Whoever first said “everybody likes surprises!” should stand trial for crimes against humanity. While Nick Cane will soon assure you that surprises can be fantastic spectacles of the unexpected, more often than not gamers get on ferocious Hype Trains careening from the first preview to a game’s ultimate release. They’re unstoppable, those Hype Trains, and the destination isn’t always as delightful as we hoped it would be. That said, read on to discover the biggest surprises your three Gamers Association editors ever experienced in our entire gaming careers.
Nick Cane & Final Fantasy VII
It’s easy to write negatively. I do it frequently. Write a few sentences and, next thing I know, I’m in full-on Rant Mode. But, when talking about the greatest surprises of my gaming career, I gotta go with the positive. I remember getting my first PlayStation in 1997. My dad was working for Pepsi at the time and got it as some company prize. It immediately replaced my NES to massive fanfare (yes, I was gaming on an NES until ‘97). The games were colorful and awesome and so freaking new.
I got a bunch of games with it – Jet Moto 2, Crash Bandicoot, NCAA Gamebreaker 1998, Twisted Metal 2 – But there was one game I hated. It was boring and melodramatic. It just couldn’t sate my rampant 11-year-old mind. I cast it off for a while, not playing it because I disliked it so much. A few weeks later, the game was getting massive press (oh, how gaming news has accelerated!) and finally I broke down and played the game I labeled Not For Me.
And, guess what? I loved it.
Yes, the greatest surprise I’ve ever had in my life was discovering I really enjoyed Final Fantasy VII. Instead of the caffeine- and attitude-driven games of the mid-90s, it was slow and it was melodramatic. But something else was there, the kernel of what would become modern gaming. I never saw it coming and I never would have guessed I would have loved a game that much after ostracizing it to the wastelands of the cabinet (I still prefer FF8 over 7, though).
So, there you have it. Me discovering the modern era of gaming, being dragged kicking and screaming into it.
Luke Frazier & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Oblivion. I realize that the word alone in connection with the outlined content of this article is enough to send most all of you into an immediate mad dash to call me or my mother something obscene, but the truth must be told to protect my integrity. And so I’ll say it again: Oblivion — the largest letdown of my life.
As a high-fantasy addict since adolescence, anything in The Elder Scrolls series should have tickled too many fancies to follow. From reading every Lord of the Rings-inspired genre fiction novel that Barnes & Noble stocked to drawing up my own abysmal stick figure comic books during the Luke Frazier Little Ages, I was (and still am, to be honest) all about the dungeons and dragons (though, oddly enough, without ever getting into actual Dungeons & Dragons). My introduction to RuneScape, of all things, served as the pivotal point when I realized my love for RPGs, never before even being exposed to one that wasn’t Pokémon. I came, saw, and conquered all I could, though the powerful PC missing from my household ensured I had no exposure to The Elder Scrolls.
That is, at least, until I picked up a PlayStation 3.
I couldn’t wait to get lost in another magical world of wonder and weird things. To tangent for a paragraph with true purpose, I promise, Kingdom Hearts and its direct sequel will forever be remembered as landmark titles to me, pinnacle apexes in my gaming career (“gaming career” being one of the most confusing phrases this industry throws around), yet these games also served a sadder purpose. You see, for Luke so loved those Disney worlds that everything immediately afterward tasted like yesterday’s Meh served up with a side of Ho-Hum. That said, I admittedly fell out of active video game duties for a for years, be it playing or perusing the Internet for information. Overheard underground geek talk about this Best Thing Ever with an extra-nerdy name like The Elder Scrolls IV was supposed to change that. As it was, Oblivionwould save me from my self-inflicted pit of unenthusiastic gameplay despair.
It had me until the tail end of the tutorial, then all hell broke loose. Or rather, it didn’t, and that could be part of the problem. Suddently released into the wide expanses of Cyrodiil without the immediate-destruction sense of “Do This Now!” that I had become so accustomed to, I panicked.
“I can go anywhere, you say? And do anything? At all? Sure sounds lovely, but what would youlike me to do? I’d rather do just that.”
“…You’d like me to go anywhere and do anything at all? Oh…”
I metaphorically died without direction, and didn’t know what to do. I tried the typical “Follow the Main Storyline and Talk to Everyone in Towns for Extra Quests as You Go” routine that too many months of MMORPGs had taught me, but boy, if that isn’t the most bass ackwards way to play Oblivion. I’d explore every dialogue option with every character in every village, and my real-world nights turned into boring virtual outings of getting nothing done. Hoping for help, I reached out to a coworker who spent the previous summer working a night shift down south away from everyone he knew and explicitly using Oblivion to fill his voids of free time, yet that technical talk (like how to become essentially invincible, for instance) scared me even more. As a last ditch effort, I bought the big (and bloody expensive) player’s guide, did nothing but read select portions of it for days, and went back in with renewed sense of confidence and determination.
