Ars longa, game brevis: ‘The Order: 1886’ begs question 'How long should a game really be?'
One of the first real gaming kerfuffles of 2015 involved one of its first big releases, "The Order: 1886," and its purported short length. It got leaked on YouTube that "The Order" was about five hours long and contained a lot of cutscenes, quick...
One of the first real gaming kerfuffles of 2015 involved one of its first big releases, “The Order: 1886,” and its purported short length. It got leaked on YouTube that “The Order” was about five hours long and contained a lot of cutscenes, quick-time events and sequences where you walk slowly while characters spout exposition.
Now, this wasn’t quite true. The game is actually a whopping six hours long. And now the question becomes, “How long should a video game be?”
My answer is kind of a cop-out. It should be as long as it needs to be to tell its story.
No two games are going to be the same when it comes to ideal length. “Uncharted 2” doesn’t need to be 50 hours long because at some point, you are going to get sick of shooting dudes. And “Chrono Trigger” would be an absolute disaster if it were only 10 hours long. However, that doesn’t change the underlying fact that, as consumers, we like bang for our buck. If you expect me to drop $60 on something, I better get more than an afternoon’s enjoyment out of it or it needs to be a truly amazing experience.
And that’s where “The Order” failed. It just wasn’t that good. Compare that with, say, “Portal.” You could blow through “Portal” in a couple hours, but it’s one of the best games ever made and making it longer would have ruined a lot of its charm. Shorter worked much better here because the underlying game was tailored for a quick playthrough and was satisfying no matter what. In more of the action vein, “Bioshock” is short, but the narrative is so strong and so well-paced that you won’t care.
On the flip side, you can easily have an extremely long game work because it really needs all that time. The four games in the “Ogre Battle Saga” (which includes two “Ogre Battle” and two “Tactics Ogre” games) all heavily feature drawn-out wars and political struggles which necessarily unfold slowly and build towards amazing conclusions. You need all of those 60 hours that gradually crescendo to an amazing conclusion. Or you can have “Tales of Symphonia,” which will probably take you 80 hours to beat. I absolutely love that game and have very fond memories of playing it sophomore year at Carleton, but you could easily cut 20 hours and the entire “Colette has some weird illness” arc and the game would be fine.
To be completely honest, as long as you’re keeping the experience fresh and letting the player have fun, length isn’t going to be a huge deal.
It’s why “Okami,” despite being 30-plus hours, a crazy length for an action adventure game, is a beloved masterpiece and “Sonic ’06” is best used as a Frisbee. “Okami” keeps you busy doing a lot of different things across a gorgeous environment with cool powers. “Sonic” has you do the exact same stages three times. Also the game doesn’t really work correctly. “Sonic” is actually shorter, but it’s an absolute chore because it’s no fun. It would have been a train wreck at any length. The key here is the fun factor.
But we attach such a value to how long a game is that it’s almost a foregone conclusion that we see that a game is long and almost assume that it’s really good.
Never mind that we’ve all been burned by some ponderous game that we tapped out on halfway through (hey, “Final Fantasy XIII”). Maybe we should stop correlating a game’s value and how long we spend on it.
Or maybe I just regret all the time I’ve spent over the years on some pretty bad games.
Hope is a local attorney and gamer. Read his past columns at bonusstage.areavoices.com. This week’s column, not including this byline, is 618 words long, so that’s pretty average for him. No one should complain about that, right?