games / Columns

The 8 Ball 10.22.13: Top 8 Confusing Games

October 22, 2013 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball. This week the topic is about confusing games. This topic was pretty much brought up due to The Stanley Parable. That game does some confusing (but cool) stuff during its narrative, so trying to find other games that have parts like that is a good topic. Let’s begin:

8. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

To El Shaddai’s credit, I was able to finish the game, if I really devoted myself to playing it. The actual gameplay is a simplified version of almost God of War, mixed with weapon swapping from dropped weapons from defeated enemies. However, the actual story of El Shaddai is beyond nonsense. From what I can parse together, some angels decided to take matters into their own hands and become ingrained into humanity. God didn’t like this, so he sends Enoch down to try and stop their plans. At least, that is the two sentence plot summary. But it barely scratches the surface of what is going on in the game, least of all playing another character late in the game, to rescue Enoch. It’s about as on-par as Bayonetta, but even that game is less confusing, due to the main character having a personality. Enoch never really displays any emotion, which is kind of odd.

7. Remember Me

I actually really enjoy Remember Me: it looks great, it has some clever gameplay hooks, and the world it creates is breath-taking in spots. Even the story is mostly fine, except for one small issue. The main caveat of the game is that Nilin (your character) lost her memories and is trying to get them. You do eventually get them, but outside of two very brief flashbacks, you never get a sense of who Nilin is as a purpose, before her memory got wiped. This creates a bit of narrative dissonance in the game, when she does eventually get her memory but is seemingly unchanged from her goals. Also, for as much as the game aped the combat system from Batman, unlike Batman, it takes animation over gameplay. So you would be hitting a guy, try to dodge, but be locked in the animation of the combo, and take the hit. In Batman, you can dodge almost any time in a fight with no care at all. This takes a while to get used to and feels pretty cheap at times.

6. Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls

The confusion in either game is largely intentional, but still kind of annoying. When you start the game, you are told almost nothing. Nothing is presented about gameplay systems, the inventory, the skill screen, etc. You are on your own to try and bumble your way through it, along with dealing with hundreds of deaths due to the combat/movement in game. Frankly to be able to play the game effectively, you need to have at least two or three guides open from Gamefaqs, and possibly the game’s wiki to figure anything out. That appeals to some people to be sure, and actually Dark Souls sold pretty well, but for a new player, it can be one of the most confusing games around.

5. Deadly Premonition

Without spoiling the end of Deadly Premonition, it goes completely crazy in one of the best ways possible. While the game initially seems like a Twin Peaks copy, the more you play it, the more the game has its own ideas about where to take the story and what is going on. Then the game goes almost off the rails completely by the end. Add to that some of the strangest characters in a game, some hilarious voice acting, and a music score that over-powers it constantly, and you’ll see why Deadly Premonition can be baffling at times.

4. The Stanley Parable

As the newest game on my list, and having just reviewed it, I think I can speak pretty definitively on this topic. Stanley poses a lot of questions in the game but doesn’t try to answer any of them. Or at least doesn’t answer any of them completely. Due to the cyclical nature of the game, you can take any of the endings as true, but falseness comes back as the game loops around again. It’s never even explained who/what the narrator is who is talking, whether or not it’s Stanley’s own internal voice, some type of outside force in the world, or some type of omnipresent voice in the world. It’s an experience that can make you question games and the way they tell stories, but it is very interesting to play.

3. Final Fantasy 13-2

Which is more than I can say for this game, frankly. Actually, I’m being harsh, having just picked it up a few days ago and only spending about an hour in it. However, in the first 5 minutes it does two of the most stupefying things I’ve seen in any game. The first is a story recap of what actually happened in Final Fantasy 13. It is 11 parts, with an added prologue, with the text read by a woman and grainy video somewhat tied to the narration. I was lost by the second chapter due to all the melodramatic/self-serious nonsense being bandied about. The much more impressive (in a dizzying way) is how the game starts. It opens with a video of the (presumed) bad guy doing bad things and Lightning trying to fight him. A theme song is played over the video, with game credits interspersed as the two fight. You hit start, new game, and the EXACT same video plays, only with different music, and actual voice acting/sound effects. They play the same video twice. Wow.

