Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Sep 23rd 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under Editorial, rpg, action, console, replay

As the storage size of digital media has increased, so too has the size of the video games that are played. Game worlds used to be quite tiny, and the length of games came from other areas of difficulty meant to make it hard to explore those worlds. Enemies were difficult and frequent; statistical balance was brutal. It would take players hours to get the right equipment, enough money, and high enough stats to be able to properly progress. Games have been expanded in many ways for decades.

The idea of playing through a game twice or more is quite old by now, with the earliest examples coming from some mid-80s hits and classics such as Ghosts 'n Goblins, The Legend of Zelda, and Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei. The rewards for this choice are varied, the true ending for Ghosts 'n Goblins, or an extra challenge in Zelda and Megami Tensei. It was only later when this idea was not only popularized, but received a name that has stuck with gamers for over two decades and counting now. Chrono Trigger rewarded players for multiple trips through its world by offering a variety of different endings that could be achieved by beating the final boss in any number of different ways and almost anywhere during the story.

New Game Plus is a system used by Chrono Trigger to reward players who beat a game to have an easier time with replays. You would have your levels, gear, and inventory intact, but have all the key items and story progression reset to allow a fresh and fast run through the game. This system was quite the innovative idea for its time, and while there are many tweaks that have been made and used by individual games and series over the years, its time to wonder if its become outdated, or if some implementations are just rather weak. Games are more plentiful and far more easier to find and justify the cost of from the consumer standpoint. Its too easy to load up on games that are a few years after release for the equivalent of pocket change.

Twenty years ago the market was completely different, meaning everybody had much smaller libraries. There were few, if any, used game stores in any similar fashion to how they exist today, and systems that are now considered retro were displayed front and center as the main drivers of business. Prices were lower, but the value of your pocket change was much higher to offset this a bit. Many brand new NES, Super NES, Master System, Genesis, and any other console game were $50 or more. Factor inflation into the mix and brand new games were more expensive on release than they are now. This little fact puts a lot of the 'nickle-and-dime' downloadable content approach of modern big publishers into a slightly different light. Consumers could not afford to purchase every single major release as they hit store shelves, despite what the playground braggart would claim. Game libraries for the gamer were just smaller overall, many adults that now hunt for old games secondhand were too young for that option at the time. A dozen games seems to be a common amount that many remember actually owning after a few years, but three or four times that many were actually tried and played due to the prevalence of video game rentals.

In the modern market there can be something new that can grab a gamer's attention every week, or even every day. News is constant today compared to the monthly crawl of news that the magazines of yore would reveal. Digital marketplaces have games cheaper than they've ever been, with big titles having prices collapse from $60 to $10 or less during deep sales. While $50 would have bought you one game at the retail store that only carried new games twenty years ago, that same $50 can afford ten full games or more during some of these sales. Even bargain bin hopping at the retail stores can get you five or ten full games for that same $50. Chrono Trigger happened to release at the height of this model, but also as the generations would start transitioning. The PlayStation released in 1995 in Western markets, and the price of new video games actually fell in certain regions since discs were cheaper to manufacture and ship than cartridges. New PlayStation games in my area tended to be $40, which made the console attractive to parents trying to pinch pennies, and there was still a lack of used gaming store options for another few years. Libraries stayed small through these years, but the lower price likely made trading and swapping a better option for some.

With this extreme saturation of games in the modern era it can make the decision of replaying a game a difficult one. There is almost certainly missed content in a first playthrough, since players are stumbling through the beginning until they learn the rules. Many games are also quite long. Role playing games have long been advertised for the length of completion, with forty hours being almost a minimum standard in many eyes. With so many games it can be hard to justify even that amount of time spent on a single game. Playing it twice? Seems a bit of a stretch. It must be a special game to take away the opportunity to find something potentially more enjoyable around the corner. A full completion must be desired for a longer RPG. Shorter action games are more easy to justify a replay, especially since all the toys and knowledge can likely half a clear time. Cinematic experiences will still take time. Some bits may be forgotten, lost in the learning period of the first play, or simply time. Decisions will be remade, and the one taken will have to be remembered. For the RPG, only time spent grinding may be saved, even if the encounter rate stays the same.

So what different variations of New Game Plus have been implemented over the years? Some are merely quality of life improvements for replays. The Tales of series is a major driver of this style, with various points being awarded for completion of story, quest, sub-event, and combat tasks that can be spent on rewards for a new playthrough. Tales offers little if anything in terms of new content, so its just a way to experience the same content again with less work. The Persona series from Atlus, one of the early experimenters of a New Game Plus style system, is similar, without the tasks and points. The main character keeps their social stats, gear, and Persona compendium, which allows the early and mid-game to be a breeze. Party members are essentially reset, so they can fall quickly in battle. Atlus uses a similar system for most of their other games as well, at least when it comes to the compendium and gear.

Some games started offering more gameplay and content after completion of the game in lieu of a restart with bonuses. These are not classic styled New Game Plus, but follow a similar style of design philosophy, rewarding the player for completion of the game in some regard. Ghosts 'n Goblins could be considered the genesis of this branch of design, since beating the game opens up a second run through to achieve the True Ending. Another well known example is Star Ocean 2, which requires the completion of its post game content in order to see its True Ending. The Inverted Castle from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is also in this vein of design.

The New Game Plus idea may have been popularized by role playing games, but it has been adopted quite heavily by action games as well. Fast paced, stylized action games with a ton of unlockable equipment and skills are almost entirely based around multiple playthroughs, with the Devil May Cry and Bayonetta games being prime examples of these. The various Castlevania games, especially the handheld ones, since Symphony of the Night, all have something extra to unlock or find after a Clear file is attained.

The way this design system is used by creators is as varied as the games themselves. So to find out which one is the best or which one deserves to be cut from any future installments is really a case-by-case basis. Requiring either a nose glued to a walkthrough for a first playthough, or at least two plays for a full completion of a game is rather heavy-handed as a lot of modern playing games use it to essentially hide content from gamers who actually play blindly and stumble their way through at least the first part of a game. At least a second playthrough will be shorter, but hundreds of hours on one game is hard to justify anymore. Action or adventure games with shorter completion times, but plenty of content to unlock through multiple playthroughs seems to be a better use of the idea, at least on the surface. Many of these can be fully completed on a a small number of plays which may only be fifty hours or less. And those who do not care as much for collecting everything will still get the full story out of one or two runs through the game for even less time.

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While I was a massive fan of JRPGs in the 90's, I completely skipped out on the New Game + phenom.  Weird I would, but maybe it has something to do with the proliferation of RPGs on home consoles.  Bummer really.  I finished Chrono Trigger and immediately moved on to another game, even though I knew about there being more than one ending (Game Informer had been crowing about that for months).  Well, now that I'm getting back into handheld gaming again, I will likely pick up Chrono Trigger on the DS, being that it isn't too expensive (at least cheaper than the SNES original).

Funny you should mention the game libraries.  While I did know some kids that did have "a lot" of games, I personally never saw more than thirty (in this case, T16 titles).  The other day I was thinking about how awesome it would have been to have those games now.  Especially Ghost Manor and Night Creatures.  Fun games, just not $100 USD fun.

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