Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Story Review
Posted by Nathan Major on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 10:01 PM
Developer: Ninja Theory
What's this? I'm reviewing a video game? Well, not quite. See, I just finished Enslaved, a game that I had extreme biases against before picking it up. I played the demo, liked it, and decided it was worth a rent.
Blurb review for non-story stuff: The game looks fantastic. Andy Serkis, the actor for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, is now with Ninja Theory using the same tech to make their characters. It really, really works. They move like real people, but what is best is their faces. It's easy to convey basic emotions in games - anger, fear, sorrow, etc. - but it is harder to show deeper emotions, like remorse, envy, or a subtle hurt. Enslaved does this perfectly.
Now, a review of the story, which I felt was one of the best parts of the game (especially the fantastic ending).
It's loosely based on the Journey to the West Chinese fable. Anime-heads might realize that the original Dragonball was loosely based on this fable as well (I've only seen maybe two episodes of it, so I can't comment). You play as Monkey, the story starting you in a slaver airplane taking to you Pyramid, where...the slaves go. You don't find out until the end. The world has been destroyed and you are in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, overgrown by plants. It is very beautiful, despite the ruin.
Anyway, you manage to break out and crash the plane, and after you find a girl named Trip. Trip has put a Crown on your head, a headband used by the slavers to kill insubordinates. Trip has programmed it so she can control it and also, if her heartbeat stops, the crown will kill Monkey. Pretty much forcing him to do what she wants, which is to take her to her home. Thing is, home is 300 miles away.
Trip is a young, nieve teenager. Monkey is a hardened badass who is both extremely athletic and agile; Trip knows full well she needs him to survive. The world is comprised almost entirely of mechanical creatures (nicknamed "Mechs") that have every intention to either kill you or make you a slave of Pyramid. Needless to say, you spend most of the game killing mechs.
What works so exceptionally well is how Monkey and Trip, who start off detesting each other, end up forming a sort of relationship. It isn't romantic, per say, but it is certainly a fondness that could only have happened after miles of treacherous road together. It often starts with Monkey back-talking Trip when she gives him orders, snapping out at her, and even the basic animations to carry and throw her are rough and uncaring. By the end of the game, however, they'll actively ask how the other one is doing, check to see if they made a jump or not, and just talk. Watching these two characters interact was one of the best parts of the game.
Too often in games and books we see affection blossem too soon, too late, or at the wrong time. Everybody knew Trip and Monkey would see more eye-to-eye by the end, but despite the cliche it worked just so damn well that I didn't mind. Also, most of the scenes (especially a really, really well written one near the end of the game where Monkey and Trip are alone) stay true to the characters, despite everybody knowing they care for each other. Monkey is rough, world-weary, and rarely shows any emotion aside from anger. Trip is very emotionally attached but very optimistic. When the two at last sort of confess how they feel for each other, it isn't a blunt smack to the face. It's extremely subtle, but it fulfills that want. Monkey and Trip now want to stick with each other. Maybe not for romantic love, but for a dependence that is (at last) mutual.
This also leads to the completely steller ending. Many people have complained about it ("people" in this sense being gaming review sites) because it left a lot of things open. I think those people wouldn't know a good ending if it slapped them in the face. The ending is, literally, perfect. It does come a bit out of left field, but if you were paying attention to the many, many subtle hints littered throughout the game, the huge twist makes perfect sense. In fact, those are the best kinds of endings, the ones that you first are like "huh?" but then are like "oh wow. I see how that works. This is brilliant."
Yeah, game reviewers are stupid. Good thing I'm here to clear that up.
I wish I could spoil the ending, but it's one you won't understand unless you play through the game. Needless to say, Enslaved, a game I thought would be little above mediocre, is easily one of my favorite games released this year. In terms of story, it blows just about every other game I've ever played away. There's more heart and real human emotion in this than any japanese RPG could ever hope for (and yes, I'm including Final Fantasy in that list). It's completely steller.
And look, I'm trying to give you a daily blog-post, so you get a game review. What will Nathan post tomorrow? Hopefully a Monster Hunter International review, since I'm about 1/3 of the way through it and the book completely freaking rocks.