Efficiency in Repetitive Actions

In the classic reviewing standpoint, it’s almost impossible to imagine what the game would be like after several hours of leisurely gameplay.  Between deadlines and boredom, you can’t really replicate playing 60 hours of a game over several months in the space of weeks or even days.  One aspect of games that stands out to me is how games design efficiency into repetitive actions. Mostly in RPGs there’s four really common activities.  One would be shopping, two would be talking, three would be searching, four would be fighting.

Shopping in RPGs is something that tends to be hampered by technology. I remember in the SNES era that people would specifically cite “this equipment is better” arrows as being an amazing feature.  Another handy feature is something showing that your characters can, or can’t, equip something.  On NES and Gameboy systems, space was sometimes saved with little icons showing if your “silver” was a sword or a boot.  Usually, however, there was not enough room to show in the icons if the equipment was male or female.  In even earlier games, you shopped by price points.

This is a weapons shop in the first town in Hoshi Wo Miru Hito.

So, let’s look at a game that does it badly.  Hoshi wo Miru Hito has rather vague weapon names, but that’s not really critical for shopping.  One noticeable problem is the prices.  In this area of the game, you get about 6 to 10 gold per fight, so buying the best weapon is almost impossible. However, thanks to either poor programming or simple malice, all of these weapons save for the 300 gold one (some kind of launcher?) tend to decrease your attack to the point that you will not do damage at all in some areas of the game.  If you buy a weapon, and then buy another, you do not get any gold from your former weapon.  You also can’t take off a weapon once you’ve bought it.  So if you gather 30 gold for the ray gun, you’ll be stuck almost unable to fight until you can earn enough money to change your weapon.

Talking is something that’s mostly hard to change.  Some Western RPGs focus on responses to questions or timed responses.  The Shin Megami Tensei series tends to have replies in conversation set to slowly shift up and down your alliances with various factions.  Some early games have you pick “talk” from a menu before you talk to someone.  The really only annoying aspect in conversations is repetition or trying to trip someone up on a yes / no question.  For example, Zelda games have tended to have “Do you want to hear this again?” type questions with the cursor defaulting to yes. This means that someone hurrying through the text suddenly gets to hear the entire dialogue again.  Other games default the cursor to “no” on stuff where it would be far better to say “yes.”  This might be something like “Do you want to save her?”  or “Can I go with you?”  Some other games have word puzzle like questions filled with “Are you really not sure that you want me along?” kind of stuff.  Some games ask things they shouldn’t, like “Do you want to go on this quest?”  They then turn around an either do a “But thou must” if you say no, or simply end the game abruptly.

Searching dressers and drawers in Dragon Quest VI.

Searching is another odd feature.  Obviously, searching random areas mostly is aimed at finding secrets.  Dragon Quest VII is an odd one when it comes to searching.  Barrels can be searched inside and they can be smashed.  Searching does not necessarily find things that you would find if you smashed the barrel.  Since the game requires that you find hidden shards to progress, this means that it’s almost always more efficient to smash every barrel you encounter.  Since the barrels respawn, an optimized exploration of a town features smashing every single pot / barrel in town and rummaging in all bags.  Other Dragon Quests have the need to search and rewards for searching, but Dragon Quest VII stands out as a game that really forces the player to be obsessive.

Finally, there’s battling.  Some games have timing elements to add excitement to battling.  Unfortunately, the novelty of this can wear off. Examples of games with timing elements can be Super Mario RPG.  In that game, with the right timing, the average player can dodge every attack.  In the Shadow Hearts games, attacks use a wheel to time criticals.  In Unlimited Saga, timing can be used to stop the reels in a less dangerous area of the reel.  An example of tedious timing can be Moldorian, an odd Game Gear RPG.  If you don’t press right when your character’s attack comes up, they literally won’t attack.  Another example could be charging Guardian attacks in Final Fantasy VIII.  In a game where you really shouldn’t be fighting to start with, you have the option to frantically smash a button during certain segments of summoning a Guardian Force.  This does not add a great deal of damage, and can be a bit annoying.

I suppose, mainly the hallmarks of aggravating inefficiency are things that break mimesis and things that ignore your intent in favor of a false difficulty.  Tripping you up on a badly timed “no” due to smashing the text advance button is annoying and fixing it makes you have to listen to the same spiel again. Giving the option to smash a button frantically does not make the game more skilled and doesn’t necessarily get more fun the more times you do it.  Wasting money earned in a game because you can’t tell that women can’t wear hats simply proves that the game should’ve made that clear rather than proving that you’re bad a buying hats.

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