Wednesday, June 7, 2017

PM reply turned into blogpost

I was talking to someone in PM, they told me that they completed StB and DS in half a day and proceeded to ask me if I think DS is the apex of the genre. I wrote a pretty lengthy reply and since it read more like a blogpost I decided to put that reply here for anyone interested. Just contains some thoughts on my favorite games I guess!

"It's stupidly fast. The norm is to take 5-10 times as long at least, and it's not unusual that people get stuck on some scenes for hours. Like my first DS playthrough, I could beat most scenes right away or almost right away, but I encountered a few that I'd get stuck on for half an hour maybe. And in StB since I was more of a beginner back then (Just had easy 1ccs in the bag) I encountered many scenes that took hours to crack. A flawless speedrun through Shoot the Bullet is around 50 minutes, and in Double Spoiler around an hour. (Not sure of the specifics since I don't speedrun them). But the games are designed to be incredibly rough the first time around and yeah it's normal to have a lot of trouble adjusting to the game play and figuring out or just surviving the scenes. So many people hit a wall as early as level 5 in StB. Honestly, you must be incredibly skilled and I hope to see your gameplay in action sometime if you ever decide to (have decided to?) play some shmup more seriously!

Of course, I could see how watching others would speed things up. I mean, you have scenes like 10-4 in StB which noone could be expected to beat through skill alone, you'd have to either know how to do it or spend a while figuring it out. I think it's normal to take hours to beat this scene because people can't really crack the strategies. So if you already saw someone else do it for example then that would speed up the playthrough, and this goes more or less for a lot of stuff.

I mean, I don't know about using the word apex, especially not since it's so damn different from normal. But DS and GFW are the games that have fascinated me the most. The problem with DS is that a lot of the scenes are kinda shitty. I just gloss over that because there's so damn many of them so you don't have to play scenes you don't like if you don't want to. Another hurdle to get past is that the game is incredibly unfair. I never midned unfairness itself though, I just wanna enjoy myself and feel engaged. If something is unfair in a fun way then I don't care.

For the pure fun factor, sometimes I gravitate towards the Phantasmagoria games, but PoFV, intense as it is, is too monotonous and simple to be compared with DS and GFW, which are deep and varied. and I've never played a multiplayer match in PoDD which means I'm rating it entirely as a single player game... not to mention comparing multiplayer with single player is always iffy.

I don't think there is an apex because there aren't any clear rules about what makes a game personally appealing. Like you can tell with the games I view as favorites that they're quite RNG heavy and really difficult and scoring oriented usually (Dragon Blaze being an exception in the RNG area, though. that game is pretty static. Then again, I haven't put as much time into Dragon Blaze yet, so I don't feel as strongly in my opinion in that one) On the other hand, many other veterans loathe this kind of RNG and prefer to be able to do what they've practiced more reliably. There is also the issue of how much we value game feel versus mechanics and stage and pattern design. Would I give Batrider a 4.5 if I wasn't totally in love with the style of the game? Definitely not. The style is so appealing to me so the feedback you feel from just playing is all there which makes it a great game to play casually. There are games that I can see as being genius and classics but that I don't personally get turned on by, like DOJ. I learned some chaining routes and gave it an honest chance but, althought he game is undeniable amazing, It's just not a game that personally excites and fascinates me to this extent that it's at my top. Like I find the game kinda dreary and ugly looking, I'm not sold on DDP-style chaining, Hibachi is a really stupid boss to have at the end...

For conventional shmups, Perfect Cherry Blossom or Guwange would be the apex for me. You could say that they both floor me but I think both aren't quite perfect. Both have a lot of milking that turns off some people and I think that milking being quite mindless (and ruins your hand) in Guwange aside from on the Catspider is its biggest flaw. Other than this the game is pretty much perfect with an ideal scoring mechanic with its gauge management and deep cancelling structure. Perfect Cherry Blossom has one of the most ridiculous and awesome scoring systems ever with an enormous skill ceiling. I think it has the perfect scoring system and an amazing relationship between its mechanics and design. For the most part they are flawlessly linked so you can be doing something cool and difficult in almost every part of the game. a common discussion about fans is about how much of an accident this game may have been for ZUN. Some people insist that ZUN doesn't put that much thought into his games (with his newest games I can believe that he doesn't) but I think there's no way that PCB is much of an accident. Now, if PCB does have a flaw, I think I can point out some. The first two stages can feel a bit slow other than some key techniques available being absolutely bonkers, and I was never that keen on the Extra or Phantasm stages. Lots of pointless nonspells in these. As well, PCB is a pure score-em-up, this isn't a flaw per se, but it isn't a very interesting game to just dodge bullets in IMO. The bullets are mostly really slow, which works fine with its scoring, but for fun of dodging I like faster bullets.

For me, GFW and maybe DS are my favorites, but I would never say that they're objectively the best or anything. GFW is just such an odd game that gets easily misunderstood by newcomers. For example, a common complaint about it that I hear from people that didn't really play it (much) is that using ice to bypass patterns is cheesy and that such mechanics hinders dodging. The truth is that GFW is a very dodging heavy game, and it's dodging heavy in the way that I personally love: there's a lot of multitasking. You're not just avoiding the bullets but you are managing boss health, shot versus boss positioning, timing of shooting, whether how much to graze to reach a certain ice meter percentage at a certain time, timing to charge and timing to freeze and positioning to freeze depending on how you want the ice to behave in relation to bullet space and enemy positions. Then you are also multitasking the resource game which is by far the best in any game I've played, the way you gain perfect freeze and motivation and how you "spend" your resources and the routing around this is totally unmatched IMO.

So in short, I have some clear favorites because of my tastes, but I think there are other potential "best games" that I don't feel as strongly about personally due to some personal dislikes being too prevalent (Ketsui, DOJ, Garegga spring to mind...)

And of course, since these examples are more geared towards hardcore players, there's no objective truth saying that a simpler game with a lower skill ceiling is worse for it. Some people love games like Gradius. But I just don't see anyone spending 1000s of hours on such games when there's the aforementioned alternatives, and for me an apex most definitely need to provide incentives for you to pour such time into it. Shmups are very divisive among fans and there are things that could easily turn you off or on them, small or big things. Like in the touhou community just about everyone has a different favorite game or least favorite game."