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LONG BLOG

PlatinumGames Is Still Excellent Despite Babylon's Fall

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Four years following its announcement, Babylon's Fall has released to immediate condemnation. The title has severe issues, from gameplay, aesthetic, microtransactions and more, and is wisely being warned against.

Criticism is the lifeblood of videogame communities, so all is fair. What isn't fair though are the outrageous claims that Babylon's Fall represents some total disintegration of the widely beloved PlatinumGames. The language being used against Platinum is utterly bizarre, and appears consistently across major gaming media and celebrity personalities. Whether it's PushSquare pondering "if this absolute misfire doesn't signal a profound change in direction for Platinum Games", or Sacred Symbol's Colin Moriarty stating that "Platinum should dissolve itself and reunite with Capcom," the absurd slander against PlatinumGames is increasing in vitriol and becoming all the more ridiculous.

There's a serious mangling of Platinum's history occurring. When reviewing Platinum's releases, gaming media and personalities are continually referencing three lesser received titles that appeared between 2014 and 2016, ignoring the consistent excellence which has followed since and referring to earlier titles as flukes of lingering Capcom talent.

There's a larger problem with these contrasts though. The three titles being used to highlight Platinum's lessening quality are all interesting cases, odd in their deviance and some actually excellent when viewed with proper historicity. In all cases, each of the three titles showcase either a normalcy with game development or are products of specifically exploratory moments in gaming's evolution. Naturally, such adventurous times come with hit and misses, and PlatinumGames waded into those new territories as blind as every other developer.

Before we dig into what happened with Babylon's Fall, let's take a more considered look at the three titles being most distorted to bolster the bizarre claims that PlatinumGames is a studio in a claim.


The Legend of Korra (2014)

PlatinumGames / The Legend of Korra

This title is the most bizarre because nobody mentions that this was a $15 downloadable-only title that appeared when digital-only games were just beginning to accelerate in quality.

The Legend of Korra looks and plays outstandingly for a budget downloadable game. The title takes the stylish and swift action gameplay that Platinum is reknowned for and models it into a compressed and welcoming formula, utilizing all of the cartoon's properties and elements in stylish ways. The simpler game elements also match the property. While every other gamer over the age of twenty seems to be in a perpetual state of arrested development, the reality is that the Korra property was a cartoon show for and mainly watched by children. The game having simpler controls and environments astutely met the target audience's own abilities.

The Legend of Korra is still as flashy and ridiculously action-packed as any other Platinum title so long as it's viewed within its actual product, a budget downloadable game for young audiences. It's not the greatest of their titles, neither the most complex nor outrageous, but why would anyone expect that? As it is, The Legend of Korra was a highly distinguished budget title that far surpassed almost all of its competition within not only its price range but genre as well.

 

Star Fox Zero (2016)

PlatinumGames / Star Fox Zero

It's delusional to consider the failings of Star Fox Zero as Platinum's fault rather than Nintendo's when the single problem was hardware gimicktry.

The Wii U was a poorly received system, but Nintendo was determined to strike the same novelty effect with the system that had made the Wii so successful. Several of Nintendo's 1st-party offerings attempted to make the Wii U gamepad an interesting mechanic, but instead was a mostly annoying distraction that lessened game qualities. Nintendo never managed to make the Wii U gamepad a selling point, and in fact further damaged whatever successes or accolades could have been had in many of their titles if they'd not forced that gimmick onto players, but that didn't stop them from trying.

This was the collapse of Star Fox Zero. Besides the point that almost nobody even played this title as the Wii U was a colossal failure by 2016, it's evident from every single review that the problem with Star Fox Zero was the forced novelty of the Wii U gamepad. Utilizing two different perspectives, the standard 3rd-person perspective on the television screen and the new cockpit mode on the gamepad screen, the problem with Star Fox Zero was that the perspectives often didn't align with one another, which caused actual physical problems for players by having to constantly shift focus between screens to align aiming properly. It was extremely disorienting game design, and completely ruined what should have been a celebratory revival of the long dormant Star Fox series.

This is not Platinum's fault though. The novelty of the Wii U gamepad was a mistaken effort that wasn't fun and ultimately damaged every title that utilized it, but Nintendo pushed for its inclusion all the same. For those that would like to imagine how the Wii U gamepad could have been included in a way that made a Star Fox game better, please share your ideas. But as it stands, Platinum got a raw deal by being given a property they nearly hit a home run with, but were then sidelined by obligatory gimmick.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan (2016)

PlatinumGames / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan

Mutants in Mangattan was published by Activision, and the title released shortly before the 2016 film, Teenage Mutant Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Looking through nearly every review of the game, the same comment appears over and over: Mutants in Manhattan was rushed to release by Activision so to meet a deadline aligning it with the coming film.

Let's set something straight about this. Activison isn't some villain who jeopardized Platinum's game here. This is classic business in videogames, commonly summarized as the Licensed game. This exact scenario has happened countless times, from the earliest era of videogames to today. Companies contract developers to cross-promote a license, whether that is a coming film, television series, action-figure line, etc,. In these cases, developers have a set development length, and when that deadline comes its on the developers to have the game ready, with it being playable the priority and polished a distant second.

Not every game is meant to be a masterpiece. Sometimes a game is simply a promotional material, a reminder for some intellectual property that the contractor hopes will pay itself back through ticket sales or toys rather than the game itself. The reception of the game is often a distant concern of the contractor, preferred positive but not necessary, as what they are looking for largely proves itself through publicity and entirely separate mediums.

