Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Zero Punctuation: The World Ends With You


_J_ said...

I really want to discuss some of the points he makes about J-RPGs in this rant but I can't think of anything to say except "I agree with him" in one verbose way or another.

The main issue that I have with this sort of game is, as Yahtzee said, the feeling of carting characters from one node to another and only during combat having some influence on the game through the minimal outlet of hitting buttons.

My favorite way to play these sorts of games is to not play them and rather watch kyle or adam play them and yell at them when they screw up. Because in my understanding the main appeal of Breath of Fire or Final Fantasy is the story and cinematics, the movie-esque characteristics of the game. And given that the "gameplay" is primarily just pushing characters along a track I feel most comfortable to either have someone else do this or to just watch the damn cutscenes on Youtube while I read the wiki page to understand the story.

It's like when Adam made a VHS tape of himself playing FFVII and we watched it. You know what the only difference was between watching the tape and playing? Watching the tape took less time and I don't have to push any fucking buttons.

Personally? I think that this situation is indicative of a gigantic fucking flaw in the RPG genre.

And that's what I want to talk about.

_J_ said...

Though, it may not be a "flaw" so much as a description of what the thing is.

Here's what bugs me: It cannot be the case that only the story draws people to these games; the story can be understood by reading the wikipedia page and watching cutscenes on Youtube.

If the personal combat experience is what compells people to play? Then we have to assess the gambit system of Final Fantasy XII which automates combat. If one uses the gambit system? Then all one does is push characters from battle to battle, from place to place.

I can understand multiplayer RPG games in which one's character is unique and can interract with the characters of other people. In games like Diablo II and WoW? Quidfacis is unique to Quidfacis and Quidfacis provides a means by which I can interract with others within the game world. I'm accomplishing something by playing the game.

But a game like Final Fantasy 7? Why play it? Read the wikipedia page and watch the cutscenes on youtube. Sure, you'll never have a save card sitting in a drawer somewhere with a finished game on it. But why is that necessary?

I guess the fundamental question is what's the difference between playing Final Fantasy 7 and watching Advent Children while you push buttons on a PS2 controller? And then why is that thing, that difference, worth $50 to people?

Roscoe said...

I need to come back to this, as I've spades to say, but things to do..

but my crux of the counter-argument/half-agreement, is that this "flaw" is apparent in virtually every game, but more visible in a j-rpg precisely because the story is the point, and much more involved than other game types. Which puts the game mechanics at arm's distance, so to speak.

I've a lot more to come back and say, and point by point challenge his crankiness, but.. obligations call.

Roscoe said...

WOAH.... Gambits? No..

Did you play it at all? You manage your character, allowing gambits to cover the more tedious tasks, but you still control them, flipping over to one or another to utilize that Gravaga spell, or this Quickening, or just to make sure Penelo cures Balthier who really needs it right now.
They streamline the game's combat, but they don't automate it entirely for you, and often times, they can fuck you over. I refer you to the damned Fire Sphere Thing on the Oil Derricks in the jawa Sand Sea. You cast magic around it, it gets mad. this includes Cure magic. Which is always gambited, because it's sensible.. until you piss off a guy who's throwing Firaga at you when you're still working to utilize basic spells.

I lost MANY MANY hours to that bastard. There's a whole argument here about investment and gameplay to be made about your Advent Children vs. 7 thing. Among them, I was only midly amused by Advent.. it works entirely on the character resonations built by the game.. which comes from investment, not simply watching.. but.. crap I have to do.

Know this, I shall not yield this argument easily. You and I shall rumble, and shit shall be stirred.

_J_ said...

"but things to do.."

You have nothing to do but sit on your ass before you start work next week.

The other thing I ought to mention is that I usually play RPGs with one hand on the controller and the other hand on my mouse as I peruse gamefaqs to read the strat telling me what to do next.

In that situation? I'm just following instructions to get through a sequence of events and reach the end. Then when I reach the end I go do something else.

