Thursday, December 17, 2009

Games Requiring Strategy Guides? Boooooo!

First off, while this isn't a game review, I want to make it clear that I am not saying you shouldn't buy these games. Quite the contrary, both of the games discussed in this blog post are fantastic games and well worth playing (especially The World Ends With You (Nintendo DS), which can be purchased on Amazon for less than $15 at time of writing). I've very much enjoyed playing them, and continue to do so (in fact, I'm going to play the second one after I finish this post).

Now, that said, let's talk about why these games suck. TWEWY (ha, that's a pretty entertaining acronym, actually) is an off-beat role-playing game that has some very good stylus-based combat and requires some interesting multitasking to really play well. Weapons/spells in the game are equipped using a system of "pins" that give your character various abilities. The cool part is that pins gain experience, can level up, and in many cases even evolve into cooler, more powerful pins.

But here's where the suckage begins. You see, each pin has a maximum level, and once you reach it, the pin might evolve into a new one. The word "might" there is the key. The game is kind enough to tell you whether or not a pin can evolve, but that's all it tells you. So, what's so hard about evolving a pin? Let's see. When I first started leveling up my pins, I noticed that some successfully evolved while others hit the max level and did nothing. I saw a multicolored meter showing pin point growth, but had no idea what it meant. Finally, I gave up and read it on GameFAQs. Here's what I found:

There are 3 types of "pin points" that you can earn: battle, shut down, and mingle. Battle pin points (BPP) are, as you guessed, from battles. Shut down (SDPP) are earned on any pins you have currently equipped while the game is off. Mingle points (MPP) are earned by mingling with other DS users or various random mingle encounters. Each pin has a particular type of points that must make up 50% or more of the experience for the pin in order for it to evolve - otherwise it just hits max level and does nothing. Note that there is no way in the game to know what type of points a pin needs.

On top of that, apparently SDPP and MPP are worth 9x the amount of pin point credit (but not 9 times the pin points, just the credit for 50% or more) compared to BPP. So if I earn 100 MPP and 300 BPP, my little bar will actually be 75% credited to MPP (100 * 9 / 100 * 9 + 300).

This is where I got pissed off. There is no reasonable way to know any of this without tons of trial and error, and even then there's quite a lot of it I never would have figured out. I don't need to know what type of pin it evolves into - finding that out is fun and exciting. But to have no clue how to evolve it, which is a necessary part of the game, is beyond frustrating.

The game is intentionally being opaque and ambiguous, and I can only guess, based on the fact that the rest of the game is well-designed, that this is an intentional move to try to sell strategy guides. But at least with pins you can earn points relatively quickly. It's not like some rare skill point that you only earn once per level up and have to carefully plan to spend in a very difficult RPG...

...which of course was a fairly forced segue into our other offender, Etrian Odyssey II (also for the DS). This is a challenging old-school RPG that forgoes any real story, existing purely to give players the opportunity to crawl through a dungeon, kill things, get loot, and level up. It's quite fun, and is also impossible to play competently without a guide.

You see, each level a character gains yields a lone, valuable skill point to be spent at your discretion. You can level up your hit points, your strength, or add and level up new skills. The tricky part is that you have no idea what exactly a level up does (and aren't told later either). Some level-ups (like hit points, which the first level gives you a 2% bonus to your 40 hit points) are entirely useless, while others suck unless you dump multiple skill points into them (something you're unlikely to do if you spend only one and find it to be worthless). For a number-crunching, storyless, battle-focused, nearly NPC-less RPG this is a high crime, and makes the game nigh unplayable without having GameFAQs open up next to it.

I don't understand this trend. Is it really just an effort to sell guides? Is it lazy design? I see it in Flash games too - people have leveling up of skills, weapons, towers, soldiers, whatever, but often don't give you the stats associated with them, making it impossible to make a careful decision regarding what to do with your valuable resources. So consider this a plea to game developers: make your stats transparent, allow the gamers to know what's going on, and let us strategize to fully enjoy the game. Or just keeping being opaque if you must - just rest-assured all you're doing is driving traffic to GameFAQs and not selling copies of your guides.

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