What a Long, Strange Journey It's Been

Edward Moore | 9 Nov 2010 08:28
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During demon negotiations and certain story sequences, MegaTen games challenge the player to examine and consider their own personal philosophy and morality. It's very reminiscent of the types of choice encountered in Western-developed console role-playing games.


"The player should always be at the center of the story; event scenes with the subjective view of the player help maintain that feeling," says Ishida. "We made an effort to do that as much as we could when we worked on Strange Journey. When the players are confronted with questions and choices that shake the very reason for their actions, they think, 'Man, what should I do ... ?' Those tense moments when the players are sucked right in to the game are, to me, the pinnacle of in-game storytelling ... You can only get that kind of experience from event scenes in games! It's so awesome!"

A silver tongue in battle won't let players talk their way out of every situation, and when it comes to epic boss battles, MegaTen can be notoriously brutal for its level of challenge. Striking that critical balance between frustration and maintaining player engagement is a daunting task to get exactly right, even for the most experienced designers, but it's a quality that is consistently demonstrated in nearly all of the MegaTen games.

"I believe that for any challenge, the important thing is to make both the goal (the reward for overcoming the challenge) and the means to achieve that goal clear to the player," Ishida says. "It's really basic and nothing out of the ordinary. However, I think that is the single most crucial point when developing games; it's what gives the players the feeling of accomplishment."

Although the supernatural enemies during MegaTen's battles will crush you for errors, even in failure it feels fair because it is always the result of a strategic flaw or mistake. Because of this, the desire to win and the compulsion to reconfigure and try again is very strong.

"The staff and I focused on one thing: to clearly show the players the reason for losing the battle. If the players can analyze the battle and understand why they lost, they can figure out how to win the battle and can control the process to victory themselves," Ishida explains. "Keeping the battles simple enabled us to make the gameplay surprisingly straightforward, logical, and deep. As long as the goal and the means are made clear, the players can control the process to their liking. That makes the process itself an enjoyable experience, and when the players achieve the goal, they get a strong sense of accomplishment."

The mixture of modern ideas like science and technology with world mythology and imagery is another recurring thread in almost every game in the franchise, from Shin Megami Tensei on the Super Famicom to Strange Journey, which depicts an international mission to Antarctica to investigate a demonic outbreak stemming from a mysterious rift in the fabric of space-time. This type of thematic juxtaposition distinguishes MegaTen not only from other Japanese RPGs, but from most games in general.

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