Heavenly Sword reminded me what games can be

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So, I picked up a copy of Heavenly Sword super cheap yesterday (nine dollars!) and what did I find? I found a game that, despite being almost 4 years old, offers a better experience than most games released in the past couple of years. I also noticed some things I feel are lacking from most titles these days. The characters are memorable and colorful, the visuals are fantastic, the score is beautiful and powerful, and the pacing feels just right. The gameplay isn’t the most awesome thing in the world, but once you understand it, it’s actually quite fun. Playing through this game has caused me to rethink what I should expect from voice acting performances in games and not only that, but what I should expect from developers when it comes to creating believable, memorable characters. To me, this game is a complete package. Lately I have been getting the strange feeling that characters are getting recycled and I just can’t relate to most of the lead protagonists in a lot of current generation games. I feel like I’ve forgotten exactly why I enjoyed playing games in the first place and Heavenly Sword actually reminded me. It’s just a breath of fresh air in this stuffy box full gruff, stubbly, sarcastic tough guys who frequently walk away from explosions with their backs turned in slow motion. I know that sounds like a dreamy box to be in, but it gets old quick, trust me. Stubbly tough guys only want one thing.

Anyway, what was I talking about…? Oh right. I want to talk a little about what I mean when I say characters are being recycled. It takes me out of the game when I hear Desmond Miles saying some of the exact kinds of things that Nathan Drake would say in Uncharted. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they both just happened to be adventurous, sarcastic guys… but the thing that really makes the characters less appealing to me, is the fact that the same voice actor does both characters (Nolan North). Now I know this doesn’t happen all of the time, but really, it seems like it shouldn’t happen at all. There are plenty of great voice actors available and if you have someone who can direct voice acting appropriately, you should have no problem getting a great performance for your game. The problem with the industry right now, is consumers are selecting these characters with their wallets. People tend to buy big budget games with gruff, smart-ass, lead characters and most companies out there tend to rely on trends to make money. While I can’t exactly criticize a company for wanting to make money, I can stop buying their games.

Recently, I have been really picky about what games I play, because I have been getting the feeling that I am buying the same experience repeatedly. I’m not just referring to the characters in our games, I’m talking about the complete experience that is a sum of its parts. I don’t really feel like it’s enough anymore to have random tough guy, big explosions, big monsters, more enemies on screen, or crazy set pieces. I don’t watch Michael Bay movies for a reason. I feel like a lot of big budget games lately spend a lot of time trying to offer really exciting set pieces and over-the-top action, but don’t really spend a lot of time developing the story and/or the characters involved. How many times can we listen to people say, “I’m not playing it for the story, it’s just fun to shoot shit and blow stuff up” before it gets old? At times I feel like I have blown up everything there is to blow up. I have seen a thousand buildings collapse and seen hundreds of giant bosses. I have shot and killed so many enemies in games that now, the thrill of just simply executing the gameplay mechanics isn’t enough.

I know there are loads of indie games that offer cool stories and fun gameplay, but I want to see this done on a much larger scale. I want to see some more efforts like Heavenly Sword that really put a great emphasis on characters and story over “watch this shit explode or check out these sweet graphics.” It just seems like there isn’t much room for middle ground these days. I don’t want to just play old school style indie games and I don’t want to have to go back to playing old SNES and PS1 RPGs to get great stories. There is a reason why those old RPGs sell so well when they re-release them on the DS or on PSN for download… it’s because there is an obvious, gaping whole in the industry right now where great characters, great stories, great visuals, and great gameplay aren’t meeting up. This seems to have created an environment that is extremely divisive. Gamers are out there arguing gameplay over graphics and vice versa, but I think people are missing the point. There is no magic video game law stating that we can only have one or the other, or that we have to omit one facet of a game just to have another be awesome. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe that if we have some perfect elements like great graphics and great gameplay combined, we don’t need a story. Conversely, if we have an amazing story, it’s ok to forgo impressive visuals or even great gameplay. In some cases, we have barely any gameplay in games that have good stories and flashy visuals, i.e. Heavy Rain. Does it have to be a case of one or the other, or some but not all? I don’t think so.

I much as I am enjoying Heavenly Sword, the gameplay isn’t quite what it could be, but it is good enough and unique enough to complement the other fantastic elements to make an amazing experience. I would have to say, however, that there has been one game that truly captured all of those components during this generation, and it is Red Dead Redemption. Personally, I don’t think there are any games available right now that even come close to offering the total package that RDR does. I play games for one reason: to be entertained. It has occurred to me recently that I am suffering from an extreme case of “been there done that” and I am not as easily entertained as I used to be. Maybe I’m just picky, maybe I’m getting old and jaded and I should just stop playing games altogether, but whatever the case is, I don’t feel like most games these days are really trying that hard to create a complete experience. Some games offer great multiplayer, some games offer great scares, and some games offer a few great moments, but most really don’t attempt to go beyond that. These companies know what sells and unfortunately most gamers eat it up without question and without realizing we’ve played these games before. The sad thing is, everyone bills their game as something different that people haven’t seen yet. If you’re going to do something unoriginal, at least own up to it.

I may be in the minority when it comes to feeling like this, but I think if we are being asked to pay $60 for a new game, we should be getting a complete package. I suppose what a perfect game is varies depending on the person, but it’s going to take a lot more than the vast majority of what we’ve been getting this generation to keep me interested in gaming. There will definitely be a couple of games released within the next couple of years that really have great potential to offer up a complete experience, and if I end up just purchasing two or three games a year, so be it. I just have a hard time watching game after game get released and seeing the same kinds of experiences offered up, but just getting dressed in different skins. I want to be given a good reason to be shooting an enemy, I want to be given a good reason for exploring a world, and most of all, I want to be given a great reason for investing not only my money, but my time. Don’t just give me a long feature list full of meaningless bullet points or an extremely detailed world to be in, give me a reason to be there… show me why I should care. As it stands lately, I haven’t been shown those things quite often enough to keep me interested and it sucks to admit that.

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