If you’re reading this, you likely read the title. If you didn’t perhaps you should. Now, try to answer that question. Does your answer come from a place of experience with the game, or is it an assumed answer that your brain has filled in for you?
I ask because within the last year, I finally started to pay closer attention to what Square Enix was doing with its now thirty year old franchise during its thirteenth numbered release. In 2010, when Final Fantasy XIII first released in North America, I heard a friend say, “That game is an eighty-hour hallway.” That same year, I began listening to a lot of podcasts where the topic was video games, and many of those people said in regards to Final Fantasy XIII, “That game is an eighty-hour hallway.” Seven years later and whenever the game is brought up in conversation, coworkers and friends still belt out, “That game is an eighty-hour hallway.”
It’s increasingly become my response to ask, “Why?” I’m curious to learn, from the speaker’s perspective, why it is that this game feels like an eighty-hour hallway. Funnily enough, most of the people I question (albeit not many people are still bringing up this game) tend to respond with something arbitrary, like “It’s a bad game and I barely played it.” The more I poke, the more I learn that not many people who talk about this hallway and the length of time it takes to pass through it have actually walked it. More often than not, the people claiming that this game is a bad game and that its two sequels are bad games have not played the games they claim to be bad.
It’s something that alone might seem odd. Why would someone state an opinion on something if they haven’t experienced it at all? Yet, we do it all the time. We cast our opinions on anything and everything, whether we know what we’re talking about or not, and whether we’ve truly earned and created a valid opinion at all. The more aware I became of this, the more I started to look for it and see just what it is that we, as people, do. Generally, it seems that due to the fact that we don’t want to seem like the odd one, we will follow along with whatever opinion seems to be the dominant one in our immediate surroundings. We too like to regurgitate the same arguments for or against something regardless of our comprehension of the argument itself.
I’m not breaking ground here, I know. This isn’t a revolutionary study in humanity. It’s stuff that’s taught to teenagers when they’re forced into their first sociology course. Yet, it’s not often that we look at it in video games, and it’s not frequent that we are challenged to upend the nonsensical approach that we, as members of the video game community, take toward our collective opinions on the games we play.
Mighty No. 9 is a bad game. It’s not– It has– It’s–
I don’t actually have anything bad to say about the game. I’ve never played it. Yet, my brain thinks of the game and says it’s bad. Why? There are some evidential reasons to why I could perceive that game as bad, having never played it. There’s the visual style of the game. It doesn’t look good. But what does that mean? It means that the art direction isn’t one that I appreciate. It does not mean that the game itself is bad. Yet, if the game comes up in conversation, I have the ability to state, “It looks like crap.” Further, the game faced many delays after a very publicly successful crowdfunding campaign on the weighted shoulders of a popular face. Over the course of a few years, I watched as the game’s successful debut to the world slowly became synonymous with all things bad in a game’s development. It didn’t bode confidence that the game would ultimately be any good. I then had the ability to state, “That game took forever to come out.” Still, I have never played the game. I don’t think I’ve seen someone else play the game. I’ve just taken a few observations that I made, half-paying attention to the game, and assumed some things about it. Then, the rest of the conversation about the game from other people seemed to corroborate my own thoughts, and it made it easier for me in the end to walk away saying, “Mighty No. 9 is a bad game.”
In the last month, I played through two games by Inti Creates, the developer behind Mighty No. 9: Mighty Gunvolt Burst and Blaster Master Zero. Both games were incredibly fun and challenging, and they provided me with something in a game that I hadn’t felt since I first played Shovel Knight. I wouldn’t call them the masterpiece that Shovel Knight was, but there is a similar influence from classic games that inspired the development of both of these titles and it created a final product that left me with a desire to play more like them. Last year, I played another of Inti Creates titles, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, and it too gave me something familiar from the classic games that I love along with a new world to become engaged with. So, in the matter of a few months, I played through three titles that this developer worked on, and all three were equally as great. Formulaic and repetitive at times, but really enjoyable games that I completed and then continued to play even after seeing the credits roll.
How then, can I continue to say that Mighty No. 9 is a bad game? I really have no precedent for it. I have, yes, the two facts that add a negative connotation to the game. Then, I have everyone else saying what I’m saying. As we’ve learned, I have no idea what I’m talking about. How can I assume that the rest do too? Who is to say that everyone else who scoffs at the game and calls it bad names isn’t just basing the rejection on the same few things that I am, plus that weird explosion trailer that was released? I’m listening to these people, meanwhile, I have three new reasons that should be telling me to try the game. The same developer released three different games that I independently enjoyed from beginning to end. One of which, Mighty Gunvolt Burst, is in ways a demake of Mighty No 9. that includes fights with each of the original game’s bosses.
