Like any other medium of entertainment, video games often exhibit clichés that repeat themselves over the years, whether it’s to do with the story, or the overall gameplay. Sometimes, we don’t mind these clichés, but in other times, there are clichés that gamers hate because they ruin their gaming experience. Games are supposed to be fun, and anything that ruins it is guaranteed to make you mad.
That being said, this third entry in my new series of video game countdowns is dedicated to all the design choices that are so jarring you’ll wonder why they keep appearing in games. As a rule, I’d like to focus on clichés that effect actual gameplay. Even though there are many annoying story clichés, those same clichés can be found in movies and TV shows, so on this list, they don’t count.
With all that in mind, let’s get this list started.
#10 – Useless Weapons and Abilities
Plenty of games give you a variety of weapons and abilities that at least have some use. Conversely, there are also plenty of weapons and abilities that are next to useless. Of course, I’m talking about the plethora of weapons that you get, but won’t want to use because they’re useless compared to the weapon you already have. This is common in RPG’s, but it also happens in action games. For example, in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, you get an ability that temporarily lets to infuse the element of fire into your weapons. Throughout the entire game, I’ve almost never used that ability, and that’s because the ice upgrade was far more useful in the long run. Turning to RPG’s, depending on your stats, and how good you are with a weapon, you may or may not need the next best weapon. In fact, some weapons can’t even be used by certain characters to begin with.
Another problem I have is when games give you the ability to use magic, but make it seem useless, whether by weakening magical abilities, or limiting how often you can use them. In many fantasy action games, you do get magical abilities (depending on the setting), but you won’t need them as much as you’ll need physical attacks. This is just as true in RPG’s like Bravely Default, where in the first half of the game, your ability to use magic effectively will be limited by the job system (you have to level up as a Black/White Mage to transfer the usability of certain spells to other jobs), the MP system, and the rarity of the game’s underpowered MP-restoration items (in Bravely Default, the regular ethers only heal 40 MP).
Sometimes, the problem is that certain games tend to be biased in favour of physical fighters. In games such as Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom, the game itself is much easier if you play as a fighter, and supposedly much harder if you play as the elf, because using magic actually consumes items, while the fighter doesn’t need items to do what he does best. Is that fair?
And let’s forget about Magikarp’s Splash, the most useless move of all time.
#9 – Unskippable Cutscenes & Credits
Even though I said I’d focus on gameplay, this particular cliché is
Ever since the advent of 3D graphics, cutscenes have become more prominent, and eventually reaching the point where all the mainstream games now have cutscenes. I don’t mind cutscenes, but they tend to delay the gameplay in annoying ways. Plenty of games let you skip the cutscenes if you want to, but some games have the nerve to make you watch an entire cutscene without being able to skip it.
This is a disease known as the unskippable cutscenes, and many games have this, sometimes in conjunction with forcing the player to see that cutscene again after retrying a certain point in the game. This happens a lot in games today, but the most jarring examples are in some Sonic games, mainly because the Sonic games used to flow so nicely, and though some of them still do, the cutscenes in some games were annoying because they wrecked the flow, and if you couldn’t skip them, it was even worse. For example, in Sonic Unleashed, you couldn’t skip any of the cutscenes if you haven’t already seen them. Even worse is the game’s 15-minute credits sequence, which you can’t skip.
It’s bad enough if you couldn’t skip any of the cutscenes, but if you can’t skip any of the credits, then that’s even more annoying. After all, do you really imagine spending about ten minutes watching some text scroll by? The opening text of a Star Wars movie is infinitely more bearable than a credits sequence in a game that you can’t skip. Why would a game designer not allow you to skip the part that you’d obviously want to skip?
#8 – Having to Level Up in Order to Continue
Anyone who’s played an RPG will know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s always a point where you are roadblocked by a boss that you can’t beat, but you have to beat that boss in order to progress, so you travel across the map defeating enemies in order to grow enough levels so that you actually can defeat the boss. This is the frustration that we call level grinding.
In many early RPG’s, including the original Final Fantasy, level grinding was almost a necessity in order to progress through certain points of the game, and it only serves to make these games more tedious. Even some later RPG’s have this problem, including Dragon Quest IX, which itself may as well have been a love letter to everything frustrating about the old days, and Bravely Default, in which nearly every boss you fight requires intensive level grinding for you to be able to beat.
One of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed Child of Light and South Park: The Stick of Truth is because you don’t have to don’t have to go through hours of level grinding just to finish them. In South Park, the enemies grow stronger as you do, which defeats the point of level grinding to begin with, and in Child of Light, level grinding is simply not an issue. Many traditional RPG’s, however, continue the cycle of painful level grinding, almost as the game designers get some sort of sadistic catharsis from making gamers suffer.
I’m pretty sure that all RPG’s have this problem, even the Pokémon games. But in Pokémon, you at least have some idea of what level you need to match up to, while many RPG’s leave you in the dark, forcing you to figure it out for yourself (or look it up on the Internet).
