February 7th, 2009
Note that in my recent write up on Trilby I mentioned:
“Preluding each heist is a narrative scene featuring a block of scrolling text in which Trilby prescribes his thoughts of the events layed before him. The text is sort of like a mini-blog that allows the player to get a feel for current Trilby’s woes and worries. This brief insight is interesting not only because it acts as a free ride for Croshaw to display his fine writing skills but also to build understanding between Trilby’s character and the player.”
I actually wrote that article some months ago and hadn’t really thought about this topic much since then. This past week though I’ve been playing through Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror on the PSP where something within the pre-gameplay mini-blog stuck out and made me reconsider its purpose.
When it comes to narrative the Syphon Filter series (there was a trilogy on the PSone, a PS2 title and two recent PSP installments) has never really been more than the equivalent of a B-grade Steven Segal action flick. Personally, I love Mr Segal’s direct-to-video stuff which is perhaps why I am so fond of this series, but then the mini-blog stepped in and elevated Dark Mirror’s story during the later half of the game. While not a huge narrative crutch it was definitely something that I didn’t see coming.
In previous games the pre-gameplay mini-blog (referred to as Mission Briefings) usually contain an outline of the next level from the perspective of the protagonist. Basically they were used as a guise to tutor you on what to expect once the disc loads. In the case of the later half of Dark Mirror, the “Mission Briefings” started to become more of a personal reflection of what the protagonist (that’d be Gabe Logan) was going through. Gabe started to express true feelings about a former lover during the game. While a good deal of this was presented in cutscene format, the more interesting parts were delivered though the briefings text. Over several of the final missions you could begin to see Gabe’s feelings slowly manifested into self doubt and frustration. Gabe’s team mate Lian Xing – who is also playable – interludes Gabe’s conflictions when she becomes playable in her own mission. In her “briefing” she worries over the affects this is having on Gabe and why despite the fact they have been field partners for so long, Gabe never displays an interest towards her.
The emotional context provided in the briefings go on to justify the events that unfold later in the game and since we are slowly drawn into Logan’s mindset his actions seem genuinely believable. In contrast to the usual cardboard gruff that we are use to, this is a significant improvement.
The difference between these sequences in the first and second half of the game is that they are briefings and blogs respectively. The later entries read out as one would imagine the personal blog of these agents read like.
So between the parts that I could see coming, this pinch in the storytelling was effective. I don’t think that it can be billed as anything new, as it’s almost certainly been done before but I think it was worth mentioning before I continue to evaluate the strengths of this title. Beyond Syphon Filter and Trilby I can’t think of anymore examples, but they’ll come in due time.