What Constitutes a Good Game?

In our current generation of gaming, it seems almost impossible to make a game without some sort of controversy surrounding it, being critically panned, or being ‘just another game.’ At least, that’s what some game developers and publishers seem to release. Some developers release terrible games that gain a small cult following later due to enjoyment with that particular title. This could be both good and bad.

However, every once in a while those same studios either make a game that’s well-received or one that becomes relatively popular. This is not saying all video games that are deemed to be good by critics or the general audience are perceived that way for everyone, because that term can be subjective. This is just a personal take on why certain games may have sold better than others and the breakdown of those titles. We will be looking into graphical quality, stories, gameplay, and content. We may look at some video games that had controversies in the past or present day. Let’s begin, shall we?

The Story

The foundation of some of the most popular video game franchises, the story. This is often what a game begins with, what it ends with, and what can provoke enough emotional response for the player to finish it. There are certain games that have little to no story or lengthy and drawn-out stories, and some that keep you entertained and draws you in. Take RPGs for example. Most JRPGs have a lengthy story, and probably at least half can be constituted as good by their targeted demographic. Take a series like .hack and the Xeno-series, they have many games within their universe with solid storylines. They may not be the best as they may drag or seem cliched, but they have sucked in gamers nonetheless.

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For this, you see .hack having been revived on the Playstation 4, and the Xenoblade series still going strong. In a time where many consumers were stuck with little to no internet connection, rented from a store like Blockbuster, and generally had only the box art for reference, most developers had to push out heavily story-driven games and develop their sequels. Here are a few photos from the back of their respective box inserts. Draw your own conclusions as to whether or not you would think to purchase that game by their artwork alone.

.hack is a game within a game. Sound familiar? It’s also a plot device used in one of the more popular anime in recent years, Sword Art Online. What made it so popular? Was it the concept idea? Likely contributed, but perhaps not the complete story. Does that mean the game itself is perfect in what it does because it has become so popular? No. It still has some flaws with little in the way of fighting monsters, as they can be scarce, as well as uninspired level designs and poor camera controls. It still hit a cord with people, and has since been rebooted and turns a mild profit. With Xenosaga: Episode 1, one of the first things to happen is being attacked out in space. Later, you start to follow characters with really intriguing backstories, and form a small connection with every single party member. You can say that it has its charm where it has its flaws, since those same characters can have awkward dialog or certain parts may actually go by too quickly to understand.

Story can be very important to any video game, especially if it has some semblance of one. Games like Baten Kaitos, while generally well-received by those who played it, the storyline was not all that impressive. That game gained a small following, even getting a sequel, but it has since been almost forgotten as Baten Kaitos: Origins sadly fell into the same trap. Neither game sold particularly well.

Graphics

This will be a loose subject, but I think it stands for most games on a certain plain. The expectation vs reality, you have people who expect a certain level of graphical achievement. If you look at games in a different light in terms of visual quality, then that’s what you expect. Certain types of games you feel need to service your mind in an artistic way, and if that isn’t achieved, you’re likely to skip it entirely.

We often expect quite a bit from triple-A games. This can mean anything from how the story plays out to how it looks inside the game. When you first played a game like Mafia III, you expected developers to take their time and send out a polished product, with an upgrade in graphics. What we had seemed to be a downgrade, and although it seems some of the problems have since been patched in both console and the PC version, it still feels far from fixed. Sadly, the Mafia series might have ended with that one game.

A personal favorite of mine, which is more of a guilty pleasure than anything, is Ephimeral Fantasia. It had terrible graphics for the time it was published, a loose story centered around a time loop, and was a mess in level design, but I can’t help to love that game. That game had a concept I still enjoy to this day and had also found very interesting at the time. It was never the graphics for me, because that’s not what held my investment. It was the concept.

Let’s take a game such as Majora’s Mask with a similar concept. The Nintendo 64 could only do so much, however if you look at the colors of most Nintendo-developed games, you will see that it was how they presented that color to their audience that made their graphics come alive. Link’s tunics, blue, green, and red, were just as nice to look at as was his various shields. In later years, you see games made by developers that do not look visually pleasing, but were sometimes fun to play. Developers such as Bethesda were known for this.

Controls

This may not apply to most RPGs, but does to most games. If the controls feel off, even slightly, it could become a major problem. Every button press must feel very responsive and accurate. If you can map out the buttons to your own play style, then that is a definite plus. First-person shooters, racing games, fighting games, and even certain kinds of RPGs require stable controls to play. If you attempt a kick or to shoot, it has to feel as if you’re in control. If you’re racing, you shouldn’t have to compensate for terrible controls just like when you’re in a World War or FPS game. Controls can be simple to initiate or very complicated. Each video game controls differently, depending on their respective designers, the genre, etc. Some games can and do turn off players for controls alone, no matter if the game itself is good or not.

Level Design/Sound

I thought I would combine these two as they can have an almost symbolic effect on people. You look into a few games and they can overwhelm you with many different things, such as enemy encounters or the detail in certain areas. Often the sound or music will have emotional effects, if done correctly. Imagine a game such as Cuphead, even if you died in the numerous amount of difficult levels, which you will, you’re still replaying the levels due to synchronicity between the sound, music, and enemies you fight. Getting through a level may take time, but it doesn’t feel like a terrible waste of time. Take Rambo: The Video Game for instance and generic levels, on-rails shooting, and terrible repetition. Everything in that one game makes it feel like a chore to play, especially when you cannot interact with the environment around you and get single-scripted dialog. A video game done wrong in my opinion, yet for some reason I can’t help but want to check it out.

For me, games like Zelda: Ocarina of Time have good level design with the exception of the Water Temple as it has been proven, and even Nintendo themselves admitting to not having been that good of a level to start with. Most players must have been happy to have finally left that temple behind. Even before walkthroughs, I didn’t have that much of a problem with that particular section though, because I was having fun in the process.

Content

The meat of any current project is the content. Now, games can be fun even with the removal or replacement of content, but there is always that fine line towards what is acceptable and what isn’t for the mainstream audience. Example: Battlefield V, Black Ops, and the more recently-released SNK HEROINES.

Battlefield V, while the campaign looks cool, it looks too over-the-top to place any real investment into the main story. They have seemed to lessen the amount of weapons and vehicles in the game, as well as shamelessly pointed out that they had Battle Royale mode in their game just the same as what’s currently trending. There may be an average enough amount of content, and the what weapons you do get feel right, but in the end it still feels like a letdown. Black Ops 4 seemingly added Battle Royale but at the cost of the campaign. Their BR mode is probably the only one of its kind I even enjoy, and it works for their arcade-like gameplay. At that point, people seem to be okay with losing campaign because they arguably did more justice to BR than even games like Fortnite and PUBG. With SNK HEROINES, they took their latest King of Fighters game and heavily simplified it. Combat is as fluid and enjoyable as always, however the way they changed the mechanics made the game a little dull and uninteresting to someone such as myself.

In the end, maybe there is no “perfect” game. There might never be. Games can evolve and grow for the better or for worse, and what I consider to be fun is good enough for me. It might be a highly praised game or one that has flown under the radar, but there is this urge a person can get to play that game no matter their initial thoughts on it. We all have games we enjoy, dislike, or even hate to some degree. Please share your own opinions and maybe even list some of your most enjoyable games, guilty pleasures, or even those you hate with a passion in the comments. Games are meant to be fun, and that’s the way I always see it.

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