Video Game Year in (Brief) Review: 2014

Another year has passed and as usual, I spent far too much time in that year playing video games. I hope to break some of these paragraphs out into longer pieces where I can dig into specifics, but I have no idea if I’ll be able to follow up and deliver.

Games I Played

Age of Wonders III – The problem I have with all turn-based strategy games (not 4X, like Civilization) is that they are not Heroes of Might and Magic III. That said, Age of Wonders III is pretty solid and unlike previous entries in the series I feel like I actually know what I am doing when I play.

Bayonetta 2 – Deserves a longer write-up from me–I really mean to do these things, I swear–but my favorite game by a big margin in 2014. I have spent many quality hours with Bayonetta and pals, scooting around on my chainsaw skis and kicking both angels and demons in the face. Every Platinum game is wonderful (I can say this because I haven’t played Korra!), but Bayonetta is the best of their best. Bayonetta herself is just amazing to me, she is so control of everything around her and this is not only established in cutscenes but in how the game plays. The way Bayonetta walks, the animations when she fights, they all tell you how she is going to do what she wants and nobody is going to tell her no. The incredibly slick battle system helps project this attitude when you realize you are having as much fun kicking ass as the character on screen is shown to be having. Very seriously the best action game I’ve played, and stored in that same space in my heart where I keep Onimusha and Devil May Cry 3.

Bound By Flame – A flawed but honestly very enjoyable game. It seems to me to have gotten a bad rap because people come into it expecting one of the following: Dragon Age or Dark Souls. While it is closer to Dragon Age 2 than Dark Souls it is really not a whole lot like either of them. It’s a rough around the edges ARPG that requires the player to be willing to die a lot (this is where the Dark Souls comparisons come from, because * Souls games are the first where the player dies a lot!), and that they not just rush into action. The Dragon Age part comes from making a few decisions in the game that affect the way the story goes in a small way. The worldbuilding lore is very interesting and I hope that Focus Home Interactive has Spiders do a second one or maybe some DLC, but that is probably a dream.

Child of Light – I love this game so much it makes me want to cry. It is just a really beautiful experience all around. Interesting and well thought out battle system, beautiful art and a very sweet Grimm’s Fairy Tales type story. PLAY IT.

Divinity: Original Sin – Pretty good party-based CRPG that has the kind of problems that really annoy me. The controls in-battle are just clunky and it’s far too easy to do something you didn’t mean. The mouse-target floats way too much so I found myself going to a location instead of attacking a creature more often than is acceptable. The targeting is also bizarre in that it changes based on ??? and you’ll be told an enemy is “Out of Sight” and then five seconds later, nothing changes but suddenly you can attack. Very sloppy.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – After Dragon Age 2 my expectations were seriously low and I pre-ordered DA:I at the last minute just so I could bitch about being a stupid idiot (it’s a personal problem, ok?), but it turns out that it is a really effin good game. The story is the feature, the big world is just there for you to plow through things. The first area you play through is very MMOish which makes me think EA was planning to shift the game that way, which would have been a bad thing so I’m glad they didn’t. I do think that Bioware has now created so many branches that they’re going to have to retcon some of what they’ve decided is the canonical story but that’s their problem, not mine. Overall, though, DA:I it is at the same level and better in some respects than Dragon Age: Origins.

Half-Minute Hero: The Second ComingHalf-Minute Hero has a very specific audience: People who have played lots of JRPGs. I have played a lot of JRPGs. I very much enjoy HMH.

Legend of Grimrock 2 – I haven’t played nearly as much Legend of Grimrock 2 as I had hoped, but I think it’s really fab. It’s rather difficult but that doesn’t bother me at all. I spend way too much time in the character creation screen whenever I start a new party.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – I know this came out on PSP earlier, but my PSP has been collecting dust for something like five years and I have no idea where the charger is anyway. Trails in the Sky, like the other Legend of Heroes games is a very straight-forward, story-focused JRPG that isn’t here to shake up JRPGs as we know them. A fun 30ish(?) hours or so, I am a sucker for dumb ~fight for your love~ stories so I am eagerly anticipating the release of the second in the series.

