I didn't get an SNES until much later than most. So in the course of choosing my first game, I really wanted to make it count. I wanted the longest, most in-depth game I could think of. I ended up picking up Final Fantasy VI. I think of that momentous occasion, which helped to make me a full-blown RPG fan, every time I hear people talk about games being too long, which is happening again now that Assassin's Creed Odyssey reviews are live.
It's a popular discussion point because games are indeed much longer than they were a generation ago, and because a lot of game journalists are becoming parents and thus feel the time crunch more acutely than ever. Assassin's Creed Oydssey is by all accounts absolutely enormous—larger even than last year's similarly hefty Assassin's Creed Origins. Keen to justify their $60 price point amid relentless competition, developers are trying to turn their games into absolute feasts.
It's understandable that gamers are feeling a bit overwhelmed. And yet just a generation ago we were complaining about 6 hour campaigns. Now we're complaining about 60 hour campaigns, and somewhere Roger Meyers Jr. is screaming, "You kids don't know what you want! That's why you're still kids, cause you're stupid!"
The argument against long games is that they sacrifice short and sweet experiences that can actually be finished in favor of more collectibles, more quests... more everything. In the push to cram in as much content as possible, developers invariably begin to put less thought into their encounter design, or simply recycle them. Longer, more complex games also tend to buggier, as it becomes more difficult for QA to properly explore them in a timely fashion. And it's easier to get bored and simply never finish 100 hour epics.
These are all reasonable points. As it turns out, making a truly meaningful epic is really hard. But that doesn't make a game being extremely long a negative in and of itself. And when a long game is done right, it can be a truly special experience.
More than anything, long games offer an opportunity to become truly immersed in the worlds they present. Playing through a game like Assassin's Creed Odyssey is like plowing through seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season 3 was the best one, by the way). I remember my feelings after finally wrapping Persona 4 Golden back in 2013. I was glad to be able to move on to something else, but as everyone waved goodbye, I suddenly became emotional. I felt like I was saying goodbye to my friends.
I have many such happy memories with long, in-depth games. Valkyria Chronicles, for instance, which embeds you in Squad 7 (and more recently, Squad E) and encourages you to get to know them over the course of some 40 hours. Fallout 4, which I spent a good 150 hours playing, a solid 50 of which was spent on my various settlements. Breath of the Wild, which was just pure, delightful exploration. No game has made me want to investigate every nook and cranny of its world more than Breath of the Wild.
It's true that the absolutely enormous Assassin's Creed Odyssey is a tough sell for me right now. That's partly because I'm an adult with responsibilities, but also because it's my job to play as much as humanly possible. With Spider-Man still on my plate, and Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fallout 76 just around the corner, it's hard for me to make such a large commitment. It's why I invariably have to drag myself away from FIFA and NBA 2K: at a certain point I need to keep up with what's new.
But that doesn't mean I don't still enjoy a long game outside of my usual responsibilities. I'm currently working on three big games, which I consider to be long-term projects. One is Dragon Quest XI, which I really like and want to finish someday (though I may just wait for the Switch version like everyone else). One is Persona 5, which I will randomly pick up to play a few days, then set down again. And the last is Witcher 3, which will probably take another 50 hours of my life before I eventually wrap up the story and all of the DLC. I will eventually finish it, even if takes me several more years.
In another world, one where I didn't play games for living, I would probably be done with all three of them. I would simply play them one at a time until completion, then move on to something else. I've always been methodical like that. Sure, it would mean missing out on the excitement of playing some games at launch, but they would still be there when I got around to them. And in any case, there are so many games coming out on a regular basis that it's impossible to play everything anyway.
Where I can see being frustrated is that it's harder than ever to find a true middle ground between 50 hour epics and 5 hour indies. Even Spider-Man, which might have only been 10 hours once upon a time, is now at least 20 hours. The days of a short, sweet adventure like Uncharted 2 justifying the price of admission with pure excellence are largely behind us.
But while Uncharted and Chrono Trigger have shown that it's possible to have a tight, impactful experience that only lasts 10 to 15 hours, that doesn't invalidate an experience like Assassin's Creed Odyssey or Breath of the Wild. Their sheer scope is a pleasure in and of itself. Even a game like God of War, which some have complained is 10 hours too long, feels like it would be a letdown if it were shorter, if only because it would afford less time for the relationship between Kratos and Atreus to bud. Once we dreamed of massive, immersive worlds that could take dozens of hours to explore. Now that we have them, we're complaining that they're too big.
I often worry that we're no longer equipped to appreciate such in-depth games. With the continuous flood of entertainment into our various devices, not to mention social media, it's become difficult to simply sit and focus on one thing at a time. I expect that's even the case for games, long the ultimately instant gratification medium. That makes me even more inclined to stump for games that actually take their time and demand some attention to enjoy.
In the broader sense, I'm grateful for the wide variety of experiences on offer. If I want a tight, short adventure with some emotional punch, I've got Shovel Knight. If I want a chill game that will keep regularly feeding me new content, I've got FIFA and Forza Horizon 4. And if I want a grand adventure, I can play Assassin's Creed Odyssey or Witcher 3.
Long games may have their pitfalls, but they have their share advantages as well. And even if I don't have time to really invest in Assassin's Creed Odyssey right now, I'm glad that such games exist.
