Are Games Too Complex Or Am I Just An Old Gamer?

I’ve got some lawn chasin’, fist shakin’ things to say about a nasty little trend that seems to have gotten worst lately:

Video games have gotten too complex for their own good.

I’ve had a lot of complaints about where RPG’s have gone the last 5-10 years. I find that I love early RPG’s where it was easy to absorb the rules of the world and develop strategies from a finite set of game mechanics. This has progressively grown more complex to the point where I start, then stop, half the RPG’s I try these days. On the list of games I’ve pulled the plug on are Dragon Age: Origins (why doesn’t my character speak and what do all these choices matter?!), Resonance of Fate (how the hell do I battle?!), Xenoblade Chronicles (why does every battle seem so hopeless?!) and the list goes on and on. About the only modern RPG’s I’ve truly loved for the past several years have been Dark Souls games and, even then, there’s a lot of complexity I ignore. (And luckily, I can ignore it.) I beat Bloodbourne and still have no bloody idea how Insight worked and a few other core character stats. Ultimately, it was just about grinding and fighting.

These days, tutorial modes and hand-holding are essential parts of large-scale games, though by essential I don’t necessarily mean gamers want it. They’ve simply replaced manuals and in some ways that’s a good thing considering how common it is for manuals to go missing. However, if you’re going to have a tutorial mode, it should be able to teach you all the mechanics of a game. How many times have you gone through an hour long tutorial mode full of unnecessarily wordy dialogue and then, in the end, still not understand fundamental concepts of the game? The horrors I’ve heard about the excessive dialogue in Xenoblade Chronicles X’s first 10 hours have kept me far, far away from that one.

And it’s been happening more and more.

Back on Feb. 2nd, a game I’d been waiting a long time for finally appeared on mobile: Fire Emblem Heroes. I’ve played most of the Fire Emblem series across several Nintendo consoles and, with the exception of the dreadful Radiant Dawn on Wii, loved all of them. Their grandeur comes from a level-based approach to teaching the mechanics of how the game works by introducing small pieces of information as each level is finished. By level 10, you’re still learning new mechanics, and the levels are designed to force you to understand because you can’t beat them without that knowledge. You know completely how to play, use every item, and how to strategize in battle.

(In case you’re curious, Radiant Dawn fails at this the most. There’s several items you have no idea how to use, many of your characters can be so easily killed in one shot, there’s too many early storylines that you never connect with any one character…and for whatever reason it was a dreadfully boring, bland, colorless game with a laughably underpowered main character. But I digress…)

So, why the heck did I stop playing Fire Emblem Heroes within 24 hours of launch?

Interestingly, the first impressions of the game should’ve been a harbinger. In the weeks leading up to its release, Nintendo held a promotional event where you had to vote for your favorite character in the series. Of course, it’s Lucina, but still people voted for other characters (fools) and for a couple weeks I was utterly confused as to what the point was. Obviously, Nintendo just wanted people to link up their Nintendo accounts, but I was never quite sure what would happen with the winners. Heroes had a mechanic that let you recruit historical members, but what was my vote for? It was hard to tell, though ultimately it simply meant the characters would be in the game…somewhere. It’s hard to really get excited to vote for something when you don’t have the game to know what it means. Why would I recruit old characters when I have a new story I intend on enjoying?

Then, the game comes out and they give you a little bit of info — then it’s right into battle! Heroes is different than the main series games in that the levels are one screen big (a good thing, honestly, for mobile) and the battles are fairly quick due to the small number of characters on screen at once. When a battle’s done, you have to wait a period of time to recover. You also get a bunch of microitems when you start playing. Then, there’s collecting characters from former games and switching them into your “squad.” None of this is part of the regular games and it was all fairly overwhelming. On top of that, early battles were hard to survive unscathed unlike the regular games, so you always felt like you were taking serious damage. (Previous games taught you to try to beat every level without losing a character, but that’s unavoidable here.) Is death permanent? I dunno…I never stuck around to find out.

You see, the biggest problem with the game is there are soooooooo many aspects to the game that they don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. Just look at the main interface.

There's a lot going on here...

There’s a lot going on here…and who are all these people?

Very quickly, there’s a lot going on:

  • Messages to look for
  • PvP battles
  • Summon…people…to your team for…I don’t know how long…
  • Training
  • Leveling up, which doesn’t happen automatically in this game…
  • Choose your current team
  • Monthly quests which include things like “Beat 5 blue enemies”

On top of this, your phone starts berating you with notifications about things your not sure what they mean. Heroes suffers from overwhelming the player with a lot at once which is weird because the player-base is filled with Fire Emblem fans who are playing something suddenly very unfamiliar. What happens if a character dies? How long do summoned characters last? Are there any characters I cannot allow to die?

A whiff in my book.

Now…today I played some Pokemon Duel for the first time. This game kinda came out of nowhere when it was released last month. It’s a strategic video board game that lets you battle with all your favorite characters. It attempts to feed off the Pokemon Go-mania in that every player of that game is a candidate for liking this one.

Pokemon Duel is vastly different, however. In it, PvP battle is the name of the game and you don’t have to walk across your state to find all the Pokemon you desire. Instead, it’s a chess match where Pokemon battle on a board in a “capture the flag” scenario. Off the bat, this game is far better than Heroes in that the mechanics are easier to understand. However…well, just look at this game screen:

I have a theory about why this screen is bugging me...

I have a theory about why this screen is bugging me and it’s not Bulbasaur’s butt…

Once again, there is a lot going on. While the basic game is simple, they practically spoil it by introducing so much extra stuff:

  • Currency and gems
  • A pay-to-play system
  • Gym boosters for consecutive wins that give you figures that are “R or higher” and “UC or higher”…wait…huh?
  • Rare metals
  • A fusion system which combines figures in some way using…rocket science apparently…
  • Leagues which is…well…I don’t know the button doesn’t do anything for me…
  • Locked boosters
  • A card system during battle
  • A lot more…

Now, I know it’s a different company that made this, but they really could’ve taken some lessons from Niantic’s Pokemon Go. The fun in that game is that there are far fewer game mechanics to know and they all…make sense:

  • Catch as many Pokemon as you can.
  • Razz-berries make it easier to catch them.
  • A Great Ball makes catching them easier. An Ultra Ball makes catching them easier than that.
  • Evolve a Pokemon when you have lots of candy.
  • Look at your Pokedex to see them.

And, yes, strategies can be developed as you gain experience by playing, but all of them are developed based on this small set of mechanics. Heck, you have to become a Level 5 trainer before they even let you choose a team and compete against Gyms. It’s obvious the game was developed for casual users as well as expert players all at once. Both kids and adults can enjoy the game even if the kids don’t play it quite as strategically. For example, holding off on your evolutions until you have many of them to do and then using a Lucky Egg is a great way to level up quickly early on. You can even completely ignore the gym battling side of the game and instead just catch Pokemon. The shop lets you buy items that, for the most part, you can find in the game.

Mobile apps have always been designed to be easy to use. There’s limited space on the screen, so the best designs are ones that make core features available and remove unnecessary complexity. So why do Pokemon Duel and Fire Emblem Heroes present such a hardcore, non-casual game to their players?

Well, simply put it’s because that seems to be the trend these days. Complexity is king, there’s a fear in not having enough features to a game, and I’m not going to analyze why things are that way.

I honestly can’t explain why games have become overdone these days.

Maybe I’m just old.

Now get the hell off my lawn, I need to put my kids to bed.

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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