Your Favourite Overlooked and Underappreciated Games

Yesterday, I found myself a bit frustrated by yet another example of Twitter’s never-ending focus on negativity and cynicism. In other words, it was a Thursday.

The tweet that frustrated me a bit probably didn’t have any ill intentions behind it, but its question to the community of what games you “hate but are highly praised by the general audience” almost inevitably became, to the community, an excuse to bash on predictable, popular things. So I decided to flip things around and post a tweet of my own with a more positive angle.

“What’s a game you love that is not well-regarded by the general audience and/or Metacritic?” I asked. Let’s see what people said.

The original Hyperdimension Neptunia was the game I gave as my example response.

I’ll preface this by saying that this was by no means a formal survey with any sort of rigorous sampling strategy behind it, it was just a casual thing on Twitter that, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting quite as many people to respond to as there ended up being!

But I’m glad there were so many responses, because, as I hoped, a lot of really interesting choices came up — much more interesting to me personally than the predictable “I hate The Witcher 3/Nier Automata/Zelda/Halo/insert popular game here” stuff that showed up in the other thread. It seems that people love talking about the games that are important to them but which don’t get a lot of time or positive attention from either the community or the press. Who knew?

M-me. I knew.

Sonic Lost World came up several times, and I was happy about that. Sonic Lost World is great.

Gotta go fast

By far the most commonly seen series in the responses was Sonic the Hedgehog, with 11 different games mentioned by different people. This honestly didn’t surprise me all that much, because despite the apparently widely held beliefs that “there hasn’t been a good Sonic game for years” and the more vague “3D Sonic is bad”, Sega has managed to find and sustain a substantial enough market over the years to keep the character not only relevant, but genuinely beloved.

One of the most frequently occurring responses was Sonic Heroes, which I enjoyed a great deal back during the Sonic the Hedgehog feature here on MoeGamer. This is one of those games that just seems to have been commonly accepted as “bad” over the years, yet talk to people who spent time with it and they’ll often have a lot of positive things to say about it.

Personally, I found Sonic Heroes to be a really solid exploration of how to implement the “feel” of the Mega Drive Sonic games into a 3D environment, and the teamwork system — along with the fact that each team had a very distinct, different feel to their mechanics and progression through the levels — gave the game something fresh alongside its more familiar components.

SAAANIC HEEEROOOOOES

I was more surprised to see Shadow the Hedgehog brought up by almost as many people as Sonic Heroes. I’d got the impression over the years that this game was widely disliked, but there were a significant number of people who praised the game’s interesting branching level and story structure and found its contribution to Sonic Adventure-era lore fascinating — both things I would agree with.

An interesting thing about those who praised Shadow the Hedgehog was that, without exception, they almost seemed apologetic about liking it; every person who brought it up felt the need to “acknowledge” things like how “edgy” it was before praising the things they liked about the game. This is a pretty common pattern in online discussion of media these days, as we’ll doubtless continue to see today.

I was probably most surprised to see Sonic 06 come up more than once, although having really, genuinely enjoyed that game, I was delighted to see this. This was also prone to the same phenomenon as Shadow the Hedgehog: people apparently feeling a strange sense of “guilt” over liking it, and feeling the need to say things like “it is objectively bad, but…” before describing their enjoyment of it.

Sonic 06: I enjoyed this, and so did other people. Surprise!

In this specific game’s case, this can probably be attributed to something the game’s Wikipedia page used to say that appears to have been accepted as canonical fact: that the game is regarded as “among the worst games not only in the Sonic series but also in the video game medium”. This line has been edited to “it has been frequently described as one of the worst games in the series” since my original piece was written. This is a more fair statement, even if I don’t personally agree with it; even the most staunch of Sonic 2006 haters would be hard-pushed to describe it as “one of the worst games in the video game medium” with a straight face.

