Sakurai: Some game stories 'honestly irksome'

Kirby and Smash Bros. designer Masahiro Sakurai not pleased with certain game stories; wrote Kid Icarus: Uprising entirely himself.

Industry veteran Masahiro Sakurai has penned a Famitsu column (translated by Polygon) in which the Kirby and Smash Bros. designer voiced his discontent for certain game stories.

"As a player, as someone who's been playing games for a long time, the stories that get told in video games are honestly irksome to me pretty often," Sakurai wrote. "For example, games that take forever to get through the intro and won't let you start playing, or games that go through the trouble of being fully voiced and wind up having their tempo all messed up as a result."

"I just want to enjoy the game and I think I'm just intolerant of aspects that block that enjoyment. I can enjoy a story in any other form of media; I just want the game to let me play it already," he added

As an example, Sakurai said it is "dreadful" that some role-playing games abandon certain characters for the sake of story.

"Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable," he said. "In games where you're fighting against enemies, you're playing from the perspective of the hero, and you're being asked to basically win every time. If players wind up in a predicament because of what the story calls for, that's like penalizing them even though they made no mistake. As gameplay, it's lacking."

Sakurai further explained that sometimes it is necessary for a game to create story-focused obstacles for players, but balancing these is key, he said. The developer added that he had a tough time with this in Kid Icarus: Uprising, so he decided to write the entire script himself.

"I did it so I could write a story that jibed with the game, one that took advantage of the game's advantages," Sakurai said. "Every character, including the bosses, had their personalities shaped by their roles in the game, or the structure of the game itself. That let me develop the dialogue to firmly match the developments you encounter in the game. If I had had someone else write the story, I'd either have to keep explaining things to the writer whenever anything changed in-game, or I'd have to partition it away from the game and lose on that consistency."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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Discussion

166 comments
JulyAeon
JulyAeon

that just shows how import BALANCE is and is at present not achieved. to my mind it is not so important to write the story first or do the game mechanics first, it is all about the right execution for all the right reasons.  For people who don't like intro's and cut scenes...we used to have that very important choice in games that was called "Skip Cinematic" !  One very important CHOICE that was the first to disappear and  that is so foreign to this industry these days.  more choice and less force is my hope for evolution.

starduke
starduke

Seems that what game devs do is they either write the story, then force the gameplay to suit the story, or they do the gameplay, and force the story to suit it.

hellangel_boy
hellangel_boy

I came upon this topic accidentally. I don't have a wii or wiiU, or play nintendo games, but I disagree with him on many parts. I always say; no matter how much you love a story it has to end to be good, and to me story is a very important element of the game that adds a lot to the game and makes it objective. So if the story requires at a point sacrificing a character, then be it.

Though I get what he means by making the his own story to fit the gameplay, but that doesn't work if you want a strong story.

Ohaidere
Ohaidere

I'm not going to lie, I can really relate to the whole waiting through the introduction thing he's talking about. Don't get me wrong, if it's going to add something to the narrative and fits in with the chemistry of the game (Half Life comes to mind), then by all means, but if it's just some lame story that's shoe-horned into the game I'd really just like to get to the shooting part.

I don't want to spend a whole lot of time doing menial tasks just for the sake of narrative structure for a game that has no interest in being a story focused game. Give me a 30 second cutscene and let's rollllllllllll.

Another one that kind of made me relate to that comment was Mass Effect. The game starts out well, and then sticks you into a somewhat lengthy and tedious story section on the Citadel before allowing you to blast off and start saving the galaxy. I loved that game, but man, that slow section right off the bat took multiple restarts before I finally muscled through it.

I didn't mind the slower sections later in that game (or in the sequels), but it really was a poor design choice to put that slow of a section so early on in a game you're nowhere near immersed in yet.

JusXice
JusXice

He must be referring to Japanese games only and a prime example is medal gear solid I always joke about how the cut-scenes are too long and I be forgetting that I’m actually playing a video game and just watching a movie and I end up losing interests, but I understand Japanese developers are more story driven and the majority of storytelling in the games is not that good it way too melodramatic and lack substance now look at Mario it more like an objective storyline and it has more game-play than a driven storyline.

jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

There is very little difference between novel, movie, or game stories in that the story should always be the focus. I think most anyone who reads alot agrees the story writes itself, as soon as you start changing the story from what it should be to what is 'politically correct' or more appealing to a certain demographics the author stops being creative and starts being a editor. 

This guy above writes stories for games that have the depth of pbs cartoons for preschoolers. Large expansive story lines sometimes require bad things to happen, a good story does not ask a focus group each time character takes action. 

I do agree that the media of games have to have stories told differently then, novels and movies. I think it is just laziness to push tons of back story into a very long intros before you have even been brought into the game. My favorite form of storytelling in video games is the strategy RPG. Short segments of story before each battle/incursion/event, then dialogue/story during the action or battles, and recap with more story before interaction with the player before starting it all up again. Great pacing, never gets dull and always being pulled along with the story. 

