I'm sorry I haven't kept up with the blog, due to a combination of Halloween and being sick, but the break has given me time to due something I've been meaning to do for a while now. I finished The Journey section of Persona 3. I promise, this post will be as spoiler free as possible.Posts not having to due with the main topic I've been posting on will go under the Gaiden heading. Look forward to the favorite games topic resuming tomorrow.
After finishing Persona 3, something happened. I cried...a lot. It was the first game that has really done this for me. Games have brought a small tear to my eye before, but nothing like this. It really got me thinking, why? Why was this game so effective in making me form attachments with the characters and can other games learn anything from what the Persona series has been able to do? I came up with kind of a mixed answer.
Part of the reason the game is so effective is its length. It's the same reason a long running television series has an easier time making an emotional impact than a two hour film. Honestly, it's length is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gives them plenty of time to fully develop all of its characters and make the player feel almost as if they've become friends with them. On the other hand, the game is long....really long. Most people will never have the time to finish a Persona game. It's really hard to justify putting 88+ hours into a game. This makes that tactic difficult for most games to replicate. Most gamers can't spend that amount of time on a game, so most games can't spend that much time developing the world.
This brings me to the second, and in my opinion most important, strategy persona uses to tell such an effective tale. The world the game creates is fully developed. You can tell the designers created to story, characters, and world before designing a game. The story comes first. Every character in the world has a full backstory, a history that effects their actions in the game. They spend time creating full, well-rounded characters with personalities and flaws. They spend time making characters feel like real people. They also put the player in situations that may have nothing to do with the overall story. Their only purpose is to fully develop characters.
Now, the important question. Can developers learn anything from what persona does or is it just the overall formula that makes the game's story work? Though no one may be able to create the exact same impact in say an action game or FPS, I do believe things can be learned from Atlus' successes. If you want to make an effective story, develop the world first. Make sure you solidify the story and characters before moving forward with the game. If you can't fully develop all the characters you have, take characters out until you have a more manageable amount. It's okay to spend time on character development. So many developers seem to be afraid of spending time with characters apart from the overall story. In the end, the way to make a great story in a game is the same as in film or television, develop your characters and world. Any story is useless without people a player/viewer can connect with. If you can make your players want to follow the lives of the people their playing with, you can manipulate their emotions and actions any way you want to.
After a day of thinking about what content should actually go into these blog posts, I've finally settled on a format. I'm going to be, at least for the time being, picking a theme and bringing you posts that have to do with that. I may do a few one-offs in-between, but for the most part it'll be all related within the topics. My first theme I've decided on is going to be my favorite games. Let me just say, "favorite" in this case does not mean best, just games I've had the most fun with.
The first game I'm highlighting in this series is going to be Tim Schafer's Psychonauts. I happened on this game completely on by mistake. It started when I finally opened a GameFly account back in 2005. I had been eyeing the 2-week trial box located on the shelves of my local Best Buy for about a month, if memory serves me correctly. I was wary of opting into another monthly fee and the fact it would prompt me too spend way too much time playing games instead of actually going out, being social, or getting a summer job. It's the exact same reason I don't get a WoW account. Time passed and finally the temptation became too great. After getting home and entering the requisite information, the time came to actually pick out my first games. The list was daunting. So much to play and too little time. I had recently received a used Xbox for my birthday and quickly came the decision that would be the console I would rent my first games for. I looked at the list and picked out picked out Psyconauts and Advent Rising. I'm not sure why I picked those, but within a week I had received my first games. After playing Advent for about an hour, I grew fed up with its jankyness, low frame-rates and just general badness and put in Psychonauts. I instantly fell in love with the game.
The game just did so much right. The characters were original, interesting and funny. The gameplay was challenging and different and the story and dialog where just so different from what else was out around that time. It's the first game I remember just sitting down and finishing in only a couple sittings. It was like a good TV show. I constantly wanted to see what was going to happen next. I rushed through, ignoring the over world collectable for the most part, trying to get to the next world. Each world had it's own personality and rules. It seemed like a new game every time you'd enter the next person's mind. Each world felt well fleshed out and lived in. Everything seemed so well thought out. You could tell Double Fine spent as much time creating the world as they did developing the actual game. My favorite section was the milkman world. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. It really felt like the mind of a conspiracy theorist. Every one of the characters, no matter how small a part they played, had multiple lines of dialog and their own personality and sense of humor. It really made me think about how important story in games is, and how neglected it seemed to be up to that point.
