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  • Writer's pictureJoshua McLean

RIJAR #001, Part 2: ActRaiser doesn’t get better, but a Final Fantasy video changed my perspective

I've played more ActRaiser, and I have some thoughts. You can watch the stream recording of Part 2 here.


In my last post, I complained about the simulation sections of the game. I found them incredibly tedious, which was odd since I enjoyed them the first time around. The platforming sections are fine—even good, I might say—but they don’t make up for the simulation slog.


But following an excellent retrospective video of the Final Fantasy series, I may have a new perspective on the game. The video is super long, with a lot of wonderful detail on the series. Final Fantasy stands out as one of the most varied, experimental series remaining from the 8-bit era, and the video’s conclusion really resonated with me.


This led me to realize two perspectives fighting for control in my mind. First, the more recent perspective, is that developers ought to learn from past mistakes in older games. If you look at the initial flood of indie games in the early 2010s, you’ll see developers who grew up playing video games in the golden age of the late 80s and early 90s, when they dreamed about making similar experiences. So you get stuff like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV which seem to “get” how to bring back a similar feel.


Contrast that to many modern indie experiences on platforms like itch.io. Instead of modeling on what came before—because the developers didn’t grow up with games, or at least not these “golden age” games—they often reinvent the wheel and repeat mistakes made in commercial games thirty or forty years ago. And as these mistakes go unchecked, they continue to repeat.


(It's critical to note this doesn't apply to all modern indie games. There are plenty of solid experiences out there, but these are unfortunately the exception, given the ease of access to development and publishing tools in the modern age.)


The more I think about these “mistakes,” though, the more the second perspective begins to take over. When I was a kid playing Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt on the NES, I loved it. I didn’t care that the game had no stage music, emphasizing the obnoxious “boing” every time you jump. I didn’t care that the jump arc and air control weren’t quite right. Most importantly, I didn’t care when the game unfairly ended my run and forced me to start over. I kept going because I loved playing the game. That was all that mattered.


To me, Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt was simply the way it was, and it couldn’t be any other way. I had no concept of people behind the game making technical and design decisions to put together the software. And I had only a handful of games available. The limited selection made me appreciate each individual game more. They were all special, and they were all mine.


Fast forward to today, and I have access to an inconceivable library of games. And if I want a new one, almost everything is available digitally, and if not I can have it shipped to me. The whole world of gaming is at my fingertips.


Child me would think this accessibility is a positive development, but I the conclusion of that Final Fantasy retrospective reminded me this is a double-edged sword. I never really gave Final Fantasy II or III a proper chance. When I play them, all I see are flaws. I compare them to the dozen other entries in the series, to the hordes of other RPGs I’ve played, and see every reason not to play them.


But what if I was a child again, and all I had was Final Fantasy II? I would assume it’s the way it is. Characters don’t have levels—they level up each individual ability as they use it. Why would they have levels? That’s silly. And of course the world is open, so be careful where you go. I might get a dozen party wipes before I realize the path I’m supposed to take, but that’s fine, because this is the fantastic adventure I have available. It’s amazing. I love it.


This isn’t entirely conjecture, either, because my love for Final Fantasy Legend II stems from a pleasant childhood experience, and the game shares many systems with its NES cousin.


So, this is the perspective I need in my future experience with video games. Sure, I can be critical. No need to shut off my brain completely. I can judge games with my decades of observation and experience, but I need to remember the childhood perspective, the view that the game is the way it is and cannot be any other way. This will help to get into the headspace of the creators who poured love and labor into the project.


What does all this have to do with ActRaiser? I need to remember my first time playing it. The simulation was fun, fresh, and exciting. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s part of the ActRaiser experience and shapes the adventure. I might find it frustrating and tedious now, but I must remember it has the potential to be fun, and can be “good” when it’s fresh. No need to compare it to anything else—it is itself, as it always has been and always will be.


And with that return to childhood perspective, I can overall enjoy video games a bit more.

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