Who Do I Have to Thank for This?
I would have to say the most prominent influences for Stars Fall Up were Scott Pilgrim and Bee and Puppycat. I was really big into Scott Pilgrim back when it was coming out, since I was also right around the age group it focused on. I loved how it fantasticalized an otherwise mundane life, making even the bad or the boring things feel like they had some purpose to them, and that you could have a wider perspective on failure or hardship. Bee and Puppycat feels in the same vein, though its outward appearance is more cutesy and pastel. (Although what makes it one of my favorite pieces of media ever is how regardless of its saccharine overtones, it still feels so emotionally honest, a kind of disarming sincerity that hits you in a melancholy way). Both these stories are tied together by the theme that even when life sucks, the people in your life can make it not suck quite so much. The mechanics of SFU are built around playing as a group of people who affect each others’ daily lives, both in-game and out of game. The players themselves will set challenges for each others’ characters, but then may have their own character go and help their friend get out of that same jam.
I’ve always loved the aesthetic of “modern fantasy”, to use the loosest of terms. “Magical realism” might be a more accurate moniker, though at this point in our social history I can’t say how much that term has evolved from its origins as a subgenre of mainly Latinx authorship from the 80’s and 90’s. It just really feels right, and a get the sense we would have coined the word for the sake of its necessity even if it hadn’t come along earlier. I also had a good talk with a friend earlier this year about how a lot of great media has moved beyond the postmodern frame of cynicism and grittiness, the kind of tone that dovetailed with our teenage years of rebellion against what came before, the auric Disney halcyon of naïve optimism. That all came crashing down throughout the 00’s, and for the ten or so years after that we had to wade through gritty reboot after gritty reboot of the fairy tales we grew up on and still wanted to enjoy, but didn’t feel comfortable doing so in a non-ironic way. Also every damn fantasy videogame in that era looked like it was watercolored with the palette of a peat bog. Can’t see anything? Turn up the bloom! Best graphics on the market, kid.
The point is, with staples like Undertale, Doki Doki Literature Club, and sleeper hits like Bee and Puppycat, we’ve finally moved beyond the whiny nihilism of postmodern media and into what has been suggested to be “metamodernism”, where it’s important to acknowledge that things still suck and powerful people are responsible for fucking the world up, but also parts of the world are still good, actually, and we can nourish ourselves and grow on that goodness in order to better confront the bad. That’s the kind of message I hope Stars Fall Up can bring to the table, and bring out of the people that play it.
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