What makes or breaks a game for you? Music, graphics, plot, or characters? Something else? Try to choose only one.
Louise: I’d like to make a distinction between graphics and art design. I think of graphics as the technical aspect of what we see in games and art design as the (hopefully) cohesive layer that holds the visuals together. I’m not a slave to graphics and would happily play a low-res sprite-based game like Cave Story, but if it has bad art design, it becomes a chore.
Games are primarily a visual medium for me. I like to play things that are aesthetically pleasing. It doesn’t even have to blow my mind away like all the shiny textures in Bioshock. If the color palette works, the character design is consistent, and the world is pretty, I end up playing the game for longer. No one wants to come home from a long day at work and look at something ugly.
Jenni: For me the plot is a huge part of why I play the games I play. I enjoy games where there’s rich storyline, character development and perhaps even a means to influence the plot through your actions. I love the worlds and mythology that games like Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, Harvest Moon, Tales of and other RPGs, strategic RPGs, simulations and visual novels present. If the writing and situation created is vivid enough, it can mask a game’s other failings.
Graphics, music and sometimes even control schemes don’t really mean as much to me. A really horrid and convoluted control scheme could keep me from playing if the story is also bad. I can be pretty forgiving when it comes to graphics, and since I tend to play portable games I almost always have the sound off so that isn’t a huge issue either.
Laura: I’ll have to say that I largely agree with what Jenni says. I can suffer through almost any horrible graphics, music, and control scheme, and I’ve done it too, so long I have at least one character I care for. As such, I think I’ll have to say that for me, the characters are what determines if the game is worth playing. I mean, even if the plot is the most cliched thing you’ve ever seen, I will still play through the game if I like at least one character, just to see what happens to him/her. I mean, some may agree and some may disagree, but from what I’ve heard from others, Wild Arms 3 isn’t the most original game around. But I played through almost all of it because of Jet and Clive. (Note that these guys are also considered cliche, but hey, whatever I like =D)
Not to say I don’t care about plot, though. That’s a really close second. Oftentimes I won’t play a game because it has no plot. However, it’s just that the characters really matter to me when I play a game. I’ve played through games with essentially no plot but really interesting characters (Guilty Gear). After plot might be art / character design, but I’ve never really had a game where that’s been an issue… It’ll just take me a really really long time to get fired up enough to even start the game.
Spencer: I don’t know if I’m going to explain this right, but flow. I want a reason to keep playing, a dangling carrot in front of me to keep going. Of course, this varies by genre. In a NES style platformer, it comes from being close to beating a level. Each time you repeat a stage you get a little bit better until you finally beat it and feel like you achieved something. In a RPG I want the plot to grab me so I keep playing, I can tolerate a reasonable amount of grinding and fetching herbs for sick pets as long as the plot is gripping and progressing.
Too much repetition or a story that’s spiraling nowhere disrupts the flow and can break a game for me.
Ishaan: It’s usually story for me. It doesn’t even have to be the most amazing story either…even a quirky, interesting narrative can hold my attention, like in World of Goo. It’s sad, but I’ve had to pass on so many DS RPGs because their stories or character development simply don’t hold up. It’s a little frustrating because the system is clearly capable of PS1-like RPGs…so how come we don’t get stories equivalent to those games?
What breaks a game for me is music. Even if a game doesn’t have a good story — and let’s face it, not every game needs one — I rely on good music to keep me playing. Here’s a funny story: I played Final Fantasy VII for the first time after watching Advent Children. Needless to say I wasn’t blown away by the graphics. Fortunately, Uematsu’s superb soundtrack kept me playing for about three hours, which was enough time for the game to impress me overall and get me hooked.