I am going to piss off many fans of Heavy Rain today.
Its not my fault. I really wanted to like this game. I really went into this one with an open mind and felt this was something that I could enjoy.
Heavy Rain came out back in 2010 and received near universal praise, getting high ranking scores upon its release and even being named PlayStation’s Game of the Year in 2010 by numerous sources, despite some glaring bugs. It was even included in a list of 1001 video games you must play before you die. That has to stand for something, right?
Today, I’m Cracking the Case on Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream for the PlayStation 3.
What This Game Does Right
This game looks gorgeous.
While the graphics may be a little dated compared to what can be seen on the PS4 and XBox One nowadays, it stands out for its time. Its like you are watching a computer animated movie. Many of the characters in the game look more realistic than people made for movies from Pixar or Dreamworks and its even comparable to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
While not to the point where it looks photo realistic, the game carries with it some of the best graphics offered from the PlayStation 3 at its time of release. That alone is pretty impressive.
This game has an interesting plot hook
This game starts incredibly slow, but once I got past the prologue, I knew there was some interesting events starting up. Between Ethan Mars randomly finding himself in the middle of the street with an origami bird in his hand, the detective fighting an abusive client of a hooker and the FBI agent looking through a crime scene with futuristic technology, you know big things are afoot.
The goal of the game is to figure out just who the Origami Killer is and to stop him from killing again. Its much like the motivation seen in movies like Se7en and Saw. Both revolved around stopping a killer from doing his dirty work and in the end, became great parts of movie history. Many people have given great praise to this game for its gripping story. Its too bad at the time of writing this, I still haven’t seen much of the game’s plot.
But lets be frank, there’s a reason I haven’t made it much further into the game than I did.
What This Game Does Wrong
This game fails at basic elements of storytelling
I am not saying that Heavy Rain has a bad story. Its too early in my playthrough of the game for me to tell you that. I can however say that this game fails to hook you right from the start of the gameplay.
If this game is going to consider itself an interactive drama, than it needs to live by the rules of drama to truly be successful.
The game’s prologue should serve as a hook, something to grab your interest right from the start. Instead, the first amount of tension and interest I found in this story was about three scenes in, where (SPOILER ALERT) the main character Ethan Mars’ son Jason dies after getting hit by a car.
Allow me to painstakingly take you through the beginning of Heavy Rain. You wake up, you sit up in your bed, then get up from your bed slowly. You walk around the room and pick up a note left by your wife, learning your name is Ethan. You the open the door, walk into the shower, brush your teeth, first up and down, then left to right. After that, you shave, making sure to apply the right amount of pressure so you don’t cut yourself. You use your shower and dry yourself with a towel; first your hair, then your body. After that, you go back to your closet, open it, get dressed, then go downstairs, go into your office and draw a building.
The estimated run time for this is about eight minutes of actual gameplay. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.
The point I am trying to make here is that you are not trying to play a game so you can re-live what should be the normal morning routine of your average male going to work if you worked in your own house. Because lord knows the tedium of actually driving to work and getting stuck in rush hour traffic would have just added to this masterpiece.
This is called padding. If I wanted to go through all this crap, I would play The Sims. At least time flows faster there and is not actually in real time.
Really, if they wanted to make the start of this game more interesting, they should have not treated the story chronologically. They should have started the game with the detective interrogating the hooker about the Origami killer, move onto the scene with the cop at the murder scene, then come back to Ethan Mars picking up his son Shawn from school and flash back to the scene at the mall where Jason dies.
That flow of events would at least keep you entertained. After all, the whole reason we play video games is for entertainment, not to be bored watching the average morning routine of John Everyman.
A similar game that did this whole sequence of events right is Shenmue. Here’s a game that took exploration to a whole new peak for its time, forcing you to do everything for Ryu Hazuki in his day-to-day life.
The huge difference in Shenmue though is that it gives you motivation right off the get-go. At the very start of the game, you witness your father get murdered. Now, you are trying to find the man who committed his murder and find answers to why it happened. That is an interesting start to the game, not John Everyman waking up and reading notes.
This game makes you do everything
Fast-forwarding a handful of scenes into the game, your main character needs to pick up his son Shawn from school. To do this, I need to open up the back door of the car to let Shawn into the vehicle. Then I have to walk around to the other side of the car, open the driver’s side door, do up my seat belt, adjust my mirror, start the ignition, put the car into gear and step on the accelerator. Then, the car goes down the street and back to your house.
Why? Why do I need to do all these things? In any other game, this would be a simple cutscene where I could just whisk by the entire thing with the press of the start button. Here, its almost a damn ordeal you have to pass to move the story along.
And realistically, any sane person would have your mirrors adjusted to the way you want them to be well before you reach your trip’s destination. Its one of the first damn things you do when you leave the house. Hell, most people don’t even do it because why would you have to change it if you are the only person driving your vehicle?
