Why I won’t be playing Ace Attorney 5
I adore the Ace Attorney series. It’s one of my favourite series on one of my favourite systems, so by default the games are up there in my favourites of all time. Some of the best writing, the best music, the best story in any game. It convinced me of how good the visual novel genre can be, which is another untapped vein of unique gaming experiences.
But as much as I’d like to, I won’t be playing Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, which was today confirmed for an English translation.
Believe me, I really do want to play it. It was a major factor in my decision to finally jump on the 3DS bandwagon, after all. But I won’t as long as my only option to purchase is through Nintendo’s eShop.
For those who don’t know, whereas the likes of Xbox Live Marketplace, PSN, Steam and the App Store attach your digital purchases to your account, allowing you to play them on any compatible platform simply by logging in, the eShop links them to your hardware. This is annoying on the home consoles but, in the eyes of me and many others, an unacceptable risk when buying for portable hardware. If your 3DS is lost, stolen, or breaks outside warranty, you’re at the mercy of Nintendo’s customer support as to whether you can redownload your games. Sell your console without buying a replacement beforehand and you have to let all your games go with it.
Conceivably, a 3DS with an extensive library of games on it could be worth thousands. Good luck getting that much out of your insurance company if your £150 piece of hardware gets nicked.
And of course, none of these are issues for your games on other digital distribution platforms. Losing an iPhone is an annoyance, but get a replacement and you can download every one of your purchases again. Ditto for any other gaming hardware that isn’t manufactured by a company intent on staying a generation behind everyone else.
This is all especially relevant to me at the moment, as my 3DS has been in for repairs for the last three weeks. (That’s some 3-7 day turnaround you’ve got there.) Were a 3DS game I really wanted to play to come out right now, I’d be out of luck. Any current system from any other manufacturer would let me borrow a friend’s machine, log in on my account, and play the new release until my one came back.
That next-generation experience, detaching the games and service from the hardware, is clearly beyond Nintendo, and I won’t be supporting even my favourite series while they’re propping it up.
In a word: OBJECTION!
Back in the glory days when Atlus games could be imported and didn’t acquire major bugs in crossing the Atlantic, a little RPG called Radiant Historia came out, and sold out almost as quickly. Being from Atlus, it was woefully underproduced, quickly reached absurd prices on eBay, and never officially came out in Europe. I, naturally, paid over the odds for it only weeks before a third reprint pushed the price for a new copy down to around the £20 mark, but oh well. It’s a very good game, so I don’t mind.
It’s not the first time it’s happened, so I’ve since sworn to purchase every Atlus game on release, which is probably the idea. Well done, Atlus. Your evil plan has succeeded.
It’s hard to mind such a scheme when games are as good as this, though. Radiant Historia harks back to 16-bit RPGs, notably Chrono Trigger – time-travelling storyline, enemies on the world map – with only perfunctory 3D backgrounds to let you know that this game was made this side of 2000.
That’s precisely why I like it. The travails of the JRPG genre in the last generation have been documented, and recently I’ve been playing classics I missed from the PS1 and PS2 genre in a generally successful attempt to recapture the magic of that period when a type of game was at its absolute zenith. While the B-tier has been ripped out of console development, leaving us with nothing between indie darlings and expensive AAA adventures that need 5 million sales to break even, it’s alive and well on handhelds, creating games like this while console RPGs straddle some line between anime and game that pleases nobody.
I’m not meaning to imply that this is anything less than a sterling effort by referring to it as B-tier, however. It’s lengthy (38 hours for me), it breaks tradition by having a main character who’s intelligent and has useful things to say, and the grid-based battle system is empowering as you master it. Apparently developers do get it, but the ones that do are no longer working on console games.
The 3DS is looking like an RPG powerhouse as well – in 2013 alone, we’ve got or are getting Fire Emblem Awakening, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Etrian Odyssey IV, Soul Hackers and Bravely Default, among others – and so it’s taking up an increasing amount of my gaming time. But that said, as I’ve also spent dozens of hours sat in front of my PS3 in recent weeks, playing games like Chrono Cross, Grandia, Xenogears and Dragon Quest VIII, I’m still hoping that affords to rein in development costs next generation with more friendly hardware will see the triumphant return of games like this to their rightful home.
Game good, DRM bad
The furore over SimCity’s always-online DRM has been inescapable over the last few days. EA has joined Activision (via Blizzard) in spectacularly failing at launching a major new game with mandatory online functionality, hopefully casting doubt over the future of the approach when titans with such deep pockets can’t make it work.
