This week, I am going to do something a bit different, fine readers. Whereas in other articles I can be found coming to the defense of the various games I enjoy (the ones I drone on about all too often in this space), this week I will be turning the tables. I recognize that even my favorite games are not perfect, in fact many of them are deeply flawed. My top games of all time, should I be pressed to compose such a list, would probably include many niche titles that have cult followings. Among them some very popular titles with great renown could be found, no doubt, but even those games are not safe from being objectively bad in some regards. Join me this week as I take aim at my own heart, and tear down games I hold in high regard.
The Souls series is one of those popular games I mentioned, but it has its share of conceptual design flaws. For all the talk of how difficult these games are, it is more a question of bravely rolling behind an enemy and performing a back stab. The i-frames (invincibility frames) on the roll mechanic in this series have been tinkered with but remains quite exploitable in the most recent offering. And while I have shat upon Dark Souls 2 in the past, it shares this flaw with its predecessors as well as another damning flaw: replayability. In my experience, nothing beats the initial run through on these games. But play them again, and most of the fun is simply gone, or rather is being chased in an attempt to be reclaimed. New Game +, as some might point out, attempts to remedy the fact that enemy placements can (and will) be memorized, but the over powered nature of New Game + means these new threats are usually not enough to provide that same thrill. This is why, after finishing Dark Souls 2 for the first time, I simply put the disc away and moved on. It might be billed as otherwise, but if honesty prevails, the ride is only truly worth it once.
Likewise, the old (and new) Resident Evil series has received much acclaim throughout its lifetime before general opinion soured on it around the fifth numbered entry. Yet before this, there were many flaws worth counting in the old series that I have championed as survival horror at its best. Tank controls are, frankly, an acquired taste. Being comfortable with them is more of a learned skill than a preference, either the time has been put into learning it or it has not. The problem is this famous stumbling block does not need to be there, and even back in the days of Resident Evil 2 Capcom was attempting to appeal to the grievances by offering alternate movement schemes, none of which truly satisfy. While I cannot exactly say what could be done about these controls that would not involve reconstructing the game at its core, I do know that designing a game with controls that need to be overcome is not good design. Many were willing to overcome them, myself included, but the initial couple of hours genuinely had me thinking “maybe this game is not for me.” And I can easily see how that became a fatal flaw for other gamers.
My dear beloved Skies of Arcadia cannot be spared a mention here, and why should it when it is perhaps the most flawed game I will mention in this article? Huge facets of the game, from the encounter rate, the instant death spells, the easily missed ship upgrade opportunities that lead to near impossible encounters later on, the completely imbalanced item system that renders spells redundant, the rather simple linear equipment upgrade paths, they all form a very imperfect package. The overworld, while truly unique in many ways, can also be a slog at particular points when supplies are low and hunting for the selectable entrance point of a very visible city means more random encounters and almost dieing (Horteka!). The imperfect port job on the GameCube Legends version should also count here, with the very compressed sound and noticeable slowdown in parts, although I guess that beats an even higher encounter rate and fewer side quests on the Dreamcast version. And ship battles, while unique and interesting the first couple of times, are quite slow and leave a good deal of room for refinement.
Finally, I come to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. The game, as I played it in its original Nintendo 64 version (look for our review of the 3DS version soon!) held my interest initially from its association with Ocarina of Time. While others may have negative things to say about that game, Ocarina of Time had a good sense of pacing and direction, something Majora’s Mask does not. Due to the nature of the three day time system, many of the better more endearing elements of the game can go missed because they require extensive observation of the daily habits of wooden automatons. In the meantime the actual story is urging the player on, with this game’s version of Navi chiming in about how much time is left. The dungeons are well designed, but the matter of getting into the dungeons is often obscured by less than fun busy work. In an attempt to pad out the game time in the smallest Zelda game ever, many things take a lot of time to get into gear, which is a bit at odds with the game’s emphasis on limited time. Speaking of which, the mechanic to slow or speed time up is entirely unannounced for such a critical function. There may be something to be said for the player organically learning game elements, but this particular element was left a bit too off the beaten path. And without the benefit of slowing time down, the dungeons would become mad dashes and the bosses likely just out of reach of the time limit for a first time player. Many of the more profound elements of the game, such as the disempowerment of Link in the beginning or the general obstinacy of a game imposing strict time limits become meaningful only in retrospect. Once a certain grasp of the game is obtained, with no help from the game itself, the somber moods and eerie tension can be savored and appreciated as they should have been from the start.
Now join me, stout readers, and tell me about the flaws in the games you love. I have listed above the games or game series I enjoy the most, and still do despite their flaws, so I expect no less from you! Or do you only like perfect games? Hah! There is no such thing!