Guess the Game Sheer beauty masks controversial design choices

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You’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful game than today’s choice for Guess the Game, although No Man’s Sky looks to stand a chance if we ever get to play it. This 1999 Squaresoft PlayStation hit brought a fan-favorite series back to the forefront in full-blazing color with some of the most gorgeous sprites and world design ever seen in a video game.

Just pour through those screenshots and let the images flow into your brain.

And if the colors are either not enough or leave you craving more, then perhaps Yoko Shimomura’s timeless soundtrack, often described as one of the best of all time, will be enough to transport you to this humble fantasy world of swift-talking rabbit merchants and “tough as nails” onion kids.

Yes, this game has it all when it comes to the presentation, and not one of you could find a video game world I would rather live in. This is like my own personal Eden. So peaceful, so beautiful, so relaxing. I like to think that all of the characters are hearing the game’s soundtrack everywhere they walk.

However, the gameplay decisions behind this game are far more controversial than its universally loved graphics and sound. This is the fourth entry in Square’s classic series, saying the other titles will give this Guess the Game title away, and, yet, it is built in a far more liberal manner. The previous games were loved in the early-90s for taking the Legend of Zelda formula and giving it a very linear spin while adding a traditional Final Fantasy leveling system.

The fact that most of them had co-op also helped.

Today’s Guess the Game selection took the established formula so far out of line that Square didn’t even bless it with the number “4” in the Japanese title. Instead, it saved that honor for the far inferior PlayStation 2 entry in the series.

What does this game do that makes it so offbeat, though? For one, it is anything but linear. The world is at the player’s finger tips to explore, uncover, and just get lost in at their own will. They are so in control of the fate of this world that they even get to build it as they go through the adventure! There is no aid, no direction. Just countless missions that lead the player through a handful of interconnecting storylines, and that’s all the direction players have.

Maybe you’ll be helping the merchant rabbit deliver his latest goods, or battling the sorcerer children threatening to take over the town with evil pumpkins, battling crabs on a beach, or just plain doing nothing. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a fascination with RPGs that come loaded with useless areas and throwaway NPCs. It makes me wonder what I would do with these untapped resources if I was able to write my own adventures in these worlds.

For example, there is a cave in the first dungeon of the game, the Luon Highway, but it isn’t exactly used for anything. It’s just there, for grinding, for combat, or just to have something to do. Maybe a mission takes place there, I can’t remember, but I’ve explored every last inch of it more times than I care to remember.

It’s the same reason why I love this game’s cousin, SaGa Frontier. Aimless traveling through loosely connected worlds and stories, finding new areas that might have no meaning or mean everything in the world, complicated systems that spell out nothing for the gamer. And I can call these games “cousins” because, despite coming from different franchises, they were helmed by the same director, a controversial Square Enix figure by the name of Akitoshi Kawazu.

Kawazu is known for turning traditions on their heads, and this is very clearly his take on what is a beloved but very conventional franchise. If he enters a series, he will take their systems and just mix them up. The previous games in this Guess the Game series were very simple and linear, and this game follows their lore and basic rules, but turns them into just a huge bowl of mush. Making golems, generating magic, forging equipment, raising monsters, farming, learning abilities, this game has so many systems, and they pile on to the point of being useless and grindy.

And lets not forget the actual building of the world. Players will have to lay out a grid with no direction as to where to start or where to go. First time players will just lay them out and realize 20 or 30 hours in that there is a pattern which will give them benefits. If you so much as start in the wrong place, you’ll lose those benefits. Controversial to some, but I say it inspires replay!

And sorry, but I love every second of it. When I play this game, I don’t play to win. I play to experience until I’ve had my fill, and then I put it away for a few months until I get the “itch” to play it again. I’ve never beaten it, I might never beat it, and I’m totally fine with that. It’s still going to be one of those games that stays with me long after I lose the time or ability to play video games. One of those games I don’t think I could live without.

Marvelous game that takes a lot of patience to learn and love. And with the advancements and evolving trends made in games since 2000, mostly due to the explosion of open-ended design, survival elements, high-end sprite-based graphics, and a sheer love of “systems,” no matter how useless they are, this game could be a much bigger hit with today’s gamers than it was with my generation. We were crammed into this idea of what a JRPG should be and had trouble accepting anything else. With how far the genre has come, though, this could easily be seen as a misunderstood masterpiece that should have more presence on the gaming stage than ever before.

And it’s only $6 on the PlayStation Network! (*warning* title spoilers in the link)

Now, what is it? Guess the Game, then play it!

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