Spoony Bard 2: Action Games – Lose The Token Plot

The games industry seems to assume that the implied agency that comes from choosing dialogue options makes for a stronger narrative. Let me rephrase that: it’s more like that’s the only way the games industry seems to think plot can progress, and it’s a baffling sentiment considering the leaps and strides that games have made in the last few years. Apparently a strong plot is meant for role-playing games, and anything that has any of the elements of the RPG genre suddenly becomes classified as such. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but the term action RPG makes me cringe.

Fortunately, the industry seems to be finally, gradually moving away from this convention. I’m not going to argue that RPGs don’t usually have a strong and solid plot, but that doesn’t mean they licked the pot clean, leaving but scraps for the rest of the genres. Traditionally and only up until recently, plot was almost entirely reserved for games with massive amounts of dialogue. This tradition continues through games like Star Ocean 4, Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Age: Origins. Thank goodness for those developers who decided to give the other genres a chance.

That isn’t to say any number of games over the years haven’t included or been involved with a story. Super Mario Bros. 3 seems to have a certain story to it and sense of progression, but it can’t really be defined as a plot. A plot has certain elements that are missing from games like Super Mario Bros. 3. Since this isn’t a Lit 101 course, I’m not going to go into much detail as to what a plot entails, but it does require at the very least exposition, conflict, climax and resolution within the story. Simply put, a good plot flows like a good argument.

As I mentioned above, there has been a more recent trend towards introducing plot to the more traditionally action-oriented titles. What remains troubling is the token attempts at plot, which are far more common. Ace Combat 4 is a fantastic example of how to take an engaging and fun game, and somehow twist and tie plot to something that already works. It doesn’t distract from the action and the action doesn’t muddy the plot. Other good examples recently would be the Halo and, to a lesser extent, the God of War series.

 

There is no better example of the token attempts at plot than each and every Tekken game, ever since they decided to add the confusing Tekken Force mode. Essentially, Tekken Force takes you through what can only be described as an old-school, arcade-like series of stages where you ultimately end up fighting someone like Heihachi or whomever happens to be behind the latest dastardly plot. The transition between regular gameplay and the Tekken Force mode is often jarring, and with the way that completing the game with different characters is handled makes for an ever-increasingly confused plot. For example, Jin has a completely contradictory ending to Kazuya. The entire game has an understood mythos with the Mishima clan’s history, Heihachi being Jin’s grandfather and so on, but it’s just as convoluted and complicated as Metal Gear Solid 4’s storyline, but with an added bonus of several non-canon endings and offshoots to make it even more confusing.

 

 
Tekken, take note: a token plot is not a plot.
 
The reason Ace Combat 4, Halo and God of War work is because they have both a solid plot and a mythos. They don’t ignore the singular game in order to construct some ambiguous plot through multiple sequel. Each one of them has a completely functional storyline within. They don’t force the plot down your throat; it flows and comes naturally. The mythos is also presented throughout instead of solely at the game’s beginning and end, with the assumption that it can fill in the blanks.

Ultimately, I hope Halo and God of War-esque attempts at plot prevail over the use of different gameplay modes. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy Tekken. I’m absolutely deadly with Bryan Fury and I can only hope for the type of matchmaking that Street Fighter IV seems to enjoy. I’ll continue to enjoy Tekken even with the crazy mythos. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be made ten times the game it already is with a more traditional plot. Or, you know, any sort of plot.

 

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