People are understandably upset, and it’s led to a predictable outcry aimed at media outlets who haven’t factored such technical issues and consumer-unfriendly DRM into their scores. Reviewers are out of touch, the argument goes, because they get to play these games without paying for them, in conditions where the authentication servers are nowhere near capacity, with a PR team on the other end of the phone who’ll bend over backwards to fix any issues, lest the critic have anything other than a stellar experience.
I’m siding with the reviewers here, though. And I think Polygon was wrong to change the score on its review.
That said, I’m not defending this form of DRM. It’s shit, and it’s a practice that shouldn’t continue. If the rumours about the next Xbox requiring a constant Internet connection and so effectively doing this across the board – and as good as Xbox Live is, it can’t be said that it’s been immune from capacity issues – are true, it’ll put my investment in the console in doubt.
But the quality of the game and the DRM are separate issues. The fact that its DRM is overzealous doesn’t make SimCity a bad game any more than the fact that I can’t rip my Blu-ray to watch the movie on my iPad makes Wreck-It Ralph a bad movie. That argument would be ridiculous in film criticism, but when writing about games it seems to be a common opinion. Maybe, if games are art, we need to separate the reviews of the game from the program, as a DVD review would award separate scores for the movie and the AV quality.
It all comes back to an argument I’ve made before that people want consumer advice, not reviews. A list of features and a number at the end, being careful not to rate it anything that might affect the Metacritic score too negatively.
When all this is ironed out and SimCity becomes reliable and playable, it will be a 8, 9, 10, or whatever score you think it’s worth. And since it’ll be the same game as everyone’s trying to play now, so it should always be.
All consoles need suspend/resume
One of the announcements at the PS4 unveiling that I’ve seen get little media coverage is that it will follow in the footsteps of the DS, PSP, 3DS and Vita by supporting suspend/resume across all games. I suspect the reason for the muted response is simply that people don’t realise what a useful feature it is, and I think it’ll be hard to go back once we’ve got used to it.
Strangely, this is a feature that became dear to me immediately before Sony’s announcement, when the reveal of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team led me to dig out the first game on my beloved Game Boy Micro. Years of snapping shut whatever iteration of the DS I’m currently playing has made partaking of an RPG on a handheld without it feel less practical, more difficult to fit into snatched moments of gameplay. As excellent as they are, the ports of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games with their requirement of seeking out save points in towns and dungeons just aren’t designed with modern gaming habits in mind.
Even with my increased willingness to play a long-form game when sat down in front of the TV, finding a suitable place to stop playing feels like it takes annoying liberties with my time, making it impossible to drop out at a moment’s notice without losing progress. Other media don’t do it. Most DVD players remember the position you left off if you switch off during the movie, and TV habits are now built around pausing live TV and resuming recordings where you last stopped them. And now games won’t either.
I’ve seen it written elsewhere that the PS4′s respect for its users’ limited gaming time is its best feature, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s an area where the PS3, with its 20-minute firmware updates, mandatory installations and 500MB patches that lock you out while they download, failed spectacularly, and it’s great to see Sony learning from its mistakes. It’s going one better, not even making downloading the whole game a requirement before you start playing. It never made sense to me that you couldn’t start playing the first level until you’d downloaded the final one, which you might not need for 20+ hours, and now a system’s been designed around fixing that oversight.
While the games were fairly uninspiring at this point – I can’t be the only one who laughed at how they followed Killzone 4, inFamous 3 and a racing game with a speech about “creative risks” – full credit to Sony for the design of the system. The PlayStation 4 looks friendly both to develop for and to play on, with genuinely innovative features that make me, not entirely liking the move away from dedicated gaming systems, want to jump in.
Your move, Microsoft. How many ads are you going to cram onto the dashboard this time?
Thoughts before tomorrow’s announcement
So in all likelihood we’ll be looking at the first of the next-gen consoles by tomorrow. Sorry, Nintendo, but it’s true.
I’d forgotten how exciting all this can get. There’s news to talk about, specs to argue over, and fanboys getting far too emotionally invested. I expect the usual sieve-like memories as gamers gush over the graphical prowess shown off in CGI trailers and imagine that developers will use this newfound hardware power to make things run at 60 frames per second, only to be disappointed when neither happens. Again.
Now I’m assuming that we’ll get some glimpse of the PlayStation 4 tomorrow. If we don’t, a lot of the media is going to be looking very silly, and the initiative is with Microsoft. I don’t expect that, though. Just like glimpses of The Last Guardian, new hardware announcements have to happen some time, and this generation has gone on quite long enough.