Road Not Taken – Who got emotions in my rogue-like?? This is an extremely haunting dungeon-crawler style game about rescuing children ever year when winter comes around. You have to decide how you’re going to play: Save all the kids, or save only as many as you need to. There are a lot of gutpunches. The game itself is a match-3 style puzzler where you arrange items on each screen to progress/save children/not freeze to death yourself/etc.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut – I installed Dragonfall and when I finally got around to playing it, Harebrained announced that they were doing the standalone Director’s Cut with improvements to gameplay so I waited it out. A good choice, as Dragonfall fixes some gameplay issues from the original Shadowrun Returns and offers an even better module. The game has some very solid writing and an excellent strategic battle system.

Strider – I really wanted to like this but I just felt like the levels aren’t done very well and drifted away from it before finishing, never to return.

Tales of Hearts R – I bought a Playstation TV around the time of the secret price drop that has become official just to play this game. I am a Tales maniac and it hurts me deeply when there are Tales games out there ready to be played in a language that I understand that I haven’t gotten around to. This is no Abyss but it is a very solid entry with an endearing story and some cool characters. The battle system is simplified from the full blown ones found on the console but it’s never been so easy to string together 300 hit combos and I enjoy doing that very much. It has a skill customization system that is pretty neat; you decide how to allocate certain points you gain while leveling up to different kinds of skills for each character. There are overlapping skills in each area between a few characters so this allows you to build your party based on which characters you like the best once you figure out how that’s all working. Honestly, though, all the characters in the game are good and fun to have around.

Tales of Symphonia ChroniclesSymphonia is my second-favorite behind Abyss. The HD collection allowed me to be a total sucker for Lloyd and Colette all over again and I don’t’ care if you think she’s annoying, Colette is the best and you are wrong. Dawn of the New World isn’t very Tales-like at all outside of fanservice cameos and a real-time battle system and I have no idea why they decided to go the monster-collecting route. You don’t even have Pokeballs or anything strategic, sometimes monsters just ask if they can join you randomly after battle. The random aspect of recruiting is a huge failure in the game design and drags the game down. Add the most annoying lead character this side of Graces and the game just doesn’t work.

Transistor – Gorgeous, but doesn’t really work for me. Enemies do too much damage, and the game tries to be both real time and turn-based at once through a “planning” screen you can use to queue up a series of attacks and it doesn’t mesh well.

Tropico 5 – Overhaul of the game systems after Tropico 3 & 4, adds some interesting stuff related to eras but doesn’t reach the level of the previous games. I buy that you can’t build an apartment building in the colonial era but you should be able to build a clinic, dammit. Outside of the structure of the game, they replaced the previous radio hosts with a rather annoying and offensive “spicy Latina” girl who talks a lot about how cute boys are and how if they’re mean to her she’ll kill them. Bring back Sunny and Penultimo, please.

Wasteland 2Very good RPG that would be my top of the genre this year if not for Dragon Age: Inquisition.  Strong writing, strong battle system, lots of stuff to do all over the world in the game and it lets you do things how you want to do them. Sure, there are repercussions but one of the themes of Wasteland 2 is that there is no easy choice that fixes everything. It has immense replayability potential, there are at least three ways to do one area and get very different results.

Games I Watched My Husband Play

The following are some games I wanted to play, but let my husband get first dibs because he was more excited about them than me. I think they look cool and still intend to play through them:

  • The Evil Within
  • Infamous – Second Son
  • Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes

Games I Meant To Play, But Didn’t Because I Played Some More Tropico 4 Instead

Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star – Waffled on buying this because Ar Qoga was not a particularly pleasant experience and then the year turned into 2015.

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky – I usually fall into an Atelier related hole and emerge months later but I fell into a Tales related hole instead. I am 100% sure I will like this because I am the entire audience for Atelier games in the United States, I just wound up working towards platinuming older Atelier games and playing Tales of [X] and then I forgot it came out.