Looking Ahead for the Rest of the Week
- Forza Horizon 4 [PC, Xbox One, October 2]: Playground Games' stellar driving series returns with a lavish recreation of England and Scotland (but mostly Scotland). It's undoubtedly the most beautiful entry to date, and worth playing even if you're not a car nut. Check out our review here, and also our Forza Horizon 4 guides.
- Mega Man 11 [PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, October 2]:The Blue Bomber is officially back, and his latest adventure appears to match the high points of the series. Read our full review by resident Mega Man nut Nadia Oxford!
- Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise [PS4, October 2]: Yakuza is already halfway to a Fist of the North Star game anyway, so it sort of makes sense to see the team behind Sega's acclaimed series take on the legendary anime. Here's our interview with the producer on the subject of balancing Kenshiro's... uh... rather extreme power.
- Assassin's Creed Odyssey [PS4, Xbox One, PC, October 5]: Assassin's Creed moves to Ancient Greece with an adventure that feels closer than ever to Witcher 3. Some will be sad; some, like myself, will be very happy. Either way, it's truly a new era for Assassin's Creed. Check out Mike's full review, and make sure to have a look at our Assassin's Creed Odyssey guides.
- Super Mario Party [Switch, October 5]: Caty is oddly excited for Mario Party. I will always see it as the game that cut in on my Smash Bros. time. In any case, it will be out on Switch later this week, and we're reviewing it. Here are Caty's impressions in the meantime.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Athletic Theme (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island)
Today is the 23rd anniversary of the US debut for Yoshi's Island on the SNES! Sadly, I think a lot of us missed this game the first time it came 'round. Personally, I was busy saving for the 32- and- 64-bit generation by October of '95, so I took a pass on Yoshi's Island. The gross-out commercial that accompanied its US release didn't endear me to it, either. I'm not even going to link to it.
It took time, but I eventually did the right thing and gave Yoshi's Island the attention it deserves. I was finally able to appreciate its unique scribbly graphics, stellar level design, and, to my pleasant surprise, its great soundtrack. The "Athletic" theme for Yoshi's Island gets your blood pumping for whatever marathon platforming session you're supposed to get yourself amped up for as soon as you enter the level. Will you face off against flying Koopas? Or sliding penguins, maybe? Nah, not so much. Every stage with the Athletic theme forces you to fight for your life against clouds of Goonie birds. Those winged menaces might be the final evolution of Theropoda, but it's Yoshi's job to get out there and show them there are still plenty of dinosaurs willing to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
It's October, the best month of the year. It's the time for Halloween goodness and good ol' pumpkin-flavored everything. So for this month's Bitsy Jam (a game jam for games created using the Bitsy tool), the theme is "Harvest"—all things autumnal, all the time. One of its stand outs has even landed a spot on itch.io's home page: a sweet little adventure called Cauli's Night.
In developer Skyler Aure's Cauli's Night, you play as a farm dog. (I imagine this is what our pets in Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley do when we rest for the night. They explore, having the whole farm to themselves.) In Cauli's Night, you meet inspirational worms, observe white outlined items to learn more about the farm owner's way of living, and mostly just soak in the farm's sights. It's a pleasant little game, and a great way to kick off a relaxing season. You can play Cauli's Night in your browser on itch.io.
This Week's News and Notes
- I was walking home from dinner with my housemates last night when I happened to encounter a group of 12 players taking on a Mewtwo. I didn't think I would actually be able to catch the Mewtwo, but I figured I would give it a shot in any case. Seven fainted Pokemon and a few "Great" curveballs later, I had my most powerful legendary to date. I may have screamed and celebrated like a lunatic once it was in my possession.
- Assassin's Creed Odyssey is out this week, as I've already mentioned, and for some reason it has the "assassinate" and "interact" commands mapped to the same button. This... seems like a terrible idea.
- We celebrated the 20th anniversary of Pokemon last week with a whole slew of articles looking back on its past and present. My favorite looks back on the early days of competitive play, when Tauros was still the king. Also, you can read about which Pokemon producer Junichi Masuda was afraid wouldn't catch on in the U.S.
- Speaking of anniversaries, yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Fallout 2. To celebrate, here's an in-depth look at the creation and evolution of Fallout's iconic Pip-Boy.
- I finally picked up Nintendo Switch Online last night. The first NES game I played on my Switch? Tecmo Bowl, which I contend is the best NES multiplayer game ever made. I wish Madden had Tecmo Bowl's cheerful music between plays. It makes CTE fun!
- This is a pretty legit Halloween art display for Mario, I've gotta say.
- Tonight's fantasy football scenario: I'm six points ahead of Waypoint's Patrick Klepek with Sammy Watkins still to play, but he has Travis Kelce at his disposal. Kelce hasn't score more than 13 points this year, but I can already feel the three touchdown game coming. This always happens to me on Monday night with a fantasy matchup on the line.
- Axe of the Blood God: Nadia and I review Valkyria Chronicles 4 on this week's episode of the podcast, and also welcome legendary RPG writer Chris Avellone! Lots to discuss in this episode, including the challenge of writing situations that invite you to be truly evil. Subscribe here!