Monday, April 8, 2013

Mass Effect Series AMV: Go Back to Sleep

Wow, I found another RPG AMV so good that it deserves its own rant, and it hasn’t even been a full year since the last one! Truly we live in wondrous times. Today we look at the first Mass Effect video to get its own spotlight here, Go Back to Sleep, by Xeriana11.


Mass Effect Series: Go Back to Sleep: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpuwTZca_rg


Look. Look With Your Special Eyes: Top-notch visual quality on this one. Everything looks as good in this AMV as it does in the actual games, and anyone familiar with Mass Effect knows just how good that is. Along with being well-suited for the AMV’s story and the song’s lyrics and tune (more on that later), Xeriana11’s selected a set of clips of footage from the Mass Effect series that has a decidedly darker tint to it, even when it’s bright, which definitely accentuates the darkness of the music and the video’s intent. I don’t know how much credit to give her for this, since ME2 and 3 (from which most footage is pulled) have a generally darker visual tone anyway, but it works great for the AMV’s purposes, so kudos all the same.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’m very partial to AMVs who employ visual bells and whistles with moderation, keeping them simple but effective (not that more grandiose visuals in an AMV are necessarily bad, but they usually wind up just getting in the way, distracting the viewer from the video’s actual content). So it should come as no surprise to you that this AMV that I like so much is another case of a video with a moderate number of basic visual effects, used effectively to increase the effect of the AMV without going overboard. Some of the best instances of this come when the video starts out, with some quick blurs, discolorations, and jerky visual transitions, which effectively convey the subconscious mood set for both the song and video in those few first notes, finally getting into the song and video proper with a quick focusing upon the Illusive Man’s face, which brings to mind how the world looks when you first open your eyes after awakening--a simple but absolutely great effect to use to portray Shepard’s just having awoken and to visually set up the idea of The Illusive Man wanting Shepard to “go back to sleep.” The blurred zoom-in* that follows that scene at 0:34 is another example of a comparatively basic effect that coordinates really well with the AMV as a whole, this time mirroring the abrupt and violent change in the music to abruptly and violently bring us into the scene of Shepard’s death in ME2.

Those are the best examples of Xeriana11’s touch, visually, but the visual effects stay solid throughout. Lots of faded overlay transitions link one scene to the next in a more connected way than a simple switch would when the scenes should be associated together, some color-burny effects at times to coordinate with the song’s harsher notes, that sort of thing. It’s all well-placed and effective.

Your Music’s Bad and You Should Feel Bad!: This AMV employs the song Pet, by A Perfect Circle. This is the first I’ve ever heard this song, and I have to admit that while I don’t actually like it personally, it IS impressive to me--dark, creepy, powerful, even disturbing. This is one of those rare occasions I can look at a song and actually see it as an example of art.

There’s no denying that the music is the dominant force in this AMV, driving the visual component of the music video and its message. The AMV endeavors to follow along to the song on several different levels, and succeeds admirably on all counts. On its most basic level, the AMV follows the music’s tone and changes admirably with its visuals. The quiet and creepy parts are reflected by appropriate scenes, most often involving The Illusive Man, which fit perfectly with his bright and yet dark surroundings. As the music turns to a harsher, more hostile tone, we see the visuals reflect it, violently transitioning to scenes of destruction and the nightmarish situations and foes that Shepard faces off against. On the next level, the video also follows along and excellently compliments the lyrics of the song, as well. Practically every moment in the AMV during which there are spoken words is an example of this, but I’ll throw out a few exemplary moments anyway. Moments like 1:16 through 1:19, where “truth” and “choice” are represented by unpleasant moments of ME2 and 3 where Shepard learns that The Illusive Man knowingly allowed Shepard to walk into a trap because he wanted the potential prizes of information from the situation (the truth that The Illusive Man is only interested in what Shepard can do for him, rather than what Shepard can do for everyone), and where Shepard must choose whether or not to shoot a misguided old friend in order to save the council’s, and by extension countless others’, lives. Or like 2:56, where we see The Illusive Man’s dream of Control from the (horrendously awful) ending to the lyrics talking of a new world order, 3:12, which show Shepard’s visions of the Reapers to the lyrics “the boogiemen are coming,” and 4:01, showing Shepard’s loyal and good friends as the “other” and “evil” ones to The Illusive Man. It’s all good stuff.

