Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Comfort Gaming

  It’s that time again.

  Every couple of months, I feel the need to relax in something warm and familiar, like most of us, I’m sure. Also like many of us out there somewhere, I have a hella clogged backlog of new games that I desperately need to play so as to render them good purchases rather than wasted money. Games like Max Payne 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut, Fire Emblem: New Awakening, Monster Hunter 3, and many others are just sitting in my small Japanese apartment, waiting to be played. More than that, there are even some new games I don’t yet have that I am super excited to play eventually like The Last of Us and very shortly NHL 14. But fuck that.

  As many new games there are, there are many games I have played and enjoyed thoroughly in the past that I would rather enjoy again than venture into a new saga where I have to play carefully and pay strict attention and read every word… Sometimes, that just sounds tiring. You may think, “what a lazy bastard this guy is,” and, no doubt, that’s partially true, but shit, we all need a lie down sometimes. That’s what these games have become for me, and the most difficulty they pose me these days is just deciding which one to start up and play through, again.

Final Fantasy
Poor Aeris, those flowers always get terribly mistreated.
  I love Final Fantasy, from I to XII (sorry, XIII just didn’t do it for me, but I’m looking forward to giving Lightning Returns a fair shake), and this is the comfortiest of the comfort games I own. I’ve played these the most, and that’s saying something, considering the length of Final Fantasies as a general tenet. The easy main quests with a good mix of collecting and entertaining mini-games (I admit that Tetra Master from VIII and Chocobo Breeding from VII are my favorites, though I’m partial to X’s Blitzball, too) make these just… fun, to play.

  My choice among the thrall, however, is Final Fantasy VII. It starts fast and the first three or four hours just blow by, but then the game just… slows down. The world opens up, the story starts to self-explicate, and the journey begins. The trendy choice is Final Fantasy VI, but I have to say that I just don’t have as much fun with that one. Or with VIII, IX, IV, etc… Cloud is charmingly amnesiac in a way that Locke, Squall, Tidus, and Zidane just aren’t. I like all of these games, but none as much as VII. It’s the ultimate comfort Fantasy for me.

Katamari Damacy
Truly, the most under-appreciated hero.
  I still remember the review I read of this game when it first came out that originally inspired me to give it a try in the first place. Paraphrased, “who knew it could be so much fun to pick up stuff by rolling a ball around?” That line had me hooked. I had to see what this game was about. Add in the amazing soundtrack, intuitive control scheme, and incredibly clever growing dynamic (starting with thumbtacks and moving to candy > candy bars > candy bar boxes > people who carry candy bar boxes > trucks that bring candy bar boxes > etc.) and this game is a true classic, unique video gaming experience.

  This game is so easy and fun to play that at a whim, you can pick up a controller, turn on the system and either start up a new game for a nice size-sequential roll through the universe or just go for an eternal roll around the world while some infectiously catchy music plays on. For my money, this game is relaxation. Thank god this game has finally come to PSN so that I don’t risk destroying my physical disks from overuse. Now, I’m just waiting for We <3 Katamari to make the same jump.

This is one of the more lucid ideas this game has to offer.
  Another RPG, yeah. Another Squaresoft RPG, yeah. I’m a huge fan of RPGs in general (I’m also a fan of long, confusing movies and short, confusing books) and this game is long, confusing, involved, and epic. The first time I played this game (after having bought it and Metal Gear Solid on the same day in October 1998 – best game release date ever ;-) ), I was 12 turning 13 years old. And, being a teenager, I was an idiot. I actually muted the TV and listened to The Offspring’s Americana for the entirety of the first full playthrough of that game. Little did I know that I was missing some of the best music in video games to that point, and upon my second playthrough to try to make more sense of the story, discovered that the music almost entirely by itself added a new dimension to the scope and tone of the game.

  If you’ve never played it, play it. The first time will be strange and some parts will be difficult, so, in that sense, this is in no way a comfort game, but if you make it through the first time and enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did, you’ll find yourself breezing through the difficult parts and even relishing the endless amounts of battles it takes to build up your deathblow abilities.

  Doesn’t sound much like a comfort game, though, does it?

Silent Hill 2
There's nothing I don't like about this game.
  Potentially the best game I’ve ever played, it’s so far down on this list simply because of the attention it requires to play (and these aren’t in any particular order outside of the order in which I thought to include them). It’s not an RPG, so there is no opportunity to sort of phase in and phase out of the game while playing it, not to mention the time and attention it takes to scour the town for the necessary health items and ammo just to make it to the end (especially at higher difficulties).

  The story is complex and riveting. The atmosphere is unmatched; the slow, difficult combat adds to the player’s edginess; and the original voice acting is so generally bad that it perfectly represents the mental state James is in (in my opinion). I just can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the game, even its perceived foibles. When I’m in the mood to play a game more actively that I know I’m going to enjoy, I almost always pick this one. Unless I’ve just played it.

Mega Man Legends
Mega Man Legends in a nutshell.
  It’s amazing that Capcom killed this series. This game is a 3D Metroidvania with a charming, friendly atmosphere with fun platforming, fun battles (albeit with some terribly dated control schemes), fun characters, extensive upgrading, and an excellent side story to the whole Mega Man mythos. The one story problem I have with it is that the evil Dr. Wily is absolutely nowhere to be seen (he is, in fact, owner of a boat harbor on Kattelox Island – at least, I’m pretty sure that’s him), but, ultimately, it’s not a big deal. This is another game that requires more attention to play than the traditional RPG genre, but it’s utterly disarming in its presentation and is easy to get into.

  The crux of this game, however, is the exploration. It takes a little while to get to the point of the game where you can start exploring pretty much at will, but once you do, it’s heaven to run around to all of the different mines attempting to find all of the treasure and to destroy the walls to connect all of the mines, together. (Now that I think about it, though, those were probably load-bearing walls. Mega Man and the citizens of Kattelox Island probably should have been horribly killed and crushed many times over…) The characters are cute, the town is fun with lots, but not too much, to do, and the relaxation factor is off the charts. You just feel at ease playing this game. You feel happier playing this game. Legends 2 is good, also, but Kattelox Island is a much better designed, tighter experience.

Dark Souls
Ah, finally: peace and quiet.
  You might think this is a departure, but, really, this is simply another exploration game with an incredibly steep mastery curve. This is truly the game that requires the most vigilance to play. Every move must be watched, every enemy feared, every soul used wisely. However, if you manage all of this, the satisfaction gained from progressing is like no other game. Every victory is major: opening a new door, killing a boss, ringing the bells. Everything is important.

  How in the hell is this relaxing? So, because you have to pay so much attention and think so damn hard, you can kind of get used to it. You find yourself getting in a groove and a sort of autopilot turns on in your head, and you can coast along, slaying enemies, saving up souls for upgrade, and learning the terrain’s subtleties for more profitable slaying. And the game becomes fun. It becomes easy. And you start to relax.

  Until you die.

  It’s an acquired taste, certainly, but those minutes where you’re coasting are wonderfully cathartic. If you manage to slay a boss within the groove, the satisfaction and happiness only exponentially increases.

  These are the games that first come to mind whenever I feel the need for some comfort gaming. And going through my list, I find that my personal comfort gaming has to do with exploration. Every one of these games has you exploring the world (a world, anyway), making progress, and, generally, collecting things. It’s September, and school has just started, so a need for some old comfort is welcome. But fuck that.

  I'm going to play Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon.

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