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Friday, October 8, 2010

Ninja’s Fate – A Review

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and guess we’re going to be a ninja in this one. Call it a premonition, call E.S.P. Maybe I picked up powers of “concentration” from the previous game (god, I hope not. I could live a nice long happy life without those kind of visions, thank-you-very-much). I just hope there’s not much combat. I’m not much of a combat-game kinda guy. I like to consider myself a pacifist. Most other people like to consider me a namby-pants sissy boy.

Anyway, on to “Ninja’s Fate”!

Note: There will always be spoilers in my always too wordy reviews. Please don’t read until you’ve finished the game. Thank you.

Final Verdict: A tribute game that is incomprehensible unless you’re very familiar with the games of the late Paul Panks(which I am not, by the way).

Well, that was a very quick game. I had a little trouble getting into the fortress, or whatever it was (I opted for the trap door method), but I didn’t have any trouble at all getting back the stolen idol. I got a “hearts broken” ending at the end, with a 501 out of a possible 1000, so I guess there was something(s) else I was supposed to do… but I got what I came for, right? I mean the game makes a huge deal about the stolen idol and about how you’re supposed to get it back, etc. Shouldn’t that be it? I’m a ninja, for gods sake. I thought I was supposed to get in, steal the idol and get the hell out as quickly as possible.

And as I mentioned before, quickly as possible was… maybe five minutes. Maybe seven if you count figuring out how to get in the castle and getting acquainted with your Japanese inventory.
Plus, the tone was not what I would call very consistent. I mean, the introduction lays out your back story and quest very explicitly (though there was a crack somewhere about “Western” arrogance, when I was pretty sure that this was a story about feuding feudal lords in quasi-ancient Japan. Am I wrong about that? Was the fortress I was breaking into part of an American or European plot?

Of course that’s a ridiculous question. Here I am trying to impose some kind of narrative logic in a game that features a talking dragon who I wind up beating in a computer duel of Asteroids.
Defeating dragons is easy, as long as they are nerds.

You know, at the beginning I was sort of impressed. I didn’t know what a Katana was or the other oddly named thing I possessed. I thought to myself, “Hey, this might be really interesting and broaden my (very limited) knowledge of Japanese culture and history!”. This was before the floating head showed up, asked me if I really wanted to go back outside and then (without mentioning the fact) disappeared, leaving me to type “stupid” things like “EXAMINE HEAD” which resulted in “You can’t see any such thing”.

In other words, if this game had been consistent with what it had set out do, I would be rating it higher. If this game was really bent on subverting the (unknown to me) Japanese-Stealth-IF genre, then I think it could have done so in a much more interesting way. As it was, by tossing such random and miscellaneous crap into the mix, (especially after preventing me from doing some pretty common sense things because “That would be dishonorable”) it completely deflated any kind of investment I had in this “quest” and made the whole thing into a stupid and uninvolving joke.

Obviously I do not see the appeal in these type of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge games. You know, the games that delight in the whole “Look at this! It’s a blatant anachronism! Isn’t the fact that it’s completely out of place hilarious??”. Yes, people like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchet have done similar things, but there’s something that those two also have/had, and that’s Wit.
I’ve seen wit in Interactive Fiction. I’ve even seen it in this very competition (…paging Dr. Sliss…). This is not wit. Non sequitors are rarely interesting and even then only in a character sense, as in “My god, look at this character spouting non-sequitors. He sure is off his rocker!” (ala Progue, Rainman or Christine O’Donnell).

I should also make mention of the fact that I was implored at the beginning of the game to type ABOUT, even if I had played Interactive Fiction before. This is usually code for “This game will use special commands that you should know about before proceeding, or there’s some kind of special knowledge to have before going in”. I was already on the lookout for something like this, since the title had the word Ninja in it. I suspected there might be special combat verbs I’d have to learn.

Instead I was greeted with a very lovely, but lengthy paean to a good friend of the author who died a year ago. Apparently he was an active force in the IF community (meaning he’s made more of a contribution than I presently have (and probably will)), and even though his games were poorly reviewed he was a very special yadda-yadda-yadda.

Look, I completely understand if at the beginning or ending of your game you want to provide a brief dedication or “In Memoriam” to someone, but please don’t con the player into reading a eulogy. No offense, but the sentimentality did not predispose me to forgiving the author any subsequence flaws. And if this friend only wrote IF in BASIC and at less than 2K, I’m not particularly surprised his work was panned.

I give this game a 3. Again, I would have given it higher, but the fact that it completely undermined everything with the computer playing dragon and the floating head seemed to say to me that the author could give a fuck less what I thought about his work. There’s skill here, I just wish the author would apply it to a story or game that mattered.
This is also a nice way to commemorate a dead friend.

Afternote: So, after writing the above, I looked around at other people’s reviews and it seems that I missed the boat completely. It seems the “fort” my character broke into was a “museum” of sorts dedicated to the aforementioned friend. So that dragon was actually a reference to one of his games, as was the bizarre scoring system, as was apparently the whole ninja motif and the lack of coherent story telling or logic.

While this is a nice sentiment, an award winning game (as in, wasn’t this entered in a competition?) Ninja’s Fate is not. As someone who did not recognize any of the clues, and as someone who took the introduction seriously (i.e. that I was a ninja after the idol), this game fails.

The thing about “in-jokes” is that they only apply to a the small crowd that actually gets them. The IF community is small enough as is, without dividing it up into even obscurer sub-groups, and I sincerely hope this game isn’t rewarded by other judges because it’s been dedicated to a dead man. It’s like those terrible country music hits that became popular in the early part of the last decade because they mentioned 9-11.

Unlike the late Paul Allen Panks, I sincerely doubt I’ll ever warrant such a creative tribute and there’s much to me admired by the effort and motives that went into the game. But as an independent work of IF this game is impenetrable. 

1 comment:

  1. Insulting a dead guy's memory, country music, and ninjas... seriously now, not cool.