Want to stop complaining about modern video games? Fire up an emulator and play some second-string Super Nintendo titles.
Last night I played Lagoon, a SNES RPG I vividly remember renting from Blockbuster about a thousand times. Here’s the entire plot, non-abridged: the world’s water is becoming muddy. You’re the son/disciple/whatever of some awesome magician guy. Find out what’s going on and fix it.
Granted this is about as complex as the intro to Ni No Kuni (you killed your mom a fairy takes you to another world something something giant cat king something), but your first task in Lagoon is what makes me appreciate the game design of modern RPGs. After Lagoon’s setup about the muddy water you’re dumped into the town of Atland with absolutely no instructions. Here’s what you have to do to get to the first dungeon.
- Go to the Mayor’s house (it’s not labeled Town Hall or anything, it’s just the biggest house that isn’t obviously a church)
- The mayor’s wife tells you he’s at the church
- Go to the church and speak to the mayor
- A villager stumbles in and says demons were found in the nearby gold mine
- You’re transported to outside the gold mine
- Talk to the mine foreman, he tells you to talk to the mayor
- Go back to the mayor’s house (he’s not in the church anymore)
- Receive $300 to buy weapons and armor
Only after all that can you enter the mine and fight the demons within. I skipped step zero where you wander idiotically around the town pretending the X button is a totally sensible choice for a “talk” command, entering shops that aren’t open, and wondering why this town is only accessible through a gold mine and a beach with no ships docked.
Playing Lagoon took me back to my childhood. Final Fantasy II and III were my favorites but this one had a brutal charm I wouldn’t encounter again until Dark Souls. It also reminded me of why I spent so much time on these games: they were freaking hard! Lagoon’s depiction of a “short sword” looks like a sock the main character whips over his shoulder. You have a really ornate jump animation but can’t dash. The monsters have either two AI routines: head straight toward the player or execute a random walk. It’s the second one that kills me most often. Dark Souls may be hard, but it’s at least fair and has exploitable artificial intelligence. You have no idea when or where Lagoon’s monsters are going to move. Sure they stand stupidly in place while you whale on them, but they might turn around and run at you with no provocation.
Send me back to Blighttown, please!