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Starting Screen is our weekly column featuring news, commentary, and music to help you get over your case of the Mondays.
It usually begins with a deep sense of frustration and impatience.
I almost never go into a free-to-play game with the intention of spending money, least of all a free-to-play mobile game. But if I spend enough time with it, I usually hit a roadblock. And that's when they get me.
It happened to me over the weekend with Fire Emblem Heroes. I had an okay team fronted by Marth, but two of the slots felt like liabilities. I swapped around characters, growing increasingly frustrated with my limited pool of options and the pace at which I earned orbs-the currency necessary for earning new characters. I was still completing the story stages at a reasonable pace, but I felt like I had hit a bottleneck.
Finally, I took a deep breath and purchased 23 orbs for $12.99. And I immediately felt like a hypocrite.
You may recall me railing against Nintendo's embrace of microtransactions in an editorial last week. For the record, I still feel that way. After the article went up, I had a long conversation on Twitter about the ways in which microtransactions tend to compromise game mechanics, particularly slot machine games like Fire Emblem Heroes. But despite all of that, Fire Emblem Heroes still managed to get its hooks in me over the weekend, leading to the scenario above. Happens to the best of us.
Obviously, this isn't the first time I've spent money on a free-to-play game. At times, I've even spent far more money than intended. The cycle tends to go like this:
1. I hit a roadblock: My team is taking too long to improve. There's a keystone card that I need for my lineup. A special variant of my favorite player is available in Ultimate Team.
2. I finally break and spend money: I buy a pack. Or maybe a bundle.
3. I hit the slot machine: I start ripping packs, or I start drawing from the slot machine, convinced that I'm about to get a major boost. Usually I get a lot of crap and maybe one or two cards worth using. If I'm extraordinarily lucky, I get something really rare. Most of the time, though, all I get is a lot of regret.
4. Regret: I feel a deep sense of irritation and regret at spending a bunch of money on digital characters, even if I get lucky and manage to draw something really great. I look at my shiny new character and think, "I spent $15 on this?
I actually might be the exception on this front. Many people are happy to not only spend money on free-to-play games, but spend lots of it. An entire culture has grown up around simply sitting on Youtube and ripping packs for new cards in Ultimate Team, or plugging the slot machine in Fire Emblem. From time to time I ask developers what they think of this culture. Their response is usually to shrug and say, "They've having fun!" Then they go back to counting their money.
Why the Madden Ultimate Team community is the strangest gaming culture Kat has ever experienced.
Compared to a lot of the games I've played (I've spent an unholy amount of money on Hearthstone), Fire Emblem Heroes is admittedly a lesser offender. My quick infusion of cash gave me the characters I needed to round out my team, and I've since been plugging through the story missions on Hard to level up my new characters and unlock more orbs. I'm still at it because there's just enough there in terms of depth to feel like I'm not completely wasting my time, and because I suppose I like Fire Emblem and desperately wish I had Takumi or Lyndis god damnit.
But despite being relatively benign, Fire Emblem has left me the same vague sense of regret over spending money that I feel when playing other free-to-play games. It's interesting the psychology involved, because in a way I haven't spent anymore money than I might have if FE Heroes were a premium game with an upfront cost. I suppose the difference is that free-to-play games are generally money pits by design, and that by spending cash I'm just feeding the beast.
This isn't the first time I've spent money on a free-to-play game, though, and it's unlikely to be the last. Free-to-play is already pretty much impossible to avoid, and that will increasingly mean taking the good with the bad in games like Hearthstone, Fire Emblem Heroes, and FIFA. In other words, the cycle continues.
Nioh: After years in the proverbial wilderness, the outfit best-known for Ninja Gaiden returns to its hardcore roots with Nioh-a Soulsborne dungeon crawler that swaps knights for samurai. I wound up handing Nioh off to Soulsborne expert John Learned, who managed to knock it out in less than a week and offer up a detailed review. I am both impressed and terrified. Nioh will be out February 7th.
It's bleak and rainy here in San Francisco, so music from Super Castlevania 4 feels appropriate this week. Super Castlevania 4 was one of the Super Nintendo's earliest games, which makes its use of the SNES sound chip particularly impressive. Along with Final Fantasy IV and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it's a great early example of the amazing tunes the SNES would push out throughout its life. As usual, Nadia has a more in-depth look here.
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