Scott Cawthon & Kira Breed-Wisley – Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes

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There has been a lot of transitions from video game to literature. Many were bizarre choices. Were people really interested in the stories behind Halo? Didn’t it mainly exist for multiplayer? Even video games that had potential are mostly better off as pulp adventures.

The Freddy’s franchise has potential. The game is like no other. It’s not just scary but brilliantly designed and deeply psychological. Shitty YouTubers couldn’t ruin what is one of the most original games, the kind that doesn’t rely on advance technology. It’s a prime example of how video games can be an art.

Thankfully, Cawthon isn’t an exploiter. His approach to horror is unique and not just because of the lack of gore. The sequels elaborated on the themes and ideas of the games, rather than just up the shock value. The transition to other forms of media was inevitable. There was so much you could do with it.

Sadly, The Silver Eyes isn’t the novel the franchise deserves. To Cawthon’s credit, it fails mainly because it reads like a first-timer. The novel actually does try to push the franchise into a new direction. Cawthon does try to humanize the story and give us fully-developed personalities. He’s just not sure how to do with it.

If the failure of the novel surprises you, keep in mind this is completely new territory. Cawthon dealt before with general psychology. He never had to create specific and diverse personalities. Here, he’s faced with a challenge of creating a cast and giving each of them a different personality.

He tries, but he stumbles. It’s amazing how a novel can be at once character-driven, and yet not develop any of its characters. The reason it takes so long for action to happen is because the story isn’t all action. Cawthon is aware jumpscares weren’t what made the game great.

So he spends a lot of time with these characters, having them interact and show us their relationship. Sometimes it seems like it’s just postponing the moment the slasher comes alive. Then you notice Cawthon lingers on it for too long,

He’s not catering to the target audience. He spends so many pages with these characters because he’s trying to inject a face to the franchise, but nothing happens. None of them come alive. Our protagonist is the worst. There isn’t even a hint towards who she is. She’s your generic protagonist who just observes the events and acts like she should.

It’s when the novel goes to the franchise’s main themes that it improves. The main idea behind the games wasn’t horror. It’s growing up, realizing our childhood wasn’t so glorious. It’s the difference in how children see the world and how grown-ups. A description of a house early in a novel, how it decayed and how the toys are still there is powerful. The descriptions contrast the decay with the toys. They also point how the toys were never much in the first place, but just robots.

There aren’t enough scenes like that. The novel gets especially lost in the middle. Although it never slides into cliches of horror, it doesn’t know how to translate Freddy’s brand of terror into words.

The horror of Freddy’s came from not knowing. There was no gore in that series. What made it so scary is the fact we never knew what was going on. We didn’t know why Purple Guy killed those kids and we don’t see the animatronics move.

It may have something to do with the writing style. It’s not terrible, but it’s generic. Sentences lack a unique structure or tone. Similes appear from time to time, not too much to annoy but there’s nothing unique about them.

Literature isn’t just a collection of facts that form a story. You’re also supposed to use a style of language that will fit your story. It’s just like how visuals in a film don’t merely give us a setting. They don’t just show us the layout of the house, but how it’s decorated expresses something.

To his credit, he tries to do things his own way. They hint at a romance but never work on it. It wouldn’t belong, anyway. Characters that can die aren’t killed, so we’re not given a cheap death to heighten the excitement. Even the grand death of the bad guy isn’t narrated in gory detail. Fans of the game know how it happens, and just like in the game we only get the basic idea of it. The rest is up to our imagination.

The desire to go in a new direction backfires too often. Lack of cliches is fine, but the novel isn’t as weird as it should be. The lack of the Puppet is also disappointing. He’s the most frightening and mysterious thing in the series. It’s nice how the horror and mystery have a more thematic importance, instead of a puzzle for a reader to solve. These routes aren’t developed enough.