The Banner Saga – I backed this on Kickstarter and really, really meant to play it but I installed it and got sidetracked and never came back to it.

Dark Souls II – My husband got me a PS4 and so I decided to wait until it made its way to PS4.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe – My commute didn’t mesh very well with playing 3DS games last year so Kirby fell to the wayside.

Never Alone – Snatched this up straight away, ran out of time in the calendar year to play through.

Games I Am Probably Never Going to Play

Destiny – This is included because people have asked me about it; it is not my thing.

Sunset Overdrive – This one is sort of a lie, if it comes out for PC a year down the road I will definitely buy it and then theoretically play it. I do not have room in my living room for an XBox One until it has more than one game I am interested in, though.

Titanfall – Even less my thing than Destiny but people pretty frequently ask if I’ve played it at all. My answer is “nope”.

Compare & Contrast: Devil May Cry 3 vs DmC

I’m working on a longer post for Friday with my gripes laid out but I just did a playthrough of Devil May Cry 3 and followed it up with DmC and I definitely have two posts of kvetching in me.

Devil May Cry 3 DmC
Dante is a smartass cocky dude who is funny. He likes pizza and guitars. Dante is a smartass cocky dude who is not funny. It is implied he has a big dick.
Vergil is a broody not-human with plans who is very good with a sword. He wears a cool jacket. Vergil is a whiny not-human with plans who is not as good with a sword as Dante. He wears a dumb jacket.
Many options available to customize how you play through the game. Many different weapons and combat styles to choose from. Even a defense only first option if you are a weirdo who doesn’t just like to smash enemies blindly with a sword. Dante has a sword and then there are some secondary weapons you have to hold down multiple buttons to use. You’ll hit the wrong ones sometimes and get annoyed.
Tight re-playable levels for those who like to go for better rankings. You will not need to replay any levels unless you really enjoy collectibles or SSS rankings because if your hands can push buttons you will probably S/SS rank everything in normal difficulty without breaking a sweat.
 Trish is not in this game.  Trish is not in this game.

A Reflection on Kickstarters I’ve Backed

I’ve been poking around on Kickstarter for about two years now, backing games I thought sounded interesting and mildly safe when I remembered they exist/had some money to toss at a project. I forgot about the site for about 8 months because that’s how I roll. In any case, I figured it was a good time to take a look at projects I’ve backed and my level of satisfaction. I don’t get very involved in the community forums that spawn out of these projects and rely mostly on updates for information.

Mansion Lord – A Murder Mystery RPG/Business Sim (funded 12/19/2013)

This game just finished up its Kickstarter campaign so there’s nothing to update yet, but its target release date is Q3 2014. When I showed the project page to my husband he said “Yes, that looks like a very Leo game”.

Torment: Tides of Numenera (funded 4/5/2013)

inXile started this Kickstarter so that they could keep the pre-production team on after Wasteland 2 and now have to worry about filling any gaps. There was some mild feather ruffing when this happened but I thought it made sense given the nature of the game development cycle. And now I am a job creator (still waiting for my tax breaks, US Government!). As of their last update the game is finishing up pre-production (basic design choices, determining skills, etc), so I figure the game is about a year away from being delivered to backers. They’ve been sending updates on a biweekly schedule which keeps me–and I assume all the other backers–happy.

Unwritten: That Which Happened (funded 2/13/2013)

Unwritten was initially supposed to be an endgame development project that would take about six months to finish. Unfortunately the project lead had some very major family health issues that got in the way of development. Refunds are being given to people who ask and the team is still trying to finish the game, but it’s very much up in the air now as he had to take up a full time job again to support his family through crisis. I am not asking for a refund, as I accepted the risks involved in Kickstarting a project and am holding out hope that things will come together in the end. Unlike other failed/potentially failed projects the team has not been out of touch with the backer group and run away with the money, life just really sucks sometimes.

