Let’s Chat: Are Games Too Long Now?

– This article was originally posted on 19th March 2018 and is being updated and archived here. Whilst situations have changed, I reckon a lot of the subject matter is still very relevant! –


A mix of work and a lack of a major theme in the gaming news recently has led Ashley Harrison and I to wonder: how are we ever going to play all the good games from last year, let alone the ones coming in 2018? It’s a topic that is coming up more and more as publishers release massive games boasting of their huge scope; is it really a good thing just to be a long game? The latest Let’s Chat delves into the subject!


William Robinson: So, Ash, in a week with no particularly standout theme, I think it’s a good chance to talk about just how long games are now. Is it just me, or are these impressive 100-hour experiences no longer the great sales pitch they used to be? Last year, with ZeldaHorizonPersona, and more, it was unrealistic for anyone to play everything.

Ashley Harrison: Length definitely isn’t a great selling point any longer. With the examples you just mentioned and more, it seems like the majority of “AAA” games recently are striving to build as big an open world as possible to expand playtime, but at the expense of the game’s overall quality and uniqueness.

There is a lot of content in Persona 5

WR: It also depends greatly on the situation, too – after finishing University, I had a window where playing 80 hours of Horizon was possible, but now I’m attempting to be an adult with a full-time job I struggle to see how I can keep up with EVERYTHING. What’s your situation? Do you think that it’s always been like this, and people just have their lives change?

AH: I’m not even in full time employment and I still find it hard to keep up with everything. It’s getting to a point now where if I see a game has open-world as a “selling point” it puts me off it completely. I just look at some of the games you mentioned – Zelda (I’ve beat one Divine Beast), Horizon (I’ve barely even gotten into the game), Persona I haven’t even bought. I don’t think it’s always been like this at all, I think it’s people who played a few open world games, and developers think people just want bigger and bigger open worlds nowadays, even though they’re 90% empty every single time.

WR: You’re right there, the rise in popularity of the open-world game has definitely changed things. This is why I’ve never really been an Assassin’s Creed guy; I feel there is little reason behind the things you’re collecting, and its just a waste of time. On the other hand, I find myself really enjoying shorter titles like Firewatch or Oxenfree, as I get a satisfying sense of completing something. I know I’ll probably never beat Persona 5, though.

A landscape view in Firewatch

AH: I’m with you entirely on that. Give me a linear, closed world any day of the week over an open world, at least that way everything I do relates to the storyline, and as such, means I’m closer to finishing the game every time. Whereas with open worlds, I just find they’re too big and too slow to get across, so I always end up getting sidetracked by something. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time, but I do like to feel as though I’ve made progress towards the end of the game, rather than just do a load of stuff that is likely useless by the end of the game (should I ever see it).

WR: Is that a problem with the genre though, or the design? Horizon, for example, felt less of a chore for me; while massive, the game was achievable to complete or even 100%. Some games just go way too far – being impossible to complete isn’t appealing to me. Funnily enough, Spyro did it quite well scale-wise.

AH: I think for sure it’s a problem with the genre rather than design; there’s only so much you can fit into an open world without repeating anything, so the rest is mostly just barren space that looks exactly the same no matter where you are.

The world of Horizon Zero Dawn is varied and fascinating

WR: Or maybe one further, is it expectations? I think publishers are scared of being viewed as inferior in terms of scale, while more focused worlds – such as Yakuza, which Jim Sterling recently praised for a smaller but focused world – can actually be more interesting.

AH: Yeah, I guess it could be that developers are scared of being inferior. For me, Mario Odyssey hit the sweet spot for an open-world game, interestingly. The levels are big, but not bloated, and there’s always something happening somewhere in every world.

WR: A few games have done that – having a bunch of mini-open-worlds that stand separate from each other. Skyward Sword did it, and so did Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I think it makes those games more palatable. What are your favourite open-world games?

For me, Mario Odyssey hit the sweet spot for an open-world game, interestingly.

Ashley Harrison

AH: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is definitely up there for sure. I can’t really think of anything other than it that shouts “truly open world game I enjoyed enough to remember off the top of my head”.

WR: Would you say your taste in games has changed over time, and you look for different things now? I mean – what are you most anticipated games this year, too? There may be a theme.

