Editorial: Growing Pains

Growing up sucks.

Well, not entirely. It has its benefits, but I think we all tend to look back at the so-called “simpler times” with fondness, and wish that just for a day, we could revisit them. Before this becomes an emo-tastic commentary on my life as a whole, let’s move on to the point I’m trying to make.

Playing games at the age of 19 isn’t the same as playing games at the age of 11. I mean sure, they still rock and all that, but gaming habits and tastes tend to mature along with everything else. The most noticeable difference, of course, is the amount of time that can be spent playing, but upon careful inspection you might find that there’s more to it than that.

I love this town.
I love this town.

I don’t explore towns anymore
Back in the days of my youth, I used to absolutely relish each and every new town I’d visit in an RPG. Every nook and cranny was to be explored, every NPC talked to, every store scanned for their goods. I mean, why not? I had the time, that’s for sure. If I spent a solid hour faffing about in Lindblum, it was no-never-mind to my “schedule,” that’s for certain.

These days? Notsomuch. The most basic reason, of course, is time limitations. I don’t have the fucking time to explore every square inch of Mass Effect‘s Citadel, beautiful and detailed as it is. But in tandem with the time limitations is the fact that as the years go by, I grow more jaded, and it takes more and more for any aspect of a game to impress me. Speaking of RPG townscapes in particular, it’s reached the point where I feel like I’ve seen them all. Get me to an inn, perhaps stop by the shop, and get me to my next mission objective. I’ll be sure to take in any sights I see along the way, but that’s all I have the time – or desire – to do these days.

This one was actually kinda fun.
This one was actually kinda fun.

Fuck your stupid fucking minigames, they need to be abolished.
For whatever reason, back in the day it seemed like the coolest thing in the world to find games INSIDE a game! I mean, how ingenious is that? These days my response to that is “not at all.” Final Fantasy VII‘s absurd surplus of (forced) minigames no longer amuses me. I feel no need to visit the three or four shooting ranges that can be found in any given Legend of Zelda title. This could turn into an editorial all by itself; 95% of the minigames present today (and yesterday) feel like they’re there just to… be there. It’s almost like developers view them as some inane requirement, or an unwritten demand of the gaming public. Message from me to them: GIVE IT A REST.

Cookie-cutter JRPG storylines are no longer badass in any way at all whatsoever.
Sigh. This one almost hurts to write. There was a time when I viewed the JRPG as the epitome of what videogames had to offer the world. I was so swept up in the melodramatic bullshit storylines and characters that I didn’t pay attention to how… thin it all was, in most cases. Now, I’m hardly generalizing here. I’ll defend the plots and characters of games such as Final Fantasy VII, Xenosaga, and Lost Odyssey until I’m blue in the face. But JRPGs are more reliant on conventions than any other genre in the industry at the moment, and the older I get the more painfully apparent this becomes. It takes more than a stone-cold protagonist, some corrupt churches, and a best friend’s betrayal to interest me in a game’s storyline.

Well, I could certainly go on if I put my thinking cap on. But I think I’ve made some good observations here, and I’m interested in seeing how many of you are on the same page. Perhaps you have a few that you can add yourselves? UTILIZE THE COMMENT FEATURE THAT WORDPRESS SO GENEROUSLY PROVIDES US.

0 comments

  1. My greatest fear is that by the time FFXIII rolls around I will be too cynical to fall in love with it.

    If you fear that you have become to jaded at the tender age of 19, speak to me again when you are 25. I sometimes think that I’m my own worst enemy in this regard.

    Forced mini-games are an annoyance (unless they’re good and relevant a la FFVII’s bike sequence). That said I still apprieciate their inclusion, I’m no massive mini-game fanatic myself, and am rarely inclined to check them all out, but just knowing that they are there makes the game world feel richer and more fully fleshed out, as they often contribute to the culture of the worlds they inhabit.

  2. “I don’t explore towns anymore.”

    Same for me.
    I think the last game where I still throughoutly explored towns was ironically FF9.

    As Ashley wrote in her article,
    exploration is just not rewarded enough anymore.

    The Last Remnant is probably the prime example for
    awful exploration in towns:
    You can solely visit predetermined areas of a town,
    and the only buildings you may enter are 2-3 shops,
    their entraces neatly marked on the minimap.

    Mass Effect’s Citadel is not even worth exploring.
    It is simply too huge, and there is too little to find spread out way too widely.
    The discovery density is too low to maintain interest
    (Discovery Density would be a neat name for a new SquareEnix game).
    In FF9 you would at least find NPCs with hilarious
    lines occasionally, a good consolation for not finding any item, and a different way to reward the player for exploring.

    “Fuck your stupid fucking minigames, they need to be abolished.”

    I totally disagree.
    As long as minigames arent forced on you,
    they can be a comfortable change of pace from all
    the fighting in a game.
    One can just relax and enjoy playing a minigame as an extra challenge that contributes to the main game
    with won items or currency.

    “Cookie-cutter JRPG storylines are no longer badass in any way at all whatsoever.”

    The JRPGs you named are pretty much games which take
    a slightly more serious, believable and epic approach when it comes to the plot.
    Nowadays this kind of RPG is rather rare.

    Let call this generation of RPGs “Generation Naruto”,
    as they feel aimed at a lot younger audience.
    The heroes themself become younger and younger,
    the plot more of a clicheé, and their haircuts defy the laws of physic more and more aswell.