This raises an interesting point, though: some people seem genuinely hesitant to praise something that is popularly regarded as “bad” lest they incite the ire of the general public or even supposed friends. And this doesn’t just happen with “bad” games; a friend of mine on Twitter was concerned recently about expressing enthusiasm for the Nintendo Switch port of Atlus’ Tokyo Mirage Sessions because he felt like people would judge him negatively for it.

For the unfamiliar, the Switch port of Tokyo Mirage Sessions is based on the edited Western version of the Wii U original, even in Japanese, and this has made the more vocal anti-censorship types very angry indeed. My friend was concerned that people would yell at him for being excited about the game regardless. They probably will, to be perfectly honest, but that shouldn’t stop him being excited about it; Twitter has mute, unfollow and block functions, after all.

But I digress. Put a pin in the idea of being concerned about how you might be perceived for liking something; we’ll almost certainly come back to it.

Final Fantasy II: “Punch me, daddy, I need more HP”

Attack, Magic, Item

Five Final Fantasy games came up more than once in the responses, these being Final Fantasy II, the three Final Fantasy XIII games and Final Fantasy XV. These are interesting inclusions, because the Final Fantasy series as a whole is very well-regarded and widely acknowledged as being extremely influential, so why these three specifically?

Final Fantasy II is fairly simple to explain. While it hasn’t necessarily been subject to particularly negative reviews as such, a lot of people are not a big fan of its progression system, which eschews the traditional experience points of its predecessor in favour of a “use it to raise it” system: do physical attacks to raise your strength; get hit to increase your HP; cast spells to improve your magic, and so on.

The dislike for this is understandable to a certain degree, since it’s renowned as being fairly easy to exploit, particularly in its original NES incarnation. It is somewhat better in the later ports for PS1 and PSP and certainly isn’t a “bad” game as such, however; just not one to everyone’s taste. If anything, it’s historically noteworthy as one of the best examples of Final Fantasy being a series that constantly reinvents itself.

Final Fantasy XIII remains a hell of a looker despite now being a “previous gen” game.

Final Fantasy XIII, meanwhile, continues to baffle me somewhat. This game got very good reviews on its original release and was immensely popular — popular enough to spawn two big-budget direct sequels. But for the last few years, it’s been fashionable to bash on it for all manner of reasons — its perceived linearity, the main character, the story, the battle system — but a lot of the things people bring up in this regard don’t stand up to deeper examination.

I even wrote about this subject back when I was on USgamer… but at this point, it’s one of those conversations I tend to just immediately disengage from, because if someone thinks Final Fantasy XIII is “bad”, they’re probably not going to listen to any reasons you think it is not “bad”.

The same is true for Final Fantasy XVThe people who hate that game really hate that game, to such a degree that some of those who actually like it regard it as a “guilty pleasure” that they’re hesitant to talk about.

People liked to claim that Final Fantasy XV “wasn’t Final Fantasy”, failing to consider that there is no one definition of what Final Fantasy is.

Final Fantasy XV certainly had a chaotic development cycle and I would have personally preferred that once they’d released it they’d just left it alone rather than trying to turn it into some sort of “live service”, evolving game (they already have Final Fantasy XIV for that, and that’s much better at it) — but bad? Nah fam. Widely misunderstood? Absolutely, as you’ll know all too well if you’ve ever had the “Kingdom Hearts combat” conversation with anyone. But let’s not get into that right now.

If you like something, own it. Talk about it. Express your passion for it. Anyone who tries to tell you you’re “wrong” (or, worse, “objectively wrong”, since “objectively” is apparently an intensifier these days, regardless of whether or not it’s being used correctly) is probably not someone worth wasting too much of your time with. Someone who is curious as to why you enjoy something, even if they don’t, however? That’s how interesting conversations start… although I’ll be first to admit that sometimes it can be tricky to tell the difference between these two types of people’s initial responses!

Yeah, a CoD screenshot on MoeGamer. Deal with it!