Shadowgate (funded 12/25/2012)

This is an update/remake of one of the fabulous ICOM games for NES. The developer (Zojoi) has been sending out monthly updates to keep backers informed of their progress. They’ve reached the internal alpha of the game and gotten the Greenlight on Steam and in general there is steady progress. Their release date is “early 2014” which I take to really mean Q2. Since they’ve not hit beta yet it’s hard to say if they’ll reach this goal but fingers crossed.

Project Eternity (game now titled “Pillars of Eternity”) (funded 10/15/2012)

Obsidian sends out regular updates and as long as I get a game some day I will almost definitely be happy. I backed this game within 10 minutes of it going up and honestly Obsidian could do pretty much anything this side of killing my cats and I’d make excuses for them.

Duck Quest (funded 8/31/2012)

A little freeware game I thought looked cute enough to toss the creator a few bucks to help him finish things up. Unfortunately the creator got a lot more attention than he was expecting and fell behind in the delivery of pledge items, which caused a kerfuffle. I played the game itself and it is way cute and I enjoyed it for what it is (a small in scope flash game where you do cute things) and eventually got my reward (a cute postcard size print of a duck) so I’m satisfied, but I understand why others were not.

Defense Grid 2 (funded 8/14/2012)

I think I originally backed Defense Grid 2 because the lowest tier got you a copy of the first game and the upcoming DLC expansion for less than it would cost on Steam but I don’t actually recall why I felt motivated to do that. Last I checked they had a single-player alpha done. I figure when the game is ready it’ll be a nice surprise in my inbox because I keep forgetting it exists.

Tex Murphy: Project Fedora (funded 6/16/2012)

The Tex Murphy games are the only FMV adventure games that I thought were actually good and fun and not 7th Guest style not so good and amusing. The developers hooked up with ATLUS for publishing, which presumably also gives them some extra money and helped them get on Steam without having to go through Greenlight. A third trailer was released about three weeks ago and it looks like they’ll hit their Q1 2014 release date, which, yay! Niche projects like this are why I started poking around in the world of Kickstarter in the first place.

Two Guys Space Venture (by the creators of Space Quest) (funded 6/12/2012)

I enjoyed the Space Quest games a lot so backing them for a modest sum seemed like a no brainer if it got me something similar. The team has been making the rounds at conventions with the game and sending out way more updates than I can keep track of.  They previously announced a release date of Q4 2013, but that obviously didn’t happen. Since then there’s been no estimate for when the game will come out because they prefer not to potentially blow another date, which makes a lot of sense and I support their decision as they definitely appear to be making progress with the game.

Alcarys Complex (funded 5/24/2012)

I am a giant massive crazy person for RPGs, but I tend to pass on funding them on Kickstarter. Too many of the indie RPG projects that show up are way too ambitious and being put together by people with very little experience. Also a lot of really terrible amateurish art. Alcarys Complex appealed to me because it had a clear non-crazy scope and professional enough looking art and Modest Arcade was looking for a small sum to finish things up and get the game out the door. It was released on October 29th, 2012 so they did a good job with that bit. I’ve played it a little and plan to get back to it later.

Grim Dawn (funded 5/18/2012)

Titan Quest was a great game with a cruddy publisher, so when a new ARPG made by the Lead Designer of TQ popped up on Kickstarter I plunked my money down immediately and started complaining that waiting for potentially cool things sucks. Things are moving along at a normal pace (which means too slow for my impatient self) and they have people poking around the Act 1 beta with Act 2 coming at the start of February. If you’re into early access you can get in on that action on Steam right now. If it wasn’t clear, I am excited for this one to finally drop.

