Nitpick: Presentation Matters
One thing that has always stuck in my mind regarding video games as of late is cutscenes. They are in almost every genre and game nowadays — and with good reason. Cinematic explosions and awesome looking action-flick sequences are an instant hit with the mass populace. After all, who doesn’t want to see stuff blow up? Even I’m guilty of this. However, my problem with cutscenes isn’t that they involve some sort of pyromantics or explosions. This week on Nitpick, I want to focus on the games that ruin the consistency of the game by distorting its cutscene presentation. The games that I will discuss have either masterful presentation throughout the entire game with little to no problems, or they change up the style so excessively that it ruins the overall tone of the game.
Despite all the roughness that gamers give the Uncharted games, they are very good at creating excellent cutscenes. The art stays consistent, the graphics look amazing, and the voice acting is the witty writing that fans have come to know and love. In all honesty, Uncharted’s cutscenes act like a conversation scene in game; you just can’t control Nathan because of the designer’s desire for cinematography. There’s no denying the pedigree that Uncharted creates due to its excellent cutscene quality. However, the greatest reason why I love Uncharted’s cutscenes is because it doesn’t break immersion.
Uncharted aims to keep everything in harmony. From beginning to end, there isn’t anything that truly feels out of the ordinary, and this is due to everything running on the game’s in-game graphics. All the cutscenes look like they are something that could be done in-game. Meaning you’re just that much more immersed into Uncharted’s lush and beautiful world.
I keep talking about consistency and this idea of immersion, but exactly why does it matter? Take, for example, that you’re on a tour in an art gallery. Every one of the paintings feature art using pastel. Suddenly, you come across one that uses a water painting style. Wouldn’t that stand out to you? Not only that, but it seems odd that something that isn’t in-line with the other paintings would exist in the gallery. It just doesn’t make sense to put something in there that doesn’t really belong. If something like this occured, then it would immediately stand out, and it might be a bit jarring to look at considering the bigger picture — joke intended — is about pastel.
Unsurprisingly, JPRGs are probably the biggest offenders for using cutscenes that aren’t really consistent with the rest of the game. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular JRPGs this generation: Final Fantasy XIII. The game looks fairly good and does everything in-game for the most part. Cutscenes look crisp and they’re a bit of a wonder to look at, partially because of the awesome choreography. While most of the game’s cutscenes appear to in-game there are certain scenes where the character models look different, or better, than they do when you’re actually playing the game. This is due to touch-up, polish, or pre-rendered scenes so that it looks as if it’s in-game but in reality it’s not. Once again, it stands out and makes me wonder why they had to change up certain cutscenes or pre-render them so it looks better? Sure, “if you can make it better then why not do it” is one way to look at it, but then it brings up the question, why not do it for all the cutscenes? It really doesn’t make sense, and it just gets in the way of making the game look visually consistent.
If changed in-game cutscenes are a problem, then there must be a huge problem when CG cutscenes enter the picture. At certain intervals in Final Fantasy XIII, the game has long, elaborate CG cutscenes that add a great amount of detail. In addition to detail, the cinematography is much more elaborate, and the visual style is much different, highlighting explosion and technological aspects of the world. This is all to portray the game’s flash. I’m not saying that these cutscenes aren’t able to be done using the in-game engine. Whether it’s doable or not isn’t really the issue. The problem still remains that Final Fantasy XIII introduces a new type of cutscene every once in a while, and it’s a bit jarring to suddenly go from the beauty of the in-game world to a magnificent CG cutscene but drop back down to in-game. It’s rather annoying, isn’t it?
Tales of Vesperia is an odd case because the game’s cutscenes sometimes tell the players that it doesn’t know exactly what it wants to do. There are three types of cutscenes in the game, and they are all very different from each other. One of them uses the in-game engine with its polished cartoon graphics, the second one uses a dark CG cel-shading style, and the last one uses anime cutscene. While the game uses the former for the most part, it uses the latter two still quite often. It’s very annoying, and while it’s fun to look at, it looks out of place. The problem with all of these cutscenes is that they are all very different from each other. One focuses more on vibrant colors, the other on smooth anime animations, and the remaining style focuses more on a painterly aesthetic. None of them aren’t even close to each other in visual style, so why do they exist in the first place? They don’t look remotely similar, and it just makes the environment and character look weird.
Cutscenes matter because they're supposed to be that brief segment where you relax and watch things unfold. Rather than playing the segments out, it’s supposed to be enjoyable. In a movie, you want things to be consistent from the first second right down to the credits. If it’s live-action, it should stay live-action — unless it has good reason to differ. I feel like games should be the same way. Why create an elaborate cutscene that’s a departure from most of the cutscenes in the game? It almost feels counterintuitive. Regardless of the reason, I stand by the case that consistency in presentation should be handled better in video games.