Although I’ve happily played for both sides this generation, it’s clear from my collection – 105 Xbox 360 games to 30 on the PS3 – that the 360 has been my console of choice. Unless the PS3 version of a game has been demonstrably better (Portal 2) or once, as in the case of Dark Souls, out a desire to keep both instalments in a series on the same platform, I’ve plumped for the 360 editions of multiplatform games. Controller preferences, a better online experience and generally superior 360 ports made that an easier approach.
Now that we’re on the verge of a new generation, though, I find myself much more excited about the prospect of the PS4 than whatever Microsoft announces in the next few months.
In the last couple of years I feel like we’ve had a glimpse at what a console landscape dominated by Microsoft would bring. Kinect integration everywhere; dashboard updates whose main function is seemingly to put more adverts into a service you’re already paying for; an increasingly dull first-party line-up that consists of four or five franchises on a rotation you can set your watch by; more and more functionality hidden behind a service that, though good, is increasingly hard to justify for £40/year; restrictions on developers that want to offer free DLC. Word on the street is that, as a rule, Microsoft will only allow DLC to be free when it’s offered as such on rival platforms, and I think that is the best possible evidence of the importance of competition.
At this point in the previous console cycle, Sony was insufferable. The astonishing arrogance that came out of the domination of the PS2 era and culminated in that price tag and a console that wasn’t a complete failure, but was certainly a disappointment based on previous sales performance. That coupled with two consecutive tonkings in the handheld space give me the feeling that Sony has learnt some humility.
The talk is that the PS4 is built on familiar architecture, not the powerful but esoteric nightmare that was the PS3. It sounds like it’s built to be straightforward to develop for, rather than as a vanity project for Sony’s hardware labs. That hardware allowed for spectacular first-party productions but meant multiformat development still suffers next to other versions of the same games. This time, if the rumours are correct, platform parity is much more likely, and we can still count on the talent of Sony’s affiliates to push boundaries more than I suspect we will from Microsoft’s, who have been gutted over the years while Sony’s have expanded.
Take these things on board, and improve the user experience of the PS4 – no important functionality sloppily implemented at a later date (trophies) or not at all (cross-game chat), no mandatory installations, and no downloads that lock you out of doing anything while they unpack – and I feel like Sony has a good chance of rising back to the top this generation. It was quite rightly chastised last gen, and in a climate where conventional gaming has more competition than ever for people’s entertainment time, a resurgent Sony, focused on producing a fantastic, powerful games console above all else, is a very good thing.
No games on the high street?
Word on the (high) street seems to be that the troubled HMV is looking to get out of the market, meaning there will shortly be nowhere to buy new games here in Bournemouth town centre. Tesco Express might get in a new FIFA or Call of Duty, but if you want something more obscure or older than a couple of months? No chance. There’s CEX for used stuff, but that might be threatened and doesn’t do much to help the industry.
I’m really torn on this issue.
On one hand, it’s a very bad thing that gaming now has so little high street representation. The likes of Dixons are long gone, of course, so when the new consoles arrive there will be nowhere plugging them from ornate window displays – nor, indeed, anywhere to actually, you know, buy them. I don’t drive, which makes the out of town shopping centres with large supermarkets and the few surviving Game stores a pain, so online is my only option. It would be my first choice, admittedly, but the choice would be nice to have.
But another part of me is glad. So many major retailers have gone down the pan in recent years that it’s tempting to put the blame solely on the economy. It’s not the only reason, though. It hasn’t helped, for sure, but what we’re seeing the rejection of the outdated mode of selling, where the £49.99 RRP is seen as something other than wishful thinking on the part of publishers, to be chuckled at and disregarded before selling it for £40 or less.
I buy the vast majority of my games online, and you get so used to paying £37.99 for a new release from ShopTo that a rare expedition to find the endangered species that is a branch of Game can be a genuine shock. I remember going into one with the intention of grabbing something I’d neglected to preorder online and walking out empty-handed because the £50 price sticker felt so absurd. I hadn’t paid that much for a game that wasn’t a rare JRPG in so long that I’d genuinely forgotten that suckers actually still did it.
Analysts like to blame the proliferation of 69p iOS games for this sticker shock when it comes to buying console games at retail, but even among friends and family who don’t consider themselves hardcore gamers, they still buy as many as they ever did. They’re just not doing it for the same silly money. People are buying games from Amazon, ShopTo and the like because they’re cheaper and more convenient. They’re better in almost every way, and that’s why they’re winning.
This ultimately won’t affect me directly because I’ll be buying my next-gen consoles online and I expect all my game purchases to come from online retailers or, if they can be trusted to price them competitively without retailers to keep happy, completely digitally. Part of me will miss a presence for gaming on the high street just like part of me – OK, all of me – misses the independent retailers that used to be everywhere. Times change, though, and it’s a natural evolution that could turn out for the better.