AH: Yeah, I’d be lying if I said my tastes hadn’t changed, but I think that’s as a result of the games industry changing as well. As for what I’m most looking forward to, gimme a sec. [Pause as Ashley gathers his reply] Detective PikachuNi No Kuni 2Far Cry 5Hyrule Warriors Definitive EditionVampyrCaptain ToadOctopath TravellerLuigi’s Mansion, and The World Ends With You Final Remix.

WR: I mean, Ni No KuniOctopath and The World Ends With You are pretty extensive right?

AH: Ni No Kuni 2 and Far Cry 5 are for sure. However, not so much for Octopath (assuming it’s anything like the Bravely Default games) or The World Ends With You.

The World Ends With You -Final Redux- is an updated version of the original game

WR: Maybe we just have to accept that the way we play games will change. I find myself holding these big games back now for lengthy periods off; I’m not a big fan of playing a couple hours each night during a week. Maybe I’m getting old?

AH: Yeah, us getting old could definitely be a factor, haha. We’re losing the energy to dedicate hours upon hours into games.

WR: I joke, I joke. I still have a lot of excitement for games, especially with Captain ToadSpyro (hopefully) and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the way. You know, actually, I think the issue is there is just so much good stuff nowadays, from TV to films to games. There is so much quality content to consume, and the sadness comes from the possibility of missing some of it.

AH: Too much to play/do/watch, too little time to do it in. I guess for me personally, too, the fact I work Thursday to Sunday, means that if I start a game on a Monday, and haven’t finished it by Wednesday, I’m less likely to return to it after my “work break”, unlike if I had say, the weekend off, where I guess it’s more acceptable to just sit back and relax doing whatever.

There is so much quality content to consume, and the sadness comes from the possibility of missing some of it.

William Robinson

WR: It does make portable gaming more appealing. The Switch has had such a positive effect on many gamers with less time to, well, game, and that’s another audience Nintendo has done a great job at tapping into. Alternatively, we’re just complaining too much and I should be spending this time playing Mario Odyssey.

AH: Yeah, you definitely should be playing Mario Odyssey rather than moaning about games with me.

WR: Hey, I feel attacked here. Why aren’t you playing, erm, one of a million great games?

AH: Because I already played a ton of I Am Setsuna on my Switch earlier. What’s your excuse for not playing Mario Odyssey yet?

WR: See, I like I Am Setsuna because it is achievable. That’s a solid 20-hour JRPG that I can finish and feel good about. Oh, and I have none. Captain Toad is in that game and I haven’t played it. What am I doing? What is the point of having a real job compared to that?

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is really enjoyable to pick up and play

AH: Anyway, we’ve digressed a lot, let’s forget about Mario for now. Yeah, from what I’ve played so far of I Am Setsuna, I can feel it’s going to be a fairly long game given it’s an RPG, but so far it’s had a linear world, so I do feel as though I’m actually progressing through the game at an acceptable rate.

WR: Look, you know digression is just the ways of things here! In all seriousness though, we should stop before we start getting too philosophical. Should we settle on celebrating how many great games there are, rather than them being too long? Or are you firmly sticking to open world games being flawed? I’m holding out for positivity here!

AH: You should know me, Will, I don’t do positivity, so I’m sticking firmly to the latter. The power of positivity isn’t flowing through my veins right now.

WR: Look, I tried. All in all, we came to the conclusion that… it’s different for everyone, based on their lives, I suppose. We have games to fill every need now – perhaps even too many. Maybe we can even play some before next week, eh?

AH: Definitely. And who knows, we might even finish one before then?


Ashley then proceeded to talk about pancakes, which led to my sadness at not having any. Ahem, back to the topic – we have such a plethora of media in the modern day that is can feel overpowering. Do you think it is too much sometimes? You can let us know in the comments!

10 Hours With… Persona 5

There were a lot of fantastic games in 2017. The issue is, they tended to be massive games that absorbed you into their worlds, taking up many hours of your life. Prioritising the likes of Zelda: Breath of the Wild led to delaying a playthrough of, say, Persona 5. I know, I know, what a hard life.

See, around 10 hours into the Atlus-developed JRPG, there’s even slight guilt from not playing it before now; this is one of the most unique games from any year, let alone 2017. Persona 5 on PS4 is a massive and stylish game, and if you passed on it, it may be time to give it a chance.


