Are We the Problem?
Contributed by DJMMT
A few months ago, I bought Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars. The only reason I heard about this game was because it was featured in a Nintendo Direct. That same day, they released a demo for the game. I absolutely loved the demo and bought the game as soon as it went on sale. The sale price was actually higher than I wanted to pay for it, but I bought it anyway because I enjoyed the demo that much. Ultimately, I don’t regret the price I paid for the game, because the game was worth every penny. Last week, I bought the sequel, Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden, for the same sale price I paid for the first game. I assume I’ll love it as well. But this blog post isn’t about Voice of Cards. It’s about another game that I tricked myself into buying because of how much I loved Voice of Cards.
In that same Nintendo Direct where I learned about Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, I also learned about another unknown Square Enix small scale turn-based RPG called Dungeon Encounters. Now here’s the thing about Dungeon Encounters that needs to be understood in the context of Voice of Cards. Both games were announced on the same day during the same Nintendo Direct. Both games were developed and published by Square Enix. Both games released in the same month. Both games were released at the same price and went on sale at the same time for the same sale price. While the two games have almost nothing in common in design, gameplay, or art style, on paper they’re incredibly similar when it comes to the general details. The one major red flag, which I admittedly ignored, was that Dungeon Encounters did not have a playable demo available, as compared to Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars which released its demo the day of the Nintendo Direct.
I was so taken by Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars that I manipulated myself into believing that Dungeon Encounters would also be an amazing turn-based JRPG. So I bought both games on the same day in the same sale for the same price. One $50 Switch card covered them both, so why not? I had no interest in playing two turn-based RPGs at the same time, so I opted to play Voice of Cards first. I’m glad I did, because it’s the much better game of the two and brought me so much joy to play. Several weeks later, I finally started Dungeon Encounters and sadly it does not compare to Voice of Cards in any way shape or form.
The sad truth is that Dungeon Encounters is not a good game. It is certainly an original concept and has some good ideas. But it is absolutely not a good game. There are numerous issues with it. Some simple and others more complicated. Making it a soft rougelite with some permadeath functions is extremely annoying. Making it a regular RPG with some sort of punishment system for dying but ultimately having the ability to create save files and continue would make the game immediately better. Requiring the player to back track and find fallen party members rather than just having them return to the first floor automatically, turns the game into a slog that it simply doesn’t need to be. While it’s never fair to blame a game for RNG, the RNG is just devastatingly awful. The exploration, though practical, is so bland and straight forward that it takes away all the enjoyment and mystique of exploration in a video game. And it’s made worse by the fact that they went out of their way to add graphical representations of map regions by adding things like heavy winds and dust clouds. Again, there are some good ideas. Separating physical and magical damage/resistance into two separate HP pools is an interesting take on the genre that adds a new dynamic to the strategy of turn-based combat. But as a whole, it’s a disappointing game.
For all its flaws, the absolute worst part about Dungeon Encounters is that I can’t stop playing it. At first, I didn’t really understand it. Then I started to get it and made some progress only to get a game over and lose everything around like floor 12. I had no idea this would happen, which only made me hate the game more. But I’d never quit a game on a game over. That’s just petty. So I started the game again, but took advantage of the option to keep any previously gained XP and continued the trek downward into the depths of the dungeon. Over the several hours that I’ve now played, I’ve learned a lot. For starters, the game is extremely unbalanced once you get to about floor 22. Non-combat skills come in extremely handy when trying to deal with this, but ultimately the best solution is grinding. The multiple party system is quite useful, but the lack of shared XP makes the whole process take longer than it needs to. Like I said, it’s a bad game with some good ideas. But as bad as it is, I can’t stop playing it. I’m now sold on the idea of reaching the final floor and defeating the boss of the game. I don’t know how long that’s going to take me. Given the fact that I’ve already played for 12 hours and I’m nowhere close to the end, I assume it’s going to be a lot more time spent before I finally call it quits for one reason or another.
The fact that the game is long is not a problem. It’s a turn-based RPG. I expected it to be long. I wish Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars had been longer. The problem is that I know Dungeon Encounters is both long and bad yet I’m still actively choosing to play it. Now we could have a longer discussion about why this is. We could discuss any number of topics including gaming addiction, the sunk cost fallacy, or the subjective nature of judging the entertainment value of games. But I don’t want to talk about any of that today. I want to talk about the fact that I’m actively choosing to continue playing a game that I think is bad and the repercussions of doing so.
Just about every day, we see new gaming controversies. New reasons, many of which are valid, for people to complain about developers and publishers. New conflicts between different factions within the gaming community. New decisions that make gamers across the world collectively roll their eyes at how out of touch executives seem to be these days (looking at you Square Enix). There is a never-ending slew of complaints about games. Many of them have to do with the way games are managed and run. These complaints manifest themselves in different ways with a focus on many different issues. But what many of them have in common is that companies don’t seem to care about what the community says. EA and Activision being two of the biggest examples. Every year, a new Madden, a new FIFA, and a new COD are released. They’re almost always copy and paste jobs with slightly updated graphics, roster changes, and new microtransactions. Every year people complain about them. And every year many of those same people still buy them and spend billions of dollars. Now what has a larger effect on EA, Activision, or any other publisher changing the way they do business; a billion angry tweets or a billion dollars in revenue? What does Square Enix care about more; my blog post complaining about how bad Dungeon Encounters is that my modest following will see and possibly read or my 12 hours of time spent playing the game? I have to ask the question: Are we the problem with games today?
I see comments on gaming news posts and in groups all the time that say things like “games suck today” or “developers these days don’t understand or care about what the gamers want,” but is that really true? Do they not understand what we want? Because I just told you that I spent 12 hours playing a game I think is bad and that I plan to play it a lot more. Fornite is the most complained about game on the internet. It’s also the most financially successful one. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but maybe the problem with games today is us, the gamers. Maybe we’re the reason publishers make decisions we claim not to like. Maybe we’re the reason games aren’t made the way we claim to want anymore. It’s really easy to blame oblivious rich men for not listening. But how exactly did they get rich if no one wants to buy their products? It’s really convenient to blame a supposedly small minority of “woke liberals” for making games political, but if that group of gamers is so small, how are these developers that people claim are catering to them staying in business? The math just doesn’t add up here. If gamers aren’t happy, then we sure are bad at showing it. This isn’t one of those posts where I call out everyone else and sit on a moral high horse while telling everyone else they need to change. Because I am absolutely part of the problem. I can’t in good conscience tell anyone else that they need to change on this particular issue. But the reality is that the hypocrisy is strong with all us, based on actual sales numbers and play data. So ask yourself and be honest. Do your actions reflect your stated thoughts about the current state of game development? Food for thought.