their short dialogues that are there for no other reason than to develop their personalities and relationships. It doesn't hurt that now, instead of a little laptop, I'm playing on my big, flat-screen TV with loudspeakers and a handheld controller on my sofa. Since I went for a female mage in DA:O (which I'm still yet to finish, for reasons that small laptops aren't great gaming platforms), in DA2 I made my Hawke a male warrior. Personality-wise he's turned out a little serious, the first-born son who has had to take on far too much responsibility too early, but who will quickly drop the diplomatic niceties for snark around good friends, and in the face of evildoers and demons. And I'm having a ball navigating him through a world where politics and social movements are more dangerous than dragons or demons.

Arriving in Kirkwall as a refugee, having fled disaster and strife and losing a sibling along the way, and trying to find ways to get out of lock-out into the city? I played that after seeing the most recent news bulletins on the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe and Australia's politicians squawking about border protection. The sad history of the elves, most of which is completely lost, and Merrill's obsession to revive her culture, that I found echoing with thoughts I've had traveling through China and Tibet last year. The entire mage/templar issue, which, although I certainly lean on the personal freedom/responsibility side, I completely understand the other characters' disagreement on (read: Fenris). It's an incredible amount of complexity and world-building in terms of story - I made a comment on Twitter that DA2 is like an epic, three-book fantasy novel series, except instead of reading it I get to play and experience it, and not just talk with the characters, but get emotionally involved with them.

I went for Anders. Merrill is sweet but disturbingly naive, which, for me personally, makes the thought of romancing her incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Fenris is far too dark and brooding for my tastes, although I'm curious enough to try an alternate playthrough as a mage and rival-mance him just to see what happens. Isabela is fun, and I can see myself going for her as another female rogue-type character, but on this first play-through she feels like someone works far better as the bantering friend constantly teasing Hawke about his relationships. Which left Anders, and even if I hadn't already gleaned from vague internet references that his romance would be the most interesting/devastating in terms of plot, on a simple character basis he easily became my favourite. He's damaged, yes (and I really have to go back and play DA:O with all the DLCs) but he channels his energy into helping people and social justice. He reminds me of friends working in NGOs and other non-profits, friend who, when they see wrong in the world, are not just determined to change things for the better, but genuinely believe that things can change. Not only that, they can hold onto that belief no matter what the cynics and powerful say, and that's a courage of conviction I both envy and admire. Anders may be intense and sometimes glow-in-the-dark crazy, but in a way I can't help but like. Plus I grin every time when, in battle, Anders brings the lightning and hellfire down on my foes.

That being said, I've just started Act III, and, after catching up on all my companions, reading Anders's Codex entry about his life the past three years was painful. Moved in with Hawke, but struggling - and potentially losing - the battle for his self and mind. The line about him and Hawke still being a loving, fairly open couple and the explicit statement that Hawke is probably the only reason Anders has kept his sanity, particularly struck me, to the point that I started wondering what it would be like to live with a mentally unstable partner, who obviously loves and is loved, but is fighting a mental battle alone. And I'm both impatient and terrified to find out how this is going to play into the story's end. For all that the maps are repetitive and the gameplay sometimes buggy (why am I getting hit by the Arishok when I'm not actually in his strike zone?), I can't find myself caring in the face of such rich storytelling.
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I don't remember the first time I watched Star Wars. Like parents or hating maths Star Wars is one of those things that have always been in my life, with no before. Logically I must have been introduced to it through one of the free-to-air television Star Wars trilogy runs which came at least twice a year, but I'm happy with my personal mythology that like DNA, Star Wars has just always been in my imagination.

And boy has it been my imagination. The X-Wing computer games let me fly my favourite starfighter. The Extended Universe books ate up all my pocket money and some of my parents', I shared the books with fellow fan-friends at school to read under our desks in class, and when the original trilogy was re-released in cinemas the only threat my mother needed to get me to behave was that she wouldn't let me see the movies. She did, of course, and bought me the full-size movie poster to boot. I had all the facts memorised, I knew how many TIE fighters an Imperial-class Star Destroyer could carry (72), the name of every alien glimpsed in the Mos Eisley cantina and Jabba's palace, and if you ever ask me to sing the entire film soundtrack from The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi from opening fanfare to end credits I'll do that too.

I went to the midnight premieres for all three of the prequels, the last one while costumed as Queen Amidala in her first Episode 1 dress and I was photographed for the local paper. No, I don't love the prequel trilogy the way I do the original trilogy, but neither do I hate it the way everybody else does. I'm aware that my memories of the original trilogy are coloured by nostalgia, that the originals were originally made for children, and those children-now-grown-up had ridiculous expectations married with grown-up tastes labeling the prequels as crimes against humanity rather than just mediocre movies. Plus the little kids I know who watched the prequels love the prequels the same way I love original trilogy.

Hearing the Disney had bought Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars hit both the cynic and hopeful fan in me, because oodles of profit off the biggest movie IP in history aside, if Disney's hands-off approach to Pixar and Marvel was anything to go by Disney owning Star Wars could work out. As I understood JJ Abrams to be much more of a Star Wars fan than Star Trek, him being slated to direct Episode VII didn't faze me. And then the cast list of a young woman, Moses from Attack The Block and the original actors and writers and John Williams himself ... I let myself hope. Hesitantly. Other than those news headlines I paid little attention to the production's development - but then the teaser trailer dropped. And all I needed was the Millennium Falcon soaring over desert and the John Williams Star Wars fanfare to be grinning like an idiot.

SPOILERS )

Bring on Episode VIII.

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May 2016

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