I’ll just come right out and say it: today’s most hyped-up games kinda suck.
This statement might seem strange coming from a gamer, but let me classify what games I see as the problem. Big, open-world RPG’s that run 60-100 hours such as the Dragon Age series. Sports games that take realism to such a level that you’re forced to sit through long pitching windups and practice bounces at the free throw line. Hyper-dialogued, chore-riddled life simulators such as Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon. And let’s not forget the overly-repetitious bane of this entire generation that’s claiming the soul and happiness of the younger generation: Call of Duty!
How did we get to the point where so much trophy and waste was injected into the gameplay experiences of today? I remember when every game I played was simply good or bad. Games like Castlevania were perfectly crafted and a blast to play. Games like Chubby Cherub were clearly created by inexperienced game designers who could imitate a genre but not understand what made games…well…playable. Yet despite how bad the game was, you could still play it. Sure, it was bad. But you could play it.
So many of them these days aren’t so much.
An RPG Story
A few years after the PS3 was released, when the price was coming down and the Wii graphics were getting long in the tooth, I finally put my chips down on the system. I bought it for two games: Demon’s Souls and Dragon Age: Origins. Both looked great and I was ready to get back to RPG’s after years away from the genre. (The Wii didn’t bring the goods in that department.)
And boy, did I looooove Demon’s Souls. What an incredible experience! Having such direct control of the character was refreshing. It combined everything I loved about an action game into a full-fledged RPG and the execution was astounding. The storyline boiled down to a handful of spoken lines right at the beginning of the game.
Destroy evil. Good luck. Go!
The game was balls hard and I poured my all into beating it. When I was done, I felt I’d waited too long to give the PS3 a chance. The next day I grabbed Dragon Age off the shelf and settled into my beanbag to enjoy another adventure.
And it sucked.
I lasted not even 3 hours. Maybe I quit too soon, or maybe I simply wasn’t a match for the game, but I left feeling utterly disappointed. If you’re not familiar with the Dragon Age series, what it tries to do is provide a story experience you control. You make decisions that affect the storyline as it’s played out to you. It wasn’t just your character or class choices, but decisions you made as the plot unfolded. So, for example, an NPC would ask you what you wanted to do next and you’d answer with one of several pre-canned responses.
I remember finding it so extremely awkward that my character had no voice even though the game was *loaded* with audio dialogue. It was nice hearing a few characters have a conversation and then, when it was my turn, I’d simply get a selection screen with 4-5 responses I could make. I’d choose and the characters would continue on while I was apparently a mute. It’s so disjunct.
I get it. My imagination is where my voice is. I’m the character and hearing another’s voice would break me out of it. How artistic. What utter hogwash, though. I play *tons* of great games where my character speaks and I’m quite aware I’m playing a game already. What’s worse is that the cut scenes break the flow of the game by making me spend 10 seconds or so reading all these possible responses and “deciding” which one I wanted to choose. Hearing two characters argue passionately and then turn to you and ask what you think of things followed by dead silence? Yeah, it’s a broken gameplay experience.
I desperately tried to find a setting where I could just have the game choose something for me. I DIDN’T WANT TO DECIDE. I play games to make an impact on the world by *playing*, not making banal dialogue responses. I don’t know what answering “I guess!” will do over “Sure!” so stop asking me. Let me choose my character’s hair color or the sound of her voice. I *know* what those choices will do, but I don’t know what all my dialogue choices are changing unless I play several times.
Guess what? I’m not going to play a 60-hour game four times. Why would I? So I could see a few different plot differences? There’s so many more experiences to be had…playing *other* games. If you want me to play it multiple times then make a fantastic game where I’ll want to!
What’s With The Endless Dialogue Already?!
Ever play Ni No Kuni? What a beautiful game! An RPG with art direction by the geniuses at Studio Ghibli. The game has so many wonderful cut scenes, but it’s the in-game graphics which will mesmerize you. They are breathtaking. The characters draw you in and the game was almost perfect! Well, except one thing…
THE CHARACTERS SIMPLY DO NOT SHUT UP!
