It’s a crying shame there hasn’t been a good game based on the Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra universes. Nick D. ruminates on what his ideal game based on the wildly popular shows would be.
Recently, Platinum Games announced that they would be helming a video game adaptation of the hit Nickelodeon show The Legend of Korra. At first glance, it seems like a match made in heaven. Platinum is known for extremely high quality action games with quirky mechanics and humour. The Bryan Konietzko and Micheal Dante DiMartino-created hyper-popular television show is also known for its abundance of quality, detail, and humour mixed with compelling drama.
As tends to happen with shows of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra’s calibre, they have obtained a fairly mature audience on top of having their younger target demographic. Unlike other shows, which shall remain nameless, this isn’t simply because people find it fun to watch while stoned. After years of bad video games made by worse developers, it seems that we’re finally ready to have a video game set in the world of Avatar that may finally come close to at least approximating the high standards of the show. All this being said, this might not be the game we want.
Platinum puts out games of unquestionable calibre – that much is true. What is worrisome is that Platinum’s games tend to be on the short side and they are pretty much all hardcore action games. While I don’t doubt Platinum’s ability to curb their style to appeal to younger audiences, I worry that the game won’t properly utilize the universe. The world of Avatar is wide and diverse, and it seems almost a crime for a video game, a medium that gives purchasers choice, to stick to a linear story within. The action will be great, but I’m not sure this is the game Avatar fans have been waiting for.
So, the question of the day becomes, what is the ideal game set in the Avatar universe? I, for one, think that in order to be the best game possible, it has to offer something unique to fans. While following the exploits of Aang or Korra is the easiest route to take, at most the video game would simply be an inferior adaptation of an excellent work. The video game has to be more than simply retelling a story. It has to be unique.
This requires going the extra mile, but the results are definitely worth it. For example, Batman: Arkham Asylum started off an extremely successful video game series by eschewing retelling and forging their own path with the caped crusader. The same can be said with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which could have easily been an adaptation of one of the movies. By making its own story, and trying to keep to the level of quality found within the show, an Avatar game would chance being more than good or even great. Therefore, I say that an ideal Avatar game shouldn’t strictly follow the events of the television series. Ideally, the game should be set parallel to the events of the series so that cameos can be brought in for fan service, and fans themselves will be more concerned with the current events. By doing this, the game could expand the world in a way a half-an-hour show never could.
That established, I’m sure the first question on a lot of people’s minds is whether the game should be an MMO or not. I’m firmly against it. The MMO genre is overcrowded already, and taking the World of Warcraft model, which tempts every new MMO would remove the uniqueness from the game. More importantly, MMO systems are limited.
There’s only so much stealth you can put into a game with millions of players, the same with negotiation and strategy. Most importantly, MMO’s steal a sense of accomplishment and identity. It’s very hard to convince the player that they are important when there’s thousands of stronger players around them with names like “NoObDesTryer” hanging around. The game I would envision would be high on immersion and nothing ruins immersion better than an MMO. Therefore, despite the lure of playing with millions of other benders in a grand world, I don’t think the MMO genre is appropriate.
A large, open world, however, would fit perfectly. My ideal Avatar game would allow for traveling large expanses similar to older JRPGs . I’m thinking either a world map style system like pre-Final Fantasy X Final Fantasy, or a game with massive areas like modern MMOs. This gives the world a grand scale in ways that linear, level-based progression simply can’t. The danger with the massive area model is that you must have something to populate the world like in the Elder Scroll series, or you risk having a beautiful but empty world. The world map avoids this by inherently minimizing the detail of certain areas, while allowing for specific areas to pop more when you enter them.
In terms of combat system, I think turn-based in any way (JRPG-style such as Dragon Quest or WRPG-style such as Knights of the Old Republic) would be a mistake. The fights in the Avatar show involve a lot of movement with martial arts and fast-paced action. Making a turn-based game would cause some of this spark to fade. In this way, an action-RPG hybrid would work the best. RPG elements are almost a necessity in today’s climate to show character progression, but it is especially important in a world such as Avatar where advanced bending like lightning, metal, and blood exist. The action portion would allow movement and positioning to matter as well as keeping the fast-paced nature of the combat as seen on the shows.
I think the game would work best as a single-player experience with a self-generated character. This would allow players to customize gender and appearance as they see fit, but also allow them to pick what kind (if any) bender they are. This would allow for great variation between playthroughs as certain areas or tasks could be completed differently depending on which nation you hail from and what power you have.
This is another reason I think the game should be parallel to the show since it prevents you from simply being the Avatar and controlling all elements. While the journey to master the various kinds of bending is interesting, limiting yourself to one opens a lot of hard choices and replayability. More importantly, it reduces laziness. If you have all elements, it’s too easy for developers to simply add a few combat powers with each so you are left with incomplete or too obvious powers. For example, in InFamous: Second Son, you have access to multiple power sets, but each provides only a scant selection.
This is opposed to developers having to eek out as much creativity from a single power. It’s easy to tack on ice spear or water swipe to a collection of earth, fire and air powers, but being forced to stay entirely in water and find out interesting ways to go about it is far more interesting. Stealth can be accomplished by mist; ice pillars can let you reach new areas; you can control guards with the nefarious blood-bending; or burst through with a tidal wave.
But what’s a story set in the Avatar universe without a team? I’m strongly of the opinion that multiple characters are important. Similar to games like Mass Effect, you should always have teammates with you. They should be controllable, but when you are controlling one person, the others are being manipulated by the AI. Because the AI in Bioware games is suspect, I would probably rely more on the example of Xenoblade Chronicles as the proper way to go about it (taking out the turn-based aspects). This way, multiple friends can control multiple party members. To show that I’m not totally out of synch with modern gaming, I’d also suggest the ability for people to join your game online by importing their own characters into your game in place of your team members.
As for the plot and pacing, a large, overarching goal with a focus on travel and exploration seems best. You should have the option to explore within limits, while doing quests (please no fetch quests) for citizens of the various towns. The side portions provide ample opportunity for the show’s trademark humour through character interactions and commentary, while also allowing players to find new equipment and obtain more experience to power up their character.
The segments have to be worth doing for both the physical rewards and the writing, however. Otherwise, they would simply be wasted space. Limiting exploration to the surrounding areas allows new places to be exciting, and curbs players from simply wandering forever and never bothering with the main plot like in Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto.
In the end, cameos and humour would sate most fans of the show. However, there is potential here to be so much more. Similar to how the Star Wars universe can be more than simply the Skywalkers, Avatar can actually go beyond the tales of Avatar Aang and Avatar Korra. There’s a bright and beautiful world out there, and creators invested in making it as deep and grand as possible. That’s more than half of the industry has going for it.