Monday, February 15, 2016

A Thought to Chew: Video Games and Their Fascination with Greek Islands

So this is going to be an extremely niche article, but first, let's address something that's much more common in videos games.
"Japan Levels".
It's impossible to count how many games have a level referencing the country, whether directly (as in having the game specifically set there, as in Ōkami) or through extremely unsubtle measures (such as Aquarium Park in Sonic Colors).
A significantly less common setting is Greece.
First of all, I'm not referring directly to games such as God of War that are obviously Greek "influenced". I'm talking more about games that flesh out the setting and make it something else entirely, and there are two examples that I think stand out in particular as unique, and oddly enough, they both refer to an extremely specific part of Greece: Santorini. (For reference, use that picture.)

Sootopolis City - Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, everybody's favorite, right? I mean, if you think it's pretty good but not actually the best, than you deserve to be cut off of your life-sustaining oxygen supply.
Speaking of which, I'm dying slowly.
Anyway, the game was interesting in that it offered up a lot of interesting locales. While the Kanto region was generic (as should be expected of the first game in a series) and Johto, while certainly more imaginative, was dedicated wholly to Japanese themes, Hoenn integrated so many unique concepts into one game. I mean, up until Hoenn, the Pokemon games were literally flat, and Hoenn came out of nowhere with a freakin' volcano.
One of the fan favorites of the game seems to be Sootopolis, which I agree with a LOT. In regards to the theme, it nails the source material: Santorini is an island covered in white, and it's interesting that this is the only place in the game that takes a unique interpretation while others will occasionally have very similar aspects (but still much more varied than its predecessors).
Specifically, I refer only to the original games, Ruby and Sapphire, in terms of this piece of the article. Pokemon Emerald basically screwed the entire concept over, turning the iconic dome rooves into pyramids for a completely unknown reason, and while the ORAS variant definitely looks the most gorgeus and reminiscent, they genuinely effed up the music. I get how the music got changed, considering the soundfront for early Pokemon games was fairly indistinct in terms of the sounds that could be produced, but they literally made it Italian, No, seriously. That's like if they took Ecruteak City in HGSS and made it so that when you entered it played an instrumental version of Tunak Tunak Tun. That's... that's not how countries work, man.
Apotos - Sonic Unleashed
Oh look, it's the game I love to complain about. But shh I actually love it don't tell okay bb
Admittedly, the game did an outstanding job with its source material, even better than Pokemon did. They took real locations and perfectly recreated them, creating a luscious, amazing atmosphere to roam around in. This game has everything: a spin on Italy, a recreation of New York (with some downright amazing music), an Arab city, Japan (wow! zinger!), and even Indonesia, complete with effin' jabus.
Oh yeah, and there's also Santorini. Oh, my bad, 'Apotos'. You ain't tricking NOBODY, Sega. I can see through your elaborate ruse. "Oh, we're original!" my ***, Sonic Team.
Moving on very abruptly.
While the gameplay might've suffered a few minor blows to the head, the design is admirable as heck. It's colorful, it's open, and it teems with liveliness. I haven't really seen a Sonic game since that's made me feel the same in regards to the impeccably masterful palette. That's not to discredit Colors and Generation, both of which are probably leagues better, but LOOK AT IT.
Plus, it's worth noting that that music is, as normal, phenomenal. Speaking of Apotos, they actually nailed the Greek feel (coughcough**ORAS**cough) in an upbeat way for the day levels and a mellow, laid-back feel for the night ones, both of which fit in perfectly.
So What's The Deal?
Why is Santorini, of all places, a good choice for a game level?
For one thing, it's very bare. That's not to say it isn't pretty, it's just extremely minimalistic in terms of its structure; all of the buildings are white with blue/black roofs, ranging in either rounded or simple, geometric shapes, and there's a lot of water to take up any of that nasty out-of-bounds space, or, as an alternative, the rocky outcrops can be used as a more natural barrier.
The basicness also lets itself be easy to interpret due to its simplicity. It's distinctive in its lack of distinctiveness.
Moving on and leaning towards Unleashed, Apotos serves as the first level, and I couldn't agree with the notion more. Other levels definitely step up on the saturated palette, but Santorini is perfect because it isn't a complete, for a lack of better terms, cluster foxtrot. It eases you in and serves as an easy stepping stone into something with more complexity.
In a games like R/S, it's placement is almost irrelevant. It leans more towards the game's handling of the story and gameplay. For example, Santorini was formed on a caldera left from the Minoan explosion, one of the largest volcano eruptions in history, which was incorporated into Pokemon lore as well. In addition, the fact that one of the game's legendary Pokemon, Groudon, unleashes volcanic eruptions is a nice touch.
Speaking mechanic-wise, the smallest key thing is that Sootopolis houses the water gym, so if the city was built around the gym, it makes complete sense. More importantly is the diving mechanic, where you can go underwater; it's the only way of reaching Sootopolis in R/S, so the idea of a small, secluded island like Santorini made it game for the basis of the city.
And that's about it.
For the last A Thought to Chew from over two months ago (Christ), CLICK HERE.
For the last Interview with SuperSmash3DS, CLICK HERE.
See you soon enough. There's gonna be a new interview by the end of the month, so hopefully everything aligns. It should be a lovely treat for your ears.

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