“Popular” isn’t universal

One thing I found quite interesting from the responses I got was that there were a number of games in there that were popular and reviewed well but still assumed to be perceived as “bad” for one reason or another. Games in this regard included titles like Fire Emblem: Fates, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 days, Dark Souls 2, BioShock 2, Little Big Planet 3, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

There are various reasons that people might be a bit defensive about these games. In the case of the Call of Duty titles, there’s probably a certain degree of the shame some people feel about liking something mainstream and popular; the inverse of people feeling obliged to bash on something just because it is popular.

That said, both Ghosts and Infinite Warfare are noteworthy within the series for doing things a little bit differently, and it’s perhaps quite telling that the people who brought these games up didn’t mention the series’ iconic multiplayer at all; the things they liked about them were mostly to do with the spectacle of the campaign.

Boing!

In the case of something like Little Big Planet 3, I’d conjecture that the way people feel about it may be something to do with the fact that it’s a game that has a popular, oft-parroted criticism about it: the Little Big Planet series as a whole has always had people saying they dislike it because of its “floaty jumping”. In this instance, it’s actually an accurate description of the game, but it doesn’t necessarily make the game “bad”; rather, it means that some people are fine with the way it handles, and others are not. Unfortunately somewhere along the line this has become corrupted.

I suspect a similar situation with Dark Souls 2, because while I don’t have a lot of experience with the Souls games in general, having tried several for a few hours each, Dark Souls 2 is the one I found myself enjoying the most and getting least frustrated with. And yet, this is the one that people tend to hold up as being “the bad one”, or at the very least, their least favourite in the series. A prime example of “your mileage may vary”, I guess… for reasons that are entirely personal to you.

There are, presumably, shiny things just out of shot.

Working as intended

One thing worth bringing up from the responses is Yooka Laylee, which was a title that several people brought up to me, and they all said the same thing: it was a game that did exactly what it promised, and that was both why they liked it, and why other people disliked it.

Yooka Laylee is a deliberate callback to the “collectathon” 3D platformers of the N64 era, where gameplay revolved around exploring large, open levels and finding a variety of different items in order to progress in various ways. This subgenre, if you want to call it that, is seemingly regarded by people to have reached its peak with titles like Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie, and late bloomer Donkey Kong 64 is sometimes held up as an example of taking things a bit too far.

Times have moved on as far as 3D action games are concerned, though, and the collectathon doesn’t really exist as a mainstream genre any more. As such, it’s perhaps understandable why some modern gamers might bounce off this popular concept from 20+ years ago (yes, really, deal with it) — although that does raise the question of why people who weren’t nostalgic for the collectathon would be playing Yooka Laylee in the first place, given how it was marketed. Perhaps it’s a case of them having once enjoyed it, but no longer. Tastes do change, after all.

Regardless, everyone I spoke to who liked Yooka Laylee said it did exactly what it set out to do, and did it well.

Not everyone dug Star Fox Zero’s way of doing things, but I had a blast. No pun intended.

Personally speaking, I’d throw Star Fox Zero into that category, too. Only one person brought this up to me, but it’s long been a game that I thought got a bit of a bad rap for working entirely as intended. It’s a game clearly designed as a 3D take on arcade shoot ’em ups — beat the game and you even unlock a one-credit clear “Arcade Mode”, for heaven’s sake — and as such is 1) short, 2) quite difficult and 3) unforgiving, demanding that you learn its unique quirks and mechanics, and how to deal with them.

Star Fox Zero is another one of those games with a “default criticism” thrown at it that people who haven’t played it often find offputting. In this case, it’s the use of the Wii U GamePad for precise aiming at specific targets: for the unfamiliar, the game unfolds from third-person on your TV screen, but the GamePad shows a cockpit view, and tilting the GamePad around moves your aiming reticle more precisely.

