It’s that time of year again! Each year, DigitallyDownloaded.net recognises the best, most interesting, most artful and most creative games across a wide range of different categories, and 2018 was no different. In fact, this has been one of the best years for releases, from big blockbusters all the way down to the tiniest of indies.
As always our selection process is as follows: Games released on any platform between December of the previous year (2017 in this case) through to November this year can qualify. If a game was released on one platform last year, and then a different platform this year, it can still qualify for awards (as has been the case in a couple of examples this year). The game doesn’t necessarily have to be released in the western market, though for obvious reasons we’ll reward games that are accessible and available for English-speaking players ahead of those that are too hard for most people to experience. The entire DDNet team comes together to shortlist, and then vote on the award winners in each category – awards are not based on reviews or review scores (because that’s one person’s opinion), so it’s entirely possible that the winner of a category will have a slightly lower score than a silver or bronze medalist, or a game that didn’t even make the finalists.
For our second award category, we’re going to reward the best fanservice in games. The games industry is so busy celebrating violence and conflict, that fanservice can come across as downright refreshing. Done well, it’s a fun way to add a lot of humour to a game. Done poorly it comes across as crass and completely disrespectful, of course, but when we’re in an industry that celebrates World War 2 for the entertainment it brings the dudebros, and developers compete with one another to come up with ever-more creative ways to hurt their digital characters, we think the panty shot and boob juggle deserves recognition all of its own.
Soulcalibur has always been good with the fanservice. It gets away with it where a game like Dead or Alive has traditionally not done so because Soulcalibur also happens to be an exceedingly good fighting game (and that’s certainly the case here too), but yes, Soulcalibur has always revelled in exposed midriffs, stunning legs, and skirts that defy the very laws of gravity. Soulcalibur VI is no different here, and between Seong Mi-na and Talim it doesn’t really matter if Dead or Alive 6, next year, turns out to be a bomb, because Soulcalibur VI will be close enough to perfect (it won’t though).
Death Mark isn’t an overly fanservice-heavy game. For the most part it’s a wonderfully creepy horror game that’s focused on Japanese ghosts and exploring haunted locations. But every so often if kicks things up to 11, with a fetististic, fanservicey still image that is almost as shocking in its explicit sexualisation as the game’s most extreme moments of terror.
The thing is that those fetististic images are genuinely essential to the narrative and its themes. The fanservice isn’t sexy, as such, but rather, much like some of the very best horror stories ever written (Dracula, The Monk, Interview with a Vampire, and even the slasher horror genre), the sex themes are a part of the horror and help deliver it. Death Mark is a rare game indeed in that it gets this so, so right.
In itself, Summer Lesson (of which two were released in English in the Asian markets this year) isn’t really fanservicey. It’s a fairly simple life simulation game where you play as a tutor, give your student tasks, and then, hopefully, they get good enough across a wide range of skills to nail an exam at the end of a week. It really is as innocent as that, and while a number of people have found themselves confronted by it (largely because the game does such a spectacular job of showing just how life-like it can render human character models), the game goes out of its way to avoid being seen as fanservicey.
This all changes when you purchase the swimsuit and cheerleader costume DLC. Suddenly the game takes on an entirely different tone, and, yes, it’s ridiculous enough that it comes across as highly satirical in tone. That’ll make it all the more confronting for a lot of people, but if any game was to demonstrate just how far VR can take fanservice, with the right kind of development budget, it’s this one.