Friday, March 29, 2013

We Are Spirits In The Materia World

at 5:03 PM
A couple of days ago, my uncle gave me a PS Vita. He bought one because it had good graphics and he does not know much about video games past that. To nobody's surprise he never used it because it did not have any games that were worth playing. Although I keep up with video game news on a daily basis, I could not name any games that had come out or were coming out in the near future that I was even marginally interested in. The next day while dicking around on my phone at work, I discovered there was only one game I wanted. This prompted me to exclaim out loud, "Hasn't this system been out for a year?" much to the confusion of my coworkers. 

That game was Persona 4: Golden. I had a vague recollection that Persona 4 was a real late life-cycle release on the PS2 that had gotten good reviews and had some connection to those Shin Megami games, maybe? I started it up and had a blast. It's basically a very Japanese Twin Peaks. Except with TV worlds, talking teddy bears, and monsters. The battle system is engaging and there is a ton of customization. My one issue with it is its continuing a trend which I despise: when the main character dies, it is game over for your entire party. 

Did I mention just how Japanese this game is?
In Persona 4, when the main character dies, it is game over for the entire party. Why? Why is this a thing? It is always frustrating for the player. It was not always a mechanic, why start now? In Final Fantasy VII, if Cloud dropped in battle, you just had Cid or Red XIII cast Life or use a Phoenix Down on him. Cloud might be the main character in the story, but in battle you controlled everyone; he was no different from any other character.

Final Fantasy XIII, on the other hand, only allowed you to control one character in battle while the other two were AI-directed. When the character you picked to control in the battle died, you were hit with a game over screen. Even though the game was pretty awful in most facets, I sunk 60 hours into it, including some restarts from the absurd One-Character-Dies-Game-Over (OCD-GO). The breaking point for me was the final boss battle. The boss had a pretty classic attack that would instantly kill one of your party members. You, unlike the developers of this game, do not suffer from severe idiocy, and are probably able to see how this is an issue. It was a crapshoot whether he would instantly end the battle or not. And you could not do anything to stop it except to hope that he targeted one of your other party members instead. Game design is hard, you guys. 

I can see an argument that if you only control one character in a battle, that OCD-GO [which I now envision as a neurotic giant robot] is meant to be immersive. It is an atrocious argument, predicated on game over screens being more immersive than a player continuing to play the freaking game. With Persona 4, however, you have control over the other characters in battle as well! Your main character has no higher standing in battle, so it does not make a whole lot of sense for why OCD-GO would be incorporated. All it means is that I have to not care about the rest of my party, since they are effectively expendable, and give all my good equipment and upgrades to my main character. That defeats the purpose of the party system. 

FFXIII did not adapt enemy battle tactics to work with the OCD-GO [which I now envision as the catch phrase of a not so useful superhero] system. Persona 4 is also hampered by the inclusion of  OCD-GO because it undermines the very battle system which the genre is founded upon. Although, this post is mostly an excuse to gripe about how those OCD-GO restarts make me so mad that colors lose meaning, it also leads us to a simple point of game design.

Individual elements of games have to work together in order to be effective. You are not just able to "borrow" an element you found in another game or genre and plug it into yours. It will not exist in a vacuum. So when you want to introduce a new idea, like OCD-GO, you have to dramatically change the foundation of the game to accommodate it. In this case, update the battle system so that you dont get insta-killed by a boss or something. Or, if you have a base concept you want to have intact, do not add needless elements just for the sake of adding them, because IT WILL change the skeleton of the game.
Yeah, the tile of this post has nothing to do with the article, outside of the forced FFVII reference. I just like the Police. 

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