#7 – Auto-Scrolling Stages
In many old 2D platform games for the NES and SNES, there were often stages that automatically scrolled at a constant rate, and if you couldn’t keep up, you would die because you’re no longer visible on the screen. Does that make any sense at all? I know it’s not one of those things you’ll care about when you’re a kid, but when you’re older, it ultimately matters more. For example, in Mario’s world, did the TV screen kill him?
Many side-scrolling platformers have this cliché at some point. Many levels in the Super Mario games have them, many Sonic games have them, Mega Man 4 has one, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 has one, and there’s one or two in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Whenever an auto-scrolling stage appears, it can be fairly agitating to finish, especially when they’re usually paired with other annoying obstacles and enemies. In some games, the screen scrolls in such a manner that you can only go forward. In Kid Icarus, the screen scrolls vertically, and since the screen doesn’t scroll back down, you die if you fall out of range.
In case you’re wondering, I have no problem with this in 2D shooter games, since you’re a spaceship flying through the cosmos. Any other time, however, it makes no sense, and they only really serve to add an artificial layer of frustration onto games that were often already difficult enough as it is (like Castlevania). Besides, if I wanted to kill a video game character, I’d use anything but the TV screen.
#6 – Ridiculous Combos in Fighting Games
One thing I hate in fighting games is that the best combos are ridiculously difficult to execute because they require the stupidest button combinations imaginable, some of which seem like they were meant for arcade machines. What’s worse is that most of the popular fighting game franchises have this, including Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom, Soul Calibur, and King of Fighters.
The only fighting games I’ve noticed that doesn’t have this feature are the Super Smash Bros. franchise and Sonic Battle. Those games eschew the overly technical combos in favour of simple gameplay that’s fun for everyone. Instead of ridiculous button and D-pad chains, the moves are performed using B or A in combination with the D-Pad (as in Super Smash Bros.). Sonic Battle does that differently, but it’s really easy to figure it out.
My point is that I don’t see what’s fun about trying to pull off stupid combinations that will probably miss before they deal as much damage as their supposed to. Also, in the time it takes to pull them off, you’re vulnerable to an enemy’s attacks, and let’s not forget that the CPU can pull off these amazing attacks in mere milliseconds, but you can’t, and that’s not even fair.
#5 – Resource Management
This one is another cliché that’s more or less specific to RPG’s, but it’s still a pretty jarring one. When I say resource management, I mean having to raise money in order to stock up on items so that I have enough to survive the next obligatory dungeon. I’m not exactly bad at it. I just find resource management to be pretty jarring because I play RPG’s to enjoy the story and immerse myself into a fantasy world. In my opinion, resource management makes that much harder.
In nearly all RPG’s, you have to buy items, weapons, armour, and often magic spells in order to make sure you’re well-equipped to deal with the challenges ahead. The problem is that getting the money to do all that is almost always in conjunction with tedious level grinding because you win money by killing monsters. Every Final Fantasy game has it, including spin-off titles such as Bravely Default, which has consistently proven to be so horrible and tedious that I can’t stop bringing it up. I’m pretty sure every Dragon Quest game has this too. As far as I know, this is a cliché that can be found in all JRPG’s.
Once again, I need to bring up Child of Light. In that game, there’s no money, so the only items you get are the items you find in treasure chests and from enemy encounters. However, if you’re concerned about healing party members, you only need the firefly to heal people, in or out of battle. In South Park: The Stick of Truth, the items have more realistic prices, and since you completely recover your HP and MP after every battle, so resource management is not an issue whatsoever.
It will probably be years before other RPG’s start following that lead, but many RPG’s still make resource management a pain in the ass just because it was like that in the old days. Of course, I’m literally saying that resource management in RPG’s has become an archaic concept.
#4 – Luck-Based Events
If there’s nothing I hate more, it’s when anything in a game is based on luck. I’ll admit that luck-based events can be used to spice up the gameplay, and that it has often worked, the real problem is when the difference between survival and death is based on luck, and when you die because you happened to be unlucky, you’ll wish the game would burn in the fires of silicon hell.
At some point, every gamer has fought a certain boss where your survival hinges on that boss not using a certain moves, which means certain doom if the move is used. Many RPG’s have this happen, but some action games also have this happen. In Sonic Battle, your enemy will block a certain kind of attack, but you have no idea what attacks he blocks, and so you have to alternate between your attacks in order to attack your enemy.
There are two franchises where the core of the gameplay is based around luck: Mario Party and Pokémon. In Pokémon, successfully catching a Pokémon is based on pure luck, and I’m sure we all had fun chasing legendary Pokémon across the goddamn planet in nearly every Pokémon game since Pokémon Gold and Silver. In that scenario, the legendary Pokémon you want to catch will easily move to the other side of the planet, and there’s very little you can do about other than not using Fly to change location.
In Mario Party, everything is based on luck. You can hope for a certain outcome, but your hopes will always be dashed. You can play the Mario Party games every day, and you still won’t be able to predict anything. Even the mini-games are based on luck, and some of them, I swear, you can’t even win most of the time just because the game decides you can’t.
