I've always liked Nintendo, ever since I got my NES so many years ago. So, so many. Too many. I don't like to think about how many.
Anyway! I've always liked Nintendo and supported them, but in recent years, I've come to really appreciate the company as a game developer as a whole.* They seem to really strive to put artistically creative quality into their titles as a general rule, they aren't afraid to make family-friendly titles in a world where other media creators of all kind are often terrified to try to make a product that can be enjoyed by more than one age group, and you can tell that they make a solid effort on nearly all the titles they create. These are the qualities from which classics are born.
First of all, the creativity. Now, I wouldn't call almost any Nintendo game art, per say. Off the top of my head, I'd say the only Nintendo games I've played that qualify as art are Mother 3, maybe Earthbound, and possibly The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, although that's really stretching it. But even if it doesn't lead to art, Nintendo's creativity with their games is unparalleled. The gameplay is creative, the settings are creative, the characters are creative, over and over and over again. They invent and revolutionize game genres like Platformers and Action RPGs, create memorable and unique characters like Samus and the Mario brothers, and come up with terrifically original game concepts like those in Pikmin and Kirby: Canvas Curse. And this is to say nothing of the innovation they often display with the game systems themselves, such as with the DS's stylus and the Wii's motion sensor.
And to try to tie this relevantly to the subject of these rants (RPGs), there's certainly a lot of creativity to be found in their RPG offerings. The puzzles and mazes of Startropics 1 and most The Legend of Zelda titles? Pretty creative! Fire Emblem 4's having a plot that starts with 1 generation of heroes and then continues on to conclude with the focus on the original heroes' children? Creative! The Paper Mario series? Very creative! The tone, look, characters, and general plots of Earthbound and Mother 3? Insanely creative! Even a lot of their lesser RPG titles have strong innovation attached to them. I mean, just because The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Mario and Luigi 3 are fairly boring, that doesn't mean they didn't have some creativity in their idea of train themes and having half the game take place in Bowser's stomach, respectively. Maybe the ideas couldn't save the titles from uninteresting writing, but they're still creative, at least.
Then there's the effort that Nintendo exerts in making its games. Whatever else you may or may not say about Nintendo games, it's hard to deny that they control pretty much exactly as they're meant to. The gameplay in a Nintendo title is tight, it works the way it was meant to work, and the challenges you face are against the game's obstacles and potentially your own limits and reflexes, not against poor design. The tricky bits like slippery ice, wall-jumps, and really annoying countdowns until the moon hits the world are difficult and even frustrating because they're supposed to be, not because the control of the character isn't up to par. And while I won't say Nintendo has NEVER half-assed a title (the plot of the RPG Mario and Luigi 2 is extremely forgettable, not to mention the story and characters of most Pokemon games), they nonetheless maintain the level of quality that comes with solid effort to make a good game pretty consistently, even when they don't have to. I mean, let's face it--you can slap Mario's name on any platformer and it'll enjoy at least moderate sales. Yet even on titles Nintendo is practically guaranteed to do well with, they still clearly go to great lengths to make games that are better, or at least very interestingly different, than their predecessors. Rarely (admittedly not never, but rarely) is the time that I play a Nintendo title that feels at all like a slapped-together attempt to cash in on a franchise name with little real care for the quality of the product. Compare that to a company like SquareEnix, which has its own franchises that basically sell themselves, and as a result the company produces boring and/or crappy installments like Children of Mana, Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings, and dozens of insanely over-priced re-releases.
Again, tying this to the RPGs, the same is basically true of Nintendo's RPGs. Again, everything basically works exactly as it's meant to (even when you don't like it, like the Sailing in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker), and as I said, new titles in a franchise are given just as much attention as any other game, not just halfheartedly thrown together and then shipped to fill store shelves. How big a departure in style and substance was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess from TLoZ: The Wind Waker? And that from the previous Zelda title? Earthbound had quite a cult following, but instead of just relying on that and a quick copy-paste to sell its sequel, Nintendo took Earthbound's quirky, fun, bizarre nature and injected powerful emotion and creative plot into it, making Mother 3 an even better RPG than its predecessor. Nintendo could have done just about anything to make its first Mario RPG since Squaresoft's original Super Mario RPG a reasonable success, but they went the extra mile and gave it a pop-up storybook look and feel with Paper Mario. No moss grows on this stone, no sir.
And there's the fact that Nintendo games, as a whole, are family titles. I really, really appreciate products that are made for children, but are made with such quality and integrity that there's plenty for an adult to enjoy, as well. Things like most Pixar films, Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Tangled, Hey Arnold!, most Muppet ventures, these are all products made for children that are so excellent, so created with care for the audience and the product, that they appeal to individuals of any age. In fact, I daresay I have enjoyed all of the things I just mentioned more as an adult, who can appreciate their subtleties and artistic merits, than I did/would have as a kid. And Nintendo games are generally the same. Mario 64, Donkey Kong Country, Super Smash Brothers, Kirby's Adventure...these games are innocuous fun, suitable for basically any age at which a controller can be held, yet just as enjoyable for an adult. And again, the same holds generally true of Nintendo's RPGs. I'll grant you that the plots and general goings-on of Fire Emblem titles lend themselves much more to a mindset of someone of an age in the double digits, and the same is true of a few The Legend of Zelda titles, too. But Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi, Pokemon, Earthbound, most The Legend of Zeldas, Startropics, these are all RPGs that are accessible to kids of whatever early age at which they can solve puzzles and manage turn-based combat. Even Mother 3, though loaded with emotional themes more in tune with adult sensibilities, doesn't have anything I can immediately recall that would make it kid-unfriendly.** Nintendo's are the kind of games that prove your product doesn't have to be bristling with sex, violence, and special effects to be worth experiencing.
