Watching it happen

I’ve written about this before.

And it’s happening again.

We’re living in a very strange time, where events are beamed to our televisions, computers, and phones as they happen.

Real people are out there – in the arena – doing incredible things and experiencing real trauma.

And we watch – in real time – and critique, scowl, and gossip.

The flash-to-bang is getting shorter and shorter. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were the opening acts.

January 6th and the fall of Kabul are the most recent manifestations of this phenomena.

Things used to happen and then you’d read about it, dispassionately, in a newspaer the morning after. If you were lucky, there was a picture that accompanied the article.

Today it’s all reaction and little reflection.

Emotion and absence of mind.

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Saving Catiua

Catiua Suicide
Catiua’s suicide.

I’m still slogging through Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I’ve finally reached a point in the game that I remember reaching the first time I played it and abandoned it. I know I am nearing the end. Or, at least, I think I am nearing the end. When I played originally, I followed the Law route (which means you know what I did at Balamusa). I eventually got to the part where Catiua kills herself in front of you. It was pretty heavy stuff for the the fifteen year old me. Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing.

The other day, I finally rescued Catiua only to see her kill herself again. The game let me save just before the dialogue and I was presented with a couple of choices on what to say, which hinted at alternate outcomes. I took a deep breath, and before I continued with the game, I decided to reset it and see what would happen if I chose a different dialogue option.

Given the two options of dialogue, I chose the “other” one, which kept the conversation going a little longer opening up a second pair of dialogue options. I chose the option that I thought most natural, and she killed herself a second time.

I reloaded again, a lá All You Need Is Kill / Edge of Tomorrow and went through the dialogue again, choosing the “other” option again, which resulted in Catiua collapsing and apologizing, and most importantly, not committing suicide.

A new cut-scene appeared and Catiua joined the party. I saved the game and went to lunch.

There, I started to regret resetting the game (twice!) in order to make sure Catiua joined. One of the things I love about Tactics Ogre (and Mass Effect) is how your in-game decisions have lasting effects. The in-game dialogue options hinted to me that there may have been a way to save Catiua – whom I assumed always killed herself on the Law route from my first play through over ten years ago. As I finished my lunch, I felt guilty for having made the wrong decision that led Catiua to kill herself and not accepting that fate and replaying it for a more favorable outcome.

The game, now, feels a bit skewed. I’ll finish it out, and once complete, there is an option to go back and make different decisions to “see what happens” and fully explore the game. That’ll be the first thing I do. But I feel a bit like an impostor.

The whole episode is similar to the death/saving of Shadow in Final Fantasy VI, which gets a great write-up over at the A.V. Club. In the era of GameFAQs, it is getting harder and harder to be surprised in video games anymore. Perma-death and game-changing decisions are still too easy to avoid or double-back over. Despite resetting the game to get the result I wanted, I know I would have enjoyed this part more if I would have accepted the consequences of my initial decision, which is why I did what I did at Balamusa, by the way. It’s also why I will forever “Tell them I held the line…

It’s all a bit complicated. I thought it interesting and I wanted to get it down here before I forgot about it. There’s so much to say about Tactics Ogre – a very adult game, way before it’s time.

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“Above all else, stay alive.”

Lans Staying Alive

In my limited free time, I’ve been replaying Tactics Ogre for the PSP. This is one of my favorite games of all time, if not the number one. I originally played it when I was a teenager for Playstation and then years later when I was in college and working as an intern in Washington D.C., playing it on the Bolt Bus between DC and New York.

I’ve been playing this game on and off for over fifteen years, and I’ve never finished it. The game is non-linear, which I love, and from what I understand, it has multiple endings – none of which I’ve seen. It’s an adult game, with ethical dilemmas that rival modern games like Mass Effect.

One of the things I’ve found intriguing is the character Lanselot’s mentorship to the main character, Denam. On two separate occasions he lectures Denam on the importance of staying alive above all other things. In one of his first meetings with the main character, he says:

“So you’re off to aid one of the Duke’s men. I regret we cannot join you. Above all else, stay alive. Win or lose, while there’s life, there’s hope.”

And then later on, in a quiet moment before one of the game’s pivotal scenes he again advises Denam to stay alive:

“Risking your life is one thing. Losing it is another. The best way to aid your people is to stay alive. See the battle through to the end. And there’s your sister to think of.”

It’s a curious piece of advice in a video game, from a famous warrior. You would expect advice of honor on the battlefield, bravery, or skill. There’s a part of me that thinks the advice might have served as kind of early tutorial in the game. The original Tactics Ogre for Playstation was much more unforgiving when it came to death – if a character was slain in battle he/she was perma-deathed. Lanselot’s advice might have been there to warn the player to protect life, as training a new character was a long and arduous process. The updated version for PSP/Vita still has perma-death, but there’s a timer on the character as in Final Fantasy Tactics.

Still, whether it served as a tutorial for the player or actual advice, it is refreshing to see it.

Is it not true?

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The Baramus Massacre and the Syrian CW Attack

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is one of my favorite games. It’s mature and allows the player to make tough choices that seriously affect how the game plays out and how the game actually ends – unlike another one of my favorite games.

In the above video, the main character (you) is part of a fledgling rebel group that is fighting a very uphill battle against stronger, more organized forces. You’ve just come to rescue a bunch of your fellow people who have been held captive with the intent of enlisting them in the rebel army. While they’re thankful for being rescued, they are not interested in fighting and would rather just be left alone.

At this point, the respected senior knight who has been accompanying you pulls you aside and informs you that if the people would not join, then his orders are to massacre them, dressed as the enemy. The intent would be to drum up support for the rebel cause elsewhere. A very nasty move.

Interestingly, in the game, choosing this path puts you on the “Lawful” and “Loyal” path – traits that are generally considered to be good. Disobey and you are put on the “Chaotic” path.

A very heavy decision to make – I was fourteen or fifteen when I first played this.

When I started seeing news reports suggesting that perhaps it was the Syrian rebels that used chemical weapons in the attack last month, it made me think of the Baramus Massacre.

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Tactics Ogre Baramus Massacre Law Route - YouTube