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Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Meta-Review of IGN's Rating System

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Senseless bashing of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn.

Let's do something a bit different today. Today, we're going to review a review, and a review process. What are we talking about? This Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn review from the folks over at IGN. At KoopaTV, one thing we're very much aware of is the lack of journalistic integrity in today's gaming media. Naturally, we're spotless ourselves.

This review, by now ex-IGN guy Mark Bozon, is the foremost example in my mind of shoddy journalism that exists by a mainstream videogame publication. There is nothing worse than this shitty excuse of a review. I think we can learn a lot from dissecting it. It may be almost seven years old now, but it's the low-point in videogame journalism and probably responsible for some people not buying this Intelligent Systems game, one of the best games on the Wii!

Let's start examining it paragraph-by-paragraph.
"As far as classic strategy games go, Fire Emblem pretty much harks back to the beginning of time. The game got its start in Japan 17 years ago on the original Famicom, and has since seen over ten iterations across Famicom, Super Famicom, GBA (the game's USA debut), DS, GameCube, and now Wii. Over the years the systems have changed, but Fire Emblem remains a steady constant, offering the most hardcore strategy gamers out there some of the deepest strategy and difficulty with the most minimal control scheme possible. It should come as no surprise, then, that Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for Nintendo Wii does very little to change a formula that's been around for nearly two decades. The involving story is still there, the classic turn-based strategy originating on Famicom Wars (the 19 year old inspiration for Advance Wars) is at large once again, and players of a whole new generation have a chance to experience exactly what Fire Emblem is all about."
Not really sure where you get "over ten" from, since Radiant Dawn is the tenth. But that's a minor issue. No major problems here. We have to get to the second paragraph for that.
"What you won't get with Fire Emblem, however, is any motion control or IR experience. There's no Mii integration, no online, no waggle, and no IR aiming. It is what it is, and Fire Emblem plays identical to its GameCube counterpart, who in turn still drew inspiration from the very beginning nearly two decades ago. The downside to that? Fire Emblem inherently feels like a GameCube title, with nearly identical interface, style, graphics, audio (or lack of), pacing, and general appearance, so while the game may come in a white box and burned onto a DVD, it's about as far from a traditional Wii experience as you can get. In fact, chances are if you already know you want this game before reading our review, as Fire Emblem hits a very specific, mature, traditional crowd."
What's that? Bozon is complaining about how none of those "Wii experiences" are present? Here's something to make clear: At no point did Nintendo state it was abandoning the core audience or anything with the Wii. That was the media perception of Nintendo's strategy. If you actually look at the facts, the Wii has one of the best Nintendo lineups of any Nintendo system, behind the GameCube. It's the media narrative that there is no core audience left, the kind of narrative that folks like the NPD Group apparently enforce.

The idea that a Fire Emblem game, a very mature and core experience, should have motion control or Mii integration? Terrible. Even Fire Emblem: Awakening (KoopaTV's Game of THAT Year 2013 winner), which DID let you make your own dude, didn't have "Robin" (the default name) be based off your Mii, but rather based off the in-game art style. Probably because Miis actually have feet. But could you imagine how jarring it would be to play as Ike, save the land of Tellius, and interact with some creepy disproportionate Mii? I've been mocking this review for years, by the way, on this point.

We already have this guy.

Now, let's overlook the implication that feeling like a GameCube title is a "downside". (I'm sure Super Smash Bros. Melee fans would see that as a positive, and I'm one of them.) Apparently, the interface, style, graphics, music, pacing, and general appearance are like Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. And apparently, there is a lack of music in the game, just like in Path of Radiance. In reality, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance has a soundtrack that's four and a half hours long, which dwarfs the vast majority of soundtracks in games today.



Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn's is six and a half hours long. That dwarfs the length of some entire critically-acclaimed AAA videogames today. Just in the music. And it's all good. According to me it's somehow not as great as Paper Mario: Sticker Star's, which might be me taking my jazz-fetish a little too far.


It's clearly not the same as the GameCube game. It's improved. It's more. The animations, both on the map and the battles, are much improved. They're not robotic anymore. The pacing is completely different and I don't know why Bozon would make a comment about the pacing being the same. The entire point of Radiant Dawn's four-part structure is that the pacing is radically different than Path of Radiance, which has you stick with Ike and his band the entire game. Radiant Dawn has you switch armies frequently, for better or for worse.

