Games that just didn’t tickle my pickle Jan-June 2021: Legend of Legacy, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Quest Builders.

Here on Videogames Make Me Happy, I try to offer a corner of the internet to celebrate every that’s awesome about this amazing medium, unsullied by the general negativity and toxicity of ‘gamer’ culture. There is an understanding here that all games are subjectively ‘good’ to somebody – a lid for every pot and all that.

But that isn’t to say that I find all games equally enjoyable as a consumer. I refuse to be pressured or shamed into liking something because I ‘should’ like it, or because the community at large has decided that it’s a good game. Some games do not make me happy. Some games turn me into a very Angry Gamer. Or a very Bored one. And that’s OK.

This is a shoutout to those games.


Legend of Legacy on 3DS

Some of the greatest Nintendo games ever made (IMO) are represented in the 3DS library, but what about the rest of the 1372-strong library? What if all we’re seeing are a handful of diamonds resting on a mountain of turds? There’s only one way to find out. I made a commitment to try some of the more obscure, under-appreciated titles in the 3DS’ vast library, which lead me to Legend of Legacy, a turn-based RPG localised for North America and Europe by ATLUS (the same people who localised the Persona games, Dragon’s Crown and Demon’s Souls.)

Legend of Legacy is nothing if not innovative. It downright turns generic turn-based combat on its head. The combat system is centred around environmental effects and auras to bestow buffs to your party members (or the enemy monsters) – auras offer a new layer of strategy as each side fights for the domination of their particular elemental aura on the battlefield. It also introduced ‘formations’ where each party member would take on a ‘stance’ that specialised them in a particular role, like a tank or a DPS for example. This makes party roles/structures much more tangible than in other RPGs where roles are mostly theoretical, represented more in a characters stats than in their actual abilities or functions on the battlefield.

It also had an intriguing levelling system where stats and skills were improved by using them rather than relying on EXP gains. Legend of Legacy went further than discouraging players from grinding levels, they actively prohibited it by designing their levelling system in a way that meant a characters stats and skills would not improve if the level of the enemy is too low. Ballsy move – I respected it.

The gameplay as a whole was also far removed from what you would usually expect from a turn-based RPG. Its emphasis wasn’t on defeating bosses, or progressing the story… because there wasn’t one, really. Legend of Legacy’s real focus is on exploration and…. cartography? As your party ventures into new areas, your aim is to explore the entire area and record your findings in a map which you can then sell in the main hub for money. Cartography is a respectable trade but is it a strong enough concept on which to base a 30 hour game?

Legend of Legacy clearly took an open-world approach – it never tries to tell you where to go or what order to explore areas in – but it almost ends up being TOO open-world, leaving the game with little to no narrative structure. Choose your own adventure is great in theory, but in reality, the foundations of great RPGs are build on great storytelling. Watching the narrative play out before our eyes is what compels us to keep playing turn-based RPGs even when the actual gameplay is some of the most repetitive of any genre.

Overall, the lack of a clear narrative rendered Legend of Legacy a pointless exercise for me. As intriguing as the combat system is, there wasn’t a great enough incentive to persist through some of the more frustrating elements of the gameplay design without a page-turner to keep me motivated. And thus it languishes on my shelf.


Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin on Switch

This is an affront to nature, but I can’t bring myself to stop it.

When I heard that Marvellous had released a game that meshed farming-simulation with action-platforming, my first thought was ‘is that even allowed?’ and my second thought was ‘I need some of this in my life.’ To my surprise, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin actually is a faming-simulator-action-platforming hybrid. Boy, we’ve really scraping the bottom of the barrel now for new genres. This game is to videogames what corgi cross-breeds are to dogs – when two things that absolutely should not go together are combined, and for some ungodly reason, it kinda works?

In Sakuna, you play as the the harvest goddess Sakuna who is banished to the Island of Demons to clear it of monsters (and gain a proper agricultural education along the way.)

Unsurprisingly, the game play is split into two distinct halves. The first is the action-platforming half where you explore the island to gather food and resources for your companions, and slay demons along the way.

