One of the greatest memories of my childhood includes the victory over the Elite 4 with: Blue, Puppy, Dragon, Buzz, Mr. Biggles, and Spork at my side. Or for those who didn’t name their Pokemon: Squirtle, Arkanine, Gyrados, Gangar, and Alakazam. I couldn’t be defeated.Do We had done it together, made it into the hall of fame! They were my team, my friends, my companions that I cared for and would do all I could to keep them alive during battle. But I realized that the victory was the goal and there was only one consequence to letting Pokemon faint; that it could lead to a loss. It was less about them and more about winning; battle, Poke Center, Battle, Poke Center, repeat. It’s not that the game got old, but the sense of companionship and tension was drifting away.
A wild Fire Emblem appears! This was the game that changed it all for me. Perma-death? If a party member dies, they die for good? It made companionship, hardships, tensions, and goals a lot more important. I had favorite party members that I leveled hard and protected, but I had to learn real strategy. No more only strengthening my favorites or rinse and repeats here. It was a unique situation each chapter that I had to adapt to. I wanted to see the end with my companions, with my friends. That meant I had to step up my game.
The strong emotional ties that developed with the characters of Fire Emblem are an important part of the story and how I connect with the game. To this day, Pokemon Blue and Fire Emblem are at the top of my all-time games list. The personalization of the teams and consequences are the driving factors for caring for those teams and why those games had such a profound impact on me.
Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Warrior all have something in common. They have pre-determined parties that the main character travels with. Sure you can re-arrange and use certain party members more, but that isn’t a whole lot of party customization. At least we get to change the names of characters in Chrono Trigger, looking at you Dragon Warrior 2, because Kingdom Hearts has a legitimate reason.
It changes the experience, even just as small as it seems, turning from Chrono saving the world to (insert your name here) saving the world with (enter best friend, dog, or complete ridiculous name here). You go from a third person point of view to using your imagination to put yourself there. The element of traveling through time with your girlfriend versus Marle, you probably want to keep your girlfriend alive during battle rather than the princess with the heal spells.
It is the little things, like having Moby Dick in your box.
It’s the little differences that makes the overall experiences that stand out. They start to add up.
Look at a game like X-COM. We invest time and money into naming, upgrading, and training them for battle; battles that they amay not come back from. Then all that time and money is lost if they don’t make it back. It is a sacrifice. It is your job to determine if the sacrifice was worth it for overall victory. If we look at games through a time capsule; Chess has stood the test of time and is a model for games today. Cause-Effects, consequences, and customization among other things that make chess a timeless game. Unlimited amount of strategies and approaches to take as the game unfolds. X-COM follows suit but achieving more personalization and maintaining the high levels of consequences.
Without those consequences, the game relies on the story, likability, and personalization to build the relationship with the part. The Final Fantasy linage offers job selections through most of the games but rely on the personalities to improve the connectedness. Do you only know their names because of their abilities? Well, that is the difference between connecting with your games and just playing with them. Games are amazing because all those small things add up to make an impactful passive or active experience. You get to decide if you want it to be a passive or active form of entertainment with every game you play.
So the question becomes, do you really care about your party? Remove the inns, churches, Poke Centers and feel the tension rise. It is the easiest way to connect and care about your team. Think of all the Total War games and how you send thousands of warriors to their deaths without blinking an eye. Sure it is just a game but to some, but they want their experiences to stand out and be more than just a passive, brain-numbing time-waster.
Written by Kyle Estep