Saturday, November 5, 2011

General RPGs' Minigames 9: Spheda

I really like how long a period can go by between rants on minigames. It means I haven't encountered any bad ones for a while...or at least, I haven't remembered them.

Sadly, something the other day recalled to my mind the Golf minigame of Dark Cloud 2. What a goddamn pain in the ass. I'm tempted to just end the rant right here; that assessment is really about the only thing you actually need or want to know about the minigame if you haven't already experienced it. But that'd be the easy way out, and I've never been one, well, actually, I AM usually one for the easy way out, but let's just do this anyway.

So, Golf. Even as immensely boring as any sport is to watch or especially to simulate in a video game, Golf stands out for being boring. Watching some pretentious jerk stand still for several minutes so he can judge exactly how wind and distance and such affect a trajectory so he can swing a metal stick and hit a little ball across an over-sized lawn with no eye-catching landmarks or plant life just to see whether he can get said little ball into a little hole in the dirt is not my idea of a good time. Frankly, it leaves me wishing they were swinging the metal sticks at my head instead of the ball, just so I can see if my anesthetized mind is still capable of feeling pain. It doesn't even promote the development of any primitive skill that has a rudimentary usefulness--at least Soccer builds up your ability to kick a low moving object, which will be handy if you ever need to bring the hurt to a coworker's ankles, and Football promotes the ability to be body-slammed and not die, which is a very useful skill to have if you ever decide to commit suicide by having a bull ram into you but change your mind at the last second. What the hell does Golf teach you? Perhaps some day, when we finally declare war on the world's prairie dogs, our Golf players will become our greatest heroes, gloriously sending bombs into one underground bunker of our adorably chubby, godless mammal enemies after another. On that day, I shall eat my words.

Until then? Golf is rubbish.

So I'm not particularly predisposed to having to put up with it in my RPGs.* But even a fan of the game probably wouldn't like it in Dark Cloud 2. Because, you see, DC2 doesn't just give you Golf--it gives you Spheda, which I prefer to call Dungeon Golf. Dungeon Golf, a term of my own invention, is when you play Golf in a dungeon. It's a pretty self-explanatory term. You know what a regular Golf game requires? Among other things, a lot of open space. You know what a dungeon doesn't really provide? That.

The basic premise in DC2 is to get your stupid ball to roll, fly, and ricochet around the passages of the dungeon to get into a glowing alternate-dimension-portal-looking hole. To do this within the allowed number of swings, you need to send the damn ball bouncing all over the dungeon, avoiding or knocking against various barriers, objects, and walls. Regular Golf usually involves, if I'm not mistaken, a generally straight line to the goal--you may have to get over traps and hills, you may need to double back with the ball if you overshoot things, but there's never a maze-like set of corridors to navigate. This is almost closer to Pool than it is to Golf. So there's really no reason to think that even an enthusiast in this sport is going to enjoy the Dark Cloud 2 version.

This is further cemented by the inclusion of the one thing about Golf that is universally hated even among fans of it: the impediments and traps. If you like Golf but aren't a fan of getting your ball stuck in places it's hard to hit it out of, or losing the ball altogether by hitting it into the wrong spot, you are not going to like Spheda. The dungeons in which this minigame occurs often have bodies of water that must be avoided. Then there's the Mount Gundor dungeon, where you can and, I assure you, very often will accidentally knock the damn ball off the ledge and down the abyss. And there are parts of Ocean Roar Cave submerged in an inch or 2 of water where you will sculpt a monument to profanity as you attempt to get the ball where you want it to go through the flooded cavern, impeded at every stroke by the fucking water everywhere.

