Five Fictional Games with Deadly Consequences

I love games, and have spent most of my life playing them in one form or another. I’ve worked for two game companies and have been involved in development with different hats ranging from manual writer to technical director. So when I was writing United States of Japan, one of my favorite parts was imagining what video games would be like in an alternate history where the Japanese Empire ruled. Speculative works can always push the boundaries, and as early consoles were intertwined with military research, I pushed gaming technology ahead twenty years from where it was in 1988 in our world, considering Japan would no longer need to undergo two decades of reconstruction. One of those changes involved Yakuza-sponsored gaming tournaments where players put everything on the line. Not like Running Man, but more akin to a virtual first person shooter match where the loser loses their life.

...

battle-royale
player-of-games
ready-player-one
cordwainer-smith
romance-three-kingdoms

Super Mario Brothers: Fantasy or Science Fiction?

At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward that the Super Mario Brothers games are a fantasy series. They take place in a fantastic world with dragons, princesses, and magic mushrooms, and the RPGs in the series have all the typical role-playing elements of a fantasy game. But when you look at the entire franchise, particularly the Super Mario Galaxy games, it seems almost certain that the game is science fiction, or at least science fantasy. Here are five reasons revolving around specific titles in the series that prove the Super Mario Brothers are works of science fiction.

Note: I’m defining science fiction broadly as “a genre of fiction dealing with imaginative content such as futuristic settings and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life.”

 

The Many Worlds of Super Mario Galaxy

mario2

Up until the arrival of Nintendo, many game designers had ...

Smg2pianta-1-
superpapermariowii
mario3
mario6
mario4

Fighting For Utopia: Revisiting Classic ’90s RPG Phantasy Star IV

phantasystariv Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium is an ambitious JRPG that is the perfect end to the series, taking the best elements of each of the previous games and weaving together a “phantastic” journey. It easily goes toe to toe with its more famous Square contemporaries like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. Coming after the radical departure from the series Phantasy Star III was with its medieval setting and art style, PSIV (1993 JP, 1995 US) was a welcome return by Director Rieko Kodama and her Sega team to its science fiction roots. It also exemplifies how to do a sequel, as PSIV doesn’t shy away from its ties to the previous games the way III did, but instead, embraces them.  

Returning Evil

phantasystariv-02 1,000 years have passed since the events of Phantasy Star II. Mota has reverted to its pre-Mother Brain state following the “Great Collapse” ...
phantasystariv-04
phantasystariv-01
psiv40
phantasystariv-03
psiv33
phantasystariv-05

Announcing Peter Tieryas’ Next Book: Malleable Realities

Odin the dog Malleable Realities Peter Tieryas Following the dark, violent, alternate history of United States of Japan delving into the tragedies of WWII, I thought why not follow up with a fun comedy adventure? Malleable Realities is the longest thing I’ve written, both in length, and time it took me. Time is relative, right? But 14 years for one book? A younger me would have been incredulous if he knew it was going to take this much time. Time is at the core of the story, kickstarted when Lucca from the SNES classic, Chrono Trigger (which I reviewed here at Tor.com in three trope-defying parts), explained the paradox of Princess Marle’s disappearance. I thought I understood the weirdness of time to a certain extent. But then my understanding of the theory of causality took a huge blow after I read David Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. He posited that A + B doesn’t ...

Five Books with Deadly Games

battle-royale-film I love games, and have spent most of my life playing them in one form or another. I’ve worked for two game companies and have been involved in development with different hats ranging from manual writer to technical director. So when I was writing United States of Japan, one of my favorite parts was imagining what video games would be like in an alternate history where the Japanese Empire ruled. Speculative works can always push the boundaries, and as early consoles were intertwined with military research, I pushed gaming technology ahead twenty years from where it was in 1988 in our world, considering Japan would no longer need to undergo two decades of reconstruction. One of those changes involved Yakuza-sponsored gaming tournaments where players put everything on the line. Not like Running Man, but more akin to a virtual first person shooter match where the loser loses their life. ...
battle-royale
player-of-games
ready-player-one
cordwainer-smith
romance-three-kingdoms

