|Image from PopMatters.com|
I touched on this in the post, but I think it's important to reiterate the role game criticism has played in helping renew my interest in a genre I've been neglecting. Plenty of people (including myself) are constantly arguing in support of games criticism. We insist that it's an important and meaningful pursuit, yet it's a notoriously difficult thing to quantify. How exactly does smart writing change to way we look at games?
Good game criticism helps us look at old things in a new. Michael's framing of JRPGs as systems-oriented exercises rather than authored narratives made me realize that I've been focusing on the plot of JRPGs too heavily. I still think most JRPG stories are (at best) pretty goofy, but that's not what makes them unique. Plenty of games have trope-laden plots and shallow characters, but few have the unapologetic granularity that JRPGs have when it comes game mechanics. Where many games try to obscure the consequences of your choices or simulate chaos, JRPGs are great at emphasizing tactical thinking and clear causal relationships.
Criticism is also helpful for bringing peripheral events into clearer focus. Without Michael's discussion of Xenoblade: Chronicles or Simon Ferrari's analysis of Final Fantasy XIII, I could have easily written both of those games off as titles that conform to my entrenched notions about the genre. Instead, I'm now aware that both games (and perhaps others?) experiment with environmental storytelling that turns the game world itself into a metaphor that conveys the stories themes. The days when the overworld map was just set dressing for random encounters seems to be over.
A few months ago, I gave my brother Xenoblade: Chronicles as a gift because I knew he still likes JRPGs. I didn't realize it at the time, but so do I. I think it's time to exercise my familial borrowing privileges!