If you’re anything like me you not only love playing games, but you also like completing them. After plugging hours of sleepless nights into an RPG or action game, it’s incredibly satisfying to bask in the soft glow of your television as the end credits roll. Sometimes, however, you’ll be 30 hours into a Final Fantasy game when something new and shiny distracts you from the epic quest you were on. After your fickle gaming side quest has been completed and you’re ready to pick up the unfinished JRPG again, however, it can be near impossible to reenter the state of mind you were in when you stopped. What can game developers do to make sure we see games through to their epic conclusion?
If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching episodic TV shows over the years, it’s that viewers have short memories. Even with shows that only have one cliffhanger ending episode per season, viewers need immediate reminders about the events that transpired. When you take into account shows like Lost, which have increasingly convoluted plots, dedication to summary sometimes can last over five minutes! Five minutes is a small price to pay, however, to be completely caught up to speed. The best television shows can summarize so well that you can begin watching any given show 3 seasons in and feel as knowledgeable as a fan since the pilot.
Where am I getting at with this? Well, as video games try harder to emulate cinema and existing media, their plotlines become thicker and more tangled than the Christmas lights in your attic. Games like Japanese RPGs and lengthy adventure games are especially guilty of having convoluted story lines, and could benefit greatly from a quick recap every time you load your game. Think about how many times you’ve had to restart a great game because you couldn’t remember what happened when you stopped playing? A great example for me is Final Fantasy 9. I think I left off somewhere on the 2nd disc with a hefty chunk of my life invested, and I know whenever I want to play it again I’ll have to start over. It’s not enough to read plot summaries in strategy guides to catch up, simply because they may leave something out and you may tread into spoiler town.
If Pokemon can do it, who can't?
I have found one shining example of recaps in gaming. One. The award for best “previously, on…” summary goes to the Pokémon Fire Red/ Leaf Green games. Each time you load up your save game, snapshots are presented in black and white that remind you of plot points, recently captured Pokémon, and even items you’ve purchased. Brilliant. If a Gameboy Advance game can do it so simply, what’s stopping the folks at Square Enix or even Capcom from slapping it on some of their longer games? It could be a selection in the options menu you could turn on and off, so as not to interfere with hardcore gamers that can burn through games like Persona 4 in a week.
Ultimately, we want to complete these games even if we don’t have enough vacation time saved up to conquer Final Fantasy XIII a week after it releases. There are tons of gamers that don’t complete games they’ve started, and I’m positive that this feature would help those fickle pickles finally complete what they’ve begun. Here’s to hoping we see our past in the future!
What do you folks think? Are there other games that succeed in doing this that I’m missing? How could this “previously, on…” recap be implemented best? Any particular games you would have killed to have this in?