If you’ve searched among any game site not named 1up, IGN or Gamespot (and maybe even them, I’m not sure), I bet you’ve seen or heard something about the Xbox360 RPG Trusty Bell. You know, made by Namco, real colorful, takes place in the pre-death dream world of famous composer Chopin? Everyone seems to be excited about it for one reason or another. Even I’ve linked to it on my own blog.
The initial fervor has died down by now, and I’ve thought about the game more, as well as discussed it on various forums of trusted, intelligent gamers. Suffice to say that my excitement has waned. All signs point to this game being pretty average, or at least not as compelling as the initial shock would make it out to be.
First, let’s look at the game with Chopin taken out of the picture. We’ve got the combat engine from Namco’s Tales series. A big colorful world with stylized fashions and architecture. A heroine named “Polka” with mysterious powers. Lots of shiny spell effects. Does this sound like a game inspired by the works of a famous composer? Nope.
Sounds like another jRPG in the chain gang. Perhaps that is because, essentially, that’s all Trusty Bell really is. Look at the screens for the game, and I mean really look at them. Read the basic story information. Then remove Chopin from your mind. Does it really seem that exciting anymore? Unless you’re the type of person that goes around saying that Japanese games have more style and creativity because they use all 256 colors and feature buildings that aren’t square, there isn’t much there to drool for.
Of course, it is silly to just remove Chopin from the equation. After all, the game is supposed to be based on him, taking place in the lucid dreams before his death. The truth is, we don’t know right now how much the game will be “influenced” by the man’s life, other than the fact that he’s the hero, and that his music will be in the game. I can’t imagine there being much more to it than that, however.
Again, I hope to be completely wrong. But someone better than me made a fine, simple observation:
“What pisses me off is that they got the idea of making a story set in the fever-dreams of a dying 19th century composer and built a JRPG around it.”
Chopin is an interesting composer. He lived a relatively brief life, was a genius with the piano (and yet still managed to compose for other instruments), and created some very intriguing works. You could create quite an interesting game around that, taking events and people in his life and placing them into his dream world. But if you really wanted to make a game that revolves around the life of a 19th century composer why the hell would anyone choose an action RPG? It doesn’t click. Yes, a jRPG allows for a fleshed out story, but then again the genre never has been known for very original stories. It just doesn’t seem to be the best avenue for exploring such an original concept.
So why this particular genre? Money. RPGs sell damn well in Japan, and in America as well. It’s the perfect, safe genre for doing something so unique. And yet the unique concept isn’t going to hamper sales. If the 360 takes off more in the East, and Trusty Bell comes out in the West, the Chopin -slant should make it a smash hit, regardless of how much it has to do with him. The reason is what I call the “Xenosaga Effect”. That particular series is chock full of Nietzsche philosophy and religious overtones. For the gamer who doesn’t know much about these topics, it was a revelation. Something deep and confusing from a famous thinker? It has to be good! These people would eventually surf the Wikipedia entry for Nietzsche, call the game “brilliant” for its smattering of philosophy, and then proceed to watch Evangelion for their next fix (if they haven’t already). They’d make sure to let you know how much smarter and sophisticated they are now, though if you try to get into a real philosophical debate with them, you’ll hit a brick wall.
Throughout gaming and anime it seems pretty easy to throw in something weighty and confusing just for the sake of it, regardless of how effective or interesting it is, and then watch as people swarm to it like flies. Of course, Xenosaga hasn’t sold terribly well, and is being ended prematurely, but that’s mostly because it isn’t a well made set of videogames. Anime like Eva or Gundam Wing, or games like FF7 and Metal Gear Solid 2 are examples of how well this can work.