I got about halfway through this one when I couldn’t stand it anymore and started blasting through the pages of dialogue. I simply couldn’t read it anymore. A big bulk of the game involves you collecting “emotions” from one character and bringing it to another. So, maybe you go harvest some happiness and bring it to a sad character who needs it, but oh man if it involved 20 pages of blathering on and on every single time. Happiness. Got it. Can we please move on already?!
The theory behind it is that the dialogue “lengthens” a game. In this case, it literally turns a 25-hour game into a 50-hour game, and that’s with me barely reading any of it the whole second half! I simply can’t believe a competent game designer would desecrate their game to try to impart some value to your purchase via making you read long, drawn out speech. It’s outrageous.
Remember Super Metroid? Remember the story behind it? I won’t give it away, but the final battle imparts so much heartbreak and climax you remember it for years afterwards. Do you recall how many pages of text were in the game? Just a few. Right at the beginning of the game! That was it. The story was relayed through mood, scenery, action, and it flowed wonderfully.
I played Ni No Kuni fairly recently. About 2 years ago. So, how much do I remember about the story? I recall the boy’s mom dies and his doll is a fairy who takes him to another world. That’s about it. I can’t recall any of the character names except for Mr. Drippy. I can’t recall exactly who the mother was or what the main character’s overall goal was. (Oliver. His name was Oliver. I just looked it up.) I can’t even recall who the final boss was. Despite literally thousands of pages of dialogue, I can’t recall any of it because it was all just so excessive and I would never replay that game because of it.
Not even the games themselves are the ultimate evidence to what gaming is these days. Go to your local GameStop on the launch days of big-budget titles like Battlefield, Destiny, or Elder Scrolls games. Wait, did I say launch day? I mean launch midnight! Yes, gamers will show up in the middle of the night to get these new games as soon as possible. Why? To reach character-levels higher and faster than anyone else. To grind for the best weapons so they can sell them for real money online. Ultimately, to create a superior manifestation of their “character” in the game world than in their own lives.
I don’t like to go to these game shops anymore. I get depressed seeing people talk about new titles with no enjoyment in their voices. They’ll come in and trade their old games that they spent $60 on so they can get $10 of credit to buy the next one. Games cast aside for new experiences. No love. No joy. You can’t even blame them, older versions of Call of Duty can’t compete with the graphics of the latest incarnations, so why bother? Often times I’m not even convinced they *want* to play these games…that it’s simply because their peers are playing them and they don’t want to be ostracized when their buddies detach from life to grind out Level 70 characters for hours upon hours. In fact, I’m convinced that many are simply unable to stop because of the attachment to their characters even though they want to! (Kind of like Amiibo collecting these days.)
Let Games Be Games
I consider myself a retro gamer not because of some childhood nostalgia, but because games were distilled into their essence in the earlier years. There wasn’t a single NES or SNES game that bombarded you with endless dialogue or complex RPG mechanics until at least the N64. (Navi anyone?) I play newer games, too. Shovel Knight, Runner 2, Bayonetta, and yes, RPG’s like Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. These are true games. You play them. You don’t spend tons of hours researching character builds or reading through tens of hours of backstory and history in their virtual libraries. You simply get a character, a goal, enough story to keep you interested in continuing, and that’s all. It’s come to the point that the less backstory I get in a game the happier I am!
Compare Tecmo Bowl on the NES to Madden ’15 today. In terms of reality, they’re not even in the same stratosphere. One has a 4-play playbook while another has hundreds per team! Real announcers? Check. Realistic in-game playclock? Check. Scanned textures of all the real players? Check! But I’d be damned if Tecmo Bowl isn’t, far and away, a hell of a lot more fun! You can measure it in the perma-grin I get when I’ve thrown yet another 80-yard TD pass with John Elway! The recipe for its success was simple.
What do you think? Am I not alone or a victim of nostalgia? Comment below!