I thought I'd write a user blog about reviews...
Apparently, I thought wrong. First up, some housekeeping. Today, we'll have our first holiday buyer's guide. The guides will go up over a few days, and each one was written by a different staff member with a different approach. In a few days, depending on our schedule, I'll have my review for Otomedius Excellent, a shoot-em-up game. Of course, I have to mention that PixlTalk looks like it'll be back on track again. There have been issues keeping it going at a steady pace, so hopefully those who feel like they missed out over the past few weeks will consider trying out PB & Jason, which you hopefully know by now is my stand-alone podcast. But enough about the “What's coming soon.” I'm writing to talk about reviews. The review problem. Conundrum, or whatever it is. Sit back. It'll take a while. This first blog really has nothing to do with it. Really. Instead, this blog and the next will talk about my history with gaming media and reviews. Deal with it.
Over the past few weeks, I've been putting some heavy thought into where reviews fit for video games. I grew up reading Nintendo power with a spare EGM and GamePro here or there. I didn't really know what a review was, at least not back in the day. I literally “read” Nintendo Power magazines before I actually knew how to read. To me, they were information digests. I'd get to find the map of a game, or I'd get to see a sneak peek of some later bosses. I'd be able to use “Pak Watch” to learn scheduled release dates of video games. Whatever I wanted to know I couldn't determine from the pictures, I would ask my parents about, and they'd let me know. I feel this is pretty important in my history of gaming, though. As a very young kid, I didn't play games based directly on the opinions of others. Instead, I looked at what I could see from magazines and such, and decided what to play based on what looked fun.
Of course, some point down the road, I learned how to read. Truth be told, my early gaming years tend to blend together my non-reading days with my reading ones. Still, early on, I found I'd look and flip through a Nintendo Power one time real quick for anything especially appealing before I'd read anything. I wanted to spot something of special interest. A new Mario game, a Mega Man X title, maybe see if any game appeared in the “Classified Information” section that I was playing, things like that. Again, I really didn't care much for opinions here. My second-favorite section was Pak Watch, even when I could read. Why? C'mon. This is before the internet. I'd find out about an upcoming game, see early screenshots, and all that sort of stuff way ahead of time. Still, reviews really meant nothing to me.
In fact, I can't remember much of a time where I did look at any reviews. Probably, the earliest point I recall seeing scores or numbers surrounding a game would have come from another magazine, a magazine of which I had no subscription. Where? A Publix Supermarket. Every once in a while, when I went to the grocery store with my mother, during checkout, I'd be allowed to look at the magazine rack in the store, which contained a few different gaming magazines. Of course I'd flip through for interesting things first, but if lines were particularly long or there was few I found explicitly appealing in the magazine, I'd be able to reach where games were talked about. See, unlike Nintendo Power, a magazine I read for tips, tricks, maps, and strategies, these other gaming magazines were more opinion-based than promotional. Editorials appeared. Impressions, rather than info dumps. Whenever talking about upcoming games, I recall Tips 'n' Tricks magazine used to give the percentage of the game they estimated was complete through whatever means they used. I'm pretty sure these magazines were the first places I'd see and pay attention to reviews. At first, it might be to scope out what I was missing on the Genesis, since I only had an NES and an SNES at the time. Later, some time after renting Final Fantasy III looking for something I'd enjoy as much as Final Fight (Seriously, both games have “Final” in their names. Even if they're not exactly the same, my line of reasoning suggested if I liked one, I'd like the other.), I became interested in RPGs and SquareSoft. I rented EarthBound, played Final Fantasy III a full time through and some partial ones, too, loved Super Mario RPG, and fell in love with Chrono Trigger. No reviews required. Seriously.
Moving forward, we saw the upcoming N64. We saw the Final Fantasy tech demo, then later, Final Fantasy VII. At first, like how I only owned an SNES, I was a proud owner of an N64. I played Nintendo games. Whatever they had, especially in the beginning, since there were so few titles out there. After spending some time hanging out with my cousin, playing Mega Man X4 on his Sega Saturn, after seeing Gex on his 3DO (Seriously, my cousin owned a 3DO at one point), and seeing games on his PSX, I decided to invest in a PSX. This fits in around 1998 on my memory timeline, but seriously, the numbers are tough to piece together.
I skipped out on Final Fantasy VII. Seriously. I know so many people love the title, but truthfully, I was a bit of an odd gamer. I didn't want the “realism” offered in this RPG compared to the SNES classics I had already played. I wasn't fond of only having three party members. I thought the blocky characters looked ugly compared to the N64. My cousin let me experience parts of the game whenever we visited each other, and while I enjoyed myself, none of the characters reminded me of Mog, the Moogle, aside from the simple Gold Saucer Mog mini-game. Magic didn't work the same way it did in other games. Summons looked way too powerful. Some battle attacks, like Knights of the Round, lasted far too long. I spent a lot of time playing the game to try to breed a great chocobo and to play the games at the Gold Saucer, but I just never cared much for the game. I even saw that famous seen where Aeris dies, and thought it was strange. Why? Well, right after the cutscene, the game goes to its normal visuals. Truthfully, I couldn't tell if the cutscene had actually happened or not. Remember that I didn't know the characters aside from Cloud, and maybe Barret and Cid, so the world/dungeon-trekking models of the characters didn't really resemble their cutscene versions so well. Essentially, despite the emotion, I didn't know who Aeris was, and I couldn't spot her lifeless afterward. I didn't know the characters or the story, so it really didn't make much sense. Given all this, I didn't play the game and I had a negative feeling about it, in a few ways. I can also certainly say I was most thrown off by the white materia that bounced and fell into the water afterward. Sounds like a ridiculous story, right? As best as I can recall, inconsistencies and non-sensicalities, it happened. The boss fight after the scene made things more confusing, too. I was ten or eleven at the time. Worth noting, I also wasn't a fan of the “adult language” in the game, even if most was censored.
Why is this relevant? Well, the golden star of the N64/PSX era was a game I believed I didn't like. The one game each magazine praised without end, I couldn't stand. Then I really began to pay attention to reviews.