Character Spotlight: Aqua from Kingdom Hearts with Mod Aria!

Hello all Nasties! Mod Aria with a Character Spotlight today. Since I had a lot of Kingdom Hearts on my mind after this year’s E3, I decided to take some time this week to talk about my personal favorite character: Aqua.

Aqua originally debuted in the Kingdom Hearts PSP game Birth By Sleep. She was shown as a companion to Ventus and Terra; all three were students studying under a Keyblade Master named Eraqus. While Ven was still a young student, both Aqua and Terra were tested in the beginning to see whether or not they could have the title of Keyblade Master as well. Though Terra did not make the cut, Aqua passed her test and is technically the first Keyblade Master among the Kingdom Heart’s protagonists.

An adept mage and a kind soul, Aqua is the bane to her enemies and beloved by her friends and comrades. She herself holds Ventus and Terra close to her heart, as she wishes for the both of them to succeed. Protecting them comes second nature to her, and she enjoys encouraging them to fight for their dreams. I appreciate that about Aqua, but I also find it a bit frustrating.

I can admit the concept of Aqua’s character is a bit confusing to me. I do enjoy her; I find that she is a refreshing female character in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. However, I also find myself unsatisfied with her characterization. Aqua’s skill as a Keyblade wielder is evident, but I feel as though she was made as a mere afterthought in comparison to Terra and Ventus. It’s obvious that Terra was meant to be taken by Xehanort, and that Ventus is the connection between Sora and the Keyblade. But Aqua’s goals and aspirations about her own Keyblade talents hasn’t really been touched on.

Who is Aqua outside of Terra and Ventus? What is it that drives her forward? If it’s just her own relationships, I can’t help but call her a bit of a one-dimensional character. And that idea saddens me. Female characters suffer so much in large gaming franchises because they are often made as support and/or complimentary characters, not characters in their own right. This way of thinking will never allow female characters to have stories of their own. Female gamers struggle to connect with characters like this, and you would think these game developers would understand that by now.

The questions about Aqua’s goals are the questions that I wish Square Enix would allow us to know more about her. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 was not enough detail. Though I did like seeing that Aqua had a hand in the final outcome of the first Kingdom Hearts game. Perhaps the next Kingdom Hearts might shed some light on all the characters, but I have low expectations.

Until next time! Thanks everyone!

 

Zan Reviews: Saints Row 4!

Hey guys, gals, and non-binary pals! It’s Mod Zan, here to present to you another game review! In this article, I’m going to be talking about a game that’s been out for a while but deserves to be scrutinized by my ever-present feminist magnifying glass: Saints Row 4. As usual, I’m going to discuss Visual and Audio, Gameplay, and Story. Let’s get started with Visual and Audio first!

Visual and Audio: The visuals in Saints Row 4 fit in with the feeling of the series. They’re goofy, bright, and it’s clear that they weren’t taken too seriously. For the most part, this is a good thing. It adds to the ridiculousness that separates the game from others in their genre, such as GTA V. However (especially when compared to the third one), it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the two games have very little difference between them despite the gap in their time of release. The graphics are too realistic to be fully cartoon-like, and too cartoon-y to be considered realistic. I don’t necessarily think that this is a detriment to the game, but it’s certainly not to its credit either.

As far as character design goes, despite having a few good female characters present in the game that I’ll get into a little later, their design has a bit to be desired. Shaundi, Asha and Kinsey are the main female characters in the cast for this game, and though Asha and Kinsey have decent costumes, it’s hard to ignore how similar the design is and how sexualised they all become. Particularly when you unlock their superpowers and gain new costumes. Asha suffers the least from this treatment, and is also the only woman of color who has a main role in this game. Though the game is raunchy and never shies away from sexuality regardless of gender, it would be unfair to pretend that there’s no difference in the way this is handled between the male and female members of the cast.

Gameplay: That being said, it’s worth recognizing this from the get-go: Saints Row 4 is a fun game to play. It keeps a lot of the things that I loved about the third one preserved, and adds new mechanics that make for a fun time as you unlock new superpowers and kick aliens into space in all kinds of new and interesting ways. The weapons that they added in are even more outlandish and give you all kinds of new experiences through each fight, which helps break up some of the monotony that you end up falling into as the game continues.

Though it is a fun experience for players of all skill levels, after you punch the four billionth alien fighter into the sun, you start to wonder if there isn’t more to life than just running through a (spoiler) simulation, smashing aliens and setting cars ablaze. Though the combat is funny and engaging at first, as you move through the game it starts to feel far too similar to Saints Row the Third, and not in a good way.

