Diecast Unplugged #8: Playing the Long Game

By Shamus Posted Monday Jul 26, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 122 comments

Issac was still on the road this week. So we didn’t have anyone to edit our podcast. So we didn’t record one. So you get this instead. He’s on his way home as I write this, so we should be back to our usual schedule next week.

The mailbag is getting a bit out of hand, so I’m going to dig through the questions and see if there are any that I can answer alone.

But first let’s talk about what I did this week…

Final Fantasy Twelve

I’m still working on my play-through of Final Fantasy XII. I think I’m going to write about the game eventually and I don’t want to spoil any of the major points I want to make about it. But I’d like to shoot from the hip and offer up a quick gripe: I think the game is too long in proportion to the amount of story it has to tell.  More than once I found myself stomping through some godforsaken wasteland thinking:

Uhhhhhh? What’s my goal again? The map says I’m supposed to head for $LOCATION_NAME, but I can’t remember why I’m going there or how this journey helps in my struggle against the Empire. And hang on, don’t I own an airship? Why am I hiking across a continent? I’m sure someone offered an excuse a few cutscenes ago, but that was literally three days ago in the actual real world and the details are all fuzzy by now.

Shit, I need to set an alarm to remind me to take the drugs that keep me alive. If I need help remembering that, then I have no idea how I’m supposed to remember what excuse Balthier shat out last Monday to explain why I need to walk across three different climates to reach a city I can’t remember in service of a goal the game hasn’t talked about in the last two play sessions.

Maybe the story is too spaced out to keep me engaged, but it’s also possible that I’d have an easier time remembering things if my party didn’t consist of a bunch of bored mopes that hate making decisions. Maybe this would be easier to follow if I cared more. So I don’t know. Normally I answer these sorts of questions by playing through a game multiple times. That helps me fill in blanks and gives me a sense of perspective. But the thought of doing two FFXII play-throughs back-to-back is daunting.

You might remember the retrospective I did on Final Fantasy X back in 2016. My memory of that game is that while all Final Fantasy games are pretty long when compared to other AAA fare, number ten is short and breezy compared to twelve. They came out just five years apart, and both belong to the same console generation. But in terms of hours played, X feels brief and XII feels ponderous.

So I decided to take a break from XII to see if I was viewing X through rose-tinted glasses.


That was the plan, anyway. But then I got distracted. I started wondering about the leveling and character-building mechanics, and I suddenly got it in my head that I wanted to use Cheat Engine to fiddle around with different aspects of the game. I saw the layout of some things in memory and how the game worked behind the scenes, which made me more curious, which led to more experimenting. Pretty soon I got lost in this project and forgot all about the idea of comparing the two games side-by-side.

I might write about my Cheat Engine adventures later this week. In any case, I can’t trust my own numbers regarding pacing and game length. So let’s crowdsource this. I have no idea what I’m going to get here, but let’s see how long the cutscenes are and compare it to the overall gameplay and see what we find. This is going to be sloppy and filled with approximations, but they’ll be filled with other people’s approximations.

For Final Fantasy X, let’s see what’s on YouTube…

Final Fantasy X HD Remaster – FULL MOVIE / ALL CUTSCENES is 9.5 hours long.

Final Fantasy X HD Remaster – The Movie – Marathon Edition (All Cutscenes/Story) is a little over 11 hours.

Erm. Let’s just average these for 10.3 hours of total “movie”. According to HowLongtoBeat.com, Final Fantasy X takes about 70.5 hours for your middle-of-the-road playthrough. A completionist run is almost double that and a minimal run is just over half that, but let’s go with the middle number.

That means that Final Fantasy X is roughly 14% cutscenes? I guess?

On YouTube, this “movie” of Final Fantasy XII comes in at about six and a half hours, and it even includes little snippets of gameplay for context. Meanwhile, HLTB claims that FFXII takes a whopping 93 hours for a middle-of-the-road playthrough.

If these numbers are to be trusted, then Final Fantasy XII is roughly 6% cutscenes.

Now, I’m not going to try and convince you that one of these is objectively better than the other. There are lots of people who would rightly insist that more game and less movie is a good thing, and I can’t really argue with them. On the other hand, some people would say that Final Fantasy games are by their nature story-heavy and it’s totally reasonable to expect them to deliver lots of extravagant cutscene content.  (And either way, having “more movie” can be seen as a very bad thing if the movie is terrible. I’m not saying that’s the case for FFXII, I’m just saying that all cutscenes are not created equal.)

But these numbers do support my gut feeling that Final Fantasy XII has a lot more space between its story beats, and maybe this explains why I keep losing track of the plot. I’m only playing an hour or two at a time, and I think Final Fantasy XII requires bigger individual blocks of time to really work well.

That, and the value of reminders shouldn’t be underestimated:

Final Fantasy X:

Okay, we’re going to go through the Moonflow to Guadosalam. But first we have to pray at the Djose Temple!

Here we are at the Djose Temple. Next we head for the Moonflow to Guadosalam.

This is the Moonflow. Next up is Guadosalam.

Here we are at Guadosalam. Let’s take a break, do some cutscenes, do a little shopping, and engage in a little personal drama before we begin the next leg of our journey.

Final Fantasy XII:

We need to head through the Moshoran Highwaste, to the Salikawood, to the Phon Coast, to reach the Tchita Uplands, and from there we can go to Archades. If you’re feeling like a badass we can stop in the Necrohol of Nabudis. Anyway, I hope you remember all that. Okay byeeeee! See you in four hours.

Again, you can make the case that this is a good thing. But as someone who was already struggling to keep track of all the nouns, the game really lost me at a few places. This plot feels more complex. There are more sides to the conflict, more characters to keep track of, and more locations to visit, yet the dialog scenes are fewer and farther between.

Prey Challenge Modes

Next, let’s do some mailbag questions that would otherwise involve me talking Paul’s ear off. If you’re disappointed that your email is getting answered here instead of on the show proper, I apologize. If it makes you feel any better, the mailbag is overflowing. These Shamus–only questions would be the first ones to get cut if we found ourselves with too many questions.

Anyway. First up:

Dear Diecast,

I’m replaying Prey and having already beaten Nightmare mode I’m looking for some self-imposed challenges to make the game more interesting. Do you have any thoughts on how to spice up the experience?

“No Combat Focus” is an obvious rule because that ability is way too strong but after that I’m not sure where to go. Once you get the hang of it the wrench feels like it’s a little too good at costlessly clearing trash mobs (even without neuromods), but I can’t think of a rule to nerf it and the game doesn’t give you enough ammo for a wrenchless run to consist of anything but sprinting past every combat encounter.


Oh, and Ninety-Three added a little extra. I’d skip over this on the show, but it’s really interesting and worth including here:

PS: Notes on game mechanics, feel free to leave out of Diecast.

I’ve been experimenting with exactly how enemies work and there are some interesting properties the game does not make clear.

Phantoms will fall down if you hit them with two wrench power attacks and if you start attacking as soon as they start standing back up you can stunlock them to death.

If you gloo a mimic while it’s in object form it becomes permanently trapped (unless it’s one of the game’s special mimics with a fixed location scripted to jump out at you no matter what when you enter its trigger volume).

Speaking of scripting, the game cheats like mad and features a number of fixed encounters where mimics will spawn from thin air to attack you, aggro with a wider range than normal, or be placed by the level designer in a form that violates the normal rule of “mimics only copy nearby objects”, which feels like a cheap gotcha. I hope your series talks about the game’s encounter design, they clearly put time into it and the mix of scripted and procedural encounters is interesting.

If leaving out Combat FocusIt’s a temporary “bullet time” ability. counts as a challenge run, then I’ve done that one. CF always felt like a bit of a cheat to me and doesn’t quite mesh with my image of Morgan as an engineer / science nerd.

Also, I consider the various traumas (broken bones, burns, bleeds, rad sickness) to be a “must have” for a proper play-through. I think I had them turned off for my screenshot playthroughI tend to play games on easy when gathering up screenshots, so I can stand in stupid places and tank damage trying to get up-close pictures of the enemies. You do NOT want to be playing on hard mode when you’re trying to capture glamor shots of space demons in the middle of a fight., but when I’m playing on my own I always have them on.

I usually despise weapon degradation in games where the combat is supposed to be fun and empowering. I don’t think DOOM would be improved if John Doomguy had to stop every couple of rooms to clean his shotgun. But in games like System Shock and Prey, I really enjoy needing to take care of my gear. So I tend to have weapon degradation turned on for Prey.

I also enable the feature where your oxygen reserves will slowly deplete if you get a tear in your suit, but the game is so generous with suit repair kits that it’s never been a problem.

I totally get the desire for a challenge mode to freshen up the game. For me, I find myself wishing they had a built-in randomizer. After a few playthroughs, you know where all the good weapons and goodies are. You know which containers are worth resources to open and which aren’t. I’d love a feature that could randomize all the monster positions and loot locations. Obviously this would introduce a large element of luck to the game. You might get the shotgun hours sooner or later, depending on which side of a door it ends up on. But that sort of chaos is what you want for your Nth playthrough.

As for suggestions? I’m afraid I don’t really do “challenge runs” so much as “novelty runs”. My goal isn’t to make the game harder per se, but just to break out of habitual behavior and push myself to do things differently. With that in mind:

  1. I’ve been considering a no-shotgun run. I actually have the preorder bonus shotgun, which appears in Morgan’s office. That’s simply WAY too early in the game to get your hands on such a powerful weapon. (Particularly one in top condition!) I literally get it before the pistol. So I’ve been considering a run where I just disassemble or recycle all the shotguns I find.
  2. Another idea I’ve been toying with is to not reclaim the main elevator and instead get around through the GUTS, or by going on spacewalks. I literally never see the GUTS after our first trip through those tunnels, and I wonder if they get repopulated as the game progresses.
  3. A no-hacking run. This barely qualifies as a “novelty run”, much less a “challenge run”. Some players decide they hate the hacking minigameThis genre is somewhat infamous for having lame hacking minigames. and choose to skip  that. But I suffer from an obsessive need to LOOT ALL THE THINGS, even when I know from experience that the container in front of me doesn’t have anything worth my time. So a no-hacking run would really force me out of my rut.
  4. A really constrained inventory run might be interesting. Don’t take any inventory upgrades, and fill the last two columns with trash / food items to prevent them from being occupied by useful stuff.

I realize these  are pretty tame by challenge mode standards. Most players attempt crazy stuff like “wrench only” or “turn off my monitor outside of combat”, but I’m not adventurous enough for that sort of thing.


Hey Shamus,

Have you played the PS2 game ICO? I recently played it and later found a critique of it by some one named PeterEliot. This is a large literary analysis of the game’s narrative, which tries to understand the themes and ideas of the game, as well as examine it in relation to folk and fairy tales, books of romanticist movement and various other classical works. It reminded me a lot of your treatise on Mass Effect, and I thought you might like to read it too.

