Electron Dance
28Oct/10Off

Enough Penance

I'm greeted with a sequence of inane click-through dialogue. Click, click, click. More dialogue. Jesus H, when does this game get its war on? Aha. Game. At last. More clicky-clicky text explaining what I have to do. Oh my God, I've known open veins to drain more quickly. Alright, I'm done with the tutorial, level me u-- fuck, more back story?

I closed the game and metaphorically threw it away using metaphorical hands over a metaphorical cliff. And I shot it in the head. Thanks RPS, but no thanks.

But within days I discover that Recettear is hailed as one of the top PC gaming experiences of the year. Others see charm and have fun, but I got snagged in barbed-wire fences of JRPG text. Putting aside the "i don't like the art style" "oh you fuckwit filistine you dont like colour with a u, play gears of brown bore why dont you" so-called arguments, the game had blown its chance with me. We weren't compatible. I'm not going to bother with a second game, it's off the list. Time is precious: as I write this, I haven't had any decent gaming time in three weeks.

So I'm left adrift, an unlovable blip in statistical homogeneity. It's a strange moment when you feel detached from the majority opinion that is usually yours to share. Some gamers go down the Emperor's New Clothes route, ranting the world has been fooled, the wool has been knitted over everyone's eyes - this game is shit, people. I saw enough of that when researching Punchbag. I saw enough to turn my eyes inward and dock with my pre-frontal cortex.

Of course, when I expressed my loneliness at not making a connection with Recettear, I was immediately mistaken for one of the New Clothes brigade. Gaming communities are a funny thing. There's a lot of soul searching recently over what it means to be a gamer, which both Punchbag and Schutzmannschaft played into. Why does gamer love so easily turn to gamer hate? Okay... wandering off topic here.

This isn't the only time I've been an outsider. I articulated my problems with World In Conflict previously and nothing has changed since then. WiC was applauded for being dang fun, not just for having an Alec Baldwin voice-over and SPLOSIONS IN SMOKY TECHNICOLOUR (with a U). Why was I left behind? Let me in, I want to play too!

And The Longest Journey. This is another one of those games that's paraded as the point and click adventure you need to play if you like your game stories with emotional depth, thoughtful characterisation and intelligent plotting. And you know, it is all those things. TLJ is a nice piece of work with epic scope, laced with unexpected twists.

The protagonist, April Ryan, is a child of the Buffy generation, but more authentic: unlike the player, she refuses to believe what's happening to her until unreality hems her in, leaving her with no option but to believe. She reminds me a little of Veronica Mars, who always appears to be in control except when confronted with actual, real danger.

But for all that, the game still left me cold. I'd bought into the hype but somehow missed out on the dividends. After all this time, I don't really understand why TLJ kept me at a distance. It isn't archaic low-res graphics, because Planescape: Torment gripped me five years ago and even wrung a tear from my staid features.

I have a morbid fascination with TLJ reviews just to see if there's anyone else out there who was similarly unmoved. I have standards, though. Reviews have to avoid using the wordette "emo". Whenever some guy uses that to describe something (ooh, I don't know, like TWILIGHT for instance) I just want to pistol-whip his thighs and Chinese burn his soul. That's how mad it makes me. Grr.


And then I read Lewis Denby's review on BeefJack and had an epiphany. This thing I have with TLJ reviews... it's guilt. Maybe it's my fault that I haven't appreciated these games, worthy of praise and respect. Maybe I am the problem. Maybe I need to be fixed. Perhaps it's the writer in me; once you start writing fiction seriously, you begin to see the cogs in other people's work and it kills a little of that carry-you-away magic. All critic and no soul.

But sometimes you've done enough penance to move on. Like that girl whose heart you tore out ten years ago, a moment you've replayed over and over again in your head: the sound of her tears spattering on your jacket as she tried to deny your decision. It simply doesn't matter any more: water under the bridge.

April Ryan. I'm not going to feel bad about you any more. I am moving on.

Enough PenanceI'm greeted with a sequence of inane click-through dialogue. Click, click, click. More dialogue. Jesus H, when does this game get its war on? Aha. Game. At last. More clicky-clicky text explaining what I have to do. Oh my God, I've known open veins to drain more quickly. Alright, I'm done with the tutorial, level me u-- fuck, more backstory?

I closed the game and metaphorically threw it away using metaphorical hands over a metaphorical cliff. And I shot it in the head. Thanks RPS, but no thanks.

But within days I discover that Recettear is hailed as one of the top PC gaming experiences of the year. Others see charm and have fun, but I got snagged in barbed-wire fences of JRPG text. Putting aside the "i don't like the art style" "oh you fuckwit filistine you dont like colour with a u, play gears of brown bore why dont you" so-called arguments, the game had blown its chance with me. We weren't compatible. I can't play a second game. As I write this, I haven't spent any decent time on games in three weeks.