Star of the Show

So, those first 10 hours. They’re eccentric and brilliant, but really dense too. The first thing that hits you, right from booting up the game for the first time, is the art direction. It’s quite unlike anything else; whilst clearly Japanese and anime-styled, there is a certain boldness to the use of lines and colour. Before you even start establishing relationships in the game, you are drawn to the lively character designs. The feeling is that, sometime soon, these are characters you are going to think of fondly.

Which is incredibly apt, given that your character is trying to recall it all. The game starts, seemingly, at the end, where you play a Phantom Thief infiltrating an event – however, things go wrong and you get caught. An interrogation leads you to relive the many days building up to this. The many days, that is, as a teenage boy in Japan. This opening is clever in showing you the very basics of combat and traversal, in your failed escape, but also in conversation; the basics of your character are defined by that early interrogation, and it’s important to get a grip of these. Why? Because a lot more information comes at you later…

Persona 5 really starts back at the start of the story. This appears to be an excuse for you to shape your own story up until being caught, which is an intriguing story structure. Your character got incorrectly blamed for an assault, and has been moved to a new school and guardian (Sojiro Sakura, a café owner disgruntled at the whole situation). Your life becomes an effort to try and fit in, working out the trains to get to school on time, sorting out your room, and… wait, wait, come back!


School is Fun

Bizarrely, these tasks have a certain appeal to them, as you slowly get to know the characters and environments. The aforementioned art style is a big part of this. Conversations, for instance, have moments of expression and reaction to go along with the charismatic English voice acting. Even traveling to different locations has a quirky charm, with transitions of people going about their days. Tokyo actually seems to bustle with life, as you can listen to conversations, find out-of-the-way shops and more.

This is a JRPG, though, and there is a complete other side to this world. The Metaverse goes hand in hand with the world we are used to, where our desires are given a physical form. In certain cases, they form a Palace, complete with a shadow version of themselves, Shadows roaming the Zelda dungeon-style structure, and the source of their desires –  a Treasure at the centre.

School

The early game sees you falling into this world on multiple occasions, and discovering how it all works – that goes for both the player and the character, as there is a lot of information presented to you. Persona 5 asks you to hold on and believe that you will be able to make sense of it, and once again the slick visual design makes that more palatable. In combat, characters can summon personalised creatures – Personas – to perform special moves. However, the main character has the extra ability to switch between different Personas, and therefore, different abilities.

In the first ten hours, you uncover a pretty disturbing sequence of events at the school, manifesting as a Palace to infiltrate in the Metaverse. As you go, you start to build your relationships with other characters that become involved – whether it is the enigmatic cat (yes, that is correct) Morgana, the rebellious Ryuji Sakamoto, or the defiant Ann Takamaki. Your time becomes a balance between preparing your team in the known world, and then pushing forward in the hyper-reality of the Metaverse.


Trial and Error

Progression in the Palace is limited by both stats and skill, which isn’t particularly well taught – my learning experience was from going too far, getting defeated, and losing a chunk of progress from a save point. There were many points of frustration in this first Palace (yeah, there’s gonna be more). A more forgiving way of hammering home the risk/reward gameplay would have been preferred.

The exploration and combat inside the Palace did, unusually for this game, lack some of the visual variety. Environments had a consistently murky look, in a way that reminded me of the dungeons in Skyrim. It’s only made more stark by the distinct character designs roaming inside. Hopefully, this will change as the game continues into other Palaces. Making up for this is the music by series sound director Shoji Meguro and company, which is especially striking in combat. The jazz elements, as well as flavours of rock and rap, are quite unlike the game music we are used to.

Persona 5 Combat

Some of the best genre stories present serious issues through a heightened version of reality, and this is what Persona 5 does with this first Palace. The conclusion to this section has some really serious elements, and my hope is that the game continues to combat tough topics amongst the colourful combat and engrossing everyday Tokyo.

Something that splitting the world in two does is highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each part. The clearer visual approach of the known Tokyo, and interacting with side characters in it, makes me prefer my time there and, subsequently, have a slight tinge of sadness whenever I have to leave for the Metaverse. The next challenge this game has is to make me enjoy the Metaverse, and the Palaces, as much as the simple joys of going to school. Yeah, it feels odd to write that sentence…


Persona 5 review coming… well, one day, if the game ever has an ending!