Muses: The Biggest Disappointments of 2013

Last week I spoke about what I felt were the best games and anime of the year. This week I’m going to go on the opposite side of this… of the things that happened this year, the following were the games, anime, or otherwise that were the most disappointing to me.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

I didn’t purchase Fire Emblem initially, because I generally don’t pay much attention to the 3DS. After it came out, I read reviews and articles discussing how impactful the characters in this game were. I was so intrigued by the concept of an SRPG that created characters with that level of depth – I mean, Final Fantasy Tactics had great characters, but there were still a lot of throwaway generic ‘soldiers’ to fill out the holes in your lineups – that I just had to go and buy it.

I played it for around 100 hours and saw at least 60 conversation lines all told. I was shocked by how shallow and one-dimensional these so called ‘fantastic characters’ were – with a very small handful of exceptions. The writing in this game is some of the worst I’ve seen in a while, and the so-called ‘deep conversations’ used to develop the characters are 5-6 lines long, total, and feature typically a combination of predictable one-liners and the character’s single personality trait blatantly stated aloud. It was absurd.

The combat system was fairly well designed, but it wasn’t my style of SRPG – I prefer the individual turn style over the team turns that FE uses – so I won’t criticize it for that. I will however criticize their item system… come on, durability system with no repair option… what a perfect way to make getting items a punishment, not a reward. Finally, I do feel the lack of ability to change difficulty/game mode options mid-game was short-sighted in this day and age.

Fuse

How could I do a ‘most disappointing’ list without mention of Fuse. Fuse was a game that had such tremendous potential, but became a perfect example of what happens when you design a game with the intent of ‘capturing a broader audience’. Fuse started out as Project Overstrike, a unique and fascinating coop third person shooter that looked to be the breath of fresh air for those of us who are not huge shooter fans but like them once in a while. It originally featured an art direction that was both stylized and cartoonish, and it was gorgeous. They were promising to take the lessons they’d learned making the Ratchet and Clank series and apply them to a new genre… just think of the weapons that might have resulted had they actually done that?

In stead what we got was one of the most dry, bland, and repetitive shooters of the year. The art style went from stylized to stagnant. The characters from intriguing to one-dimensional. The weapons we were imagining would be so fun to play with… were relegated to specialty weapons for each character that you basically couldn’t use on most boss fights. The only time you truly got to see the joy in this game… is when you fight the rooms of normal enemies. Yes, contrary to nearly every other game in existence, the most fun part of Fuse are the rooms where you just fight wave on wave of bland, dry, ordinary enemies. Why? Because that’s the one time you get to see the special weapons truly in action.

Ni No Kuni

I was so excited for Ni No Kuni it is hard to put into words. The concepts behind it, from it’s classic Studio Ghibli art style to it’s intriguing game design and the absolutely impressive demo… everything looked fantastic. It might have been the game this year I was the most excited overall for… but that’s a tough call with games like The Last of Us also making that list.

Ni No Kuni did feature some of the most beautiful artwork video gaming has to offer, and a rather charming soundtrack. Sadly, the game’s pacing is so poor that it makes it genuinely painful to play, with some almost crucial mechanics being introduced something like 15 hours into the game. To make matters worse, the game’s AI is abysmal – with nowhere near enough customization options for the AI to actually make them useful. And, as the icing on the cake, this game featured one of the more awkwardly designed crafting systems I have ever used.

And sadly, the story isn’t all that great either. It’s charming, and offers a bit of a look back into the glory days of fairy tales, but due to characters that are sickly sweet and some awkwardly overused storytelling devices, the story just falls flat.

Hearthstone

Now, Hearthstone isn’t quite out yet so I suppose it’s a tough sell for this list. But the concept of an online game with no socialization at all except incredibly shallow and demeaning emotes is such a disappointment it may actually make this list every year from now on. This is by far my biggest disappointment because it is from Blizzard. Blizzard, the company that basically created the concept of an ‘online community’. Before most of the current big communities even existed, StarCraft had started forming one. Blizzard introduced me to the real internet – the one with people in it. People who I could eventually make friends with, despite there being a few trolls.

In a way, this introduction is responsible for me being married – for if not for that introduction I might not have started exploring other aspects of online communities, one of which is where I met she who would eventually be my wife. So to see Blizzard, a company that was so crucial to the way the internet formed, formally declaring that their entire community is comprised of trolls who don’t deserve the right to have meaningful interactions… is just too much for me to bear.

But beyond just the implications of a game being successful with such a disrespectful message… there’s also how shallow it makes it. TCGs are a game built on subtle social interaction in the same way that real poker is. Bluffing, facial expressions, the way you hold your cards… all of those things are social interaction. When you translate one into online play, the only interaction that is left is chat. By taking that out and replacing them with cold, heartless emotes… you’re left with an experience that is remarkably reminiscent of a single player game. And as time has shown us again and again, single player TCGs are inevitably shortlived.