I wonder how many gamers out there are like me, when sometimes a challenge is fine, as long as it's not too taxing, but often just going through the motions is enough. I like spending time in my own brain, as someone who likes splatter horror, and I often lose myself in thought while grinding through match-three casual games on the PC, or replay simple games I could finish with my eyes closed. Often doing this is much more relaxing and fun than that sweaty, brain-aching I get from challenging new games. There are a handful of games I have played and finished over and over and over and I still sometimes get the urge to pick them up and replay them for the umpteenth time, not only because they games are great, but mostly because I know what to do and there isn't a single challenge left in the product; I'm just going through the motions enjoying it immensely. I sometimes feel developers and publishers go the wrong way trying to produce challenges rather than experiences and though I understand the market is very wide and diverse and that there are people out there who enjoy throwing their controllers at the wall in frustration, I simply want more games I can play without dying, getting stuck or having to think too much.
Here are three titles I have misspent my youth and adulthood on. Occasionally I dig them up again or, as is more often the case, I buy the title yet again when it's ported to a new format. I know the ins and outs, the nooks and crannies, the secrets, the shortcuts. And yet, every time I play them I am still having a whale of a time.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The reason Nintendo keeps on porting and rereleasing old games is because of idiots like me, sorry. Every time you see yet another version of certain classic games and think to yourself "no way am I going to pay for that game AGAIN", I will already have done so. I have bought LttP about as many times as I've played it (not quite) and never regretted it. It is, by far, the best Zelda ever created and if you disagree you are wrong, it's that simple.
So much time have I invested in this incredible world, its shortcuts, its links to the dark world, where all the teleports lead, where all the heart pieces are that any time I replay it it feels a little like a homecoming. Starting from my...um, Link's uncle's little cottage suspiciously located in the middle of the map, in the rain, to the sequence breaking secret items that are hidden, to the dwarf blacksmiths, the bottles...the everything. I know it by heart and replaying my quest is like sightseeing through my youth.
When the GBA version was released with an extra move and dungeon I browbeated a colleague into playing the Four Swords quests with me just to unlock them. They added too little to the game, but secretly I was happy with that; the original still stands, as is.
Played on: SNES, GBA, Wii, PC (ahem)
Times finished: Pfff...quite a few. A dozen orso, at least, if not more. Probably more.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
This game out-Metroids Metroid, and though the subsequent GBA and DS releases were also little gems of pure excellence in their own rights, and have received their fair share of my attention and time, none of these, nor any of the precedents (sorry retro-fans) can match this game for pure, bloody minded, amazing topness and bad voice acting.
I had bought the special, limited edition of this title at first but then, stupidly, in a fit of ignorance, got rid of it when I moved to Japan. I then managed to score a Chinese original copy of the game, via a benevolent industry acquaintance, which I still cherish to this day. In fact, the first thing I did when I bought my too-big, shiny new high definition television was plug in my PSOne to play this game. And it was wonderful. Who needs crisp, sharp graphics when you can have great old graphics but bigger? What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets! Ahhh....
When the XBLA version was released it turned out to be the first game, and eventually one of only two, for which I got all achievements, within a very short period of time. I knew the map layout, the location of the relics, the weaknesses of the bosses, which items to equip to make the challenging parts easy as piss and where all the secret rooms were. And I still enjoyed this game more than many others, simply because I could play it without learning its ins and outs.
Played on: PSOne, XBLA - considering purchasing a PSP just for the chance of playing it again
Times finished: Again, I didn't keep track, but at least 10 orso times, not counting the Richter and Axearmor playthroughs.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
I know there are other and earlier tactics games out there worthy of praise, and I have indeed played a few of them. I was on the brink of buying Disgaia 3 for the PS3 until I heard a US version was planned. But something about FFTA hits all my sweet spots. The sprite-tastic graphics, the jobs, the everything, but mostly the graphics, yeah. I like 'em 2D and FFTA is just the sweetest, juiciest fruit right after Metal Slug in terms of pixelly awesomenicity.
Playing through it the first time it slowly dawned on me how I wasn't quite 100% efficient in the jobs and skills learning curve, and though I was on the brink of beating the final boss, after a good 40 hours of time investment, without hesitation I deleted my save and started again. Since then I have finished it several times, with each go trying out different team structures, job skills and characters. One thing I have never done was finish all the quests, as the grinding skills and job system was for me always far more interesting than the quests or even battles themselves. Just writing about it now makes me want to start a new game, if it wasn't for that tedious, unskippable tutorial intro.
After I purchased the game it didn't leave my GBA slot until I bought the GBA Player for the Gamecube, after which it didn't leave that slot for a good long while. I bought a special classic-style controller just for this game and have poured more hours into it than studying Japanese, consuming alcohol or living life.
I fear, with childish excitement, the release of the localised version of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2.
Played on: GBA and the Gamecube's GBA Player
Times finished: Not that many, maybe 5, but in overall number of hours wasted, incalculable.
Of course these games listed are fantastic masterpieces in their own right, so they deserve replays, but simply the fact I know them inside out makes them more fun for me. I don't have to think anymore, I can just do. And more than other, newer games, this is the kind of relaxation I have come to expect from my hobby. Long replays, instant deaths, boss battles that require luck and finding the one weak spot...I've done that. I don't need to go through that again. It's not that much fun, actually. At least with LttP I know exactly where to hit the bosses, in SotN I know exactly where to go first to get that poison gas cloud relic and in FFTA I know what skills and items my main character needs for that series of battles where he's on his own. Arguably they are more fun now than they were the first time. I don't know, maybe I'm just odd and lazy, but I don't find challenging games fun anymore.
This is why I think the PC casual niche has had such a marked effect on the market. Most of these games are very easy and are usually boiled down to simply repeating a single action over and over. It's something which is often lacking in console titles, where publishers and developers heap challenge upon challenge and obtuse puzzle onto badly designed racing sections. There is a market out there for the lazy gamer, he who doesn't want to think much or get his hands sweaty. It's called relaxation.