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199X (PC) artwork

199X (PC) review

"I heard you on the wireless back in fifty two...."

199X starts off with a trigger warning. Yeah, itís going to be that kind of game: a homebrew RPG Maker affair with stock graphics and a preachy message that aims to make the player feel like an awful human being.

Not even fifteen minutes in, you find yourself trapped in a hospital that an invisible narrator won't let you leave until youíve explored five nearby hot spots. Which is fine; this is a thing that happens. Only 199X demands more of you. If you want to do something as monumental as go outside, you need to advance every dialogue option for every hot spot, revisiting and exhausting every conversation bracket available because itís very important you take the time to digest every little thing the game has to say. Only then are you permitted to leave. Iíve been in these kinds of situations before, so I settled down and prepared myself for a couple of hours of being arrogantly lectured by a clumsily constructed video game. Only, that never happened.

199X (PC) image

Thereís a saving grace to 199X: it builds around a reasonably clever setup, and and it is brilliantly written. You control 20-something Clara. And that, as the gameís byline goes, is the problem. Youíre not actually playing as Clara, but rather as yourself, exerting an external force that guides her every move like an ethereal puppeteer.

For her part, Clara wakes up in a hospital room without the ability to move by her own power and, after an understandable bit of panic, seems to take to her situation quite well. Though you interact with each other through the gameís limited conversation branches, the exchanges are lively and full or personality. An early test of your newly-hijacked body asks you to wander over and examine a fire extinguisher. Should you continue to enforce a keen interest in fire safety equipment, that moment develops into an in-joke between the two of you.

Itís a real compliment to the writing that Clara is nothing more than a linear set of scripts, but still develops enough artificial personality for something as socially structured as an in-joke to organically build itself. Maybe youíll never even find this particular abnormality if you either donít go out of your way to try and troll your on-screen partner, or show disdain at constantly poking fire extinguishers. But thatís fine. Once you get out of the stumbling intro within the hospital, youíre no longer forced to digest every scrap of script in order to advance. Instead, youíre free to abuse your control as you desire. Eventually making it back to Claraís apartment prompts a meeting with a band that occupies the same building she does. Sheís not especially keen on them, and you can follow her prompts to make their conversation as short as possible. Or, you can be a dick and force her to sing a few bars of ďVideo Killed the Radio Star,Ē so they redouble their efforts to recruit her as a singer.

199X (PC) image

Despite its short run time of between one or two hours, little touches like this help you quickly build a relationship with Clara. She asks you to close your eyes while she changes her clothes and suggests you're a bit of a creeper if you try to get her to interact with a toilet. Of course, itís all just a trap for when the game slowly starts to sour and things begin to fall apart.
There are plenty of signs thereís something wrong with Clara (a voice in her head forces her to sing or to fondle fire extinguishers, after all), but she lives in a once prosperous town now nearing complete abandonment. The hospital in which she wakes is barren, aside from a lone doctor you may or may not murder, consisting largely of rows and rows of empty beds and unanswered questions. 199X takes place over the course of seven days, with each day seeing the town grow a little emptier.

Personal relationships sour, and new world views are explored, accepted and despised. 199Xís short tale is clever, but not particularly unpredictable. It has noticeable shortcomings that are often saved by a sense of self awareness and confident writing. It has a snarky edge it really needed because, no matter how well words are spun, it still retains all the usual RPG Maker faults and then some. Did anyone ever truly think no one would notice the gameís houses are made out of ceiling tiles? Itís a bizarre place to live. Which is fitting in a way, because Claraís predicament is anything but ordinary -- hers is an odd tale thatís not really even her own. She shares the focus with you, making you just as big a part of things falling to pieces around you as she is. Itís her world youíre visiting, but there are consequences attached to your stay.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 11, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Nightfire posted May 11, 2017:

Wha...? This game has a trigger warning on it? Really? That's a thing now? Are they putting these on a lot of games?

Say it ain't so.
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EmP posted May 12, 2017:

I predict we'll see this happen more and more as the perpetually offended generation takes root. Because heaven forbid you challenge anyone's mindset. Safe spaces and echo chambers and other Tumblr buzzwords and etc and etc.