With all that said, perhaps he didn't judge the game based off anything he said in the second paragraph. Maybe he's judging the game for its own merits, and not for being similar to the game it's a sequel to. Let's move on.
"Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is a direct sequel to last generation's Path of Radiance on GameCube. Players will eventually take control of nearly every character from the last game, work within the same world, but now see a totally different side of the story. After the defeat of Mad King Ashnard three years ago, the country of Daein is now falling to pieces, as a corrupt government strives to keep control over a public body that is now thrown into chaos. As an odd move for Radiant Dawn, players are actually assuming the role of members of Daein, previously the enemy in Path of Radiance. Taking control of a group called the Dawn Brigade - a medieval Rebel Alliance, if you will - players will scour the countryside in search for allies, aiming to take down the corrupt leadership that has - and continues - to plague Daein. And while this is a 100% sequel to the last game, players that haven't had a chance to pick up Path of Radiance for GameCube won't be left in the dust, as you'll get tons of backstory, character reintroduction, and an all new story. Basically if you just read the preceding paragraph, you're already good to go. Corrupt government, group of rebels, you with a controller… go."
See? He goes on to say it's a direct sequel. So he should be a reasonable man and not expect the game's interface to change drastically. I guess he either mentions only the Dawn Brigade because he hasn't finished the game or because he doesn't want to give spoilers. Probably the latter if he knows you take control of nearly everyone from Path of Radiance. It's also possible he just never played the game and is going off press release information.
"Battle movement and strategy revolves around the same staples the series has since the beginning, with all control being done turn-based around a huge grid. As with Advance Wars, each unit has different attack abilities, movement space, and ranged or local attacks. What will come to a surprise for many, however, is that this is a game that embraces "permadeath", so any unit that falls in battle is gone, and gone forever. This means you'll either need to plan ahead, or restart battles often if you want to make it through the game. We've got absolutely no problem wit the game's difficulty or traditional rules, as it's exactly how Fire Emblem has been for years and years; just know what you're getting into."
Typos aside ("no problem wit the game's difficulty"), it's kind of dissonance where he still acts like the permadeath is a "surprise for many" yet two paragraphs ago he writes "In fact, chances are if you already know you want this game before reading our review, as Fire Emblem hits a very specific, mature, traditional crowd". But, whatever, he's a journalist, not a writer.
"It's not all wonderful nostalgia and flawless packaging though, as there are a few things Fire Emblem is definitely missing, and they can be very, very annoying. For starters 99% of the storytelling in the game is done with static drawings placed over a painted background. When characters interact, text scrolls by with no VO to be had. There are sections in the game - many more this time around than on GameCube - that launch FMV sequences which of course support full voice acting, and the actors this time around do a wonderful job; it's just a shame they couldn't be used for the entirety of the story. What you end up getting is an experience nearly identical to what you could see on Nintendo DS, minus the FMV work, and it's one that Nintendo seems to have no intention on improving. In fact, the general amount of animation in the game is extremely small, with short scripted sequences launching whenever attacks are initiated, but the majority of the game working with sliding pieces and very simple animations on tiny, low-poly characters. If you pick this one up, you better be in it for the gameplay, as the overall presentation - both audio and visual - is astonishingly simple."
I already addressed the audio presentation. How can this be simple yet ambient noise from The Last Of Us be considered soundtrack of the year? ...On that note, what's wrong with simple? Anyway, his entire paragraph is that he wants voice-acted Fire Emblem without static drawings, the latter of which is a JRPG convention not just found in Fire Emblem. That would be a lot of voice-acted text. And you'd have to localize it and everything. The overworld intermissions between chapters IS voice-acted and voice-acted wonderfully, but that's something he doesn't mention. I wouldn't say the amount of animation is "extremely small" when there are compilations of the animations on YouTube that take hours to finish and those are just for the critical hits and skill-activations. Compare the two videos below, the first on GameCube and the second on Wii. Pay attention to detail. Skip around in the videos if you want.



