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We’re all busy people, and it’s no surprise that we don’t tolerate a lot of the bullsh*t that games feed us. Recently, one writer for a popular game site refused to review Nier because he couldn’t figure out a fishing minigame, citing that “you shouldn’t tolerate games that waste your time.” Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?

Aside from his inability to fish in the correct spot, his argument isn’t quite as straightforward as it may seem. While I didn’t exactly love my 20-hour affair with Nier either, and while I agree that games have no right to waste our time, the reality is that even a bad game can be worth our time.

“Bad” is a problematic term, since people tend to assign the term to games that score a six (or seven, or sometimes even eight) or lower in a review. So rather than try to define exactly what bad is, for the sake of this article, I’ll touch on a game that a few reviewers called bad or awful: Alpha Protocol.

I have no idea what term is most appropriate for a game like Alpha Protocol, which dabbles in the realm of the awful as much as it does the world of genuine player excitement. For every embarrassing character animation, there’s a deeply developed character. For every terrible combat situation, there’s a tense and innovative plot development.

Nothing about the actual gameplay of Alpha Protocol is something that I could honestly call fun. Even playing as a stealth-based character with hand-to-hand and pistol specializations (which is apparently the only way to have any fun with the combat), defeating your enemies just doesn’t feel good. Sneak up awkwardly behind your enemy and perform an awkward takedown, or awkwardly move into cover and try to use the game’s awkward aiming to line up a shot. The word of the day? Awkward.

Yet I pressed on, and despite the combat in the game actually getting worse later on, I am immensely thankful that I possessed the intestinal fortitude to make my way to the credits. By some miracle, the game’s strengths, which are far outnumbered by its weaknesses, carried me through to the end. I don’t want this to turn into a defense of Alpha Protocol, so I’ll keep my praise brief: the tale that the game weaves is far more intricate than that of a vast number of higher-scored games, and while the conversation system isn’t perfect, it does lead to some quick decisions that may not always turn out as you hope they would.

Both Nier and Alpha Protocol have forced me to ask myself if such games, that aren’t high-quality by any means, can still provide us with enough substance to make them worth our precious time, of which most of us already possess too little. Perhaps you’ve already guessed my answer by now, but the answer is a resounding yes.

The problem as I see it is that many players are quick to label a game with sub-par gameplay as a complete waste of time, ignoring all of its other qualities. We often give high scores to games with good gameplay yet trite stories despite the fact that those stories waste our time, so shouldn’t we treat games similarly when the reverse is true?

I don’t mean to argue that gameplay is less important than stories, or even that they are on equal footing; these are still videogame involved. However, it’s foolish to believe that we aren’t approaching (or perhaps that we haven’t already reached) a point where some people play games as much or more for the narratives than for the gameplay.

Knowing exactly what you want out of a game is becoming increasingly important in purchasing decisions, as we aren’t all going into games now solely because we want to be entertained by a toy for a couple of hours. I look to games to find new narrative strategies, as I found in Nier, and I feel personally enriched by my time with that game. Similarly, I found that the plot in Alpha Protocol opened new paths in the future of game storytelling, even if those systems weren’t always utilized as well as they could have been. Both of these games offered a measure of brilliance that I could not find anywhere else, even if that brilliance was often only a speck on a vast, burning horizon.

If you’ve played a bad game that offered you some unique, personal value, I’d like to hear about it. It may feel a little dirty to support a bad videogame with your time and money, but it’s time to stop associating words like “mediocre” and “poor” with “worthless.” Games are far too multifaceted for one-word descriptions, and we’re better than allowing those descriptions to rob us of the enjoyment that we want to find in games, even if that value takes some work to reveal.

  1. Lately I played some Dark Void. Knowing it was a bad game going into it, and knowing some of its weaknesses, I did my best to try and play the game to overcome those weaknesses. So, I played it on easy and skipped through all of the cinematics. Because of this a pummeled my way through 3/4 of the game and really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with it. However, once I got towards the end it turned to crap and the game became pretty cheap and repetitive so I stopped playing.

    I didn’t feel bad that I quit on the game because I wasn’t expecting much going into it and I got it for $3 from Gamefly lol. Also I think because of my low expectations I was able to just enjoy it for what it was: mindless fun. Games like that are essential every now and again.

