The Games You Love Are Not Perfect

This is not a post about games that I think are bad–there’s only a few on the list that I don’t like–but after spending some time pointing out that Final Fantasy VII is not actually perfect to a friend I felt like I should get all my similar bitching out. A lot of these problems are minor problems, or not necessarily problems to other people but this is my perspective and there are certain things that drive me batty about games.

The way I assembled this list was to get submissions of favorite RPG titles from my twitter buddies. To keep it fair I included my two favorite games Suikoden II and Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne.

I’ve played every game on this list for a decent amount of time (except World of Warcraft which I just wanted to make a cheap joke about), several of them multiple times. I got a few submissions of titles I haven’t played or haven’t played very much of and left them off for obvious reasons.

Nota Bene: Lufia 2 was originally included in this list but I realized I don’t remember it well enough to comment accurately. I started replaying it but didn’t want to delay the post any longer.

Baldur’s Gate 2  – The first area really drags even if you are familiar with the characters. Working up the willpower to finish it up took a few tries for me.

Breath of Fire 2 – Probably the worst RPG localization during a period of bad RPG localizations.

Chrono Cross – If you love this game you know that it’s flawed and accept the problems, but I think the biggest problem is how it has too many characters and unlike the Suikoden series the structure around them doesn’t really work. They’re meant to be much more active but cycling nearly 50 characters across playthroughs is a headache.

Chrono Trigger – Suffers from the opposite of Grandia 2 syndrome where the overall story is quite interesting but the individual characters are boring.

Dragon Age: Origins – The Deep Roads/Orzammar area really drags out and the writing takes a dramatic dive in this area. The City Elf opening story is misguided.

Dragon Quest VIII – Pretty much every DQ game has the same problem which is that there are points in the game where you have to level grind. You can do this by either fighting ten million regular enemies or hunting for metal slimes but both of methods get really tiring.

Earthbound – The battle system is cute on the surface but the underlying mechanics are really crude so once you see all the funny battle text they’re pretty boring.

Final Fantasy (NES) – Level grinding up the wazoo, very tedious especially at the start. Extremely expensive to heal while you’re trying to level up enough to move on past the first area. Pretty typical of early RPGs. Is the reason Final Fantasy XIII exists.

Final Fantasy IV (SNES) – Terrible localization. I always feel like there are too many characters popping in and out when the story really only cares about a few of them.

Final Fantasy IX – Has all the problems you find in by-the-numbers RPGs even if the production values are higher. The biggest of these problems is that standard battles get very repetitive.

Final Fantasy VI – Kefka is just so goshdarn crazy! When you make a character over-the-top insane and he is just doing crazy crazy things he’s no longer scary or even really evil, he’s just nuts. It takes away from his actions and turns him into a cartoon. Also dualcast totally borks the game.

Kingdom Hearts & Kingdom Hearts 2 – Hit X butan, watch your partners with the world’s worst AI this side of Secret of Mana die repeatedly and take a nap while they yell each other’s names.

Knights of the Old Republic – If you actually do the side-quests they push you towards you hit the level cap way, way early. Mandatory racing mini-game. The freaking underwater area. I thought the big ole plot twist reveal was done in a pretty goofy way.

Morrowind – Extremely dull at the start, it was hard to find motivation to go on. Plus all the standard open world problems like getting lost or not knowing what exactly you’re supposed to do. Honestly Bethesda is very into meandering and I am not.

Ogre Battle – Not having direct control over units in tactical battles drives me bonkers. Couldn’t get into the Ogre Battle series at all though I’m a big fan of Tactics Ogre.

Paper Mario – Hard to level up at points where you need a little bump. I always find it very frustrating when you suddenly find yourself needing to level up to beat a boss in a game with not very much emphasis on that aspect of RPG design.

Persona 3 – Not being able to directly control your party members results in them doing dumb things that make you yell at the TV.

Persona 4 – Teddy’s voice acting is a war crime. The Persona 3 callback fanservice part is pretty eyerolley.