I am all for video games increasing the amount of interactivity that is available for the player. Far too often there is too much of a segregation between gameplay and a game’s custscenes, giving you cases where your character suddenly develops cutscene superpowers they cannot do normally in a game. THIS however borders on new levels of tedium and exhaustion.
For this example, lets look to one of the greatest role-playing games of all time, Chrono Trigger. The game starts with Crono’s Mom shouting for him to wake up, opening the blinds and heading back downstairs. Crono gets out of bed, does a little fist pump and then you are given full-control to move around and do whatever you want. That’s it.
If we were to apply the Heavy Rain engine to this game, we would see Crono wake up in the morning, open his blinds, make his bed, go to the bathroom, get dressed, comb his Goku-like hair for 3 hours straight, brush his teeth, go downstairs, feed his cat, have a conversation with his mom, set out two plates, two forks, two knives, two spoons, two cups, get the milk out of the fridge, pour it, put the milk back into the fridge, sit down, eat breakfast, then do a little fist pump and go out the door. Its all completely useless to the actual flow of the story. By the time Crono is done going to the bathroom, Lavos would have risen from the Earth and ended this misery for all of us.
Do I care that I get to shake my controller so my character can brush his teeth? No.
Do I care that I can shake my controller to shake a carton of orange juice to make sure its not all pulpy and gross? No, I’d just buy non-pulp orange juice like any sane person would.
The fact is, no one cares. Really, what does it add to the whole experience that is Heavy Rain’s story, which I’ve heard so many wonderful things about?
In Chrono Trigger, all I care about is getting out of the house, walking into some random forest and bashing in the heads of monsters so I can build my levels up, summon lightning and kill bigger monsters.
In Heavy Rain, there are lots of tedious actions seen as revolutionary because you do it all with the PlayStation Move or with the PS3’s fancy motion controls through the system’s dual shock controllers. Its a gimmick that probably won a lot of people over when the game first came out because they like fancy technical crap like that.
This game is very glitchy
Right out of the gate, I ran into issues with bugs. That’s even after waiting the two hours it took to download over a GB worth of updates for this game.
In the prologue, when the mother and two kids pulled into the driveway and walked into the house, my game froze. Not only that, but my game didn’t save before it froze.
Remember that whole chain of events that started the game? The one I described for you in painstaking detail a moment ago? Now I have to live through it all AGAIN.
This is not the only time I ran into this issue. In the scene where the detective goes to interrogate the hooker and has the attack in the hall, my game wouldn’t allow me to do anything to get the inhaler, forcing me to reboot the game.
Also, in the scene where I’m introduced to the detective with the fancy technology at the crime scene, my game froze once again. Whether this is an issue with the game disc or just problems that all gamers have run into, I don’t know. But that ended it for me.
This basically made an already tedious game a chore of glitchy proportions.
I don’t know what to tell you for my final thoughts on this one. I am sure there is some appeal to be found if I delve a bit further into the story, making for an interesting gameplay experience.
Personally though, I’ve had enough. Why should I have to force myself to continue playing to find merit in what’s supposed to be PlayStation’s Game of the Year for 2010. Must have been a really crappy year if that was the case.
The key elements of a narrative are to hook your readers right from the get-go. Dan Brown didn’t become a millionaire author overnight just by forcing his readers to watch Robert Langdon fiddle with how straight he can tie his tie. If the key aspects of this game is to play like an interactive drama, then it should follow the rules of drama and actually try to catch the attention of viewers or gamers right from the get-go.
For that reason alone, I would put this game back on the shelf. With thousands of games at my disposal to play, it would take some patience or a few drinks to look past the nonsense of shaking orange juice in the fridge. Maybe I’ll mix some non-pulp concentrate orange juice with some vodka… See if that gets me to the point where I can play this game again.
NEXT WEEK: We return to the XBox 360 to explore Tales of Vesperia.
I am possibly going to offend many JRPG fans today.
It’s not because I don’t like role playing games from Japan. I have a collection of RPGs dating back to Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the Nintendo. RPGs from both sides of the pond have found their way into my game systems and on my television set for nearly three decades.
The reason many fans of JRPGs are likely to come after me in droves is because I am about to open fire on a game that has been applauded by fans of RPGs, strategy games and war stories alike.
Today, I’m Cracking the Case on Record of Agarest War by Aksys Games.
Not to be confused with the old anime/manga series Record of Lodoss War, Agarest has seen some success in North America. Enough success that the developers have ported both its prequel Record of Agarest War Zero and its sequel to North America.
Like I said, I grew up with RPGs, but fell in love with strategy RPGs. Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics have been revisited time and time again in my house. Its reached the point where I can avoid picking up any strategy games these days, in hopes that I will find a successor to the Ogre Battle series.