The second half is a shockingly realistic rice-growing simulator. Let it be known, this ‘aint no regular videogame ‘farming’ where you simply plant seeds in the general vicinity of some water and call it a day. Sakuna makes rice-growing into the science that it is IRL: when you plant your seeds, where you plant your seeds, the water saturation level, the flora and fauna in your rice paddy, everything down to the ingredient composition of your fertiliser has a huge effect on the quality of your rice crop at the end of the year.

I have no complaints whatsoever about the farming-simulation side of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin – the 3D graphics are gorgeous, the soundtrack is soothing and it’s so incredibly therapeutic to nurture your crop like they’re your brood of little rice-ling children. The soothing environment and realistic farming/cooking mechanics make the farm feel like a living breathing slice of paradise to drink, eat, farm and be merry in.

~ BUT ~

The action-platforming is what really lets the game down. The controls are very clunky and unintuitive especially on a Switch controller or gamepad. There are little in the way of ranged attacks you can use and no fluid combos like in a hack ‘n slash meaning that a group of enemies will easily overwhelm you. It makes the actual combat much more difficult than it had to be.

The main culprit is the ‘raiment’ controls – because the platforming is played in ‘2.5D’ the developers introduced the ability to swing past an enemy to quickly get from one side of the screen to another. This works well in one-on-one battles with large enemies, but works terribly when dealing with a horde of regular enemies; it frustrated the hell out of me, but perhaps I just suck at that this kind of game.

I couldn’t stomach any more of the combat, and since there’s no way around it, I had to put the game down. I would think about replaying Sakuna if it was just a relaxing farming simulator. Players love those! I mean, I’ve been playing Minecraft for literally 10 years now and I’ve never once killed the Ender dragon because I’m too busy expanding my wheat farm and breeding my chickens – and I know I’m not the only one.


Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on Switch

I’ve been a huge fan of fantasy RPGs since being a little kid (I was that weird kid that used to draw dragons and Norse letters in my school textbooks) but, for some reason, the classic top-down D&D RPGs completely passed me by. I stuck to the normie RPGs like Skyrim and World of Warcraft; I’d never even heard of Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights or Pillars of Eternity until I came across Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on the Switch. And thus, my re-education began!

But given that it appears on this list, you can probably guess how it went.

Let me start by saying that I completely understand why old-skool D&D fans love Baldur’s Gate. There’s a sense of immensity and endless possibility in Baldur’s Gate that simply isn’t there even in the best modern open-world RPGs. The world feels dangerous, unpredictable and teeming with nastiness; victories are hard-won; you always need to watch your back. This is something that all old RPGs have in common and I respect that a great deal.

Unfortunately, that didn’t make up for the fact that the menu system and the control scheme in general on Switch was intolerably unintuitive. Moving my party was difficult, attacking the right enemies was difficult, bartering was difficult, navigating the menus was difficult, using items was difficult, casting spells was difficult – everything was so much more difficult than it needed to be. It made Baldur’s Gate a tiring game to play.

It’s not rocket science, they said. It’s just D&D, they said.

I mean, would it have killed them to offer quest markers? Or quest-giver markers so I know who to talk to? Maybe that’s asking too much. Well, couldn’t they have at least displayed weapon and armour values in something other than D&D abbreviations? I’m a stupid n00b who doesn’t know the first thing about the rules of D&D. I don’t know what a roll is! What’s the difference between 1D6 and 2D8? What the hell is THAC0? I spent most of the game not knowing how I was hitting things, only that things were dying when I got close to them – and even then that was because I played on the easiest difficult.

I’ve definitely been spoiled by modern RPGs that prioritise convenience and user-friendliness over anything else.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not trashing the genre as a whole. I’m currently half way through Tyranny which is shaping up to unironically be one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, and that’s a top-down D&D style RPG. The difference is that the control scheme and combat controls are so much simpler and more user-friendly than in Baldur’s Gate – it doesn’t mentally drain me to play like Baldur’s Gate does.

I got so fatigued with Baldur’s Gate that I never moved on to Baldur’s Gate II – the general consensus is that it’s the better game, so I will definitely give it a try one day. On PC this time.