Also, for what it’s worth, I’m about 2 hours into the game, and I’m actually kind of enjoying it. The battle system is fast and the mechanics seem fairly sound so far.

2. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Honestly, 95% of Soul Reaver is pretty cut and dry. It’s almost a kind of Metroidvania game, where areas of the world are closed off to you, requiring you to unlock a new ability, and fighting bosses across the landscape to become more powerful. The big difference is, there’s no map in this game at all. And woe be to those who stop playing it for a week or two because you will be completely lost. It would be like playing the a Zelda game with no map at all. The only way in Soul Reaver you can gauge your progress is by what powers/glyphs you have which still doesn’t help you out any. If you can mainline Soul Reaver in a few days’ time then the game is a snap. But if you switch between different games or have to take an extended break and try to get back into it, good luck – you’ll need it.

1. Kingdom Hearts 2

Final Fantasy 13-2’s confusions are only in the first few minutes of playing. Kingdom Hearts 2’s confusions carry on the deeper you go. The bat-shit thing about this game is that the story is basically predicated upon a game that not a lot of people played (Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories) and a game that didn’t even exist when KH 2 was released (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days). KH 2 was released in 2005, and 358/2 hit in 2009. That is a 4 year difference! Kingdom Hearts 2 starts with you in control of “Roxas”, with you eventually taking control of Sora. Mind you, this happens about 3 or 4 hours in, with little explanation (at the start) of what the fuck is even going on. Even as you play the game, you get almost no reason as to what is happening. At this point, Kingdom Hearts – as an overall game series, is SO convoluted, it might be best to just wipe the slate clean and reboot it. I have little hope that Kingdom Hearts 3 will fare any better. If anything, the story will continue the cycle of “Snake eating its own tail” that has plagued it for so long, and confound the people who play it. At least it will add endless more pages to that “Kingdomheartssummary.docx” that is floating around on Google Docs here. If you can read that for more than 5 minutes without blood shooting out of your eyes, then you are a Kingdom Hearts fan and can get by the confusing mess of the story.

The Better Half with Liana K


Top 8 Confusing Games

Video games have no shortage of confusing plots, confounding endings, and baffling creative decisions. It’s an experimental medium, and that comes with the territory. Then there’s the apparent truism that Japanese things are weird, and video games have brought Anime-style displacement to North American audiences. You could make an entire list just out of Resident Evil and Metal Gear games. Because of this, I’ve decided to leave Resident Evil and Metal Gear games off this list. Why? Because it’s confusing!

Instead, I decided to try to select as wide a scope of games as I possibly could, showing the breadth and depth of the bizarre that touches almost every corner of the game industry. Let’s get weird!

8: Limbo (XBLA, then PS3 and PC ports, 2010)

I was hesitant to include this game, because it’s calculated confusion, but the execution surpasses the concept. Limbo is an experiment in giving the player absolutely no instructions. Combine that with a metaphorical story, devilishly complicated puzzles and an ending with no canon explanation and you have a black and white side scrolling bundle of “huh?” There are a lot of out-there indie games, but Limbo has that edge of brutal shadow violence that puts it over the top. The only other place children are put in that much peril is a Bangladeshi sweat shop… or possibly the Democratic Republic of Congo.

