Flawed Games Are Way More Interesting Than AAA Blockbusters

The beauty of the soul.

                                                                            Story Highlights

  • Many modern AAA games today feel like they lack an original artistic vision for the sake of delivering a smoothly-paced polished experience.
  • Games such as the NieR series, No More Heroes, and Death Stranding, to name a few, are examples of games breaking past the mold of conventional game design and delivering truly artistic experiences.

Recently, I finished the — as of now — the final game in the No More Heroes series, No More Heroes 3. It was a messy game. Visually it looks worse than the first game on the Nintendo Wii, the open world feels barren and lifeless, and the game is a significant downgrade in terms of level design, as in the game has no levels, just small box-like rooms where you get teleported to for some combat. 

It’s a weird, bizarre game that feels like an elaborate inside joke that everyone is in on except you. Developments from the last game happen completely off-screen without explanation, rhyme, or reason. Each chapter ends with an end credits video that is a direct homage to 80s anime, and every chapter starts with an intro music video introducing the cast. 

After every chapter, out of nowhere, you get a conversation between the main character Travis and his friend Bishop raving about Japanese film director Takashi Miike. Even the very intro of the game catches you off guard, throwing you into an arcade beat-em-up only to be followed by an insanely flashy and well-animated intro that feels like a homage to early 2000s western cartoons. 

No More Heroes 3
We get it Suda, you like Takashi Miike.

It’s a weird, bizarre game that makes no sense at first glance and almost feels like it’s mocking you for taking it seriously, and as far as No More Heroes is concerned, the first game in the series literally did that. Here’s the kicker, though, this is one of the most entertaining series I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a long time. This is going to be a rather controversial opinion, but here we go. 

No More Heroes as a series is utterly insane, at times directly or indirectly mocking the player. The main character Travis Touchdown himself, is a parody of the “respectful gamer” archetype who does a bow emote before fighting a Dark Souls boss and refuses to use cheese tactics because of things like “honor”. The game frequently portrays him as a loser and a massive pervert who gets played around by a manipulative woman the entire game. 

No More Heroes
When Travis is not out hunting assassins or doing odd jobs, he spends his time playing with Jeane, his cat.

Hell, to show how much of a nobody he is, in the first (and to an extent the third) game a large chunk of the game involves you doing frequent odd jobs just so you can barely make enough money to pay for the next fight. Whether it’s mowing grass, cleaning toilets, or working at a gas station, it shows how monotonous Travis’ day-to-day life really is when he’s not painting the town red with his beam katana.

It’s not really a ton of fun; in fact, it can get kind of draining because most of the game has you grinding activities, so you can actually get to the “good part” of the game, which is all the slaughter and mayhem. Now I previously mentioned this in my piece about Asura’s Wrath, but you have to consider if it really is worth removing just because it’s frustrating. After all, you want the players to always be having fun. Wrong. 

No More Heroes 2 does exactly this. It removes the grinding and is just a straight barrage of one level after another, and guess what? It’s the weakest title in the series. Obviously, that’s not the only problem with the game, but it’s part of it. The level breaks always served as a buffer and were really a way to let you take in the world as Travis; there’s hardly a better way to relate to a character than cleaning toilets and mowing grass with him. 

AAA Games Have A Problem

In a space where games feel more like a “product” than art, games such as No More Heroes stand out because they don’t care about following established game design norms. It’s games like these where I can binge through the entire series with zero hesitation while I can barely finish the latest big-budget AAA game that has been sitting on my shelf for the past four months. 

The thing is, it’s not the fault of the developers. I am very sure there are genuine AAA developers who want to do wacky, weird things and mess with the player in the way games like No More Heroes and NieR do but they’re just not allowed to. Instead, there’s a set standard of things that publishers expect developers to put in these titles because that’s what sells. 

God of War Ragnarok
If I see this menu in one more game I will break down and start crying.

This leads to one of my major problems with AAA titles—homogeneity. So many AAA games feel like they’re all lifting the same mechanics from the same laundry list of conventional game design ideas. I do not want a robe or an outfit that gives me +5 resistance to killing myself, so it could serve as an inane feedback loop designed to fuel dopamine into my brain so I keep playing your video game. It’s not meaningful; it sucks! 

And I know it’s a tough sell, I say this in so many of these pieces, and I’ll repeat that here too. Making games is hard, and bad games are almost always a management issue. With the rising costs of game development and the time it takes for a title to release, it makes sense that making titles that break the mold are less plentiful. Most people who play games don’t want to engage with it like an art form. They don’t want to be inconvenienced. 

This is why you wouldn’t see something like NieR forcing you to beat the game four different times for its true ending or walking across the country carrying an abundance of cargo while listening to post-rock music in most games. 

The Bottom Line

Titles that take artistic and creative liberties at the cost of my convenience are way more interesting than big-budget focus-tested games that are designed to keep my attention for the most amount of time possible. Titles that take risks to deliver an interesting artistic experience or sometimes even just boring dumb fun in the case of games like Earth Defense Force are significantly more appealing to me. 

The AAA space continuously fails to deliver games that feel like they’re made under a unique vision. At best, we get massive cinematic big-budget titles, but there’s nothing in most of these games that I can’t get with a great 2-hour long movie or an 11-episode TV series. At its worst, you get games that don’t work and have every piece of life and soul wrung out of them dictated by publishers who don’t care about the medium.

This is why my favorite game in The Witcher series is The Witcher 1. It’s a broken, unwieldy game that barely functions at times, but I love it because it genuinely feels like a game made by people who were intensely passionate about the source material. It is held together by duct tape and the word of God, but by golly jee, it’s a game that I’ll defend any day, any time. 

The bottom line here is that games that are flawed due to creative artistic liberties are amazing. I wish there was more of this in AAA gaming, just utterly bizarre, out-of-the-box BS that feels like someone had a great idea and just had to fit in no matter what instead of shoehorning tried and true features from a checklist that you have to tick for some arbitrary reason. 

I guess what I’m saying is that I really want Death Stranding 2 and whatever Yoko Taro is cooking up at the Square Enix HQ, and also that you need to play No More Heroes. It’s a fantastic series that may not be for everyone, but if it clicks with you, you won’t shut up about it. 

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Nameer Zia is a video game News Writer on eXputer obsessed with hunting down all the latest happenings in the industry. Nameer has been gaming for more than 15 years, during which he has spent more than 3,000 hours on Overwatch 1 & 2. As a literature student, his literary chops feed into his passion for games and writing, using eXputer as the medium to deliver the latest news in the industry. Websites such as GamingBolt and IGN have also credited his works.

Experience: 4+ Years || Previously Worked At: Tech4Gamers

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