So, to me, it's just easier to go read the wiki and watch the cutscenes on youtube because nothing is accomplished by playing the game itself.

Which is the difference to which I would point between Final Fantasy RPGs and, say, a Diablo II or WoW. In a Final Fantasy once one beats the story there is really nothing else to do except go level the character for no discernable reason. Diablo II and WoW at least contain the multiplayer social context of play in which one can utilize the character they've developed.

It's the difference between building something that has utility and just pushing characters to the end of a story. Once the story ends, what then?

It's like this guy on the PA forums who maximized his character in Disgaea. Best weapons, highest stats and levels. EVERYTHING was max. What happened after he hit the max? He took a screenshot and posted it.

Because that's all he could do.

_J_ said...

"it works entirely on the character resonations built by the game.. which comes from investment, not simply watching"

There we go. That's what I wanted to talk about. The notion of personal investment and the idea that "Playing FFVII" and "Watching a VHS of someone playing FFVII" are different.

Granted, the two are different. But they may not be different in the way some people think. I do not think it is necessarily the case that one can only truly appreciate the death of Aeris by playing the game. If that is the case, however, and one wants to argue this then I would like for such a person to quantify what, exactly, it is that one amasses by playing the game that the wikipedia reader / VHS watcher is denied.

Also, last night when Ros and I argued about this a bit he pointed out that the discussion leads to "Why do we play games". And, yes, it does.

I'm happy to accept the fact that some people belong to the "spreadsheets are awesome" crowd and games like Final Fantasy afford people opportunities to make spreadsheets. But if that is the case then we have to assess why Final Fantasy spreadsheets are the sort of spreadsheets sought.

I'd like to know why people play these sorts of games. But I want to know the real reason someone plays them. "Story" is not a reason to play the game given that one can read wikipedia and get the story. Experience of the story is also something of a flawed position given our inability to quantify what "experience" is. Is pushing buttons for FF7 really that different from watching a VHS of FF7? In what way is it different? To what degree? How is that difference significant?

Presumably games are played for some end. I'd like to know what those ends are, with regard to J-RPGs. And I would like to know the full, actual ends rather than get the token "zomg story" argument which is nut-shit stupid given that you can read the damn story on wikipedia.

Roscoe said...

I'd say YOU belong to the spreadsheets are awesome crowd..

in the sense that you don't invest yourself in Jrpgs. You said it yourself, you play through with a FAQ open, following instructions.

The ends are the exact same as they are for you playing D2.

For enjoyment. The issue at hand is what is enjoyed. Quidfacis is NOT unique in anyway to the JRPG player. The story and general experience is still the exact same for her or any other player of WoW. in as much as WoW has a story..

The point being, you're arguing generalizations from your anecdotal stand. Every game brings with it unique interperations and interactions, be it ff12's gambits, 7's material, 6's espers, tactic's class changes, Twisted Metal's weaponry, Mario Kart's sparks and shells, a WW2 shooter's realism vs. Max Payne's bullet time, etc.

reducing these to generalizations will inevitably remove you from the investment that builds enjoyment of the game. It's why I don't like Pokemon. I don't care for the game's basic design, despite quite enjoying EXTREMELY similar game types. I'm not able to put in the investment to build that enjoyment.

kylebrown said...

I agree that rpgs as a whole are glorified movies, but I love them all the same.

I watch more movies than is healthy, but I also own a growing RPG collection, which I consider relatively extensive.

The thing I love about jrpgs is the sense of completion. I am a completionist. I like to complete things. In a game like WoW or D2, there really is not resolution or completion. In a game such as FF7 for example, there are multiple levels (beating the game, max level, all max limit breaks, all best weapons, knights of the round via chocobo breeding, etc) of completion, and each of them are fulfilling in their own right.

_J_ said...

"I am a completionist. I like to complete things."

That makes sense to me. Games provide a context in which you can do something you want to do. You want to complete something and a linear RPG with finite stats/skills provides and opportunity to complete something.