If you haven’t played it, I can easily recommend ICO, as well as its more well known cousin Shadow of the Colossus. The same team also worked on The Last Guardian that I haven’t played yet, though it is probably just as good, considering their pedigree.

Take care,
Provisional Username

I played Shadow of the Colossus back in the day. I loved it in a thematic sense. I loved the barebones and mostly-inferred story. I loved the brilliant art design. I loved the overall mood of the piece.

The problem is, I hated the gameplay. It was irritating and inescapably punishing. I mean, when you fall off a giant sky bird, there’s no way to have another go at it except to repeat all the steps to get on its back again. There’s no good way to give the player a mulligan here. It HAS to be punishing or the mechanics don’t make any sense.

So not only do I find the gameplay mechanics to be tedious, but failure causes massive setbacks. I complain about the setbacks in Dark Souls, but a death in Dark Souls is nothing compared to the pain of falling off a colossus mid-atrocity.

So as much as I admire Shadow of the Colossus from an artistic standpoint, I’m never getting near it again. And so it would be crazy for me to tackle ICO, which looks incredibly similar: Fussy, frustrating gameplay where failure creates enormous setbacks for the player.

These are cool games, but they’re very much not for me. Although that critique you linked looks pretty cool. I might read that. Thank goodness for the Wayback Machine, since this blog evidently vanished six years ago. Alas for link rot.


The previous person added a bonus question to their email:

Some time ago, you sent me a key to the game Overload (the spiritual successor of Descent). And while its 6DOF thrills were just as heart-pounding as ever, I found it’s over-reliance of particle effects, post-processing, debris and numerous other graphical knick-knacks very irritating. It was hard to tell what was in foreground and what was useless background, what to focus on and what to ignore; to quote videogamedunkey, “Is that a bad guy, or a lens flare?”.

As someone who has been working on game and rendering technology since back in the 90s, when and why do you think this apparent over-reliance on visual gimmicks instead of solid art design started to take place? Is this a reaction to the jokes made on the expense of the brown gritty graphics of the late aughts? Have we inadvertently built a monument to our own sins? Do we need to repent; and if yes, to whom?

I had the same complaint about Overload. The particles, bloom lighting, and other post-processing cluttered up the frame. The original Descent was, by virtue of being an early 90s product, incredibly minimalist in its presentation. The enemies were simple shapes with clear lines and strong colors to differentiate them. The lighting model was kind of weird, and tended to render foes at full brightness, even in dark environments. You could tell the robots apart from one another, and they stood out from the environment.

In Overload, the more realistic lighting means that robots are often just a noisy dark silhouette in the distance. You can see there’s a robot there, but not what kind of robot you’re seeing. And then you start shooting, and your lasers generate huge clouds of particle effects that completely obscure your target. When the fight is over, you probably have no idea what you just killed. Also, it’s hard to see return fire coming out of the clouds of particles, which makes the game frustrating. It also gave me a lot of eye strain.

(It’s not just the number of particles that’s the problem. It’s also how long they persist. Some of the wisps of flame can linger for several seconds. You could maybe get away with some of these particles if they vanished more quickly.)

To answer the question: Why do developers do this?

I think it’s the same reason that so many movies embrace the teal and orange color grading, even in films where it doesn’t make any sense and works against the intended mood. It’s something that’s effortless to add, and in isolation it makes the image more striking. In a modern game engine, particle effects and bloom lighting are completely turnkey: Just crank the sliders up to get more of both.

(Also, the two effects exacerbate each other. Adding bloom to a wall of particles tends to create intense bloom that’s hard to see through. A tiny bit of bloom can make an image a little dreamy, while lots of bloom just makes it blurry. Also, you need to think about your setting. Bloom roughly simulates what happens when bright lights pass through humid air. The suspended water vapor gets backlit by the light and seems to glow a bit, adding this subtle aura to light sources. It’s a neat effect, but you need to ask yourself if it makes any sense. If your game takes place in somewhere hot, dry, or in a vacuum, then you shouldn’t be using bloom.)

You can imagine how tempting this is for a movie editor. You click on a checkbox and BOOM! Suddenly your footage pops. It makes the image in front of you more exciting to look at, but it might not be suitable for the work in question. If the scene takes place in a stark, sterile, clinical setting and we want the world to feel cold and indifferent, then having warm skin tones is the opposite of the mood you’re going for.

Game developers can fall for the same trap. All you need to do is click a button to make sexier screenshots, but you need to take a step back and ask if you’re making the screenshots look better at the expense of the work as a whole.

That’s it for this text-only podcast. Next week we should be back to normal.



[1] It’s a temporary “bullet time” ability.

[2] I tend to play games on easy when gathering up screenshots, so I can stand in stupid places and tank damage trying to get up-close pictures of the enemies. You do NOT want to be playing on hard mode when you’re trying to capture glamor shots of space demons in the middle of a fight.

[3] This genre is somewhat infamous for having lame hacking minigames.

From The Archives:

122 thoughts on “Diecast Unplugged #8: Playing the Long Game

  1. tmtvl says:

    a death is Dark Souls is nothing compared to the pain of falling off a colossus mid-atrocity.

    Eh, in Shadow at least you don’t have to backtrack through corridors of enemies and you don’t have to worry about losing your souls or humanity (though you should be spending your souls regularly anyway).

    Of course, if I’m doing a conqueror run of DS2 dying means I can start all over from chargen, so that’s really painful.
    For those who don’t know: in DS2 you can get the illusory ring of the conqueror by completing a run through the game without dying. There is also the illusory ring of the exalted, which you get from completing a run through without resting at a bonfire, although you can activate them and teleport to Majula with the Primal Bonfires. The rings do nothing but turn the weapon in your right (exalted) and left (conqueror) hand invisible, so it’s only worth it for a personal sense of achievement. There isn’t even a Steam cheevo for either or both.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I was under the impression that people liked the invisible weapon rings for PvP. Not that I would know from personal experience.

      (Also delighted that the first two comments are about Dark Souls. I’m sure that Shamus, impervious to the charms of the series as he is, will be delighted.)

      1. tmtvl says:

        Eh, the problem with that plan is your weapon gets outed as soon as you attack and when you have the rings you’ll be just below middle range SL at best, so most opponents you’ll run into won’t die in two hits.

        …Or maybe I just got unlucky? IDK, I’m not into the PVP meta, I just run to the closest bonfire and let the kids have their fun.

        1. Geebs says:

          The easiest way to get a Dark Souls 2 weapon to disappear is to use it once or twice.

          1. Grimwear says:

            I just want to say I appreciate your joke and it made me exhale from my nose more than usual.

    2. Addie says:

      Man alive. I’ve just recently completed an SL1 run-through of Scholar of the First Sin, which was gruelling, but the thought of getting one of the illusory rings strikes me as beyond the pale. And I do appreciate that not *resting* at a bonfire isn’t the same as not *lighting* a bonfire, so you can still light them and get killed for the exalted ring. Fair play to you.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Exalted is no biggie, just some long-ass runs if you don’t plan your bonfire management in advance. Longest run I had to do was when I went for the Gutter after Freya and missed. Had to run all the way from the upper Eldora bonfire through everything to the primal bonfire to telly back to Majula and try again.

        Conqueror is something you can just try each NG cycle. In NG+ you can feather away from dangerous situations, but the increased lethality of all the things is painful. I just did it on NG by grinding down every enemy that had limited spawns and wasn’t easily bypassed. Almost died on approach to the Giant King, which would’ve been hilariously sad. Especially after I had to quit out and load back in because Benhart died in the exact same spot and I was going for all storylines.

      2. Grimwear says:

        Can’t say I’ve ever done the rings runs on SotFS, did mine on original DS2. It wasn’t the worst since DS2 is a very broken game, took me about 3 tries and around 5 hours to do. I will say that much like the “Did you know Viggo broke his toe when he kicked the helmet!” moment every time I see SotFS show up I need to hold myself back from raging incessantly like an insane person.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Oh, I did it rings + The Dark Soul on SotFS, haven’t done it on classic DS2 yet. What can I say, I’m a sucker for early Fragrant Branches.

  2. Tizzy says:

    The Dark Souls death is one of the few failure states that I find actually interesting. I struggle a lot with the Souls series, so I experienced a lot of returns to the bon(e)fire, and over time I learned to appreciate that it can be more than a DIAS mechanic, since changes are persistent. On the good side, it means you keep any equipment you found, and can cheese* this to get powerful objects in areas where you have no business surviving. On the scary side, any single use item is gone for good, too bad if this run didn’t achieve anything for you. It forces me to consider risk/rewards in ways that few games do.

    Though not compulsory, one gets the impression that a large proportion of game genres benefit from having failure states. But we struggle to come up with interesting implementations. Maybe that explains the recent popularity of roguelites. Reloading the last check point is the most uninspired way to resume after failure. The game that started this internal rant in my brain was Uncharted 4, where the occasional floaty control or unclear objectives had me falling to my death a few times. And every time, as I was waiting for the PS4 to finally reload my save, I’d ask myself: “What was the point? Did I learn anything? Was this part of the intended challenge?”

    *(Overall, I find the Souls series quite amenable to cheesing, and I appreciate this: a game designer that doesn’t try to enforce a one true way of playing through their creation. Admittedly, being good at the game looks a lot more fun, but what do I know?)

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I actually prefer games that don’t let you cheese the bonfire systems, and you have to actually complete the challenge in one go. Massive asterisk here: the game either needs to be the appropriate difficulty for the player, or have difficulty settings to change[1]. For example, I recently played through Blasphemous and had a great time because most of the challenges in the game seemed balanced around my skill level. However, I’m also the guy who’s always arguing for difficulty settings because Hollow Knight is too grindy and difficult, I’d have refunded Underrail if it didn’t drag its feet in the opening past the 2-hour refund limit, and who has never even made it to the Real True Final Boss in Enter The Gungeon, despite having so many space-bucks in the game, that it’s clipping out of the video frame[2]. I imagine people who don’t play games as frequently as me such as my brother, would be immediately frustrated with Blasphemous and just uninstall it. :)

      [1] Ideally, both.
      [2] Steam says I’ve wasted 460 hours on that beautiful, but immensely frustrating game.

    2. Syal says:

      On the good side, it means you keep any equipment you found, and can cheese* this to get powerful objects in areas where you have no business surviving.

      Although this by itself is double-edged. There’s an early challenge in Bloodborne that killed me real dead. Several hours later, I came back skilled enough to beat it, and… discovered I’d already looted everything in a suicide run earlier, there was no benefit to winning that fight. Takes the steam out of things.

