Before I get into the matter of discussing Griffin specifically, I want to acknowledge that the ideas I’m going to discuss here are ones I’ve already discussed to death. In fact, I had my writing on SD Gundam and Steel Empire on my mind (for reasons I hope will soon become clear) while I was taking notes on Griffin. If pressed for reasons why I return to these ideas so frequently, I’d say it’s because they’ve been so incredibly common in games for decades, especially games with military shooting and a heavy emphasis on shooting. But to apply this to Griffin more specifically, there isn’t much else to discuss about the game. A minor shooter released early in the Game Gear’s life, the game is bland, conventional, conservative, etc. It’s an empty signifier; something that makes more sense as a collection of techniques and popular trends than it does as an expression of somebody’s thoughts on the world.
Yet it’s for those very reasons the game is worth looking at in the first place. It may be easier to pick apart contemporary trends in the game industry when the game you’re analyzing is small enough that it follows those trends to the letter, rather than large enough to dictate what direction those trends go in. And by definition, conventional games will play right into the status quo (whatever that may be). This is especially the case with a game as empty as Griffin. Stuck halfway between admiring its own combat and calmly accepting its existence, it never occurs to the game to question its own premises or to think outside them, and the game languishes for it.
The early Phantasy Star series had a complicated history when it came to their non-numbered games. When Sega deemed a Phantasy Star project important enough to become part of the main story, they were capable of making thoughtful games with readily identifiable voices and a deep thematic base. Move to the peripheries of the Phantasy Star canon, however, and this guarantee becomes much spottier. Sometimes, you get games like Text Adventures, which meaningfully complement the source material while putting forth their own views on the world. But you’re equally likely to get something like Phantasy Star Adventure, a game that rehashes very basic sci-fi fantasy conventions because it has nothing to say with them.
And as is the case with Phantasy Star Gaiden (the last game in the Complete Collection), you end up with generic games that stumble into sufficiently deep thematic material completely by accident. On the surface, the game appears to eschew the dark futuristic trappings of its peers in favor of something grand and heroic; more like Dragon Quest. Yet’s it precisely because of how adamantly the game clings to these traditions that it’s able to create an experience that’s out of line with what those traditions might suggest. Despite Gaiden’s fantasy trappings, the world it presents us with is bleak, mundane, and almost entirely lacking in heroism.
- The admiration for the individualistic will, coupled with warnings of the danger a techno-autocracy poses.
- The strong thematic through-line and the context that helps to ground it.
- The bold ways these games are willing to experiment with their form in order to better represent these ideas.
Even side projects like the Text Adventures have earned my respect. Unfortunately, exceptions are inevitable with long-running series like these, and as you’ve probably already predicted, Phantasy Star Adventure is that very exception. I would call the game yet another experiment in Phantasy Star’s illustrious history, but that would overlook a lot of the game’s core flaws: namely, their unwillingness to experiment. Despite following in the Text Adventures’ heels, Adventure makes no effort to capitalize on those gains or to represent any of the previously listed strong points. Instead, the game retreats into the safety of generic convention, unwilling to question or challenge or impress.