There’s one last, overall level of the music that I feel the video meshes with excellently, too. As the song continues, there’s a point near its middle that seems...well, if I had to play musical interpreter, I’d say that it’s the point at which the singer’s manipulations seem to be failing. Eventually the singer’s vocals become louder, more insistent--he’s no longer soft and wheedling as in the song’s beginning, he’s now frustratedly shouting his manipulations, as the music itself starts to sound more energized and epic, and thus, hopeful--as though the one the singer is trying to control is breaking through the manipulations. This, of course, could be entirely a misinterpretation by someone who prefers the optimistic and positive conclusions to the dark and unhappy ones, but even if that’s definitely not what the song means to portray, the AMV uses the song in this way, going from primarily using ME2’s visuals halfway through the song to primarily using ME3’s scenes--in other words, going from the visuals of a game where Shepard was working for The Illusive Man to the game where Shepard is his enemy, using the scene at ME2’s end where Shepard has destroyed the Collector Base against The Illusive Man’s wishes and walks out on him as a transition between these two halves of the AMV. As the music becomes more powerful (again, like the manipulator is fully losing his control over the song’s subject) at around 3:23, we see scenes from the assault on The Illusive Man’s base, and scenes from the game’s finale where Shepard finally has the opportunity to break through his control and shoot him dead, as the singer gives one last whispered plea of manipulation. Again, maybe this more hopeful message of the manipulator’s illusions failing isn’t what the song intended, but that’s the direction the AMV’s interpretation of the song goes in, and it does work.

Guy, You Explain: The purpose of this AMV is to portray, and perhaps even explore, the relationship The Illusive Man has with Shepard in the light of the song. As the representative of Control for Mass Effect, The Illusive Man and his manipulations of Shepard, both successful and failed, are a great match to the creepy control the singer of Pet seeks, through threats and reassurances, to exert over the song’s subject. It’s interesting, even intriguing, to see The Illusive Man’s perspective of Shepard in this way, and casts him in a decidedly sinister light, one which fits him well. Xeriana11 also states that her intended purpose with this AMV was to show Shepard’s struggle to figure out whether or not to believe The Illusive Man, to show how his skillful manipulations of Shepard that would create doubts in Shepard’s mind, and that’s definitely achieved here, too, partially through use of scenes where the embodiment of Shepard’s connection to the Alliance, Kaidan (or Ashley; whomever survived Virmire--in this case, Kaidan is the one used), is cutting his ties with Shepard in ME2 and standing against Shepard in ME3, and partially just from the overall effect of having The Illusive Man be the narrative force of the video.

Now granted, this isn’t a perfect AMV in some respects. It’s an interpretation of The Illusive Man and Shepard that takes a certain amount of liberties in their interactions, liberties that perhaps separate it from being a perfect, literal match to the actual game’s characters. And I have to say it confuses me a little why a Male Shepard is not used in this video rather than the Female version of Shepard, because one of the opening visuals of the AMV has The Illusive Man looking, for a brief moment, at a dossier of Male Shepard, and one of the last lines of the song refers to the song’s subject (who is Shepard for the purposes of this AMV) as “son.” It wouldn’t be a problem for me if the AMV were forced to use a character who had no male version available, but there IS a male version of Shepard, so why not use him instead and simply avoid that incongruity?

Still, the gender thing is so small an issue that it barely even warrants mention anyway, so it’s not really a problem at all in the end. And regardless of how accurate you consider this video, it’s more than close enough that it works well as an AMV to the Pet song and provides an entertaining, and maybe even thought-provoking perspective on Shepard and The Illusive Man, whose connection is interesting to consider and explore. Ultimately, Go Back to Sleep is a very well made, interesting, and creepily powerful AMV, just great overall, and I think it deserves real recognition.











* Once again: I totally do not know anything about cinematography terms. I guess some day I should really attempt to learn them rather than have to keep making these apologies, but for the moment, you’ll just have to bear with my ignorant descriptions of visual effects.

6 comments:

  1. Yay AMV its good (Thats all I can say about these okay)

    ALso I'm sure you heard that Square-enix's president stepped down and I'm instrested to hear your thoughts

    I for one think this might be a good step in the right direction because Sega fired their entire writting team and that work out for them. So hopefully Square enix will be making quality games again. The only good ones they came up with in the past 5 years was Tomb radier of all things (though I apprciate FF13 just because it wanted to be diffrent)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hold up there--Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume was released in the last 5 years, and that's probably the best RPG made for the DS (remakes of games made originally for other systems notwithstanding). But I will generally agree with you on this.

      I think that the problems with SquareEnix run throughout all its levels, not just its top. The majority of its games have in the last 10 years have had writing that is uninspired and canned, or just outright shitty. The leadership of one's company can make a big difference, but not, I think, to the level that SquareEnix has sunk to. I'm sure that a better president, one with a love for games and the stories they can tell rather than just money and soulless marketing, could make a big difference for SquareEnix (at the very least, we might see less of the company's time wasted on pointless remakes and unspeakably horrible sequels). But what I'm not sure about is whether that difference would be enough to put SquareEnix back at the point where their games deserve our attention again. And that's all assuming that the replacement of their current president isn't just another money-grubbing marketing automaton.