7: Halo 3: ODST (Xbox, 2009)

It’s generally an exercise in frustration to try to follow the plot of any Halo game, but ODST hit a new level of “what the hell is going on?” In order to make any connection between this Halo 3 standalone expansion and the adventures of Master Chief, you need to go back to Halo 2, which taxes your memory if you want any sense of why you should care about a bunch of people with names like German Shepherds. But then things get more structurally convoluted through the use of flashbacks and a secondary story that’s told only through hidden audio recordings. It was more than a little pathetic that Bungie decided to rip off Bioshock, especially since narrative has never exactly been the developer’s strength. It’s only at the very end of the game that we find out that the whole story is a prequel to Halo 3. Why this isn’t made abundantly clear from the very beginning, I’m not entirely sure. ODST is a shining example of the calculated arrogance of the entire Halo franchise: it needs neither a functioning story structure nor clarity, because so many Halo fans only use a game’s campaign as a multiplayer tutorial, if they play it at all.

6: Bioshock Infinite (Multi-platform, 2013)

Speaking of Bioshock – and calculated arrogance – what the hell happened with Bioshock Infinite!? My confusion regarding this title follows, ironically, multiple paths: my bewilderment regarding the game itself, my utter bafflement regarding the soaring high review scores from allegedly professional reviewers, and my dismay that people were offended by the game’s content, but for the most part, they were the wrong people. I think that the minute that white supremacists started claiming a Jewish-led conspiracy against white people, everyone else shut up for fear of being branded equally loony.

The themes, and plot twists of Booker DeWitt’s journey into Columbia are so convoluted that the story manages to say nothing profound about anything, and it functions with the wisdom of a jaded freshman at an Ivy League school whose tution is paying paid for by the parents he hates. The second half of the ending negates the first half of the ending, but that’s fine if you’re a spoiled white boy or a gal looking for the approval of spoiled white boys. For the rest of us, confusion reigns. I got baffled to the point of distraction midway through the game when it equated the violence committed by early America’s black and Irish underclasses while fighting for their emancipation with the actions of their oppressors. Then I knew there was a twist coming with Comstock – because there’s always a twist like that in Bioshock games – but instead of going the way I thought it was going, it co-opts and whitens the entire concept of a Christian convert prophet’s involvement in the Massacre at Wounded Knee, the Lakota tribes’ Ghost Dance beliefs, and features horrendously racist depictions of Native Americans… but fails to include a single Lakota Indian as an actual character. By this point, Bioshock fans get that Ken Levine hates theme parks, but it created a pretty massive blind spot in storytelling.

Then there’s the strong Antisemitic undertones inherent in the Shylock-style character of Jeremiah Fink. Maybe a lot of you missed the “Heeb” graphiti on some of the broken vending machines, or maybe you just don’t care, but Jeremiah Fink is exacting his “pound of flesh” from his workers, at multiple points in the game. Then there’s the money lender metaphor of Fink tokens, usable only within his company. It’s not that racism can’t be used to great effect. It just isn’t used well here, due, likely, to the slashing and burning of game elements during Infinite’s harried development. How the hell does this happen in 2013 and get rewarded both commercially and critically? This blinkers me.

5: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600, 1982)

The E.T. video game is, if you believe the hype, the result of a $125 million budget, five and a half weeks development time, and ignoring Steven Spielberg. Ironically, you can actually see all these elements in the finished product, which set the bar for multiple types of nightmarishly bad corporate decisions. It was video games’ greatest act of catastrophic hubris until 2008’s Too Human. It was the poster child for ridiculously rushed development until 2011’s premature release of Dragon Age II. It was the most inexplicably expensive science fiction property until 2012’s John Carter. It’s also the most unnecessarily convoluted game in any medium, other than Mage: the Ascension and possibly Bridge. The rumors of the burial site of unsold cartridges is a New Mexico mystery that some take as seriously as Roswell. But the most confusing thing about the game may be the simplest: why is E.T. light green?

