Wednesday, June 8, 2016

General RPG Lists: Worst Beginnings

Credit to my buddy Queelez for this rant idea. He’s a darned good bloke who’s always got a great rant idea for me.

One of the most universal truths about crafting a story is that the opening to your work should grab an audience’s attention. You want to draw your audience as far in as you can in your initial connection with them, whether it be through excitement, intrigue, beauty and wonder, humor, or whatever other appeal you can come up with. It’s true for writers, it’s true for filmmakers, it’s true for sequential artists, and it’s true for game developers. It’s a tried and true technique older than our oldest stories, and one that spans every form of expression, from the snobbiest cinema right down to something so casual as a story told between friends. First impressions are powerful, and the effective creator makes sure that first impression is a good one.

The developers of the games below did not know this.

5. Behemoth Battle (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest)

Who the hell does this? Who the hell makes the very first fight of a game one which you have no guarantee of winning?

Mind you: I’m not against the idea of opening your RPG up with a battle. I’m not even completely against the idea of opening your game up with a fight which the player can actually lose, if the player decides to monumentally screw up.

But there is only a single thing you can do in the Behemoth Battle at the beginning of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: Attack. There is a single strategy for victory, and that is it: hit the Attack option several times, and whittle down the Behemoth’s HP before he whittles down yours. And most of the time, that works just fine! I’m sure most people reading this who have played the game have no idea what my problem is.

But the thing is, you can miss the attacks you make. And the Behemoth can also get in critical hits. So, get unlucky just twice in this opening battle of the game, and you will die because of the cruel twist of RNG fate. And there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it! You have NO other options to take in this battle to counteract a bad role of the electric dice. What kind of a way is that to begin a game? Punish a new player for his/her mistakes if you have to, but have the sense to make sure that in the first damn fight of your game, there’s no chance the player will lose even while he/she does the RIGHT thing.

4. Ordon Village (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)


3. Temple of Trials (Fallout 2)

You know, I think the question of whether tutorial dungeons need to exist is debatable, but regardless of your stance on that issue, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about making one. The right way is to do it like, say, the tutorial dungeon that Lufia 2 (the real one, not that Curse of the Sinistrals crud) opens with. It’s very straightforward, it only introduces a small set of the gaming conventions that you need to know at that time, it communicates effectively, and it’s short.

Now, you want the wrong way to make a tutorial dungeon? Look at Fallout 2. It’s long--as in, the size of a full, actual dungeon. It’s boring. It tries to get you familiar with too many of the game’s conventions all at once. It really doesn’t communicate the mechanics it’s teaching you effectively. And it feels extremely forced, an extra jammed into the game for the sake of gameplay rather than plot. Take it out (as some mods do) and you lose absolutely nothing from the game. It’s just a terrible way to start the game; it’s a chore, nothing more, and not even an effective one.

You know what’s the real kicker about the Temple of Trials, though? The real kicker is that Fallout 1 had already proven that it was completely unnecessary. Fallout 1 has no such tutorial area at its beginning; it just drops you into the game and lets you figure out how to engage with its world on your own. And it worked absolutely fine for every player I’ve ever known who started the series there! Fallout 2’s Temple of Trials is an inept attempt to teach you stuff that it’s already proven doesn’t need to be directly taught anyway! Idiotic.

2. Twilight Town (Kingdom Hearts 2)

I’m sorry, SquareEnix, I think I might’ve misheard you. The ears, they play tricks on a guy after he reaches a certain age. You say I’m going to have to spend how many hours playing as a minor, nearly superfluous character doing minigames before the fucking game actually starts?*

1. Peragus Mining Facility (Knights of the Old Republic 2)

Oh my stars. If you thought the Temple of Trials in Fallout 2 was a dull tutorial dungeon, then you...well, you were totally right, obviously. But Peragus is even worse.

I mean, I’ll give it the fact that pieces of plot actually do happen in this first dungeon of the game. You meet major characters, you discover bits of the lore, you encounter a couple separate antagonists, and the events of this dungeon actually DO have plot relevance. At first glance, you’d almost think this were a solid opening.

But it goes on FOREVER. There should never be a time when your tutorial dungeon spans HOURS. And while stuff does happen in the facility, it’s only occasionally punctuating long, dull stretches of simplistic gameplay teaching you skills that are definitely simple enough that they could just be picked up as they become relevant while going through the rest of the game.

