Alright, folks, gonna be a little deviation from the usual Minigames rant today. I'm in a pretty good mood because I finally beat 7th Saga today, which I'd been sporadically restarting, playing for a period ranging from 1 hour to 1 day, and then shutting it off in disgust and not touching for another 4 months+ since roughly the year 1998. Checked the file information to figure that out. And while the end part of the game and the ending was just as shitty as everything else up to that point, and I retract none of my statements in that previous rant, I'm at least pleased to finally have the Boogieman of RPGs over and done with. 7th Saga, Grandia 3, Wild Arms 4, Phantasy Star 3, Lufia 1...I've seen the worst and survived, RPG world! You ain't got shit that can take me down!
Now, I know I rag on minigames a lot. I make no apologies for that, because I frankly think that it's all 100% justified. RPGs don't need'em, RPGs shouldn't have'em. They're almost always pointless, stupid, boring wastes of time. The only reaction they'll usually ever get out of you is to annoy the shit out of you when their poor design or premise based on random numbers keeps you doing them again and again and a-fucking-gain dozens of times because you either HAVE to or you just really, really want the damn super special awesome (yes, I'm stealing Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged's catchphrase) prize for them. If my genre of choice could just drop the shitty, meaningless little button-mashing minute-wasters and casino slot machines and so on, I think that in almost all cases, the resulting RPG would be an at least marginally better and a more enjoyable product. And yes, this might mean that the rare, one-out-of-a-hundred minigame that's actually ENJOYABLE would also be lost, but I honestly believe that it would be a totally acceptable sacrifice to save me from having to play video poker for hours on end in order to get some special one-of-a-kind accessory.
But I'm digressing into what I DON'T want this rant to be. For today, I want to look at some examples where a minigame has been genuinely fun. Examples of minigames which I wish would become the norm, instead of the rare exception.
For starters, there's the motorcyle minigame of Final Fantasy 7. Now, I do dock points from this one due to its being mandatory. These things just shouldn't be such. You shouldn't have to learn a whole different set of skills (though in some cases, "skill" is too strong a word for it) from the ones the game normally needs just to pass through a 5-minute instance of plot advancement, never to use said skills again because they're wholly unnecessary. But aside from that, this minigame's actually really fun. I mean, it's simple--just moving to position and attacking left and right--but it's not so simplistic that it's just stupid (see: every button-mashing minigame in existence). It's fast-paced, there's a definite goal to it, but if you're not terrific at it right from the get-go, you aren't terribly penalized--your friends may end up taking some damage, which will put you at a disadvantage for the ensuing boss fight, but the amount they get hit for by enemy riders is pretty small. Doing a good job is going to make your life easier, but not being very good at the game isn't going to force you to repeat it endlessly until you improve, or give up on some desirable reward for a great performance. And the minigame clearly has a lot of work put into it--the scene shifts as you play, the controls are smooth, there's constant action in it...it's not just some half-assed RPG carnival game where a character stands still and throws a ball at a target for inconsequential rewards. Things are actually HAPPENING during this. Square put some thought and effort into the game, and it shows. It's an honestly fun thing to play.
Reminds me of Super Mario RPG's mine cart minigame, now that I think about it--another case of a mandatory minigame that wound up being actually FUN for a change. Hell, that 5-minute minigame played better than some REAL games on the system did.
What's really ideal, though, I think, is something like the Tales of Dragon Buster minigame from Tales of the Abyss. See, this minigame really is an actual GAME. It's not just some, "Press X and see if you win or not!" crap. From what I understand, Namco remade one of their early games, Dragon Buster, with new graphics, sounds, and character model (putting the Tales of the Abyss main character Luke in the game instead of the original game's hero), and just gives you the option to play it. It's a reasonably short game (though long for a minigame), but it's honestly a lot of fun to play. It controls well, it's not mandatory, it's got a fun old-school premise (beat the dragon and rescue the princess, who turns out to be one of your other Tales of the Abyss characters), there's a bunch of things to find and do in it...it's really pretty much the ideal minigame. It even has a reward system I can approve of. The stuff you can get from it are things you probably want and would find fun to have--a title for Luke that will change his costume to that of the original Dragon Buster character's, and portraits of all the main characters, if you collect the right stuff in your playthroughs. But that's it--the rewards are there for fun alone. You can't get any ultra powerful hyper bacon-topped super mega sword or accessory or something from it. So you don't feel that obligation to beat it the way you might feel for tedious casino minigames, that feeling of "God this is annoying, but on the other hand, having that Sword of Kickassedness would really make things easier for me and satisfy my completionist ways." It's a harmless, fun minigame with nice but intangible rewards (more intangible than any game's rewards, I mean) that you only play if you want to. That's how it should be. If an RPG's gonna have a minigame, it ought to be made enjoyable for the player.