Shadowrun Returns (funded 4/29/2012)

A cool looking RPG with a seemingly competent team behind development? Please take my money. The game was released in July with the first module and a really extensive editor for the community to make their own modules with Steam Workshop integration. I seriously haven’t seen something with as much potential as this editor since Neverwinter Nights. I’ve played through the first module, was very satisfied (and have a write-up coming soon, I swear) and am looking forward to the Berlin expansion.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City (funded 4/27/2012)

Metroidvania style game with multiple player-characters and a whole lot to do that I haven’t done yet. The game was delayed because of Hurricane Sandy fallout but was released in early September and came out very polished and playable. Another game I swear I’ll finish that write-up on soon.

Americana Dawn (funded 3/30/2012)

A freeware JRPG that takes place during the French and Indian War and American Revolution. Development is still underway (it’s a one person team!) but it’s getting there. I realize a lot of people use Kickstarter as a pre-order style system but I think it’s good to help out people with interesting ideas even if the end product is free.

The Banner Saga (funded 4/20/2012)

I backed The Banner Saga based almost entirely on the jaw-dropping artwork and pedigree of its developers. They wound up getting a lot more money than they expected and there was a pretty massive amount of scope-creep. An entire multiplayer freeware game was released, which frankly was pushing it but did have the benefit of testing out the game’s combat pre-release. The release date is a week from now, so hopefully the extra wait was worth it.

Wasteland 2 (funded 4/17/2012)

Wasteland, my old friend! I honestly felt obligated as an RPG fan to back this game. Like a lot of the early video game Kickstarters they were way too optimistic with their original release date and blew past it, but they’ve been making steady progress and backers of the appropriate tiers are in there poking around the Alpha (or Beta?). If you are bored and want to see crazy people on the internet being crazy (or just enjoy that sort of thing), I recommend reading the Steam community forums for the Early Access release.

Double Fine Adventure (game now titled “Broken Age”) (funded 3/13/2012)

This is the only Kickstarter so far where I regret pledging. What was initially pitched was a small in scope point and click adventure game and who could turn down one of those from Tim Schafer? However, they raised an immense amount of money and there was just an insane expansion of goals. Then they ran out of money, apologized, said they’ll release half the game and then if they have money release the second half. While all this is going on Double Fine is also doing things like recruiting Elijah Wood to do voice acting for them? Oh and also running a Kickstarter for another new game. I mean, really. Priorities, guys. I don’t even want to play the game anymore, I am so frustrated with how everything has gone. The game could be amazing and I would still call the Kickstarter a failure because of how things just spiraled out of control. I am patient, games take a long time to make, but “I designed too much and now we are running out of money” is not the same as “this game is taking longer to complete than we anticipated”.  Maybe Schafer is one of those guys who really needs a publisher to rein him in.

The Games of 2012: Ys Origin

Ys Origin originally came out in 2006 but only in Japan, leaving poor suckers like myself who desperately wanted to play it in a language we could understand waiting for a fan translation. The fan translation finally materialized in September, 2011 but by that time there were already rumors that XSeed was getting ready to release it digitally so I decided against importing it like I done with some other Ys titles.

For those unfamiliar with the series–it is, afterall, a niche franchise beloved by gigantic nerds like me but unknown to everyone else–it’s a long running series of action RPGs with lots of remakes and ports and re-releases. Origin is the first of the games to break from telling the story of red-haired Adol having adventures all over the place and finding bits of the leftover Ys civilization while solving other, more urgent problems. Origin is not about the origins of Adol and his gang but rather the tale great civilization of Ys fell.

The gameplay in Origin is pretty similar to the titles since The Oath of Felghana. You hit things with weapons, you have some spell options and there are platforming and puzzle elements. There’s not really any level grinding required as long as you don’t just blow past enemies without bothering to defeat them, which I think of as a huge plus. Overall, Origin plays like your standard action RPG, but it is so competently made and charming that it overcomes the run-of-the-mill press-x-to-attack gameplay and enter the really fun zone. The Ys games have a formula that has been pretty much perfected and just own it completely.