4: Dragon’s Lair (Arcade, various ports, 1983)

Dragon’s Lair blew my mind back in the 80s. It changed the way video games looked forever, but no matter how many ports and reissues they do, I’ve never been able to finish the game. Why? Because the Quick Time Events are hopelessly confusing. Also, Princess Daphne was an early adopter of the “lots of hair makes naked look less naked rule”. It’s pretty hilarious that a female character wore less than a Mortal Kombat lady in a game with a kid-friendly animation style destined for public arcades way back in 1983, and thirty years later, we’re still acting like boobs are going to destroy society. It’s bizarre.

3: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1988)

Why does a raccoon costume allow Mario to fly? Why does a frog costume let him breathe underwater? Why does a giant wind up boot allow Mario to step on pokey things? Where did all of Bowser’s illegitimate children come from? If you feel the need to ask these questions, don’t play Super Mario 3. It’s the most random, acid trip game in Nintendo’s most random, acid trip series.

2: Siren (PS2, 2003)

Anything featuring a butterfly effect gets confusing fast, but Siren went beyond that into a convergence of things that left me too stumped to continue. The game was made for a Japanese audience and is based in Shintoism which is basic stuff in Japan, but I knew almost nothing about it at the time. I also found the “sightjacking” gameplay feature disorienting and the grainy graphics quality made it hard for me to see anything even when I was super close to the person whose sight I was jacking. Then there was the disjointed narrative – the game starts in the year 684 CE where starving villagers decide to eat a crashed alien… while it’s still alive. Then the story jumps to an earthquake in 1976. Then we find ourselves in 2003, and the remainder of the game is condensed into only a few days, but there are still jumps back and forth in time. But there’s more! The voice acting is just weird, the map is only partially functional, and if you fail a mission you restart midway, but all the stuff you collected is gone. It all leads to an experience more disorienting than waking up with a bad tattoo after a booze-induced blackout.

1: Candy Crush Saga (facebook, iOS, Android)

This is the most popular facebook/app game ever. Why? I have no idea. Why am I crushing candies? What did the candies ever do to me? I have no idea.

The in-game spam is invasive and of such high-volume that it clogs my tablet. The music is annoying, the character designs are cloying and unnerving. A pink dragon looks like he’s urinating, and a large bunny appears to be sitting in a pool of runny feces. Allegedly those things are lemonade and chocolate respectively… but if you believe that, you probably get punked a lot by the old “dude, sick, smell this” trick. However the thing I find most perplexing about Candy Crush Saga is the fact that completing a level relies predominantly on luck, but I still. Keep. Playing.

Why? I have no idea.

But at least I don’t spend money to play. This makes me not cool: casual gamers who don’t understand how anyone can “waste” time on Xbox or Playstation dump tens of thousands of dollars a day in order to buy lives or get assistance items, thereby rewarding King for its wretched game design. I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. It’s like a zen koan or something… or maybe it’s more like a Family Guy non sequitur. I don’t get those either.

Complainer’s Corner

There’s not a lot of games I came up with for this secondary list. A lot of games these days might have dumb stories but not necessarily confusing ones. Still, I did come up with a few games that almost made my main list. The big omission is probably Metal Gear Solid (any of them). The stories in those games are convoluted as all hell, but generally not confusing. At least to me. Anyway, here’s the few games I came up with: Messiah, FF 7, FF 8, FF 10 (really most Final Fantasy games), Echo the Dolphin, Maken X, Sonic (2006), and LSD

The General Roundup

The amount of comments from last week was a bit low, but I’ll address a few of them. Having just re-played Bully this year, I think that game may have a few problems, but it’s mostly related to it originally being a PS2 game. If they were to remake or construct a sequel based on Bully with today’s gameplay standards, it would be a lot more impressive. The Nintendo arguments are interesting. The Wii U seems to be almost dead on arrival when it comes to third party support. Sure games do come out for it (from third parties), but they’re either reduced in quality or have gameplay features nixed from them. Also, while Nintendo is being kept alive by the 3DS/hand held market, they are still getting destroyed by Apple and the plethora of I-devices they release.

Next Issue

Top 8 Zombie Games

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Marc Morrison
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