#3 – Backtracking
Nothing makes a game longer than it should be like backtracking. Simply put, this is when you have to go back to areas you’ve already explored in order to advance the game. In fairness, backtracking is sometimes optional, such as in the case where you backtrack in order to find things in previous areas you didn’t find before. Of course, the reason why backtracking is on this list is because of the times where the game forces you to backtrack in order to advance the plot and/or go to the next area.
I can think of a ton of examples of games where you have to backtrack, including Retro City Rampage, Darksiders, the Jak & Daxter trilogy, Sonic Rush Adventure, the Legend of Zelda franchise, the Metroid franchise, almost every Castlevania game since Symphony of the Night, the Great Maze in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and every RPG. Speaking of RPG’s, Bravely Default, in my opinion, is the worst RPG of all when it comes to backtracking, because the game makes you reawaken the crystals in five identical worlds to get the true ending, effectively meaning that if you want to really beat the game, you have to travel the same goddamn map five fucking times. All that serves to do is make an already tedious and frustrating game even more tedious and frustrating. Also, when you do all that, you eventually find out that you were doing the bad guy a favour the whole time.
To me, backtracking is simply what happens when a game designer wants to make a game more drawn out and complex, but has no idea how, so he resorts to putting in some backtracking to make life hell for the gamer. In the case of RPG’s and non-linear action-adventure games, backtracking is almost inevitable, but it’s still really painful to have backtrack so much, especially if the game itself was already tedious to the bone, and that’s just as big a problem with the next entry.
#2 – Arbitrary Length Padding
Does anyone remember the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when games used to be straightforward, and relatively short and sweet? A lot of today’s game developers apparently don’t, since most mainstream fantasy games try and stretch out the plot for as long as they can under the false assumption that a longer story means a better game.
There are many ways to pad length, so much so that I could just as easily make a list of them as well, but here’s a short list of ways game designers have put in arbitrary length padding.
- Forcing you to go level grinding in order to beat a boss (which I mentioned earlier)
- Fetch quests (often in conjunction with backtracking)
- Unskippable cutscenes
- Having you do slapdash objectives (the ones that serve only to thicken the plot)
- Repeating previous sections of a game
- Moments in the story that could easily have been solved in minimal time.
As I already mentioned countless times on this site alone, Bravely Default, in my opinion, is the worst offender, because it forces you to repeat the same core objectives over and over again until you find the real ending, never mind that there’s an optional alternative ending that you get by breaking the cycle (which is done by destroying one of the crystals), and the alternate ending makes much more sense than the true ending, therefore making the upcoming sequel completely useless.
Quite a few Final Fantasy games also suffer from artificial length padding, but none worse than Final Fantasy III (the actual one, not the US version of Final Fantasy VI), which has you saving villages from minor villains until the game decides that something plot relevant should happen. Sonic Unleashed is also a big offender here, forcing you gather Sun and Moon Medals in order to advance the plot, which requires going back to previous levels to fetch them, all while the plot isn’t being advanced in any way unless you’ve gathered enough of those medals. Very few Sonic games out there could be any slower than that. Also, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has some arbitrary length padding, but most of that is due to backtracking.
What I’m trying to say is that just because a game is long doesn’t mean it’s fun. Besides, how are those long sessions used anyway? Most of the long gaming sessions are probably going to be used scrambling to do everything right according to the game’s ultimately flawed design.
#1 – Cheating AI
The thing I hate the most in games is whenever I lose in such a way that it makes me feel like it’s the game’s fault rather than mine. When this happens, gamer rage quickly takes over your system, and every time you lose, you’ll think it’s because the computer AI is a cheating son of a bitch. If you thought that, then you might be half-right.
I mentioned earlier that in fighting games, you’re completely vulnerable to an enemy attack when you try and pull off some wicked combo. In the same scenario, you can try to uppercut your enemy, the enemy could intercept you, and beat the crap out of you before you can even land a hit. The enemy always has an opportunity to pounce on you whenever you waste time trying to pull off a complex move instead of just punching the crap out of the enemy and blocking when necessary.
In RPG’s, you’ll most likely find enemies or bosses that use moves that cause status ailments. Isn’t it a little fishy that whenever you try to inflict a status ailment, it almost never works? Conversely, if the enemy tries inflicting a status ailment on you, it usually works. In racing games like the Mario Kart games, you can be cruising to first place in the last lap, but then the AI decides to cheat ahead of you. It’s moments like these that make you blame the game for your failure, which is not the mark of good game design. If this is supposed to add challenge, then the game designers are really sadistic.
When I want to immerse myself in a fantasy world, cheating AI will almost immediately take me out of that world, because I’m staying in the same part of the game trying to beat the CPU. For this reason, and possibly many others, cheating AI is the worst game design cliché that still exists today, and the only thing worse is that everybody’s suffered with cheating AI because it’s nigh omnipresent in nearly all video games. You just never know when it’s going to strike.