And once again, you’ve got a case where the game’s a direct sequel of a title that proved this bullshit wasn’t necessary! KotOR1 had its opening tutorial stuff, but it was quick and didn’t jam the entirety of the game’s mechanics down your throat all at once, just what was needed to get along. The sequel’s mechanics are pretty close to the first KotOR, so what’s the deal with this 3-hour long hand holding session?

Dishonorable Mention: Half of the Damn Game (Star Ocean 3)

Okay, so, Star Ocean 3 does have an actual, legitimate opening, and it’s mostly fine. Main character Fayt gets involved in lost-in-space shenanigans, finds himself on a backwater little world whose culture is in a feudal era of sorts, and helps a little village out before leaving. Okay, fine.

Except that the place where Fayt ends up next, and stays for the next 20 - 30 hours of your time, is just another backwater fantasy planet! One which has the very barest possible relevance to the actual damn plot of the game! Fayt gets mixed up with fantasy world politics for half the game, while the actual plot of this entry in a theoretically science fiction series goes on up in space without him! Eventually the issues of importance to the entire universe find Fayt and abruptly yank him back to where things that are actually significant happen. So abruptly, in fact, that it almost feels like halfway through making the game a new director got hired, walked into SquareEnix’s offices, and screamed, “Whatever you thought this game was going to be about, drop it! We’re doing things my way now!”** It’s just too bad that he didn’t arrive to kick start the game’s plot a lot earlier. Because a 25 hour generic fantasy prologue detour to my inventive scifi epic is too goddamn long.

* Yeah, yeah, I know, Roxas is super important to the Kingdom Hearts series overall. Fine. But he’s really not all that significant for THIS installment. His presence in KH2 mostly serves to set the possibility (which SquareEnix exploits as shamelessly as they do ineptly) for spin-offs about the series’s side lore. If you took him out of KH2, not a lot would need to be reworked, and those changes wouldn’t be especially sizable.

** I know, of course, that this did not happen. Because when SquareEnix decides to play musical chairs with its development staff on a title, what you get isn’t an improvement. What you get is a convoluted, incredibly boring boondoggle of a game that throws every sensible, time-tested rule of narrative it can find into the trash bin.


  1. What about Majora's Mask, where you have to repeat aspects of the tutorial constantly to get certain things (like finding the stray fairies in town so you can heal at the nearby fountain or having to go through the hige and skeet with the Bombers all over again if you forgot the code)?

    1. You don't actually need to re do the bombers, ever tho. All you need is the Deku Scrub, go outside clocktown, around the observatory, fly over the wall (there is a flower near iirc) and exit via Clock Town. The Bombers will be so damn impressed with you that (iirc) they will give you the code and the book so that you never forget the code again.

      Thats it.

  2. I haven't played FFXII A lot, it isn't exactly my cup of Tea, but some times throwing those rules is needed to improve over something.

    1. True, true, knowing when to forge your own path in storytelling is important. And it can definitely work. But if you're going to go against the grain of established effective storytelling techniques, you need to know what you're doing and be skilled enough to pull it off. You do it right, and you have something interesting like Baroque, or maybe Undertale. But if it's just not the right time or story for those rules to be broken, and/or if you don't have the talent to pull it off, then you wind up with boring, narrative clusterfucks like Final Fantasy 12, completely worthless trash like Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, or horrifyingly awful betrayals to every value the game had held, like Mass Effect 3's ending.

    2. You will hate me but I didn't hate too much CoS.First Lufia game I played andthe Doc reminded me of Doc Brown XD.

      Still I have to agree on the ME3 (I've been told its a clusterfuck)

      Oh hey! Someone who has played Baroque! I love the ideas behind that game (even if I ended having to cheat lol)

    3. Man, if you can stomach that Lufia remake horseshit, power to you. You're a greater man than I.

      Yeah, Baroque was neat. Disturbing, a little too hard, maybe could've been a hair less open-ended and abstract, but overall, pretty darned cool game that makes you think. Nice to see one of my readers is familiar with it; it doesn't get enough credit.

  3. There is a worse thing than your first game. Yu gi oh: Duelist of the Roses, I think it has a six hours long tutorial.

    It teaches you in one go everything about the game, EVERYTHING. Even advanced stuff.