Now, any normal sadistic, hateful game developer might have stopped there. He's presumably alienated his target audience of RPG players (most of us aren't avid sports fans, I think). He's alienated anyone who actually likes Golf. Any normal spiteful developer would call it a day and move on. But not the madmen working at Level-5. No sir! They decided to compound the frustration and stupidity of Dungeon Golf with the color system. See, in Spheda, it's not enough just to hit the fucking ball into the fucking hole. No, you have to make sure the ball is also the opposite color of the portal thing--if it's red, the ball must be blue, and vice versa. How do you change the ball's color? By bouncing it off something. So of course, given the narrow and twisting confines of many areas of the game, and the fact that a swing of any decent power will at the very least cause the ball to bounce off the ground itself, it's more likely than not that you'll have no idea which color it will be by the end of every swing, and by extension, by the time it gets within sight of the distortion you need to hit it into. You can--and by "can," I mean "very often will, with curses spoken loudly and teeth gnashed mightily"--find yourself lined up for a clear shot into the damn goal with 1 swing left, and find the ball sporting the shade you don't want. Maybe you'll have a wall you can ricochet off of into the goal to change the ball to the needed hue--and maybe you won't, and will have to do the whole thing over again.

Which brings me to the next "fun" part of this minigame--trying the level over again. When you fail to beat a stage in Spheda, which is going to be the majority of the time, you don't just get to try it again. That would only be a little annoying. No, to try again, you'll have to re-enter that level of the dungeon and beat all the enemies in it all over again. Because, y'know, there aren't enough repetitive fights against generic enemies in an RPG already, right? So in addition to setting you back 5 or 10 minutes for the Spheda game, any subsequent attempt after an initial failure is going to run you a good 10 - 20 minutes extra. This minigame, more than most others, was obviously designed with the belief that the player is immortal and thus places no particular worth on his or her time.**

The one thing I can't fault Spheda on too much, I suppose, is the fact that there's not much actual need to play it. The rewards for it are nice enough, but not especially important--each successful round of Dungeon Golf rewards you with some good, but not necessary, items, and a medal. Medals can be exchanged for new outfits that change the main characters' appearance, or for an item that lets you rename weapons. So overall, you're not going to be penalized by missing out on something significant if you don't indulge in your self-loathing and play Spheda. And the only time the game forces you to play it barely counts, because if you can't manage to win that mandatory round, the game just has one of the characters do it for you. So in the end, Spheda is at least not compulsory.

But stupid? Frustrating? Pointless? Unwanted? A terrible idea that demands a kick in the face be delivered to anyone and everyone involved in its creation? Oh hell yes.

* Hell, I'm not sure we should have to put up with it even in our Golf games. Seems to me that you could sneak an entirely different game into a Golf title without upsetting too many people. Is someone really going to complain that you tricked them into actually playing something fun?

** Of course, I did play Phantasy Star 3 from beginning to end, so I guess I shouldn't put on too many airs about valuing my own time too heavily.


  1. Ecclesiastes says:

    Fuck Spheda.

    Fun Fact: This game was recommended to me several hours ago, with Spheda being one of the more entertaining elements. Enjoy that.

    Question: Writing off Spheda entirely, is DC2 still a worthy title?

    Also, sorry for not replying to these lately. My phone is a right tart bitch when it comes to formatting this site's entry forms, but rest assured I do read every non-spoiler rant.

    Saving the World from Spheda, one Sucker at a time.

  2. Who recommended it based on Spheda? You may wish to kick their shins a bit.

    Besides Spheda, DC2 is...alright. I mean...there are some fairly interesting ideas, here and there, and for some reason that I can't really explain, 1 of the 2 main characters, Monica, is very appealing to me. On the other hand...not much especially makes it stand out to me, it general winds up being pretty generic, the main villain is your standard RPG cop-out, and a lot of the game is just plain filler. I wouldn't NOT recommend it, but there are so many good and great RPGs out there to play instead.

    As for replying, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I've been missing your responses. Of the few people who regularly read these things, you're the only one who leaves comments, and reads without my encouragement. As long as I know you're still reading, though, I'm glad.

  3. Ah, spheda. Would've been great were it not for levels being randomly generated! Some of the vistas would've made great mini-golf courses otherwise had they actually had to sit down and plot out some actual course structure to them.

    Beyond that, though? Kinda enjoyed it! Then again I am a golf fan, and also very creepy so holy damn did I go out of my way to buy all of Monica's medal outfits.

  4. I can't believe I forgot to mention the randomly generated levels. Thanks for the comment, though, sir.