Just in case I’ve not yet made it clear enough for everyone – I love games. Really love them. I’d be prepared to swap fluffy kittens, bright sunny days, and my secret superpower to recite most of Red Dwarf series five off by heart for more time to play them, because even when you’re a blog-posting nerd with a house full of games there still just aren’t enough hours in the day. Sure, it might look from a certain distance that I play a lot of games but here’s the secret: I often have to do it in a stop-start sort of way; an hour here, a quick mission there, five minutes and a cheeky save state later on an old RPG – that sort of thing. If I can’t do one of those then my chances of making any progress at all plummets through the floor and the game goes in the ‘Well, I’ll probably retire someday’ pile with all the other ‘immersive cinematic experiences’ I’ve got excited about over the years.
At this point you may be shouting ‘But Kimimi you love Final Fantasy XII, a really long game filled with loads of long/hard/long and hard sidequests!’ to which I reply
‘Shut the hell up, I’ll stare at Balthier’s backside for as long as I da’ [cough]. The point I’m (badly) trying to make here is that there’s a distinction between ‘A game that is long’ and ‘A game that wastes your time’ – and to make things even more complicated a good chunk of where any particular title lies between those two points is entirely up to the player themselves, as my blind adoration for Final Fantasy XII (and XIV) possibly demonstrates.
But rather than go down the long dark tunnel of whingeing about games that I feel are stuffed with pointless filler I thought it’d be better to instead highlight some games that get to the point and are all the better for it – titles that make some sort of effort to acknowledge that no matter how well crafted they are perhaps the player doesn’t exist in a distraction and responsibility-free pocket universe. Right then, here we go!
Panzer Dragoon Saga: An RPG on four discs! Four! And yet somehow it’s still on the shorter side of things – just 15-20 hours on a typical run, complimented by battles so easy that I can say simply as a matter of fact I have literally died once in all the years and countless playthroughs I’ve done (I only remember it so clearly because it was such a shock!). So it’s short (for an RPG) and easy – but neither of those points are why it’s on here. To mangle a vaguely appropriate phrase: Saga earns its spot because it’s all killer, no filler. The pace is relentless; taking in Imperial fleets, ancient ruins, and burning forests that stretch as far as the eye can see. The game then throws in plenty of boss battles to help keep you on your toes: these fights may be easy but they’re also visually extravagant, relevant to the plot, and so plain old exciting that you won’t mind too much. Heck, even the significant optional content’s not just some mystical thingymabob designed to give the easily-bored something to do but a gasp-inducing reveal that ties all three Saturn Panzer Dragoon games together in some very important ways.
Pokemon Sun and Moon: These games were actually the catalyst for this blog post – I haven’t touched a Pokemon title in years (not properly, anyway), and a lot of that was down to the series dolloping more content on top of more content with little old me just not being invested enough in the series to bother remembering what worked best against fairy/dark/ghost moves or having the time to sit down and work out where I was, where I’m supposed to be going, and oh heavens no I left my HM slave in the PC where was the nearest town again? Sun and Moon still offer an epic quest and lots of Pokemon to capture along with all the usual fluff about legendary types and game-exclusive collectables but thanks to a little map marker and moves being automatically marked as effective/super effective/not effective after an encounter with a new adversary I know before I’ve even opened up my 3DS that I’ll be on the right track in seconds, no matter how long it was since I last played.
Lost Planet 2: I’ve been blessed with sixty nine hours of Lost Planet 2 play on my laptop alone and goodness knows how much when you include the 360 and PS3 releases as well. The reason for this, apart from the game making me feel like my veins have been flushed with pure sunshine, is that its lengthy campaign is divided very neatly into a series of easily digestible mini-missions, allowing any brave explorers of EDN III to take in as much or as little as they feel they are able to tackle that session. Come back the next day and you can leap right in wherever you like, whether that means honing your skills on an earlier part of the game or picking up where you left off.
Lost Planet 2’s hyperactive sugarcoated spinoff EX Troopers also works along the same sort of lines – it’s easy to drop in and out of and it’s always worth having a go, because even if you you don’t pass the mission you’ll still earn something tangible from it to make things a little easier next time.
Makyouden: This PC-98 adventure avoids just about every problem the point and click genre has thanks to an incredible UI that distils the typical lengthy verb list down to just four icons and even has the good grace to virtually eliminate pixel hunting thanks to a generous search ‘hitbox’ (you usually only need to look in the general area) and a dedicated zoomed-in view window at the bottom of the screen that highlights anything nearby of interest. It’s fair to say that it’s also noticeably more linear than most similar titles too, but does anyone really enjoy grappling with things like Discworld's frog puzzle?
Galaxy Angel: I’ve included this one as an example of a game that isn’t designed in any particular way that would make it feel as if it respects your time (it’s a visual novel/real-time strategy hybrid with lots of chinwagging and optional extra chinwagging thrown in for good measure), but everything surrounding the endless walls of text has been tweaked to allow the player to take in as much or as little of the game as they please. Want to spend some extra time talking to a particular character? The game will tell you exactly where they are and it only takes a click to reach them. Need to take a break even though you’ve only just started playing? The game allows you to save at any time outside of battle, and offers further save prompts before key events too.
‘Respectful of my free time’ can unhelpfully mean different things depending on the genre, game, and even (perhaps especially) the player in question – there’s no one right answer. But I think there is perhaps one right question – ‘Why?’. It’s something I’d like to see more developers ask themselves when they make wild claims like ‘It would take six hours to cross the map on foot!’ or ‘Our game has four hundred sidequests!’ ‘Seventy hours of heart-wrenching story!’. Time wasting fluff isn’t a new problem for the hobby but with several still-significant franchises celebrating twenty or even thirty years of success and the fact that gamers more likely than ever to be adults with full-time jobs it’s about time the industry, and gamers themselves, had the maturity to question content for content’s sake. Or to put it another way - The Lord of The Rings, arguably one of the greatest literary works of the last century, struggled to fill ‘just’ 11 hours of extended-length blockbuster movie trilogy with top quality content, why are game developers so convinced they can dream up a story worth sitting through that’s two, three, four times as long?