The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page, July 30, 2021 – Beat it, deck it… Olympic it?

The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page

Hello everyone, and happy Friday, as a former colleague of mine used to bellow thunderously without fail every… well, every Friday.

Yes, it’s that time of the week again — the time when we ferret through your contributions to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page and mull over some witty and/or informative responses for your delectation.

Contributing to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page is easy! Just look over on the right of every page of the site and you’ll see a little widget that says “Write to Rice!” — click that and pen us your message. No personal info is required other than your pen name, and we’ll get to your message for the following Friday’s Letters Page.

Without further ado, then, let’s begin this week’s correspondence!

Behind the curtain

Dear Rice,

Hello! Hope you’re all having a good Friday.

Two interesting questions for you guys.

1) When playing through a game or reading through a visual novel, what would class as you finishing it? I know this question is a bit open ended as it overall depends on the item you’re experiencing however it certainly can say a lot on certain titles for how much you’ve experienced.

2) When writing an article on a certain piece of media, be it games or anime, how much research goes into it? For a game, would you want to beat the game before writing an article on it or would a certain number of hours be enough? A good example would be Persona. The game is so long that I can realistically see an article being made prior to a full playthrough being complete.

It’s interesting to see more behind the life of an article writer I suppose is why I’m asking. Maybe I’d want to write an article or two in the future? Who knows!

Smiley


Hi Smiley, and thanks for your contribution to the Letters Page! These questions kind of tie in with one another, so my answer here should provide some sort of amorphous mass of information that will hopefully give you some insight for both queries!

Sometimes the idea of “finishing” something has to vary a little between one’s “personal” attitude and one’s “professional” approach. Personally speaking — i.e. in my free time — I don’t consider that I’ve “beaten” a game until I’ve rolled credits at least once, and in the case of visual novels, I don’t stop until I’ve seen all of the narrative routes.

This is super-important in the case of visual novels, because so many of them feature little bits of story, characterisation and worldbuilding that are only revealed in individual routes that it’s impossible to say you’ve had the “full” experience until you’ve taken in everything it has to offer.

Granted, some visual novels do seem to take care to make their routes as self-contained as possible, but I’ve also played enough where “the complete picture” only becomes apparent by playing through everyone’s stories that it’s just habit now.

BUSTAFELLOWS letters page

When it comes to long RPGs or visual novels, obviously it’s a bit of a difficult situation, depending on how much we care about hitting embargo dates. To be honest, in most cases I’d rather whoever is writing about a long game (including myself) play through as much of a game as possible — preferably all of it — before writing about it in detail, but there is value to providing some sort of “initial impressions” and then following up later to see if those impressions have changed, or if the game undergoes any significant changes over the course of its duration.

As such, sometimes the “professional” approach has to be “play as much as is practical before a certain date” rather than “beat it at all costs”. I’d rather someone take their time and truly understand what they have played rather than rush through the experience and perhaps end up with resentment towards it as a result.

You’ll have doubtless noticed we don’t really do formal scored “reviews” any more, so most of our articles on specific games are more about the writers’ personal experiences with the games in question — and this is at least partly a result of what we’re talking about here. There are situations like BUSTAFELLOWS, too, where the developer has specifically requested we refrain from talking about anything after the first chapter — which obviously precludes us from doing a full narrative analysis for now!

Persona 5 Strikers - Letters page

Sometimes a game makes an immediate impression, for better or worse, and that’s worth talking about — but it’s also worth returning to that game a little later to see if those feelings remain. So as we proceed ever onwards, expect to see us come back to certain games that we’ve already covered to provide some additional insights — or in some cases, simply to delay our coverage until we’re satisfied we’re experienced enough with the games in question.

I guess it pays to ask you guys what you’d be interested in seeing — at present, my attitude towards “covering” a new game would tend to consist of some previews about various aspects in the run-up to release, some initial impressions around the main media embargo, then a later, more detailed follow-up picking the whole thing apart in more detail. Does that sound good, or would you rather an alternative approach? Let us know in the comments, via Discord or via another letter.

Tight-fitting Lycra

Dear Rice,

I enjoyed your feature on classic Olympics games from over the years. I’d never given them much thought but some of them sound pretty fun. Did you end up with a particular favourite out of all of them?