United States of Japan

United States of Japan excerpt Peter Tieryas

< p class="frontmatter">We’re proud to present an excerpt from Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan, a spiritual successor to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, out March 1 from Angry Robot Books. Most of United States of Japan takes place in 1989 following Captain Beniko Ishimura in the office of the censor and Agent Akiko Tsukino, member of the Tokko (the Japanese secret police). Los Angeles is a technological mecca, a fusion of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Tokyo. During WWII, one of the biggest weaknesses the Japanese Empire had was its dependency on oil to which it had very little access. After their shared victory with the Germans, they prioritized developing solar energy and electrical batteries for all their vehicles. That sensibility is reflected in the entire aesthetic of this new Los Angeles, clean, pristine, grand, and gleaming in neon. At the same time, I wanted to contrast this ...

An Ambiguous Ending: Phantasy Star II Replay (Part 3)

ps37 I can name so many JRPGs I love, but if you asked me to tell you their endings, I’d honestly struggle to remember. Most of them blend into each other in a huge canvas of predictable outcomes that usually result in the hero saving the world, various party members going back to their respective homes, and the protagonist uniting with their love interest. Phantasy Star II was a trailblazer for having a totally unique experience that left me literally at the edge of my seat. I’d even put it up there with some of the best endings in any medium that includes Use of Weapons, the original Planet of the Apes, and Hitchcock films like Vertigo and Psycho. When it comes to gaming, titles are sparse for truly amazing endings (that includes contemporary games as well). But ask almost anyone who has beaten Phantasy Star II and they’ll be ...
ps36
ps15
ps38
ps39
ps45
ps46

A Daunting Ice Planet: Phantasy Star II Replay (Part 2)

ps12 Phantasy Star II is one of the greatest JRPGs of the 16-bit era. Its first act was sublime and tragic, a narrative arc that pushed the envelope of storytelling while stirring my 12-year old soul. The second act was less endearing, more of a teenage tribulation wrought with grinding than a genre defining experience. Here is the second part of the Phantasy Star II retrospective where I get a little more into the future of humanity.  

The Sad Fate of Parma

ps42 After your party defeats Neifirst, the Climatrol begins to break down and the delicate weather balance established on the planet is completely disrupted. Water is overflowing and the whole continent will flood unless you go open up the four colored dams. But you have to learn how to play music first in order to unlock the individual dams using lyrical keys. The musician who teaches you, Ustvestia, will ...
ps22
ps25
ps44
ps40
ps31
ps28
ps34

Gaming Utopia: Phantasy Star II Replay (Part 1)

ps13 When the topic of the best 16-bit Japanese role-playing games comes up, most people think of the Squaresoft games like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. But my favorite 16-bit JRPG was a game developed by Sega for the Genesis called Phantasy Star II—one of the first JRPGs to take place entirely in a science fiction setting. The quest spanned two planets, had a cast of eight characters, and featured dramatic twists that made for some dark commentary on human nature. It also set the stage for titles like Xenogears and Star Ocean with its futuristic take on JRPGs, rather than the fantasy background almost all had before then. I’ll delve into what makes Phantasy Star II so special, starting with one of the first utopias in gaming.  

The Phantasy in Star

ps20 Dystopias get featured a whole lot across the various mediums, but utopias ...
ps16
ps08
ps21
ps09
ps18
PhantasyStar-battle
ps19

Silent Hill 4: The Room is the Most Terrifying Game in the Series

SH4-06

Silent Hill 4: The Room is the best Silent Hill game after the second one and one of the most original horror games ever developed. If SH4 hadn’t been part of the Silent Hill series, it’d probably be considered one of the most unique games in the genre. Part of what makes it so distinct is that it goes against the formula of what we’d come to expect of the series. Many gamers, including myself, were initially turned off by how drastically it had changed. But once the expectations faded, a horrifying experience awaited, unrelenting in its oppressive terror.