It’s a decent novel. It avoids the pitfalls of a transition. The story stands on its own and it’s written in a way that’s accessible for newcomers. It’s meant to be a stand-alone horror story and doesn’t have fanservice. The themes of the franchise dominate it – childhood and growing up – instead of the stereotypical jumpscares. The novel reads too much like a first-timer. Cawthon needed help from someone more professional. Still, it’s good to see him stretching himself. So far, he’s pushing the franchise in new direction. If it fails, at least it’s not because of a re-hash.

2.5 animatronics out of 5

Danganronpa: The Animation

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I could’ve written this review without watching the anime. For all its twists and turns, Danganropa works like you’d expect it to. Even the claim that it’s not as in-depth as the game doesn’t feel relevant. It’s a darkly humorous anime filled with hilarious characters. There isn’t much psychological depth, but everyone is memorable and no one gets demonized.

Danganronpa understands why Death Game scenarios work, and what are its strengths and weaknesses. These scenarios rely on a fairly unpredictable out come. We know the main character wins, but not always who will be his final match. The most important part is the characters. Their personality modify their interactions, the methods they use and how the ‘matches’ go.

By abandoning any characterization, you’re left with emptiness. All you will have is a show of violence, which can only be entertaining for so long. Thankfully this isn’t BTOOOM!. You can tell by just looking at the brilliant character design.

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Every character has a distinct look. No character is allowed to look like another. I haven’t seen a cast with this much effort put into the design. Everyone sports different hairstyles, outfits and even shapes of the eyes. The differences are more than just to tell apart the character. Each detail helps to point to the personality of the character. This is how character design should be – expressing the character using the visuals.

They are not psychological portraits. They are a collection of quirks, but these quirks never point to some realistic personality. The characters are, after all, chosen more for their skills rather than their personality. Normally this would lead to perfect, boring characters. In this guys, the talent points more towards some personality that’s exaggerated and made to feel alive, if not realistic.

It’s not that these are shallow without hope. There is hope for some depth and the show occasionally taps into it, but that’s not how we get to know the characters. We know them like we know our classmates – we know their patterns and learn to laugh about it. Even without the psychological aspect, it’s a vivid, entertaining cast.

They’re so entertaining that even the dullest characters (Who are for some reason the main ones. Someone was taking crazy pills) are entertaining. Neagi and Kirigiri are archetypes without much blood in them. The former is normal and means well. The other is a cold girl who always runs off to the writers, who tell her how to solve the mysteries. They never reach the heights of Fukawa or Junko or pretty much anyone, but they’re a cut above characters in the same style.

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The best of them all is Monokuma. He’s the embodiment of the series and why it works. If the premise and the characters don’t look weird enough, we also get a talking teddy bear that runs the school. He treats the violence and absurdity flippantly, as if it’s normal.

Isn’t this how comedy works? It presents an absurd situation where no one recognizes the absurdity. Although Danganronpa‘s story is a mystery, all the techniques are comic. It puts more emphasis on weird situations than a coherent puzzle. The mysteries aren’t exactly cleverly built. They’re messy and require some leap of faith, especially as the series goes on. The final twist is pure comedy.

Good mysteries are more than just predictable. They have an interesting structure and don’t rely just on the outcome. Absurdity is one way to do it. Even if Danganronpa‘s structure is fuzzy, it’s never boring. Every mystery is unique and memorable.

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The comedy also works because of its darkness. This is another case where darkness isn’t used to minimize the horror but amplify it. The bear is cute and the academy looks pretty, but it’s a cruel way of life. There seems to be no other solution than dying or killing, and yet the series knows this isn’t a good reason to sacrifice absurdity or characters. Just because a situation is harsh doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a funny side to it.

There is almost something meta about Monokuma. That route is never explored, which is a shame. It could’ve lifted the anime a little higher. Monokuma keeps telling the students to kill each other so he won’t get bored watching them. Isn’t this why you watch the anime? You watch it to see them kill each other. Wouldn’t be boring if the students decided not to kill each other, but just to kill time with each other?

The anime explores this question a bit, but not enough. Extending the time where the characters just being themselves could’ve put these two next to each other – School Life and Mystery – and we’ll have to ask ourselves what we prefer and why.