Lunchbox


I’m a bit of a weirdo in gaming circles in that I’ve always had a real, genuine soft spot for these games, even as they tend to get mediocre critical receptions at best, and that players tend to only consider them “relevant” during the games they’re supposed to be an adaptation of. In other words, I’ll happily boot up an Olympics game even when the Olympics are not going on and enjoy a bit of virtual sports action.

I must confess I’ve spent more time with some of the titles on the list than others, but particular standouts for me have been the current Tokyo 2020 game from Sega, and Eurocom’s Beijing 2008 game on Xbox 360 and PlayStation. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is also fun, though its multiplayer offering is a bit lacking in terms of options; you’ll need to manage any “tournaments” yourself. Having a full-on story mode for the single player is neat, though.

I really like Tokyo 2020 for its character customisation — not only can you create your own “star athlete”, but you can create an entire national team, the rest of whom appear in team sports such as judo, football, rugby sevens and the like. The fact the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, allowing you to compete in any event with a character of any size or gender in any ridiculous costume available to you, really adds to the “arcade-style” enjoyment of the game — and the events are interesting and varied.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - Letters page

Beijing 2008, meanwhile, offers a really solid experience for the single player — something which Tokyo 2020 arguably lacks somewhat. There’s a full-on “Olympic Games” mode in which you proceed through a series of “days” in the competition and have to qualify for and complete as many events as possible; along the way, you’ll earn points to upgrade your team’s capabilities and reduce their fatigue. It’s a surprisingly substantial experience — and very well presented, with some great music. Pick it up if you get the chance.

Ultimately most of these games are a great example of titles that are as fun as you make them. Go into them expecting, in most cases, a simple, self-contained, enjoyable arcadey experience and you’ll have a blast; none of them are titles that will keep you busy for months at a time, but you’ll appreciate having them on your shelf when you’re in just the right mood for them.

Hold it in your hand

Dear Rice,

Sorry if you’ve covered this elsewhere but couldn’t find anything. What are your thoughts on the Steam Deck?

Meruru


Hi Meruru — one of my favourite Atelier games, that — and welcome to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page! You’re right, we haven’t posted anything more substantial about the Steam Deck other than the initial announcement as yet — so now’s as good a time as any to talk about it.

Attitudes vary on this, I know, but personally speaking I’m generally a console game player. I enjoy collecting physical releases of games, and console is the best place to do that right now. Yes, you can get physical releases of PC games like BUSTAFELLOWS, but those are boxes of goodies with a Steam code inside; many other PC releases require online authentication or additional downloads, too.

I bought the 10-DVD version of Microsoft Flight Simulator and was a bit disappointed it still needed to download a bunch of crap from the Microsoft Store after installing it!

That said, PC gaming has its unique appeals that you can’t get anywhere else. I don’t really care about playing PC versions of games you can get on console, regardless of if their performance is better; instead, I like PC for its unique experiences. 18+ visual novels, a stunning variety of comfy sims, DOS games, did I mention 18+ visual novels…?

Steam Deck reveal

Yes, for me, the main appeal of the Steam Deck will be the ability to have portable visual novels. The Switch is already great for this, but there are tons of great titles that are only available on PC from folks like MangaGamer and JAST USA that will never, ever, ever get a Switch release — at least not in their original forms.

Not only that, a lot of them are digital-only anyway, so the physical question is a moot point in that regard. And with Valve having confirmed that the system will be able to run Windows games as well as SteamOS-optimised stuff via Steam, I don’t see many bad points. Apart from the weird button placement, but I’m sure we can all learn to live with that.

The important thing to remember about the Steam Deck is that although it looks like a “new console”, it’s just a PC at heart. So even if it ends up being a massive flop, you won’t end up with an unsupported paperweight if you happened to invest in one — you’ll have a cool portable PC that is eminently practical for portable gaming. And I think that alone makes it worthwhile, so I’m all in.

How about you? We’d love to hear what you think of the Steam Deck; leave us a comment or write us a letter for next week’s Letters Page!


And there you have it for another week. Thank you to everyone who contributed, and all of us here at Rice hope you have a thoroughly lovely weekend!

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