I've played a few games that start with a trigger warning. The only time it ever felt even remotely applicable was Spec Ops:The Line and maybe *maybe* Ether One at a huge stretch. 199X is a decent way to burn a couple of hours, but contains exactly nothing to get 'triggered' over unless you subscribe to playing the professional victim.
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Nightfire posted May 12, 2017:

The only game I've ever played that had anything close to a trigger warning on it was Silent Hill 3, and... Yeah. That game was probably worthy of it.

But an RPGmaker game? Seriously?!
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Zydrate posted May 15, 2017:

Ugh. Everyone complains about the 'generation' but I'm of the mind that rape victims have the right to try to avoid the subject matter and trigger warnings don't really bother me.

Some are dumber than others I'll agree, but the kneejerk "waaa everyone is so sensitive" irritates me a little.
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bwv_639 posted May 15, 2017:

"Personal relationships sour, and new world views are explored, accepted and despised."

The unmerry-go-round, one could be tempted to call it.
Hoping that "unmerry", being the bygone word that it is, don't trigger the youth.
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bwv_639 posted May 15, 2017:

"Some are dumber than others I'll agree, but the kneejerk "waaa everyone is so sensitive" irritates me a little."

As long as it is not challenged that the trigger warnings that are going to be given will always represent the political and societal powers, interests, fashions and fads of the current time more than something coherently aimed at avoiding as much suffering as possible for every weak/unlucky person (starting from in-home abused children and elders, by far the two weakest groups), I have no problem with trigger warnings...

But they are no tool of Justice; instead, tool of politics (giving "the market" a good impression of your company is politics, by the way).
Which can, at times and in part, partially do good.

If every person who has received abuse, starting from the weaker categories and the worst types of abuse, were trigger-warned, I'd be happy with it.

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EmP posted May 15, 2017:

I could live my life quite happily without ever seeing a trigger warning. Good for me; I'm not the target for most of them, and, as such, understand that they do have their place. I'll fall back on the examples I've already used. Spec Ops exists to get under your skin and make you feel like you are an awful, awful person in an attempt to simulate in you a small slice of the dehumanization of warfare, of taking life, and you should absolutely be warned about this going in lest you think it's just another third person shooter. Ether One is a brilliant and beautiful interactive look into the very real issues that dementia will cause. This is a point blank awful condition that turns people you've loved all your life into someone you no longer recognise. It's a heartbreaking issue that's sadly affected millions so, yes, a warning is certainly appreciated here. I think it's a wonderful way of exploring and understanding the condition, but completely get why some would not want to go anywhere near it.

But it's also bloody ridiculous the subjects overly sensitive whiners will demand a trigger warning on. Point in case: 199X's trigger warning is completely pointless and absolutely without merit and, therefore, I exercise my right to make fun of it and the people who demand it. It's not even the worst I've ever seen. It's not even the worst by a long, long shot, and, should I ever write about them, I'll mock them, too. If you use warnings frivolously, they soon lose their meaning and just become background noise.
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Nightfire posted May 16, 2017:

I guess I'm just more of an advocate for personal responsibility. If someone is so psychologically damaged that they can't handle playing an RPGmaker game, perhaps they shouldn't be playing video games at all? Perhaps they should be getting help instead. Expecting the entire world to cushion itself to make them feel more comfortable is not the answer. Freedom of speech is an important right that enjoy in the West. Let's keep it that way.

Trigger warnings are also a highly ineffective way to keep people safe, too. You know why? Because mentally ill people have very personal triggers. Game developers, movie producers, and content creators of all stripes cannot possibly account for them all. Someone might be triggered by a touching love scene just as much as a brutal murder or rape scene might set them off. It all depends on the person's damage.

With that said, if a video game is tackling a very sensitive subject or is highly graphic in some way (Off the top of my head, Mafia III comes to mind for its depictions of racism), a disclaimer is probably warranted. But come on. Use as appropriate.

Please note: I am saying all of this from the perspective of someone who has dealt with his own fair share of abuse and mental illness.

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