It doesn’t suffer from the over-abundance of ideas like its sister anime, Future Diary. In that one, ideas came and went. There were a lot of hints they could be explored but then they were dropped. While Danganronpa has these routes, it knows it can’t explore all of them in 12 episodes.

 

The few themes that appear – despair, violence, friendship – are used to spice up the story. The story is slightly shallower, but it’s also more organized and better paced. I’m sure the visual novel has more ideas, but in 12 Danganronpa manages to tell a hilarious mystery and not get sidetracked.

It’s in no way just advertisement for the visual novel. It’s a very entertaining anime filled with vivid characters, weird situations and a funny mystery. The approach to the genre is different, but better than the common one. It may lack substance, but it makes up for it in being entertaining. You don’t need a lot of episodes and fights that last for hours to be entertaining. You just need characters and situations that are odd enough to be memorable. You don’t need punchlines to be funny, you just to find the funny in already existing situations/characters.

3.5 upupupupupu out of 5 upupupupupupu

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

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Mirai Nikki’s mission statement is one of its more obscure characters. Yomotsu barely has 20 minutes of screen time. He seems at first like an out-of-place oddball with his posturing as a Hero of Justice. This posturing is crucial. He says that the way to know who’s just ad who’s evil is according to who wins.

It’s a blunt way of saying it, but it’s true of many stories. Our hero defeats the villain with brute force, and we know he’s right because he didn’t deliver a speech about World Domination. In Death Game scenarios, it’s even worse. In Hunger Games, Katniss never has to come to terms with killing innocent people.

The Death Game scenarios are scary because they force people to fight who’d otherwise won’t. Katniss never has to face her fellow players’ humanity. She just happened to face the cruel ones. No such shortcuts are taken in Mirai Nikki.

Everyone is funny in their head, but no one is outright evil. Some are more crueler than others, but that cruelty is explained. We’re invited to understand these characters. Even when the cruelest of them die, there is tragic vibe to it. Things could have been different for them. Reisuke and Tsubaki are characters who made wrong decisions based on their circumstances.

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Blind and batshit crazy

Even John Bacchus, the character who could most easily become a caricature isn’t. He has grand plans for humanity, but not cheap World Domination. We see his plan’s failure in action, rather than have a boring speech about megalomaniac aspirations.

This approach to the Death Game brilliant. Not only it gets why the scenario is interesting in the first place, but it makes it more thrilling. Some have criticized the show for having a cast of stupid and psychotic characters, but that’s the point.

The best thrillers aren’t just a bunch of intelligent people playing mind games. Playing games is more fun than watching others do it, anyway. The best thrillers are those that are concerned with the emotional consequences of the scenario. They create thrilling set-pieces. They use atmosphere, symbolism and visual style instead of constant feedback.

Mirai Nikki is closer to thrillers like Pi and The Machinist, rather than the constant build-up of Death Note. It has a cast of weirdos who are thrown into a scenario with other weirdos and try to navigate it. The thrill comeד not from wondering What Will Happen Next, because it’s interesting to see these personalities clash.

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Best twintails in the history of anime

There are not highly-skilled badasses. Since they’re all emotional wrecks, that makes them unpredictible. We can expect an intelligent person to come up with a solution, but we’ll never know when a regular person will act on his rationality or on an emotional impulse. Whereas many thrillers just give the characters random skills, Mirai Nikki literally gives skills to the characters based on who they are. A loner is given a diary which records all his future observations. A couple is given diaries which predict their lovers’ future. An owner of an orphan home is given the ability to produce diary owners, like giving births.

If this starts to sound meta, then it only gets worse. Aren’t Yukki and Mur Mur a paralell to the us, the viewers? Yukki was, until the game starts an observer who wrote what he saw but didn’t participate in things. That’s how consuming media often works, especially when you write reviews like these. Mur Mur’s motivations seem like she might be evil for evil’s sake, but her desire for amusement is familiar. Don’t we watch these Death Games stories to be amused, too?

