GrindQuest 2012: The Faux Grind

Costume Quest (2010)
Double Fine Productions
Genre: Nostalgia via RPG
Played on PC

Not much new in gameworld. I’ve been playing Costume Quest and a bunch of Playstation 1 games to pass the time. Dunno if I’ll say much about CQ; it’s a light RPG that is not bad. Not great, but very aesthetically pleasant, well-written and playable. It’s mostly a kids’ game that serves as a sketch of what could be a bigger/better game. Case in point: the central RPG mechanic is very similar to the FFTactics/DQ6 job system, where each costume you equip a kid with will give her different stat boosts and powers, but the difference is that having a particular costume equipped doesn’t have any lasting effects; the party members can’t learn the costume’s skills, and so won’t carry them over into their next costume.

In some ways this makes sense with regard to the traditional(ly false) notions of the innocence of childhood, where experience slides off a kid’s brain until something clicks and start putting all of those formerly slid-off pieces together; but until then, casual experience isn’t something that has the power to go to the very core of that person’s being.

This translates into gameplay by there being nothing to differentiate your party’s characters. They all start with the same stats, they experience zero growth (aside from the basic xp leveling, which just provides the illusion of increased power vs. the game’s enemies increasing stats), and the only thing that sets them apart from each other is their turn order, which cannot be modified. In practice, this means that turn order dictates what roles they need to play in battle, i.e. should the 1st person have the costume with the area attack special? Should they be the healer? The assassin? The basic question the game asks is: what is the most optimal turn order, and how should they be equipped? Answering that is simplistic exercise in creating a linear death machine, one that has no reason to change once built and perfected.

Which was kind of a bummer until I put the game back into perspective: it’s for kids, sort of. It isn’t trying to be on some crazy RPG min-max shit; the game’s sole goal is to be a snapshot of the excitement and mystery that children feel towards Halloween, and videogames, and costumes, and it does all that with aplomb. Whether kids would really benefit from a fictional-fantastical-nostalgical representation of a time in their lives that is still very real is another question, but again: it’s only sort of for kids. The game’s real goal is to create an interactible pocket of fantasy nostalgia (are the two different? The game doesn’t ask, but perhaps it shouldn’t) for adults who miss that non-existent but seductive version of their childhood moments that they wished existed; the ones that were pristine, idyllic, and unspoiled.

And no matter how much I reminded myself that it’s all a filthy fuckin’ lie, there was still a part of me that genuinely enjoyed the game’s knowing innocence. If nothing else, it was a nice place to be for a few hours.