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Monday, August 22, 2011

Games: Level 5





Level 5 is a video game company based in Fukuoka, Japan run by president and CEO, Akihiro Hino. Level 5 focuses on traditional role playing games, but they also push the boundaries of JRPG's by integrating action, city building mechanics, and other ingredients fans would generally think incompatible with familiar role play functionality. Notable games from the company include, Dark Cloud, Rouge Galaxy, Jeanne d'Arc, and the Professor Layton series.

In Dark Cloud a being called the Dark Genie decided to destroy the world because he didn't like it the way it was. He smashed the buildings and killed people, then decided not to clean up after himself. A young boy named Toan lived through this rapture. He saw the rubble and the dead stuff and everything else and wanted to do something about it but didn't know how, until someone called the fairy king gave him a magical stone imbued with the power to take broken stuff and make it like it was before it was broken.

Most games that share the playpen called Traditional RPG's approatch cataclismic events from the front. The player and characters in the story are generally set at defcon oarnge at all times. A looming evil is always preparing something, placing the final toutches on its masterpeice, laughing at the starry eyed fools that would challenge the inevitable. But what if it already happened?  Do the people just give up, do they sit on the rubble that was their home and pine for better days, do they pack up and move? Level 5 began their title during the epilogue. There was no hero to stop the Dark Genies plans from playing out, or maybe he was just late.

Each subsequent title from Level 5 introduces itself as if it had never seen another of its species. Akihiro Hino resembles his children in that unlike the CEO's of most companies he is involved in every aspect his products creation.

While RPG Japan frets over its stumbling foundation, worried that disembodied serial killers now hold attention over mute effeminate heroes with silly haircuts and princesses that fell down and forgot everything, Hino sits you down and tells you about this dream he had where sky pirates fly free, or about that dowdy man in a big hat that's really good at figuring out puzzles. Hino uses every mechanic in the design book to not only show you what he saw but allow you to experience what it felt like to be there.

His games tell a story, which should be said of all games, but would be a damn lie if spoken. They serve as the video game equivalent of a favorite dive bar, a place where the jaded and cynical of our industry go for a cold drink, a hot meal, and to have a close friend weave us a yarn that reminds us why we do this crappy thing for kids.

Level 5 is going to pass on the Tokyo Game show this year,  opting instead to throw their own party called "Level-5 World." Although much like a good guy in life they will still make a few titles available to their friends that attend the big convention. Level 5 recently opened an American office and plan to release 5 new games in the future.

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