Monday, October 20, 2014
Time Heals All Games?
Now I haven't taken this theory too far back yet, but my inclinations began by playing the PC re-release of Final Fantasy 8. I loathed this game when it came out. Firstly, it was a love story, a romantic drama and it didn't do it very well at all. It's not my cup of tea. I much preferred a fantasy or sci-fi setting for a game in which the story centers around a great protagonist and a great villain like what FF6 or FF7 gave me. I played it through again though recently, and, well it's still a god awful love story to be sure, but I noticed I was enjoying the battle system a lot more. Having been my third play-through of the game I was very familiar with it by now and knew what I had to do so I wasn't fumbling around a 200 page Brady Games strategy guide for my 40 hour trek. It made the game more enjoyable, and thus my opinion of it has softened from vile hatred to it's not so bad.
Similarly, I recently played through Bioshock 2 again and while my initial opinion of Bioshock 2 was basically, "it's not as good as the first," it was a much harsher opinion of it than I have now. I actually believe 2 is better than 1 now (though Infinite is the best still). At first I argued 1 was the best because it actually has a boss fight and your activities around Rapture a much more varied than Bioshock 2. But, I was ignoring how many great improvements 2 had.
Firstly, the characters of 2 are much more interesting. Sure, we all love Andrew Ryan from the first game, but the protagonist wasn't as involved as 2's was. In 2, you are the first Big Daddy, and you have a direct relationship with Elanor which gives the game tension and suspense throughout as you uncover their history. It's not nearly as detached as the first game. Also, the combat in Bioshock 2 is better as well as you get to wield a gun and magic at the same time. The music I also found to be much better also.
Bioshock 2 is really only mired in how you collect Adam as it's very repetitious...and also makes no sense. In 1 you kill a Big Daddy and choose to save or suck dry a little sister. In 2 you kill a Big Daddy and then you have to make her collect more Adam before you choose to save her or suck her dry? Why? It's very clearly tedious filler.
Never the less, my opinion of the game overall changed for the positive as years passed. I'm down to my last example though as I don't normally force myself to play a game that I remembered hating. Final Fantasy 12 is a game I absolutely hated when I played it. My opinion of it went like this:
"It's a game that starts off strong and then devolves into a 40 hour treasure hunt for Nethicite ignoring all the characters and their plights to basically retrieve what amounts to a nuclear bomb to win a war. The only two decent characters are Dr. Cid and Balthier. There's no airship or overworld despite having a pirate as one of the main characters who you are introduced as someone owning an airship. Characters actions makes no sense either. The battle system is an utter travesty as you have to rest your faith in the AI far too much. The License board should burn to the ground with how incredibly stupid it is."
I had a list of other complaints too at the time, but a lot of them have phased away. Sure, some of these have remained. Characters do make really dumb decisions like right after Vaan and Basche escape the prison they return immediately back to Rabinastre. They also move freely in Rabinastre afterwards, despite being wanted. Or why is Old Arcadia guarded by 2 guards that you must do a ridiculous 20 minute side quest to pass rather than just take them down. Or when Fran sends you ahead in her village to find Mjirn she comes to you later saying the wood told her Mjirn isn't here. The very next set of lines she's accused of not being able to hear the wood now, and in shame Fran agrees that she can no longer hear it. But...the wood just accurately told you Mjirn isn't here! Of course, I need not remind you of the "I'm Captain Basche" incident. Still, overall the writing is damn good. There's a compelling story in here about an ongoing war, corruption and takeover, political intrigue, assassinations, and of course a band of rebels who take back what is theirs against all odds.
The basic structure of the game's plot is Star Wars when you boil it down. I can't tell you how many times I see Balthier as Han Solo and Fran as Chewbacca. But at a deeper level the writing is really well done. There's actually character development going on here unlike FF13 had. Vayne was a really good soft spoken villain as well and we got to learn about his history with his brothers and how he had been shaped into the man he is by those experiences. Larsa is a nice complementary addition to the drama too. Balthier is actually funnier and better than I remembered him. Ashe is much less dull than I remember too, but she's still pretty dull sadly. She's mostly stressed out by the loss of her kingdom and husband in such a short time. I also like how they don't shoehorn in a love story where it didn't belong. Ashe remains loyal to her deceased husband, not that she needs to, but there's a war on and it doesn't make sense for her to adjust her focus on a new relationship so the story doesn't go that way. The absence of this speaks volumes where most games would shoehorn that in because it's easy mode drama. You can tell the writers really stuck to their guns on the story, and made sure to have the characters act in as much a natural way as they could. Sadly, Vaan and Penello are still pretty useless and not focused on at all. They are as Vaan puts it "just along for the ride."
Still, my impression of the story had improved greatly after playing it again. My negative thoughts on the battle system are also washed away. The gambit system, though reliant on AI is programmable down to such minute details that it rarely screws up. It does a much better job than FF13 did. The license board is also no longer a complaint of mine. Actually, it's one of the games strongest points. Many complained about not being able to equip certain items and that it's dumb to not be able to wear a hat you buy at the store because you don't have the license for it. Logically speaking I agree, but focusing on character growth and progression options the license board does a far better job than FF10 or FF13 did, let me explain why.
RPG's often try to have systems that makes the player feel like they are having an input into how the character is customized and how they are formed, FF12 actually succeeds at this with the license board. In FF10 or FF13 you are following a designated path for each character, there's really no reason for you to be there. You could just level up and have it say +5 for str, there would be no difference, but instead you have to pause the game and select +5 on the sphere grid or crystarium. It's senseless. But in FF12 you get to branch your characters out with what armor they wear, what weapons they should use, what magics they can learn etc. You've chosen their path through the game, you feel as though you've had a direct input in their growth and it makes the game more personal this way. Sure, it's not the BEST idea in the world, but it feels nice, it works within the system and it's interesting.
My major complaints of FF12 have softened quite a bit and the game looks much brighter in my eyes. Will time have the same effect on other games for me? Should I go back and try Grand Theft Auto 4 again, or Metal Gear Solid 2? I cringe at the thought, but the at the same time wonder if maybe it's not such a bad idea.
*Superman 64 still sucks by the way*