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.