My Ever-Changing Opinion on Trophies

I like collecting; both in reality, and in games, it gives me satisfaction, whether it be my physical library of games or my vinyl collection. So, platform-spanning systems such as Achievements or Trophies very much play into that; yet, it’s always a fascinating balance of whether I feel as though I’m going after them for fun, or for the acquisition of them itself – in which case, though, is the acquisition the fun? It’s a debate I continue to have internally, and a subject that has been discussed in a variety of ways elsewhere since their introduction approximately two generations ago, starting in the Xbox ecosystem. In this article, I am going to run through why my opinion on the topic is in such regular flux. At points the journey for them is incredibly rewarding, however at others it can be hollow and make me consider my priorities while gaming.

Why am I writing this now? Well, my recent ventures through the Resident Evil series – across both Switch and PlayStation 4 – have made me approach this with a new comparative perspective. Because of how Switch has no platform-cohesive Achievement-style system, but PS4 does, in the form of Trophies, I’ve inadvertently created a side-by-side test of how my play is affected in the series in those two different circumstances. On Switch, I made my way through the two Revelations games, focused on completing the campaigns, and where there were additional challenges to complete that I felt compelled to tackle, I went for them – for example, the awesome arcade-y, score-based Raid Modes. On the other hand, on PS4 I have had a great experience with Resident Evil 2 and 3 (the remakes), Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5, and Resident Evil 6 (I have also started Resident Evil 0), with the awareness of Trophies always being there in the back of my mind. I’m not here to directly criticise either of the set-ups or platforms, but more to run through my thoughts on the two ways of going about it.

The Case For

Perhaps a significant reason why I am so into Trophies (I’m going to refer to Trophies in the service of conciseness, but be aware that I mean the overall concept of platform-spanning reward systems) is that they can act as a flag in the ground signifying the games you yourself personally really connect to. It’s tempting, but I soon realised that trying to go for all the Trophies in every game just isn’t a reasonable expectation; so, instead, I identify the games that I form a strong affinity for, and then set about getting that 100% and/or Platinum Trophy as an extension of my enjoyment of the game. Then, when other players scroll through my Trophy list, they can see those games and identify them as ones I regard very highly. It’s a way of giving back to the game, too.

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Celebration on PS4 has a comprehensive Trophy list

An example is the modern Tomb Raider trilogy, amazing games with a wondrous sense of exploration that very much cater to my tastes. It takes considerable time to achieve the Platinum in those three entries; I have got the Platinum for the second and third games so far. Those games reward you for revisiting areas and taking your time finding all the secrets, which pairs so, so well with the nature of Trophies – there are specific ones for the story, collectibles, play styles, additional modes, and more. The Platinum for Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Celebration is one I decided to go for in the run-up to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and I am really proud of achieving that. In this case, my motivation and subsequent prize for taking Trophies into account was intrinsically linked to how the game itself was suited to that process.

Along that vein, the way Trophies act as a barometer for you to compare and compete against your friends is great, and it is fun to scroll through the profiles of my friends and see which games they have played, and which they have the most Trophies in, as well as seeing how I stack up against them. It’s a friendly sort of competition that actively encourages you to try more games, encouraging discussion on the subject and getting more word out there about more games. Multiple times in PS4 party voice chat I have had fun conversations about our Trophy progress, the different games we have progression on and how we went about them. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a recent example, and adds an extra competitive element to a game without much depth of modes; Trophies are a feature in themselves. Furthermore, Resident Evil 3, my current Game of the Year, has a fantastic Trophy list which did this, and had a friend and I talking about the different tactics we were using.

That latter game is a brilliant example of how Trophy lists provide alternate challenges, leading to you finding joy from playing the game in different ways. Beyond the Trophies for completing the game on different difficulty settings, there are also ones for finishing the game without using the item box, in a certain amount of time, and more, altering my play style in repeat playthroughs and giving me new insights into details of the game. As a series, I have found that Resident Evil is consistently creative with the Trophy lists, often supplying these unique challenges for the player; completing the games without healing items, for example, is a frequent one that appears and makes you be more cautious.

Encouraging exploration and experimentation of gameplay works well when there are many possibilities, too, such as in scenarios with multiple different endings. Then, Trophies can act as additional incentive to see them all. I mean, Catherine: Full Body, which I have been playing – I’m now onto my second run – literally has a Trophy named “I’ve Seen It All” for viewing all the differing resolutions. Combined with the absorbing characters, I am very invested in following the various routes. Games that manage to smartly interweave Trophies into already-engrossing gameplay can give themselves more longevity, actively improving them as an overall package.

