Editorial: Shut Up! Menus Are Awesome

Hey assbutts. This week I have to work way more than usual while eating way less than usual. The combination has made me very irritable already, if you have not noticed. You probably have. You are all jerks.

That's how it goes, right?

I want to crack your nuts!

Welcome to this paragraph, nutcracks! If you are not quite sure what that means, just picture some testicles, then picture an asscrack, then combine the two.

I am truly sorry, that last paragraph was not very friendly. I will be more calm in this paragraph. Promise. In fact, to be extra safe, I will make another paragraph after this to put even more distance between this article and nutcrack references.

I want to talk about something that scares me about the future of gaming. Some people talk about new trends like Online Passes or future consoles using a leasing price structure or trying to lock out used games. While these are scary topics indeed, they are topics about the gaming industry in general and so tend to make my blood boil less than when people discuss changes to the very games themselves.

RPGs, Lusipurr.com’s primary love, are a drowning breed. They have been left behind by Call of Duty in its steamliner, The Sims in its cruise ship, and Bobby Kotick on a jetski made of money. How did he get a jetski made entirely of money to have a working engine and work on water? He spent a lot of money on it.

It is important to note that a drowning man is not dead. He can flail his arms, he can attempt to swim, and sometimes he will even take a full glorious breath of fresh air without getting a single drop of water in his lungs.

This is amazing, thanks, empirestategamer.com

Not a jetski, but I couldn't turn this picture down

See, in this metaphor, the breath of fresh air represents a good game and the water represents sucking.

Let me please get away from these barely passable nautical metaphors to finally get to the crux of my point. I have read many articles in the past few years that try to come up with ways to “fix” the RPG. And I am talking traditional JRPGs here, we all know that Mass Effect, Fallout, and Skyrim are doing just fine.

These articles make me want to strangle children. And I like children! Without fail, the article will start with some half-baked claim about how nobody wants RPGs to turn into Call of Duty and then proceed to exactly detail what it would take to turn RPGs into Call of Duty.

It is perfectly fine (sorta) if you prefer other genres, but there is nothing wrong with menus and numbers. I – and many others – loved poring over the materia system in Final Fantasy VII. Likewise, I have fond memories of tooling around in the menus of Final Fantasy IX, X-2, XII, Skies of Arcadia, Blue Dragon, and most recently Tales of Graces f. Do not try to tell me that these games would be better without so much dicking around in the menus. That is why I like these games! Or a large part anyway. It is a giant part of what makes them games.

We have countless quality RPGs with the menu and number aspect played down. Action RPGs, mostly. They are lovely, but they are not better. They are different. What happened to celebrating diversity, huh gamers? What the crap is wrong with you? STOP TRYING TO MESS AROUND WITH MY RPGS! Let the cranky drowning man be in peace as he slowly dies in a peaceful tomb of menus.

I do not honestly know how I expected those drowning and tomb metaphors be reconciled, because they most definitely did not.

And now I am going to stop writing.

8 Comments

  1. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.08 at 13:41 | Permalink

    I think this touches upon something very special about RPGs that I had almost forgotten about. Menu diving. Ah, it can be half the game, sometimes.

    Say what you want about the story and lengthy cutscenes of the Xenosaga games on PS2, but it played host to some of the funnest menu diving in recent memory. Specifically Episode 1. There were so many decisions to be made in that game, and such a rich complexity to it that you could spend a good amount of time in those menus assigning points or just reading about the lore (if it interested you). Episode 2 scaled back on this, but, as with other features, Episode 3 found a happy medium to finish the series off (albeit prematurely).

    It might not be menu diving, exactly, but some of my fondest memories of playing Episode 1 for the first time came when I defeated a tough boss (and they were mostly all tough), the results menu would tally up ALL the experience points you’d earned very slowly unless you skipped it by pressing X. I’d let the numbers roll up and up as I laid back and the calming menu music lingered on… So rewarding and relaxing, and really all thanks to its use of menus instead of the more modern “unintrusive” design which typically shuns menus and HUD objects.

  2. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.08 at 16:18 | Permalink

    I really, really like the slider for this story, and I wish it were a real thing.

  3. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.09 at 00:16 | Permalink

    There are menus, and then there are menus.

    If you have not played Vagrant Story, I encourage you to do so. It is the only game where I have ever gotten lost in the menus and unable to find my way back out and to the game.

  4. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2012.05.09 at 04:39 | Permalink

    All I care in a video game menu is that when buying and selling items, it’s easy to select multiple items. As long as we’re not back in the FFI age where you have to pick one potion at a time to buy, I’m cool with menus.

  5. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.09 at 08:44 | Permalink

    While on the subject of shop menus, there needs to be some kind of (better late than never) text book given to RPG makers on how to make a shop menu system. If you rely on confounding symbols to represent your item stats instead of simple well understood abbreviations; if you don’t show direct comparisons to equipped gear or even other gear in the shop; if you don’t indicate when something is equipped and by whom… you’re doing it wrong.

  6. Ethos
    Posted 2012.05.09 at 11:11 | Permalink

    Preach on, Mel!

  7. Deimosion
    Posted 2012.05.10 at 00:25 | Permalink

    I am a fan of being able to equip items from right in the shop.

    I have no problem with spending a lot of time in menus IF the menus are well-designed, easy to use, and give me options to play with. If I do spend a lot of time in a menu, I want it to be because I’m trying to decide on an ability setup and not because I have to keep pressing up and down to try and find my fucking weapon select (lookin’ at you, Secret of Mana!).

  8. Ethos
    Posted 2012.05.10 at 05:49 | Permalink

    Oh yes, definitely Deimosion. I suppose there’s actually a lot to say from an editorial standpoint about making good menus. This was mostly me just assuming good menus and telling people who didn’t like them to buzz off and stick to the games they do like. I don’t really like 2 player fighting games, but I don’t think they should add menus and towns and levels until it becomes an RPG. I have RPGs for that!