Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Games I Like

I have recently noticed that whenever I pick up a game everyone loves, I spend the next two weeks bitching about how games all suck, especially that one that earned a unanimous 10/10.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I'm just a whiny asshole. Well, I am. But I'm also someone who likes games. That's right! I like them!

So let's go over some games I like, and what I like about them.

I like Valkryia Chronicles a little... but I like Valkyria Chronicles 2 for the PSP a lot! While the tactical gameplay is sometimes a bit dodgy, their home base mechanic is really exquisite. It combines the grind rewards of leveling up and changing classes with a participation reward of advancing soldier character arcs a bit after they participate in a few more battles. None of the soldiers are individually very interesting, but unlocking their arcs bit by bit is a fantastic way to do things. There is also a beautiful synergy where you get a unique mission related to their story arc every half dozen episodes or so - these missions are not usually significantly different from the norm, but it's enough to really make the characters and the progression gel into a crispy, crunchy whole.

I like Saints Row III a lot. A lot of people hate it because it's fundamentally kind of a dumbed-down version of Saints Row II. But I find myself returning to Saints Row III more than Saints Row II whenever I need a fix of dumb people causing extremely unlikely catastrophes. While nothing in the game particularly stands out, all the pieces mesh well with good timing so it's easy to just roll along from mini-event to mini-event. By the time you're starting to get bored of driving around, you run into a gang shooting. By the time you're getting a little bored of that, you get a paycheck and have money to spend. By the end of that you've noticed a pickup you didn't get and are now on a helicopter expedition...

I like the new XCom game. It's chunky and tactical enough to have some bite to it both outside and inside combat, but it never feels weighted down by the extraneous complexity most other tactical games (including earlier XCom games) forced on us. It moves well, swapping out between combat and base-building at just the right speed.

Those are all old! Do I like any recent games?

Well, let's look at 2012 game releases and see which ones I liked.

I actually liked Binary Domain, although most people didn't seem to. It's a relatively lightweight shooter, but with the addition of having to juggle your party members and their goodwill towards you. I liked that addition. It gave me some knobs to fiddle with over the course of the game, unlike most shooters where you just march from A to Z. In addition, the social soundbytes the characters give both as part of and independently from my interactions with them added a feeling of personality to the game world and the squad. Normally I get pretty bored with these kinds of action shooters, but in this case there was a glue that held my attention throughout: the other characters. It wasn't perfect, not even close, but it was more compelling than the Halo games to me.

As always, I liked the most recent Disgaea. I do have a problem with Disgaea where I get bogged down in details, so if I leave for a week I basically have to start over because I feel so lost. But while I'm playing, there's a great flow between fighting, managing warriors, and interacting with the base. The great character-driven plot moments are also very juicy, although I feel they are more useful as changes of pace than as actual plots. They don't make me care about seeing the next one - they just entertain me for a few light moments to break up the tactical weight of the rest of the game.

Obviously, I loved Dragon's Dogma. It has a good combination of self-directed exploration, leveling, and quests. The game was horribly flawed in many ways, but it was also fun to play. Like many such games, I never beat it. It's just too long. But for the 100+ hours I played it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, bugs, boring plot, and miscalibrated balance aside.

Believe it or not, I really liked Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Talk about a pointless, shitty game. But I love rhythm games like that, even though I'm crap at them. This one emerges from the pack because it has a lot of complex progression - earning characters, skills, items, new tracks, and so on. Classic RPG grinding style mixed in with rhythm-based gameplay made it perfect for my train commutes. I wouldn't want to sit and play it for 100+ hours like Dragon's Dogma, but I played it for around 40 hours, 20-30 minutes a day on commutes.

Borderlands 2 was one of the few long games I actually managed to beat, I liked it so much. Extremely fluid play, both within the running gunfights and in terms of the pacing of rewards, exploration, level-ups, and character quests.

The common thread between the games I like appears to be pacing. These games all have really excellent pacing. They hand off between various elements of play with good timing, neither too fast nor too slow, and rarely if ever force me to do something at the game designers' whim. They have long-cycle and short-cycle gameplay intermixed well, and alternate between heavy and light nicely.

On the other hand, many of the games that the world considered to be the big winners last year, I didn't like. I didn't like Dishonored or Batman: Arkham City, for example.

These games tended to have very, very good graphics, animations, sounds, voice acting... but I found them really boring to play. No flow.

So, yes, I like games. I just hate all the games everyone else liked.

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