In that sense, after experiencing Trophies done so well in games such as Resident Evil 3, it does cause me to imagine the positive influence they could have on games on consoles that at this point do not have them. Let’s use Animal Crossing: New Horizons as an example: there could be rewards for various approaches to island design and the successful realisation of them, perhaps nudging people into trying styles they otherwise may not. There are already in-game trackers that reward you with Nook Miles, so how about if these were developed further within the framework of a Switch Achievement-style system? Or, is it maybe better as it is, not having them?

The Case Against

It’s a delicate task to achieve a harmony of game and Trophy list that compliment each other. My experience is that it can easily go the other way, where the additional routes opened up by Trophies can be a distracting aspect; I have previously fallen into the trap of spending more time with a game than I maybe should have. I’ll be clear: my personal traits affect this, as my collector side can veer into a habit of unlocking more and more in a game once I have started it. Despite perhaps not particularly enjoying a game, the idea of leaving it at a low percentage on my profile does affect me and puts me off the idea of immediately going towards a different game I may have a better time with. This isn’t really the fault of the concept of Trophies, but a documentation of how my mind can react to them. Due to this overplaying, there have been cases where Trophies have been an unwelcome distraction. I have evolved my mindset on this though, with my aforementioned renewed focus on going for Trophies in the games I find myself really connecting to.

Firewatch entices exploration with a rural park setting, but has no Platinum?!

Another way Trophies can actively harm my time with a game is when the lists aren’t well designed. For starters, games that don’t have Platinum Trophies, such as Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch, lack that glorious, resounding moment when the Platinum is unlocked. I don’t really understand why they are omitted in cases such as these – it seems a missed opportunity, and these are games that justify having that final reward. Further to this, on occasion a Trophy list can be over-designed and make playing more of the game seem more daunting than it may otherwise have. The Uncharted series is one that does this; after my first playthroughs, I tended to be around the 20-25% completion mark, and it left me with an underwhelming emotion. It’s far enough away that it puts me off working on collecting the rest, instead of making me feel as though I could press on and go for the Platinum. In contrast, when I play on Switch, much of this consideration fades away, leaving me to form an opinion on the game for the game itself, without an eye on the way it integrates into the platform.

That can be very freeing, taking away that layer of integration that crosses from the game to the console and/or platform. I’m not saying that Trophies have been a make or break feature for me when reviewing a game, but them not being there does – in a refreshing fashion – leave it solely up to the game to provide the entertainment, from which I decide how much of the game I play. So on Switch, for Resident Evil: Revelations and the sequel, Revelations 2, there is a separate sort of clarity about my continued playing that feels distinctly different to when I played other entries on PS4; in a slightly changed way, I am acutely aware of my investment in the characters, the story, and the gameplay. In addition, it is at the fore when I finish the campaigns and try, say, those Raid Modes present in each where, again, it is clear I am not playing them for the requirements of a Trophy list, but because I am having a brilliant time and the in-game rewards are there.

I mean, there are more pressing issues than Trophies

Again, I shall put emphasis on how this isn’t a criticism of Trophies, but a commentary of how my mind interacts with the presence of them. There are occasions where I wonder about how great they could be on other platforms; you could imagine that Nintendo would find an ingenious spin on them, too. Would I have played even more of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild if there were profile awards for, say, completing all the Shrines? Similarly, would I be more compelled to try all the different routes of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, or to go back and get all the collectibles in Paper Mario: The Origami King? It is possible. Nintendo has been superb at in-game progression – take the plethora of unlockables in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – but so far have not rolled out a system across a platform, and I am not sure if they ever will.

Right then, to wrap this up (it sorta became an accidental essay, didn’t it?), I am going to try and summarise my thoughts. This article has been a way of me putting the thoughts that run through my mind on the subject of Trophies down into words, and I appreciate you spending the time to follow them. Writing this has emphasised to me that it isn’t an incorrect avenue to either include Trophies or not – when they are there, though, the way different games go about implementing them makes a considerable difference to whether their implementation has a positive or negative effect. I have put down some examples for this in the article, but to go back to the Resident Evil case study, it is a series that excels at having plentiful challenges to give the games longevity, both in the game and in the Trophy lists. It is a series that other developers could do well to examine when going about their own lists.

As a person with the collecting spirit, Trophies have inherent appeal to me and shall continue to do so. However, it is crucial to not let them override the reason for playing the games in the first place; it shouldn’t become a compromise, where you are going for them at the expense of the game or vice versa. They certainly can improve the experience, and in that sense, maybe those who have resisted the addition of them, most notably Nintendo, should create their own system as there is potential. Either way, I am okay with the two differing directions, as the game is the priority. At the end of the day, it’s important to not let false perceptions of the reason you are doing an activity – be it gaming, or another part of your life – to get in the way of the reason you are there in the first place. In this case, that’s because games are, well, really awesome, aren’t they? That gratification of a Trophy being unlocked is the cherry on top.

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