Story: Saints Row 4, as its predecessors before it, has never been known for its moving story. Though the characters are relatively well-done, and even sympathetic at some points, Saints Row 4 does not boast an interesting story. You fight to destroy an alien species that has already destroyed earth by destroying the simulation they put you in to destroy you. My biggest complaint with the story of this was the revelation that none of the things that you did were going to be real because of your imprisonment in the alien simulation. Though the villain was easy to despise and the main characters easy to root for, I never felt particularly motivated to complete many of the main missions because I felt that without the fictional impact on the real world, it rendered some of the fun of the game moot.

Though the ending of the game was as satisfying as it could be with earth floating in space in a million pieces, it left me wanting to go back and play through the third game again and with very little desire to replay. The real charm in this game was in the minor interactions and character side quests that you had with the other members of the cast, right down to the Mass Effect romance parody that you could go through with every member of your crew (save the vice president), regardless of gender.

Representation in Saints Row is surprisingly sufficient considering the genre; Asha, Pierce, Keith Davis, and Benjamin King are all POC, and with Kinsey and Shaundi added in only leaves Matt Miller as the white man on board the ship with the option for the player to choose the protagonists appearance. There is a lot to be desired in-game when it comes to including better character design for the girls as previously stated. Though the design is lacking in some places, there are a lot of great moments with Shaundi throughout the game as you deal with her guilt surrounding Johnny’s death and help her deal with her feelings about her past self. The team wouldn’t function without Kinsey, and she never is presented as anything less than fully capable even with the introduction of Matt Miller, who has similar skills.

Additionally, there were some compulsory romances (Asha and Matt) that didn’t seem to make much sense, particularly given their difference in personality and complete lack of interest in one another at the start. There is surely more to talk about considering the amount of content in this game, but this is the gist of what I gathered while playing it.

In conclusion: though Saints Row 4 is a good time for people who aren’t looking for anything serious, it’s difficult for me to recommend it when you could get the third one and have a better story and a slightly better experience. However, as far as representation goes, I believe that this is one of the best in the series and opens up the floor for the inclusion of more diverse casts of characters even in games that are traditionally marketed to a heterosexual male audience!

I think that we have a lot to look forward to as they move forward with the series, and I will be cautiously looking forward to seeing what else they will include.

Feminism in Gaming: Jade Empire with Mod Knight!

Hey there, everyone! Mod Knight back with Feminism in Gaming! This time , I’m gonna dive into a game from my youth (that now that I look back on, has it’s ups and downs when it comes to feminism). The game I’m talking about today is Jade Empire, a game by BioWare released in 2007 for the Xbox.

Jade empire follows the story of a martial artist who is tasked with restoring a powerful guardian spirit of the world, the water dragon, in order to protect the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Along the way, the player can fight, talk, and romance their way through a rich cast of unique characters and fun, world building quests! The world of Jade Empire is certainly a vast and nuanced one, especially for it’s time!

Now, with so many characters, there’s a plethora of ways that we can see plenty of interesting representation. One notable feature of the game is that the characters are almost entirely Asian, which is appropriate for the setting. It’s nice to see that level of representation when so often characters from Asian countries and cultures end up getting white-washed.

Also! Not only does the game give us the option of playing as a female character, there are a several  female allies in the game, and each is an extremely interesting and well thought-out character! As well, we are given two options for homosexual romance in the game. However, I do have my issues with this, especially in the male romance with Sky, the only male romanceable character in the game. When the player first courts Sky, he is shown to be somewhat resistant to the idea, understandably needing time to think. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so different from the female version of this romance.

When the two same sex relationships reach their resolution in game, instead of showing the complete scene as they would in the heterosexual versions, the game simply fades to black on the two characters, leaving it up to the player to infer what occurred. Of course, the very idea of having same sex romances at this point was pretty wild in gaming. However, looking back on it, the game treats them strangely, and simply has a difficult time providing satisfying scenes. Luckily, we know that BioWare has improved somewhat since then.

Speaking of romantic relationships, another folly of the game comes in the form of Henpecked Hou, a character whose entire identity is one big joke about how awful marriage is. In fact, the entire reason he stays with the player as a follower is because he finds it preferable to going back home to his wife, and he constantly reminds the player of his “dear wife, who has turned my life into a miserable cesspool devoid of humor and excitement. Bless her soul”, as he puts it.

While Jade Empire certainly has issues, it’s a game that attempted to touch on several serious topics, but may have gone a bit heavy or perhaps too lightly with them. In the end, it was a starting point for a lot of LGBT representation in gaming, and I, for one, am pretty grateful for that! While the problems with it pain me, I still find it to be a very fun and enjoyable game even years later!

Mobile Monday: Super Mario Run (with Mod Syrup!)

Hey guys! Mod Syrup back with yet another Mobile Monday! Today I’m talking about Nintendo’s app, Super Mario Run that is for iOS and Android devices. Now when I first saw advertisements for this game, I had my App Store alert me for when the game came out. You guys should know by now I ADORE Nintendo, and to have Super Mario on my phone felt like a dream.
So Super Mario Run comes out, it’s free, I download it ASAP! It loads, I see the beautiful graphics, and the standard Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach (for some cake? whatever) and I’m totally into it and ready to save her.


