NieR Automata and the risk of pissing players off

If you haven’t heard by now, NieR Automata is unbelievably good. Like, easy Game of the Year tier good. Hell, it’s probably in my top games of all time at this point. It’s nice to have a Yoko Taro game that you don’t have to recommend with any reservations about things like “sluggish, repetitive combat” or “framerates that sometimes dip into the single digits,” and for that I owe Platinum Games gratitude.

I remember hearing concerns back when this game was first announced, though. By this point, Yoko Taro’s games had become known for having a degree of jankiness to them. Some fans were worried: would having a top-tier developer like Platinum onboard strip NieR Automata of some of the “charm” of previous games? Now that the final product is in our hands, we can see that, thankfully, the answer is mostly “no” for one big reason — Yoko Taro is one of the few figures working on the game industry who is daring enough to actually piss players off.

See, one of the big problems I have with most big-budget AAA titles is that they constantly play it super-duper safe: familiar gameplay and story tropes, overused character archetypes, mandatory tutorials up the wazoo to make sure you never struggle at all. Everything from character designs to control schemes to cover art has been focus-tested and run through EEDAR analytics to appeal to the widest group of potential game players possible. Nothing is allowed to turn off a particular segment of the player population, because these games cost absurd amounts of money make, and if it doesn’t sell several million globally then the entire dev team gets shut down tomorrow, so make that quest-giving lady more attractive, tighten up the graphics on level 3, and no you can’t give that boss a 90% damage attack even if it is heavily choreographed, are you NUTS?

As a result, we’ve wound up with a huge slate of really technically impressive, incredibly polished games that are somehow profoundly bland to actually experience. Much like Hollywood blockbusters, they are designed from the ground up for mass appeal, taking care not to do anything deemed too radical in terms of story, world, or gameplay design. The biggest risk they might take is maybe offending screaming internet jerkwards by having gay NPCs. But doing something deliberate in-game that might make some people angry? Oh hell no, did you see what happened with Mass Effect 3? They weren’t even TRYING to upset people with that one, and look what happened!

But somehow, Yoko Taro has never gotten the memo that “pissing players off” might be a bad idea, and Square-Enix has just let him run with it. Now we have NieR Automata: a beautiful, polished game that’s packed full of high-grade action, phenomenal music, incredible storytelling, and emotional gut-punches… and some master tier trolling. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS UNDER THIS CUT!

Continue reading

Why I love short games

Summer Games Done Quick is a thing that’s happening right now, and I can’t help but find a bit of irony in the fact that, in the quest to be able complete games as quickly as possible, a lot of these runners have poured hundreds of hours into individual games. Many of these titles would be considered “short games,” things you’d wrap up nicely in a couple of hours with some adequate gaming skills if you were playing “casually.”1 Being short, however, is often considered a detriment to a game’s quality. Even with our massive backlogs of unplayed Steam Sale acquisitions and potentially ill-advised Amazon purchases Cheap Ass Gamer alerted us to, we still somehow view not getting a long game as a detriment.

But you know what? That way of thinking is wrong. Short games are friggin’ fantastic and I want more of them.

Continue reading

  1. I kinda hate that “casual” in speedrunning lingo refers to “not playing for speed.” Under that logic, a crazy max-level all-skills-learned RPG run is “casual.” I don’t get it.

Crowdfunding and Expectations, Case file No. 9

As we’re all quite aware, the much-anticipated Mighty No. 9 released this week, and, well, it’s been kind of a mess. The review scores are middling, it’s been raked over the coals all across YouTube and Twitch streams, and everybody who thinks they can make a quick grab for nerd attention by hopping on the trainwreck du jour has been making half-assed (and sometimes shockingly misinformed) digs at the game since its release.

But here’s the thing: there’s a lot more to MN9’s problems than just some angry yellman screaming about how Keiji Inafune scammed people out of four million dollars. I’m not trying to say “you shouldn’t be let down by MN9,” because it’s not my right to police your personal feelings. But I do think it’s important that people understand that there’s a lot to take into account when thinking and talking about this game. There are countless valuable lessons to learn here: about how games are made (and why they sometimes don’t live up to expectations), of keeping hype in check, and why putting money up for anything sight-unseen is a risk you really need to consider carefully.

Continue reading

World’s End Game Hall: The World Ends With You and taking risks

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane heading back from MAGfest 13. It’s a rather lengthy flight from the DC metro area to San Francisco – a little over five hours – so of course I came equipped with entertainment. Last week, Square-Enix released a new batch of non-Final Fantasy DLC for Theatrhythm, including some songs from Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You, which I promptly acquired to accompany me back on my trip to the West Coast.

One of the DLC tracks from TWEWY is “Calling,” a theme that plays primarily during exploration and dialogue sequences. It’s a beautiful song, and I was very eager to play it1. What I wasn’t prepared for was an unexpected flood of emotion through me as I ran through it. As focused as I was on carefully gliding my stylus through the note barrage, I felt an intense longing hearing that music again.

But why? After all, back when I played The World Ends With You in 2008, I really enjoyed the game – but I hate, hate, HATED the ending, which I felt was an utterly stupid and transparent twist that undermined a great story concept. It made me bitter towards a game I had invested a great deal of time and emotion into. Yet hearing Calling stirred something inside of me. It made me realize what, exactly, makes TWEWY so very special: it’s a risky game that challenges players to do new things, to step outside their gameplay and setting comfort zones. And frankly, I don’t know if we’ll ever see something like it from Square-Enix ever again.

Continue reading

  1. The other TWEWY song is Twister, and unfortunately, it’s the worst version of that particular piece. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Why we should pay attention to free-to-play games

I originally had a good chunk of this text as the intro to my upcoming Terra Battle article, but it became so long-winded that I felt it’d be better off as its own bit. It occurred to me that rather than front-loading a piece that’s supposedly dedicated to a specific game with way too much text justifying covering free-to-play games, I should make it its own little editorial. After all, free editorial is part of the reason I started Gaming.Moe to begin with.

Continue reading