      In the end, I'm not going to hold my breath. I'll be happy if the new person does manage to make the company pull a complete 180 and have it regain some sort of artistic dignity, but it'll be no surprise to me if the next 10 years are as filled with empty, worthless, and occasionally offensively bad SquareEnix RPGs as the last 10.

      Delete
  2. On the topic of ME, Bioware put out a survey for what fans would like to see in the next installment. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/69HFZTS , probably because people disliked ME3 for its ending.
    It may be tempting to write "an ending that doesn't suck" but that wouldn't be too helpful.

    Also, about SE (since it was in the comment section before) they apparently decided to focus more on JRPGs after seeing how Bravely Default succeeded in the west. I'm not sure how to interpret that (what kind of games were they making if they weren't JRPGs?) but it's probably a good sign.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, cute, Bioware's pretending to listen to player feedback again.

      My first thought to your news about SE was essentially your own: "Do...Do the people running SquareEnix not actually know what their company does?" Reeling from the implications, I did a quick bit of research, and it seems that what they mean by this statement is that their business plan with their games has been, for a while, to make games with the intent of appealing to an international audience, instead of just focusing on their Japanese audience and letting the rest of the world sort out whether it likes it or not. Now they're going back to concentrating on the Japanese market, and hoping the rest will fall in line, as happened with Bravely Default.

      And, y'know, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 6, and so on and so forth. Y'know...those games of 20 years ago whose legacy is STILL propping the company up.

      Wow, SquareEnix. Simply. Fucking. Wow. You guys have been in a slump, slowly but surely slipping into decline for over a decade, and it's only now that it's occurred to you that maybe what you need to do to be successful is to do the exact thing that made you successful in the first place? Fucking GENIUSES over there.

      Ah, well, you're probably right, it probably is a good sign. Any change from what they've been doing can't help but be a good one.

      Delete
    2. What exactly did Bioware do to make it seem like they don't care about their customers? Was it only the ending of three or what?

      Yeah, it makes sense or Square to acknowledge the games that made them poplar in the first place. It would be neat if they remade them since things were cut from the original games.

      Three quarters Final Fantasy 4's original script was discarded in the SNES version, probably due to cartridge limitations ( http://www.exophase.com/1044/final-fantasy-iv-ds-remake-not-just-pretty-graphics/ ) and Gaspar was meant to be a playable character in Chrono Trigger ( http://www.chronocompendium.com/Forums/index.php/topic,8944.0.html ). Other old games probably had content cut too so remaking them might be a good idea. The same goes or reviving dead IPs like the Saga and Mana series. That's kind onf an unrealistic wish, though.

      Delete
    3. It's the ending of ME3, yes--but specifically, it's how they handled it. They have ignored every publicly available poll and survey of their fanbase about whether the ending--the original AND the Extended Cut--was acceptable, instead insisting, once they slapped their ineffective Extended Cut bandaid over the gaping hole in the game's chest that is its ending, that their own, private surveys, which they've never substantiated in any way, indicate that the majority of the fanbase is satisfied, regardless of what the polls and surveys of multiple major game sites, including their own forums, indicate. They've closed one topic after another on their forums when those topics get too heated about how lousy the ending is (but never touch the topics of people defending the ending, regardless of how unruly they may get). Their marketing became insufferably dishonest about it--soon after the fiasco of the endings began, Bioware's ads for ME3 started sporting a little box on them saying that "It's not the destination, it's the journey."

      They just don't take responsibility for their mistakes. They claim to, they even make little motions like they do, but they don't. They say the listen to player feedback, but insist that the documented feedback we can all see is less valid than the feedback they claim to have yet never show. They say they're going to fix the ending with the Extended Cut, but they only fix the peripheral problems with it, never once addressing the main problem: the star child, and the nightmare of nonsense that he represents. The Extended Cut was like a doctor treating a patient's scraped knee but ignoring the javelin stuck in his chest. Did the things they addressed, most of which were part of the massive list of complaints that fans have, actually get better? Sure! Were those things being fixed the core problem that is a cancer to everything Mass Effect ever was and shall be, which absolutely every person dissatisfied with the ending could point to as being the source of this toxic horribleness? No. Because to actually fix the problem, to dispose of the turd instead of just polish it up a bit, would be to admit that they actually WERE wrong and that the idea really wasn't good. Bioware listens to its fans the way a narcissist would: they give thoughtful consideration to feedback up to the point that it would in any way challenge their arrogance.

      Delete