    Overall JRPGs are lot more simple and casual than they were a decade ago.

    That doesnt have to be a bad thing,
    but by these merits they are also less immersive games,
    designed for a casual “jump in and play, then pick them up again later” experience.

    RPG fans of the “old school” might have problems
    with that and lose their interest in such games,
    putting them aside for good at some point.

    @SN:
    I’m the same age as you :D

    @Oliver:
    RESPECT YOUR ELDERS !

  3. I gotta disagree with Zorn about The Citadel. It was one of the most intricately detailed and beautiful cities I’d ever seen, and there were quite a few items to find and people to talk to. And of course, let’s not forget the Keeper scanning. Scavenger hunts are a great way to encourage exploration.

    as for JRPGS suddenly being cliche-ridden, that’s not new. Not even close, in fact. I think people look back and the legends of the genre – FFVII, Xenogears, Suikoden I and II and the like – and forget that these were the EXCEPTION. The majority of the genre was made up of tripe like Tecmo Secret of the Stars, Breath of Fire, 7th Saga, and of course Dragon Quest (After the first FOUR, that series should have evolved some). Thing is, of course, that we don’t remember the crappy games for reasons that should be obvious. As people get older, the rose-tinted glasses make us believe that those games were the norm and not the exception that they truly are.

    I think we need to detach ourselves from the nostalgia and look at this more critically. The fact is that there will only be so many standout games in any generation or in any genre. Games like Street Fighter II, Quake 3 Arena, Final Fantasy VII, and Super Mario Bros. 3 are fondly remembered because of just how far ahead of everything else they were at the time. In time, the young ones of today will look back and say that Halo, Lost Odyssey, God of War and the like are much better than what’s coming out in their adulthood. They will likely be just as myopic then as people are now, failing to realize that the reason those games stand out in the first place is because of their rarity.

  4. I absolutely agree with MasterChief about the Citadel. I’m like Oliver and barely explore like I used to, but Mass Effect changed that for me. It’s why I loved it so much, I actually forgot about time and explored every inch of everything I could.

  5. Fuck mini-games in general. Seriously fuck card-related mini-games. And fuck the casino mini-games in every Dragon Quest title until they bleed out their ears and die.

    Sorry, evilpaul is a bit of a pottymouth today. :P

  6. I liked FFIX’s card game. And there was only one point in the entire game in which you actually had to pla.

  7. Minigames should be optional, simple, fun, and not card-based.

    Re. Oliver’s plaint: Lusipurr’s Fountain of Perpetual Disappointment is about a stone-cold ex-priest who betrays his best friend.

    Oh, I just spoiled it! How disappointing.

  8. Oliver, it sounds like you just need to go find a new game that you can really get immersed in. I was kind of starting to feel the same way about games a few months ago. I wasn’t souring on games or anything, but my attitude in general was “I need to finish this so I can get to the next one” without much regard for how much fun I was having in the process.

    In February, though, I got completely sucked into one game and played it pretty much every waking, non-working hour for a month straight (which is kind of sad when I say it out loud). It’s something I didn’t think I was capable of doing any more, but there it was. Since then, I’ve been taking games at a much more lenient pace, and I think I’ve been enjoying them much more.

    Some of my friends have had similar situations, and I think having one game that you can just really get into reminds you about why you love games so much in the first place.

    @SN: I agree with you on pretty much all points (especially the bit about FFXIII’s potential disappointment. I’ve been telling myself it will suck for months to lower my expectations, but I don’t think I believe me), but I played the FFVII bike scene just this morning on the train, and it really doesn’t age as well as I thought it would. The presentation of the scene is great, but the controls and camera angles during the game itself are pretty poor playing through them now.

    @Lusipurr: Has there been any progress on Lusipurr’s Fountain of Perpetual Disappointment? We need to know more so that it’s a bigger let down when the project eventually dies.

  9. The bike scene is something I would never play by itself, but as far as mini-games go it’s reletively painless. It works well where it’s situated in the game, as it ties into the story passing well, and makes for a memorable exit from Midgar.

  10. I can’t wait to be dissapointed, you shant dissapoint me in that respect I hope?

  11. Look what you’ve done, SN, you’ve overloaded the Ethos. Now Lusipurr will have to buy a new one.

    @Ethos: if you want some help w/ LFoPD, I’ve been looking for an excuse to learn a bit of C# :D (unfortunately, I have no artistic talents to speak of :f). Not sure really how much is done or how much free time I’ll have, but who knows, I might be able to contribute something (although the disappointing thing to do would be to never get around to it :F).

    @SN: Yeah, I’ll agree the placement and the presentation made the escape from Midgar incredibly epic (I especially like the transition into the boss battle at the end for some reason).

  12. You should hire a korean MMO developer to do LFoPD.
    I cant think of anything more disappointing than having to grind legions of smiling mushrooms just to receive a baseball cap.

    I also expect an anime-opening with Lusipurr and you as superdeformed characters, and a weird J-Pop song that doesnt make sense.

  13. Back to the topic here…

    The thing with minigames is that, since they’re so far removed from the passive gameplay of your typical JRPG (or as I like to call them, “visual novel 2.0”), that each one needs a wholly new mechanic built around them. While there are some fantastic examples, most of the time (like with FFVII’s bike and snowboarding parts), developers settle for “good enough.” The problem, of course, is that “good enough” isn’t good enough for everyone, nor is it good enough as time passes.

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