A case for shorter video games

Gaming is an expensive hobby. Between the price of a console (or PC), controllers, online subscription services and game software, the cost of playing the latest and greatest games is high, especially around the holidays when all the big releases come around. Because games are $60 brand new, when we purchase a new game, we want to make sure we spend our money on a quality product so we’re not wasting our money on junk. We want a game that will keep our interest for weeks, if not months, because we don’t know when we’ll be able to afford the next big title.

Game designers know this. For college students like me, who are on a budget, we need games whose discs will stay tucked away in our 360s or PS3s for a while. So, we look for the games whose quotes on the back of the box read “60+ hours of nonstop action,” or something of that ilk. “Hey, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!” I find myself saying. Only now, however, after I’ve revisited Final Fantasy XII, have I realized games that promise to deliver three full days or more worth of gameplay are missing the point.

Like I said before, I’m a broke graduate student, and I don’t have a lot of spare change to spend on new games. I’m daying to play XCOM and Assassin’s Creed III, but I know I won’t be able to add those games to my library any time soon. So, in the meantime, I thought it would behoove me to replay some of my old favorites. Enter Final Fantasy XII.

Despite the haters, I love XII. It dared to defy JRPG conventions back in 2006, and it still delivers a refined experience to this day. Released at the tail end of the Playstation 2 era, just before the release of PS3, FF XII is a massive game. Like the games in the series before it, the story is engaging and lengthy, and there are tons of optional quests to pursue. I was surprised, then, when about 70 hours into the game, after much dungeon crawling and god slaying, I found myself thinking, ”When the hell is this going to be over?”

I know JRPGs (and even WRPGs like Mass Effect) are lengthy by nature. I realize that nearly half of the quests are optional. But after playing for so long, I started to feel guilty. “80 hours?!? I could’ve learned a new language in 80 hours,” I thought. I eventually gave up the sidequests and went straight to the final encounter just to end my self-loathing. The finale didn’t offer the closure I had been working 80 hours to reach. But this isn’t the only time-consuming game that’s shamed me into quitting. I don’t have a problem sitting down for marathon sessions of video games every now and then, but I at least want to enjoy my time spent doing so. After all, this is entertainment. I don’t want hours of content crammed down my throat; I want a game that gets me to come back for more on its own merit. Next case in point: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

For those of you who’ve played the game, you know Skyward Sword starts off painfully slow. Most reviewers forgave the slow start once they experienced the responsiveness of the motion controls, but the pace never picked up for me. Why do I have to wait until almost 30 hours in to get the bow? Besides the Master Sword, the bow is the most important weapon in the series! Link can’t defeat Ganon without it. After trekking down a linear path for 50 hours, I again found myself wishing for the experience to end so I could be done with the damned thing.

And then there’s Skyrim and Knights of the Old Republic, more games that have recently made me feel like I’m working instead of playing. Why can’t we just get to the good stuff? Why do I have to travel all the way across the map just to come all the way back to an NPC? Why does the game tease me with awesome toys that they keep out of my reach? Why do games have me perform the same tasks over and over again? I don’t want to play games like these again any time soon. I want Super Mario and Street Fighter — games that give me a plethora of tools to get from A to B. How will you reach the end of the level? Jump? Fly? Swim? Warp? How are you going to defeat your opponent? Super Moves? Jump in to land a heavy attack? Throw an opponent when they least expect it? The permutations in these examples are endless. The variety of the situations and the ample options left with the player make these experiences fun and keep players coming back for more. And, most importantly, these types of games (platformers, fighters, etc.) aren’t overtly long. They keep the player engaged on its own merit. They’re just fun. We need more games like this. After completing a game, a gamer shouldn’t say to his or herself, “Thank God that’s over.” They should say, “Wow, that was awesome! Let’s do that again.”

 

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