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Square Enix and the No Good, Very Bad, Achievements

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Ever since the introduction of achievements by Microsoft back in 2005, this system of allowing gamers successes and triumphs to be shown off and shared across an entire platform has taken the gaming world by storm.

Achievements not only motivate gamers to spend more time playing games than they normally would but also create a social and competitive aspect for gaming, one in which friends and colleagues can aspire to reach or surpass the achievements of their fellow gamers.

However, for all the good it’s done, and for all the fun its invented, the system has been bastardized to a certain extent, most notably in updated versions of older titles. Outside of Nintendo, who, for some reason, still has yet to adopt the system, many publishers have seen fit to add ridiculous goals to the games from their back catalog, in hopes of making more of a “challenge” for games that fans have already mastered.

Chief among the perpetrators of this crime against reason is Japanese giant, Square-Enix. With its mammoth Final Fantasy series being gradually upgraded and adapted to Steam and the PSN, the granddaddy of JRPGs has seen fit to bestow achievements to classics like the venerable Final Fantasy VII.

FFIX

Really? 1,000 perfectly timed button presses? If anyone has this achievement, they’re either a prototype AI or some kind of sociopath savant.

Here’s the rub, though: when a challenge is simply being invented for its own sake, rather than being an original and integral part of the experience, it doesn’t actually enhance the game for anyone.

Many of Square-Enix’s achievements are, for want of a more eloquent term, “total fucking bullshit”. You might think you’ve mastered Final Fantasy IX with your 80 hour playthrough, but unless you took the time to play a jump rope mini game for 20 minutes straight without making a single mistake, or, ya know, possibly blinking at the wrong time, or maybe getting an itch on the back of your elbow that is becoming more and more difficult not to scratch, or maybe that bead of sweat on your brow is slowly trickling down your face and you kind of just need to wipe it away right now…

Anyway, you get the idea. An achievement that requires a player to hit the X button to a changing time scheme 1,000 times in a row without missing a beat should be widely acknowledged as total absurdist nonsense. This is not some international feat of technical muscle mastery, or a Guinness event for dexterity, it’s a bloody video game, and any achievement within it should be a reasonable possibility for players that have put in the time to master its mechanics.

And it’s not just the recent re-release of Final Fantasy IX that is boasting these kinds of asinine achievements, even the port of Final Fantasy VIII from a few years back has problems like these. Imagine, for example, trying to play through an entire 40 hour RPG without leveling up your main character once? Sound like fun? Good, because the game also requires you to push your main character to level 99 in order to gain 100% of achievements! Enjoy!

FFVIII

Final Fantasy VIII? More like I Final Fantasy hate myself!

Neither is this issue restrained to only the flagship Final Fantasy series either, take the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 collection released a couple of years back. If you want to get every trophy in the Final Mix addition of Kingdom Hearts included on the disc, you have to play through the game on Easy, Normal and Proud (hard) mode. Now, one would think that it’s self-evident that if you can beat a game on Hard, then you can beat it on Easy. This is why achievements and trophies of this nature generally stack. Alas, though, Square-Enix needs to be sure you can beat it on all three difficulty modes, individually, before giving you their respective nods for each.

This isn’t a challenge. A challenge pushes you to be a better, faster, more accurate, player. This is simply a waste of time, and asking players to waste their time in order to prove their allegiance to a game they’ve most likely already completed, is a legitimate insult to a their time, money, and intelligence.

Look Square-Enix, we get it: we’re suckers. That’s why we buy Chrono Trigger on the SNES, PSX, and Nintendo DS, or Final Fantasy VII on the PSX, PC, and PS4. But please, at least patronize us enough to let us know that you value our time a little bit, even if our money is in a wind tunnel pointed in your general direction.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Takwin

    July 27, 2016 at 3:42 am

    We can all agree that all difficulty achievements must award all lower difficulty achievements – Hard gets you Normal and Easy as well. This should be in the Gaming Constitution.

    • Mike Worby

      July 28, 2016 at 1:27 am

      It’s absurd to have to play through a game multiple times after you’ve already shown you have the skill to beat it on the hardest mode.

  2. Belinda Brock

    December 8, 2016 at 10:17 am

    You made me spit-out-liquid-laugh. I’m a trophy freak and NEED to get platinum for every game that touches my PS4. Imagine my frustration..

    • Belinda Brock

      December 8, 2016 at 10:18 am

      Oh and I friggin live JRPGs so that frustration isn’t going anywhere

      • Mike Worby

        December 8, 2016 at 2:08 pm

        Hahah I love a platinum as much as the next guy or gal, and sometimes a lot more than that. Luckily FFXV has finally bucked this trend with a very reasonable list of very achievable feats.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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