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By “the gut punch,” I’m talking about a plot where there’s a sudden climax that’s supposed to be shocking to the player.  In a movie, this might be the revelation that you’ve been working for the villians, or the cliche “you fought the war, but killed a little girl” style scene.

Here, Firia's grandmother reveals that Firia is really a member of the community.

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When you’re talking about RPGs, there tends to be stories about reaching a specific point in the game.  Etrian Odyssey II has an early floor where you can see many game concepts in action.  While the graphics are identical to the previous area, the game is teaching you about game play and providing a fairly satisfying challenge.  In Chrono Trigger, the assault on Magus’ Fortress showcases attention to sound as a way of setting the mood.

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Now, I should admit that I’m already heavily against certain kinds of plots. Meta plots that specifically attack the player, or that play with the genre with a generally downbeat or negative ending are plots that I don’t enjoy.  I’m much the same way with classic literature, movies, etc. While the plot may be interesting  for a critic, it is not a plot that I want to experience.  I think there’s a fundamental problem with telling a literary plot in a game.

By literary, I mean a plot that is more than a basic “this is why you are doing this gameplay” style plot.  Literary plots will aim for themes, might comment on larger issues than the game universe, have gameplay that tries to force the player to make choices about these issues, and often aim to be a “deep” plot.  A “literary” plot might be called artsy or edgy, depending on presentation and themes.

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