I saw this on GameSetWatch earlier today: a trailer for Square's upcoming "Nameless Game," along with an insightful writeup by Chris of niche blog Chris's Survival Horror Quest.

The game itself sounds wonderfully clever: first off, it takes the idea of the "haunted video tape" from The Ring and rolls it into a video game cartridge-- the one you actually put in your DS and play. Part of your time is spent playing the game contained on the haunted cart: an 8-bit Dragon Quest-like RPG which exhibits graphical corruptions quite authentic to media of the time, according to Chris. The other side of the game is first-person 3D exploration seemingly set in eerie deserted apartment buildings, giving off a Silent Hill vibe. Tying it all together, your actions in the 8-bit game-within-a-game affect the state of the 3D gameworld and vice-versa, creating a surreal dialogue between the game you're playing and the game your character is playing... in the game. It sounds just brilliant.

I love how it embraces the specific language of a bygone era of video games and uses it as a tool of subversion, presupposing that the player will be familiar with the touchstones it's referencing and then playing with the assumptions of that informed audience to upset their expectations.

I love how the 3D and 2D games are supposed to be deeply intertwined. It's not like playing Space Harrier in Shenmue as a little distraction; instead, you're indirectly communicating between two digital worlds via your play in each. Awesome.

I love how it takes a staple of Japanese urban myth and casts the physical media you've actually purchased as a supernatural artifact. Like buying a book that's about a cursed book... which is in fact the book itself. It extends the game's mythos into the real world in a way that is quite rare.

And I love that it's a game about playing a video game. Yeah, it's "meta" as hell, but it speaks through an act that its target audience all shares, kind of the collective unconscious of people who have all been playing video games since the 80's. It's speaking to a community, like a film that speaks directly to film lovers: "you get it; this is for you." That the trailer begins with footage of the cart being booted up on a DS just reinforces its self-referential nature. Much like No More Heroes, it's the opposite of the all-inclusive blockbuster that lives under the mass market umbrella, which I think is incredibly important as a means of maintaining balance... and also because I feel like I'm one of the people it's aimed at, which is nice.

Also just a note that I love dedicated, passionate niche sites like Chris's-- people that drill deep into a particular subset of media and clearly take joy in immersing themselves in the genre. Chris, for instance, is on a quest to play every survival horror game ever made-- or at least the ones that live up to his exacting criteria. It takes a certain devotion to explore every nook and cranny of your chosen twisting back alleyway, and I really appreciate the folks that put in all the work to share their expertise with the rest of us.

In any case, Square's "Nameless Game" could be great or it could be a total wash; who can say this early just from a short trailer? But conceptually, it's off the charts. If it does turn out to be great, and it does get translated to English, I'll be tickled pink. If it fails, it won't be for lack of potential!


R said...

I haven't heard of this game before, but given that description it really sounds like something I'd enjoy. I'll keep my eyes open for this one, thanks!

Sparky said...

That sounds really bizarre and yet cool. I hope SquareEnix doesn't follow through on the implied threat to squelch creative new projects like this in favor of their old stand-bys. Quirky games like this get me significantly more excited about a particular company (and gaming generally) than genre re-treads and re-releases.