I’m very busy. Work has picked up, I’m about to buy a house, and I’m getting involved in more professional societies than I really should. As such, the amount of time I have for playing games is somewhat limited. This is, of course, nothing new, as balancing my gaming as a hobby with my school work was a challenge I successfully figured out in undergrad and law school. And as a fan of meaty JRPGs that can often last 50+ hours, finding the time to get the games I enjoy can be tricky.
But something has changed in the last few years, particularly in the last year. While games like Persona 4 and Final Fantasy offer interesting experiences spread out over dozens of hours, several games have arisen in the last few years that provide a nice, satisfying experience in a short amount of time. Given my busy schedule, rather than spending two months on a game like Disgaea D2 and getting bored 10 hours in, I can play a game like Time and Eternity that ends quickly enough as to not overstay its welcome.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, some good examples of these condensed experiences include Cherry Tree High Comedy Club and Ys. CTHCC provides an interesting visual novel narrative with a Social Link/life sim system akin to Persona 4. But because the game is only about 4 hours long, I can get the life sim fix I need without spending hours in dungeons or with a long plot. Similarly, Ys gives me an action-RPG hack-and-slash fix in about 6 hours.
The newest entry on this short list is Ghost Trick, a puzzle-adventure game on the DS and iOS. It’s got a really interesting story, being a murder mystery where you try to solve your own murder. The catch is that you’re a ghost who can manipulate objects and travel across phone lines. The story is very light-hearted in general, but with serious undertones when necessary, and the puzzles are challenging without being frustrating. It also has some of the best art direction and animation on the DS, with incredibly fluid character movements that the game clearly takes absurd pains to incorporate (dancing security guards–no joke). For an 8 hour investment, you get a competent story and fun gameplay that leaves you satisfied.
In contrast, Rocket League is a game that takes very little time to learn and play, but a long time to master. It’s a surprisingly fun game, mostly because it has incredibly tight controls and enough unpredictability to make the game hilarious. It’s RC cars meets soccer, and each match takes about 10 minutes. It’s very much a pick-up-and-play game, something I can fire up the PS4 and get my fix in about half an hour and a few matches. But while it provides a satisfying experience the first few times, I am unsure whether that will continue for long. There’s clearly a lot of mastery to the game, as the mechanics allow for very precise controls, and as a competitive game, there will be a contingent that play less for fun and more to win. The experience here is not in the individual matches, but more in your development as a player, and that will take several more hours than the content really allows for. I will still play casually, but it will probably take a backseat to some of the other games I’m working on at the moment.
At some point soon, I’ll revisit some of posts where I discussed balancing a time consuming career and gaming as a hobby. While I don’t have my main thoughts clarified yet, suffice it to say that seeking out shorter, condensed experiences is going to be a crucial part of that list. I simply cannot complete The Witcher III, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Lost Dimension, Bloodborne, and Etrian Odyssey II: Untold at the same time, so my focus simply has to be finding shorter experiences that give me the satisfaction from these larger games without taking up too much of my time. It’s a challenge, but doable with some caution and preparation.