Thatís the most I can say without diving into another multi-thousand-word spiel on vaguely-compelling topics/primers on hot dog-eating etiquette. I mean, there is more that I could say -- much more -- but I think that we can all agree on at least one point. One thatíll remain true for at least a little while longer: we are gamers. No matter what happens, weíll keep on being gamers -- playing games, venturing through worlds, conquering foes residing in the real and virtual realms, sharpening our skills, and in general having a grand-old time with whatever we get our hands on. Iíve said it before, and Iíll say it again: blessed are we, the gamers -- self-ordained warriors, rebels, and heroes whose strength, wisdom, and heart grow with each new experience. We wonít forget what brought us this far, and we wait with crossed fingers and bated breaths for what comes next.
With that in mind, I donít think being a gamer has ever pissed me off more than it has this year.
All that stuff I mentioned up there? Thatís all true of being a gamer, assuming that the best-case scenario -- or even the average-case scenario -- is the one that holds true. But it seems like I canít turn around without tripping face-first into something that immediately makes my face scrunch up like a raisin in an oven. (Thatís what happens when you put raisins in the oven, right?) I know I call myself the Eternal Optimist, but the exasperation that Iíve felt this year has started weighing down on me. In a sense, the theme of this year -- for me, at least -- has been ďfrustrationĒ.
I could probably start byÖoh wait, hold on a second. Dissenting opinions incoming; better take the proper precautions. Wheat lands, swathe -- no. No, no, that oneís not gonna do it. Not this time. Time to switch to something with a bit more oomph.
*presses down on the D-pad* Royal Guard!
There we go. Now just try and attack me -- I dare you.
Okay. I could probably start by pointing to Final Fantasy 13-2. In case youíve been living long, fulfilling, laughter-filled lives, Iíve made it no secret that the original 13 is one of my most hated games of all time (just look at my profile on the right). I consider it to be a failure on many, many levels, and would prefer for its developers to jump ship and work on a different project, like FF15, 14, or heck, even that fabled artifact Versus 13. But for Squeenix to release 13-2 to make up for previous failures, and for the company to then announce what is essentially 13-3, and then for that same company to deliver a game that did little more than damage control and deliver what the original game should have had in the first placeÖwell, letís just say Iím a little bitter and leave it at that.
But thatís all subjective, right? I respect others that might like 13 and 13-2, and itís more than possible that thereís something in either of those games that I might be missing. So maybe my year just got off to a bad start. No harm done, right? Onward and upward.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Street Fighter X Tekken comes out, and it isnít exactly the dream come true I hoped for. I assumed that it would offer an exciting medium between the slow-but-nuanced precision of Street Fighter 4 and the chaotic-but-cathartic madness of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The initial result? A game that I could hardly play on a pad without botched motions and accidentally-activated Quick Combos, to say nothing of balance issues, the online quagmire, and the gem debacle. Itís very telling about a companyís design philosophy when, after losing a match in one of the single-player missions, Dan pops in to tell you to equip certain gems instead of offering any strategies. In its defense, it did give me a chance to play as Paul Phoenix on a 2D plane, albeit in a dramatically less-useful form -- but the damage had been done. Even my brother, a fighting game maniac, lost his patience; before long we were back to playing Ultimate Marvel. And thatís the way itís been to this day; some ďluckyĒ gamer is playing the game, trying to figure out how to make Yoshimitsu do something useful.
Fast forward a few months, and my brother brought Max Payne 3 home in his arms like a newborn. Iím not about to call that game bad (on the contrary, I found it to be pretty good), butÖhonestly? I couldnít bring myself to finish it. Iím sorry, I know that makes me sound like a horrible person, and I respect that thereís a good game in there, but I just couldnít bring myself to get into Max. I get what they were going for, and I get that it was supposed to be a gritty tale, and I get that the game was supposed to be his ďdownfallĒ of sorts. But for the life of me, after a few missions I just stopped caring. His doom and gloom mentality wore on me; his apathy and disdain for the world left me with apathy and disdain for the game. The developers did a fine job in showing how low a man can go, but I think they did TOO good of a job. Just because you CAN make your lead grim and miserable doesnít mean you SHOULD; otherwise, making it through the game -- for me at least -- becomes less of a chance to enjoy space-time ammunitions-based distortions, and more of a chance to revel in angst and bad decisions. It did have one benefit, but Iíll get to that in a little bit.