    1. Well, I already had plenty, but I suppose you really can't ever have too many reasons not to go anywhere near Yugioh, ever, so thank you.

      Jesus. Everything about Yugioh in a single go. I feel like trying to learn every nuance of molecular biology in a 6 hour chunk would be less daunting.

    2. No, not about YGO in general. Duelist is one of the first YGO games and plays more like an SRPG mixed with TGC.

      Problem is that yeah, it teaches you ALL about YGO DoR in one go.

      Its still daunting, but I've been told its a fun game, I perosnally haven't made it beyond the first few duelists.

      Compare to its predecesor Forbidden Memories which has no tutorial, you figure out everything on your own, or use Duel Master K to have him teach you things.

      Modern YGO games, or well anything past The Sacred Cards (GBA, great game) is not worth it. Konami ramped the difficulty so hard you need to retort to gamebreaker BS to stand a chance.

  4. You know. I've always considered Suikoden V's beginning pretty dull.

    And DQ7's for that matter(It takes 4-5 hours just to get into your first fight!)

    1. True, Suikoden 5's opening is not especially interesting. I just think the other 5 are worse.

      Well, if I ever had any inclination to play Dragon Quest 7--and I never did--I sure as hell don't now.

    2. Wow, someone here actually named the two examples I thought of (Suikoden V does pick up a lot after eight hours or so, at least, while Dragon Quest VII has since received a remake that speeds things up). Another game I've added to this shame list is Final Fantasy XIII...which isn't too boring for the first half hour or hour, but then becomes a tutorial for the next 30 hours.

  5. FFMQ - The Behemoth battle can also show a player the extreme non-punishment of death in FFMQ, which I think is an acceptable part of a "tutorial" battle. While I agree that an introductory battle with so few options having a chance of failure is lame, this particular instance is one of exceedingly few place I'd ever give it a pass. We are talking a theoretical loss of 5-10 seconds per loss, after all. This isn't Persona 3 or Final Fantasy X we're talking about.

    Twilight Princess - I"ll never play this game twice. I've played some pretty fucking bad games twice.

    KH2 - If the gameplay had more going on, and the minigames were better used as ways to get familiar with those things, the gameplay of Twilight Town might be better. But hoo boy, that's the game that made me wish for a gameplay skip option a la scene skip.

    Star Ocean 3 - I'm convinced they put two entirely unrelated games into SO3. The idea of a space traveler landing on a medieval planet and being dragged into a war, trying to not advance the planet too much, would be a thrilling game, especially when the protagonist is one of the most elite academics and athletic individuals just by being a mildly accomplished college student from 28th Century Earth. Disc 2 is a story of people defying an uncaring and unacknowledging creator bent on killing them for breaking rules they weren't aware of. How do you fuck these stories up?

    Cramming them into a game where half the gameplay comes from grinding in a giant tower in postgame. If Tri-Ace can just recapture the magic they tucked into the mess of this game...

    "What you get is a convoluted, incredibly boring boondoggle of a game that throws every sensible, time-tested rule of narrative it can find into the trash bin."

    I see your virgin eyes haven't yet held the spectacle that is FF13. Cherish these days.

    1. I suppose you have a point on the Behemoth battle, but I still think that a better way of doing it would be just to not leave success up to random chance. Regardless of the small amount of time lost, it sets a bad precedent for a game when the introductory fight, from which you glean your first impressions of all fights to come, tells you that random chance may completely trump sound strategy.

      "The idea of a space traveler landing on a medieval planet and being dragged into a war, trying to not advance the planet too much, would be a thrilling game"

      Not according to Star Ocean 2. But, seriously, yeah, that could be an awesome game, if someone competent handled it. And SO3 did end up being a good game, entirely by virtue of its second half, but I'm 100% in agreement with you that they'd have had better results making its dichotomy into 2 entirely unrelated games.

      Drat, I do need to get on that FF13 thing, don't I? PS3s must have dropped below a hundred bucks by now.

  6. How about Chrono Cross? Well, assuming the rest of the game isn't as boring and interminable as the first few hours.

    1. Chrono Cross's opening is dull and listless, it's true, but it's 1 of the few spans of time in the game during which anything actually makes some fucking sense, so if anything, it's like the opposite of these beginnings...while still sucking exactly as much, somehow.