Things that I like and things that I don’t
So, I was talking with a friend a bit ago, and I was discussing Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts is a series that I have played and beaten three games out of (One, Two and Chain of Memories), playing a good portion of (I beat Terra’s story in Birth By Sleep and about half of Re: Coded), or have tried to get into but couldn’t get past the busy work to enjoy the game (358/2 Days). I also spent a lot of time these past few days playing Tokyo Jungle, Hexyz Force, Earth Defense Force 3 Portable, Borderlands 2 and most recently Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll. I ordinarily don’t get to play around with this many games, but, bronchitis and all that.
Oh, there’s also the Silent Hill Book of Memories demo, which I’ve beaten twice. I’ll be doing a review on that soon. But, I digress. I’ve realized something while thinking about all of these games that tends to be a passing thought for me most of the time. If you either will not stop interrupting me long enough to let me play your game, or you won’t let me get to the point without throwing hours of busy work at me, I will hate your game and probably will not ever finish it.
I really like games that don’t make me do superfluous crud at the beginning that solely exists to make the game longer. You know exactly what I’m talking about, and it’s why I really don’t enjoy many modern JRPG’s. I grew up in the Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger era. A few of my favorite RPG’s are Legend of Dragoon, Tales of Eternia, Skies of Arcadia, Evolution 1 and 2, Grandia 2 until I got to the woefully blasphemous ending, and so on.
Some of the RPG’s that I have been curious about but will likely never finish are Hexyz Force (which I am trying again), Zenonia, Grandia, and others that I can’t think of while I’m sick. There seems to be this obsession in JRPG’s these days where they stick you on hours of “Kill five goblins”, “Find five herbs”, “Now kill six goblins”, “Now kill six goblins AND find five herbs”, “Go find a pendant” quests that add literally nothing to the story whatsoever. Sometimes they provide the opportunity to meet a new party member, and sometimes they provide a teensy bit of an expose onto the character interactions.
There are times that they are used as an engine to force you to leave a place long enough for something bad to happen, but by and large they all serve the same pointless purpose; help stretch our game to that forty to fifty hour mark.
Outside of RPG’s, another annoying mechanic is the game shoving a hail storm of tutorials down your throat all the time. “In your hand is a controller. A controller is used to play video games. A video game is a form of interactive media. Media is something you can watch or touch. Touching is when you put your hand on something. Something is an object. An object is” okay, I think you get the point.
If every handful of seconds your game keeps stopping me to explain crap, my desire to play and even complete your tutorial is slim to none. There have honestly been games that I have stopped part way through the tutorial, put on the shelf and never touched again. The other side of this is when you decide to make a complex engine, and then teach me everything at once and expect me to memorize it.
Of course, there’s also the Hexyz Force approach to making up names for crap that does not need made up names…Sort of like Final Fantasy XIII or pretty much every tales game after Eternia. Thankfully Graces F and Innocence are pretty light on the made up words, but even in Innocence I sorta forgot who I was supposed to be hating and who I was cool with part way through.
Seriously though, Hexyz has Ragnafacts, Spirifacts, Force Points, Hexyz Points, Hexyz Force, Force Facts, etcetera. In English? Elemental weapons, regular weapons, upgrade points, super meter, super attacks, items you can forge. They literally just needed to use those words to lower the barrier of entry significantly, instead of making one of those games that if you stop playing for more than a few weeks to a month you have to restart because you no longer know what anything is or how to do anything at all.
Now, some of you may already know a few of my gripes with most RPG’s. I hate amnesiatics, I hate humble beginnings with child protagonists, I hate stupid villages with villagers that exist solely to be destroyed by the dark lord and make me have some vague motivation to do stuff. What I hate more than all of that is busy work. I am spoiled by older games like Chrono Trigger that let me kill things inside of three minutes and gave me a charming and fun story that then moved me straight into killing more things and exploring. I am spoiled by newer games like Xenoblade that open with two giant robots messing each other up with planet sized swords, then drop me into a war with a big sword and tell me to start wreckin’ the place.
Now, this isn’t because I have a short attention span, not in the least. Heck, Dorian Grey and The Wuthering Heights are two of my favorite novels…actually, Wuthering Heights is my favorite novel. Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice are pretty sweet too. Also anything by Mickey Spillane.
But, I digress and have apparently switched my reviewer hat for my writer hat…which you can get more of at www.dragonhousestudios.org because I am the king of cross promotion.
Getting back to the matter at hand though, no, neither my attention span nor my being American is why I need something to do at the beginning of your game. Simply put, most JRPG’s have the same story of the amnesiatic/humble boy with beef with the dark lord who wants to wipe out the world and has to stop him. And, that’s fine. Every military shooter has the same story, every dungeon crawler has the same story, games that try something original or different with their storylines are few and far between…and are also the only ones I have any desire to finish.
I don’t mind not being dropped into action right away; Tales of Graces F made me wander as a kid for a good while before I got into a fight, and even then I was a child protagonist for like five or six hours and was totally cool with it. This is because the storyline was unique, interesting and filled with charming characters that I wanted to get to know. Legend of Dragoon motivated me beyond its stellar combat engine because I cared about Dart and Sheena and Lavitz and Rose. Xenoblade has a really fun combat engine and great exploration, but what really grabbed me was how much I cared for everyone, and how well written the story was.
Last Story, to point out a contrary title, is one that dropped me in the action immediately, yet I couldn’t possibly care less about its story…nor do I understand very much of it to boot. Seriously, I’m almost ten hours in and still have no ruddy clue what is going on. The characters are two dimensional and have no depth beyond their personality stereotypes and odd quirks (the bookworm decided to risk her life and almost get killed every day as a mercenary…because she wanted to know why trees didn’t grow in places that get bombed to crap in war with magic weapons that rend the environment…that is literally her sole motivation in life, and she’s one of the characters that actually sorta makes sense…)
As a result, Last Story is like FF8 for me; it’s one of the few RPG’s that I play for the gameplay and not the story. So, clearly just giving me action isn’t going to cut it, but, it certainly helps when I get to do something beyond gather some bloody herbs for some elder who is probably going to get killed by the dark lord as soon as I leave the village more than three times anyways.
Playing Souls of Zill O’ll I enjoyed the watercolor graphics and stylish gameplay, but wanted to throw something at the TV set; that game would not shut up about the simplest things for more than five seconds! What’s more, I have never understood the point of guilds in story driven games. Sure, there’s gotta be stuff to do beyond saving the world, but in Zill O’ll for instance my goal is to kill my grandfather who killed my aunt, father and probably mother and brother (I’m not sure if the last two are dead or not, but, I’m like 21 and they’re not around so I’m just gonna assume…). I do not see how collecting gold necklaces in a desert and finding lost gnomes underground is going to help me accomplish that task…
I suppose I’ll wrap this article up with this thought: fluff missions should never be anything more than sidequests that I can ignore if I feel like. Why? Because if you have to make twenty hours of “Collect five herbs” then clearly your story is very short and needs to be fleshed out more. Chrono Trigger never once forced me to do fluff and it still managed to be a forty hour game. Xenoblade doesn’t force fluff on you, and it’s a good fifty hours. Persona 3 and 4 don’t make you do anything that doesn’t have a point, and they’re each over a hundred hours long. Dragon Quest has never had fluff missions, and each of those games are forty to fifty hours as well.
To me, the mark of good writing in an RPG is having a fun original story with charming characters that can occupy 30 to 50 hours on its own. If 70% of your overall completion time was spent on mandatory pointlessness, well, I personally don’t feel like your game was designed all that well in the end. Xeawn, out.