The next few months would be some of my most trying yet -- this, from a medium Iíd gladly embraced as my hobby. I sat down and started a new file on Borderlands 2 (twice) hoping to experience the magic so many other gamers hadÖbut after hours and hours of shooting masked marauders in the face, I felt like Iíd done little more than waste several Saturday afternoons. Resident Evil 6 somehow managed to be almost as bad -- maybe worse -- than Final Fantasy 13, mainly by virtue of a ridiculous plot, worse gameplay, and a campaign that couldnít move from one scene to the next without an explosion. Halo 4 earned some points for its treatment of Cortana, but immediately lost them thanks to Master Chief being the same armored gofer heís always been, coupled with some gunplay that firefights more likely to make me snooze than shout with elation. Assassinís Creed 3 has to have the worst prologue Iíve played since the three-hour Roxas sequence in Kingdom Hearts 2, to the point where Iím legitimately concerned about the rest of the gameÖand the middling combat doesnít help either.
And on that note, just so you donít think Iím being biased against current-gen or triple-A games, I played through Kingdom Hearts 2 again recently. I can remember a time when I was so hyped for the game Iíd spend every spare minute I had scrounging up information, trying to figure out who the BHK was, or find details on the next Drive form, or the identity of Organization 13ís leader. I wasnít so stupid back then that I couldnít point out the BS moments in the game, or have the reality drag well below my expectations -- but even with that in mind, itís remarkable how many stumbles that game made. Itís enough to make me realize that KH2 -- no, every game that I played in the past is liable for harsher standards and logic.
I find that more than a little odd, because even though Iíve gotten older my standards havenít changed THAT much. At my basest, I want the same thing Iíve always wanted: something to sink my teeth into. A fun and exciting world to stomp around in. A chance to live the life of some awesome characters, and beat some baddies with a few cool moves. A game that remembers itís just a game -- and therefore, the embodiment of fun.
You would think that with games evolving by the hour, Iíd be satisfied; Iím guessing that past versions of me would spew drool from every orifice until the entire Northern Hemisphere flooded. But itís starting to feel like the bigger and better games become, the easier it is to forget ALL the important points to push out something less-than-savory. I try to sink my teeth into a game, and itís like chomping down on a muddy two-by-four. Iím consistently surrounded by grim and gritty worlds where -- to paraphrase Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation -- ďhumanity is fucked.Ē Iím forced to play as sad sacks, non-entities, so-called badasses, morons that confuse sarcasm with personality, and a verifiable cornucopia of assholes. Combat has become a half-hearted triviality, with less of the impact that I adore and more choreographed violence that borders on the fetishistic. Too many games are trying and failing to be serious, cinematic epics; those that do are regularly the ones I forget the fastest.
Now before you let your indignation get the best of you and you try blasting me in the comments (which I wouldnít recommend -- Royal Guard, remember?), hear me out for a minute. I know Iíve made some pretty sweeping generalizations about the nature of the industry. I know I havenít gone as in-depth as I could about why I disapproved of certain games -- I could, and have on my other blog, but for now the word of the day is ďexpediencyĒ. But what Iím getting at is that as a whole, itís incredibly easy to be jaded with the industry as it is. A less than impressive E3, reminding us of how reliant on violence games had gotten. Gender issues in and around the medium, sparking discussions that wonít have a happy conclusion for ages. Politics and accounting controlling what and how we play more than a creative vision. More, and more, and more problems heaped on top of problemsÖproblems, Iím guessing, will only get worse come next generation. Itís enough to turn this Eternal Optimist into the Cynical Avenger.
And yet, in spite of all that, I still fuckiní love video games.
For me, this year had more downs than I thought was even possible. But you know what? There were so many good times and so many good games that Iíve considered completely reshuffling my ďfavorite games everĒ list. The same year that saw the release of Final Fantasy 13-2 saw the release of Devil Survivor 2, a ball-blazingly difficult strategy game that balanced an otherworldly threat and an encroaching apocalypse with simple yet endearing characters and genuine laughs. In the same year that Capcom accidentally kneecapped Street Fighter X Tekken, Arc System Works and Atlus Cross Assaulted us with Persona 4 Arena, bringing us the best of two disparate worlds. In the same year that I played the latest and worst installment of Resident Evil, I played the first PS3 outing for Ratchet and Clank, and was greeted with a game that fused engaging, tense combat with a story and world that repeatedly put a smile on my face. In the same year that Max Payne 3 put us in control of a grave alcoholic, Lollipop Chainsaw slashed its way through our hearts with rainbows and pop music, its parade of madness led by that living -- and undoubtedly loony -- breath of fresh air, Juliet. In the same year that I was utterly disappointed by Borderlands 2, I was utterly enamored with LittleBigPlanet 2 from its opening minutes to its final moments. And on the nostalgia frontÖMajoraís Mask? Maybe the best game Iíve ever played -- definitely better than I remember.
