3D Dot Game Heroes

3D Dot Game Heroes nails a sense of uncertainty, making for an "open world" experience that is in some ways even more pure than that of, say, Grand Theft Auto or Red Faction: Guerrilla.

3D Dot Game Heroes

Publisher: Atlus
Price: $39.99
Format: PlayStation 3
Developer: Silicon Studio
Players: 1
Release Date: 2010-05-11

Here's what I like best about 3D Dot Game Heroes: the dialogue trees.

Games like Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Fallout 3 (not to mention many, many PC games that came before them) turned dialogue into an integral part of the gameplay experience, rather than the mostly superficial, expositional role that it had played previously. Conversational choices made in modern games can have an effect on the entire gameplay experience to follow. If you insult someone, you can lose that character forever; compliment them, and maybe you're one step closer to starting a family. Dialogue trees in the modern video game can be complex, intricate things, which can increase the stress placed on the player but also improve the sense of immersion evoked by the game. Dialogue isn't just telling us the story anymore. Now it's allowing us to participate in it.

That said, the dialogue trees (where they exist) in 3D Dot Game Heroes are structured in one of two ways. Any dialogue tree that appears in the game exists merely to assign a task to the player, a quest that could either be integral to the progression of the plot or a side quest whose reward could be as inconsequential as a little gold or as important as an additional life piece (a "heart container" in the parlance of Zelda).

The dialogue tree leading up to a side quest works as follows:

You either do the quest or you don't, and the world continues just as it would have had you chosen the other option. Either you'll get the treasure that it offers or you won't, but in the end, it doesn't have anything to do with the plot. It's a boolean switch connected to nothing but the presence of treasure. If you feel like taking it on, great. If you don't (and you don't mind pissing off a sprite for a second), that's okay too. Life will go on.

Alternately, there's the sho-shaped "tree" that shows up when discussing the plot-advancing quests with an important non-player character:

Obviously, it's not much of a tree at all. Since the game cannot move on without the approval of the player, it will not let the player out of the dialogue until the player agrees to do whatever it is that the NPC needs or wants. In one memorable sequence, the king (quite plainly modeled after the king in the original Dragon Warrior) gently admonishes the player for saying "no" to one of his requests, because, after all, that won't advance the plot. He then offers the yes or no choice to the player again, content to keep offering it until the player finally caves in and selects yes. This is a resolute king it seems, despite his recent tragic circumstances.

The dialogue trees are, of course, one of many aspects of 3D Dot Game Heroes designed explicitly and unapologetically for players who have been there, who grew up with the games that it is paying homage to -- because make no mistake, this is an homage, and not a parody. You know it's an homage because even past all the winks and nods and one liners, it is a deep game that rewards exploration and encourages experimentation. Do you remember the first time that you played The Legend of Zelda? Sure, by this point maybe you've memorized the overworld map and you could quickly describe the shapes of the dungeons in a word or two off the top of your head, but the first time that you played? You might have had that crude world map that came in the game box by your side, but apart from going into that first door and grabbing the sword from the old man, you're on your own. You have three directions in which to travel and no guidance as to which of those directions is going to take you where you need to be. 3D Dot Game Heroes nails this sense of uncertainty, making for an "open world" experience that is in some ways even more pure than that of, say, Grand Theft Auto or Red Faction: Guerrilla.

To be sure, the original Zelda and Link to the Past are the primary inspirations here, both in play style and graphical style. Still, any gamer who owned an NES will appreciate nods to Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear (the original, not that newfangled Solid hooey), and Bionic Commando -- the last a touch I appreciated given that the avatar I created in the game's surprisingly deep character builder was a crudely constructed Ladd Spencer. Of course, many other games that I have either forgotten or missed make appearances as well; surely, a Wiki or FAQ will appear detailing them all, giving us a good reason to run through the game one more time.

Perhaps the only mark against the game is that gamers who didn't grow up with the classic 8-bit games that 3D Dot Game Heroes is based on may feel alienated, or worse, bored. There is a ton to do, and the map design is incredible, but all of it might feel a little dry to someone who won't get half the game's jokes; its asides will feel random and forced if the player has never played, say, Spelunker or Armored Core.

Still, those players are not who 3D Dot Game Heroes was designed for, and one senses that the devs at Silicon couldn't care less what they think. Those who appreciate the references will revel in a game that seemingly never runs out of things to give the player to do. There's a surprisingly deep tower defense game embedded in the adventure that could take days to truly master. There's a Pokémon-style activity that involves capturing all the enemies in the game, rather than killing them. There are infuriating common enemies (though none quite reach the controller-smashing frustration of the shield-eating Like Like) and tremendous bosses. There's even a New Game+ type of mode. It's everything a player could want in a Zelda-themed throwback.

If you ever enjoyed a Zelda game before Ocarina of Time, there's no reason for you to avoid this. At worst, it will feel like a mere imitation of a time gone by. At best, it's throwback gaming bliss.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.