Whether it’s a difficulty spike, a poorly-explained tutorial or just a fundamentally broken piece of gameplay, bad design decisions can kill a game stone dead for some people.
I’ve played three games recently which have suffered from bad design. The first, Resonance of Fate suffered from Bad Tutorial Syndrome, failing to explain its absurdly complex battle mechanics properly and likely putting a lot of people off before they’d started. It’s almost the polar opposite of Final Fantasy XIII, a game which patronises its players by throwing in hours upon hours of near-identical battles in its opening hours, ensuring that everyone is completely up to speed with every new facet of its combat system before moving onto the next. Resonance went completely the other way. A happy medium would have been nice.
The third game I can’t talk about just yet – at least not until I’ve reviewed it, and it’s a review I’ll be writing tonight – but the second game, and the one I really want to talk about is Nier. It’s a game that offers some unique twists on fairly standard action-RPG tropes mixed in with some almost laughably generic moments, and one particularly egregious piece of bad design.
Now I’m of the opinion that any game with a fishing aside can’t be all bad, and Nier proves it, but its one mandatory fishing quest is such an appallingly misjudged moment that it seems to have stumped half the people playing it. Basically, you’re handed a fishing rod and asked to catch a particular fish. Immediately in front of you is a body of water. So you stand, and you cast, and you’re told to tap the A button when the fish bites. Firstly, it doesn’t really tell you that you have to wait for the rod to bend quite a significant amount, so you’ll miss a couple by pulling too early. Then you’ll pull on the third bite when the rod bends more and the fish will instantly get away. So you try again. And the same occurs.
It’s only after a few times of trying that you’ll notice the red X on the map. So you head there and try again, and lo and behold the fish will stay on the line a little longer. The game tells you to pull the rod in the opposite direction to the way the fish is swimming, and you do that for a while, pushing left and right on the analogue stick with little to tell you that you’re doing the right thing. Oh, but that’s because the game hasn’t told you that you need to pull back on the analogue stick to reduce the fish’s energy bar and reel it in.
I’ve had two people who’ve played the game on my recommendation ask me where they’re going wrong. One of my friends on Facebook posted about it. One other games journalist I follow on Twitter made the same complaint. Two people who post on a forum I frequent have had the exact same issue. It’s baffling that this wasn’t spotted in QA. Yet it remains in the game, and likely will do, because it’s a niche title and thus will never be patched.
Nier’s been made on what appears to be a fairly meagre budget, but surely every game warrants a decent amount of testing before it’s shipped? In the meantime, this one tiny bit of code will continue to confound and irritate, and spoil an otherwise interesting game for many of its players. What a pity.