Editorial: Self Discovery

A charming game if a bit slow and grindy by today's standards.
One of Dragon Quest VIII‘s player characters, Jessica.

Do not fear this week’s title, readers, it is not going to be some boring personal tale about how video games have shed light on some aspect of myself I had been unaware of. No, those have been penned more times than I know and often are of interest more to the writer than to the reader, despite what gushing platitudes responders may append should the topic take an “insightful” turn. The self discovery of games, that is to say discovery of good games without the aid of outside media or a personal referral, is a topic I have touched upon in brief before. As with most of my editorials I tend to inspire myself to new topics, and this time I mean to discuss that phenomenon of self discovery in games as it now wanes in my gaming career.

All too surrounded by gaming coverage that I covet nearly as much as the games themselves, finding a new game unbidden by online recommendations is something I do not think I can fully claim throughout the entire previous generation. For me, the previous generation was about accessing as much of the medium as I possibly could. I planned to, and then succeeded in, owning all major home platforms including a gaming PC. I had a job with enough income and with few enough demands on my time that for a brief time I could pay attention to as many games on the market as I would be interested in. I only have myself to blame for any complaints of over exposure, but of course that will not keep me from longing about the days when great games were also sometimes great surprises. The last game I purchased that comes close to a genuinely self discovered game is Resonance of Fate for the PS3. I did learn about the game’s battle system and unique overworld but much of what I love about the game I discovered first hand. I also purchased the game well after I had first heard about it while in search of something to scratch an RPG itch I had at the time. What followed was as close as I had come in a long time to the sense of wonder that came from playing great games without any foreknowledge. It came with that wonderfully illogical sense that what I was playing was a game no one else knew about, made only for me. Needless to say this game got and continues to get my fullest recommendations.

But part of me wonders if I should recommend games I find this way, if taking away the potential for the same sense of discovery from someone else is worth it. Do others even have this sense of wonder from self discovered games? All I know is the games I have enjoyed the most were games I bought or began with almost no prior knowledge of them. The original Borderlands, my oft mentioned Skies of Arcadia, my first Resident Evil game (the remake for the GameCube), Dragon Quest VIII, and The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time are examples that spring to mind. My time spent with these games would set my taste in games going forward and generate some of my favorite gaming memories.

Fun fact: The Japanese version of DQ8 didn't even have voice acting! It was added only in the Western release.
Final Fantasy XII‘s voice acting admittedly is far superior to Dragon Quest VIII‘s.

In particular from that list is Dragon Quest VIII, which I purchased mostly for the inclusion of the Final Fantasy XII demo. After being none too thrilled by the demo I realized the game it came with was much more than I had expected. I knew nothing of the Dragon Quest/Warrior series, and certainly little about this entry in the franchise. I recall actually being shocked by the inclusion of voice acting in what appeared to be a simple RPG experience. It was not long after that I realized how amazing that voice acting truly was. The game’s throw back battle system and challenge blended beautifully with the gorgeously stylized world that still holds up today. The music accompanies the high fantasy setting well and despite the bare bones plot I found all of the major characters memorable and likeable.

Researched games can be just as fun in the end, however, and I have many games in my library I count among my favorites that I have given a great deal of attention to before their release. And though great titles like Final Fantasy XII, Valkyria Chronicles, and The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker populate that list, I feel like they never gave me that real sense of wonder the self discovered games provided.

Well, that is that, fondest readers. Let me know if this is something even remotely close to your own experiences. Have you ever bought a game on a whim only to discover it would become one of your favorites? Do you sometimes find that the pre-release exposure of games can negatively impact your experience or sense of wonder in a game? The comments are waiting for your reply, and so am I.

5 comments

  1. I discovered Dragon Quest VIII quite by accident as well. It became my Springtime darling. I liked the XII demo, however, and it became my Autumn affair, and subsequently lead to a subscription to National Geographic’s Traveler. No surprise that XII was intended to invoke the feelings of an exotic vacation.
    The last surprise game I stumbled upon was Dark Souls. I didn’t play Demon’s Souls, having heard about it’s ungodly difficulty, which was not a selling point. But Dark Souls caught my eye somehow, and it remains my title of the generation.
    Resonance of Fate is something I’ve heard about here or there, but honestly have no real knowledge of outside of word of mouth. I’ll look into it.
    Great article Mel.

  2. Yeah, DQ8 was a really nice surprise. I wonder if I would have been as smitten with it if I had known all about it before playing. The description of the game isn’t super appealing.

    And you should definitely set some time aside for Resonance of Fate. It’s a unique JRPG that doesn’t take itself seriously almost ever, looks amazing thanks to the weird environment (essentially everyone lives in a giant mechanical tower that thematically resembles a wind up watch… for some reason), and it offers a good challenge throughout. Just don’t go in looking for an engaging plot. It’s mostly absent.

  3. Thanks for the editorial, Mel. It seems that you and I like all the same games. I had some prior knowledge of Dragon Quest VIII but it far exceeded my expectations. Knowing about it before-hand didn’t stop my sense of wonder as I combed every meter of the overworld three times. Yes I actually did it three times. Hahaha. I gladly spent 150 hours to beat the game.

    I have to second Mel’s recommendation of Resonance of Fate. That game’s battle system is so interesting. It never really changes throughout the game but the weapon customization kept me addicted all the way to the end. There are tons of games where you can attach a scope onto a gun for better aim but there aren’t any that let you attach 3 scopes right on top of each other and get triple the aim! Or put a longer barrel on the gun’s HANDLE to make the bullets fly straighter. It’s amazing. I should make a video review of that game.

    I have a self discovery story. I went to Software Etc. and browsed the games at least once a week for about three months. Two games that I didn’t know anything about always caught my eye; Valkyrie Profile for the PS1 and Skies of Arcadia for the Dreamcast. I looked at the back of the packages and toiled non-stop about which one I thought looked better. I eventually decided upon Valkyrie Profile and was completely blown away by what I had bought. I also had no idea what I was doing with seal level and einherjar and such, but that was a journey filled with wonder. In the end I went back and bought Skies of Arcadia as well and it, too was a pleasant surprise. Judging games by their cover can be really fun if you don’t get burned.

  4. Thanks!

    I came close to getting Valkyrie Profile, but it never happened. I don’t think it’s on the PSN, but I’ll keep a look out.

    And I think Resonance of Fate is a criminally under discussed title. It’s great looking, offers a good challenge, isn’t so dower or afraid to make fun of itself, and has a truly unique battle system that still maintains a sense of structure that I think is important for an RPG. Without that turn-based structure it would have been an action RPG with partial AI control or some shit. No thanks. Gimme them turns.

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