Emotional symbologies, realism and the next hardware generation

Recently I re-consumed Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997.One thing that threw me off at first was the gestures. The characters all use comically exaggerated gestures that always seem a little off: Cloud’s response to everything is shrugging, while shaking seems to denote almost anything from fear to laughter to anger. But I couldn’t recall being bothered by this during my first run-through fourteen years ago, and I realized that we used to have this whole symbolic gestural language for conveying emotion back in the ultra-low polygon count days. The gestures didn’t necessarily depict real-world body language, but had their own unique symbology that could be deciphered by consumers in order to understand character emotion. It’s impressive, actually; each of the characters has their own distinguishing gestures linked to their personalities, and the game is able to convey a fairly wide range of emotion even though the only facial movement available is blinking.

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Quote: Benkei vs. Ushiwaka

Just a fun quote I came across today (Translation is rough):

甲乙分目の戦ひは、巣立の鷲の若鳥と、深山を出て荒熊が、野辺に争ふ如くにて、さしもの弁慶あぐんで見えしが、物々し小冠者めと、畳みかけて討つ処を、擬宝珠に飛上り、片足かけて長刀を、からりと踏で踏落す

The fight was dead even, as if a young eagle just out of the nest and a wild bear from deep in the mountains were struggling on a field.  Benkei began to look annoyed, and shouting “you overrated little brat!” launched an attack.  But (Ushiwaka) jumped up on a bridge post, stepped on Benkei’s naginata with one foot and pushed it down to clank on the ground.

This is from the Chikamatsu Monzaemon play Harami Tokiwa (Pregnant Tokiwa), but the scene is the classic Hashi Benkei fight between Benkei and Yoshitsune (then Ushiwaka), where the young Yoshitsune defeats Benkei and makes him his retainer.  Hashi Benkei is the name of the Nō play that features this particular fight, but the story appears in the Gikeiki (although not on a bridge), which itself was composed from pre-existing stories.

Harami Tokiwa was first staged in 1710 but even now, 300 years later, this is still a totally cool scene!  And it’s familiar to every fan of samurai anime; the “small nimble guy dodges the big slow guy’s sword and jumps on top of it” is a trope that is still very much current.