"reducing these to generalizations will inevitably remove you from the investment that builds enjoyment of the game."

So you aren't looking at the overall experience of a Final Fantasy or a Dragon Quest, you're looking at particular components of specific games which you enjoy? Or do I misunderstand your point?

Because, to me, that does not make much sense. If our primary focus is on the particulars of a game then whence the commonality between games of a series.

Take the Mario Kart example. If one Mario Kart has blue shells and another does not have blue shells...then the only way to discuss these games as part of a series is by "reducing" them to generalizations. But if we can only every focus upon particulars...what are we talking about?

We can't divorce ourselves from generalizations...

MA17 said...

You know, if you pick up the newspaper and turn to the proper page, you can read obituaries. Paragraph after paragraph about people who are survived by x and y and lived z years and did something or another. If you don't know the guy, you probably don't give a fuck, and how could you? All you've got to go by is a little blurb that sums up his life in terms of what he did and who he spawned or married. I'm pretty sure that playing a game by reading gamefaqs or skipping the game and going for wiki/youtube is like choosing to read obits instead of ever getting to know people. You don't care about Aeris because you read "Aeris dies" and never tried to level her up or try to get her limits or keep her in your party because you liked her or wondered if it was her or Tifa that Cloud would wind up with.

Think of these games as crossword puzzles. If you wait until tomorrow; you can get the answer to the puzzle, and fucking write all the correct answers in without ever reading a single clue on the puzzle. Or you can try to finish it today and do it yourself. Even though there's nothing inherently valuable about knowing that a fencing sword is an "EPEE", the fact that you know it is worth something in the context of the puzzle as it helps you reach the end. Knowing to use Blizzaga or reading the paper in the mansion in Nibelheim, or choosing the right dialogue choices in Yuffie encounters might not count for much in the world at large, but if you're the kind that gets a kick out of doing things yourself, then you're going to appreciate what happens when you do those things in FFVII. If you read gamefaqs and do those things because some guy told you to, then you're probably not going to care because you're not really a part of what's going on.

When I was a kid, I spent some of my money on a Z scale train set, and one of the things I learned from that thing was that if you stand up looking at the layout, it looks like a little toy train going around a paper-mache mountain and it's not very impressive. But if you get down on the floor and look at things at the eye-level of the people who would inhabit that world, the mountain looks huge, and the train looks big enough to ride. If you don't care about the fiction in RPGs, then maybe you're putting your eye in the wrong place.

Kylebrown said...

Once again Adam comes in and makes all right with the world.

and since I see you still exist in some manner, any clue what you are going to do now that you have graduated?

MA17 said...

I need to find a job. I interviewed at a place that might want someone to speak Japanese for them, and it went really well and everybody thought I was a pretty good candidate, but I found out last night that they didn't hire me because I don't have any real practical experience with the language such as living in Japan for any length of time. If I get some of that, I can try again with them.

In the meantime, however, um...McDonald's? I don't know.

kylebrown said...

That sucks, the lack of experience card was played on me far too many times right out of college.

Are you looking around any geographical areas at all?

MA17 said...

First choice is Japan, but I don't see that happening in the immediate future, so I'm considering living at home for a bit.

kylebrown said...


_J_ said...

I know a place that would hire you. There will be a vacancy there around mid August and you have plenty of real world experience for this sort of work.

MA17 said...

Yes, and I'll sell my car and ride my magical unicorn to work every day.

kylebrown said...

As kick ass as magical unicorns are for riding.... they suck for winter travel.

kylebrown said...

.. oh wait.. you were being sarcastic.

_J_ said...

Hey, at least this job pays better than McDonalds.

Again with the sarcasm...

MA17 said...

Now that I think about it, the unicorn wouldn't necessarily have to be magical. A unicorn is special just by virtue of its being a unicorn. I mean, a horse that wants to stand out would do well to learn some magic, but that's because there are well over one horses: it's not a singularity.