  2. avatar SMark

    There are actually a variety of games and franchises that come to mind for me, Vanguard Bandits (which most people bought solely for the Lunar 2 demo), Namco X Capcom (the game that Cross Edge wanted to be), the Ar Tonelico series, and the Super Robot Wars series. I feel like there are enough proponents or at least sources of information available for the other games, so I’ll focus on Vanguard Bandits.

    Known as Epica Stella in Japan, Vanguard Bandits (neither title makes any sense) is possibly the only game Working Designs localized that was ALREADY just about totally goofy and campy. One of the characters was a mercenary ninja maid for crying out loud, and the most powerful unit you could get in the game had dolphin heads for shoulder pads.

    Aside from all the characters being wonky in one way or another which I hadn’t seen in an SRPG before, the plot was frankly pretty generic (young man turns out to be a prince in hiding and after his foster father is killed by a vassal from the Empire he rises up to reclaim his kingdom). The one thing it had going for it in that respect is that there were 3 reasonably distinct story routes and 5 endings which gave the game a lot of replay value.

    As far as the gameplay went, battles used a unique system in which you had to carefully balance the use of action points with a fatigue point gauge or risk losing a turn and being unable to even try dodging or defending. There were 3 types of attacks, normal, knockdown, and collision, which could be responded to in 3 different ways: dodging, defending and countering. If you were hit with a knockdown or collision attack then you couldn’t counter, and you couldn’t defend against collision attacks. It would cost varying amounts of FP to counter based on the move you wanted to use, 20 to dodge, and 30 to defend. This meant that you could dizzy a unit or be dizzied in anywhere from 1 to 5 attacks depending on how much FP you’d built up on the previous turn (you’d recover half as much FP as you had AP left over at the end of your turn). Unfortunately this system was just about totally broken and there was very little reason to use a strategy other than range attacking enemies with knockdown moves that they would not counter and could not dodge (there was one move in particular that was available early in the game and perfect for this) until they were unconscious and then hitting them with a powerful attack that normally might not even hit otherwise. As you got further into the game enemy units became so powerful, accurate, and plentiful it was impossible to win using any other strategy without suffering any unit losses (which weren’t permanent).

    Character stat growth was entirely up to the player, with 3 points awarded however you wanted. Attacks were determined by which type of elemental stone (the 4 regular ones) you had equipped, with better moves becoming available with better ranks of the stones. In order to diversify the characters, there were special units that only certain characters could use (for the most part they were locked into those units), special dormant abilities that only certain characters had (which generally coincided with the characters who had access to the best units), and special attacks that only certain characters could use with certain stones (this technically applied to the characters in special units as well). This kind of customization of growth is still pretty rare in SRPGs, but the problem with it was that there was nothing natural about it and unlocking new moves required you to have really unbalanced stats (in particular defense was the stat which unlocked the least, followed by agility, so your units became extremely susceptible) so most people only unlocked things by accident while trying to keep their stats reasonable. Then once you knew what stats were required to unlock what you would aim for the same stats as soon as possible every playthrough, so it probably would have made more sense to have fixed growth and unlock things based on level.

    Having already written too much minutia about the game, my point is that the game had a lot of interesting things going for it, but the game was extremely unforgiving and convoluted (in order to get on one of the routes you have to essentially only use the main character for the first 3 battles, nobody would guess that) unless you played it in a way that was fairly boring. In particular I didn’t know anybody besides myself at the time who was able to comfortably beat the game their first time through and avoid the bad ending. And after getting that ending only a few bothered to play again. I’m actually not sure that I myself would have been able to figure out how to open up some of the routes and endings if I hadn’t eventually bought the strategy guide that Working Designs put out since I didn’t have internet back then. These days I’m sure people would just look to online guides for stat requirements and route info so it wouldn’t be a big deal, but back then it was a huge demerit.

    I actually loved the game so much that I eventually tracked down a copy of the original Japanese version of the game, and I can’t even recall how many times I beat it, possibly over 30 times, and at least 6 complete times. Other people who’ve played the game have always thought I was crazy for putting so much into a “bad” game, but I guess there was just something about it that really clicked for me and I don’t regret my time spent on it.

  3. It’s nice to play a mediocre, or bad game every once in a while to remind you how good other things are.

  4. avatar Ana

    singles protos kiolks itan poli kalos, deuteros kai meta misw me tiflo misos kai orgi! pos kataferane mia aksioprepestati seira na tin kanoun farsokomodia kai kaliardo, adinato na to katalavo!

  5. avatar vanguard bandits

    Played it when i was younger loved it playing again right now so hard to find

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