Again sometimes stories write themselves it is not a matter of what a gamer should get or what would make it sell more. In FF7, Suikoden i would loved if certain characters lived - but I do not think the story would have been as good. 

sykopat99
sykopat99

People are different, some like a lot of talking and cutscenes, some do not.

Some games go way over the top and leaves hardly any playng at all.

LtReviews
LtReviews

I agree/disagree in some places.

I think long-winded intro cut-scenes are the worst thing on earth, and should be banished from the planet. At least give the player some small taste of gameplay first.

But should every character and their personality be shaped by their specific role in the game? Isn't that advocating using generic role-based archetypes as characters only?


blaze_boy30
blaze_boy30

Just let me get all the non-Exclusive equipment they have on them and then they can go die.

nathangray
nathangray

Sorry but "wrote Kid Icarus: Uprising by himself" is not something he should be bragging about, that game was an abomination.

kakashi552
kakashi552

from what it says here, i don't agree with sakurai at all. but i think that i'd have to play uprising in order to understand his seamless combination of story and gameplay 

(though i don't see taking away control as a bad thing or as a punishment--i think it's more like, hey, can you get by a little bit without using this character? and if you can, but you struggled, then you realize how awesomely powerful that character really is)

soulless4now
soulless4now

I agree with him. I'm not too fond of leveling up characters only to have them leave the party because they turned bad, but at least it does keep the story interesting on other levels.  

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

what games has he been playing? 

people dying is a part of gaming. it worked well for ff7....

blitzinD
blitzinD

"As a player, as someone who's been playing games for a long time, the stories that get told in video games are honestly irksome to me pretty often," Sakurai wrote.

Okay, as a gamer pushing 40 I can relate to this, but not really for the reasons he goes on about. For me it is more of a "been there, done that already" lack of originality issue or simply the fact that most games are made and marketed for people 10-25 years my junior and I am perhaps moving beyond being interested in the more typical narratives in video games. As a long time RPG player I can definitely see where we have sacrificed in-depth gameplay and control over characters for "story."

Just compare the older RPGs like Baldur's Gate, NWN and even NWN2 to something like Mass Effect. To me ME is more like playing a choose your own adventure than an RPG. These at times forced and contrived attempts to make something more like an interactive movie than an RPG do irk me. RPGs used to give the player a palate (classes, races, etc...) and allow the player to create a character of their making but now many force you to play a premade character for the sake of story, great if the character appeals to you, awful if they don't... I'm looking at you DA2!

cjimrun
cjimrun

As an rpg enthusiast I prize story over pretty much every aspect of a game as long as the base mechanics aren't complete junk.  The killing of major pcs is something that I'm down for as it's been done effectively before, but it definitely requires skilled writing to integrate it into the total experience.  The character needs to be likeable enough for the player to have an attachment, but the overall game needs to be strong enough to engage the player after their loss.  On top of the obvious FFVII example, Square also did it in FFV. 

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

" I can enjoy a story in any other form of media; I just want the game to let me play it already,"

Thanks for quickly summing up everything wrong with today's gamers in one sentence.Really sucks that this is a video game designer's thoughts on the matter.

HyabusaRyu
HyabusaRyu

uprising was great game indeed, it's really sad the studio behind it has shut down :'(

franzito
franzito

I agree with this guy. Sometimes you feel that some conflicts in the story's flow are but excuses to trigger action or violent sequences.

petsodon
petsodon

I do not think that voice overs somehow break a games immersion. Having to frantically click click click past texted conversations just to get quickly back to the game itself is a sign of a weak game. This is a lazy excuse to not wanting to spend time and money on voice overs.

Arcturuss
Arcturuss

Big characters should die more often rather than less often..  Would be nicer if the player could affect if they live/die somehow.

awesomo400000
awesomo400000

Is this a common occurrence in games? Having a playable character die because of story? The only example I can think of is Aerith in FFVII.

Didn't think this was a major issue in games. I may be wrong though...

hiphops_savior
hiphops_savior

Sakurai is right, in a sense. He's not dissing your favourite game, he's pointing that killing a character you developed is a cheap cop out to create drama. Games like Walking Dead and Mass Effect puts the character's fate directly in your hands. Sakurai has no problem with that. He does have a problem when you are forced to watch a character die for the sake of adding drama.


That said, one of the things I would like to see Fire Emblem go towards is being forced to make sadistic choices. Are you as a tactician willing to sacrifice someone to save millions of lives?

Bowser05
Bowser05

I love him so much. I can't believe he indirectly dissed FFVII. That makes me happy. Go Sakurai.

dillydadally
dillydadally

Aerith says hello... or doesn't because she's dead.

serphtensei
serphtensei

What a surprising statement coming from a guy who write kiddy stories. 

Vodoo
Vodoo

All this from a guy that writes Kirby and Kid Icarus.

aussiemuscle
aussiemuscle

@JusXice No, there's plenty of 'western' games that make this mistakes. it's not just rpg's either. A lot of racing games you HAVE to finish well to progress and some have unnecessarily long intros that you can't skip.