      1. Lino says:

        Takes the steam out of things.

        Well, then it’s a good thing the game’s a PlayStation exclusive! *BA-DUM-TSSSSSSS*

    3. Addie says:

      Well, you can cheese the game by getting some powerful items quickly, or you can cheese the game by grinding for levels for a bit to make it easier. Eventually, you’ll reach a level where the challenge is about right for you, and then all will be well. Dark Souls is made a great deal easier by knowing the right kind of spacing to keep yourself safe from enemies while being able to punish their attacks; the difference between a beginner and a master is all in the dance, and not necessarily obvious just from watching a video unless you know what you’re watching for. I think watching someone speedrun one in forty minutes is all the more enjoyable for understanding a little of what they’re doing.

      A good rogueli(k|t)e should usually be fair; if you had the knowledge and the skill, then you should be able to win every game. So a surprise fall-off-a-bridge Uncharted-style challenge would not be fair; you should be able to see the signs off a dodgy bridge, or prepare a rope or a flight spell or be able to flood the valley or something, otherwise it would just be an instakill and not fun at all. But having enough systems to be able to manage the just-random-enough world is quite a lot of work for developers, and there’s few things worse than empty procedurally-generated levels; Daggerfall might have a trillion trillion square miles of land to explore, but there’s more fun to be had in one square mile of Morrowind.

      1. Utzel says:

        As someone who hasn’t played any Dark Souls or Uncharted, what’s the difference between a newbies first playthrough in both games? If you played it before you’d know about the fall-of-a-bridge sequence, too. Is the difference just in presentation and replayability of the game?

        1. Tizzy says:

          Where do I start?

          The Uncharted games aim to be big action movies, and in their latter incarnations they do a good job of it. They alternate long cutscenes and short sequences picked from a small set of shallow mechanics (traversal, puzzles, sneaky combat, on rails combat). The mechanics are all pretty shallow, and your attempts at each sequence are meant to be successful on the first try, provided you picked the difficulty level that is appropriate for you. It is difficult to make a real mistake, deaths are rare and they usually mean that the player is doing something that was not intended. Replay value is minimal, because player expression is minimal. The intended experience is a movie in which you’re allowed a small amount of participation.

          The Souls series arguably has one mechanic to offer–combat–but that mechanic is distilled into a rich tapestry of builds, status effects, weapons, magic, new enemy types, etc. There are lots of stats, though proficiency remains king, and even an overleveled character can get their ass handed to them when controlled by a bad or distracted player. How the stats affect gameplay is *not* explained in game; this knowledge is accrued through a mix of trial-and-error and scouring the wikis. This, together with the huge gameplay impact of unique items like weapons and rings, means that your first playthrough through the game will be very different from your second one, when you know what to expect. The design of the game calls for frequent deaths, mistakes are punished harshly, and levels often teem with ambushes, traps. Dropping off a ledge can give rare rewards, open shortcuts, but most often kill you. There are a lot of opportunities for player expression: choice of build, deciding which areas to visit and in what order, killing or helping the few NPCs. There is a lot of value in replaying.

          In case my descriptions sound a little harsh: I enjoy both types of games, roughly equally, but obviously for vastly different reasons.

  3. Lino says:


    A completionist run is almost doubt that

    Should be “double”.

    but a death is Dark Souls is nothing

    Should be “in Dark Souls”.

  4. DeadlyDark says:

    I tried little of Shadow of Colossus a year ago. It was frustrating experience and I decided to just watch a walkthrough.

    Funnily enough, I’m pretty ok with Dark Souls formula. I think, the main difference for me, is that it seems that SoC asks the player to find a correct path through a challenge, while DS (and its derivatives) allow enough room for experimentation and room for failure (e.g. presence of healing items).

  5. Steve C says:

    It has been a long while since I played ICO but I would not say the penalty for failure is anything like in Shadow of the Colossus. In that sense they are very very different games. ICO has a lot more in common with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time than Colossus on that front.

    ICO is all about arena puzzles. Which can also be said for Shadow of the Colossus. In ICO you never fall *out* of them like in Shadow of the Colossus. Sure you can fall. Sure you can die. However it is actually pretty hard to do either of those things. Plus enemies can’t hurt you. You have to be very deliberately doing something risky you hope will work to die. Or you get super unlucky which also can happen. For regular stuff there is an auto-catch mechanic on ledges like in Prince of Persia.

    This is a good example of the gameplay. Note you can see a few mistakes and their consequences in this video. The couches are turn-off-the-game save points. A fail state would set you back to one of those or the start of an set piece. Those act as soft checkpoints. Of which there were probably ~6 in that 10min video. (BTW he came extremely close to a game over too. That’s what losing a fight looks like.)

    Shadow of the Colossus and “Get Over It” have something in common. However ICO and “Get Over It” have absolutely nothing in common.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I enjoyed ICO and hated Shadow of the Colossus, and the fact that you couldn’t really experiment because the environments were so big was what killed the latter for me.

      The exact point I quit was the flying boss, and a big part of that was that at first I didn’t realize what I was supposed to be doing and ended up swimming to other parts of the chamber looking for a way to climb up to it. Since the chamber was huge, this takes forever. Then, I either figured out (or maybe caved and looked it up online) that I needed to get the thing to attack me and it…wouldn’t. I spent an even more unreasonable time shooting arrows at it or whatever and I couldn’t attract its attention. At the time I described this in more detail to people who liked the game and multiple people thought I may have found some so-obscure-no-one’s-heard-of-it bug because apparently it’s that bizarre that I couldn’t get myself attacked by the boss. Anyway I turned it off and have never felt the slightest compulsion to look at it again.

      1. Steve C says:

        I liked Shadow of the Colossus and completed it. I loved ICO though. I thought SotC was the better game on a mechanical level. While ICO was the more enjoyable game overall. SotC was more skillfully crafted, while ICO was more lovingly made. ICO invoked this current of anxiety to it. Where you were you constantly feel like you made a mistake there narrowly just got lucky. Yet it is clearly by design. Because if were true then you’d failing a hell of a lot more then you actually do. SotC invokes a feeling of relentless perseverance. Both games’ feelings match the themes and stories they are telling exceptionally well. I still vastly prefer ICO. And I can certainly see quitting SotC in frustration.

  6. Joshua says:

    Final Fantasy VI takes a little over 10 hours in the World of Balance and a little over 10 hours in the World of Ruin, not counting grinding (probably more attractive in the latter half) or exploring if you don’t know where to go. The game is also really good about constantly reminding you of what you’re supposed to be doing in the World of Balance. The game says 30-40 hours to beat, but I have no idea what you’d be doing to take 40 hours. Getting ALL characters to level 99 and knowing every spell?

    Very breezy in comparison to the PS2 games you mentioned.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Final Fantasy V is the same. I’ll mock the hell out of that game’s story for its cliches* and reliance on tropes, but the story moves quickly, you always know who’s doing what and why, you’re always going to new places and it’s rarely dull**.

      *You go to a Temple. You fight your way through. Defeat the boss guarding the Macguffin. Then the Big Bad turns up, laughingly declares that you’ve done his job for him, stuns you and steals the Macguffin. Seriously, that must happen four, maybe five times! It gets amusing, after a bit…

      **Well, relatively speaking. It’s still a game with random turn-based encounters, after all…

      1. Henson says:

        The one that really got me was fighting all the way down the fire-powered ship, defeating the boss to prevent the crystal from shattering…and then some random mook strolls in the back door and flips a switch, irreversibly overloading the ship to destroy the crystal. Like, is that all it took? It’s like if Frodo dropped the ring into Mt. Doom, only to have Sauron teleport it away before it hits the lava. Ridiculous.

        Pretty good job system, though.

        1. bobbert says:

          There are also gameplay/story issues. “Hmm… if the crystals break, I get more cool gameplay tools.”

      2. Syal says:

        Seriously, that must happen four, maybe five times!

        It’s at least five times. Even though there’s only four Crystals. It’s impressive.

      3. Trevor says:

        The plot of FFV is also simple and, as you note, heavily reliant on tropes. The plot isn’t trying to be super complicated (even if I forget the details about how and why ExDeath is an evil tree) and also seems written for a younger demographic than the later Final Fantasy games.

        But also whenever you go back to your airship, your party member dialogue is mostly on plot-related topics and makes explicit what is next. “I’ve always wanted to see [NEXT PLACE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GO] City” “I hear that in [NEXT PLACE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GO] City they run the place entirely on steam engines” or whatever. A lot of the game resources are dedicated to getting you from point A to point B. Also the relative small size of the SNES game world means that B is really the only place you can go where you haven’t been before. A lot more resources go into the new games and they build out the characters and world and minigames, often to the expense of the basic “what do you need to do next?” questions.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          Actually, I kinda like Ex-Death’s origin. You know that old cliché of “oh we sealed away this monster for ages but it’s breaking out now somehow?” Over the years, countless monsters and evil spirits were sealed away in the Elder Tree in the Forest of Moore, and they eventually kinda congealed into a single entity that was powerful enough to break containment. Of course, that creature was Ex-Death— a ridiculous mistranslation of Exodus. This is why, when he can’t control the Void’s power and loses his mind, he starts breaking apart into a chaotic amalgam of monsters mashed together.

          People forget that part but love to joke that Ex-Death is a tree, even though the tree thing only sort of crops up twice in the game. I guess when you turn into a giant nightmare tree for your final boss form, people never let you live it down.

          1. Retsam says:

            Ex-Death— a ridiculous mistranslation of Exodus.

            It’s less ridiculous than it might seem at first glance. The Japanese is ????? “ekusudesu”. “ekusu” is how you’d render “ex” (e.g. “deus ex machina” is “???????????”). And “desu” is how you transliterate death to Japanese, since “su” often stands in for “th”. (e.g. in Aerith – if Exodus was the intention, this would be an ironic case of making the exact opposite mistake as in FFVII with regard to the “su” character)

            Ex-Death is actually the more direct rendering. The actual Japanese for Exodus, is, apparently ?????, “ekusodasu”. It’s definitely part of the meaning behind the name, but in this case I don’t think it’s a mistranslation, hilarious or otherwise.

            1. Retsam says:

              Ah, right, forgot that I need to manually escape unicode and the comment system freaked out and there’s no edit button. (I get the “you’re posting to fast” error even when I’m only posting once – it seems to sometimes double submit)

        2. bobbert says:

          There were a lot of fun things in that game’s story. Like “The wall to keep the nerds out” or the money-turtle.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            “Fun?” That turtle is the stuff nightmares are made of.

            1. bobbert says:

              Money-Turtle (artist’s impression)

        3. BlueHorus says:

          even if I forget the details about how and why ExDeath is an evil tree

          Holy shit, I forgot that he was an evil tree! Man, this game.