March 22, 2016. It was the day when the embargo for reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice lifted. My phone was lighting up with many (two) messages from friends (just one) who were prudently sharing with me how terrible this movie was. I quickly tried to shut it down, reminding them that I already bought my tickets and nothing was going to stop me from seeing it- I’d make my own opinion and report back. There are few things that I would walk into, even if it meant my own harm, and one of them is a new movie starring Batman. Regardless of anything, I was going to see that movie.
I left the movie from a Thursday night showing, greeted by friends who were not thrilled about the film they had just seen. They clamored, “Just like the reviews said, this movie sucked.” “Why was it so dark?” they asked, “That review said it best: It doesn’t have the fun that Marvel movies do.” One by one, I heard them all lament the faults of the movie and string them back into quotes from nameless reviews for validation.
All of whom were puzzled that I loved the movie. Each one thought I the fool and odd one because I walked out with a smile on my face. I asked them, “Did you see Barry?!” “They’re totally bringing Darkseid!” I shouted, “Those were parademons in that nightmare sequence.”
It continued well after the post-movie huddle and text messages. Actually, it’s still continuing to this day, as I defend the Justice League trailer that was recently released. Many of the people I talked to were eager to tell me how wrong my opinion of the movie was, and that I was wrong because of two things: The aggregate review score and the name “Martha.” If I were to make a point about the movie, I was quickly interrupted with someone ready to shout, “It’s got a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes.” When I talked about how I loved the way we were being introduced to the Justice League, someone would mimic Batman’s robotic voice screaming, “Martha,” which following the movie’s release became the source of many jokes on the internet. The “Martha” moment itself, was a way for Batman to see Superman for something more than an enemy. A way to suddenly realize that the man he saw as alien and monster, threat and terror- was as human as he. Yet, the beauty of the hivemind and the race to become the funniest, anonymous face of a subculture on the internet for a day led a simple storytelling moment into a far too long-running meme of mockery and dismissal. Really, it became another voice in the echo chamber that everyone so readily shouts into.
Through it all, I still loved every moment of the movie. I loved the way that it cut the movie together like reading issues of an event book in the comics. I loved the way that these characters looked on screen together. I loved the tone that the direction took and where it was going to take the future of this franchise that I love so much. And still, people are dying to remind me that I’m wrong.
I learned through this past year, as someone who loves a thing so widely hated, that it’s really easy to allow your opinion to become that of someone else. Even before the movie was released and before anyone I knew had the chance to see it, they didn’t like it. When they did watch it, they didn’t see the movie. They saw what the reviews they read ahead of time told them was bad. Instead of following the movie and learning more about the world within it, they connected together a series of events that they thought were bad because someone else said that they were. In the days and weeks and months that would follow, the popular opinion would dictate where everyone’s opinion would lie. To challenge it would be unwise and cause you to become the outcast of the group, a place that no one wants to find themselves. So through unconscious associations and today’s desire to be in whatever circle it is you deem worthy, the masses become a group of individuals with one shared thought.
I did end up seeing a bit more than just two facts about Mighty No. 9. I read from people that I aligned with that it was not an enjoyable experience. I saw some bad looking animation within the gameplay in a trailer released by the publisher. My opinion of the game and its quality was formed based on quite a bit of collective observation. Yet, I still have never held a controller in my hands and watched the game play out in front of me. I truly don’t know that it is a bad game. Looking at Mighty No. 9 the way that I do is the same way that all of those people looked at Batman v Superman. At this point, even approaching the game and attempting to play it might have be unconsciously looking for things to hate rather than things to love.
Lightning Returns, as it turns out, is pretty boring. I ended up buying a copy of it a few months ago because I wanted to know. I thought the character seemed cool and there must have been something to the world that was built if the publisher was willing to spend money on not only one but two sequels to the game. That eighty-hour hallway must have led to something good for sure.
After a few hours with the game, I really like the dress-up mechanic of swapping abilities and attacks in battle. I think that the countdown clock adds a layer of suspense and tension to the game that is not usually apparent in role playing games. There’s a lot to really enjoy in the game if you’re willing to give it the time, even if I did get tired of it after a handful of play sessions. I might revisit the game, I might not, but I know now that I am the one making that decision. I know that it’s because I took the time to learn about it and I took the time to experience it.
It’s a lesson that as I move forward, I’ll continue to hold onto. I think it’s really important that we experience things ourselves and that we form our own opinions. If I listened to that first message before seeing that movie, I wouldn’t care about the Justice League. If I listened to what was printed in magazines in 1995, I never would have fallen in love with EarthBound. Just those two properties alone have transformed my being in ways that I can’t explain. I’ve changed because of my interaction with both of those worlds and I’ve grown into the person that I am now because I experienced them for myself.
You should do the same. Ignore what other people think. Challenge what you read. Ask questions about everything. Go try something new and make up your own mind about it. Do yourself a favor, and don’t take my word for it.