Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Video Game Murderers: Three Series Cut Down Before Their Time

Not every video game series can make it big. Maybe the creators ran out of money, maybe it wasn't marketed well, or maybe it just plain sucked. Still, for every dozen or so games that fail for legitimate reasons there's at least one that dies a much less justified death.

We're talking about video game murder here, and not the awesome kind that Jack Thompson rants about. These are good or at least decent games cut down before their time, either through greed, jealousy, or sheer stupidity. We'll count them down and get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and who's to blame.

3. Tactics Ogre/Ogre Battle

It began as Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen and continued until the Game Boy Advance's Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis. Developed by Quest, Ogre Battle practically invented the tactical RPG system that would later spawn Final Fantasy Tactics and every game Atlus has ever published.

In an interesting twist from most video games of the era, Ogre Battle decided to actually bother setting up an intriguing story in a well-created setting. Nations, landmasses, and politics carried over between games. The storyline was deep, involved, and just a little bit dark without being completely hopeless. No one could ever accuse Ogre Battle of pandering.

So what happened? As it turned out, publishers Atlus weren't really very active in the United States at the time, so Quest wanted another publisher to take their game to the states. That's when they met Enix. Enix agreed to publish Ogre Battle in the United States, but there was one catch: the game would have no marketing and would be only an extremely limited release.

After Squaresoft pulled the exact same trick with the sequel it was over. Lead designer Yasumi Matsuno left Quest along with several other developers and soon joined up with Squaresoft. Quest tried to continue the series but the games they created were subpar and tanked horribly. It wasn't long before Square-Enix bought Quest completely and destroyed every last trace of the series.

Square-Enix than proceeded to put Matsuno and his team to work on Final Fantasy Tactics, which as it turns out is just like Ogre Battle in every way, except without any of the things that made Ogre Battle awesome.

2. Legend of Dragoon

Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment back before they sucked, Legend of Dragoon was an interesting and well-designed if not absolutely unique RPG released almost immediately after Final Fantasy 8. The game revolved around the main characters' abilities to transform into magical warriors with the power of dragons, called Dragoons.

An interesting addition was an -at the time- new and radical precision combat system. Whenever you attacked two symbols would appear on the screen. The larger symbol would shrink down and if the player managed to hit the attack button at the moment they were the same size, they could execute combination attacks. If this sounds familiar it's because it's been re-used in many RPGs since, including the recent XBox 360 RPG Lost Odyssey. Remember this system because it will become important in a bit.

Despite receiving high scores, around 8 out of 10 from independent critics, professional review sites blasted the game, giving it scores of 3 or 4 out of 10. The major complaint from these sites was that Legend of Dragoon's precision combat system was almost exactly like Final Fantasy's limit break system which, as anyone who's ever played Final Fantasy can attest, is a bold-faced lie. These reviews were such blatant bullshit that sites were petitioned to re-review the game. Those few that did all gave the same review.

Prior to Legend of Dragoon, the most amazing things to happen to RPGs were the active time battle system and the limit break system, both first utilized by Square-Enix. Legend of Dragoon's precision combat system made both of those systems look like exactly what they were: sad and impotent attempts at injecting new life into a series that had run out of ideas.

I'm not going to make the claim that Square recognized a legitimate and powerful competitor to their Final Fantasy series and paid critics to destroy it in order to save their own asses. All I'm saying is every professional video game review site of the day not only blasted this game and not only completely dismissed the one thing that made it hands-down better than every other RPG of the time, but also name-dropped the game's primary competitor many, many times right there in their reviews. So I guess that I absolutely am saying that yes, Square destroyed Legend of Dragoon.

1. Daikatana

It started with a single ad. "John Romero is about to make you his bitch." The story of Daikatana is one of a single man's over-inflated ego. Romero enforced an impossible schedule on his tiny team of developers, switched game engines mid-design, and worst of all laid the hype on thick every step of the way, having started advertising from the first day of production, as opposed to when the game was actually about to come out.

When the game finally came out three years later fans were sick of even hearing the name, so when the game ended up being a four out of five game at best it was demolished by gamers and critics alike. Among game developers it's still commonly considered one of the worst games of all time and the poster child for what not to do when making a video game.

With 24 levels split into four distinct time periods, Daikatana was a game rich in content and most people who've played the game and judged it on its own merits will tell you they liked it. The only major problem with the game is the buggy AI, which is kind of a weak argument against it, considered we still don't quite have teammate AI down even today. (See also: Mass Effect) Many professional critics even openly admitted later on that they reviewed the game based on the first few minutes. Even I know you're not supposed to do that, even if I did totally do it myself once.

In the end this game is the victim of rampant, unchecked ego, over-ambition, and a good old dash of plain animal rage. John Romero may have put the knife in Daikatana's heart, but the public drove it in with a flying front kick, then proceeded to beat the corpse with a shovel. When it's all said and done you almost don't even know who to blame. John Romero created Doom and is too cool to hate, and you can't really blame the gaming public for being mad at three years of hype just completely failing to pay off.

That's why, in the interest of fairness and for the sake of completion, I'm going to go ahead of give credit for this one to Square-Enix too. Hey, they could have been involved. You don't know.

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