Academically Interesting

One danger in a review is becoming academic about a topic.  For simplicity, I’ll make an example of a book.  George Elliot’s Daniel Deronda is largely considered to be a flawed book by the author, scholars, and readers.  The main flaws are the length, a difficult topic handled poorly, and a subplot that barely intersects with the main plot.  However, the ways that the book are flawed and the difficult topic are exactly the sorts of things that academics find interesting.  While I would say the book is interesting, I definitely would not say that it should be someone’s first Elliot novel, and I would not read the book again for pleasure.

Gate hacking uses items taken from enemies to unlock forbidden areas in .hack//.

A lot of critics would say that most games tend to be more boring than noticeably flawed, but there are still games that fall into the academically interesting category.  Most SaGa games fit this.  They tend to have unusual mechanics and unique gameplay and it’s usually accompanied by very good music.  The actual act of playing a SaGa game is trying to figure out how the gameplay systems work and then exploting them so you can finish the game.  This usually results in obsessive gameplay that breaks immersion.  (Of course, some SaGa games are easy enough that you can just play the game and let what happens happen.  However, this tends to give a suboptimal story and very difficult areas.  Since SaGa endings tend to be simplistic, this means that the game can feel unrewarding.)

This SaGa Frontier boss is impressive, but that does not mean that the game isn't flawed.

Why should you care about the distinction between “flawed and interesting” and “academically interesting”?  Again, this comes down to personal taste.  If something is flawed in interesting ways, or has interesting good points among the flaws, then a player might think the game is worth playing despite the poor aspects.  Usually an academically interesting game isn’t flawed in an amusingly terrible way.  Instead, you tend to find earnest attempts at a game, mixed in with flawed elements.

Traysia (Nihon Telenet / 1992) is a good example of a game that is academically interesting.

“What were they thinking?” is a common question when looking at an academically interesting game.  Traysia’s odd bug involving infinite defense and the poorly translated plot is a good example of this.  The plot seems to have some kind of circles of hell element, and something that seems like a nuclear metaphor.  Unfortunately, the translation is rather poor, so it’s hard to say if the interesting elements are merely reading between the lines or actually intended in the plot.  The battle system is an interesting strategic system, however it basically amounts to nothing since you can get basically infinite defense.

A castle with a few shops.

Dragon Quest II (Enix / 1987) was the first Dragon Quest game with multiple characters. The game does not handle it well, but it is significant historically.

Another characteristic of academically interesting games is an eye toward history.  This may be a strategic battle system when they’re uncommon, or a new feature poorly implemented.  Obviously, this means that other players  may not care that the game was unusual at the time.  Innovation rarely emerges in a perfect state.

This cutscene in .Hack//Quarentine shows Emma Wielant preserved in the MMO, in a scene where she recites part of her epic poem.

.Hack// is another example of an academically interesting game series.  While the series was basically designed to make the maximum money for the company possible, the games do have some interesting elements.  For example, the games are set in a MMO in the far future.  This means the games are flawed, since they include much of the grinding that is hated in MMOs.  Characters in the game have an online life as well as an offline life.  So, for example, a busy housewife playing a mage has to leave from a scene quickly due to burning dinner.  The MMO is based around an epic poem, so you get surreal scenes about the poetry.  Changing servers uses a randomized keyword system.  You log into the server (labeled with Greek letters,) and then make a combination of keywords to play areas.  This makes flavorful names like “Delta Merciless Grieving Furnace” but the actual areas are similar dungeons.  Another “interesting meta element but poor implementation” is gate hacking.  Accompanied by graphical glitching, your hero literally breaks the game graphics as he starts the gate hacking procedure, and flashes into a new area when it is complete, appearing hanging breathlessly in the air before the game continues.  Mechanically speaking, you kill enemies with a specific attack until they drop enough cores to unlock the gate, and then you plug the gates into the spaces as needed.


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