Monday, February 13, 2012

Charm in Videogames

Odin Sphere, Grimgrimoire, Okami, Paper Mario 2, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IX and XIII, Klonoa 2 .... these are some of my favorite games of all time, and yet they have flaws, some even glaring; so why is it that I love these games so much? It's because they're charming.

The charm that these games have is what makes them so attractive. They don't try to look special with fancy tricks or try to seduce us with big promises; rather, they are games made with the single desire to be themselves, and that's what makes them so charming and attractive. There's nothing "fake" or deceiving about these games, and in that sense, they are pure. This purity is what makes them so attractive to me. They aren't made with the intent to please the player, rather they are made simply the way they are and aren't ashamed of it, as a result, these games may have flaws, but that's part of their charm. These games aren't afraid of who they are, and thus don't feel like tools or simple products.

I know I'm being redundant, but I've really come to realize how much a factor "charm" is when I view a game and judge how much I love said game. For example, Grimgrimoire is a short game without much content and shows its story in a rather simple way, and yet it is perhaps the most charming game I've ever played. The way the setting, the characters, the graphics, the music, and gameplay all come together; it just feels so cohesive and compact that it can only be described in one way: itself, Grimgrimoire. With other games, we see certain aspects of their design and designate it by those aspects, for example we describe Mario games in terms of levels, or Dark Souls by bosses and dungeons; however, if you want to describe Super Metroid, the process becomes harder, as the content of Super Metroid felt so much like a cohesive whole rather than a path of levels.

I believe its the process of creating where the development team works together and creates the game as one focused group that these charming games come into creation. Odin Sphere is a game created by only 12 people; perhaps that is why it is such a charming game.

I'll end this thought bubble on the biggest example of charming vs. uncharming I can think of: Super Mario Galaxy vs. Super Mario Galaxy 2. The first Galaxy was incredibly charming, with its bright yet mysterious world, mysterious princess guide, her depressing back-story, an ending that could be perceived in many ways, and unique gameplay elements that promoted freedom and play. The second Galaxy felt much more "industrialized", where it just felt like Nintendo was making it to simply add stages upon the first Galaxy, rather than developing off of the first Galaxy's foundation. Thusly, Galaxy 2 felt "cold" in comparison to the warm journey of Galaxy 1. That's not to say Galaxy 2 was a bad game, as it is a great gameplay experience, it's just that it lacked the charm of the first game.

Overtime, as gameplay systems are getting more complicated, technology is getting more social, and graphics are getting more detailed I've come to really appreciate charm and the "warmth" it provides a lot more. So much so that I may consider it a major factor in my criticisms of videogames from now on, just like satisfaction before it. After all, graphics can be as detailed as they want, music can use all of the 100-man choruses that they want, and we can have 100-man death matches all we want; it doesn't count for anything if it doesn't create a lasting impression of warmth on the player. It's that warmth, that charm, that sticks with us and never lets go; I think that counts for a lot more than how many game modes or polygons a game has.

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