Pokemon Blue – Level grind grind grind grind. If you want to get 100% or make certain Pokemon useful past a certain point you were forced into to icky social contact.

Secret of Mana – What is the point of having partner characters if they die by being stupid when you need them alive the most?

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne – To beat the true ending boss without tears and pain you have to be a mind-reader or lucky to set things up properly. You’ll hit points where you need to level grind quite a bit to move forward.

Shining Force (GEN) – Another game with a terrible localization. In this one it’s so bad that it ignores the major point of the game’s story.

Suikoden II – Luca Blight’s over-the-topness takes away from the impact of his character, the true ending is a bit of a cop-out like they were afraid to go through with the horrors of war thing to the end.

Super Mario RPG – Some of the platforming doesn’t work very well due to the isometric nature of the game. Wee I’m jumping to the next block!! Wait, nope, I guess I magically moved in the air and here I am at the bottom again.

The World Ends With You – With all the polish in this game they still managed to make the stylus input wonky, which leads to tears and pain during battles. As a bonus it has all your typical Square story points.

World of Warcraft – It’s an MMO.

Xenosaga – The total time you spend watching cutscenes is nearly as long as the time you spend playing the game.

Offense And Critique Are Not The Same Thing

I’m here today to talk about a very important thing that seems to have flown over the head of many people who write about video games for a living: Offense and critique are not the same thing. Pointing out problems about how certain things are dealt with in video games is not suppressing anyone’s free speech. Saying that maybe Crystal Dynamics could handle a girl going through some hellish scenario better if they took an approach other than Lara Croft: Moe Raider is not suppressing anyone’s expression. But that will apparently never stop people from screeching about how their rights about being trampled on.

Today’s edition of “I Can Say What I Want Because Free Speech America!!!” is brought to you by Colin Moriarty’s fantastically amazing opinion piece at IGN entitled “The Problem With Political Correctness in Video Games“. From that headline alone you know you are getting a treat, yes? The fact is that 9 out of 10  (and I may be underestimating here) times someone waves the “political correctness is evil” flag what they are really saying is that they don’t want to think about something critically. Moriarty’s piece is a shining example of this. It’s a lazy way to dismiss people and ideas that challenge your worldview.

I’m going to directly address the major problems I found in Moriarty’s piece. Everything in blockquotes is pulled straight from the piece and I am doing my best to not remove context.

It’s already happened with games such as Six Days in Fallujah and Tomb Raider. Should we succumb to the plight of political correctness and let it ruin the creativity of our industry like it’s corrupted so many other artistic avenues? Or should we stand up and say “anything goes” and encourage the creative minds that give us the games we love to push the envelope, social consequences be damned?

What other artistic avenues have been corrupted by political correctness? Moriarty gives no examples, probably because there are none if you actually think about it. If he thinks that movies and television are not pushing the envelope he is woefully out of touch with those mediums. In the last few years we’ve had movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Antichrist and City of Life and Death to name a few. All of these films approach serious topics in very different manners and all of them were unafraid to push that envelope as far as possible. Are you going to tell me an industry that features and celebrates talents like Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke has been corrupted and had their creativity ruined? Give me a break. And television has never pushed the envelope harder than it is right now with shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland.

Don’t get me wrong; you can be offended by anything you want. You can let other people’s words, deeds and art get to you however you deem fit. But the second you start confusing your own subjective notion of good taste with what that means for everyone else and project your own offended posture on the rest of us, you’ve crossed the line. When it comes to the game Smite and to the offense the Universal Society of Hinduism takes over the inclusion of Hindu gods in the game, we as a group of dedicated, money-spending enthusiasts should say “enough is enough.” If you don’t like it, don’t consume it. But don’t tell others that they can’t, and don’t ridicule the creators of something because their vision doesn’t fit your own. A trend such as this could very well obliterate developers giving us fresh stories and experiences in gaming moving forward.