          Thought adding to your later point, my favourite line of dialogue comes from a random civilian: “To the north is the Valley of Dragons. No-one’s ever come back from there alive!”

          Guess where we’re going next, kiddies!

          1. tmtvl says:

            That line is pretty good, but it’s no “Turtle!”

      4. Joshua says:

        This is pretty much the reason why I won’t play FF IV again. 90% of the game is trying to protect the crystals from Golbez and failing miserably because your characters are idiots.

        It seems like in the games after these, while the bad guys will have their Diabolus Ex Machina moments over the heroes, the heroes at least get to have victories that force the bad guys to have to adapt.

        1. bobbert says:

          Yeah, that is pretty demoralizing. You could have given Golbez everything he asks for without a fight (well, more than you already do) and nothing would be any different.

        2. Sartharina says:

          “Let’s lock our healer in a closet because women can’t fight!”

          *party gets defeated in tedious battle of attrition because they have no healer*

          “Oh no! Kain and Golbez have won, and captured the crystal AND our healer because they didn’t have any tanks to protect them!’

          That part still pisses me off.

      5. bobbert says:

        Also, the Dad-Warriors are great. I hope they get their own game.

    2. Biggus Rickus says:

      Final Fantasy X was the last in the series I played. I found the story and characters ludicrous and annoying and the gameplay to be tedious. Maybe I’d just found styles and genres of game I enjoy more than JRPGs, or maybe the game was actually worse than Final Fantasy 7 and 8, but from what I’ve seen and heard of post-X installments, I’m glad I stopped playing them.

  7. Provisional Username says:

    Thanks for the answer, Shamus.

    Your Dark Souls analogy is actually interesting, because my experience with that game has been very similar to yours, and I would never have guessed that SotC and DS felt similar to you in that particular aspect. For me, the source of irritation in DS was constantly having to go through low-level mooks (shedding a bunch of HP in the process) to get to the boss 5 minutes later, only to be one-shotted without even getting the opportunity to learn something. In SotC however:

    1. the colossi are usually passive, meaning they won’t attack until you initiate combat,
    2. health and stamina both regenerate with time,
    3. you can always buy yourself more time by running around or hiding,
    4. the game gives you multiple hints if you can’t seem to figure out the colossus after a while,
    5. when you fall off, you drop right there and can just try again,
    6. fall damage is minimal, so dropping doesn’t usually lead to dying,
    7. and even after death, you respawn right next to the colossus.

    ICO is even more forgiving – the failure state is not dying (you literally can’t die in combat) but letting a particular NPC be kidnapped; and even when they have been taken away, you get ample amount of time to fetch them back without any penalties.

    As someone who found DS too stressful and anxiety-inducing, ICO and SotC both feel like very calming experiences. I suppose that our complaints with DS are probably just different enough that SotC ends up getting covered by them for you and not for me.

    Regardless, ICO seems to emulate perfectly fine on PCSX2, and the emulator allows “saving” the game at any point by dumping out a memory image. So, you can always just save at some critical point and bypass any backtracking-esque portion that you may find tedious.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      ICO’s my go-to example of Bad Escort Mission games. The story may well be charming, the atmoshere brilliant, but that NPC you’re guiding around is as dumb as a sack of bricks. She can – and will – set you back again and again by blithely wandering into the arms of the enemy, doing the wrong thing, not obeying instructions etc.

      I’d probably have liked Ico MORE if I could have died in the game’s combat – at least that would have felt like I was staring at a Game Over screen because I failed.

      1. Provisional Username says:

        Just on the off-chance, did you play the US release on PS2? Because that US version was released pre-maturely by Sony, and I have heard that the AI in that one is especially bad. I personally played the European release, and while its Yorda may also be characterized as dumb-as-bricks, she never really ran towards enemies or some such.

        This is actually a criticism I have heard some where else too – the the NPCs in Fomito Ueda’s game are not deterministic (the horse from SotC is another example). I personally think that it makes them feel autonomous and human, but a lot of other players seem to get frustrated by the lack of control on their behavior.

        1. Geebs says:

          Real-life horses aren’t particularly deterministic, either.

          1. baud says:

            the comment regarding real-life horse reminds me of something: I played both GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption in quick succession and I hated GTA 4, in part because of the driving which felt horrible, mostly with cars being very unstable and hard to drive, whereas I really liked RDR. But then, riding a horse in RDR felt kinda the same as driving a car: unstable, hard to go on a straight line or take a neat turn; but in that case it didn’t feel as bad, because it was an horse, which are not deterministic creatures by any means and having course correct all the time felt kinda like riding an actual horse, helped with the fact that RDR mostly took place in the country side, so going off-course has usually very little penalty, unlike GTA 4, where going off-road meant hitting pedestrians and causing all sorts of issues.

            Of course it wasn’t the only things that made me prefer RDR over GTA 4 (writing, likability of the main character, shooting system, landscape…)

        2. BlueHorus says:

          It might well have been the US release…it was a long time ago. Good that it may well have been inproved, though – shows that the devs cared.

      2. Rariow says:

        I find this more than anything is what’s divisive about Team ICOs games – they tend to make themselves less playable to tell their story through game mechanics. Yorda doesn’t listen to you and does dumb shit because she’s not a smart person and you can’t communicate with her, Shadow of the Colossus is a tonne of travelling through vast, empty landscapes because it takes place in a vast, abandoned kingdom, and the creature in The Last Guardian doesn’t consistently listen to you because it’s a wild animal. I think it’s an interesting design philosophy, and if nothing else it certainly creates strong feelings in everyone – even if not always positive.

      3. Steve C says:

        Huh. I feel the exact opposite way. ICO is my go-to example of a *Good* Escort Mission game. Especially for the year it came out and for the decade after. It works exceedingly well with the themes too. The girl represents giving up, hopelessness and depression. While the boy represents the exact opposite. Of course she is going to be passive. She is the sane one too. The enemies are literally the souls of dead children pulling her into a literal pit of despair. While the castle is the literal maze to keep them trapped in both life and death. Her passivity works.

        Plus the rare times she’s taking her own actions is because she is trying to give you a hint on what you should be doing. Which is pretty striking contrast against her regular passivity.

    2. RoastBeef says:

      “1. the colossi are usually passive, meaning they won’t attack until you initiate combat,”

      I’ve seen different version of this a lot and its baffling to me because in the original US PS2 release, it’s categorically untrue. I don’t know if they changed things in the remakes, or the sad music when colossi die changed how people remember it, but when I played it only the sky snake was passive. If I waited around long enough, every single other colossus would eventually turn aggressive even if you never moved after the cut-scene that introduced it.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    Uhh, what’s my goal again?…I can’t remember why I’m going there or how this journey helps

    Heh. This pretty exactly describes the moment I gave up on Final Fantasy IX. According to the game, the party needed to go to four seperate Elemental Temples and defeat their bosses simultaneously – they had to split up to do so. Cue a frustrating battle in which a boss kerbstomped two underlevelled party members I hadn’t used in hours with laughable ease.

    Whilst staring at the GAME OVER screen I suddenly realized I had no freakin’ idea why we were going to these temples, what it would achieve, how that tied into the greater story of, um, some smug guy with silver hair and his pet dragon(?), or anything else.

    The only thing I was sure of was that I’d lost a load of progress and was going to need to grind two characters I didn’t like in order to avoid it happening again.

    1. Henson says:

      I always feel the same in KOTOR 2, when the game suddenly changes party composition on Nar Shaddaa so that I have to defeat two melee assassins with…Atton Rand. And then changes the party composition again. And again. Wait, remind me why I’m here anyway?

      1. Chris says:

        One of the best features of dragon age origins was that it would just level up everyone on every levelup. Not only does that avoid things like this, it also encourages you to experiment with your team composition. No “wow this is a neat combo but my fire mage is level 5 and everyone else is level 20”

        1. John says:

          Both Knights of the Old Republic games work the same way. The problem with the fight Henson mentions is not that Atton is under-leveled but that on your first playthrough you have almost certainly specced him for ranged combat rather than melee.

      2. John says:

        Ugh, Nar Shadaa. Dantooine, Onderon, and even Korriban are all decent to good, but Nar Shadaa is the worst. I’ve never understood why people complain about Peragus when the game has Nar Shadaa in it.

        1. Rariow says:

          I think Nar Shaddaa skates by on the interactions you have with Kreia and Zez-kai Ell, which are some of the best in the game. It’s the planet with the most interesting philosophical conundrums, especially if you’re playing Dark Side, which, if you know what you’re doing, lets you manipulate your way out of the otherwise long and bloody refugee sector questline almost immediately and without much bloodshed, and also gives you the much more interesting Hanharr as a party member (Mira is sort of just cardboard). There’s some very cool sidequests, too. That said, the storyline is a lot of running around doing menial trash and plot induced main character stupidity.

          Peragus just suffers from opening dungeon syndrome. It’s very long, and all you do is run around bashing droids – there’s not much real talking to be done, it’s all just info dumps without any choices to be made. Plus, every playthrough starts there, so it’s the part of the game you’ll see most often. At least Taris had different paths through quests and moral choices to be made.

          1. John says:

            I hate the whole structure of Nar Shadaa. First you’ve got to do a whole bunch of back-tracking and busy-work until some crime boss is willing to talk to you. Then you’ve got to fight your way through his bar. Then you’ve got to fight your way through his labrynth so that you can get incapacitated captured in a cutscene. Then you’ve got to do it again as either Hanharr or Mira. Then there’s the Atton fight, which, as we have already established, makes no sense. Then your party has to fight their way on to Goto’s ship. Then you and your party have to fight your way back off Goto’s ship. Then you get stuck with a useless droid party member for no good reason. Somewhere in the middle of all that, there are a couple of conversations with Kreia–who I can’t stand–which are possibly the worst in the game, and at the end you get to talk to a Jedi for a little bit.

            Nar Shadaa is just way too long for too little reward. It’s a complete slog. Peragus, for all its infamy, is still shorter and is delightfully atmospheric in ways that Nar Shadaa is very much not.

            1. BespectacledGentleman says:

              If you can’t stand Kreia, I can’t imagine KOTOR II was a very enjoyable experience overall. She’s at the core of just about everything in that game.

              1. John says:

                Yeah, pretty much.

                Actually, I enjoyed the game the first time through. Also the second and third. (Look, I have to play every class-gender-alignment combination. It’s a thing. I have a problem.) The game does atmosphere very well. Mechanically, I still like it. It was only when I really started thinking about the plot, the themes, and the lore that I started to sour on it.

