Double Agent
Getting some perspective - June 6, 2001 - Chris Jones

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Why didn't they arrange the Cowboy Bebop soundtracks by character? Don't say we didn't warn you.

Fan technology has really progressed in the past few years.

Ok, I was going to write a long, tedious rant about that, but it's beyond even my abilities - no matter what the aerodynamics are, or how many remote controls it has, it's still just a fan. End of story.


Appreciate sacrifices, and beat up thrashers

Let me just say first off that reviewers have a tougher job than I think most people give them credit for. Imagine having to spend endless hours of your life playing crap games. I used to envy them, until I realized there's somebody out there with a journalism degree that's had to play every Deer Hunter game ever made. Poor fools. "I got to play Z.O.E. last week, next week, I get to play Super Trash Fishin' XVII! Wow, in this one, I get to design my own boat and TRAILER! YEEE HAAAW!"

So, whaddo I want from a review? A little bit more perspective from the person reviewing the game. So, Ned from Bakersfield might think NECKCAR2001 is a super-neat game, but what if I don't like racing games? Who is this person rating the game? To be blunt, I have never wanted Tony Hawk, and I don't care if it's the neatoest super-rad extreme sk8er game ever made. I'm going to offend people, but deal with it. I hate skaters. And mountain bikers. Anything that's called an "extreme sport." Why? Well, It's a long story. But I digress. If you like skating, then Tony Hawk is for you. If you used to beat up skaters in school*, then maybe not. I don't need a reviewers' life story, but better catagorization of reviews is necessary especially in magazines. It's sad to see the person who reviews the next Street Fighter game (I'm sure there'll be about ten thousand more) was the same guy that reviewed Suikoden II. Chances are, if they liked Street Fighter Zeta 3 QWERTY vs. Megaman vs. Marvel Superheroes IX then I don't want them reviewing the next Vagrant Story (hint, hint, Square).

And enough with the stars, discs, and other paraphanalia that are used to count how "good" or "bad" the game is. "Our reviewers give Monkey Jump Heaven VI eight out of ten coffee pots!" The GIA is a good example of how to write a review. I'm sucking up, here, I know, but bear with me. I know what kind of games the reviewers are into, they express their slant if they have one, and they don't use stars. Good stuff, here.


*My apologies to Steve, Scooter, and Jimmy. I know it's fifteen years late, but I'm really sorry. Dudes.

If a reviewer has real flair and personality in their reviews, and if you have a pretty good feel for how they think, then yes, their opinion on a certain game in a genre can be invaluable. Problem is, it's hard to keep track of specific reviewers with the dozens of review sites and publications available, and if you don't read reviews much then a lot of comparisons to other similar games aren't going to do you much good. Still, one thing I think a review should be, in addition to all the other ideas people suggested today, is entertaining, and injecting some personality into a review is a great way to make that happen.

3.5 things about reviews
I ask only three things from reviews:

1) The reviewer should play the game for at LEAST a solid 15-20 hours.

2) The reviewer should review the game independent of the platform it's delivered on.

3) Understanding that a review inevitably boils down to pure opinion, a reviewer nevertheless should provide reasonable arguments and examples for any signficant claims for or against the quality of the game he/she's reviewing.

As an optional extra:

4) No scoring. Games, even moreso than movies, do not reduce to scalar values well.

That's it.

As for the readers of reviews, I'd ask that they keep in mind that reviews exist to advise potential purchasers first and foremost, and are not written in the spirit of advocacy (although, as per #2 above, we know that such is not often the case). Reviews should be taken as an advice first, and a bullet point in a forum flamewar second.

Doug Erickson

The problem is, reviews that merely boil down to advice are boring, and frequently not that useful from the point of advice anyway, since estimates of graphics, gameplay and story don't mean that much to me unless I know what they meant to the reviewer. Maybe that puts reviews too much into the flamewar category, but I think a big part of a review should be analysis: once you've been around a while, you learn to pick up on who really knows their stuff when it comes to gaming, and you want to hear what that person thinks about the game, rather than some soulless assessment of the component parts of the game.

