People engage with video games in different ways. Some like to keep games as if they were collectibles, displaying them prominently on a shelf to say “hey world, check out my awesome video games!” Others use and then discard games, either obtaining them through a rental service like Gamefly, or buying them and then selling them off again once the game has been beaten. I’ve always fallen somewhere towards the first group – I don’t necessary consider my games a collection and display them prominently, but I hang onto them long after I’ve finished and don’t make a habit of selling them away. This is primarily because I have very rarely played a video game which I so despised that I determined I would never want to play it again – with a nice side helping of “I couldn’t get anything for this if I did try to sell it.”
In fact, so rare is it for me to sell video games that in my adult life, I have only ever done so one time. I was a college student, desperately wanting something new to play but lacking the financial capital to make that happen. I looked at my game collection and decided for the first and last time that I would try selling the goofy things so I could by some other titles. As I searched through my stack of games, I was able to find a total of five that I wanted to get rid of – which works out nicely because it means I can structure this article as a top five post. Go, past me!
Today, I want to tell the stories of those five video games. I’ll be ranking them in order from least to most awful, along with why I didn’t enjoy them and decided to get rid of them in the first place. Perhaps you, too, did not like these games – or maybe you did, and things are about to get real interesting.
#5: XENOBLADE CHRONICLES – WII
Sorry, Shulk, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I picked up Xenoblade Chronicles after it came to the states as a way to support it after so many fans worked their tails off to get this title localized. I didn’t know what I was in for, but I knew that enough people were excited for this game that they petitioned for years to be able to play it. What I found was an interesting fusion of eastern and western RPG styles with a compelling story to tell. Shulk, the protagonist, was an intelligent teen living in a world where human civilization was built upon the dead bodies of giant robot gods. Or something. I didn’t finish the game, remember?
I enjoyed many aspects of Xenoblade Chronicles. The voice acting was decent for the time and the characters had a lot of personality. The story struck me as quite compelling; I particularly loved Shulk’s struggle to understand his visions and to determine whether or not trying to prevent them was the smartest move to make. There’s a creature at one point in the game which seems to be immune to Shulk’s visions, and after some investigation it turns out that this being is able to read minds. Visions, it turns out, are pretty worthless when your opponent sees you having them. Add to that the mysteries of the Faced Mechon and it seemed like Xenoblade Chronicles was right up my alley. And it was in every way except the one which matters most: gameplay.
Xenoblade felt like a single-player MMO to me. The combat is slow-paced and features characters who automatically attack with no button input. This means that encounters against weaker monsters are essentially just a waiting game. More “exciting” battles against stronger monsters involve using the proper combinations of techniques to inflict debilitating statuses, but combat still felt slow and required little focus or input. This isn’t to say that combat was easy in Xenoblade – I often struggled against stronger monsters – it just failed to keep me focused or entertained during play. If I was playing after a long day at work, I tended to fall asleep. So while the story engaged me and I still love Shulk’s character to this day, my boredom with the combat system led me to shelve and sell the first Xenoblade game.
#4: TALES OF GRACES F – PLAYSTATION 3
What does the “f” stand for? I’ve played many Tales games over the years and Graces didn’t start out on my bad side. While the story seemed bog-standard for the series, they made some neat mechanical decisions that kept me engaged for quite some time. For example, the protagonist Asbel changes his attack types based on whether his sword is sheathed or drawn. His sheathed sword attacks are more traditional physical strikes and combos, and when he draws his sword he unleashes special attacks. The damage he deals with his sword drawn collects as health that he can then recover by sheathing his blade. It’s an interesting mechanism that asks you to change your fighting style to be more offensive or defensive when the moment calls for it, and to benefit from healing in the process.
There were issues about the game that bothered me, but none of them felt so terrible that I wanted to quit playing. It irritated me, for example, that Asbel’s brother was totally broken as a boss character and then nearly useless as an allied fighter. However, this is a normal mistake that many video games make, and certainly not game breaking. The characters seemed a bit derivative but again, this was standard Tales and I was more than interested enough to play all the way through until the end. Or at least, until what I thought was the end.
At some point in Tales of Graces, the game built to what felt very much like a climax. The final boss, some kind of dark being possessing Asbel’s friend, manifested itself a giant death castle which the party had to navigate. At the top of the castle was a boss battle with not one, not two, but four different phases. All sorts of background info was revealed, and it seemed that the story was putting a bow on every open thread remaining. And considering that I was 40 hours in at this point, all signs pointed to the game being over. So imagine my rage when the final boss I just fought four times possessed the same person it had been inhabiting the entire game and just flew away. Bandai Namco thought the game wasn’t over, but me? I was more than done.
#3: BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS – PLAYSTATION 3
The previous games on this list are games that I found enjoyable up to a point, where a specific aspect of the game caused me to decide to leave it behind. Now we’re getting to the part of the list where I will have little to nothing good to say about the games, and first up is Arkham Origins. Set well before the events of Arkham Asylum, this game intended to tell the story of Batman’s first struggle against the Joker. It portrayed younger, less experienced versions of both characters, and incorporated some different villains than what we’d seen from the franchise at that point.