But the crowning moment -- my best moment of 2012 -- incidentally came with my worst. In spite of the low-scoring reviews, in spite of the less-than-stellar demo, in spite of conventional knowledge, reason, and common sense, my brother was dead-set on getting Resident Evil 6; he kept repeating ďgreat game, great experienceĒ like some sort of mantra that would make everything better (or shield himself from the truth). It didnít help, of course, and I consider that game to be not only an affront to my senses, but an insult to everything that I stand for. Exciting gameplay? Compelling characters? Original ideas? A fully-realized world? A plot that makes sense? The ability to see where youíre going thanks to well-lit environments? Pshaaaaaaaaaaaaw! Resident Evil 6 didnít need any of that! More explosions, more ill-fitting wrestling moves, more overwrought gravitas, more, more, more. Chrisí campaign was the first one we played -- and I only needed a half-hour to not only realize Iíd have more fun wiping up dog puke, but that the franchise was now dead to me -- and with it, a hefty chunk of my naivetť.
And yet, there was a saving grace. While my brother wasted money on RE6 (and in the days since has likely regretted his purchase), I grabbed Kirbyís Epic Yarn for the price of the average hat on the same day. Somehow Iíd missed its release the first time around, but given the high pedigree -- and the low, low price -- I couldnít refuse. And after suffering through the opening hours of RE6, I got my chance to play it. It was everything I wanted in a game. Everything. A simple, but strangely-rewarding story. Characters that I couldnít help but admire. Fantastic worlds, and even greater gameplay. Its creative vision, its purposeful expression, gave it more of a right to exist than dozens of games released this year. It served as a shining example of what games could be: the perfect result of hard work and ingenuity, springing forth from an infinite canvas. The mere fact that between levels, you could go to Kirbyís pad, make him hop on a bed, and watch him drift to sleep with a lullaby in the background -- the fact that it all came together to offer an earnest, un-ironic expression of Kirbyís childlike nature -- makes the game an unmitigated triumph.
And make no mistake -- countless triumphs have occurred in the last year, no matter where you look. Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story did the impossible and crossed over an entire ocean to a console so many gamers had forsaken. XCOM retained its strategic essence in spite of a world that demanded otherwise, and came out stronger because of it. The Walking Dead proved that a good story and a good game donít have to be divorced from one another -- in fact, the fusion of them makes a game that much better. There must have been a good dozen downloadable games that have not only delighted gamers with creativity and technical mastery, but so many of them have gotten the respect they deserve. Okami has been released again.
You canít turn around without hearing some infuriating news about the industry, or seeing some groan-inducing moment about or from a game you bought in good faith. But then again, you canít face forward without finding something that makes your eyes light up like the North Star. Games old and new are there, or have been there, or will be there the next time you shuffle down to GameStop, or log in to the marketplace of your choice. No matter how bad things may look, there will always be one game, one moment that makes it all worthwhile. If youíre jaded, or betrayed, or disappointed, you arenít alone; there arenít just people who sympathize, but people who are fighting -- or already have fought -- with your interests and desires at heart. Thatís the beauty of a good game; thereís something for everybody, and there always will be.
If nothing else, thatís the lesson Iíve learned over the past year. Itís actually a lesson I learned a year earlier; a bit of pocket change was all it took to pick up a forgotten copy of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. It wasnít just good in my eyes. It was great; fantastic, even. It had engaging gameplay, the chance to flex my mental muscles, engrossing characters, and a brave new world -- a world struggling to overcome a catastrophe, with all the ideas and conflicts therein. And of course, it had a soundtrack that I canít help but blast in my ears, even to this day. If I were to make a list of my favorite games, you can bet it would be fairly high up. Itís worth noting that in spite of the grisly environment, its heroes -- and I stress the word heroes -- work to do all they can to build a better world and a bright future. The charismatic CO Brenner engraved an important message upon all his men, and by extension the player: ďWhere thereís life, thereís hope.Ē It sounds a bit corny, but in the end itís a message I canít help but get behind. (It certainly helps that Brennerís theme, ďHope Never DiesĒ, is one of my favorite video game songs ever.) People can, and often will put effort into making things better -- and there are people in the game industry, I bet, who are key examples. If there are, rest assured that itís only a matter of time before something truly amazing steals your heart. If there arenítÖwell, itís possible that the next generation will overtake the current one. And games that only the wildest children could dream up will become a reality.
Come on, now. You wouldnít expect anything less from the Eternal Optimist, would you? 2012 may have had its share of lows, but I prefer to look forward, and upward; itís the only way to see what lies ahead. But failing all that, there is one little fact thatíll keep me going, and gaming, for years to come.
There will always be a game that can put a smile on our faces. Always.
About Voltech One of us since 10:40 PM on 02.06.2012
Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.
I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.
You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and a web serial novel, too. Maybe my stuff here and there will be the start of things to come. Hopefully good things, but things all the same.