Games what I have played too much

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.

15 comments:

  1. I would totally agree with you.

    I don't know if its because I am getting older, or my free time is becoming more and more valuable, but knowing what to do and simply enjoying doing it is far more fun than trying things over and over, or hitting a brick wall because someone decided 'challenging' was entertaining!

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  2. Great list - gamers who are newer to the hobby and who don't have a ton of disposable income could pick up these three games and be set for...who knows how long? Months? A year?

    I'm really in love with the PSP port of Disgaea. I played the original on the PS2, but as I'd never played a tactical RPG before, I was kind of lost. Now that I've gotten into the genre a little more, I can appreciate just how insane and deep that game is. It's also a horrific time-sink, and my to-play pile is getting high and wobbly while I grind away.

    I would love to see a handheld LttP. Now that I'm older and experiencing the joys of cohabitation, my PSP and DS get far more use than my consoles. Phantom Hourglass was fine, but, you know. Not quite the same thing.

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  3. All three of those games are great. LttP in particular I've played through at least 10 times. I like how the original SNES cartridge keeps a record of how many times you're beaten the game. It happens pretty regularly that I want to load up a game that I've beaten several times, just because it's so much fun and I don't have to think about it.

    jeffk: Glad to hear you talk about Disgaea. I have yet to play it, and am looking forward to the upcoming DS version.

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  4. I think it's a combination of getting older (the lack of free time that comes with that) as well as all the competition for our entertainment time (games, movies, youtube, blogs etc) that makes us seek out "safe" games where we can get the most enjoyment and progression and the least amount of frustration for our time.

    LttP - Great memories there. I remember when I found the hobo under the bridge that gives you one of the bottles, and discovering that hammering the blacksmiths' work table would cause them to scold you.

    Jeffk - Cohabitation really does get you playing the portables more doesn't it?

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  5. The funny thing is, every time I get a new game there's this weird initial period where I can't get myself to play it... I literally have to force myself to play it, and then usually end up really enjoying it. But it's weird how that initial inertia (uh?) almost puts one off playing any new games.

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  6. Oh, and the only Zelda that has ever really hit the spot for me is "Link's Awakening" - and not even the DX version.

    P.S.: The only games I've completed more than once: Morrowind and Interstate 76

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  7. Yeah, I guess it is a time management issue. In conjuncture, I found that I am much less patient with new games, often playing them for a couple of hours and if I'm not hooked by then I'll probably never play them again. It's odd.

    Links Awakening is a doozie, an excellent Zelda! The Capcom Oracle series for GBC are also amongst my favourites and come HIGHLY recommended!

    jeffk, LttP for GBA is about as good as it gets, which is great. A straivght LttP port combined with a multiplayer only 4 Swords game which unlocks a new move and a new (though small) dungeon in LttP.

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  8. Zelda really embodies what you talk about on your post. With every new iteration you do exactly the same things. You don't have to learn complicated new mechanics or anything like that.

    That's also the reason I couldn't really get into any other Zeldas after LA. To me it would be a bit like watching the same movie over and over again.

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  9. Either your post is timely or I'm just late to the party. I recently discovered how much fun FFTA is. Except I've sunk 100 hours on it and I haven't beaten it yet. I must be doing it wrong. I am also waiting for FFTA-2 for DS in English despite swearing off menu-fighters ever again (because FFXII Gambit programming was great). I saw FFTA-2 JP for 2400 yen used recently and resisted buying it.

    Aside, I totally wish S-E would get on the ball and release Chrono Trigger for the DS.

    "I feel old" and I am starting to see some games as time sinks. I did Sudoku for the DS (both versions) for about 200+ hours last year. That is the feeling of accomplishment distilled almost to the point of a hamster lever.

    Bah. I want to play games or do things that increase my real world skill. That's why I've been turning to Rubik's Cube and shmups instead of leveling up my FFTA characters, oh wait. :-/ One of my lifetime goals is Ikaruga 1cc, but I procrastinate because its too damn hard. Hahah.

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  10. Sorry to post another comment, but I forgot to ask this question:

    Have you ever thought of playing the Japanese version of these games?

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  11. "Yeah, I guess it is a time management issue. In conjuncture, I found that I am much less patient with new games, often playing them for a couple of hours and if I'm not hooked by then I'll probably never play them again. It's odd."

    I'm exactly the same, but I'll take it to more dizzying extremes. If it takes too long to get into gameplay or I'm coddled by an overly long, unskippable tutorial at the beginning, there's a good chance I'll quit and never come back to it. This almost happened with Revenant Wings a few weeks back but the dumbed-down RTS/RPG hybrid intrigued me enough to keep going.

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  12. Oh lord, Symphony...How much did I play you? My PS1 disk was played til the point of unreadability. Then I grabbed the Saturn version. I didn't quite play the heck out of it as much since the extra loading times felt like a drag. But I still went through to see just how high I could get my exploration % with Maria.

    I do like finding stuff, exploring places and killing monsters. SotN has so much of that, it's amazing. I also Time Attack every now and then, though I'm not particularly good at it.

    Oh Final Fantasy Tactics on PS1, when I wasn't playing SotN, I was playing you. I leveled my characters endlessly, bred all sorts of crazy monsters and decked my team out with the best gear possible. Yes, I was so high level I had my characters use the Catch skill while enemy Ninjas threw Chaos Blades and other goodies at me.

    Diablo II used to be an old addiction. It's funny how I ran around the dungeons over and over again to get new loot like crazy but then in other games, I've just dismissed them as repetitive.

    It is funny how I used to be a total completionist as a kid and now I'm lucky to get through the basic path of a game just once.

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  13. Sometimes we forget that older games can be so enjoyable. I've replayed some games so many times... mainly puzzle games, I ahve to say.

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  14. I agree with celso, Link's Awakening is in my opinion the best Zelda (and RPG)game for any handheld...

    The game I played the most as a kid was Pokemon Red for GB... I must have finished the game over 30 times and some games had about 100+ hours on them, mind you... I have played the game for over 500 hours at least(and that's not something I'm really proud of :P)

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