I start the tutorial level where it shows you how to play the game. You have 3 major functions: Running, which is automatic, Vaulting, which is automatic when you come to an enemy or small obstacle, and Jumping, which you can do by tapping on the screen.

Later on, you learn how to Double Jump, by holding the screen after tapping, that you have lives by the Bubble Method, similar to Yoshi’s Island with Baby Mario and when you play Co-Opt on Super Mario 3D World (may be more but those are what came to me off the bat), and to Wall Jump, which is the same for any game where you just Jump as you hit the wall. You also have a chance to earn 5 Pink Coins in each level which seems to be the aspect of the 3 Star System in previous games.

After the first World, you return to the Mushroom Kingdom for Toad to tell you that Princess Peach has been kidnapped and the castle has been destroyed. Because the castle was destroyed, the other Toads fled and you have to gather them up. How do you gather them up you ask?

Next, the game takes you to the function called Toad Rally. It’s ‘judged’ by Toadette. The first tutorial run, you go against Nintendo’s account.

You play it like the regular game, but the more cool jumps, vaults, etcetera you do, get you more points and more Toads cheering for you. If you win, those number of Toads go back with you to the castle. You continue using tickets to compete against other players.

Naturally, you go on and continue playing the Worlds. You downloaded this game to save Princess Peach, not race other players! You knock out World 1-2 and 1-3 only to get to the castle at World 1-4 and then you’re told you have to pay to continue. Furious, I deleted the game.

To write this article, I redownloaded it to get screenshots for you guys. I don’t remember this part previously, but now it seemed that you had 2 other ways to continue: Gather 100 Toads from the Toad Rally or Gather 15 Pink Coins from the previous levels (or you can also get them in Toad Rally). I thought sweet, they came up with another mechanic to get people to play!

So, being pretty good at Toad Rally, I collected my 100 Toads. I unlocked World 1-4, defeated the super easy castle, only for Bowser to take Princess Peach elsewhere (of course, it’s a Mario game).

Expecting I’d just have to do similarly with collecting Toads, I was ready to get my next number to unlock the other worlds. Unfortunately, the rest of the game was still blocked behind a paywall.

Given now, on the iOS version, there is a preview image that tells you that you have to pay to unlock the other worlds, I REALLY wish Nintendo wouldn’t have advertised this as a free game. They should’ve just had you pay for it or at least say it was a demo.

Super Mario Run is a really good game, but I’m not going to give Nintendo money for being sneaky like that. I’ll stick to my console games myself. That being said, I haven’t unlocked the other worlds so I can’t tell you if it’s worth it. But due to how short it is, I’d say save your money for a console Super Mario.


– Mod Syrup

Feminism in Gaming: Blizzard Games (with Mod Loser!)

Hey Nasties! This is Mod Loser, Jackie, whatever you want to call me. And in this FIG, I’m going to discuss Blizzard’s history with feminism in their video games. It has been a bit of a wild ride, so without any more waiting, let’s get started.

Obviously, the farther back you go, the more problematic you find the situation.  The original Diablo games locked certain classes to a gender (which made no sense), and the various other games released with more boring, white, male protagonists. And let’s not forget WoW, hmm? These games exist, and while they were good at the time, it is important to recognize why they were problematic.

However, Blizzard’s more recent games have shown a drastic shift towards a more inclusive goal, which is significant for representation. The primary contender would be Overwatch. As much as I absolutely despise the loot system in Overwatch, it is incredibly positive towards POC’s and members of the LGBTQA+ community.

The obvious example would be Tracer being in a lesbian relationship (which was confirmed), but let’s dig deeper. For example, Symmetra is a successful person of color who also has been confirmed to have autism. Further yet, she is a support character. This means that in any given match, she is beneficial. They specifically empowered Symmetra while making her an icon to gamers of color as well as gamers who have autism to encourage them to play. But who else?

Sombra is Hispanic and incredibly proud of her heritage. At first, I thought Sombra was a stereotype, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why it was so bad for a Hispanic woman to be proud of her culture? If anything, I’m glad Sombra was added in for that reason. Further, still, we have Mei who was the star of the Chinese New Year event. There’s Hanzo, Genji, Lucio, Pharah, Ana, Reaper,  and this list goes on. Almost half of the entire roster includes people of color, which is so very important.

You may have watched Mod Knight’s video regarding representation in gaming and why it is important (if not you can watch it here), but I’d like to reiterate. The point of seeing someone you can identify with, someone who clearly shares the same culture or background or struggles that you share, makes the player feel so much more invested. It validates us as players, it makes us feel more comfortable and we deserve these feelings.

Thanks for reading my little rant, Nasties! I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you have a stellar day! Mod Loser, signing off.