5+: Settings

5+ returns and this time we take a look at exemplary settings in video games.  The following environments are filled with enough detail that they become characters themselves.

Kattelox Island (Mega Man Legends/64)
Kattelox Island (Mega Man Legends/64)

Kattelox Island feels so alive that I honestly would retire there if I could.  Every major building can be entered and explored and there are plenty of little details to find that make the city feel as real as the original Playstation and Nintendo 64 will allow.  Some of my favorites are the TV studio where you can play mini-games on a game show for cash prizes, an art museum that displays rare artifacts that you’ve found on your adventures, and a music store where you can listen to various sample tracks that aren’t used in any other part of the game.  The dungeons you fight through are also clever in that almost all of them turn out to be sections of one large, interconnected dungeon.

Japan (Okami)
Japan (Okami)

Video games have had me save the world more times than I can count.  Saving the world is plenty of fun but it can lose its charm if it doesn’t work keep things interesting.  Okami stands out in how much of a visible impact you make on Japan as you restore it from the blight that has fallen upon it.  The cursed land feels dead and the restored land is brimming with light.  The most awe-inspiring element is the cutscene that shows the transition of an area being restored.  Have a look at this video of the transformation in action for a taste of it.  However, the true experience comes from playing the game itself and getting a personal feel for world and the transformation you make in it.

Guardia (Chrono Trigger)
Guardia (Chrono Trigger)

Guardia on its own is nothing special compared to other 16-bit RPGs but what sets it apart is the ability to travel through time and see the world in a number of different eras.  You explore the same world map in its prehistory, ice age, medieval era, golden age, and post-apocalyptic future.  The journey gives you a full sense of Guardia’s history and everything the world and its inhabitants have gone through across the millennia.  Seeing all of that gives the player all the motivation needed to save Guardia from destruction.

Rapture (Bioshock)
Rapture (Bioshock)

Rapture definitely captures the sense of a fallen utopia.  As you explore the crumbling avenues, you get the sense that this city would have been paradise to live in during its prime but now it fills you with dread for what lurks around every corner.  Be it the gardens of Arcadia or the art exhibits of Fort Frolic, there is always a sense of glory just out of reach.  It is a stunning contrast of beauty and desolation that blends together magnificently.

Mental Worlds (Psychonauts)
Mental Worlds (Psychonauts)

When you think of levels in a video game, the same set of usual suspects often shows up.  Forest level, ice level, desert level, etc.  These templates appear in everything from Super Mario to Call of DutyPsychonauts, on the other hand, has a repressed-memories level, a paranoid-schizophrenia level, and a Napoleon-complex level to name a few.  Most of the game is spent within projections of the minds of various colorful characters and it’s the job of Raz to explore these psyches and set them right.  The final level takes a brilliant turn by combining the parallel pasts of the hero and villain into a single nightmare.  Examining every detail of the mental worlds and how they reflect the characters they reside within is endlessly fascinating and provides the most memorable level design I know of.

The mental worlds may be the best settings I know of but I’m sure you all have some great choices of your own.  Let us know in the comments what should be featured on next week’s 5+ and why.  Feel free to make multiple submission and post anonymously if you so desire.

Nick Connor

I'm an English major and History minor at UW-Parkside. I'm a big fan of Mega Man, Deus Ex, Okami, Civilization, Kingdom Hearts, and Team Fortress 2.

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8 thoughts on “5+: Settings

  1. The labs of Aperture Science are so wonderful and memorable for me because of how much they do with so little. The rooms are cold, bare, and empty, giving you a sense of isolation and despair while at the same time giving you a false sense of security. How dangerous can these little turrets be? That green goo can’t do much damage, can it? Not to mention the fact that GLaDOS never appears physically, but as a disembodied voice coupled with an image on a screen. The labs are among my all-time favorite settings because of that one-of-a-kind sense of passive isolation.

    1. My favorite part was when you could get behind some of the panels in some of the rooms (and later on, when you escape into the “guts” of the lab) and you can see some signs that not all is right in the world, whether it is from the decay of the parts that are hidden, or because of the signs of other people having been there and left messages for you. It feels like you are getting to see something that you aren’t supposed to, and draws a sharp contrast from the otherwise sterile and imposing test labs.

  2. Very similar to Chrono Trigger is its sequel, Chrono Cross. Instead of travelling through time, you travel to an alternate world where everything appears to be the same, but there are major differences. Nearly every character has a different outlook on life in the alternate world because they made different decisions in pivotal points in their lives. The changes in the alternate world are so subtle at times that you forget which world you’re in, yet the two worlds are still so vastly different. Chrono Cross touches on a very philosophical and scientific idea: Is there another universe in which I am not who I know myself to be?

  3. The mansion from Luigi’s Mansion. The dark atmosphere and foreboding music made it truly haunted for the player, yet Luigi’s humming of the theme, and reactions to the weirdness around him kept it from being too dark. Every room has a puzzle to solve, and everything in the room does something. Cabinets and vases can reveal a healing heart, money, or a ghost. Books can fly out at you while you’re minding your own business. Even some of the doors are fake, waiting for you to try to open them, only to flatten you for it. It’s one of the most restricting environments in a Mario game, but it manages to feel so much more immersive than any of the previous installments.

  4. I think one of the most interesting settings I have come across is in Persona 4. This game feels a bit like Psychonauts in that you explore your characters’ subconscious, but you do it by entering through a television into some alternate reality that seems to contain many different subrealms. The subrealms are first broadcast on the “midnight channel,” acting as a sort of commercial (starring a version of the character which represents their deepest fears or subconscious desires) for the show that is the level itself. The dungeons (each subrealm essentially functions as a dungeon, with appropriate setting and monsters and whatnot) range from a sauna (complete with driving techno track) which manifests from a character who is having a bit of an identity crisis, to an alternate version of the town, to heaven itself.This gives the game the opportunity to vary the levels and designs quite a bit without seeming too contrived (an obvious bonus for a modern day RPG that takes place in one town) and also gives great insight into your characters in an interesting and engaging way.

  5. I have a soft spot for Albion as it is in Fable 2. Lionhead did well in making player decisions have an impact on the world, and the Albion that I was able to craft was one that I thoroughly enjoyed adventuring in. I generally go for the paragon of humanity route, so I did my best to make sure that my character was as virtuous as possible – you know, the whole King of the Boyscouts trope – and it was reflected in the way Albion looked. Always cheerful and sunny in the cities I frequented, and the Demon Door, Homestead, was the perfect place for my character’s family. When I wanted to go out and adventure there were, of course, the dark and sinister graveyards and swamps, all of which had that cartoony, almost playful aspect that worked well with the sinister overtones the areas were meant to convey. The entire world of Albion in Fable 2 was an excellent execution in terms of atmosphere. Man, writing this makes me want to play it again.

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