I mean, they both hold up well today, I think. But whether you're looking just at the animation quality or the textures or whatever, there is clearly an improvement. Not sure what he means by tiny low-poly characters, unless he's talking about map animations? And never turned the battle animations on?
"Still, for those looking for amazing tactical play, this is the best you're going to find on Wii thus far, and possibly for the majority of the system's life. The list of skills, items, options, and possibilities in creating your team is seemingly endless, even allowing for members to tag up and boost each other's effectiveness by teaming skills with each other. You can create weapons in forge mode (included on GameCube as well), which lets you take literally any weapon in the game and boost specific stats, color them, and rename the item as you see fit, though you'll end up paying through the nose to do it. To add to the game's replay ability (and overall strategy), characters level up, but increase stats randomly, so you can't just boost a group of characters and expect to rip through the game because of it. For those that have a GameCube memory card with Path of Radiance saved to it, there's even an option to move specific players over to the Wii version, or at the very least boot another member's stats based on your progress on Cube. Fire Emblem isn't much to look at, but it's easily the best tactical experience you'll find on Wii, and a hardcore gamer's wet dream"
Well, he was right about the majority of the system's life part. Again, typos aside ("or at the very least boot another member's stats"), he's far from the truth in taking "literally any weapon in the game" (there are many weapons you can't customize via forging). It's not a fundamentally flawed error, though.

However, the review just ends there. Now we're at the conclusion.
"The Verdict
To call Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn a Wii game is to take the meaning of that statement as literal as possible. Yes, it runs on Wii, comes in a cute white box, and you’ll pay $49.99 for it. From there, however, the experience is anything but Wii-like, as the game uses no motion, no IR, no Mii integration, and no online. While some gamers will scoff at this fact, diehard Fire Emblem fans already understand the choice made by Nintendo, as the series hasn’t needed to change in nearly 20 years, and shouldn’t be expected to now. The game supports Wii-mote control in classic NES-style, the GameCube controller, and the Classic Controller, so no matter what your setup you can still dive into one of the deepest, mature, and traditionally rooted titles on Nintendo consoles."
Here we are again, repeating the Wii experience media narrative from the beginning of the review. Apparently, "some gamers will scoff at [the fact that the game has no motion, no IR, no Mii integration, and no online.]" I don't know who these gamers are, but in writing and Wikipedia we call those "weasel words". No one wants to waggle their Wiimote for a critical hit or skill activation. That's actually the opposite of what the game should be about. Critical hit should be based on the RNG, not on if you can do some irrelevant quicktime event waggle minigame. But... there's one more paragraph?
"What you’ll miss, however, is any sort of upgrade from the GameCube version which is on sale for $20 new. Radiant Dawn is a direct sequel to the Cube’s Path of Radiance, and as such looks, acts, and feels identical. You’ll still get very little VO, minimal animation overall, GameCube graphics, and extremely simply storytelling that makes use of only a backdrop and some character art. Why the production value in Fire Emblem has yet to be completely overhauled is beyond us, but apparently someone at Nintendo things traditional games need to not only play like a game two decades old, but also look similar as well. If you’re looking for an entertaining, challenging, traditional strategy game, look no further, as Fire Emblem is as good as it gets. Just don’t expect anything more than GameCube presentation, visuals, and control for $50."
Absolutely false. The game is longer. It's more grandiose in scale. It does everything you'd want a sequel to do, really. And it's absolutely worth $50 for a meaty experience that brings wonderful story, characters, music, and gameplay with high replay value. Compare to critically acclaimed flimsy experiences. Also, the idea the game looks similar to a two decade old game is absolutely appalling. Someone could read this review and think it's a remake!



Yeah, this isn't similar at all. Let's look at the ratings breakdown.
"4
Presentation
Aside from some FMV work, there’s nothing here above what was done on GBA or DS. Basic menus, tons of text, simple backdrops, and not much more than some portrait art to tell the story."
Just to let you know, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on DS was hideous. What, does he want complicated menus?
"6
Graphics
16:9 was included for the USA release, and 480p is a nice touch – for a game that is identical to GameCube in almost every way. Battle animations are improved a bit though."
He can't even stay internally consistent on this. Here he states the battle animations "improved a bit" but earlier he claimed there's no improvement.
"7.5
Sound
No orchestration, very little VO, and a virtually unchanged experience from Cube’s effort. The music is still impressive, but it’s all midi."
As you can hear above, a game doesn't need to be orchestrated to have a great soundtrack. I'm still boggled by why he wrote there is a lack of audio in the second paragraph.
"8
Gameplay
No Wii functionality, but really no need. It’s a classic design, and it plays as such. It's a great tactical experience, still smooth and quick, and still entertaining."
So what is a 10, exactly? A waggle-fest with Miis?
"8
Lasting Appeal
Well over 50 hours, random stat evolution during level ups, GCN data transfer, but no online or multiplayer elements to be had."
I'm not sure why or how growth-rate percentages are considered "Lasting Appeal". Overall? 8/10. Which isn't bad by any means, but the methods of getting there are absolutely absurd. 50 plus hours (I've had far more than this) gets you an 8? How many hours do you have to spend to get to a 9? A 10?

