Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where Literature and Video Games Meet

I usually don't write about video games. I'm pretty sure I said these same words the first time I wrote about music or movies on this blog too. Most games I play don't really deserve mention anywhere outside of maybe a comment about how I played it, and it was alright, or good enough to buy, or whatever. Sometimes though, sometimes there is a game that defies expectations, or flies under the radar, or is so abused by critics that it is never given a chance to be appreciated for what it truly is.

The other day, bored with my other games, I decided to play Dante's Inferno again, from the beginning, with a clean slate. For a little background... this game came out in 2010 from EA and Visceral Games. It was almost universally panned for being a rip off of popular Play Station franchise God of War. Also, there was much criticism about the decline in intensity the farther one played into the game. The most interesting parts of the game being closer to the beginning, and the more monotonous levels were closer to the finale.

This is just Limbo.  It's like level one.  
As I give this game another shot, I find myself appreciating the visual style of the game. Based on the first part of the literary masterpiece the Divine Comedy, this game follows the voyage into hell taken by Dante and Virgil. Of course, it is a video game, and there are plenty of deviations from the actual text with regards to plot, but the basic ideas, themes, and world building are essentially right out of the text.

The game is designed beautifully around the text. Each level has it's own distinct themes and visuals, with the overall theme being hell. The developers did such a good job designing hell, that I've seen screen shots used by the History Channel in documentaries about religion and cults.

City of Dis
The in-game storyline, and subsequent levels of the game take much from the text. The main character is Dante, reimagined as a crusader. Dante travels through Hell to save his love Beatrice (based on the actual Beatrice Portinari, the subject of another Dante work, La Vita Nuova) from the evil clutches of the devil.

Throughout the game, and in the proper circles in which they appear, you meet Virgil, Charon, King Minos, Cleopatra and Antony, Cerberus, Ciacco, Plutus, Filippo Argente, Phlegyas, among others. There are a few characters that don't appear, like Nessus the Centaur, and the Minotaur that guards the gates to the 7th circle. This was a little disappointing, but I do understand that not everything in a literary masterpiece can appear in a video game. Because I know a little about the actual work, this game became more interesting to me as I discovered how close the writers used the actual text to inform the storyline, characters, mythologies.

Speaking of characters, Beatrice, who is the most important character, in fact, the driving force behind the entire plot, doesn't actually appear in the Divine Comedy until Dante reaches Paradise (which is the third part of the trilogy, the Inferno is the first). The character of Beatrice in the game has been criticized as being too helpless, child-like, and naive. Apparently, we are too forward thinking to appreciate a simple damzel in distress storyline. However, as the game progresses, there is a realization that instead of Dante saving Beatrice from Satan, it is actually Beatrice who saves Dante from any of the circles of Hell where he deserves to remain. And although she does succumb to Lucifer, falling deeper into her new role as the queen of Hell, ultimately she is the one to break Lucifer's hold on her, not Dante.
Beatrice goes through some... changes
So, is this just a carbon copy of God of War? Not really. For one thing, it is a multi-platform title, meaning I didn't have to own a specific type of machine to play it. Only Play Station owners can enjoy God of War. There is more to the game with regards to collecting things to boost your abilities that isn't present in God of War and a Punish/Absolve aspect that relates to the damnation/salvation theme. Also, I have found myself playing the game repeatedly, without having to rely on online play. That can't be said of other franchise titles like Call of Duty, or Gears of War. Also, I didn't reach the end and realize it ended too quickly and I was expecting more, like Assassin's Creed, Batman, or Dishonored.

Probably rated M, by the way
I recommend for anyone who enjoys action games with some puzzle elements, fans of demonology, the occult, classic literature will enjoy the themes, visuals, and story elements.

The end of the game leaves itself open to sequels, which would make sense, as the Divine Comedy is a three part journey. It would be difficult making Purgatorio and Paradiso into an action filled fighting/puzzle game like Inferno, but seeing as how Visceral is not above tweaking and outright changing key plot points to make the game interesting and challenging I still see the other two parts as doable. However, Visceral has stated repeatedly that they will not be pursuing the other two parts of the Divine Comedy much to my dismay. I would have liked to see how they designed those realms and what story they would tell in order to make Dante need to slay more creatures.

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