Looking back, there were some warning signs for this one. A different studio worked on the game, and different voice actors were portraying the iconic characters I had come to enjoy over the course of two games. Still, I had hope – Troy Baker is no slouch as a voice actor, and handing the title off to a different studio might mean that they would be willing to add something fresh and new to the game. Instead, Arkham Origins ended up being a game that proved stale both narratively and mechanically.
In all fairness to the game, my exhaustion with Arkham-style gameplay truly arose from its market over-saturation. The system already had some similarities to Assassin’s Creed, a franchise I felt long overstayed its welcome (though I hear they’ve improved drastically after stopping the annual model). Add to that games such as Shadow of Mordor which used a near-identical system of combat and quests and soon every Arkham-style game felt like the exact same game to me, including the originals. I didn’t play Origins any farther than the battle with Deathstroke; I didn’t need to. I sold the game back confident that I had experienced everything Origins had to offer plenty of times before.
#2: ETRIAN ODYSSEY 4 – NINTENDO 3DS
I consider myself a fan of the JRPG genre. I’ve played most of the numbered Final Fantasy games and many of the spin-offs as well, and done the same with Dragon Quest. Chrono Trigger is an old favorite, Fire Emblem ranks in my top series of all time – I appreciate lots of different approaches to the roleplaying game and love to try new styles of game. So when I saw that Etrian Odyssey was in the style of older, first-person RPGs like Bard’s Tale and even required you to map the terrain yourself, I was really excited by the prospect and picked up the game right away.
Etrian Odyssey does not hold back when it comes to presenting a challenge. The game immediately throws you into character creation with no guidance on what types of characters form a good party or what their abilities even do – the game pushes you to learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t. Mapping, it turned out, could be done automatically if you wanted, but for me that was part of the appeal so I painstakingly drew my own maps as I wandered the world. The more I played, the more complex the systems became and there was still no guidance on how to utilize them properly. The story also felt directionless and I frequently couldn’t figure out how to progress in the game.
I’ve come to discover since playing Etrian Odyssey that my issues with the game ultimately boiled down to the developer, Atlus. I have not played a single game by Atlus that I enjoyed, and I’ve tried quite a few of them. Etrian Odyssey, Baroque – I also tried demos for some of their smaller titles and for Shin Megami Tensei as well. I find their style to be mechanically dense yet without substance, and their stories to be either too derivative or too avante garde with no middle ground. There’s a distinction in my mind between the difficulty found in making discoveries on your own and being obtuse, and in my experience Atlus has always trended towards the latter. Etrian Odyssey was the first game of their which gave me that impression, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
#1: PAPER MARIO: STICKER STAR – NINTENDO 3DS
There are some video games which go down in history for their badness. To hate Sticker Star has become almost a meme – it is the ultimate symbol of how far Paper Mario has fallen, and for those of us who loved the original games in the series, it is the ultimate punch in the gut. As someone who claims Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door as his favorite game and who once ranked the series as a whole alongside Zelda and Fire Emblem, Sticker Star struck a devastating blow to my hope that the series would ever see a true sequel to The Thousand Year Door.
When it was originally released, Sticker Star received pretty decent reviews. It is an example of critic and fan voices having distinctly different takes about a game, and of a developer taking a direction that frustrated the audience of the series they so loved. In my view, Sticker Star’s cardinal sin was the removal of unique characters and story from the game. The characters and stories of the original three games were what made them so special for me – even the original Paper Mario, which simply slapped some personality on regular Mario species, had memorable characters whose stories were fun to experience. Sticker Star focused only on Mario, Bowser, Peach, and an army of nameless toads with no distinctive personalities. A game once renowned for its witty, hilarious writing had all of that personality sucked out of it.
The game mechanics were an inferior interpretation of Paper Mario’s RPG gameplay, as well. Paper Mario has a simple strategy to it that becomes surprisingly complex when you add all of the elements together. Battlefield positioning, the types of attacks used, choosing the right partner for the situation, and customizing your abilities using badges provided lots of fun challenges and solutions to those challenges. Conversely, Sticker Star removed many of those elements and instead relied on a small variety of attacks and a few broken special items that were completely necessary to defeat the bosses. Developing different strategies fell to the wayside in favor of scraping the countryside for the one particular MacGuffin needed in order to take down the boss with no effort required. With no story, one-note characters, and RPG mechanics that were mere shadows of the original games, Sticker Star left me disappointed and dashed any hopes I had that Paper Mario would ever be as it once was.
There you have it, adventurers – the five games I ever sold back. These aren’t the only bad games I ever played, but they’re the only ones that I played close enough to the release date that they were worth a little something when I took them to GameStop. If you’re interested in reading more about games I’d just as soon get rid of, check out this article about the games I’d sell if they were worth anything. I’d love to hear your thoughts, adventurers – did you play and enjoy any of these games? What games have you played and sold back afterwards? Let me know in the comments below!