I almost didn’t write this—lately I lack the confidence to write anything if it isn’t in-depth. I realize now that it’s pointless to write nothing as opposed to something simple. This is a simple post, and it’s about video games.
Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns is a roguelike for the DS which I found incredibly satisfying for a while. Its mechanics are simple, but require players to be considerate with their actions and tactically find their way through dungeons.
When you die in Izuna 2, you’re sent back to town and lose all of your items. However, you hold onto your experience points, meaning each time you re-enter the dungeon, you’re a little bit stronger than before. Learning about the advantages of different items inspires you to figure out how to utilize them to get further in the dungeon.
However, you can’t simply memorize the locations of monsters and items, because the floors of each dungeon are randomly generated. This means that you must be tactical and alert every single time that you enter a dungeon.
I love this. Dying frequently wasn’t tedious because I always felt that I was making progress through my knowledge of enemies and items and my gain in experience and levels. All in all, the mechanics are a winner in my book, and with the attractive character designs and fun (if stupid) dialog, I figure it’s the roguelike which should most appeal to me.
After nine hours of playtime, I reached the fifth dungeon and found myself bored of the game already. The cause is simple: not enough variety.
Izuna’s dungeons all look the same. All that changes is new skins for the floors and walls. That’s all there is to dungeons: floors and walls (and traps) in the same types of randomly generated patterns. Towns are similar: they all look alike (and none of the layouts make any fucking sense, but that’s irrelevant).
It’s not only the dungeons, though—the enemies you fight are always the same shit, just stronger depending on which floor of which dungeon you’re in. There are usually a couple of new, or at least color-swapped enemies that appear on the later floors, but altogether it’s the same random assortment of baddies in every dungeon.
What I’m saying is that the game is low-budget/low-effort. Its visuals are a thin dressing of the mechanics, and that’s fine. However, because of this, advancing to the next dungeon doesn’t give a palpable sense of progression. Beating a dungeon doesn’t even matter because it only leads to another dungeon that’s exactly the same. Leveling happens no matter which dungeon you’re in. Progress will always occur; if you die enough times replaying a dungeon, it will eventually get much easier. (You become overleveled, then you breeze into the next dungeon where the challenge returns.)
The entire game could be thought of as one giant dungeon with rest points along the way in the form of villages. Again, as far as the mechanics go, this is no problem; but as far as the player’s experience goes, it’s boring.
The biggest sense of accomplishment in video games comes from clearing a stage and being done with it. It drives players to keep going to see what happens next, so they can once again achieve the gratification of clearing a stage. Getting to see a whole new place full of new enemies that challenge the player to master the mechanics in new ways is the payoff of the previous level, which is why gamers tend to complain when monsters get re-used in games. We already know the satisfaction of clearing that enemy—we’re past that—and we don’t need to see it again.
Izuna 2 employs randomly generated dungeons to keep itself challenging, but it doesn’t fucking work because it’s always generating a bunch of narrow corridors connected to expansive rooms, with the same fucking enemies that I was killing in the second dungeon populating them. I already know I’m going to hit traps; I know what to expect from items; I know how to fight the monsters. The increase in difficulty as the game goes along becomes more statistical than skill-based; which leads to the most nightmarish scenario in any game: grinding! Fighting a bunch of enemies that you’ve already fought a hundred times just because you need the stats to be able to fight the powered-up versions of those same fucking monsters. Only on rare occasions in the fourth dungeon did I die because I hadn’t seen the enemy before and used the wrong tactics to defeat it. More often, I just reached a floor of the dungeon where the enemies were doing more fuckloads of damage to me than I was to them, and then I’d port back to town.
Not a lot needs to change to make this game more fun to play. For instance, if each dungeon, while being randomly generated, had a unique style of floors instead of the same corridors and rooms; or if each dungeon introduced its own enemies (preferably themed) with their own mechanics. Anything to prevent the utter disappointment I felt when I walked into the fifth dungeon and fought the same monsters from the first floor of the second dungeon.