The fun factor in video games

I recently played two games, “Gun” and “Xenosaga 2“. One’s an RPG and one’s an action shooter. Both received mixed reviews.

I gave up on one after the amount of time it took to finish the other.

The first Xenosaga had a bizarre sci-fi plot, some weird game elements, long, long cut-scenes (one ran 45m, if I remember) and while it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, it was kind of an enjoyable ride.

The newer one’s plot makes less sense, and it’s boring, and the combat system is bizarre, complicated, and not worth figuring out. The boringness and general frustration make it a lot harder to sit through a long cutscene (which, in turn, is 50% awkward pauses). Some of the characters were amusing before, now they’re just annoying. The weird stuff still doesn’t make sense. It’s not worth the effort.

Now, take Gun. Gun’s this Wild West story, and you run around and shoot a lot of stuff and run people over with your horse and get into gunfights and cheat at poker (which is hilarious). It’s got some gore, a dark sense of humor, and it’s super, super short. I looked at the progress meter at one point and thought “there’s no way I’m this close to the end.” Whoops… turns out I was. But at the same time, it’s fun. This is why I play these games: instead of vegging out with some bad television, I’d rather play some random game and trample people or roll up a giant ball of stuff.

There’s always a balancing act going on with games, and especially RPGs. I want challenge and detail, a good, preferably somewhat complicated story, good graphics, gameplay, but those things are all really hard. If I had to choose again between those two, it’d be Gun every time: Xenosaga was hours of me trying to justify continuing to play, while Gun was hours of me blowing up trains and laughing.

This is why I loved games like Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance — while not long on story or character development, they strip out all the not-fun stuff from the genre. Running back and forth to town’s annoying. Voila! The portal scroll! Complicated controls whittled down into something smooth, easy, and powerful to use. And so on, until you’re left with dungeon-crawling goodness with no rough edges. Sit down, clear an objective, save, and you can walk off. If hack-and-slash games are your thing, this is perfect.

Generally, that doesn’t enter into game reviews written by professionals. If Xenosaga sucks to start playing, and you don’t want to spend hours figuring out the combat system so you can win quicker victories and spend more proportional time running from place to place and then watching the equally unfun in-game movies, that’s a crappy game. I have no idea how it got an average 72% rating.

I will now move on to Dragon Quest VIII, whenever I can get a copy.