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Video games and other things.

Greater Objectivity in Certain Reviewing-Related Matters

For the past week, I’ve mainly been playing Samurai Legend Musashi, a PS2 action RPG from a few years back. Overall, it’s fairly average, but despite the simple battle system and other, smaller issues, it’s a fun game and I’m enjoying it.

Not too short, not too long, but just right.

Not too short, not too long, but just right.

This might sound odd, but one of the things which attracted me to the game in the first place was its length. In reviews, I’d read that it was fairly short for an RPG, and indeed, I’m getting near the end now and am somewhere around the fifteen-hour mark. Your modern JRPG (turn-based, action, or strategy) clocks in at an average of fifty hours if one includes any required grinding and a sidequest or two; going for full completion typically takes much longer, and often requires going past the hundred-hour mark. That Musashi offers a complete action RPG experience in a length that was adequate in the 16-bit era is certainly not a negative, especially for a genre fan like me who only has so much time to devote to gaming.

I don’t think Samurai Legend Musashi’s length should’ve been a negative factor in reviews (which it certainly was in some of them) unless the story felt rushed or inadequately told. On the contrary, the story in Musashi is simple and fits the overall length very well, and though I’ve yet to beat the game, I haven’t seen anything that would indicate a less-than-satisfactory ending. And that brings me to today’s topic: some things I would like to see listed separately in reviews that shouldn’t be considered as a positive or negative within the review itself unless there’s a very good reason.

First off, average game length. If a game leaves one wanting more, I can understand that. However, lambasting (or praising) a game simply because it’s a certain length is pretty silly. This is especially true of modern RPG reviews, where the general consensus seems to be, “the longer, the better.” I understand there’s a cost/value consideration, especially when it comes to pricey but short actioners a la God of War, but this is one area where I feel that it’s best for the readers to decide for themselves, as not everyone has the same amount of leisure time to devote to games. The only site I visit on a regular basis which tends to list length separately is RPGamer; I’d love to know of others.

Speaking of RPGamer, they do the same with difficulty. Not all gamers sport the same level of skill, and thus, as with game length, one size does not fit all. Slamming a game because it’s “too easy” doesn’t do it or its potential audience much favors. Again, there are exceptions, the biggest one being the accounting of difficulty/learning curves, which is something I always want to know about when reading reviews. Otherwise, readers should be told up front, without further judgement, how easy or hard a reviewer found a game to be.

The last major one is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price—in American dollars, euros, yen, Microsoft points, whatever. Now more than ever, games vary wildly in price, from free browser-based titles to pricey special edition versions of big-budget console releases. As previously implied, pricing can be tied in with average length, as there’s a “cost per hour” metric which some gamers like to account for, but only some of them. Listing the price up front, but not commenting on it unless there’s a damn good reason, is something I’d like to see in a lot more reviews.

There are some other separate factors that may also be considered. One of these is genre, another is potentially objectionable material (something which the parent-oriented sites, as well as mainstream sources like the New York Times, tend to cover). In general, though, these three represent what I feel are the most important variables that separate gamers: how much time they would like to spend on a single game, how much (or little) of a challenge they prefer, and how much money they are willing to drop.



  • I think CAG do a pretty good job of having users rate how much they think the game is “worth” when compared with the RRP but your right, it isn’t somthing that comes up in reviews often. Where price does seem to come into discussion is with the downloadable titles. I remember a big discussion in particular came up when Penny Arcade announced the price of their game.

    The problem with all these though, is that they are so opinionated. All (good) reviews are complete opinion anyway, and you try to find reviewers that match your tastes generally, however when it comes to perceived value of a game or how difficulty these are going to change drastically from person to person to the point where its almost not worth mentioning. Again with average length of the game, its possible to do this with many titles, but with others its not so easy. Working out what that average really is probably isn’t worth most reviewers time. And how many big named reviewers do you think really complete long JRPG’s?

    I do agree though, more information like this would be useful when trying to choose which games to play, but in the end its all less important than the actual content of the game itself.

  • I think CAG do a pretty good job of having users rate how much they think the game is “worth” when compared with the RRP but your right, it isn’t somthing that comes up in reviews often.

    I almost brought it up in this post, but IGN did something neat for their never-completed Dreamcast retrospective. For each game they covered, they listed the secondary-market value as well as what they thought the game should be worth. That’s a nice, subtle way of working around the monetary issue, but it would be impossible to get away with when it comes to new releases.

    All (good) reviews are complete opinion anyway, and you try to find reviewers that match your tastes generally, however when it comes to perceived value of a game or how difficulty these are going to change drastically from person to person to the point where its almost not worth mentioning.

    Yep; thus my point.

    As for variances between reviewers: to RPGamer’s credit, they’ll often have multiple reviews for a single game, especially for the popular ones that have been out for awhile. Completion times and difficulty can vary wildly between reviews of certain games, but in general, they’re fairly consistent.

    And how many big named reviewers do you think really complete long JRPG’s?

    Before review? None of them, which is why I largely stick to fansite reviews and personal recommendations for that genre. Still, many of them are formulaic enough where it wouldn’t hurt to make an educated guesstimate (again, see RPGamer’s reviews).

    I do agree though, more information like this would be useful when trying to choose which games to play, but in the end its all less important than the actual content of the game itself.

    Well, yeah, that’s sort of why I wouldn’t mind to see this kind of content sifted out more often.