Art is whatever I point at when I say "Art"
To me the most important thing in a review is that it's (or at least tries to be) objective. Actually the Christian Answers site seems to perfectly demostrate the differences between subjective and objective reviews.

Take the Xenogears review - the message of the review seems to be that while the game was offensive to the reviewer and will most likely be offensive to the reviewer's target audience, it's still a good game with a "captivating" plot and a score of 4 out of 5 in gameplay. The reviewer understood his role perfectly - to provide a guide for parents and Christian gamers, while at the same time judging a game's quality on a more objective and universal scale.

You (meaning anyone) may not agree with the site's review, but at least the reviewer made an honest attempt to keep his beliefs from altering his judgement of the game's quality.

The Titanic review drops the ball however. While I don't think the reviewer's beliefs are wrong, fanatical, offensive or whatnot, I find that her opinions do little to convey the objective quality of the movie. Her opinion seems to be that the movie is bad *because* it is immoral - a view which is obviously subjective because a) not everyone shares her values, and b) not everyone believes that quality is inevitably tied to morality.

And there it is. To be a good reviewer everyone needs to understand that good art is always good art - even if you didn't personally like it. But then how does the reviewer distinguish between personal taste and universal quality?, beats me. ^_^;;


Actually, that's an important consideration to keep in mind about the Christian review website (which I'll be harping on for the last time today, promise): their reviews are written from a fundamentalist Christian POV, and to them, gameplay is a secondary consideration to the offensive/redeeming moral qualities of the game. (And from that perspective the Titanic review makes sense... kinda.) That may be one of the reasons the site seems so odd to me, because 99% of the reviews I read are by hardcore gamers who write the reviews as a labor of love, or by professional gaming journalists who are only in the field because they love games.

Which brings up the interesting question of if being fanatical about games makes you a better or worse game reviewer. You'd think that a completely passionless review of a game would stand the best chance of being objective, but such a review would also be kind of pointless; if you don't love games, you won't really enjoy playing them, and thus can't really evaluate how real players would evaluate the game. On the other hand, if you love games too much you fall victim to drooling fanboy/girl syndrome, which also makes a review kind of pointless - they tend to get bogged down in minutia that seems important to hardcore fans, but not anyone else.

Let there be a thousand voices
Hi Chris and everybody else (in case this letter get printed),

For a customer and RPG fan's point of view, I'd like different opinions on a game. I think I'm not the only one who's waiting eagerly for the next RPG review from the GIA (yeah! right...) but who's also checking other websites to get another point of view.

This situation comes from the subjectivity of the opinion (yeah! you've just discover hot water, boy!) and I'm looking for a cross review of a game by multiple people from the GIA's staff AND the tastes in RPG of the fore mentionned people written somewhere in a flashy, noisy pop up. That way, I won't be pulling my eyes out when reading the review of Xenosaga by Mister Fraundorf and I'll be happy to see that (pure speculation ahead (and backwards)) you enjoyed it even if you're the very first fan of Legend of Dra...(sorry I couldn't get to the end of that game's name:).

Pierre "I have a name" Tassetto.

The problem with multiple reviews, a la Famitsu or EGM, is that reviewers tend to spend most of their time recapping the same points from slightly different perspectives, without ever really getting to the meat of what makes a game tick. A tag team, pseudo-conversation review might be interesting, tho.

And you're forgetting Fritz's mad, passionate love of all things fuzzy and pink... ok, I don't know if there's anything fuzzy and pink in Xenosaga, but I'm sure something'll to make him enjoy the game.

I give a bad review to your review of our review

As a general rule, I don't care what standpoint the reviewer writes from as long as he remains consistent in his positions.

