Hey everyone, here’s a translated column from last year where Sakurai talks about the way people review games, using Just Cause 3 as an example. Thanks to Soma and S.pace.aman for editing help. Enjoy it!
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Fun You Can’t Find Elsewhere
Originally published in Famitsu, Vol. 508, 23 June 2016
There are a lot of game reviews out there, but when I’m looking at games to play, I won’t avoid a game based on somebody’s review. The reason is because it’s difficult to communicate the good points unique to a certain game using a number or somebody’s impressions. Reviews are particular to the experiences and thoughts of each individual, which they can express as they like. I’m mostly OK with general overviews. But when you judge a game using ratings and numbers, I think you often lose sight of what makes that game special.
Especially with user reviews, the writer bought that game because they wanted to play that game. When somebody writes a review, they take the time to do so because they have something they want to say. Sometimes reviewers list out all the things they didn’t like, take an overly critical tone, and reduce their score by an unnecessary amount.
This sort of tendency isn’t unique to games; this extreme treatment can also be seen in other media, like movies. For example, I go see an action movie, enjoy it, then read reviews of it afterwards. And often I’ll see, “There’s no story, so it’s bad.” Well, I’m not looking for story in an action movie! Depending on the movie, I think it could even be a useless addition. If I want to experience a great plot, I can go watch a thriller or some other movie with more human drama. When it comes to action movies, if it’s cool, or exciting, or if I can enjoy watching over-the-top battles and crazy chase scenes on the big screen, then that’s perfectly fine for me. But saying things like, “That was siiick!” just makes you sound dumb. It’s very difficult to put into words these emotions and sensations which aren’t rooted in rationality or logic, and that makes it hard to convey what you really want to say in a review.
During the commemorative stream for my 500th column**, I played Just Cause 3. Here as well, the overall reviews for this game were not overwhelmingly positive. Reviewers questioned the lack of rolling, which was present in the previous game, and the lack of a cover system, criticized the shooting and combat as dull, wrote that the challenges were annoying… things like that.
** In March of 2016, there was a Niconico stream to celebrate Sakurai’s 500th Famitsu column. Sakurai talked a bit about the column’s history, answered some questions, and played some games for the viewers. See more details here.
However, that’s really not what Just Cause 3 is all about. It’s about the amazing feeling you get from using your grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit to fly around as you please! It’s the sensation of deftly gliding through the air, diving down to build up speed, and mastering the skies. You could spend hours in this game just flying. This incredible feeling is a strong point that you can’t experience in any other game, including the previous Just Cause 2! If there’s another game that has this kind of excitement, then by all means, I’d like to hear about it.
In the gunfights, instead of just simply shooting and approaching from the front, you can devise strategies with a three-dimensional element to them. When I was playing for the stream, I made it a challenge to not use guns, instead limiting my tools to just the grappling hook and planting explosives as I took down a base. I feel that this degree of freedom is also part of the game’s charm.
If I had blindly accepted the reviews and ratings, I might never have known this kind of fun. That would have been a real shame.
When expressing what you thought about something, it’s easy to give in to the impulse to list out a bunch of criticisms. But, when something is really cool, or feels amazing, or makes your heart pound in your chest, that sensation isn’t something that can be accurately expressed by words on a page. It’s hard to sum things up with a single word, and even if you do express your thoughts well, the audience may not understand it properly.
With any review, the contents are true to that particular writer. And overall, I think it’s good that reviews exist.
But, I don’t really rely on them. My own tastes are enough to decide for myself! …That’s one way to do things, but one of the reasons I play so many games is to find the merits that only exists in that specific game. For that purpose, I do also play games that aren’t what I personally like.
Still, I am interested in hearing other people’s thoughts. What parts of a game made an impression on someone is largely dependent on the individual. Sometimes I’ll read a review that really highlights that person’s perspective, and that’ll make me realize something new about that game.
In the end, it’s all for the sake of fun.