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Getting weird with my weird friends

While the Death Game scenario is the main theme the series questions for a while, there are a bunch of other ideas scattered around. Romance is being satirized with Yuno. Her character is more clever than people give her credit for. She’s a response to people’s desire for someone to love them deeply. Yuno’s love is serious, but it’s also selfish. She’s concerned more with protecting Yukki than what Yukki wants, although she matures a bit as it goes on.

There’s also some things about the nature of God. If Deus’ death seems like a giant plot hole to you, then you’re unfamiliar with mythology. Gods die and humans replace them all the time, and Gods are often limited in their power. We also get a Badass Switch, which addresses the topic at hand. Yukki doesn’t simply become a gun-packing OG. He’s suppressing his sensitive self, but still acts on his desire to help others. We even got a Metaphysical Rebellion thing going on. The owners are all given the ability to change the future, yet do they really change it? Yomotasu appears again. He’s being told he will die, so he just kills himself.

Some of them try to rebel, to do something other than become Gods. Mostly, they all go along with the circumstances they’ve been given. That’s the reason why many of them became crazy in the same place. It’s not an accidental detail. The whole Final Battle is one big metaphysical rebellion. It sees the characters trying to create an alternative future.

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Where do you think cruelty comes from?

All of this sounds very clever on paper, but the execution is closer to the violent use of that word.

The problem with Mirai Nikki is that it’s too original and has too much to say. It’s full of ideas and it wants to deal with them on its own rules. We get a few pretty women, all of which spend more time being characters rather than let us stare. There’s an extended sequence where Yuno is in underwear but it never slows down to give us good-looking shots. There are shifts in tone that feel appropriate. Such an overblown story can’t work without some humor. The progress of the story is more thematic than realistic. Things exist and happen because they fit the tone and meaning. Questions like ‘how did Rei get the poison?’ are left unanswered because they’ll most likely not add much.

The problem with creating your own rules is that you’re a first-timer in the game. Digimon Tamers might be brilliant, but it’s the result of past failures. The story is archetypical. The creators looked back on similar stories, saw where the holes were and filled them.

Mirai Nikki has no such tradition to draw from. It borrows freely from School, Death Game, Psychological Thriller, Action and Fantasy. It’s both excited by what it has, and unsure of itself. That’s why the pace is too fast, but the series never runs out of stream even when it’s off the rails.

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Everyone suffers eye damage, for some reason

Normally I’d complain about a few unnecessary episodes, but this one needed more. The characters all have quirks that point to a personality, but that’s all they do. Their defining features are too often external – a tragic event in their past, an ill son. We don’t get enough of moments that show us how these things affect them.

They are affecting them enough to feel different. Both Rei and Tsubaki have their tragic pasts, but one is full of hatred and the other is just cruel. That’s a pretty significant distinction. It’s not explored, though. These characters die too quickly.

What made the Cult of the Sixth so exciting is because it threw all these weirdos together. Instead of having boring one-on-one match, we have different people doing their things according to how they see fit. You can’t do it for 26 episodes if everyone is constantly dying. They kept some of them alive for a long while, so why not all the rest?

There is also an added mechanic which might feel like an asspull. It actually fits the theme of the series and is necessary for the metaphysical rebellion thing. The problem is, by the time it appears our story shifted focus. We’re no longer following a cast of weirdos and their plight, but see the metaphysical rebellion itself.

It’s interesting enough, but it calls for a different series. A story ends when its ideas conclude, not when stuff stops happening. In this case the survival game ended, therefore the first story is over. Shifting a focus just causes unnecessary confusion. If they dedicate 26 episodes to their ensemble and expanded the final battle to a short second season, it’d be better.

At least the the series never runs out of steam. From the beginning the show feels like it will go off the rails, and it does. The train keeps going forward though. The track might be lost, but you won’t reach your destination by standing still. Even when it loses itself it refuses to play by anyone’s rules but its own.

There’s something admirable how it keeps going forward. Better anime than it fall to convenience when things get too hard, but Mirai Nikki just speeds forward. If we compare anime to Icarus, then Sword Art Online gives up on the sun and drowns. Mirai Nikki forgets about the sun and tries to fly to outer space, but burns in the atmosphere.