    2. Syal says:

      I had no freakin’ idea why we were going to these temples

      It’s to break Kuja’s stuff.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I knew someone was going to tell me why as soon I hit the ‘Post Comment’ section…

        The exasperating thing is, I remember that game starting really well. There was a crazy Queen invading other countries, messing up their shit, you were trying to stop her, then a few hours later Kuja was doing…something? And I was trudging through elemental temples wondering why I cared.

        Happened with a lot of the Final fantasy games of the time, as I recall. Replace the understandable bad guy with someone else far less interesting.
        Remember when Final Fantasy VIII’s ‘real’ main bad guy was revealed to be some Sorceress you’d never heard of, who wanted to stop time or something?

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          It actually gets worse in FFIX. The very final boss comes literally out of nowhere. After you defeat Kuja just out of the blue he decides to show up and attack you. I think he says something about having been watching you, but the game makes no allusion to his existence until that point.

        2. Syal says:

          It does lose steam after Disc 2. Although for my part I thought it picked up again right after those temples; Garland shows up and clowns on Zidane and Kuja both.

          (Also the bit I didn’t catch until my most recent time through; you rescue someone from Kuja, who reveals Kuja spent the entire time telling them his master plan over and over again because he doesn’t know how to shut up.)

    3. RamblePak64 says:

      This makes me wonder about these JRPGs that expect players to use all of the characters in their roster, and therefore force the party to be split apart so that the player must use them all. FFVI also does this for a few dungeons, particularly the final one, and if you have weak party members then you’re going to have a rough time. I know FFIX removes and adds characters in and out of the party several times through its duration, so do you just tough it out each time, insisting to never use those characters?

      SkillUp recently did a review of Death’s Door, and in it he claimed the combat “lacked depth”. While watching his gameplay, I realized it wasn’t the fault of the game’s depth, but his refusal to climb above the skill floor. Yeah, sure, you can keep swinging the base sword and dodging out of the way, but if you’re willing to experiment, then you’ll find other things you can do. It also ignores the careful construction of the encounters and how enemies are proportioned in each fight. Nonetheless, it made me wonder if SkillUp assumed there was no depth because there weren’t enemies that made certain spells mandatory. This isn’t to say Death’s Door is super deep, but just watching his gameplay, I couldn’t help but shake my head and think “Dude, no, you’re actually just very mediocre at this game…”

      Which brings me back to making full use of the party members. Some are certainly more useful than others, particularly in obvious ways, but at the same time, each also has a lot of unique abilities that are useful in their own way in combat. So is it the fault of the developers for not letting players stick to the skill floor? Or is it the fault of the players for willfully ignoring whole chunks of gameplay mechanics that would have made the experience easier? Or perhaps it’s the fault of character designers? I dunno, I just know FFIX had plenty of moments to let the player know “Yes, we will force certain party compositions on you”, so if you reached that four-temple portion and kept ignoring certain characters… well, it’s not like you didn’t have ample warning.

      1. bobbert says:

        I liked the split-up dungeons and feel like quite a few other games could have benefited from having them

      2. Syal says:

        I think Quina is mandatory for exactly one dungeon, at the start of Disc 2, and takes a back seat until the temples near the end of Disc 3. I guess you have to use them for the split part section where you have to use literally everyone, but that doesn’t telegraph “Hey, level up Quina”. Blue Mage is always easy to let fall by the wayside; they’re really strong if you do the work to get their skills, but everyone else is strong without work. And Quina’s one of the harder Blue Mages to teach; you have to weaken enemies by a hefty percentage without killing them, so it becomes really hard to learn skills you missed because everyone will one-shot the thing on backtrack. Plus Quina’s Trance is useless. It’s like they were designed to be ignored.

        This is a big part of why I like fixed party games, like ff4 or the first half of ff9*. Something like Octopath Traveler, or late ff9, where you’ve got eight characters with one glued to the party lead, almost always results in one main party and a bunch of underleveled people; even if you’re rotating, that leader will end up overleveled, and there’s no clean rotation for 7 people filling 3 slots.

        (Earth Temple isn’t that bad though, actually, Zidane can solo it without too much effort. Maybe prep a Trance.)

        *(Obligatory Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass plug.)

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          It’s not a perfect system, no, and the whole “party members outside the combat roster only get partial experience” is not that much more helpful than when they get no experience. I actually preferred having more control over Quina’s Blue Mage learning, admittedly, whereas in prior games you’d need to luck out on the monster targeting your Blue Mage specifically (and hopefully not killing them). However, they definitely seemed to be more of a support role. Nonetheless, I found some of those support spells more useful than what Garnett or Vivi could pull off in a round, so …it? …was used quite often in my line-up.

          Still, the other characters are certainly more useful at first blush, and don’t require nearly as much work as Quina does.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          Something like Octopath Traveler, or late ff9, where you’ve got eight characters with one glued to the party lead, almost always results in one main party and a bunch of underleveled people

          There’s no reason games can’t just go full XP share and have everyone level even if they’re not in your party. Aside from being the default in Western RPGs, I could swear I’ve seen it in one or two JRPGs, though I struggle to remember which.

          1. baud says:

            if you accept JRPGs as a style of video games and not just RPGs developed in Japan/South-East Asia, Cthulhu saves the world had full XP share, with characters on the bench getting the same amount as those in the active party. Though the way the game worked kinda forced you to rotate your party while in dungeons.

          2. Syal says:

            Super Mario RPG did it that way. It’s a great system and the way to go if you’re making a game where you have more characters than slots.

        3. Fizban says:

          Having played FF9 the first time with no instruction manual (no fault of my own, I’d have read one if I could), I didn’t even know how Quina’s blue mage stuff worked. I didn’t like the character at all, basically all comic relief, and I don’t recall the game ever telling me that Eat would give them new spells (but not from every enemy, you have to dredge all of them to be sure). And then you get Amarant, whose only unique skill is permanently destroying your items/spending tons of cash on special throwing items, IIRC, so I didn’t use them either.

          1. RoastBeef says:

            I don’t remember the manual actually explaining much of anything to be honest. I mostly just remember it replacing useful information with an ad for their online guide service, which wasn’t even still online at the time I played the game in the early 2000’s.

      3. Dreadjaws says:

        Shamus made a similar point in his analysis of Arkham Knight. He claimed he hated the Mr. Freeze fight the first time because it forced him to engage with gameplay mechanics he had been ignoring until that point, then he realized it was his fault for not trying to use them in the first place.

        I personally had a similar experience with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Early in the game I was absolutely furious at random difficulty spikes and boring combat, but then I decided to engage with the rest of my abilities, which I had been ignoring until that point, and suddenly the game became incredibly fun for me.

        You really can’t complain about the lack of depth in a combat’s system if you deliberately choose to stick with the same attacks over and over. I see this is much more common than I initially thought.

        1. Nicole says:

          This reminds me of Kingdom Hearts II, actually. KH2 has a lot of complex combat mechanics. like allowing you to customize your combos, magic, drive forms, summons, limits… but the game is easy enough that most people just mash the X button for the entire game. So, while my original impression was that it’s an alright game, I wouldn’t have said it was anything special as far as combat goes.

          That changed when I played the Final Mix version on PS4 a while back, and on a whim decided to pick the Critical Mode difficulty exclusive to that version. In Critical Mode, your max HP and MP are halved, and both you and enemies deal double damage. This is a pretty extreme jump in difficulty, as effectively you can only take 1/4 as many hits before dying, and for many enemies this means you’ll die in a single hit. At the same time, if you know what you’re doing, you can absolutely tear through enemies since you deal double damage to them. Furthermore, Critical Mode gives you a bunch of abilities at the start of the game, much earlier than you’d normally get them.

          I did find it quite frustrating at first, and in fact I even had to put the game down a few times when I got stuck on particularly hard sections, but it forced me to use a lot of mechanics I’d never bothered with on the standard difficulty, and I gained a whole new appreciation for KH2’s combat — even if the particle effects made my eyes water a little. I can’t imagine going back after that, and I did the same thing for KH3 and enjoyed it there too.

          (That said… besides KH2 and KH3, the other Kingdom Hearts games’ combat systems felt very clunky to me. I played through everything that’s been released on PS4 for the sake of understanding the story, but I don’t really think I’d ever go back to them.)

      4. Dreadjaws says:

        I think the entire point of splitting the party apart several times is to train the player to not rely always on the same few characters. “Mmm.. maybe I should level up these other guys more in case the game decides to split the party again”. Some games do a better job of this than others, of course.

        1. bobbert says:

          Yeah, you might have to do a commando sequence to rescue the rest of the party with a lone under-leveled, under-equipped monkey.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          Some games do a better job of this than others, of course

          They sure do.
          The system as described seems like a terrible way to go about it. I need to prepare for the off-chance that the game arbitrarily forces me to play it differently? By levelling up a character I don’t like?
          That won’t make me want to use this Quina character, it’ll just create an annoying section of the game. I’ve had the option to use that weird waggle-tongued monstrosity for hours now, game, if I wanted to I would have!

          And weirdly, it’s been better done in previous installments. There’s two boss fights in Final Fantasy VI that you explicitly can’t win unless you use a specific new character’s unique ability. After that though, you’re given a lot more freedom on who you can take where.

          I’ll raise you Hades (and pretty much every other Supergiant game I’ve played) as better: they offer (often fairly minor) rewards for varying your weapons and mechanics up. I happily learned to use every weapon or ability in those games.

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            I just remembered that, on a thematic level, it also makes sense for the game to encourage full use of your roster, given that the whole point is the strength of many versus the strength of one. Or at least, in regards to Zidane and co. versus Kuja. Leaving a character out and ignoring them goes against the ideas of the narrative.

            Not to say that there aren’t better ways they could have encouraged use of the character. However, I bet if you looked up some guides you’d discover that a whole lot of players have discovered Quina is secretly the best character or something. The problem there is that Final Fantasy completionists have a very specific way of playing these games, and as the series went on the franchise began to cater to this group more and more. It probably started with FFV, to be honest.

            Nonetheless, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend last night regarding Xenoblade Chronicles, which I just completed… earlier this year? for the first time. The game gives you a wide variety of characters to choose from, but the problem is the first three members you get kind of make up the perfect party that covers all the bases. In addition, they’ll have bonded so well that they’ll already have a bunch of bonuses available that cause them to perform better in combat together. So while I tried to mix and match throughout the game, towards the end I found myself leaning on that starting trio just because they did everything I needed a party to do in the game.

      5. Fizban says:

        SkillUp recently did a review of Death’s Door, and in it he claimed the combat “lacked depth”. While watching his gameplay, I realized it wasn’t the fault of the game’s depth, but his refusal to climb above the skill floor.