Sadly, a good example of inconsistency can be found in Zak McClendon's (of the GIA) review of Ring of Red for the PS2 (he gave it a two out of five). He focused a lot of attention on its disappointing translation (in fact he led the review with it and spend several paragraphs on it) and the fact that Konami (understandably) shied away from a story about heroic neo-Nazis. Final Fantasy Tactics is generally considered the best in the genre, but its story is markedly less well told than Kartia's or Vandal Hearts. Mangling a potentially interesting story has not in the past been a hanging offense for tactical rpgs. I think that gameplay is the yardstick by which tactical rpgs have usually been measured. While I will not go into it here, myself and many others, both reviewers and players, have found much more merit in ROR's innovative combat system than Mr. McClendon. For the sake of brevity, I am not even going to start on the idiocy of David Smith's (of IGN) low score of Fear Effect 2 because he was offended by the content.

- Mark

I felt compelled to print this because it was the only criticism of GIA reviews I got, but unfortunately the letter spends all its time focused on one pet peeve review, which is pointless. Whether you agree or disagree with Zak's review (and I do agree with it, for the record), one thing necessary for any review system to work is that people have to realize that it all boils down to opinion. There are any number of legitimate differences of opinion that you can have with the GIA's (or anybody's) review policy, but continually harping against specific reviews is pointless. The whole point of reviews is for different people to assess the quality of games - trying to argue for a homogenous opinion defeats the purpose of that. Accept that a game you liked (or disliked) got what you consider an inappropriate score, shake your head, and move on, because how you receive a review is just as important as how the reviewer writes it.

"Just Chris"... and his amazing ninja commandos!
Hey, who's this? Oh, just Chris --

Reviews, I think, should list the vital statistics of a game or movie or whatever and (for the most part) let the reader draw his own conclusion. An all-too-familiar review method nowadays is starting with a thesis statement about the thing being good or bad, and then supporting it with examples that conveniently support the reviewer's point-of-view (point-of-review?). There's nothing wrong with a reviewer giving his opinion, or even to an extent judging something good or bad, but when a review is nothing but an argument essay something is seriously wrong with the world. Repent!

Love, Nistelle

Keeping in mind what I just said, I won't argue too much here; suffice it to say, i think a review without both facts and opinion is pretty pointless. But it's ok to disagree with me.

The Misadventure of Link
Recently, a new version of a popular NES emulator was released for the Dreamcast and I've been using it to play some of my old NES games that have been collecting dust since my NES broke many years ago. One of these games is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I remember liking it a good bit the first time I played through it, but I was seven or eight years old then. I haven't played it since, and have heard many testimonials from folks who absolutely hated the game.

Now I'm playing through it again. Granted, some of the dialogue needs work (" I AM ERROR.", "SORRY. I KNOW NOTHING."), and it's certainly different from its predecessor, but taken on the whole I don't see why anybody would say this is a -bad- game. Considering the limitations of the system that bore it, Zelda II was actually a pretty innovative game for its time. Of course, so was Metal Gear, but if you compare Zelda II to the others in the series, it still isn't a -bad- game in my opinion-- just not the highlight of the series. Yet friends and fellow gamers alike are constantly declaring their undying hatred for Zelda II.

I'd be interested to hear some viewpoints from folks on why they thought Zelda II was good, bad or ugly. Do you think Zelda II is a genuinely bad game, and if so, why?


"Excuse me for not answering your letter sooner, but I've been so busy not answering letters that I couldn't get around to not answering yours in time."

-Groucho Marx

I've never thought Zelda II was a bad game - on the contrary, it's historic for being one of the first console leaps into action RPG territory, if nothing else. To my mind, it's disappointing only because it didn't have the vast, labyrinthine feeling of the first game, but as side scrollers went at the time, the combat was excellent.

And that quote rocks.

Closing Comments:

People can send in arguments on Zelda II if they like, but what I'd like to see is a more general topic: considering all the venerable series out there, which installments do you think really fail to hold up the standard of quality for that series? (And no saying FFMQ, that's too easy.) Get back to me, and I'll see you tomorrow.

-Chris Jones, likes white noise

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