So yeah, Nintendo is one of the best game developers out there, in my opinion, and that's why I've always held some respect and loyalty for them. What really impressed me and earned a huge dose of respect from me, however, was a decision by the company made last year.
Last year marked the launch of the 3DS, the next of Nintendo's long line of awesome portable game systems. Apparently, its initial sales were sluggish. For whatever reason (and I imagine there were quite a few, honestly; I know I had no need for an upgrade at that time), it just wasn't selling all that well.
So how did Nintendo respond? After laying off countless underpaid bottom-rung employees who had nothing to do with anything in an effort to make up for the loss with their meager paychecks, it put all the blame on the consumers, whining about gamers not properly appreciating the 3DS and completely dismissing any and all concerns and criticisms with the company's approach to the product as insignificant or ignorant, doing all but openly insulting the people whose money supports the company's existence. It completely refused to take any responsibility for its own failure and turned it around on the customer.
Oh, no, wait, I'm sorry, that's not what Nintendo did. That's what Sony, and SquareEnix, and countless other major companies would do and have done in similar circumstances. Because their representatives are assholes.
No, what Nintendo did was a little different from the corporate norm. The head honcho of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, officially announced that he took the blame for the company's losses, and cut his own paycheck in half to help make up for it. Not only that, but the other upper executives of the company also lessened their own salaries by varying percentages to make up the difference. In addition, given how lousy the times are economically for everyone, the company also slashed the price of the 3DS to make it more affordable for the common gamer, who is not exactly flush with cash at the moment.
How amazing is that, really? I mean, seriously, this is a case where a major company is admitting that it made poor decisions with its approach to its product and apologizing for it--good luck getting even that much from most other companies and individuals who create products, who often seem to think they're living gods. For example, you make even the slightest allusion that Marvel Comics writer Dan Slott is less than an icon of perfection--and really, it's hard NOT to suggest such a thing in any discussion about his work--and the guy comes screaming to your internet doorstep to hurl personal attacks at you in a fit of childish rage.***
More than that, the company is taking responsibility for the problem it's apologizing for, owning up to it--that in itself is also rare. I mean, look at the official "apology" that the CEO of Netflix gave a few months ago to his customers who were (justifiably) angry with how the company was handling its price increases--he basically gave a very phony-sounding "sorry" and then immediately launched into his new (and terrible, though that's not relevant) idea for splitting his business up, which had absolutely nothing to do with the problem he was supposedly apologizing for and basically seemed to just be a distraction so he didn't really have to address the real issues.
Nintendo, on the other hand, has executives who take the blame for their company's problem, and accept the consequences for it themselves. Any other company I know of would have rather downsized like crazy than let its precious execs miss out on even a dollar of their bloated bonuses, but Nintendo has the guys at the top, the ones actually conceivably responsible for the problem AND the ones who can actually afford to take a pay hit, foot the bill. That's a far cry from the infamous bank executives who used the bailout money funded by the American people to give themselves bonuses as a reward for running their businesses into the ground.
And while I recognize that lowering the price of the 3DS makes good sense for promoting its sales, that's still something deserving of a certain amount of respect, I think. I mean, they ARE basically lowering their opportunity to profit from selling a product that has already cost them more money than it's made for them. It is, at the very least, a level of awareness of their customers' financial considerations that you won't find in, say, SquareEnix, who re-releases games over 10 years old at the same price of a brand new title, then complains about customers not buying enough of them (even when they outsell many newer games released and considered successful by this same company).
People, we live in an age where providers of goods and services are typically callous toward we consumers, and often outright abusive. Just finding a company that genuinely wants to treat its customers well and values them is getting more and more difficult, but one that will step up, take responsibility, and make morally admirable choices when the going gets tough? Nintendo is some kind of corporate miracle.
So yeah, there you have it. Nintendo has a shocking amount of integrity as a business, and its creativity and effort in its creations are consistent. Aside from perhaps Atlus, I'm not sure I've seen any other RPG developer (or game developer, period) that so reliably makes quality its primary focus with its products, and the way they reacted to the 3DS situation last year was incredibly respectable, maybe even noble. And that's why I'm a Nintendo man for life.
* Yes, this means that the rant's more about video games in general, but Nintendo DOES make quite a few RPGs like Fire Emblem and The Legend of Zelda, so I figure it's legitimate.
** Yes, yes, I know the game's wise mystical folks are all male cross-dressers. I don't think it's really a big thing. It's not delved into enough in the game for a kid to see it as anything more than something humorously weird (assuming he or she isn't already familiar with the idea). You get more questionable antics from Bugs Bunny when he disguises as "pretty" girls and lays big juicy kisses on Elmer Fudd, for heaven's sake.
*** Luckily, this blog is so obscure and unknown that even he may miss this dastardly and completely accurate attack on his character, so I should be safe.