It’s sad, but we all grow up at some point. That means a lot of our time goes into our professions, our families, and just surviving. Some activities we loved, even as passions, get less attention as we grow. Videogames are one of those passions of mine that I can’t seem to let go entirely, but that I honestly don’t have much time for anymore. So when I do play games, I want to know I’m playing ones that engage me, thrill me, give me a sense of accomplishment, and are, most importantly, fun. I’ve incorporated videogames into my research as a graduate student and plan to continue on that path, so I've had more time than others, but still my game time needs to be directed at experiences that are truly worth the many hours they require. So as I’ve grown, I’ve found some gaming trends that as a child I could handle, but as an adult I'd love to throw out the window.
I played a great deal of Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) as a kid. Final Fantasy was a staple and constant in my life. I was always extremely excited about an upcoming release, and completely disappeared into a new title once it was in my hands. I would do everything and anything within a title, beating every boss no matter how much extra effort I had to put in, including grinding for experience. My recent purchase of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD reminded me of how much grinding might be necessary to accomplish some endgame or secret material, and as an adult, the aspect of repetition in my game is an absolute turn-off. Grinding for experience adds no substance to my game or my experience of it, and I’m quick to put one down once I realize the material I want to experience requires it.
Grinding…for rare stuff!
Related to the last section is a different type of grinding peeve: grinding to find something particular one needs. Sometimes it can be in the hunt for a rare creature (like in Final Fantasy X’s creature hunting) or for specific items. Resonance of Fate by Tri-Ace was a peculiar title I picked up years ago with a very unique combat system I grew to love. All the elements of the system were introduced right from the beginning of the game, so I could immediately get to mastering all of it. Unfortunately, the game requires that players find items called hexes to unlock new areas on maps. Neutral hexes were easy enough to get a hold of, but colored hexes were only dropped by certain enemies in certain areas, and only some of the time. Most of the later areas in the game require an exorbitant amount of said hexes, and as much as I had fun until that point, it was this hex-hunting that stopped me. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have batted an eye at such a feat, but these days I just feel like I’m wasting my extra time and feel somewhat cheated when the repetition is required to get to even core material. There’s something great about finding rare loot, but if there’s not some other form of access other than repetition, I’d like to at least have the freedom to choose if that’s something I care about.
Mini-games can be fun distractions, like Rage’s card game, but they can sometimes be awfully droll when they are required to receive certain bonuses or make progress, especially when the nature of the mini-game detracts from what is actually fun in the title. Again I’ll use Final Fantasy X HD as an example. In order to get each characters’ ultimate weapons one must complete mini-games, some of which take a great deal of time. Lulu, the black-mage type character who arguably has the capacity to do the most damage, cannot unlock the potential of her celestial weapon unless the player can dodge lightning bolts consecutively 250 times in a particular area. No saving, no leaving, it must all be done at once. Players must stand their character still in the particular area and tap the X button when the screen flashes, and repeatedly tapping X doesn’t work. It’s repetitive, and worse, has absolutely nothing to do with or has no bearing on the focal gameplay: combat. Hers is definitely the most difficult and requires the most patience, but all the other characters require players to champion mini-games (blitzball, butterfly catching, cactuar hide-and-seek, etc.).
Some focus more on combat than others, but I find it odd that a game that was superb most of the way through would then distract players from the key element that made the game so fun. It saddens me on a personal level, because there are some awesome challenges in the HD version that I’ve never tackled, but as an adult, whenever I sit down to do some chocobo-balloon-catch-racer or blitzball, I get bored very quick, and feel like my time could be better spent. If unlocking things like this were more related to the core gameplay (like other hidden bosses, maybe?), I’d be more inclined to get to it.
A Lack of Challenge
Repetition can be unfulfilling, but so can a great system that has no challenge. The aforementioned title Resonance of Fate is a clear example of this; the game is pretty darn challenging when one begins it, but about halfway through it becomes a cakewalk. The combat system I had grown to love and had mastered ended up feeling bland without any surmountable challenges, and the repetition of hex-collecting only exacerbated the feeling of being finished with the game. To this day I’ve never finished the title, and I only rarely never finish a game I’ve picked up, but the repetition and downward slope of challenges sent my attention to the direction of other games.
Many games of late have avoided these awful trends. The Mass Effect series was a very focused experience, and each title improved on the silly resource-gathering gimmick so as to improve the core experience. The Souls series has resoundingly brought back challenge in action-role playing games with centralized, technical gameplay, and other developers and publishers are taking notice. Gearbox’s Borderlands never seems to get old for me because the gameplay is so focused on the action, skills progression, and the astounding loot system. As an adult, I lean towards core experiences that have a great deal to offer in quality, rather than in quantity of things that can be done. I just don’t seem to enjoy some of these trends I used to have no problem with.
What are some game elements you used to cruise through that now you pull your hair out from boredom? What are some trends you’ve come to love?