This is extremely hypocritical. Moriarty can tell us what to think (“If you don’t like it, don’t consume it”) but we cannot critique anything (“don’t ridicule the creators”). I’m sorry but I think that Hindu people have every right to take offense to their pantheon being exploited (sexy big booby Kali woo!) and complain about it. And since when is a complaint the same as ridicule anyway now that I think about it? And how exactly is sexy Kali a “fresh story”? Oh man, sexy ladies and buff dudes in video games what a fantastic idea never seen that one before. Using pantheons of gods in a game is not a new trope either unless you’ve wiped out the entire MegaTen universe and didn’t tell me.

The recent episode over Tomb Raider illustrates this point rather vividly. Developer Crystal Dynamics dared to allude to sexual assault in protagonist Lara Croft’s story, something deemed over-the-top and inappropriate in gaming by some commentators. This even coerced one of the game’s producers to backtrack on earlier comments, stating that the game has no undertones of sexual assault even though it clearly does. But why should someone feel bad about including something like this in a game? Have you ever seen an episode of Law & Order: SVU? How about the movie The Accused? Why are games held to an entirely different – and completely hypocritical and unfair – standard?

Well maybe if Tomb Raider were addressing the issue like The Accused did people would not have been angry. I mean when the game’s producers comments are “We want you to feel like you have to protect her?” that just shows they are going down the wrong path. I am not even sure how you could bring up The Accused as any kind of comparison here unless the game is actually about Lara Croft fighting the justice system that is stacked against her due to her reputation as a slut.

Before the game producers opened their mouths I had really hoped that it was going to take it seriously and maturely and defended it. I have seen a lot of bad exploitation movies that treat rape as a titillating topic and I didn’t see it in the trailer. When the producers opened their mouths and started talking about Lara Croft–who has been established in other games as a smart, extremely strong lady–as Yet Another Moe Character is ridiculous. How about you treat her like any other character in a game, you are playing as her you should relate to her. You are directly controlling Croft in the game, you are not putting bread crumbs down the NO RAPE HERE path and hoping she follows them.

If you can find a large number of mainstream game that handle sexual violence and the issues that surround it in the same manner of a movie like The Accused or The Virgin Spring you can talk about how games are held to a higher standard.

I could write you a 10,000-word essay on the things that offend me and the issues that are personal. For instance, my father is a now-retired FDNY firefighter. Obviously, as the son of a New York City firefighter, 9/11 hit very close to home for me and my family. We knew a lot of people that died and it instilled something in us that’s indescribable. But when United 93 was released, I didn’t boycott the movie. When people want to rail on and on about conspiracy theories concerning what happened that day, I let them have at it. When some people said that we deserved what happened to us, I profoundly disagree. But I would never, ever tell them that I’m so outright offended by all of this that they should stop and that no one else should hear them out.

This is such a weird paragraph. United 93 is by all accounts a thoughtful and tasteful look at the events that happened on the flight. How on Earth can you equate it to 9/11 truthers? Have you ever thought that if the video game industry handled subjects the same way United 93 handles itself that people wouldn’t have to point out the things it’s doing wrong so often? I mean really if you’re going to complain about any movie dealing with 9/11 it should be Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. And you know what? People did.

When are we going to acknowledge that this mentality is destructive? When are we going to come to terms with the fact that by strangling creativity because of abstract notions of being offended and hurt feelings, we are doing a major disservice not only to ourselves, but to the people who want to give us new stories full of new ideas? By refusing to address this problem, we are stripping gaming of its ability to be ingenious. We’re telling game creators not to challenge us, not to make us think, not to make us uncomfortable. But I say to game developers, make me think. Challenge me. Make me uncomfortable.

On the contrary when we don’t challenge, think about and critique what game creators give us we are telling them that we don’t want them to rock the boat. Including sexual assault in a game is not rocking the boat just because sexual assault is a terrible thing. Something being uncomfortable does not mean it’s automatically challenging. It can simply mean that it’s morally repugnant. The infamous rape scene in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or the entirety of the first half of I Spit On Your Grave are both very uncomfortable. But they are not uncomfortable because they are challenging the viewer, they are uncomfortable because they are making terrible acts something to ogle at.

