Friday, April 28, 2006

General RPGs' Minigames 1

Alright, folks, it's 4 AM right now, I've got 7 pages out of 10 done for my last paper this term, I've been promising Queelez I'm gonna use his rant idea for a while now, I haven't done a rant for too long, and if I spend any more time on that goddamn paper without taking a break I swear to God I am just going to find as many different ways to say "Kiss My Ass" as it takes to get to that 10th page.

So, minigames. Minigames. We all know them. They're as much a staple of RPGs as hit points, save points, and a complete lack of agreement between companies on what to call Lightning spells. No, I'm not going to let go of that one.

I've never been entirely sure where the concept came from, really. Whose idea was it to include a teeny-tiny, entirely separate game using separate, utterly simplistic rules inside their RPG? And why did they do it? I mean, I grant you that RPGs, as a general rule, are not very fun or interesting to actually play. No, seriously, come on. You could simulate most standard RPGs by jamming equations on a calculator. The biggest difference is that you won't see a little guy or girl or animal or plant or robot or genderless freak jump forward and bonk some hapless creature with a stick. It's not the ultimately powerful paintbrush of legends that you've got equipped on Relm that kills baddies, it's the little white numbers it creates that're lethal. Hell, if an RPG villain ever wanted to really fight dirty against the heroes, he'd just teleport them to Sesame Street and have the Count masacre them.

I think I've gotten off-topic here. This isn't surprising given the time and state of mind. So anyway, yeah, I can see where a game developer might figure that a change of pace from standard RPG battling might be a very good thing for his game. (Not to say, incidentally, that Action RPGs and Strategy RPGs are immune to boring battles as well--Strategy RPGs still often end up being partially a game of Arithmetic Fighter 2 Turbo, and with Action RPGs you always run the risk that a developer will get cute and inflict an unspeakable form of torture on you like in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories).

But see, this idea usually falls apart in practice, because by and large, minigames are so simplistic and stupid that they're MORE boring than spending an hour fighting hundreds of palette-swapped goblins. For example, you take Chrono Trigger's soup-racing contest. The entire premise of this one is that if you press the A button enough times, you'll win. Not only is there no real logical connection with hitting a button repeatedly and drinking soup that I've ever been able to uncover, but this little minigame's "fun" is supposed to be derived from the challenge of whether you have the stamina and resolve it takes to push a button down, and then do it again a few times. You begin to wish that Ayla HAD just challenged you to actual combat; at least then you would have had to employ some skill, even if it's just more "Hit enemy with hardest attack and heal sometimes."

What makes this whole thing more ridiculous is that the button-mashing minigame isn't restricted to just CT. There are plenty of RPGs that use it. In fact, it's really kinda hard to find ANY minigame that's mostly unique.

So yes, anyways, we have plenty of minigames which are annoying in their simplicity. Look, game developers, I'm not playing an RPG so that I can mash buttons to beat some minigame machine in an arm-wrestle. I'm not playing an RPG so that I can get a miniature Dance Dance Revolution experience that magically makes my character do squats or win well-choreographed duels (and incidentally, Dark Cloud 1, way to go with encouraging me to look at the little buttons on the screen that I have to press so that I completely miss out on watching all the awesome fight moves I'm performing. Real rewarding). I'm not playing an RPG so that I can play Rock-Paper-Scissors for an hour. I'm not playing an RPG so I can learn how to correctly toss a ball in a circle, or engage in a rousing game of Look the Other Way, or move a green bar back and forth and call it fishing, or guess which hand the goddamn ball is in so that I can win a rotten mushroom. Look, give me something that I actually have to use some REAL skill for. Like, with my BRAIN.

Not to say that those don't also have their downfalls--those being, most of the time, boring repetition. FF9's Chocobo Hot and Cold, where you basically dig for items and maps and such, is fun for the first 20-45 minutes. But after that, it just becomes the same thing over and over and over again, repeated for several hours over several sessions until you FINALLY get all the great rewards you want. If you actually make a minigame that's ENJOYABLE, you need to ensure that the gamer can get what he/she wants from it BEFORE it gets dull.

The worst minigames, though, are probably the ones that aren't actually games at all. These are the ones that you acutally have absolutely no control over at all--things like slot machines, or betting on races. What you're basically doing here is giving up a bit of your Gil or Potch or Zenny or Gold or GP or Rupees or Dollars or whatever currency your game's world happens to use so that the game can wait for a few moments before deciding whether or not you win or lose. That's not even really a GAME. You could do the exact same thing by flipping a coin over and over for several minutes and guessing which side will face up when it lands. Not exactly the thrilling amusement one hopes for from a video game.

I've noticed also that casinos in RPGs seem to be the very worst hovels for minigames. You'll usually find slot machines, which I've covered, and sometimes races to bet on, which I've also covered. You'll also invariably find card games you can play against the game, most often Blackjack. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good few games of cards every now and then. But the thing of it is, when I want to play Blackjack, I don't NEED to turn on Super Mario RPG, because I already have a deck. I didn't need to pay $50 for the game, then win the damn juggling clown game 100 times, then find the super-secret exit from Bean Valley, all so I could play a goddamn game of Blackjack! Hell, if I REALLY want a video game element to my card-playing experience, I'll just use my Final Fantasy 7 deck! It cost like $2!

Finally, most of all, it's the mandatory minigames which annoy the hell out of me. Whether it's dicking around with Winnie the Assbrained Pooh, or trying to knock a 300-pound sailor off the mast of a ship while I'm playing as a skinny little angel princess, or throwing dice in a bowl and just sorta hoping they fall on favorable sides, minigames that you HAVE to finish to continue on with the game are ANNOYING. There are a few exceptions--FF7's motorcycle and snowboarding games were fun, and I actually enjoyed Final Fantasy 10's Blitzball--but by and large it's a pain in the ass to be told that you can't continue on or get the best ending if you don't play and win Solid Snake Visits Hyrule Castle's Indoor Garden Maze Filled With Mentally Inept Guards.

So come on, game makers. If you're gonna force these annoying time-wasters on us, at least make them fun and OPTIONAL, like the Xenosaga 1 robot battle game or Final Fantasy 8's Triple Triad (and none of that FF9 Tetra Master bullshit).

Oh, and incidentally, I will likely be doing follow-up rants on this, examining and shaking my head in disgust at several choice minigames that are just so dumb that I can't do them true MST justice here.

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