Recently one of our gaming minions reactivated (don’t act so surprised – you know damn well most of you get your dork on, even if it’s FPS stuff) his GameFly account so he could get through a few during winter break. It has literally been years since my last game was sent to me, but he advises he was totally unprepared for the experience he ended up with. No, he didn’t wind up in a ménage a trios with some hot dirty-librarian style gamer chicks in chain mail (more’s the pity). Instead he took a break from Assassin’s Creed III to clear out his back-log and instead ended up discovering some real gems—not as carnally satisfying, but it certainly killed a lot more time.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope (International Version). He says he was fully prepared to turn this game off and walk away after reading several reviews of it, all of which repeated varying iterations of “Horrible game”. Still, he was a fan of the franchise back in the days of the original Playstation, so he wanted to give it a shot. As it turns out and truth be told, it is a horrible game. The story is cheesy and much like a typical Commander’s Cal it doesn’t challenge you emotionally (except perhaps your patience). The voice acting is absolutely terrible except for the main character; it lends the game an almost Abbot and Costello feel [hopefully you youngsters remember that], with every character except for “Edge” being Costello. The game itself was incredibly addicting; in fact, it completely derailed my intentions of drunken-Friday-Night party game (which is saying something); he ended up getting all the different character endings and logging over 150 hours.
That’s twice as long as the entire rest of our crew spent surfing porn.
Big brain moment: He says that “Tri-Ace managed to capture the quintessence of the 1990’s Japanese RPG” (grunts: quintessence); dancing in combat, gorgeous but asexual characters, rules broken almost hedonistically (grunts: hedonistically) just because it’s more fun that way. Couple this with some of the most fast-paced, addicting combat system any of us have seen in an RPG to date and you have yourself the perfect gift for that gamer who cut his teeth on RPGs released for the SNES.
Arriving at the same time as Star Ocean was another little masochistic jewel called Dark Souls. Back in the late 80s and early nineties, games were difficult. They weren’t difficult because they had to be; it just added length to a 512kb cartridge. They didn’t have (helpful) manuals, the English was broken, and if you were going to get anywhere playing them, you’d have to beat your head against the wall and try random things until it clicked.
If you beat Ninja Gaiden on the NES, you probably felt like you belonged in an elite club; and in many ways, you did! As a young gamer, our minion (like many others letting the dork out of the nerd-closet) was always pushing himself to find the next challenge, and making games he enjoyed even harder by imposing rules to make them even harder (okay, maybe not all of us on that part). It’s how he learned to play games; and Dark Souls reminded him of how frustrated he was as a kid. The only difference is that the designers of Dark Souls are being deliberately obtuse (grunts: obtuse) and difficult; not because they have to, but because they hate you, and they want you to hate them and ultimately love them in some perversion of Stockholm Syndrome. They don’t pull any punches, and if you’re able to get through the game without putting your controller through the TV, (or TV through the wall) you’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment than you deserve from a video game.
After Dark Souls (which he actually bought), came Nier, abizarre, quirky, and ultimately charming piece of software. Yeah. He really said that.
Some of our minions are apparently really smart.
“I don’t know if it was a low budget or a commitment to old-school values that made me fall in love with Nier,” he told us. We told him, “You think too much. Were there guns or chainsaws or fast cars and boobs?”
He ignored us.
You play the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man (you think he’s joking? Check this out…) as he quests in a search to cure his daughter’s mysterious illness. The controls are sloppy and unintuitive, it randomly breaks into completely new systems without even a decent tutorial, and the voice acting is terrible; it sounds like a bunch of interns at an accounting firm did the voice acting, when it’s there at all (half the dialogue is unvoiced). Seriously, they’ll voice the first 4 or 5 words of a sentence, and let you read the rest. It’s quite odd.
What completely sold him though was the dream sequence; you’ll know it when you see it; the graphics completely disappear into a black screen; well-written, adventure-game-esque (think Zork or The Lurking Horror) text fills the screen. It was the most immersed he’s been by a game in a while [This is quite a feat—like most of our minions, the guy writing this is a borderline patriotic sociopath with a couple personalities and unique views on the opposable thumb.] This won hi over; while he guesses the reason was a limited budget, I was deeply moved by the way they didn’t just throw him into some trippy “dream sequence” using the same items as before and let him carry my dream gear and levels into the real world. Instead, the game completely changed its engine, which just seemed right. He’s completely sure hey could have done it better, but the way they did it took a lot of guts, and, as he says, “I applaud them for it.”
What all these games have in common, he advises, is that they were all defying the (admittedly market driven) Lowest Common Denominator Paradigm that seems to have taken over gaming lately. In the 90s, this was largely because game design was an emerging field and people just didn’t know better (“I’ll spare you the romant
ic tripe that people made games they wanted to play,” he sad in his introductory note.)
Great games were made. Horrible games were made. Mostly mediocre games were made.
Ultimately, the market made its decision and now every fighting game tries to be Tekken (Looking at you, Soul Calibur 5), and every RPG is Dragon Age or The Elder Fallout. This doesn’t speak against their qualities; just their variety. Don’t get me wrong, Assassin’s Creed III was a lot of fun… Just Like Assassin’s Creed 1, 2, 2, 2, and every other parkour-style free-running enemy-face-stomping action game of the last decade. If you want some games that break the mold in some unusual ways, you should check these titles out; they aren’t the best games (in all honesty, Nier only deserves a 4 or so), but Star Ocean, Dark Souls, and Nier are refreshingly retro, difficult, and quirky, respectively.
Besides, it’s less destructive than MICH-helmet dodgeball and far less expensive than single dancing mom appreciation.
Mad Duo Clear!
Now move out and draw fire. Yut!