I love video games, and I have played and for the most part liked some video games that have stuff in them that turns my stomach (such as the weird transformation scenes in Ar Tonelico 3). It is because I respect the medium and want to see it grow that I challenge and critique the content in the games that I play. I am somewhat appalled that a member of the media covering video games doesn’t want to challenge things in it and then complains that they’re treated different from movies. That he doesn’t understand the difference between people taking offense and demanding censorship and people pointing out problems. If you want video games to be taken seriously you must treat them like they are serious. That doesn’t mean defending big boobied Kali against detractors, that means examining and challenging stereotypes and topics and encouraging developers to do the same.

Behold: The Tex Murphy Kickstarter

Kickstarter has become a great place for devs of out-of-style (but still awesome) game genres to appear and plead their cases for pledges and Tex Murphy is the latest to make an appearance. Don’t know what Tex Murphy is? There’s an easy two-step process to remedy this.

1) Watch their amazing Kickstarter pitch video (just click on the player to play and pause, I had to remove the JPG for the fancy chrome because it was broken)

[gigya src=”http://www.kickstarter.com/swf/player.swf” flashvars=”backcolor=000000&file=http%3A%2F%2Fs3.amazonaws.com%2Fksr%2Fprojects%2F111784%2Fvideo-110891-h264_high.mp4&image=http%3A%2F%2Fs3.amazonaws.com%2Fksr%2Fprojects%2F111784%2Fphoto-full.jpg&project_creators=A+Video+Games+project+by+Chris+Jones+%26+Aaron+Conners&project_title=Tex+Murphy+-+Project+Fedora&project_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kickstarter.com%2Fprojects%2F251414413%2Ftex-murphy-project-fedora&screencolor=000000&amp”]

2) Head over to GOG.com and buy Under A Killing Moon. It’s a really great game and unlike most of the other titles to come out of the FMV craze it’s well acted and well written.

After you do these two things, head on over and pledge so this game happens.

(extra explicit link: Tex Murphy: Project Fedora on Kickstarter)

A Sentence About Every Tales Game Released in the US

In honor of the Tales of the Abyss 3DS release in the US, here is a sentence about every Tales game that’s come out over here (ordered by release date).

Tales of Destiny – Talking swords but no personality.

Tales of Eternia – Save two worlds in one game but don’t fight Maxwell too early like I did.

Tales of Symphonia – Exspheres created by not very nice angels turn people into monsters.

Tales of Legendia – Botched Namco release in the US, surprise!

Tales of Phantasia – Battle system feels a bit stiff these days.

Tales of the Abyss – Best battle system, best story, best Tales game.

Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology – Why not just release Tales of Rebirth in North America, you jerks?

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World – I’ll play it some day.

Tales of Vesperia – Any game with a pipe smoking dog in your party has got to be good.

Monthly “To Play List” Update (December Edition)

Since putting together my list of games I mean to play through before baseball starts up again, I’ve gotten through three:

  • Avadon: The Black Fortress
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
  • Fallout: New Vegas

Steam says that I put 37 hours into Avadon and 56 into New Vegas which sounds about right. No idea on Castlevania but I dinked around for a bit to get all the upgrades so I’d guess about 20 hours there. I’m pretty happy with the pace, though I’m concerned I’ll hit a wall with some of the RPGs just due to length.

I’m moving onto finishing Tomb Raider: Underworld and El Shaddai next. Need a break from the long RPGs.

Offseason To-Play List: 2011-2012 Edition

Baseball season has been over for long than I would like to admit, which means that it’s time for me to once again compile a list of (non-portable) games I plan to play and will most likely ignore. But making the list does actually help keep me somewhat on track. This year the twist is I’m only including games that I already own. Yes, I will most certainly be playing the new Zelda but mentioning it here doesn’t help clear out my ridiculous backlog.

