Editorial: On the Importance of Game Qualities in Reviewing

Hidely ho, readerinos! The issue of gameplay versus plot in video gaming is a hotly debated, horribly heated, horrendously heinous issue that has gone on for years. The obvious answer is that both are important to making excellent games. But which of the two is more important? And what of music and graphics, are they not important as well? The answer naturally varies from gamer to gamer, of course, but in the interest of full disclosure, readers, I would like to share with you my personal criteria for game reviewing and game ranking. After all, when reading a review, it is best to understand the importance of various gaming elements to the reviewer, as different rankings of these elements can have drastic effects on one’s opinion of a game. So just what is important in a game, to one Daniel ‘Deimosion’ Flink?

Okay, I really wanted to use a picture of the box art here, but I just could not resist using this.
An oft-hated game reviled for its camp plot, but worthy of praise for its brilliant battle system.

1. Gameplay

I have always firmly believed that, first and foremost, a game should play well. If a game is not fun, why would I play it? Gameplay is always the first aspect of a game I look at for a review, and is by far the most weighted category when I formulate an opinion for any game. While others may look to the plot, writing, setting, or other details, I feel that without a solid core game beneath it all, there is no real merit to a video game over any other medium. If one wants to watch a movie, then one should watch a movie. If one wants to play a game, well, then gameplay must surely be of great importance. Naturally, this leads to a few uncommon opinions of certain games. But with all disasterrific storylines aside, the gameplay is the heart of a game, and there are very few games worth playing without good gameplay.

2. Characters and Setting

With gameplay out of the way, I turn now to the item of second-most importance: the characters and setting. Characters and setting are, for this reviewer, more memorable and therefore more important than the actual plot. One may look at the first Disgaea as an example of a game driven almost entirely by its setting and characters. While the plot of Disgaea is certainly not bad, it would not be nearly as memorable a game without its varied and interesting cast of characters. While storyline may be important, a good storyline with mediocre characters is not nearly as memorable as one with a good cast but forgettable storyline. A well-fleshed out setting can also make for a positive gaming experience; while Pokémon Black and White may not have the most original characters or plotline, the setting of Unova provides a varied group of interesting locales worth exploring to their fullest. Though gameplay is at the core of any gaming experience, the characters and setting are also certainly of great importance.

3. Plot and Storyline
Now comes the aspects of middling importance to my opinion-forming. While plot and storyline can certainly be important, I must admit that I greatly prefer character-driven games to story-driven. This is not to discount the importance of a good storyline, certainly a well-written and interesting storyline can drive me through the boring sections of a game. Alternately, in some cases, an otherwise average game can be redeemed by a truly excellent storyline. Storyline and plot are typically aspects of gaming that I notice only when they are exceedingly good. I am far more likely to be blown away by an excellent story than turned away by a terrible one. Plot and storyline, independent of the characters and setting, are of middling importance to me: certainly they matter, but if I wanted to watch a movie, I would watch a movie…or play Xenosaga.

CAPTAIN GORDON, DEFENDER OF EARTH!
The best games, of course, are the ones that combine multiple elements and combine them well.

4. Music

Close to the bottom comes music. An excellent soundtrack like that of Final Fantasy VI will certainly capture my attention, a bad game soundtrack is more likely to be muted and forgotten than actually considered as part of the review. Music is an aspect of games which I only really notice if it is exceptionally good or, in a few rare cases such as Soul Blazer or Magi-Nation, if it is exceptionally and painfully bad. Music can be an important edition to a gaming experience, but is typically not something I pay much attention to after a few hours with a game unless it catches my attention for whatever reason. Music is not the least important feature in video games, which brings me to my last point…

5. Graphics

Last, and therefore least, readers, we have arrived at graphics. There are exceptionally few cases where graphics have had an impact on my gaming experiences, one way or another. While a good looking game is certainly pleasing to look at, if that is all the game is, then why should I waste time playing it? If I want to look at something pretty, I can go to a museum and look at paintings. Bad graphics very rarely ruin a game, and one can easily tell I love a game when my biggest complaint is that the game looks like crap. While occasionally I will be blown away by graphics, the visual side of a game is rarely enough to change my opinion about a game.

I liked Flower okay, but there is really not much to it.
A game that looks good... but that is about it.

So there you have it, readers. This reviewer has shared his views on what goes into the opinion of a game. What about you, loyal readers? What do you and your friends look for in a game? Are you, like me, driven primarily forward by the gameplay? Or are you, like many others, more interested in a storyline or plot? Let me know what you think in the comments, readers!

9 comments

  1. What, what WHAT?!

    MADNESS!!

    Music is one of the most important features of a game!

    I totally agree with you about the whole characters>plot thing though. In fact I don’t even see how a story can be good without quality character interaction. In terms of film and novels, there are a reasonable amount of quality tales where the author/auteur has slightly fudged the plot, but name one decent narrative which has been great despite having awful characters. I don’t think they exist …

  2. As for the whole gameplay VS narrative debate, I definitely think that narrative is more important to RPGs (so long as gameplay does not get in the way of enjoying the narrative, and vice versa). That said, it can be an occasionally murky issue. I absolutely abhorred FFX-2 and FFXII upon release for their narrative failings (especially FFXII), yet over the years I have come to appreciate both games in terms of their gameplay (especially FFXII). And while I may not ever entirely forgive them for dropping the ball on the narrative front, I can nevertheless appreciate them for what they are. [This will never happen with FFXIII.]

  3. -Also, I didn’t hate FFVIII’s narrative, but the battle system ruined it for me, so of course gameplay is paramount up to a point.

  4. @SN: The battle system in FFVIII isn’t a battle system so much as it is a miserable little pile of stats. Terrible.

    For my part, I’ve come to realise that virtually all of the games I like have soundtracks that are excellent. So for me, it is probably the case that the soundtrack is very important–though this is not something I actually realise *when* I am playing the game. To put it another way: I am more likely to criticise the game on gameplay or narrative grounds if the music is poor than if the music is excellent. It’s sauce for the goose.

  5. Bad music for me is much like a pebble in my shoe, but I can tolerate average music well enough, provided it isn’t in a game titled ‘Final Fantasy’.

    Good music though, is able to raise a game to a whole new level. An amazing OST is what can turn a good game into an EXPERIENCE.

  6. I pretty much agree with every single word in this article. Get out of my head.

  7. @Lusi @SN I only really notice music if it’s really good. If it’s bad I’ll just mute and ignore it.

  8. I’ve been abnormally fascinated with video game soundtracks lately, and I’m going with SN here. Average music in a game is not a problem if the gameplay carries it well enough, and excellent music can bring a game to the heights of enjoyability.

  9. I am not necessarily saying music is not important, but if the gameplay, characters, and narrative are all forgettable, then the soundtrack is not going to make a difference. I do agree that an excellent soundtrack can make a good game great, but it cannot make an average game good, whereas the characters, setting, or narrative can.

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