So I'm left adrift, an unloveable blip in statistical homeogeneity. It's a strange moment when you feel detached from the majority opinion that is usually yours to share. Some gamers go down the Emperor's New Clothes route, ranting the world has been fooled, the wool has been knitted over their eyes - this game is shit, people. I saw enough of that when researching Punchbag. I saw enough to turn my eyes inward and dock with my prefrontal cortex.

Of course, when I expressed my loneliness at not making a connection with Recettear, I was immediately mistaken for one the New Clothes brigade [http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/09/01/recettear-steam-profit/comment-page-1/#comment-501905]. Gaming communities are a funny thing. There's a lot of soul searching recently over what it means to be a gamer, which both Punchbag and Schutzmannschaft played into. Why does gamer love so easily turn to gamer hate? Whoa, wandering off topic here.

This isn't the only time I've been an outsider. I articulated my problems with World In Conflict previously and nothing has changed since then. [http://www.electrondance.com/?p=341] WiC was applauded for being a dang fun, not just for having an Alec Baldwin voiceover and SPLOSIONS IN SMOKY TECHNICOLOUR (with a U). Why was I left behind? Let me in, I want to play too!

And The Longest Journey. This is another one of those games that's paraded as the point and click adventure you need to play if you like your game stories with emotional depth, thoughtful characterisation and intelligent plotting. And you know, it is all those things. TLJ is a nice piece of work with epic scope, laced with unexpected twists.

The protagonist, April Ryan, is a child of the Buffy generation, but more authentic: unlike the player, she refuses to believe what's happening to her until unreality hems her in, leaving her with no option but to believe. She reminds me a little of Veronica Mars, who always appears to be in control except when confronted with actual, real danger. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC9kUx0LRFQ]

But for all that, the game still left me cold. I'd bought into the hype but somehow I missed out on the dividends. After all this time, I don't really understand why TLJ kept me at a distance. It isn't archaic graphics, because Planescape: Torment gripped me five years ago and even wrung a tear from my staid features.

I have a morbid fascination with TLJ reviews just to see if there's anyone else out there who was similarly unmoved. I have standards, though. Reviews have to avoid using the wordette "emo". Whenever some guy uses that to describe something (like TWILIGHT for instance) I just want to pistol-whip his thighs and Chinese burn his soul. That's how mad it makes me. Grr.

It wasn't until I read Lewis Denby's review on BeefJack that it suddenly hit me. This thing I have with TLJ reviews... it's guilt. Maybe it's my fault that I haven't appreciated these games, worthy of praise and respect. Maybe I am the problem. Maybe I need to be fixed. Perhaps it's the fault of the writer in me; once you start writing fiction, you begin to see the cogs in other people's work and it kills a little of that carry-you-away magic. All critic and no heart.

But sometimes you've done enough penance to move on. Like that girl whose heart you tore out ten years ago, replaying over and over again the sound of her tears spattering on your jacket, your name screamed in the middle of the street as you walk away. It simply doesn't matter any more: water under the bridge.

April Ryan. I'm not going to feel bad about you any more. I am moving on.

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  1. Both Recettear and TLJ are games I really enjoyed. But I can see how they aren’t for everybody. I don’t know if a game exists that all gamers will approve.

    Did you ever play Princess Maker 2? It’s not exactly like Recettear, but the two games remind me of each other a lot, though PM2 doesn’t have all the story/dialogue. Strange but real fun sim game.

  2. Doesn’t everyone love World of Goo? Maybe not.

    Never played Princess Maker 2, but the Wikipedia page on it was revealing.

  3. I didn’t really enjoy Recettear, The Longest Journey, or World of Goo! Lately I find myself agreeing with the critical consensus less and less. I probably hate videogames.

    Recettear constantly reminded me of Rune Factory Frontier (a game that I love to death), and was perhaps poorly served by the comparison. All the while I was managing my shop I couldn’t help but think about how much I’d rather be harvesting eggplants and making strawberry jam.

    I was never able to get more than 10 minutes into the Longest Journey, mostly because the voice acting and dialogue were just not working for me. Perhaps I’ll try it again someday, but I’m not so sure . I’d be curious to know whether you’ve played Photopia? It’s interactive fiction, but my mind nevertheless sorts it into the same “narrative adventure” basket as TLJ.

  4. It seems to be the ‘I don’t get along with the general consensus’ week. TLJ… I wanted to like it but felt that, much like Enslaved right now, I would have preferred a film rather than a game.

    And that thread in RPS, ouch. I was once rebuffed in there but I was totally asking for it on the account of me missing out a word (and in the process of slagging a regular off for using incorrect grammar).

  5. @Prettiest Boy: You’re probably well on your way to being snubbed as a “hater”. Rune Factory Frontier, another Japanese game I never heard of. Farming + dungeons! This is not a cross-over genre I would have suspected could be fun.

    I have played through Photopia which demonstrated some very clever writing but for me it was largely game-less. I’d drop it in the category of art game as there wasn’t much to do except jump through the hoops. I’m keeping Photopia safe for another run at my earlier Anti Games piece.

