Life is ups and downs. It’s full of contrasts and contradictions. Canada loves the sun because we get bored of our dark igloos after a few months. Utopia would drive me crazy, and certainly make it so that I wouldn’t appreciate it. I need the challenging parts for me to properly recognize all the good I have around me, so that I don’t take it for granted.
And therein lies an interesting feature of top quality gaming, or at least what I consider top quality. The ones that have stuck in my mind for ages are those where there are spots of reflection. Spots where the story takes some time to breathe, to recall some of the adventure, and to prepare themselves for the next step.
I’m not talking about the calm before a storm, like the room before a boss piled with ammo/health packs. That quiet is foreboding, it’s meant to build anxiety for what’s coming. FPS games are all about that, and one of the main reasons they don’t click for me. I mean those where the game simply stops being a game and turns into a story.
It doesn’t have to be a single time either. While FFX certainly has the fire scene to both open the game and close the 2nd act, there are numerous other places where the game just stops to tell a story. God of War opts to only have shorter versions (using the boat) while the major cutscenes are built for stress. The Outer Worlds does it on the ship. Celeste has quite a few interspersed scenes where she talks to her other half.
The best of those pauses allow you to take a few steps back and consider the world the developers are trying to build. Some keep player agency (Dragon Age:Origins) and let you direct parts of the story. Others turn to vignettes, where the characters take a breath and come to terms with what’s going on. As graphics have improved, so has the ability to tell a story with facial expressions.
This set of clips from Jedi Fallen Order is what made the game for me. This is just after Order 66, where all the jedi are gone, but it never really hits. You visit various planets trying to find a list of Force sensitive kids, seeing how those planets lived. Dathomir in particular has no respite, and feels oppressive. Every part of that planet wants you dead. Then you meet Merrin, and the world turns into one of sorrow. You’ve been playing for 8 hours by this point, then in a 2 minute scene you get it. It’s also the point where Cal starts to question his place in the world, and the actual goal of his quest.
I’m sure everyone has a particular game and scene where their appreciation for it changed. They make good games great, and have them stick in your brain for a very long time.