Sometimes you just need to escape – escape from the necessity for realism. Sometimes you just don’t want the dried, crusty blood to tarnish your sword as a shocking reminder of the real consequences of the game that you play. Sometimes you want a break. Sometimes you want to remember the magic.
Sometimes you want to achieve this without having to play Mario. Again.
I had to go through that awkward phase early last year when I discovered that playing Skyrim on my PS3 was the equivalent of clapping honey-coated hands together; you would imagine it to be sweet but instead results in unnecessary gooey mayhem at your fingertips. Yes, I wanted to be one of the darlings who was nording her way through the game on one of the Microsoft ponies, and I recall some people who laughed at my misfortune because I didn’t own another device capable of enjoying the gritty realism of slaying dragons and picking flowers. Not to be dissuaded further, I went out and sourced two other sword and sorcery games and hoped for success. One was not successful (sure I started talking big about it, but that dialogue was just too much to chew for long.).
The other was Kingdoms of Amalur.
It is very easy to have a love/hate relationship with Kingdoms of Amalur. It is ridiculously (but unsurprisingly) narrative-heavy. Some of the controls have my character stop suddenly, as if attempting to balance a knife’s edge. However, I see it as the three steps to the left that were necessary for the industry to create a “refreshing look” at the fantasy genre.
In my opinion, the preoccupation of the fantasy genre to “justify” its whimsical elements through realistic contexts creates a co-dependent and limiting structure for world design. Agreed, providing a relevant cultural association is an avenue for engagement with narrative. However, the neo-medieval trend is rather indicative of a lot of fantasy media at present and raises the question: how many contextual foundations does the reader need in order to feel comfortable in a narrative setting? Are we now faced with a genre that relies on its internal cohesion from a “real world” setting rather than developing vivid fantasy worlds of its own?
Whether it be Game of Thrones or Skyrim, fantasy media is adamant on its true-to-research representation of medieval customs and accurate realistic experiences. It is logical to make a character’s hair muddied from battle, evident scars due to sub par medical expertise of the era, and varying shades of leather brown garments. However, it doesn’t seem engaging enough for that one sword to just have a faint glow around it that qualifies it to give electric damage to a foe.
This is what makes Kingdoms of Amalur a bright, colourful jewel in the bleak forests of neo-medievalism. It is not often enough that we see a fantasy game that embraces the possibilities of fantasy, not just the limitations. Salvatore explored a theme that could even be considered science fantasy or speculative fiction – the development of life-prolonging technology, and the implications of this technology for the occupants of the Faelands. Combined with dabblings of divination (the latter a mashup of new age spirituality and medieval paganism), the game explores universally contextual themes. Whether it be a person’s spiritual opinions of fate, the ever-present racial conflicts of our society, or a new perspective of the Fountain of Youth folklore, the game has demonstrated that thematic material is an equally strong foundation as historical accuracy.
Yes, it seems as if the entire setting has been dowsed in unicorn tears and nyan cat farts, but it adds to the distinction of engaging with a very different world.
And I can play it on my Playstation 3.