Credit must be given to the visual style. Mirai Nikki features some of the best character design in anime. No one is spared. Many anime have talented designers, but only the women get this treatment. Just look at Date A Live, which has brilliant designs like those of Yoshino and Tokisaki, but Shido might as well be a stick-man.

Here, we have an attention to detail. Yukki isn’t just another black-haired hero but given an actual style, even if it’s less flamboyant than others. Everyone has their own facial expressions, their own hairstyles and their own outfits. It speaks volumes about the series when it creates pretty women but doesn’t linger on their bodies, and finds room for a deformed one too. There’s something beautiful in the picture of the ending theme. We see all the owners’ shilouttes standing, each with his own unique shape.

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This isn’t Freddy Fazbear’s!

This makes everything feel so alive. It may look unrealistic. Marco’s hair definitely can’t stand like this, but that’s not the point. Animation is expressing ideas using visuals. Human beings are often weird. I lived with many of them, and few turned out to be normal. Their personalities are closer to Mirai Nikki‘s flamboyant design rather than Mushishi‘s, where everyone looked the same. Now what is more realistic?

Mirai Nikki is full of flaws and little holes. There are       average anime with less obvious problems. There are also not many with so much life and energy, that play by their own rules rather than someone else’s. There is a masterpiece here somewhere, but the pacing is too rushed and there are too many ideas than it can carry. It’s never boring, it’s rarely convenient and it’s always unhinged and bizarre. In this case, I’m willing to forgive the flaws.

The biggest plot hole that nobody talks about is Uryuu Minene never wearing her twintails again. These are the best twintails in the history of anime. Why not use them?

4 blind eyes out of 5

The Fallout Series

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To the west, you can see a natural light. For the first time in your life, you are looking at the outside world.

I was introduced to the Fallout series via Bethesda’s entry. If your exposure to RPG’s consist of their fantasy series and Dragon Age, you were probably a little shocked by the angry vitriol aimed at Fallout 3. The cries went beyond Bethesda’s changing the gameplay. The series wasn’t known for its fantastic turn-based combat that’s based on luck. Bethesda were criticized with ruining the original spirit of Fallout, and New Vegas was praised with reviving it.

Playing the original Fallout‘s failed to convince me Bethesda did a disservice to the series. It did the complete opposite. Although New Vegas had plenty of references to the old games, and a lot of characters made a comeback, Fallout 3 felt like an actual continuation of the series, at least continuing what begun in the first game. New Vegas continues Fallout 2 and how it turns the wasteland into a wacky, fantastical world. That wasn’t the heart of the series though. No amount of name-dropping things from previous entries will help you capture the old spirit.

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“The Unity will bring about the master race. Master! Master! One able to survive, or even thrive, in the wasteland. As long as there are differences, we will tear ourselves apart fighting each other. We need one race. Race! Race! One goal. Goal! Goal! One people . . . to move forward to our destiny. Destiny.”

The forums in RPGCodex define players as either storyfags or combatfags. I’m deep in the storyfag party. Combat in video games is mostly for easy fun, something to do while checking out the latest records and thinking how overrated the canon is. Perhaps one day I’ll see the beauty of a million algorithims that decide whether my character dies or becomes a banana octopus, but until then it’s the storytelling that’s much more exciting. Fallout didn’t have an interesting combat system either, but its strength was always in its storytelling.

In the first game, you are not born in the wasteland, unlike 2 or New Vegas. You emerge from the vault into a world that’s completely alien to you. It’s not just alien because it’s supposed to be the first Fallout experience. The wasteland reveals itself slowly. You do not immidiately hear about the booming center. You do not meet fantastic events in the beginning. The game begins with a small, unremarkable town. Later, the towns’ size increases, which turns your first encounter unique.

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The wasteland is neither depressive and gloomy nor a huge satire of humanity. It thrives on weirdness, but not weirdness for the sake of cheap amusement. The litany of absurd things – two-headed cows, an irradiated maniac with the name of an egyptian God and the various cults are here to show us the absurdity (and beauty) of still trying to make it through a wrecked world. It makes little sense to try to survive in the wasteland. Mutated animals, radiation, anarchy – the future doesn’t seem to exist, yet people are still trying to make it.

