Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Video games with too much text and cutscenes

It's possibly because of some recent games I have played, such as Cho Dengeki Stryker and very especially the absolute nightmare that was Final Fantasy X (read that latter blog post if you haven't already, for my rant in excruciating detail why it's one of the worst games I have ever played in my life), but I have somehow lately grown to hate video games with too many cutscenes and, especially, too much text dialogue.

For instance, I'm currently playing a DS game named Inazuma Eleven 2: Firestorm. I had played the first game of the series, and I found it interesting. It has a rather novel idea. It's essentially a more or less traditional JRPG, except that battles are in the form of football matches (rather than your traditional JRPG battles). When said like that it might sound a bit crazy, or that it wouldn't work, but it actually does quite well.

The game is quite ok, except for one thing. You guessed it: Too many cutscenes, and way too much text in those cutscene dialogues. (The game, being a DS game, has minimal voice acting, the vast majority of dialogue being pure text.) I wouldn't even mind the amount of cutscenes if it weren't for the sheer amount of useless filler dialogue text that they have. (I could, of course, just skip all the text quickly and without reading, but then I would be missing one of the most important parts of a JRPG: The story.)

This isn't at all unique to this game in particular. There are plenty of such games, not only JRPG's but also basically all other genres where there is a story, and characters with dialogue. There are good such games, and games with way too much dialogue padding. You know, the kind of dialogue where something could be expressed in just five back-and-forth sentences between the characters, but instead the dialogue just drags on and on with useless filler and padding that adds absolutely nothing to the story and relays no information, and what could have been completely perfectly expressed in five sentences is instead done in ten or fifteen, or even more. And most often than not, this additional padding is not in any way useful from a story-telling or character building perspective. It just feels useless and annoying filler that drags conversations for way too long.

Another example that I'm playing currently is The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. While I'm admittedly just in the beginning parts of the game, it has already suffered from this symptom plentifully. Probably 50% of all the dialogue could be completely cut from it without any loss whatsoever (not in terms of information nor in terms of story or characterization.) It might get better later on, but at least at the beginning all the signs are there. (In fact, I am currently stuck in the game, unable to advance, because I don't know what exactly I should do. That's because I got so annoyed by the endless amounts of text that I didn't even read all of it. Now I have no idea what is it that I'm supposed to do, because I missed something, and I'm stuck in a room that I can't leave before I do that thing. I'll probably have to go through all the NPC dialogue again to find out. *sigh*)

It seems to me that many game developers, especially when making a game where dialogue is in text only (rather than voice-acted), often tend to go wild with such dialogue. They will write tons and tons of useless back-and-forth conversation that only drags the cutscene and adds nothing to it. It seems that they lack the ability to condense the dialogue to its optimal minimum, and instead use lots of padding for no real purpose or reason. I don't need to hear the two-word responses of five side characters (as is often the case eg. in the Inazuma Eleven 2 game I mentioned above) when the response of only one character (at most two) would be more than enough, and especially when those responses do not add anything to the story or even the conversation itself. It's also useless (only annoying) to have the conversation essentially just repeat the same thing three times, when once would suffice.

Voice-acted games seem to suffer less from this phenomenon, for obvious reasons. Every additional minute of voice acting costs money and, most importantly, when you can actually hear the conversation, extra unneeded padding becomes a lot more obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb; it just reeks of bad writing. You can't get away with as much conversation filler and padding in voice-acted dialogue than in text-only. Of course that doesn't stop some games from falling into this, even if they are fully voice-acted. Especially the ones with way too many and way too long cutscenes.

One of the major reasons why an overabundance of obnoxious cutscenes is so annoying is that they interrupt the gameplay. The more they interrupt it, the more annoying they can be.

And the thing is, cutscenes that block the gameplay are not even necessary. There are plenty of games that have strong stories and quite some cutscenes, but never interrupt the gameplay. Essentially, the player never loses control while the "cutscenes" are playing. (The Half-Life 2 series would be a perfect example. Also the Portal series is a good example of a game that conveys a strong and interesting story without having to resort to an overabundance of blocking cutscenes.)


  1. Cut scenes are what make the game come alive in my opinion because it simply adds to the quality and its story. Furthermore, I think cut scenes should be able to be skipped if the player is in a rush.

    1. Cutscenes with useless padding do not make the game come alive. They make it tedious.