And yet, with all of that said, Mutants in Manhattan is in no way a bad game. It ended up being too short for its price and not balanced for single-player, but that doesn't mean it reflected some dwindling ability over at Platinum. The action elements remain exciting and fulfilling, strangely the title works wonderfully when played online with others, and as far as Teenage Mutant Turtles games goes this one is by far the most accomplished of the past decade. So even within the standard limitations of licensed games and deadlines that are completely normal in the videogame industry, Platinum still delivered an engaging title that makes effective use of the license while highlighting their strength in the action genre.


What Happened With Babylon's Fall?

PlatinumGames / Babylon's Fall

Babylon's Fall is the result of the successful partnership between Square-Enix and PlatinumGames following 2017's Nier Automata. Directed by Square-Enix's Yoko Taro and developed by Platinum, Nier Automata was a refreshingly original title that served equally in making Yoko Taro a celebrity game designer and reviving Platinum's status as the preeminent developers in the action-genre. Following, at E3 2018 Square-Enix announced Babylon's Fall, a title that would be developed and directed by PlatinumGames. Some years later, it has released as a total disappointment.

So what went wrong? Why was Nier Automata beloved and Babylon's Fall universally panned? How has the brief partnership between Square-Enix and PlatinumGames delivered two opposite extremes? Development stories are seldom publicized, especially from Japan, and rarely coherent or satisfactory at that. But there are some clear divisions between the two titles that likely indicate just why Babylon's Fall is being so extremely reacted to.

PlatinumGames / Nier Automata

The first is that this is not a Yoko Taro game. Babylon's Fall is not held together by any meaningful narrative, which is true of all Platinum titles. While their narratives are often inoffensive fun, whether the lunacy of Bayonetta or the schlocky sci-fi of Vanquish, Platinum has never delivered an impressive narrative. More importantly, narrative has never been the selling point of any of their games. That said, with Platinum's prior partnership and success with Nier Automata, it was often clued by gaming media that Babylon's Fall would pursue something thematically akin, which was always bogus. The role of Yoko Taro cannot be understated in regards the total appeal and success of Nier Automata, and that caliber of narrative and artistic cohesion was never going to be present in Babylon's Fall.

Babylon's Fall is also a microtransaction-heavy, full-priced title that is releasing in the most resistant environment yet regarding. Whether Babylon's Fall is even being reviewed fairly is contentious, but key to scrutinizing Babylon's Fall would be reviewing the current state that such titles are received, and also Square Enix's own reputation. Host to an increasing array of titles that employ microtransactions, season passes, and titles billed as a "Game as a Service," Square-Enix is a growing contender for worst publicized videogame company. There's no shortage of gross examples, beginning with dozens of mobile titles that shamelessly gut their most beloved franchises through predatory sales tactics, 2019's Marvel's Avengers fiasco where despite promises of minimal microtransactions eventually included "Pay-to-Win" mechanics, and most recently 2021's Chocobo GP, a full-priced title that relies exclusively on vulturine currencies, exclusive passes, and timed/FOMO content. Also worth mentioning are Square-Enix's positive comments on NFTs, inciting a minor outrage from the gaming public on its own.

Square-Enix is not backing down when it comes to the worst of modern gaming, and while such tactics remain sparse in terms of their overall catalog they consistently prove themselves of the most heinous example with each attempt. In the case of Babylon's Fall, it is clearly a game that Square-Enix made requests of in another attempt to breach the deep pockets of certain gamers. Exactly how directly these requests damaged the overall integrity of Babylon's Fall is uncertain, but regardless it remains clear that a priority criticism of Babylon's Fall is on its market rather than

PlatinumGames / Babylon's Fall - Battle Pass

The last point is that, well, maybe Babylon's Fall simply isn't a good game. PlatinumGames would not be the first high pedigree developer to stumble. Videogames are massive projects that take large amounts of time, planning, creativity, and effort to eventually meld together into a coherent shape. Sometimes the intended shape changes direction too many times, or it becomes too late and costly into development before all the errors and mistook concepts make themselves clear. Sometimes it's the normal affair of selecting a great idea in theory and finding the execution of that idea impossible or so heavily comprised that it becomes something entirely different. A lot of the issues with Babylon's Fall do seem bizarrely obvious, particularly the smearing aesthetic which renders the game unsightly and even painful on the eyes, but then it's such a clear problem that one wonders what was the conceit behind that initially, how was that framed in the creators' minds, and why were they unable to fix it upon universal panning? In any case, Babylon's Fall is definitely a flop.

PlatinumGames / logo

Babylon's Fall is lousy, but it's ludicrous to view this latest title as exemplary of the studio as a whole. PlatinumGames is a widely spread studio, engaged in numerous contracts with publishers for a diverse range of titles, and they're going to continue to mete out titles that will often have strict restrictions upon them and be of varying success.

Platinum is by far one of the most consistent developers though, one who regularly challenge and expand the conventions of genre, and in certain titles have raised the standard for game development across the board. This is a studio to absolutely be excited by with every announcement, whether it be the next Bayonetta, the mysterious Project G.G., or indeed some licensed property. Despite the disappointment of Babylon's Fall, PlatinumGames remains an imitable studio of radical game design, and the medium is better for it.


What are your thoughts on Babylon's Fall? What publisher would you like to see PlatinumGames work with next? Have a personal favorite from PlatinumGames? Let us know below!

If you liked the article, please consider visiting my website freethemechs.com. Largely East-Asian centric,  you'll find articles focused on pop-nerd topics such as Kaiju, Yurei, and, of course, Mechs.

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About FTMone of us since 10:01 AM on 03.21.2022

FreeTheMechs.com is an East-Asian centric blog focused on highlighting the best of "Nerd" media. Here on Destructoid all game articles will appear, but for those interested in which light novels have the best mech fights, how literature is tackling Kaiju, finding the newest ghost horror films, and anything else that is awesome and (probably) East-Asian, then come visit us!