Let's compare with an IGN favourite, Call of Duty 4. It was given a 9.4/10.

"9
Presentation
If this is war, consider me a future draft-dodger.
10
Graphics
From top to bottom, one of the best-looking console games around.
9.5
Gameplay
An excellent shooter that is as intense an experience as you can find in gaming. The multiplayer is also top-notch.
9
Lasting Appeal
The single-player experience is brief, but there are many other things that will hold your attention once the campaign is complete."
...Well, okay, that's not informative at all. And where is the "Sound" section? How does this game get away with not having one of those? It's not like IGN changed its format or anything. These two reviews were both written in November 2007!
"If you played the original Call of Duty or its sequel, then you will have little trouble hopping into COD4. This is not a revolution of game controls."
Well why wasn't this game pegged negatively for being a sequel with familiar controls?
"The real change comes in the combat. This is one intense shooter, mainly because there are just so many enemies. And they are smarter thanks to some refined AI."
Radiant Dawn has improved AI changes from its predecessor. It also has some new features like height and third promotion tiers. Yet Call of Duty 4's major "change" is apparently less than Radiant Dawn's, yet IGN doesn't enter into paragraphs of discussion about how that's a problem.
"COD4's single-player is made great because it is such a white-knuckle experience. That would not be possible if the sound and visuals weren't impeccable. This is a gorgeous game from top to bottom. It runs almost perfectly, with only a few rare framerate hiccups, and offers rich details, great texture work, excellent animations for your allies, awesome particle effects, and some stellar lighting. The sound is equally impressive. Combat is loud. The shouts of your allies, the curses of your enemies, the ominous clink of a grenade falling at your feet, all go to creating an immersive experience. You may well lose yourself in combat, drawn in by the visuals and the sound. This is a technically excellent effort that won't disappoint."
Radiant Dawn has all of those things and more. That's the only paragraph in the review dedicated to sound, by the way. Apparently Call of Duty 4 has such a mesmerizing sound effort, yet it's not even factored into the review score!
"Rounding out COD4's very short list of complaints is the campaign length. On Regular difficulty, you can probably beat COD4 in 5-6 hours."
Remember, Radiant Dawn's soundtrack alone is longer than Call of Duty 4's campaign!

The game actually HAS a soundtrack, too.


So why isn't it included in the final score? Or is music just that unimportant to mainstream game journalists? One of KoopaTV's values is that music is very important to a game's value. Not every publication is going to agree with our values (for example, Nintendo World Report, known for giving Mario Kart 8 its currently lowest review score, has boycotted KoopaTV and we're boycotting them back as a source of information) but to exclude sound entirely just for this game is incredibly suspicious at best.

Games should be rated on their merits, not what the reviewer thinks the game could've or should've been. They should be independent of bribery, too. None of KoopaTV's reviews occur from bribery and what few reviews we do are honest and encompassing of all information. Using the media's slander campaign of the Wii as the basis for a review of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is a complete journalistic disgrace. The media says the Wii is a for-casuals console, ignores games that don't follow that narrative, and negatively reviews games that don't follow that narrative for not following that narrative.

Of course, this reporting-based-on-narrative concept isn't unique to the gaming industry. Far from it. You can look at, for example, the Democrat Party's slandering of their political opponents, the Republican Party, as a nasty racist party that hates black people. What do they do with conservative black people whose very existence disproves the narrative that the Republican Party is for white people? They destroy them. Ruthlessly and shamelessly.


1 comment :

  1. Bozon's reply:

    Gaming Legend/Fatty ‏@MarkBozon May 26

    @TheREALKoopaTV TLDR. ;) Well written counter, though the ever-talked about "no Mii" thing is always funny to see people hate on.

    Gaming Legend/Fatty ‏@MarkBozon May 26

    @TheREALKoopaTV If you know me at all you'd know I was happy it didn't shove Mii's in for no reason. IR pointing would have been nice though

    Gaming Legend/Fatty ‏@MarkBozon May 26

    @TheREALKoopaTV can't compare IGN reviews across editors though. Mine vs COD4 or Last of Us doesn't work. Nice article though. Fair opinion.

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