Dragon Quest Builders on Switch

I love Dragon Quest; I love sandboxes like Minecraft; this is a sure win, right?

Right?

You would think so.

Dragon Quest Builders is a mix-‘n-match of a few different genres. It features elements of survival-craft, tower defence, city-building and regular old RPG mechanics. Chronologically, the game is set after the first Dragon Quest game, but in an alternate reality where the hero sides with the villain – the world is plunged into endless chaos and the inhabitants of Alfegard lose their ability to build things, for some reason. Enter you, the player, the last known builder, charged with rebuilding Alfegard’s settlements, restoring order and civilisation to the world.

As a concept, this works well – the third-person perspective does not. Building games that involve destroying and placing blocks should always be played in a first-person perspective because that’s the best way to offer the precision and control needed to create the elaborate structures players love to build in sandboxes; playing in a third-person perspective has you constantly fighting with the camera, placing blocks in the wrong place or destroying blocks you didn’t mean to. In a sandbox game, the building mechanic should feel fluid and intuitive, especially if it’s the primary way that players interact with the world. Can you imagine trying to play Minecraft without effective, easy-to-use controls?

Perhaps that sounded a bit theoretical, so I’ll put it in a different way – I found Dragon Quest Builder’s building controls to be annoying, and given that this is a building sandbox, that made 80% of the gameplay annoying to experience.

Unfortunately, the more I played of Dragon Quest Builders, the more I began to realise that the concept itself was doomed to fail from the start, at least in my eyes. The developers of Dragon Quest Builders said that they had aimed to make an ‘open sandbox game combined with an RPG’s purposeful story-driven plot.’ It’s a great idea in theory, but in practice, it’s somewhat of an oxymoron – the game isn’t really open-world if you need to complete a bunch of quests for NPCs in order to unlock the most important recipes in the game. For example, you can’t build a stonemason’s workbench until you make 4 straw beds for Suzie, even if you have the ingredients for making a stonemason’s workbench already in your inventory. Why does it matter if Suzie gets her beds? Why is that necessary to progress? That would be like if you couldn’t make a Nether Portal in Minecraft without having traded 5 emeralds with a villager first.

I always thought the point of a sandbox was to thrust players into a world, give them all the tools they need to build/craft whatever their hearts desired, and let them loose to see what will happen – like ‘open-world’ but taken to a the nth degree. In Dragon Quest Builders, you’re thrust into a world that looks open, but is really full of metaphorical barriers getting in the way of your progression. It never gave me the true freedom and autonomy I expect of a sandbox.

Eventually, I got tired of being limited and traded the game in. I’m fairly bitter about it because I’d hoped Dragon Quest Builders could be to Dragon Quest franchise what Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is to the Pokémon franchise, but it just didn’t work out. Onwards and upwards.


Bonus: Let’s Play Toxic Gamer Bingo!

Let’s play Toxic Gamer Bingo. You get +1 point for each of the below that has been said to you, either online or IRL, and you get -1 point for each of the below that you’ve said to another person:

“If you were a true fan of X franchise/genre, you would like X game.”

“You’re just trying to be edgy by not liking something that loads of other people like.”

“X game is the best in the franchise/genre, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I bet you haven’t even played X game.”

“You’re just bad at X game, that’s why you don’t like it.”

“You’re too old/young/stupid to appreciate X game.”

“You don’t like X game because you’re a fake gamer.”

How did you score? I scored 4.

We’ve all met those people for whom their personal tastes in music, videogames, films, anime, etc are used to plug up the gaps where an actual personality should be. I’ve met people who not only insist, but outright demand that the games they like should be ‘appreciated’ by others, and if they don’t ‘appreciate’ those games properly, then that person is simply deficient in some way. I’ve even met people who took my not ‘appreciating’ their favourite games as a personal attack on their character, like I just dissed their mother or something. I’m sure you’ve met those people too.

We live in a crazy world where the lines between opinion and fact are being constantly blurred. We’ve divided each other up into tiny political, cultural and philosophical tribes that are so small that when we can dice them up no further, we start falling out over the kinds of interactive media we like to consume in our spare time instead.

Videogames are awesome! Can’t we just agree on that?

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