        This reminds me of some let’s plays I tried to read/watch for Lost Kingdoms and Golden Sun. Sure you can get through LK with nothing but the most powerful simple single-press weapon cards, but that’s boring as hell. Sure, you can re-set all your djinn to standby every fight and Summon to insta-win every random battle in Golden Sun, but that’s making extra work for yourself and ignoring the entire class upgrade system and dozens of beautifully rendered spells.

        Golden Sun is “easy,” sure- if you know where everything is or are using a guide and are accustomed to Final Fantasy option bosses that require you to grind to max level and uncover the ultimate broken combo to win. If you want to jam the prettiest RPG combat on the GBA where you get to throw your best spells every fight (and ya know, play a JRPG), it’s great. But you’ll never see any of that if you just go “lol summons win game easy”

        And I just don’t understand how someone can play Lost Kingdoms, a game that is entirely about real-time 3d monster summoning card combat, and decide not to summon monsters. Yeah it takes a while to learn when and how to throw them for best effect and you have to stick to the elemental weaknesses, but if they didn’t do that the enemies would have to be hp sponges instead. And once you do, an independent monster used well can (not guaranteed, but can) clear out multiple foes even if they’re not nicely clustered or stunlock something way more powerful. Clearing an entire room with one card or less is how you keep your rating high.

        There is no required level of skill to do let’s plays, journalism, or whatever, but if you can’t even be bothered to try engaging with the game outside or your first reaction, you probably shouldn’t be doing either, in my opinion.

    4. Mye says:

      ? The only fight you have to do in the element temple is with Zidane/Quina. You can’t remove Zidane from your party so he shouldn’t be underlevel (iirc) and he can easily solo that boss, the easiest way would be to just make sure Zidane has his trance almost ready and he can kill the boss very quickly with it. You can also set him up with equipment that absorb earth damage and he’ll be almost invincible (auto potion can take care of the rest pretty easily if you make sure you have no normal potion in your inventory).

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Oh, I’m sure it was possible. But that doesn’t really help; the fact is losing that fight coincided with realising that I’d lost track of the plot / just plain stopped caring.

        It wasn’t so much a matter of ‘how’ to beat this fight as it was ‘why’.

  9. Chad+Miller says:

    Re: Why you don’t have an airship in XII – I know the answer is “it was damaged in the explosion over the Sandsea” but don’t remember when that’s mentioned or how you find it out. Oddly, I do know of one way you can be reminded; if you enter an Aerodome, one of the counters includes one of Balthier’s moogle crew who will say things like “Still working on those repairs, boss!”

    For what it’s worth, I think the exact stretch you mentioned is the part where a lot of people checked out of the plot. You have the huge trek to Archades, then the Draklor Laboratory (probably one of the most blatant cases of padding in the game, and it comes right after a trek through several gigantic zones where no plot happens at all), then it’s off to Giruvegan where things stop making sense. When reading Rocketeer’s thing linked a couple weeks ago it struck me that I simply didn’t even remember the plot from Giruvegan onward despite having played both the original and IZJS versions myself.

    Really, I liked the game but not for the plot; for me Final Fantasy XII was mostly about monster hunting and occasionally going back to the plot when it seemed like I was too underleveled and would go to the main quest instead (where I would still be underleveled because this game doesn’t have level scaling and seems designed under the assumption that you’re going to do all this). And in fact this recent talk of the game has gotten me to try the Zodiac Age myself; I just wrapped up Giruvegan and I can’t remember the last time I fought something that didn’t outlevel me by 5-10 levels, except when I was traipsing through a lower level area on the way to something else. (that said, it’s also true levels matter less than they might in other games; I went in the back way of the Henne mines with my level 36 party for lols and managed to beat some level 65 enemies without even having to break into the item stash. The difficulty curve in this game is weird)

    Doing a lot of sidequesting also helps break up the monotony of the infamous Archades Trek; when I hit the Mosphoran Highwaste, I was looking forward to taking on Atomos. When I hit the Salikawood and that stupid pointless sidequest of wrangling all the craftsmoogles, I was looking for the Braegh. The Phon Coast is a lot of space before the Tchita Uplands, but it’s also home to the Rare Game questgivers and a hunt board + orange crystal if you haven’t been sidequesting and decide that’s the moment you’re sick of slogging through the wilderness. Even Archades itself gives you hunts immediately before and after Draklor.

    I’m not usually the kind of person who likes games with a poor main story and more fun sidequests, but for some reason FFXII is an exception for me; it’s a monster hunting game with an immersive open world occasionally punctuated by something whatever Empire bullshit.

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    The Prey challenge I think I’m going to try is “Wrench is only usable on enemies that can’t fight back” (mimiced objects, stunned, glooed, etc). I don’t think I ever used the gloo gun for anything but platforming (in most cases either the wrench is enough to fight everything without gloo, or gloo isn’t good enough and you have to break out the real weapons) so I like the idea of a restriction that encourages its use, and it feels like it pushes the game more strongly towards resource management now that every combat encounter requires either an ambush or spending some kind of ammo. This also fits much better with the image of Morgan as a science nerd, I’ll report back on how it plays.

  11. Thomas says:

    This cutscene density metric is fascinating. Mass Effect 1’s all cutscenes video is 3.75 hours. The middle of the road game length is apparently 26.5 hours, giving you a 14% story to gameplay ratio.

    It’s funny that’s exactly the same as FFX. Obviously the experience is a little different as Mass Effect ‘cutscenes’ are actually conversations with dialogue options that gives you a chance for self expression. But I wonder if there’s a pretty basic rule of thumb for gameplay / story density in story heavy games, in the same way Hollywood scripts are 95 to 114 pages long and the Main Complication kicks in around page 30.

    If you think of it in terms of an hours session, 14% is 8 minutes of being told why you’re doing something, and 52 minutes of doing it. That feels like a pretty good balance.

    Greedfall’s cutscenes video is 8.3 hours, but includes a bit of gameplay. It’s middle road playtime is 40 hours, which works out at 21%. I find that a bit hard to believe, but it is a story heavy game.

    Uncharted 1 is around 1.5 hours of cutscenes, and a playtime of 9 hours, so a cutscene density of 17%. I’d call that ‘close enough’ to ME1 and FFX. FFXII’s story density looks abysmal in context.

    There’s a good article in this somewhere. I’m probably a bit too lazy, but I’d love to analyse a dataset of this. You could do key games by hand, but it’s not far away from being scrapable. I bet you can scrape How Long to Beat. Matching that to Youtube would be the tricky part.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Mass Effect 1’s all cutscenes video is 3.75 hours. The middle of the road game length is apparently 26.5 hours, giving you a 14% story to gameplay ratio.

      Mass Effect 1 and other open-world-ish games are odd cases because the middle of the road playthrough involves some sidequesting, but the cutscenes are concentrated on the main quest. A main quest only playthrough would have a much higher ratio and the final ratio is a product of the unpredictable amount of sidequesting the player pursues.

  12. Syal says:

    I’m sure someone offered an excuse a few cutscenes ago, but that was literally three days ago in the actual real world and the details are all fuzzy by now.

    That’s part of what makes going back to older games hard. New stuff has readily available recaps; Dragon Quest 11 opens every save with a recap of the most recent Chapter’s plot events.

    Some of the old games had hacks in the form of the Key Items menus: you could look through that and at least have a chance of reminding yourself where you’d already been. I still respect that about 2, even though it was an unwieldy mess that early. And of course linearity helps; even if FF10 didn’t tell you where to go, it’s literally a single road, you’ll figure it out in at most two attempts.

    Then there’s The Last Remnant. I couldn’t remember what quest I’d accepted, so I opened the Quest menu, but the Quest menu only shows completed quests. There’s an entire Quest menu that EXCLUSIVELY shows you what you AREN’T doing. SaGa team was insane.

    1. Karma+The+Alligator says:

      I remember playing Last Remnant. Never finished it because every time I took too long a break I was completely lost as to what I was supposed to be doing. Not sure how far I ever got, either (and Steam says I played 64 hours).

      1. Syal says:

        I’ve played 5 hours, and have gotten lost at least half a dozen times already.

        1. DeadlyDark says:

          So… Did devs make a typo in the title “Lost Remnant”?

  13. Echo Tango says:

    I find it a bit funny that Overload is the “true” spiritual successor to Descent (had some of the original devs), because it appears to be the worse, annoying game compared to the indie 6DoF game Shamus has mentioned here before, Sublevel Zero. Specifically, it doesn’t spam up the visuals with obstructive particle effects, enemies are always pretty clearly visible, and the map in the game never lets you get really lost outside of combat either. :)

  14. bobbert says:

    I have to disagree with you Shamus. The story in FFXII was so stupid, that I was grateful to not have more of it.

    The cast being 3 idiots and 3 cyphers didn’t help.

  15. Rho says:

    I am curious if the game FF12 would have worked if it used more nonlinear, hub-based world design. Its one thing to sometimes have “journey across trackless landscape” adventures, but in this case it sounds as though it might have worked better to lead the player to a hub, then let them go to nearby regions to do “plot stuff”. It creates a more focused immediate character goals, where the player knows that advancing the plot means going through the Plot Door, and they need the Three Ploy Keys to give through the door, I stead of just sticking all the zones in a big line.

    As it is, I vaguely recall the game just meandered through open areas, but ones which basically formed a linear chain. And I suppose that FF13 had the same problem. Interestingly, FF14, as an actual MMO, avoided many of these problems.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      As it is, I vaguely recall the game just meandered through open areas, but ones which basically formed a linear chain.

      I strongly suspect you’re getting FFX and FFXII mixed up or something. FFXII’s regions often linked together in surprising ways, to the extent that there is some blunt railroading in the form of barriers to keep you from wandering into places you aren’t supposed to go yet. There’s even one boss where a popular strategy is to sequence break around it by running through a different zone with much higher level monsters (but which aren’t mandatory to fight)

      1. Rho says:

        Although I can be wrong as much as the next guy, this doesn’t seem to be one of those times. I recognize that sequence-breaking is possible in FF12, but the intended experience seems to be very linear. Sequence breaking that you need a guide to do, or which is only for handful of extreme players, doesn’t feel like part of the basic design. Or didn’t when I played.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          If you’re talking about just the main plot…well, it kinda depends on how we’re defining “linear”. If you mean that the first plot point is at X, the next is at Y, etc, then I guess that’s linear but I get the feeling you were using a more specific definition than that. And if we’re going by just about any other definition, it’s definitely not true. It’s especially not like FFX or FFXIII where your physical travel basically amounts to running down a long tunnel.

          The “plot path” loops back to earlier locations, moves off in different directions, etc constantly. There’s a fast travel system in the game, for which you can easily pick up three travel points before even gaining your second party member, and you’ll need it. Yes, you could just always walk directly toward the next plot point all the time, but you could also do that in Skyrim.