It takes a bit of getting used to but is an essential skill to master in the game, particularly if you want to challenge the harder routes. I understand why some people found it difficult or even something they didn’t want to engage with further, but it didn’t make the game “bad”; it made it not to everyone’s taste, which is quite different.

Many of the games I cover here on MoeGamer have the popular perception of being “bad”, but in many ways that makes them more worth exploring in detail.

Summing up

There are a lot more games that people mentioned that I’d love to get into further, but we have to call this somewhere! I think the one thing we can all take from this, though, is that different people like different things, and that doesn’t make them in any way “wrong”. We should respect these differences in opinion rather than trying to shut them down, because they can lead to very interesting conversations. I’d certainly much rather hear why someone likes something than why they hate it, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

I’ve always approached MoeGamer with the philosophy that if a creative work (one that has clearly had some effort put into it, at least) exists, someone, somewhere is either proud of making it or is an enthusiastic fan of it. As such, with that in mind it tends to leave a sour taste in my mouth to truly declare anything “bad”, because that is an absolute declaration when in fact what I probably mean is the entirely subjective “I don’t like this” or even just “I don’t get this”.

I’ve had a ton of fun deliberately seeking out supposedly “bad” games and examining them with the question “why might someone enjoy this?” at the forefront of my mind, along with “is this doing what it set out to do?”. Probably my favourite example of this to date is Sonic 06I genuinely really, really enjoyed that game and am glad I didn’t skip over it just because it was popularly regarded as “bad”.

I had no idea this game existed, but I’m legitimately delighted someone thought it important enough to them to mention.

And there were several people in the responses who brought up completely unique games I never thought I’d see anyone highlight as a particularly positive experience — I think the one that brought the biggest smile to my face was the guy who told me that he had a real soft spot for the PlayStation 2 adaptation of the VeggieTales episode LarryBoy and the Bad Apple. You keep being you; I respect the hell out of that.

If Senran Kagura has taught me one thing, it’s that things often regarded as absolutes — good and evil, good and bad — are actually all a matter of perspective. It’s unfortunate we seem to live in a world where people feel like they might be shamed for liking the “wrong” things or holding the “wrong” opinions, but the only way to challenge that is with honest, genuine positivity and passion.

You like something? That’s cool! Feel free to shout about it without shame. And it doesn’t need disclaimers, it doesn’t need “I recognise its flaws, but…” and it certainly doesn’t need to be a “guilty pleasure”. You are the only one who knows if you like something, and the opinion of other people, the popular consensus or a completely arbitrary number plucked out of a critic’s sweaty arsehole doesn’t matter in the slightest.

No context required at this point, surely.

If this whole conversation showed me anything, it’s that people have wonderfully, wildly broad and varied tastes. And I’m super-happy that one simple tweet got so many people to talk about the things that are important to them rather than feeling stifled by today’s fashionably cynical attitudes.


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6 thoughts on “Your Favourite Overlooked and Underappreciated Games”

  1. I’d like to think I’m open minded about the quality of all games. I know there’s no such thing as an objective review, but I do think among popular media, gaming is uniquely suited to a ‘what works and why’ breakdown, where you can identify successfully executed features and qualities, sometimes among an uneven whole. That’s why reviews, discussions and Let’s Plays are so useful (to me at least.) You can enhance your appreciation of a game through its critical exploration, or come around to a different point of view.

    In other media I’m prepared to accept the inherently subjective nature of taste. I can’t find value in reviews of music, for example – for me that’s one arena where either you like something or you don’t, and there’s no hope trying to convince people of relative goods or bads. I appreciate that not everyone thinks this way: a lot of people like writing,thinking and talking about music, and I’d never want to shut down that discussion. But for me, my relationship with music is a closed loop. It doesn’t bother me at all whether people like what I like or vice versa.