    @Badger Commander: Interesting to hear from you that Enslaved does feel like a movie as I feared back during the Eurogamer Expo. In TLJ’s defence, I would say there were quite a lot of puzzles in TLJ, some were interesting, but others were just crazy irrational. Oh and RPS comment threads can get a bit dangerous these days. Best to avoid any discussions to do with piracy, MineCraft, DRM, sexism, racism, gayism, ismism, L4D2, Arcen Games’ finances or PC games.

  6. It’s just that time of year, HM.*

    *I am not aware of when this time begins or ends.

  7. @HM: Rune Factory Frontier is wonderful and everyone should play it.

    Certainly there is not a lot going on mechanically in Photopia, but I’d argue that it wouldn’t be nearly so affecting as it is without its (limited) interactivity. The maze escape sequence towards the middle is easily my favorite puzzle in games, but it simply wouldn’t work were it was presented as unbroken text on a page. Something about the player’s perceived influence over the story, however illusory it may be, is key to the experience that game provides.

    @Badger Commander: I had much the same feeling about Enslaved. The acting and animation were fantastic, but the mechanical bits and pieces felt hollow. I may just end up watching someone play it on youtube.

  8. @BeamSplashX: Probably the duration of your birthday, Mr. 22!

    @Prettiest Boy: I’m still wrestling with Photopia. I’m way too analytical of these things and it spoils them for me. I just couldn’t sit back and let it wash over me, so sometimes I think I’m the party pooper. OH GOD. I’M FEELING GUILTY AGAIN.

  9. Great stuff HM. I felt exactly the same after losing 46 hours to GTA IV: is it just me or has the gaming press got it spectacularly wrong? Is GTA IV really a 98/100 game? Really? REALLY?! Of course it’s not but I’ll be damned if the press wasn’t blinkered by GTA IV’s production values and heritage.

    The moment I finished GTA IV I scoured the internet like a deranged scourer for one bad review and after a long time searching I found Tap-Repeatedly and Steerpike’s review of it. That was soothing.

    Oh and I’m glad you brought up your er, ‘tussle’, with regular Dominic White because if you hadn’t I certainly would have. One of the reasons why I get turned off by a lot of JRPGs is their incessant need to bombard me with (in most cases) dull and ultimately baggy dialogue. GET ON WITH IT! “My life has been enhanced this day.” also enhanced my day.

    Some of the hostility in the Recettear WIT comments section was unbelievable though. It was as if there were a load of people on there who truly believed that if you don’t like that sugary cutesy Japanese aesthetic then your favourite colour was Quake brown. Get a grip people, I love Katamari Damacy and Gitaroo Man!

    It’s funny that a few people here have mentioned Enslaved. I’ve played the demo through about 6 times (by accident) and it’s a shining example of style over substance. The combat seems fun but the jumping/platforming is… well, it isn’t. It’s just mashing the X button to connect to the next bit. You can’t even fall off the edge! It looks and sounds great; the animation is fluid, the models are detailed, the expressions are fantastic, as is the acting, but the lip syncing looks a bit off, especially after playing Uncharted 2. Even after playing Half-Life 2 which is 6 years old…

    “I don’t know if a game exists that all gamers will approve.”

    I think the closest we’ve seen so far is Portal. I know a few people who don’t like World of Goo unfortunately. I’d un-know them if I could.

  10. Gregg! Although I have GTA IV on standby, it will take some effort to spin it up. GTA San Andreas was the end of our (Mrs. HM and I) GTA love affair and your words have given me the impetus to actually write about this soon. There’s so little said against GTA in the gaming field and San Andreas was seen as a – making a note here – huge success.

    Also, Gregg, I found it odd that some people just wouldn’t play the Recettear because of the style. It was like opposing religious fundamentalists fighting it out over Nothing of Consequence: god, that terrible JRPG anime style has wilted my wood! oi, there’s no shame in colour, you flipping racist! FIGHT. The team with the best multi-button combo move wins.

    I thought it might be UNpossible to dislike (ooh double negative) World of Goo, but Prettiest Boy On The Planet revealed his not-enjoying-WoG secret in this very comment thread. I expect the two of you to duel. But best take the fight to a place it would be better suited like, er, RPS.

  11. Portal is one of those games that I felt bad for not liking more. I certainly liked it and appreciated it but never put the hours in to finish it.

    I do not like the last 4 GTA installments and wrote an incredibly angry rant about GTA IV in particular a long, long time ago. I can’t even bring myself to read it again.

    Enslaved is a really sad prospect, it is beautifully realised but barely a game. I would have preferred it if they made a film. To think that most of these guys made Kung Fu Chaos.

  12. Hehe, this post and these comments have revealed to me that I probably have exactly the opposite taste in video games as ALL OF YOU.

  13. I didn’t dislike World of Goo, I just would have preferred for it to have spent more time with each of its variants. That game has a bunch of wonderful ideas, but most of the time I felt like I was being rushed from mechanic to mechanic.

    @Switchbreak Didn’t you say at some point that you liked Devil May Cry 3? I think that game is pretty rad.


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