Friday, February 1, 2008

Soul Nomad and Game Length

After exactly a week of determined effort, I have finally beaten Soul Nomad & the World Eaters. It took me a bit past 30 hours of gameplay to finish, which is a not a bad length for a game. Soul Nomad, a game with quite a few endings, an alternate path, and enough variety in unit choice to make trying to go through the game multiple times interesting, is the kind of game I very well might play through again some day. A longer game, such as the 60-100 hour monsters that make up the Final Fantasy series these days, makes it a lot harder to justify playing through again. Overall, I think that more RPGs should try to limit themselves to just 30-40 hour of gametime.

One of the real strengths of Soul Nomad was that the story progressed at a nice even pace. Almost every battle had a cut scene preceding it and following it, and I usually had the feeling that I was making real progress towards my goals at all times. The game had plenty of time to give each of the 8-10 or so major characters enough screen time to give a very good sense of their personalities, motivations, and fun quirks. The night sequences of the game also are an interesting story-telling technique. At regular intervals, the party settles down to take a break, during which time the player is given the choice of talking with one of three main characters (which helps determine the ending you get), followed by a dream sequence that gives one piece of the main characters' back-stories. The dreams in particular were a great way of filling in back-story of the game without a 2-hour deus-ex-machina info dump at the end of the game.

I think that the 30-hour length of the game actually helped with building its great story. If you want to keep a game short, you can't afford to have too much filler material padding it out. It forces the designers to focus on the telling the essentials, and helps keep the plot moving. A lot of recent RPGs feel like they are just padding out the length for no good reason. For example, there are points in Disgaea 2, such as the Shinra Tower, that seemed to have very little point, have little story associated with them, and tend to drag on. Soul Nomad, a 30 hour game, didn't really have any place that felt like that.

Moreover, 30-hour games are easier to play through than the more common 80 hour epics. I have already mentioned that I am more willing to play through a shorter game like Soul Nomad a second time, because it is a much smaller time commitment. However, there is more to it than that. I have a huge backlog of games stretching back to the SNES era that I want to play more of, or just finally complete. Furthermore, there are always new games coming out that are constantly grabbing my attention. There are stacks of incomplete games lying around that I haven't beaten because newer games were released before I could beat the old ones. Even a gamer with plenty of time to burn like me doesn't have enough time to play everything. I am pretty happy that I was able to beat Soul Nomad just before my birthday, since I have just bought a few new games that are currently stealing my attention.

Of course, if a game is too short, it can also be a problem. I enjoyed the Onimusha games quite a bit when I rented them, but I would never buy a game that short. That just makes the player feel cheated.

Anyways, there are still a couple of things I have to say about Soul Nomad's plot, but those will have to wait for next time.

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