I made it through the gates of Oblivion, died in a heartbeat, and sold the game within a week.
What went wrong for this fantasy-obsessed and RPG-loving high school kid? It’s simple: Unfocused experiences stress me out. Perhaps I have an acute case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but any progress within Oblivion always left me feeling like I’d forgotten something, like I’d passed on a crucial quest or failed to pick up an essential weapon and would surely be penalized soon enough for the oversight. Call me crazy, but I’m getting physically uncomfortable remembering back on these bitter days.
Oh, and as my last words before I’m whisked away to the gallows or guillotine by the armies of Elder Scrolls guards who let no harm come upon their beloved franchise, know that this is not meant to be a rant against Oblivion. In actuality, it’s more of a rant against myself, a public showing of how I am shamefully incapable of enjoying something as beautiful as Oblivion. More in touch with the gaming industry than most common men, I know a masterpiece when I see one, and Oblivion fits the bill.
A pity, as I’ll never be able to play it.
Jay Curtis & The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
My biggest surprise in my “gaming career” has to be The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I’m a huge fan of the Zelda franchise, so naturally I was really excited for Skyward Sword. I waited a long time for it to come out. It’s safe to say that it might have been my most anticipated game of all time. Then, as the game’s release date got closer, the reviews were starting to come out. I saw that the game was getting numerous perfect scores from reliable reviewers, so I was even more excited than before. On November 20th of last year, Skyward Sword finally came out. I picked it up as soon as I could, and rushed off home to play it after all the waiting. After playing the game for ten minutes, I was already stunned…for all the wrong reasons.
The game’s graphics surprised me immediately. I knew coming into it that Skyward Swordwouldn’t blow me away with its graphics, but I was expecting it to at least look good for a Wii game. Instead, I was horrified by the blurriness of the backgrounds. The game did not look like a modern game at all. Even though the game looked awful, I was still hopeful that it would be good. After all, the gameplay in a game is certainly more important than its graphics. After hearing how good it controlled, I was excited to finally see motion controls in a positive light. Since I bought my Wii shortly after launch, I had never played a game that justified motion controls. I was hopeful that Skyward Sword would be that game. Yet again, I was unpleasantly shocked.
The motion controls for Skyward Sword weren’t just disappointing, they were downright awful. To this day, Skyward Sword has worse controls than any other game I’ve ever played. I couldn’t believe how poorly they were. Before the game came out, people were saying that each enemy you faced had to be defeated strategically. You weren’t supposed to be able to just waggle the Wii Remote to be successful in the game. Unfortunately, I hardly ever played the game “correctly.” I was able to be very successful by just shaking the Wii Remote around. It was a piece of cake to say the least.
I wish the combat was the end of my problems with Skyward Sword’s controls, but unfortunately it’s just the beginning. The puzzles in the game are designed with the motion controls in mind. All of the puzzles require motion controls in some shape or fashion. Naturally, the game is filled with puzzles. Many of them are designed well, but the poor motion controls mar them beyond repair. Also, the motion controls make flying in the game a serious pain. Instead of just letting us control our bird with the control stick, Nintendo had to incorporate motion controls. To put it bluntly, due to the motion controls, flying is a disaster in Skyward Sword. It controls like the game is still in its Alpha phase.
Besides the incredibly bad controls, Skyward Sword disappointed me on other levels. The big one was the sidekick, Fi. In Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword’s direct predecessor, Link goes on his journey with an imp named Midna. Midna is easily one of my favorite video game characters of all time. She is just full of personality. She’s an extremely well-written character. Fi, on the other hand, is emotionless and robotic. She (It?) has absolutely no personality. She was also annoying. I didn’t have a problem with Navi in Ocarina of Time, but Fi was too much. I could not stand her. Just to add to my pain, Skyward Sword easily features the worst music in the series. It’s not exactly awful, but it’s certainly mediocre, which is a word that usually doesn’t fit the series’ soundtrack. Koji Kondo might be the greatest video game composer who has ever lived, but Skyward Sword proves that even he can make mistakes.
Skyward Sword wasn’t all bad, but the bad far outweighed the good. I was hoping it would be the greatest game I had ever played. Instead, it was the most disappointing game I had ever played. To say the least, I was surprised.