'Stellar Plate' is a shallow and satisfying showcase of Korean beauty

(3 stars)

As a Korean American who has visited South Korea many times, I am well aware of my culture's obsession with looks and glamor. It's an ever-present pressure felt even by Korean men. My primary schooling was from Dr. Not Seuss, it was GQ magazine – because, when I was 7, my father felt it was important for me to learn how men “expect”.

In South Korea, “regular” beauty is an aspiration, an ideal, and above all a goal. Want a good career? It comes with good looks. Applying for a job? You may need to submit a headshot first, A recently concluded procedure for public works. Its vibrant cosmetics industry sells beauty products to school-aged children. Advertisements for plastic surgery are everywhere, and they're not subtle about being “ugly.” So now there's Eve, the player character of the latest PlayStation 5 exclusive game releasing on April 26. She is a woman born into the culture and philosophy of South Korea. His presentation, sleek and polished, sparked debate American sports emphasize objectification and the “male gaze.”

I was uncomfortable listening to the lecture, because on the one hand, of course Korean standards of beauty are rigid and often ridiculous. Hundreds of thousands of Korean women took to the streets”Escape the corset, in 2018 began a struggle against societal structures that require women to perform “traditional” roles. My friend Elise Hu, who worked at NPR in Korea for four years, wrote an entire book about navigating “the most advanced nation on Earth” (as Washington Post critic Becca Rothfield put it). On the other hand, these are our unique struggles to address, and I hate seeing a project from people who make it look like my family has been used as a cudgel in a culture war that has nothing to do with this game. It's sad to see Eve being used as an argument against diversity, and it's disturbing that an IGN France article (they later apologized) for “Stellar Blade” made it look like it was made by people who have never met a woman. Many women work in the studio.

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Game director Kim Hyung-tae weighed in on the debates, and tells me he wasn't surprised because modern video games tend to focus on realistic depictions of people. But Eve is supposed to be a character whose beauty can be expressed with “little restrictions and no restraints”.

“The game is a virtual reality, and I believe we should have opportunities to see things in a virtual space that are not so realistic,” Kim said through a translator. “We are already familiar with reality, we live in it. So when you play a game, I want to see something different from what I experience. There are many things that are more realistic and that should be respected. And I feel that there should be games like 'Stellar Blade.'

I don't think it's an understatement to see a video game with a Korean girl in the global game market. Kim confirmed to me that she defines herself as a Korean woman, designed by a Korean woman, modeled after a Korean woman, voiced by a Korean woman, and in a Korean-made game. Near” fame) with Korean lyrics. She is Korean-coded in every sense of the phrase, and Kim is well aware that she represents only a single, narrow definition of beauty.

“By taking this game to players, I have a chance to present to the world how Korean beauty and Asian beauty are different, how Asians are different from each other,” said Kim, in a global sports industry largely dominated by Japan and the United States.

If “Stellar Blade” was the studio's first attempt at a big-budget single-player action game, “Stellar Blade” was a marvel because the idiom was particularly frustrating. Kim is unusually direct in citing his inspiration for “Near: Automata,” often described by critics, including myself, as one of the medium's masterpieces. Kim didn't set out to create a masterpiece; He wears his influences on his sleeve and has fun.

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“Of course there's pressure, but making a game like 'Near' has been a really fun journey for me. It's been an interesting experience as a fan,” said Kim.

Like mine, the game's opening will confirm the skeptics' assumptions. For hours, it feels like a webbit, me-too copy of “Near: Automata,” taking only surface-level descriptions of its characters and story. The earth is overrun by monstrous men, and the Mother Sphere sends an army of warrior women, including Eve, to slay the head monster. A disaster landing ends with Eve as the sole survivor, and a stranger named Adam helps her complete her mission. Any veteran sci-fi reader will predict the game's plot beats from hours on end.

Writing from moment to moment won't help. “Classic Eve,” jokes Lily, who Eve just met. The dialogue hints at more history and personality than is actually shown. Conversations are unnatural and dull. Eve is the star of the show, and displays an anxious lack of personality.

But more playing time reveals this void as part of his character arc. Eve is meek by design, an obvious embodiment of the creation myth who gains personhood through the forbidden fruit of knowledge. In fact, this concept is tied directly into the story design, as one of the game's many outcomes depends on the amount of knowledge Eve gains from reading books and interacting with other humans. Like the story, it's a simple matter, but effective and vivid.

The game falters when it tries to be too many different types of games at once, and the peripherals are limited. It's filled with mind-numbing, boring puzzles that have appeared in many video games over the past several decades: resisting laser lights from mirrors, grappling block-sliding sections, and a “Pipe dream” minigame that has nothing to do with the formula. This game would be great as a lean experience without distracting from the grossly inflated ideas of every other game.

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Fortunately “Stellar Blade” keeps things interesting by moving between a linear, level-based structure with side quests, hidden stories and open areas complete with a city center. The boring creature designs of the early days (your typical coop and tentacles) give way to more interesting fusions of technology and natural life. Scatter these across a desert landscape, and suddenly “Stellar Blade” moves like a Final Fantasy game.

The third and final act sends the game off with memorable, challenging and engaging fights, each introducing interesting moves, compelling visual design and finally some real story stakes. (A story mode makes things noticeably easier for those who don't want to sweat the battles.) As predictable as this story is, it ends with a familiar sense of empowerment — something I felt compelled to embark on the 20-hour experience. Again.

The battle design is a winning feature of this game, despite its visual similarities to games like “Bayonetta,” another game featuring Family Battle Fems. Eve's combat may be slow compared to that game, but I'd describe it as heavy. Later, Eve gains counterattacks that push her back or out of combat, creating new opportunities to attack. This, and heavy enemy reactions, help the game's battles stand apart from “Bayonetta” and this game's other inspiration, “Dark Souls.”

“Stellar Blade” doesn't make a strong first impression, but it leaves a lasting one. More importantly, it eventually manages to carve out its own unique identity, just like Eve. There has been a critical debate over the years How cyberpunk fiction is rooted in racist fears, And this type is suitable for Asian culture. Now here's “Stellar Blade,” a true piece of Korean cyberpunk that, like Eve, is beautiful in its own ridiculous way.

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