Will Agarest War be able to compete with many other successful franchises it share roots with? Let’s find out.
WHAT THIS GAME DOES RIGHT
This game has an addictive battle system.
The game’s battle system is its strongest point. Each battle allows you to take six members of your army into the fray, each capable of using their own moves. These moves, when synced up with other members of the party, creates devastating combos, capable of doing tens of thousands of points in damage. The first time you break the nine thousand point mark, they even reward you for it.
The game even keeps track of your highest combos and ranks you compared to other players online, providing more motivation to achieve bigger combos.
This game has loads of characters.
The game’s storyline takes place over five generations, each introducing more characters into the mix. By the end of the game, so many characters join up that it can be hard to keep them all straight.
That’s not including the monster capture and breeding system, which lets you create some unique and devastating characters for your team relatively early in the story. I was able to create a level 90 monster in generation 3, about halfway through the game. The top level you can get is level 99, effectively creating the equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the battlefield.
It’s like the game gives you the opportunity to create Thundergod Cid from Final Fantasy Tactics, just for the hell of it.
This game has a unique generations system
In most games, your main character is a product of your decisions. This game takes that statement literally.
Each generation’s main character is based on the decisions of the hero in the previous generation. One choice in particular, as the main character decides who he wants to… umm… sleep with.
The term for it in the game is ‘soul breeding.’ Basically, you have three women in each generation that you can marry to give birth to the next hero. Each time creates a unique character, with certain strengths and a different design that will be carried to later generations.
WHAT THIS GAME DOES WRONG
This game needs to fire its writers
I’m not sure what Agarest Zero or Two are like, but if they kept the same translators from the first game, things don’t bode well for the rest of the series.
Picture you are having a conservation with the most rigid and repetitive person on Earth.
Now imagine that this person has soul bred with every person in the game and you have Record of Agarest War. Conversations are repetitive, characters speak like an English major trying to speak French and dialogue in one scene will often have no flow or connection to any other scene.
I realize this series has a medieval setting with its own set of gods, but other games have done settings like this before and actually have good writing. Chrono Trigger pulled off 600 A.D. with no issues at all and both remakes of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre also did so nicely.
My complaint with Agarest is not period writing; this is lazy, repetitive garbage trying to be masked as period writing by eye-candy characters.
This game has stiff and wooden characters
Writing plays a lot into this and while I’ve already fired a shot off the game’s bow for that. But if you have ever played this game, how many characters ca you actually remember without looking at a Wikipedia site? And I don’t mean what moves you use or what they look like. I mean their background story and what contribution they actually had to the story.
Granted, not all of the characters in this game are bad. Some are actually enjoyable, like Winfield. The problem is you can see what’s going to happen to most of the characters about a mile away. Character design doesn’t help here. One of the early party members, Vashtor, is a clear example of that.
The game loves wasting your time.
This game is a perfectionist’s Hell. If your goal is to collect every single item in the game, just stop now.
Agarest introduces us to the most convoluted system for getting new items and new abilities that I have ever seen.
There is item crafting, which revolves around its own point system to level up items. To get the points, you have to get into endless battles.
Once an item is fully leveled up, it can be broken down into its base parts, which can be used to build new items.
These new items require additional items to build them, which can only be found by beating certain monsters who have a random drop rate for items, or capturing monsters and turning them into items through their monster breeding system.
Once you build a new item, you can either use that item in battle or trade it in, with additional items, to get new abilities for your characters.
Those abilities can also be built up through constant repetitive use, which means more battles.
Sounds like a great system, right? Prepare to be disappointed.
The amount of points some items require to level up are just ridiculous, based on the amount of points you get per battle.
Also, the game includes Oops items. That’s not the actual term for them, that’s the only way I can describe this. Every now and then when you give the OK to build that weapon you’ve been working for hours to get all the materials for, the blacksmith screws up and builds an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ITEM. Sometimes, that item is either worthless or an item you already have.
If you didn’t save, you’re out of luck and back to the drawing board.
And to add further frustration, you can’t buy that item you’ve been trying to build in the stores. The shopkeeper only stocks items you’ve ALREADY BUILT. As if you are the only person building weapons and armor in this freaking place.
You basically have two options. Either spend half of the time you will be playing this game building things, or spend your actual money on DLC items that make the game a cakewalk. Either option is fundamentally wrong on a level of game design. (I went with the DLC, by the way.)
I would suggest renting this game first to see if you like it or even download a trial version, but neither option is available. This game seems to be hard to find on disc and there are no trial versions through XBox Live. Your options are to pay whatever price the XBox store is asking for or not to bother at all. My choice would be the latter.
Avoid this game, classics like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics do what this game is trying to do much better. Heck, even Disgaea is a better choice.
If you’re only looking for eye-candy, check out Catherine or the Dead or Alive series. Less effort needed there.