          That particular sequence break I mentioned wasn’t to point out that this kind of thing is common (it’s not), but that “unrelated map areas being interconnected, sometimes in surprising ways” is common, constant even. Zertinan Caverns is an optional dungeon that bridges both Sandseas, Ozmone Plain, and the Dalmasca Westersand. Someone doing all the sidequests in the early game may wander a bit and discover that they found an alternate route into the Giza Plains and rejoined the plot by accident. Which brings me to one very important point this game has that the X and XIII lack: The monster hunting sidequest starts at the beginning of the game, and not after the endgame’s already started. It even requires you do the first hunt before starting the plot proper just so you’ll know it’s there. You don’t have a quest log like a lot of modern games, but at the same time you’ll practically always have a checklist of other things to do and places to go.

          It’s true that the game throttles the hunts so that when you first get to an area, you’ll usually (though not always) get there for plot reasons. But if you do these clearly-marked sidequests throughout the game, you’ll constantly find yourself exploring nooks and crannies of old areas or even visiting altogether new areas that you otherwise wouldn’t have had any specific reason to bother with.

          Final Fantasy XII is a game where you may find yourself in the Barheim Passage, which is one of the first dungeons in the game but also one that holds sidequests appropriate for characters in the mid-30’s. Maybe you picked up on one NPC’s hints that there’s an esper there, or maybe you got the Bloodwing hunt and decided to see how far the rabbit hole goes. You find yourself in a relatively tough boss battle, but you pull through, claiming you new summoned monster and opening a mysterious door. Then you hear some familiar music and find out that you’ve pressed all the way into the sewers under the first city, somehow. And the monsters are still level 38, and you probably haven’t done everything there is to do there, either!

          I think that last part speaks to one of the things that most fascinates me about this game: It’s constantly taunting you with things you can’t do yet. Nearly every single dungeon in the game has back areas with monsters you’re clearly not supposed to fight the first time around. This even includes endgame dungeons, ridiculous as it sounds. In a way this game presents arguments both for and against level scaling; on the one hand, I can understand why some people don’t like the feeling of not knowing where they’ll be able to go at any given time until they level up further. You spend much of the game in a mode of “technically you can go anywhere, but only about three or four places will actually be an appropriate challenge right now.” But on the other hand…a lot of people who like this game like the feeling of seeing challenges and thinking “I’ll have to come back when I’m ready.” People like this speak fondly of the random T-Rex in the Dalmasca Estersand, that seems to exist solely for the purpose of saying “No, you can’t just attack everything. Watch yourself.”

          The journey to Arcades doesn’t have much in the way of diversions unless you’re teleporting back to civilization once in awhile, but that’s precisely why it’s so infamous; people hate it so much because it’s atypical. If you don’t like that that open world usually feels like a series of impassable walls, with only 2 or 3 things being reasonable, and only one of them marked on your map, then I won’t argue with that. But that’s not the same as not being an open world at all.

          1. Rho says:

            Might be too late to respond, but here goes:

            I understand where you’re coming from but that’s not my point. I’m not arguing about the map itself; I am making an argument about the way the games used the map. Changes could have been done, but there was a golden opportunity to change the default concept of how FF creates and directs gameplay. The story doesn’t need to be that linear.

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              I guess I understand where you’re coming from better now. I suppose what confused me is that, if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, this isn’t specific to this game or even to Final Fantasy but to almost all games. I mean, if you’re saying that the open world wasn’t used to tell the main plot which is linear underneath, sure. But even most open-world games work that way and FFXII is one of the least linear Final Fantasies by this metric.

  16. RamblePak64 says:

    FFX is not a 70-some hour game. HowLongToBeat is somewhat reliable, but with JRPG’s I always find its estimates and averages suspect. FFX is more of a 40-50 hour game if you’re doing some side quests but not a completionist run. All that extra time comes from completionists.

    I have nothing of substance to otherwise add. I just saw that number and knew it was not representative of the average experience.

    1. Shamus says:

      I plowed through 75% of the story on Saturday, so yeah. If anything, I undersold how short FFX is.

      Now, maybe some people will claim I went through the game so fast because I was using Cheat Engine. But the truth is that CE actually slowed me down. The Blitzball game is only a few minutes long, but it took me an hour to get through because I was dicking around with the AI and stats. When an encounter would start, I’d jump over to CE and spend several minutes rummaging around in memory, looking for the players in question. (B-Ball is turn based, so the players were happy to tread water endlessly while I did this.) Then there was the long period of time I spent mapping out all the different item IDs, or the time I spent figuring out how the crafting system worked.

      Yet despite sinking all that time into CE, I got to the endgame of FFX (just left Zanarkand) in a single weekend. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my FFXII game for a couple of weeks now.

      1. bobbert says:

        I would love to see this added to your FFX series.

        “FFX retrospective: Appendix 2: memory management.”

    2. tmtvl says:

      When I see “FFX” and “completionist” in close proximity I always remember the one and only time in my life I got frustrated enough with a game to cause damage to my controller.
      Chocobo balloon race 0 seconds.

      I don’t care how good the FFX combat is, I will never play that game again, because the memory alone is enough to put me on edge.

      1. galacticplumber says:

        If you play on PC and are okay with mods we now have a thing to make the race timer always zero. Now if only there were a similar tool for the fucking lightning bolts.

        1. bobbert says:

          My solution to all the weirdness was just to use Yuna exclusively after the last swimming segment.

          Mulching everything with max-damage Yuna quick-attacks is also hilarious.

  17. Christopher says:

    Ico and Shadow of the Colossus’ minimalist stories hit people pretty differently, I think. For some it’s like this interesting mystery open to interpretation, but to my eyes they’re mostly “art games” in terms of like, visual art specifically. Someone who’s really good at animation decided they wanted to make a video game, and kept the parts they’re not so good at to a minimum. That’s smart on behalf of the creators, but it’s always struck me at least as shallow rather than deep.

    That’s not to say they’re bad or anything, I particularly love Shadow of the Colossus myself, but to me it’s a good atmosphere to soak in and filled with constant impressice setpieces with giant monsters, not so much anything interesting as a narrative or whatever. I’d say the same about other cinematic platformer-like games like Limbo or Inside – There probably wasn’t a deeper meaning or big narrative behind anything in Limbo, someone just wanted to have a big scary spider in a striking black and white art style. SotC and some other titles like Journey have a more defined story than those, but there really isn’t much going on there.

    Again, not a bad thing, it’s just strange to me that minimalism and vagueness means “art” to so many players.

    1. Provisional Username says:

      I don’t think it is “minimalism and vagueness” but rather a focus on the core of one’s work. If your creation is going to say something (either concrete or abstract), drilling down towards it until you hit gold will almost always create a better result than being a servant to convention and trends — if only because in the former case, at least one person will have a understanding of what is being said (i.e., you).

      All these games (SotC/ICO/Journey/Limbo/Inside) had something to say, and by rejecting all that could have stood in the path of their message, they were able to say it loud and clear. Many other games that I play, the ones that are bursting to the seams with mechanics and systems and plot points and characters — I doubt if even the creators of those games can agree on what they are trying to say, or if their game even has a single unified core.

      When someone says something is art, I feel that what they are trying to say is that it is meaningful. And as any good teacher will attest to, you need a distraction-free environment in order to extract meaning and reach understanding.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        For real. It’s like when GTA IV wants to give a message about the horrors of war and how they can break a man, making him traumatized at the lives he’s taken but then he has him willy-nilly gun down a hundred guys and run over three dozen pedestrians on the way to rob a store on a mission for a drug lord.

        A game like SotC, in contrast, only has the exact amount of gameplay needed to make its point. It doesn’t have non-boss combat against aggressive enemies, it doesn’t have a money system that allows you to purchase bigger weapons and cooler armor. It doesn’t have an evil final boss that betrayed you and makes you satisfied at beating him. Combat is shown as a difficult, harsh means to an end, and your “reward” for it is the realization that you have to keep going at it despite being less and less sure about being the right guy because now you’re too far to give up.

        I understand people not liking a game like SotC and loving GTAIV. Coming purely from a satisfying gameplay perspective, the latter is clearly the superior one. But if we’re looking at the overall package, how every piece fits with each other, how successful they are with the message they’re trying to give and how it affects you after the experience is over, the former cannot be beaten.

  18. Karma+The+Alligator says:

    Funny thing is, I like the first half of FF12. The open world is nice and the story is pretty well paced, and the RNG isn’t too much of a problem (talking about treasure chests here). But after the halfway point (when you need to go to the empire, basically) everything feels bloated: the areas are too big and they usually have a stupid gimmick to them (same for the bosses who start getting invincibility periods because fuck you players who play in small sessions), and the game becomes more of a chore to play (not even counting all the stuff that you need a guide for, because there’s no way you’re going to figure out that stuff on your own). It’s the only FF I have such a love-hate relationship with.

    But yeah, FF12 is absolutely more bloated than 10.

  19. Dreadjaws says:

    the dialog scenes are fewer and father between

    Oh, no, family problems!

    I found it’s over-reliance of particle effects, post-processing, debris and numerous other graphical knick-knacks very irritating.

    I had this exact same issue with Arkham Knight. Their insistence in constantly showering the screen with all kinds of stuff made it all look like a messy blob of undistinguishable shapes. It looks nice in pictures, but in movement it’s maddening. This gets worse if you play the DLC with Mr. Freeze, since after you engage with his mission the entire city is forever covered in constant hail, unless you start a new save.

    I’ll take this opportunity to yet again recommend you never, ever play Final Fantasy XIII unless you’re deliberately looking to get angry.

    Man, I have to say, I’ve had a lousy experience with Prey in the last couple of weeks. The game itself is not the problem, but the technical issues are killing me. On the one side, the game outright refuses to work at anything better than below-30 fps, which is something that hadn’t happened to me in over a decade. I have many games from the same time and later that work much better with higher settings. Even those who ocasionally drop below 30 don’t do it constantly. I really have no idea what to do to make this game work better on my PC. And it drives me insane that I know for a fact it worked perfectly in my older setup years ago.

    Then there’s the issue of motion sickness. This game affects me as bad as Half-Life 2 did, which means I cannot play it for more than 10-15 minutes without feeling sick. I found a FOV slider mod which I have yet to try, but historically these things don’t really change my experience all that much. All of this is an issue, because I really wanted to finish a playthrough before reading your series, but I don’t think I’ll be able to.

    1. Duoae says:

      I- what? Isn’t there an FOV slider in the game anyway? You want to go very far over 100?

      I have to check this because I’m really certain there were loads of options pertaining to head bob and fov…. I feel like my memory is slipping as i literally just installed the game and played it this weekend and i got slightly annoyed because i had to adjust all the preference settings in Mooncrash too.

