If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you’ll no doubt realize that while I tend to write about whatever I want to write about, I generally write reviews of… stuff. Usually games and I’d like to expand it to movies but I’m not really sure I know how to evaluate a medium that I spend so little time in. I spend my life absorbed in manga, anime, and video games, so I know those quite well. If I did eventually start reviewing movies, I would probably review them like I do anime, but that’s a topic for another day. Today I wanted to talk about my review process – particularly for games.
So what is it that makes a game good? Simple – is it fun? That’s probably it. Time to go home folks!
Nah, there’s more. So I look for a myriad of things in games. The first thing I look for (other than whether or not it’s fun) usually depends on the game and what it’s marketed as. See, it’d be unfair for me to evaluate a roguelike as an RPG because they’re two totally different types of games. In a roguelike, the gameplay is usually designed to be endlessly playable, and it’s almost arcade-like in ‘How far can I go’ in nature. While an RPG is designed as a wish fulfillment game, in which you either choose or are given a ROLE to PLAY in this GAME. Since you’re filling a role, there’s usually a role to fill, which means a criticism I often offer in RPGs such as character consistency/motivation is valid there. It would be silly and (as I said earlier) unfair to use such a method of evaluation on a roguelike because that’s not the point of a roguelike. Now this is not to say that RPGs cannot offer roguelike elements and indeed many no doubt do. Long story short – I have different criterion for different types of games.
Actually I don’t want to assign any more numbers because it’s not like I’m going through the game checking off a list. I’m just experiencing the game and these are the things I notice. So no more numbers, just observations.
There are few things that will kill my interest faster than playability. A game needs to be easy to pick up and play or I’ll just leave. I often bring this issue up when it comes to games with difficult to use controls. I shouldn’t need a Ph.D. in Euclidean Geometry to use the ‘Jump’ button. While some developers seem to think that complexity makes a combat system better, I’m going to have to rain on that parade and inform you that it doesn’t. If your game’s controls are so difficult that you need to spend a good 30 minutes to an hour inside a tutorial room, maybe think about your controls again.
The complexity of a gameplay should serve the player in allowing multiple styles of play. This is also a double-edged sword because players are lazy bastards. And what the developers might have intended as giving you options might turn into an effort in futility because the players will always find the easiest way to do a job. So in my mind, a well-done gameplay system will permit many styles of play, but again – we need to keep the type of game in mind. A game like Dark Souls permits the use of many weapon styles and doesn’t have ‘one’ way to complete the game which opens up the game to many different styles of play (though good luck doing the catacombs first). Meanwhile, (and I’m gonna step on a few toes here) a game like Pokemon Red doesn’t really permit too much in the way of variability. You’re all but trapped into using whatever the enemy is weak against or being overleveled compared to the enemy. The later games fix this by adding natures/abilities/move variability. (Though dragon types were super meta for waaaaaay too long)
Part of all games is the atmosphere and one thing that can really make or break an atmosphere is music. Music allows the developer to manipulate the player into feeling a certain way. I’ve recently watched Wolf Children (several times) and I love the movie. Some scenes are great by themselves, such as the snow scene where Hana, Ame, and Yuki are playing. Beautiful. Try watching it without music and then try watching it with music. What you should find is that the music just adds this sheer euphoric delight and turns what would be a great scene into a phenomenal scene. I have no doubt that you could also play with the lighting and music to turn that joyous scene into the prelude of something terrible. Managing the audio in your game to enhance the atmosphere and experience is pretty important to crafting a good game, and is something that I think can ‘rescue’ poor games.
I like to rag on this when it comes to games (especially RPG Maker games because they’re the worst offenders that I see) but the art style has to be CONSISTENT. Art that looks out of place is very jarring to the gaze and I’m going to be spending quite a few hours in this world that you’ve crafted. If I have an eyesore in my line of sight for most of that time I’m going to be saying “Great, I have to go through this town AGAIN” quite a few times, which may make me quit the game.
So I don’t generally don’t review games until I’ve finished them. I’ll make exceptions (game is too long, game is shit, game does not appear to have an ending) but I usually want to play to the credits. This can often be ‘inconvenient’ to a review release schedule but it does give me one additional tool: my feelings. If at any point I find myself saying “Christ, is this game almost over” it signals to me that I’m not enjoying this game. And remember – first and foremost a game should be fun. That’s not to say that bad games can’t be fun, they certainly can and I think that’s where we run into the playerbase creating their fun within the game. There’s nothing wrong with this, though it may make it more difficult for me to rate a game positively.
I do add caveats in my reviews, recognizing that not all games are for everyone. Now if you remember I wrote a post a while ago on how people review things (1-10) incorrectly. Well, I don’t use 1-10 incorrectly. So my bar for reviewing a game as positive is average or better. I know, it means that I will say you should buy most games, but that’s why you should take the rest of the review in context to see if that’s something you actually want to spend money on. Think of my reviews as a brief insight into the game that you can consider before buying them, rather than as a ‘Yes = buy, No = don’t buy’.
Anyway, that’ll be it from me for now. Thanks for reading.