Fallout 3 continues in that vein. Worshipping an undetonated atomic bomb and people pretending to be superheroes makes perfect sense in the wasteland. It’s a place that will most likely break people down mentally, instead of keeping them normal. The gameplay and the actual fictional world are not the same thing. The gameplay always makes it easier to survive, but imagine if you were really there. The world that surrounds you is wrecked, most animals are distorted and you probably heard old tales of how bright the future could be. You might also be pretty lonely. Putting on a superhero suit makes sense in this setting. It will drive you crazy, and the suit might intimidate some people.

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New Vegas and Fallout 2 can’t keep this theme going. Fallout 2 actually starts fairly well, even if the tribes would have been more comfortable somewhere in Planescape (Unlike the cult in Megaton, Bright Brotherhood or the Unity Church, the tribes have little connection to the game’s themes). Broken Hills and Modoc are great places. The former is an experiment where the three races live together and the latter is a depressed, doomed community that the wasteland is bound to have hundreds of. Things start to get worse once you get to New Reno. The gang wars aren’t updated to fit the wasteland. This isn’t a case of taking an inspiration from something real and changing it to fit the wasteland. Instead, Black Isle lifted mafias with all their drama and visual style and just placed them in the wasteland. The bouncers wear fedoras. The families are powerful. The casinos are prospering. Later on, you’ll encounter a strange Chinese cult. Fallout 2 may be a frankenstein of sorts, consisting of parts from RPG’s buried in development hell.

New Vegas is slightly better, but it’s a western more than anything. Most of the people act like cowboys and ranchers. The whole look of the place relies on how we thing the wild west was. The Mojave is treated more as just a desert, instead of a wasteland. The general view of Fallout 3 is full of ruined buildings and dark skies. New Vegas has the great outdoors that are a common feature in country music. Again, we see here imagery lifted straight from an unrelated genre with little change to it. Obsidian did slightly more with the material they lifted up. This form of wild west does make sense in a post-apocalyptic world. Fallout‘s main source of inspiration, Mad Max, was a western in a post-apocalyptic setting. The people in the Mad Max films though were just as weird as those of the Fallout series, but they had their own culture and myth. New vegas’ culture is just a slightly altered western.

Fallout 2 and New Vegas are praised for their amount of choices, unlike Fallout 1&3. It’s a cool gameplay mechanic, but unless these choices are meaningful storywise, that’s all they end up. They become as meaningful as your choice between a shotgun or a submachine gun. Caesar’s Legion is a boring faction which consists of bad guys with no motive. At least the Enclave look like good guys as seen from their point of view. The NCR and Mr. House are much better, and represent ideas more complex than good and evil. New Vegas‘ plot doesn’t really develop these, though. There’s a point where you make your choice, and the main quest becomes a series of hoops to jump through in order to get to the big battle. At some point, the game stops delivering new informations about the factions. In Fallout 3, you keep learning about the wasteland throughout the various quests. It’s only the final one that is just one huge action scene. I won’t even start on Fallout 2. The terrible Scientology parody and the Chinese took me out, and I keep finding better games to play.

Video games are themselves all about choices. Something happens in a video game only if you choose to do it, even if it’s as dull as moving to the next level or keep hanging around this one. The choices mechanic in RPG’s is just an expansion of it. Good storytelling in video games doesn’t need choices, and choices only improve the storytelling if they help to develop more meaningful stories. The choices in Planescape: Torment are great not just because they add a bunch of different routes. These choices increase the number of meaningful and great stories that the game can tell, and that’s what increases the replay value. The choices in New Vegas don’t offer a particularly new story, and Fallout 2 is just a mess. It’s the first and the third just offer great stories, and if they have to be linear to do it then it’s a sacrifice worth making. They also both deal with the theme of race with more depth than most fiction, something I will elaborate on in a different post.

Pictures are taken from the Fallout Wiki