    Anime, though.. woof. I have to stay away from discussion of anime for the opposite reason to music! For some reason I find myself vehemently disliking some anime, and the thought that other people like and praise those series – sometimes among the most popular and esteemed series out there – can really get me worked up. I’ll trawl reams of user reviews for that one contrary outlier that I feel validates my opinion, cursing the usernames responsible for every fawning review I encounter along the way. I won’t name any examples, because that would be antithetical to the spirit of the article. But I want to! Know that I want to!!

    So, yeah. It’s strange to think about the strength of feeling our pastimes can inspire. In good ways, and bad. It’s not like it’s bad to vent, either – ranting about bad media can be positively cathartic – as long as we keep a healthy perspective that these are ultimately among the rare things in life that can bring us together, and bring us joy. There’s no need to bring them, or others, crashing down.

    I still have an unwrapped copy of Star Fox Zero that I need to play one of these days. Shame shame shame.

    So to actually answer the question from the tweet: I’ll go right for the controversy bullseye and say that I really liked Criminal Girls. I liked that it felt more like an EP to the LPs of the JRPG mainstream – smaller, more focused, more intimate. I wasn’t saving the world from the demon lord for the eleventy billionth time, I was helping some people with their personal problems (the unlocalised game calls them ‘Sins’, but I think that’s really a misnomer; a moral dimension is only really relevant in one or two cases, like Tomoe’s.)

    You’re not enforcing the sort of top-down, binary morality of the kind you run into in Western RPGs – you take more the role of a therapist or counsellor; the girls are the ones who do almost all of the work and achieve their breakthroughs for themselves. Thanks in part to the drawn-down focus, my party wasn’t a thin collection of archetypes, but likeable and fleshed-out characters with believable problems.

    It was a game where I was rooting for a pair of sisters trying to deal with what seems like a loving relationship, but beneath the surface turns out to be a codependency which is causing both to suffer – rather than, say, concerns over the Dragon Emperor’s first-born having been born with the Black Wings of Omen. It seems like people would be crying out for those kind of grounded, nuanced intra-party dynamics, but the existence of the punishment minigame doesn’t leave oxygen for the discussion of anything else.

    To address the elephant in the room, then: it didn’t really feel like ecchi fanservice to me (not that ecchi fanservice is that needs to apologised for.) I mean obviously, that’s what it looks like. I have no doubt that its inclusion was driven with titillation in mind. In practice though, it’s not as simple as that. It’s almost some strange kind of inchoate, psycho-sexual therapy – there’s more going on here than an exercise in gratification.

    The other big question mark is over consent. If the mechanic is a metaphor for how the girls might confront their personal demons, and even though you don’t technically need to engage with it to win the game, I feel like there could have been a stronger emphasis on establishing the degree to which this was a process with which all parties were willing participants. (And in the case that it wasn’t, respecting that decision and not proceeding with it.) As it is it almost seems to happen externally to the game’s actual fiction, which suggests integration could have been better thought-through.

    In terms of gameplay, the turn-based battle system is really enlivened by the random move mechanic. You have to be on your toes, tactically. It reminded me of another lightweight RPG that I adore, Miitopia, which similarly stripped away some of the layers of control from its combat system, leaving you with, paradoxically, more interesting choices. Many JRPGs are benighted with a high volume of encounters that play out in exactly the same way, but these games shake it up, even if only a little. And I definitely appreciate them not being 80-hour grindathons.

    Production wise everything is high quality: great art, great voice acting, great writing (by JRPG standards.) It’s a great game trapped in the shadow of a controversy, which was inevitable, but (in my opinion at least) not entirely justified.

    Apologies for the length of this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was one of the best Gundam games ever, if you ignore the lack of giant robots. One of my favorite CoD campaigns.

    Ghosts is…harder to defend. It will actively penalize the player if you’re not always pressing forward, and it’s frustrating when you want to explore a little before getting on to the next firefight and the game decides to simply kill you. They had a similar mechanic in the Vita CoD game, where you could die from walking down a staircase and deciding to turn around and walk back up the same staircase. Fortunately they have never gone back to this level of linearity. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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