Getting Better Isn’t Good Enough

I mentioned earlier that I’ve been playing through Summoner: A Goddess Reborn. At the time, I called it the worst game of all the ones I have left to play of its generation as part of my little gaming quest.

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I don’t think I can stand by that anymore. I’ve got farther into it, and you know what? Even though it’s still jank as all hell, it actually got good! I didn’t see that coming. But yeah, as you get some levels on your characters, build up better equipment, and start to leave the see of worthless side quests, the game really picks up. I’m like 2/3rds of the way through, I believe, and a lot of the things that were frustrating me about the game fell by the wayside. I’ve got more options in combat, so it’s a lot less one-note. Skills that originally seemed worthless start becoming viable, giving the mechanics more depth. And the strong world-building starts being woven a lot more competently into the plot.

I have owned this game for over a decade. I’ve never particularly enjoyed it. Until now. I’ve always ran out of patience until I got to the good stuff. I had a solid experience, right there on my shelf, and never even knew it because it was buried under all that guff.

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It’s a similar story with Final Fantasy XIII. Well, sort of. Most of the people who like the game swears that it gets better when you get a significant part of the way in. That there’s actually a great game buried under the first ten-twenty hours. I wouldn’t know. I took them at their word, once. I tried to power through it, to find the fun that’s hidden within. But it was too much of an investment for me. I spent a good week’s worth of playtime, trying to enjoy it, never did, so it’s been sitting on my shelf for years.

That’s a pretty significant flaw with both of these games, one that has cost me what’s apparently a pretty good game. But why is it different for these games, though? Plenty of other games still take plenty of time to get themselves up to speed. Persona 4 took two hours before it handed you the reins for the first time, and that’s one of my favorite games. Giving you a very limited experience until you were several hours in, and that’s still a great game.

It shouldn’t be a bad thing, to build up in the middle. It’s pretty well-known that with most games, most of the budget is put into the opening moments of it, because that’s where the review scores and word of mouth largely comes from. The middle sections of it those that end up forming most of your playtime, often end up a bit lacking, afterward. Reversing that, giving more focus to the middle sections, would give you more time with the quality, and should give a better experience in all.

And you know, plenty of games do that. It’s pretty often, you’ll see the intro get taken up by a tutorial, or by tone-setting, or something like that, leading to less fun at first only for a more quality experience later on. Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, Undertale, Ninja Gaiden, etc. all take their time with the beginning of the game, not hitting you with the real meat of what it’s all about until you’ve passed at least the first threshold. It’s definitely a design decision that carries some risks, but countless games do take it up, and there are plenty of very well-regarded ones in there.

The problem with Summoner 2 and Final Fantasy XIII is just that they’re that concept taken to extreme. I’m a patient man. I’m willing to spend a couple of sessions with a game as it’s putting all the blocks together. But apparently, I have a limit as to how long I’ll wait for that, and both of those games require more from me than I have to give. Which is a shame. I’d have loved to get the fun Summoner 2 experience without having to force myself though the overpowering sea of jank for it, and I’d love to get the Final Fantasy XIII experience all its fans swear is in there without having to commit a few weeks of play sessions in first. I’m sure that practice does have its benefits, even if it’s not for the mainstream, but I’m only going to embark on a multi-year quest to beat every single one of my games so many times in my life, and it’s probably not a good fit for me to have a game that I can only enjoy when I’m doing that.  Summoner 2 is becoming a good game for me.  Final Fantasy XIII will apparently do so when I get around to playing that as part of this quest.  They do themselves a disservice by having such a barrier to entry on the way there.

10 responses to “Getting Better Isn’t Good Enough

  1. First impressions can easily make or break a game. Forcing a player to go through something they don’t want to in order to get to the “good parts” later on is simply a bad time.