      The game performance is really weird too. It holds 75 fps easily at 1080p on my system with the CPU and GPU at around 20%/50% utilisation (granted my parts are pretty new so not old) but i don’t think the game is…. wait, did you accidently enable the performance cap/target with resolution scaling? By default it’s set at 30fps…

      Which version of Prey are you playing?

      1. Duoae says:

        Here, I went back after I got home from work and checked I wasn’t going crazy:


        Had to post again because my post was marked as spam…

  20. Paul Spooner says:

    Isn’t Prey: Mooncrash a kind of randomizer-run centered experience? I mean, it doesn’t really answer the question to say “play this other game that does it better” but it seems close enough to be a valid solution. What are the difficulty options like there? And is there a randomizer mod that would get you close? It’s kinda weird to talk about changing the difficulty with mods though too. What are the limits to the scope of the question?

    1. Duoae says:

      Mooncrash is less expansive, though. I can understand why the randomisation there would be more satisfying in the main game because it’s really quite a small area.

    2. RFS-81 says:

      I was wondering the same thing, but I’ve only got started with Mooncrash myself. There’s also a randomizer for the base game (which I haven’t tried).

  21. TLN says:

    A couple of weeks playing FFXII? I’ll do you one better: I bought it for PS2 on release in 2006 and played ~80% of it, then I moved away from home and left the PS2 with my brothers and promptly forgot about the game until I picked it up again and finished it about a decade later.

    1. raifield says:

      My sister played FFXII probably 95% of the way through: all hunts completed and one final battle before the game would end. She found out that she missed some sort of special spear because she didn’t follow an arcane set of requirements dozens of hours earlier and promptly refused to play any further.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        So, just as an offhand remark for anyone thinking of playing this game: this particular atrocity has been patched out of all rereleases of the game, which means that if you’re somehow thinking about picking it up now, play one of the Zodiac versions and forget about it.

        Anyway; your description actually undersells how bad it is. The reason I’m pretty sure I know exactly what you’re talking about is because the Zodiac Spear is infamous for being near-trivial to get if you know about it before you start the game and near-impossible if you don’t. It’s not just that the requirements are esoteric and counterintiutive; it’s that they’re arbitrary and actively punish you for playing the game normally. Even people who like the game figure that the only reasonable explanations for it were “Square wanted to sell strategy guides” or “Akitoshi Kawazu is a troll”

        See, the Necrohol of Nabudis Shamus mentioned is actually where the spear is located, and you can pretty much just stroll in and open the chest where it’s contained provided you can kill or avoid a handful of enemies on the way to it. The problem is, it’s only there if you didn’t open one of four chests earlier in the game.

        These chests are not marked in any way. They’re not part of a quest. There is no story justification whatsoever for them to be connected to this rando chest. When you open them there’s no indication that you just set some global event flag that ruins a different treasure drop. They’re just regular chests, out in the world, like all the others that you are supposed to be opening for loot. The locations of these four chests are:

        * One sitting outside Old Dalan’s place. Old Dalan is a plot-critical NPC in the earliest stages of the game. There are cutscenes that will end with the main character facing this chest.

        * One sequence has the old trope of “entire party is captured, loses all equipment, has to get it back.” The room where you get your stuff back contains one of the forbidden chests.

        * One of the forbidden chests is in the basement of the palace. This is part of a mandatory quest which is literally “steal stuff from the palace”.

        * The Phon Coast settlement has a sidequest about hunting rare game. The guy who introduces the quest to you tells you to go to a specific beach and marks pretty much the only time the game tells you how to find a rare monster. He has you travel to a beach and spawn a rare turtle. The turtle spawns near a group of 16 treasure chests. One of the forbidden chests is in this group (to my knowledge no one has ever conclusively proven which one; the standard advice was to either pick up the spear before ever coming here, or skip the entire load)

        It’s not just that the requirements were esoteric, it’s that the game actively sets you up for failure and the “solution” isn’t even satisfying on any level. It’s almost like it’s preorder DLC except no one actually got paid for it.

        EDIT: I just remembered another horrible detail! There is an accessory in the game with the effect “get better loot from treasure chests”. If you’re wearing this when opening the Zodiac Spear’s chest, it’s replaced with something worse. Well trolled, Kawazu.

        1. Mr. Wolf says:

          Reminds me of Eltonbrand, an easter egg in Morrowind. Many argue it’s the best sword in the game, since it has the best stats. I argue it’s the best sword not in the game, since the requirements to get it are so esoteric that you’ve essentially stopped playing.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            Nice, I’ve never heard of that one! And hearing it called an “Easter Egg” just shook something loose in my brain, something that I’m now mulling over about the psychology of things like this.

            See, I can believe that most people consider that Morrowind sword a cute joke, and wouldn’t feel bad for ignoring it. The thing about the Zodiac Spear is that I’ve never heard anyone defend it and many people actually get mad about it (like raifield’s sister above). See, Final Fantasy’s fanbase doesn’t consider the Zodiac Spear an Easter Egg. They consider it a dick move. I don’t follow the right circles to know for sure how Japanese people reacted, but the IZJS release was Japanese-only and also the first release to patch it, so I imagine they weren’t very keen to it either.

            The extra weird part is that near impossible to find, missable items are no stranger to the series. Final Fantasy VI made you choose between the strongest spell in the game vs. the strongest sword in the game, unless you knew that the spell could also be learned by equipping the Cursed Shield and fighting 255 battles with it giving you every negative status in the game the whole time, when nothing in the game tells you any of this is possible. Final Fantasy VII made it really easy to miss out on multiple ultimate weapons and limit breaks (something made only worse now that achievements exist…did you know both things exist even for a character who dies before the halfway point of the game?) People complain about some stuff in X but…I get the feeling most of those are complaints about “this is tedious to actually get” more than “this is something you wouldn’t know about.” People aren’t mad because the ultimate weapon methods are esoteric, they get mad because they hate blitzball or dodging lightning bolts or catching butterflies.

            Hell, even Final Fantasy XII itself has the Tournesol, a weapon that can only be picked up in the Bazaar. The Bazaar is kind of like a funky crafting system with a quirk that makes it basically a game design abomination, particularly because of a glitch that famously means that getting some of the best unlocks basically requires keeping a spreadsheet. I’m not going to explain the whole thing this time, but have an excerpt from the Wiki:

            When items are sold at the Bazaar, the game remembers how many items have been sold at any point of the game. While the items can be sold whenever, when any item is purchased at the Bazaar using a certain ingredient, the number of said items in stock drops to zero. Therefore, if there are two items that both use, say, two Bone Fragments to make, and the player has sold six Bone Fragments to the Bazaar when one of the items is purchased, the number of Bone Fragments in the Bazaar’s “memory” drops to zero, meaning the player will need to farm more Bone Fragments for the second item requiring that ingredient.

            This means that, say, there’s a magic stone that can be used to get a one-time potion or an ultimate weapon, and you get 10 of them and naively sell them all off at once because no one would even imagine the above nonsense would happen without reading a guide, and so you accidentally get yourself just a potion because you accidentally sold off your mats for the ultimate weapon. Now imagine that there are multiple tiers of unlocks which means that you actually have to sell the magic stones in the right order to get the mats to sell to get the ultimate weapon. That’s basically what the Tournesol is.

            And hardly anyone minds! The same people whose blood boils at that Zodiac Spear thing mostly just take all this in stride!

            I have some guesses as to why this may be, but they’re just guesses. Is it because the Tournesol thing at least sorta kinda has an in-universe justification while the Zodiac Spear is just nakedly “don’t trip any of these event flags”? Is it because the Spear starts in the game and gets taken away, so the entitlement effect kicks in, while the Tournesol doesn’t “exist” unless you craft it? Is it because the Zodiac Spear got all the press because, perversely, it’s the easier one to get? I mean, the ways to farm extra materials for the Tournesol certainly aren’t any less insane.

            It’s a curious thing.

            1. tmtvl says:

              FFVIII Obel Lake Sidequest.
              Speaking of guide dang it, of course.

  22. SoldierHawk says:

    Oh man. PeterEliot. What a nostalgia bomb for me.

    I did a LOT of lurking on various GAMEFAQ boards when I was younger (I was deeply, DEEPLY into following the “search for the 13th Colossus” as it was ongoing, and have such fond memories of, if not a 13th Colossus, the discovery of Pikol’s Big Secret <3).

    But PeterEliot. Man. That man, and that series on Ico, is what taught me about game criticism. It's how I learned that games can be art. I wish there was some way of finding Peter after all these years to say thank you, but he vanished from the boards not too long after SotC. What a brilliant and insightful writer, though; I owe him so much. In no small part for the reason I decided to get an English degree instead of something useful. (And I wouldn't trade that.)

    Thank you, Peter, wherever you are.

    1. Provisional Username says:

      Wait, are you LadyHawke from GameFAQ forums?

      After I found “Talking ICO”, I tried to see if PeterEliot had written something similar about SotC, and I found some messages by a user called LadyHawke. I wondered if it could be you, but you didn’t have anything Team ICO related on your Youtube, so I thought not.

      Anyway, you might be interested to know that I compiled the incomplete “My Musings” thread by Peter (which has long been lost) in a single document shared here on Reddit. I hope you like it.

      If you are indeed LadyHawke, do you know if “My Musings” was even finished? I found some messages by Peter saying that they were going to post the ending, but didn’t found if they actually ever did so. I wonder what happened to them.


      1. Soldierhawk says:

        HAH! Holy crap. That was me once upon a very long time ago, well before I joined the Army,

        But no, sadly, as far as I know Peter never finished his My Musings. What you have in that link is what exists. All I know in terms of Peter is what was on the boards back in the day–he was (I mean, he IS) Korean, and stopped posting much due to having to do his required military service time. I THINK he may have mentioned finishing it at some point, but that was a long time ago and I don’t remember. Either way, he just kind of slipped away shortly after that. I hope he’s well, and that he just simply had other things to do with his life at that point. I really hope he ended up writing; he was so good.

        Jacob Geller did a retrospective on Peter’s stuff a while back; he tried to find him to contact him, without any luck. It’s worth watching if only to hear NOAH CALDWELL-GERVAIS read the words of PeterEliot. (I don’t know that that means anything to you specifically, but it was an incredible moment for me because Peter and Noah are like the Alpha and the Omega of my understanding of game criticism and what it can be. Hearing Noah read his words was like…the weirdest and most incredible bit of frission I never would have imagined.)

        Anyway, link if you’re curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr6pA15xuFc

        1. Provisional Username says:

          Now this is getting to be creepy :) It was Jacob Geller’s videos on Ueda’s architecture and the search for 17th colossus that inspired me to play the games, and the video you shared above clued me on to “Talking ICO” in the first place.

          Strange how so many paths ended up converging across space and time. Internet is weird.

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