As amazing as the game was, it had problems. The collectables where fun, but there were far too many kinds. I never got drawn in, because I never could figure out where to start. I was far too engrossed by the story to want to waste time tracking things down anyway.Some of the basic platforming became repetitive and tedious. A few of the levels felt not as well tested as they should have been, the meat circus in particular. I also wasn't really satisfied with the games ending. It took forever to finish the final level, and the game lacked the emotional impact I would have like from the end. Despite these flaws, this game still stands up to me as one of the bastions of story telling in games. Few games I've played before or since have had the high quality dialog and great characters Psychonauts delivered and that's why it will forever be one of my favorite games.
This is a little project I've been cooking up for a while. After hearing Sam talk about improving your writing on At 1up, I'm finally going to start this. I'm not promising a post EVERY day, but I'm sure as hell going to try. I'll be posting all posts involved in this project on my 1up and Giant Bomb blogs and maybe submit some of my choice posts in the future to Bitmob. My first post will go up tomorrow sometime and I promise it will be a lot less rambling and boring as this one. I welcome any and all comments and criticism. Hopefully, with all your help I can improve my writing.
We've all done this at least once, come up with a blog post late at night and feel like you have to write it. I was just starting to finish up FF4 on the DS earlier tonight, which I really love, and it reminded me of some of the problems I have with VII. VII was far from a perfect game, and it's actually really difficult to go back and play now. If you haven't played it recently and are one of those people who vehemently support it, I recommend you go back and try to play it. I'm fairly sure you'll have a hard time getting into it. Well, here it goes.
Limit Breaks are broken: As much as people may defend them, the limit breaks are broken. The idea is sound, have something there to dissuade turtleing, but the execution is broken. They are way too powerful for their own good. Early in the game they work, but later, especially the hidden ones, do way too much damage too easily. The only way the system could be more broken is if you could attack party members to increase the gauge. In a remake, the battle system is the first thing that needs a major overhaul.
The story is far too complicated for it's own good: With far too many "twists" and loose ends in the story, it is far too hard to follow or care about. Some of the major elements feel a little rushed or not well realized. The weapons, for instance, feel tacked on and too much. It feels like they where just thrown in to add length.
It's far too long: FF7 is a LONG game, so much so it actually starts to drag near the end. With all the stories it throws at you, you actually start to feel overwhelmed. Add to that the tacked on elements, like the weapons and side-quests, and you end up investing way too much time in one game.
Clashing tones: The game keeps such a serious tone throughout that the goofy moments, like the Barret date and cross-dressing cloud, feel like a major shock. It's just way too different and take you out of the experience.
Unlockables break the game: Seriously, if you go out of your way to get things like the Knights of the Round summon and 4th stage LBs, you level up too quickly and the main game becomes a cake walk. The game becomes far too easy and monotonous if you go and unlock the cool things.
Random battles are far too frequent: You can't walk 5 steps without hitting one. Getting anywhere in the game takes five times longer than it should. You can't even escape until you get the right materia. It really hurts the overall experience.
It wears it's themes on its sleeve: Final Fantasy VII's main issue is that every 5 minutes you are "reminded" of the games main theme, protect the environment. I love the fact that it's about environmentalism, but like with a lot of things the game does, it goes to far. You are beaten over the head with it over and over again, so much so you cease to care.
Well, there, it's done. If anyone actually reads my blog, feel free to flame me. I know it'll happen. Also, I know it's not too well written, but it's 2AM right now. Start the Conversation
I'm really loving Giant Bomb. I decided that as my first thing to do here, I'd start editing all the Transformers related stuff and bring it up to the quality of the more popular pages, starting with the piece of crap that was the movie game. I don't know why I'm doing this. I just have too much time and actually have the knowledge to do it.