Two weeks ago, I played through Aksys Games' PSP role-playing game, Mimana Iyar Chronicle for a Gamespot review. It wasn't pretty. It started out okay, and as such I had decent hopes for it to be a serviceable dungeon crawler with an action-centric battle system in the vein of Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean II and the like, but... well, click that link there and see for yourself.
It's a little upsetting. I've been on an RPG kick, having played through Final Fantasy VIII on the PSP (sorry--I never bothered to update my "Revisiting the Nemesis" series of blogs; work got STUPID hectic!), finally beating Final Fantasy III on the DS, starting Final Fantasy X on the PS2, and also revisiting Final Fantasy IV on the DS. (Ok, so it was less of an RPG kick overall and more of a Final Fantasy kick.) As a result I thought it would be awesome to get my hands on a newly released RPG, a seemingly old-school romp, but instead of going old-school, the game leaned on loopy level design, failed to capitalize on the supposed "Harem RPG" (think Thousand Arms) trappings it tried to employ, and took way too long to get the story going.
The level design thing in particular got me thinking about how we enjoy games, and I'm by "we" I mean everyone who likes videogames, versus how reviews end up dissecting games. When I was a lot younger, I used to think that everything was weighted on an even scale. For example: Given two somewhat similar games (in the same genre, specifically), if both games suffered from shoddy level design, then I'd fail to understand why someone might lambast game A for poor level design while not really harping on game B for the same flaw. This was back in the day, of course, when I was firmly on the anti-Sega squad before the Dreamcast eventually made me realize the follies of fanboyism. (Don't ask me why I was like that; you won't get any answer other than the only one I can offer--I was young and incredibly stupid.) The answer is quite obvious--no games are created equal, nor should they be weighted equally. Ideally, when we play a game, we know whether or not we like it--and then we take a look at its many elements, together, to understand why.
When I first started taking reviews seriously, before I started freelancing for Gamespot but right around the time I joined DrFish62 and Draqq_Zyxorian's Community Contributions Union, I got into the dangerous habit of playing games and dissecting them right on the spot, which had me going down the equally dangerous path of reverting to my older ways. "Well, I criticized game A for having uninteresting gameplay mechanics, but I'm loving Phoenix Wright and not really criticizing it for having almost no play mechanics (aside from point-and-click trappings and navigating through menus). How can I review it highly?" The key for me was to just relax, enjoy my games, and then talk about what I liked, disliked, and how everything merged together. For whatever reason, this doesn't come entirely naturally for me when it comes time to write that review, and to this day it's still a bit difficult for me to just take that relaxed stance and holistic view. To this day, I'm still fiddling around with my own personal God of War III review for Trigames.NET, unsure of whether I think it's a 4 or a 5, weighing the individual aspects it gets right and wrong against other games one night and weighing them against each other another.
I think it's particularly important to get this right not just for the sake of reviews but just having intelligent discussion about games in general. I saw a comment on Chris Kohler's Wired.com review of Final Fantasy XIII that basically asked him why it was okay for a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to be praised when it was a linear experience, yet meanwhile he was criticizing Final Fantasy XIII for following a similar m.o. Nevermind that the two games are from different genres--the commenter was asking the question from the viewpoint that Square decided to make it a linear game so that it could direct the experience as Infinity Ward does with its shooters, and it's a valid question. But the answer is simple; Kohler more or less said that the mechanics of the combat couldn't support it for way too long from the beginning to the middle of the game (i.e. didn't get intriguing until way later). Translation: Just because two games share a similar concept doesn't mean they should be critiqued in the same way, especially without first thinking about how said concept is executed. (Before you think to raise a pitchfork, just remember... whether or not you share Kohler's opinions on the game is a different story entirely. That's not why I brought his review up ^_^)
And hey look! I went on much further than I intended to, so let's get on with what else has been happening with two quick bullet points:
(a) We posted episode 171 of the Trigames.NET podcast, in which we take a look at the mess at Infinity Ward. I haven't updated since episode 167, so here's what you missed. First, we're still holding our Submit a Contest Idea To Win One Of My Old Games Contest, in which you submit a contest idea for a listener to win one of my old games. Whoever's idea we pick as the weiner I mean winner wins one of my games. So far, I have submissions from McDove, Edubuccaneer, and backlash24. We need a few more before I think we're ready to pick, so send 'em on in. You can hit up our mailbag either via our webpage or directly mailing mailbag [at] trigames [dot] net. Or you can get on Twitter and hit up one of us cast members: @MrCHUPON (me), @DRedMage (Al) or @Ryvvn (Pete). Second, episode 169 was our Mid-PAX East episode. The sound quality ain't so good, as we were basically recording in the hotel lounge with my ultra-crappy built-in laptop mic. We're joined by Pete's girlfriend, Dez, and our Trigames.NET Official Unofficial Rock Band band drummer, Maurice. (Click that link for pics ^_^...)
(b) We've created a Facebook page for Trigames.NET. Hit it up HERE!
(c) I posted my Heavy Rain review after procrastinating for like, a zillion years. Well, okay, not really, but it's been a month since I beat it--more, in fact--and I planned to pump it out like, immediately after... and I didn't. (Hell, remember how I still haven't done my God of War III review? Yeah, I beat that before I beat Heavy Rain.) Did I like it? You won't know unless you click :P
Whew, I'm pooped. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand time for bed.