    That being said, I completely disagree with you FFXIII issues. I certainly understand them and respect your viewpoint though! For me, I was hooked from the beginning and loved the first 10 hours just as much as the whole game. I didn’t have to force myself to get through anything, and I wasn’t even expecting to get to the “good” part every talks about. That’s just how I feel about it, and I’m more than aware I am in the tiny minority, haha. Oh and that screenshot is from XIII-2, which has an entirely different playstyle than the original game. 🙂

    At the end of the day, we all have different gaming tastes. Some games just don’t click for some people, and that’s 100% okay. 😀

    • If you enjoy it the whole way through, so much the better! Probably explains even more why that game made such an impact on you.

      And yeah, I figured the screenshot was something like that, but I didn’t find any others I liked in the couple minutes of searching I gave it, so… probably would have known better if I enjoyed the first several hours more.

      • Honestly, it sounds like FFXIII just might not be your game. I would suggest you check out XIII-2 and Lightning Returns some day, even if you don’t like the original. All three of the games have radically different playstyles.

  2. Glad to hear that Summoner 2 has won you over, because I remember enjoying that game back in the day. Given its age I am not surprised that it feels janky.

    For me Final Fantasy 13 got worse as it went along. I liked it at the start, but the combat system and linear levels wore me down. People who say the game improves probably are referring to the big area were you can do optional hunts. I wasn’t a fan of that zone to be honest. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was a much better game imho, so maybe you should skip ahead to that one?

    Video games can be like TV shows were you have to get past the crap early on before it gets good. Look at the Simpsons early episodes for example. I think JRPGs are especially bad with slow starts. They front load a ton of story early on, which can be dull when all you want to do is play.

    • Given how everyone commenting here have had a different experience with FF13 than I’d been led to believe, maybe I’ve just been misinformed with the subject. That might be the place they’re talking about. All I know is that there’s supposed to be one specific room where the game instantly gets better, and stays that way for the rest.

      I’ve thought about skipping ahead. I’ve got XIII-2 on my shelve, still in it’s plastic wrap and everything. But I am a sucker for a continuous narrative, so I haven’t been able to will myself to make the jump yet. Still kind of worried that I’ll lose track of all the Cies if I do.

      Yeah, I agree, the JRPGs are especially guilty of this. They’re not the only genre, but being that they’re made to have a story that lasts a long time, and to have your characters and party develop over time, it’s pretty natural for them to have a really slow burn in the intro. Not really the best pick up and play games.

  3. I’m actually playing through Final Fantasy XIII now, and I actually didn’t find the beginning slow. Maybe because I’ve never played a FF game before, I appreciated any “slow build” there was as I fumbled through sort-of-turn-based-combat. But you’re right. The price of admission to the “fun” part of the game shouldn’t be hours and hours to the point where you’re left wondering if there’s more to the game or not, or if it’s worth hanging around for.

    • Eh, each Final Fantasy game is different enough that they don’t really have a set model of what an intro should be, so I wouldn’t think it’s just an issue of expectations there. But hey, if you’re enjoying what they have in the intro, good on ya. Hopefully the rest of the game only builds on that for you.

      • I’d agree with that. Around the same time I also started Final Fantasy X in an attempt to figure out which game to start with, and that game was on and off in about an hour and a half because (talk about linearity) Titus walked down a hall? Cutscene. Walked down another hall? Cutscene… So I guess there isn’t a standard form for introductions. And apparently there isn’t a set standard for what I’m willing to sit through (haha).

  4. It’s funny how these things can leave a lasting impression. I was really annoyed with Persona 4 for its long introduction and, even though I stuck with the game right the way to the end, I never really forgave that opening.

    On a slightly separate note, I regularly dislike the beginnings of games. So much so that I have to try and suspend judgement of a game for a long time. I tend to find my enjoyment comes much later, after I’ve understood the systems and mechanics of a game. I think that’s one of the reasons why I gravitate towards arcade-style games with a short running time. The pleasure lies in replaying a short and contained experience several times.

    • That’s really interesting! I’m usually the opposite, I enjoy the beginnings of games a lot more, when the mechanics are all fresh and new and the experience is more tightly crafted.

      I’m trying to think back on my first impressions of Persona 4, and I can’t really recall. I remember finding the long opening notable, and although it faded for me, I can definitely understand how that’d really stick in for someone else. It’s that same imposing of a cost to entry, before you get to the actual fun parts.

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