 

Room 302

A big part of why most of the recent Silent Hill games have been underwhelming is because they tried to outdo what was essentially narrative perfection in Silent Hill 2. The story is a trek through madness, guilt, and personal horror projected subconsciously into some of the most ...

SH4-13
SH4-05
SH4-02
SH4-11
SH4-07
SH4-12
SH4-08
SH-09

Chrono Trigger Replay Part 3: A Death in the Family

Crono-Lavos

Welcome back to the replay of Chrono Trigger! Last time we covered the destruction of Zeal, and ended with your first major battle with Lavos…

It’s a trope that the older we get, the more we fear death. All these years later, Crono’s death during that first confrontation with Lavos still shocks me. Usually, the repercussions of any gaming death are easily fixable with a continue or extra life. He’s the main character. He’s not supposed to die, right? But no, Crono was really dead. For a silent hero, Crono’s actions sang volumes just by his willingness to sacrifice himself without a moment’s hesitation. Even Magus, the arch villain until that point, appears shocked. And if you’re strong enough, you can go fight Lavos again without Crono and beat the game.

Originally, Chrono Trigger writer, Masato Kato, wanted to keep Crono dead. To continue the mission, the party would actually ...

chronopart128
chronopart121
chronopart124
chronopart112
chrono23

Chrono Trigger Replay Part 2: The Threads of a Forgotten Past

Chrono-Trigger-Kingdom-of-Zeal

Welcome back to the replay of Chrono Trigger! Last time we covered the first section of the game, leading up to the battle with Magus. Today we’ll get to the single greatest moment in my 16-bit gaming experience—discovering the Kingdom of Zeal 12,000 years into the past. Coming right after the plunge into a prehistoric 65 Million BC and stopping the Reptites attempt to wipe out humanity, this ice age was a cold awakening. Snow blasting across your face, a destitute, miserable arctic landscape. Then, paradise, a city in the heavens, grander than ‘a castle in the sky.’

The music was arcane, mysterious, and yet full of hope. The technology and artistry complemented each other perfectly, just as magic had driven the culture to new heights. Zeal was where “dreams could come true.” I was both confused and in awe. How did this world connect with the rest ...

chrono05
chrono10
chrono14
chrono12
chrono19
chrono17

Chrono Trigger Replay Part 1: Subverting Tropes and Rewriting Your Future

chronotrigger

Chrono Trigger is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, JRPG of all time, and for good reason. It’s a unique mix of Dragon Quest’s quirky but epic narrative, Final Fantasy’s character driven journeys, Dragon Ball’s visual aesthetics, Ninja Gaiden’s cinematic flair, and some of the best retro music ever composed.

So it’s surprising that when you break down the plot structure and examine the individual story elements, it’s actually rife with fantasy tropes. The princess disguising herself as a commoner to mingle with the people; the heroic quest undertaken without any consideration of the larger context; and an apocalyptic end of the world scenario these young heroes have to overturn. I realize a trope is different from being trite or cliche. At the same time, the combination of these seemingly overused elements is, strangely enough, part of Chrono Trigger’s brilliance, its almost intangible ...

chronopart104
chronopart101
chrono

Is Super Mario Brothers Fantasy or Science Fiction?

mario1

At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward that the Super Mario Brothers games are a fantasy series. They take place in a fantastic world with dragons, princesses, and magic mushrooms. The RPGs in the series have all the typical role-playing elements of a fantasy game. But when you look at the entire franchise, particularly the Super Mario Galaxy games, it seems almost certain that the game is science fiction, or at the least, science fantasy. Here are five reasons revolving around specific titles in the series that prove the Super Mario Brothers are works of science fiction.

Note: I’m defining science fiction broadly via wiki as “a genre of fiction dealing with imaginative content such as futuristic settings and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life.”

The Many Worlds of Super Mario Galaxy

mario2

Up until the arrival of Nintendo, many game designers ...

Smg2pianta-1-
superpapermariowii
mario3
mario6
mario4
mario5