Style Savvy's Most Glaring Issue

I played and finished Style Savvy earlier this year, and I kind of loved it. If you’re unfamiliar, it is Nintendo’s aggressively-marketed fashion game for the DS where you play as a stylist and boutique manager. You buy clothes to stock your shop, and help customers find pieces that fit their style and preferences. For example, a customer will say something like, “I’m looking for a skirt that matches my quirky style!” Based on key words (like “quirky”), what the customer is wearing, and sometimes the person’s personality blurb, you can figure out what brand they like, and then it’s just a matter of picking the item they asked for from that brand. Although there are occasionally variations (for example, if a person is wearing all blue, they might buy something that isn’t their favorite brand, if it’s blue), that’s how it works.

Despite how the game (perhaps necessarily) simplifies fashion and style, I quite enjoyed it. There’s a focus on using clothes as a creative outlet and a mode of self-expression, an attitude similar to that of many folks in the style blogosphere. But the game has a glaring problem that cannot be overlooked: your character, and every single one of your customers, all look like this:

A screenshot from Style Savvy. On the right are five different necklaces to choose from, on the left is a female avatar shown from mid-thigh up. She has a tiny waist and narrow hips.

While there are a few NPCs that have unique character models (though they are all thin, also), every other character has the exact same size-zero body. Since this game is on the DS, it’s possible that there are technical reasons for this, but that’s not an excuse I accept. And it certainly explains why I don’t need to worry about buying clothes in different sizes. But thinking about it, it becomes kind of disturbing. It’s not just that everyone is thin, it’s that everyone is exactly the same.

But also, fashion is notoriously sizeist and fatphobic. It’s no coincidence that Pepsi’s “slim, attractive” new can debuted at Fashion Week. (Really, the entire “bodies” tag at SocImages is ample evidence.) And yet, while the target audience of the game may be fans and followers of high fashion, the game seems to evoke the sensibilities of the democratized online world of street-fashion blogging, with its emphasis on self-expression and experimentation. But the vast variety of bodies that make up this world are nowhere to be seen in Style Savvy. Where are the women like Stéphanie (whose blog subheading is “Style is not a size but an attitude”), or the Fa(t)shion February crew?

(This is not to say that the fashion blogosphere is a happy shiny fully-inclusive space–far from it. The young and thin bloggers are the most likely to get well-paying advertisers and free designer clothing. But due to the nature of the internet, it is still far less exclusionary than the fashion industry and traditional press. It’s possible to carve out fat-positive and inclusive spaces, like the Fa(t)shion February project.)

Sometimes games present worlds that conflict with our own experiences, breaking our suspension of disbelief, and in that conflict we can tell something about the biases and assumptions that went into creating that world. The world of fashion in Style Savvy is comprised entirely of very thin people, which is simultaneously a discouragingly accurate depiction of high fashion and a completely unrealistic depiction of the broader realm of street fashion. In Style Savvy, clothes and makeup and hairstyles are all that separates one person from another, but in the real world, a person’s body can be, and often is, an intrinsic part of their style. It’s certainly always a consideration–fashion is part sculpture, where different fabrics and cuts can change a person’s proportions: clothing and body work together to create art. The game mouths the ideals of fashion as self-expression, but it falls flat when the actual physical self is taken entirely out of the equation. People are different, and those differences should be celebrated, not erased.

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The World Ends with a Crisis: Story, Gameplay, and the Handheld Experience

Pick-up-and-play games–puzzle games, especially–do well on handheld consoles for this obvious reason: handhelds are generally most often played in short bursts, often while traveling or waiting for something. But is it possible to make an epic, story-heavy RPG, adventure, or action game on a handheld while designing for portability? Crisis Core on the PSP and The World Ends With You on the DS both attempt to deliver such an experience, and I’d like to examine how they do so, whether they succeed, and what level of portability is truly necessary.

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How the World Ends

(Contains some vague spoilers for the first third ofThe World Ends With You.)

The World Ends with You for the DS is, like its PS2 cousin Kingdom Hearts, very much a game about friendship and teamwork. While both games deal with this theme in a way that’s fairly heavy-handed, only in TWEWY does it result in one of the most unique RPG combat systems in a while.

As a quick overview: combat in TWEWY, an action RPG, takes place on both screens of the DS. Neku, the protagonist, fights on the bottom screen and is controlled using various slashes, touches, and taps of the stylus. Simultaneously, Neku’s partner–for the first third of the game, a fashion-loving girl named Shiki–fights on the top screen and is controlled using the D-pad (or A/B/X/Y buttons for lefties). For Shiki, the combat involves the player hitting directional buttons to follow a path to one of three cards in order to match three cards at the top of the screen; when three cards are matched, a Fusion attack–a flashy team-up attack that damages all enemies on-screen–becomes available.

What really makes the battle system a team effort between the characters is the light puck, a ball of green light that gets passed back and forth between Neku and Shiki like a sparkly tennis ball (or the magic projectiles volleyed between Ganondorf and Link in many of their epic confrontations). In order to send the light puck to their partner, the player must inflict a certain amount of damage before the puck fades away. Continued volleys increase each character’s attack (some enemies can only be damaged when the character has the light puck) and net more experience points at the end of battle. The light puck simultaneously adds depth to the already intricate battle system, streamlines the dual-screen combat by giving the player an idea of which screen to focus on at a given moment, and emphasizes the game’s theme of teamwork and friendship; it contributes to both gameplay and story.

In TWEWY, the two characters fighting together actually communicate with each other, calling “I’ve got this!” and “Good job, Neku!” as the light puck bounces back and forth. This natural battle-chatter is something you don’t realize is missing from RPG battles until you hear it done well.

In a larger sense, the characters become stronger as the relationship between them becomes stronger. As Neku and Shiki face greater obstacles and stronger enemies, they bond over their shared hardship and learn to trust each other. By the end of the seven days of the Reapers’ Game, Neku and Shiki are close friends and promise to meet each other after the Game ends. It’s rather elegant that the gameplay reflects and emphasizes this growing relationship, unlike many games where, because of gameplay design decisions, the player can choose to act in a way that is completely different than what the story dictates the character(s) should be like.

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