January 05, 2005

Screwed by SquareSoft

Late last night, I had a gaming revelation. There I was, playing Final Fantasy X on my PS2, just like I had been for the past couple of months, when it hit me. I wasn't really enjoying myself. What I was doing wasn't fun at all, and worst of all, the drudgery was absolutely essential to completing the game! The worst part of this was that I had been similarly tricked before. There are two disturbing trends in RPGs today that are absolutely killing the gameplay experience.

First, let's look at "Side Quests." These were originally introduced to reward players for extra time spent in the game. (Complete the game in X number of minutes to dress your character in a bikini, collect all the hidden idols for a cash bonus, destroy the enemy hoard with just the crowbar to unlock the BFG 9000, etc.) If you really loved a game, and think an amusing weapon or costume is worth some tedious searching, they can be great. The gameplay experience is extended with very little coding effort from developers, and everybody's happy.

However, we are fast approaching the day where the time spent on "Side Quests" is almost surpassing the time spent on the core gameplay. If you're REALLY into a game, it can be a good thing, but some RPGs are crossing the line. You want the really kick-ass weapons in FFX? You'll basically have to play the game all over again. To unlock just one of your seven character's final weapons, you have to collect one of every...single...monster in the game. There I was, this death-dealing high-level warrior, back on level 2, walking in circles for hours and hoping to catch a rare 20-HP creature in a random encounter. Wheeeeeeeee.

After giving up on this, I decided to forget the rest of these side quests and move on to the final battle. Imagine my surprise when I was instantly killed by the warm-up monsters. I found out that it's nearly impossible to defeat the final boss without the ultimate weapons, making these so-called "Side Quests" actually required to complete the game. Additionally, my characters were leveled up to only half their potential. This is the second disturbing trend in RPG's, which I call "Not Ready For Prime Time" Syndrome.

The usual pacing of a game levels up your characters so that they can progress through the levels right to the final showdown. If you have trouble with the boss, go back and level up a bit more, then try again. But I've found more and more games require you to almost DOUBLE your stats before you stand a snowball's chance on the final showdown. Of course, there are no new levels to go through to accomplish this, so you just have to tediously repeat the same levels, kill the same monsters over and over, accomplishing nothing but incremental digits on a sub-screen.

This, my friends, is the cheapest of programming tricks, and the most infuriating discovery that you can make about a game you have enjoyed up until that point. It caused me to abandon Dark Cloud 2, and now, FFX. Until today, I have never walked away from a Final Fantasy game before I completed it. It pains me to do so, but I refuse to spend the next month dodging lightning bolts and playing "Red Light, Green Light" with Cactaurs just to be able to finish the game normally. Judging from some other user's comments, I'm not the only who has made this stand.

How can the developers get away with this? First they sell us on the " X hours of Gameplay" concept. (Note that it doesn't say "Meaningful Gameplay".) Next, the guides and walk-throughs make tasks sound easy. Short sentances like "Collect 80 Supreme Gems to add X to your weapon" can translate to 10 hours of crossing your fingers for rare random encounters. Finally, by putting all the fluff at the end of the game, you've already sunk so much time and effort into it that most people will soldier on through instead of admitting defeat. And if you do give up at the end, it's too late to return the game and recommending against the game is futile, since 90% of the units are sold by then.

That, if you were wondering, is why I picked this game up two years after it's release. (I had to switch to PS2 after the hardware curve for PC games became too expensive to keep up with.) I wait until a game has played out, when all the user reviews and "Year's Best" lists have been made up, until I choose a game. As a working parent, I have only a few hours a night to spend with my mistress PS2, and I don't like wasting time on sub-par software. FFX came highly recommended, even called the best Final Fantasy of the series, so I took the bait. You can imagine my disappointment to have to put it down before the end. It's sad that SquareSoft dropped the BlitzBall on this title.

1 comment:

  1. CMC, you sound pretty down. Would it help if I were to loan you a copy of Civilization, just to purge yourself of the bad juju generated by hours of needless PS2 gameplay?