My first order of business is to finish the games listed over there on the right as “Currently Playing” before I get distracted, of course. For record keeping those are:

  • Dark Souls (PS3)
  • Tomb Raider Underworld (PC)
  • Uncharted 3 (PS3)

Honestly, I will probably not get anywhere near finishing Dark Souls before April. While I enjoy all the From Software dungeon crawlers a lot I find that I can’t play them as my primary game or I want to die (because of all the dying you do in the games, ho ho ho).

  • Avadon (PC)
  • Castlevania: Lord of Shadows (PS3) — I’m halfway through, I might as well finish it. I don’t see a Platinum Trophy in my future, however.
  • Deus-Ex: Human Revolution (PC) — Got it for one whole dollar from OnLive.
  • El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (PS3)
  • Fallout: New Vegas (PC) — Luv u, Obsidian <3
  • Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Wii)
  • Lost Odyssey (360)
  • Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (PS3) — Need to finish this up.
  • Metroid: Other M (Wii) — For real this time. Really!
  • Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) — Really want to play the first two with the Wii controls, no harm in also playing Corruption again.
  • Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (Wii)

I don’t think that’s too ambitious even with the inevitable mass game purchases when everyone has Thanksgiving and Christmas sales.

The Majestic Plush Alpaca

Behold, the pre-order bonus for Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns:


The alpaca is an exciting new animal in the latest Harvest Moon, I believe the first since the ostrich and silkworms were introduced in Tree of Tranquility (but don’t take my word for it, I get all the titles jumbled in my head since I’ve played them all way too much). I assume you can gather wool from them, though alpaca milk is an interesting idea. I already love them because they are adorable, the silkworms were not so cute.

In plushie matters, if GameStop screws up my pre-order again and causes me to miss out on another HM plushie I will be mad and you will know it because of the destruction left in my wake.

MLB Offseason “To Play” List Review

When the 2010 MLB season ended, I put together a list of games that I wanted to finish during the offseason. Since the 2011 season started a few days ago, I figured that it made sense to take a look at my progress because accountability is important.

  • Age of Empires 3 (PC)
  • Baroque (Wii)
  • Baten Kaitos: Origins (GameCube)
  • Eternal Sonata (360)
  • Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermilion (PSP)
  • Legend of Heroes: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch (PSP)
  • Legend of Heroes: Song of the Ocean (PSP)
  • Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii)
  • Metroid: The Other M (Wii)
  • Neverwinter Nights (PC)
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC)
  • Ninja Gaiden 2 (360)
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Wii)
  • Resonance of Fate (Ps3)
  • Rule of Rose (PS2)
  • Uncharted 2 (PS3)
  • Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
  • Zak and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (Wii)

I wound up finishing 8 of the 18 games on the list, which actually is better than I expected given some of the distractions I ran into.

Here are the updates for the games I didn’t finish:

Baroque: I’m in the middle of the second to last cycle but have no healing items which has sort of killed my enthusiasm because I think I need to reboot the cycle which is frustrating.

Baten Kaitos: Origins: Not yet started

Eternal Sonata: Hasn’t done a great job of keeping me interested enough to keep playing. I’ll give it another try soon probably.

Legend of Heroes: Song of the Ocean: I finished up Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch two days before baseball season kicked off and started this game, it’s currently in progress.

Metroid: The Other M: Not yet started

Ninja Gaiden 2: Not yet started

Resonance of Fate: In progress, currently in the middle of chapter 5. I forgot to save right after finishing a tough boss fight and died doing a side mission so I’m taking a break because I’m mad at myself.

Rule of Rose: My PS2 died 🙁

Valkyria Chronicles: In progress, I started playing it just around the time that I got distracted by a whole bunch of PC games. I’m planning to pick it back up after finishing Resonance of Fate.

Zak and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure: Just have to knock out the last level, which is tough. Decided to take a break before attacking it again.