GamerOuTLaWz
GamerOuTLaWz

@soulless4now They turned bad because YOU did the choice of picking I.E: a chaotic-evil with a lawlful good character. These were the consequence if the player wasnt paying attention or playing randomly in such games,cause these games wouldnt catter to the brainless crowd of 'gamers' we have nowadays. BG games are classics,master pieces and MUCH more indepth and attractive than half the fucking watered down rushed linear garbage we have nowadays that they dare call ''RPG''s

Ohaidere
Ohaidere

@cjimrun Some of the greatest RPGs don't have that great of stories. Not necessarily bad stories, just not all that great.

hotdiddykong
hotdiddykong

@HyabusaRyu 

Actually no, this is SAKURAI

He picked Random people from Nintendo's studios, formed them together and make Project Sora for the specific reason to make Kid Icarus Uprising, THATS IT. After that he shut down the company, because Uprising is DONE, and put them back to their original Positions, no one lost their job and they are currently helping Namco and HAL on the new Smash Bros

IanNottinghamX
IanNottinghamX

@petsodon your sort of missing the point hes making....what hes talking about overall is bad game design...

Threesixtyci
Threesixtyci

@awesomo400000  Yeah. there are very few games out there that did this. Usually when a character dies their XP gets transfered to another character as compensation. But in Aerith's case that never happened. 

 That  pack mule Blond girl in Never Winter Nights 2 is the only other one I can think of that kinda did the same thing, but you care more about the loss of an extra character on the field, than the actual XP loss, of that game.

 All other cases usually transfer XP, or the deaths of are your own doing (such as companion in the Fallout series.)

petsodon
petsodon

@awesomo400000

There there is a possible sacrifice of your main char in Dragon Age: Origins

And then there is the sacrifice of your main character at the end of Mass Effect saga.

The biggest disappointment for me was the death of Red Dead Redemption's protagonist. That was totally "why the hell?" to me.

Timaetaj
Timaetaj

@hiphops_savior Point is, it's not cheap. It might feel cheap if it's poorly written. If done properly, it's anything but cheap.

Jonny-Two-Delta
Jonny-Two-Delta

@hiphops_savior While I see what you're saying, and agree with it, I suspect that this is not actually what Sakurai is saying. I suspect he's just trying to throw up a defence for having weak, predictable, shallow storylines that are the staple in Nintendo games.


When I think gaming deaths I think (spoilers?!) Aerith Gainsborough, Mona Sax, Zack Fair, Nobel 6, Dominic Santiago...


The longer I think about it, the more I keep coming up with. If I could choose to not have them die, I wouldn't, because no matter what, those deaths were an experience that added to the game. For game to be art there needs to be a level of emersion. Nothing draws me into a narrative like emotional investment, and a sense of loss really drives it home.

If you want realism in games, you don't sugar-coat shit. You make the game harsh and unforgiving. Like FarCry2, the undesputed king of emersion. Weapons break, fast-travel is almost non-existent, your companions die and are lost to you forever. I sat slack-jawed, with real grief weighing in my chest, when I lost my first buddy. I had no idea it could happen, and had really invested in this AI companion, learning to love having him around. It hurt, but even while it hurt I realised this was an amazing experience and I would not have it undone.

Jonny-Two-Delta
Jonny-Two-Delta

@Bowser05 He also dissed a shit-ton of other brilliant games, none of which he has the talent to replicate, let alone surpass, when it comes to story and characters.

HyabusaRyu
HyabusaRyu

@Vodoo aka:"Industry veteran Masahiro Sakurai"

and what's wrong about kirby and  Smash Bros ?

EbenOlemaun
EbenOlemaun

@twztid13 @nathangray I beat that game a month ago and I can only tell you that I think I fought a medusa at some point. Least memorable game I have played on 3DS so far. I strongly remember the controls being frustrating and the lack of being able to use dual thumb sticks with the Circle Pad Pro was maddening.

Ohaidere
Ohaidere

@GamerOuTLaWz I'm pretty sure he's talking about JRPGs. People come in and out into parties all the time. And time out--let's not pretend that making Jahira a neutral character (it's been awhile, I forget if she's true or lawful, but I believe it's the former) while making her mandatory partner Khalid a neutral good character was some stroke of genius in the gameplay system. 

Christ, if I had to here her bitch and moan one more time when our party helped out some poor sod, she was going to have an unfortunate accident.

soulless4now
soulless4now

@GamerOuTLaWz @soulless4now 

No, I meant exactly what I said. You level up a character and all of a sudden they leave the party of another reason only to end up as the bad guy aka Star Ocean The Last Hope. That had nothing to do with choices, it was already predetermined. 

Timaetaj
Timaetaj

@HyabusaRyu @Vodoo I think he meant that, while good games and all, they aren't exactly examples of stellar or innovative storytelling and plot.

soulless4now
soulless4now

@Ohaidere lol I've never played the game and even I knew that from reading about it. 

Ohaidere
Ohaidere

Spoiler alert. I mean, if you haven't freaking gotten around to playing an almost two decade old game and all.