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If you’re anything like me you not only love playing games, but you also like completing them. After plugging hours of sleepless nights into an RPG or action game, it’s incredibly satisfying to bask in the soft glow of your television as the end credits roll.  Sometimes, however, you’ll be 30 hours into a Final Fantasy game when something new and shiny distracts you from the epic quest you were on.  After your fickle gaming side quest has been completed and you’re ready to pick up the unfinished JRPG again, however, it can be near impossible to reenter the state of mind you were in when you stopped.  What can game developers do to make sure we see games through to their epic conclusion?  Read on.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching episodic TV shows over the years, it’s that viewers have short memories.  Even with shows that only have one cliffhanger ending episode per season, viewers need immediate reminders about the events that transpired.  When you take into account shows like Lost, which have increasingly convoluted plots, dedication to summary sometimes can last over five minutes!  Five minutes is a small price to pay, however, to be completely caught up to speed.  The best television shows can summarize so well that you can begin watching any given show 3 seasons in and feel as knowledgeable as a fan since the pilot.

Where am I getting at with this?  Well, as video games try harder to emulate cinema and existing media, their plotlines become thicker and more tangled than the Christmas lights in your attic.  Games like Japanese RPGs and lengthy adventure games are especially guilty of having convoluted story lines, and could benefit greatly from a quick recap every time you load your game.  Think about how many times you’ve had to restart a great game because you couldn’t remember what happened when you stopped playing?  A great example for me is Final Fantasy 9. I think I left off somewhere on the 2nd disc with a hefty chunk of my life invested, and I know whenever I want to play it again I’ll have to start over.  It’s not enough to read plot summaries in strategy guides to catch up, simply because they may leave something out and you may tread into spoiler town.

If Pokemon can do it, who can't?
If Pokemon can do it, who can’t?

I have found one shining example of recaps in gaming.  One.  The award for best “previously, on…” summary goes to the Pokémon Fire Red/ Leaf Green games.  Each time you load up your save game, snapshots are presented in black and white that remind you of plot points, recently captured Pokémon, and even items you’ve purchased.  Brilliant.  If a Gameboy Advance game can do it so simply, what’s stopping the folks at Square Enix or even Capcom from slapping it on some of their longer games?  It could be a selection in the options menu you could turn on and off, so as not to interfere with hardcore gamers that can burn through games like Persona 4 in a week.

Ultimately, we want to complete these games even if we don’t have enough vacation time saved up to conquer Final Fantasy XIII a week after it releases.  There are tons of gamers that don’t complete games they’ve started, and I’m positive that this feature would help those fickle pickles finally complete what they’ve begun.  Here’s to hoping we see our past in the future!

What do you folks think?  Are there other games that succeed in doing this that I’m missing?  How could this “previously, on…” recap be implemented best?  Any particular games you would have killed to have this in?

  1. I liked the DVD that came with Shenmue, having not played the first, it made the second a lot more clear for me.

  2. Alone in the Dark 2008 has a ridiculous “Previously on…” every time you load a game.
    Suprised we haven’t seen it copied yet

  3. what made it ridiculous? Did it try too hard to be like a TV show?

  4. Very much like a TV show but with the erm…unlikely series of events that make up Alone In The Dark plus some really dodgy voice acting.
    genuinly quite funny

  5. Oh I love games with stories… hence making Tim replay the cutscenes from Devil May Cry 4. This is why games such as Final Fantasy anything dominate my life and why I never play any other games AND my list of RPGs to play constantly grows… and I will never complete this list. This is a test of commitment and determination. These games make us better people! We must finish them and bask in the glory of the story and completion!!! It is all worth it in the end.

  6. Rogue Galaxy on PS2 does this actually.

    When you boot up a save, it goes over the last few story arcs while the game loads up.

  7. The ‘previously on” is a great idea in theory, but I think it annoys too many people. I suffer the side quest sickness, and I don’t think having a feature like that would cure the problem. It would definitely help out a lot.

    One recent example of a game that I left high and dry after doing sidequests is FFXII. While the story was utter garbage to begin with, the Hunt sidequest was addictive as hell. I put in 80 hours of FFXII and still never finished the game. Why? Because the game didn’t reward me enough to get me back in the flow. I think more games need to incorporate side quests into the main quest, as something you do as you go along, not something you use to deviate away from the main point of the game.

  8. @ceklund
    I just wanted to say I love your avatar.

    Great article Tim! I remember burning through some 50+ hour RPGs in 3-4 days of summer. Man being a kid was awesome!

  9. I’d love this feature in games!!

    Alone In The Dark 2008 gave you the option of skipping to the end of the game right away, with re-caps making it feel like a television series on DVD… It was an original idea but, personally, I don’t like the idea of being able to get the end right away. The “previously, on” was a great invention though.

    If, like you say, it could be switched on and off, it would be great. I am terrible sometimes at finishing games right away but am very keen to know exactly what is going on when I do pick them back up, although my memory is awful at times.

    I hope this comes to fruition…

  10. I also played pokemon when I was younger, and looking back I think I took it for granted having a little bit of my previous gameplay showed to me each time I started my Gameboy up. I do feel like it would help in a lot of games these days

  11. I always took that Pokémon thing for granted. In fact, I hardly noticed it was there. Currently the game I would really like it in is FF4. I just bought it about half a month ago. I played for a few hours and left it for about a week(as I got extremely busy). Now, I can’t even get back into it, only a few hours in!

  12. Pokemon is a scam. You all know it to be true.

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