The other thing Ys games always do well–and it’s an element of Origin that I enjoyed a whole lot–is giving you tough, interesting boss battles. In Origin once you are about a quarter way done with your long climb up the tower they suddenly become something like a SHMUP. The bosses have several attacks, shoot a whole lot of different stuff at you and require a tactical approach. It’s not R-Type Final, but here’s a video of the first boss that does this in the game:

I love it! There’s not a really a moment where you can just stand still (which in Ys means no healing!). It’s intense, and it’s fun. When I beat bosses in Origin I was very pleased with myself.

As it goes on the bosses become more and more like they were ripped out of a SHMUP. When you get to the final boss there is stuff all over the place and you are constantly running and reacting to whatever attack he’s queued up. The frenzied music works perfectly with what’s going on in the game. It’s just amazingly well put together.

If you don’t mind spoilers, or don’t think of a boss fight with no story context as one, here’s what that last battle looks like:

Ys: Origin is a niche game because of the market it inhabits, not its appeal to a wide audience. If you enjoy hitting monsters with weapons, sometimes setting creatures on fire and light puzzle fare then this is a game (and series) you’ll dig.

Buy Ys Origin on Steam. I get nothing out of this and you get a good game!

The Games of 2012: Tales of Graces and Tales of the Abyss

In 2012 Namco took pity on Tales fans in North America and released localized versions of both Tales of the Abyss (which was a re-release, but I don’t care) for the 3DS and Tales of Graces F for the Playstation 3. It’s an interesting contrast in games because while both of them feature fantastic battle systems, Abyss has a good coming of age story and Graces features a bunch of characters who are stuck in childhood and never grow at all during the course of the game.

The lead character in Abyss, Luke, is spoiled, self-centered and very sheltered. He is incredibly unlikable in the start, intentionally but a little over the top. He makes a really terrible mistake that in non-RPG land nobody would ever be able to make up for but luckily it’s a video game so he can go on a journey to redeem himself. It works because Luke is not instantly redeemed and he is earnest about growing up and working to make things right/better. The timeline is a accelerated but none of the other characters just go “Of course we love you, you silly town-destroying boy!”

Meanwhile in Graces the main character and his friends almost get the world destroyed because friendship is forever, even when you haven’t spoken to each other in 10 years and the friend in question has been possessed by an ancient evil and is killing people willy-nilly. The cutscenes are unbearable and the characters ridiculously shallow. Bland stories don’t bother me, you can just ignore them. Outright bad ones, however, really take away from my overall enjoyment of a game when I am constantly given story updates accompanied by horrific voice acting. It really is a shame because as I mentioned in my full write-up, Graces has the best battle system in the series to date.

I’d say that if you smooshed the battle system from Graces together with the story from Abyss you’d get an ultra-fantastic game but Abyss doesn’t really need any help to reach that level. It’s the best entry in the Tales series by a significant margin and getting to replay it right before getting my hands on Graces reinforced this for me.

I leave with with this trailer for Tales of Graces F with the hilariously misleading “Everyone Changed” tagline. Enjoy the voice acting.

The Games of 2012: Sine Mora

Grasshopper Manufacturer has been playing around a lot with different genres in the last few years, with Sine Mora being their first SHMUP. A joint effort with the European studio Digital Reality it’s an okay game but not the extreme pewpew-fest I was hoping for. There are tons of annoying small breaks in the action to show off scenery; it seems the developers were very worried that players might miss how cool everything looks.

The boss battles are particularly disappointing as they are somewhat slow and you spend a lot of time not moving anywhere or thinking very hard.  Here are some examples I grabbed using FRAPS:

Compare that to the first boss fight from random SHMUP Ether Vapor: Remaster that I bought cheap on Steam (you may also observe that I am not very good at the game):

Sine Mora got a lot of praise in reviews all over the place but I found it to be very pedestrian and not very challenging. Substituting time for shield or health is interesting but the main impact it had was to make me not bother to try and get out of the way of fire/ships/insect puke in the very few crowded levels since your time increases goes back up as you blow enemies away. There were also way too many ripped-out-of-Gradius environmental obstacle areas. It’s a pewpew game, I want to make things explode.

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.