Top 10 cliches, tropes, and trends I hate in video games

This is something I had been planning to do as a video series a few years ago, but lost confidence in the project. But recently I realized that now that I have a blog, I have a solid medium for the project as a blog post. This is a countdown of the top ten cliches, tropes, trends, and things in general that I hate in video games.

Here’s something to keep in mind before I start: First, I’m limiting it to cliches, trends, and things that I’ve experienced (which means I can’t talk shit about the pay-to-play feature in some games since I haven’t played any games that have that). Second, I do try to refer primarily to games that I have played, or at least know, though I may refer to famous examples that I haven’t directly experienced. Third, I may end up referencing the same games more than once. Fourth, it’s in ascending order, from bottom to top or 10 to 1, just in case you need to know that. And finally, just a pro tip: there might be spoilers.

With that in mind, time to get started.

10. Simony

In Christian terms, simony is the practice of buying and selling supernatural powers, spiritual and divine works, and ecclesiastical offices. In video game terms, simony means acquiring skills, techniques, magical spells, and anything else along those lines by buying them via the games currency (thankfully not real currency, or else this cliche would be a lot higher on the list). It’s a relatively minor cliche and it normally doesn’t badly effect the game too much but I still feel the need to mention it because it just irks me that you have to buy skills and magic in a game.

Examples include seemingly any Final Fantasy game with a job class system, which has you going to shops and buying magic, and in the Devil May Cry series you purchase new techniques with Red Orbs, which serve as the games currency. There is also Castlevania: Lords of Shadow where experience points serve as currency for purchasing new skills, where as in many games that have experience points as a mechanic have you learning skills by accumulating experience points rather than spending them as currency. It’s the same in Darksiders, only in Darksiders you actually go to a shop to buy new skills, thus literally invoking the trope of simony.

9. Pointless One-Liners in Fighting Games

This is a cliche that popped up in fighting games ever since the 3D era and the rise of voice-acting in video games. This is when a character says some usually droll phrase at the beginning of the fight or at the end of the fight if they win. Sometimes in story mode if you lose, your character might have a post-defeat one-liners. Either way, these phrases are not needed at all. Usually they’re lame or annoying, and they don’t even matter anyway since whenever I play a fighting game, I play to fight, and not much else. Tons of fighting games out there may have this, including the Tekken, Dead or Alive, or Soul Calibur series among others.

Outside the fighting game genre, there is actually a particularly grievous case of pointless one-liners in Senran Kagura Burst where not only are the phrases lame, every character from each team says same the same thing. Sometimes one-liners may manifest in the form of characters constantly shouting the name of their spells or techniques, like in Xenoblade Chronicles where this is actually pretty annoying.

8. Arbitrary Item Restrictions and Breakable Weapons

This entry is a tie between the two tropes mentioned above as they both irk me equally. One reason I play video games is to interact with a realm that is not real life. It’s OK for video games to relate to real life and real subjects and a little bit of realism is healthy, but the games themselves shouldn’t be too much like real life. But then games put in arbitrary rules or conditions that are supposed to create realism but it’s just annoying and limits gameplay (by the way, running out of ammo does not necessarily count since it’s not usually a problem). Restricting the amount of items you can carry with arbitrary values and breakable weapons are two such conditions. For example of item restrictions, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim limits the number of items you can carry in your bag based on an arbitrary weight value (in this case 300), whereas many other RPGs don’t limit the number of items you can carry. If there has to be a limit to how many items you can carry, it should be that you can carry a maximum of 99 of each item in your bag (which many RPGs probably enforce anyway). I’ve even seen arbitrary restrictions outside the RPG genre. In the Ninja Gaiden reboot, you can only carry 5 of some items, while you can carry more than that for other items, which is both arbitrary and unfair.

Fire Emblem: Awakening not only has your weapons break, but so can your magic tomes (which ironically isn’t even realistic!), and on top of that you can’t repair them so you have to replace them when they break. In Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, weapons have a durability meter which means they can wear out after a while and you will start dealing only 1 point of damage to enemies per hit, which means you have to repair it, and if you’re still in combat, you need to find another sword in your inventory to replace it. Your armor can also wear out, which would mean reduced defenses leaving you vulnerable. And there aren’t any shops that have a 100% chance of repairing your equipment, some just have better repair rates than others, and you never get maximum durability back. In general, equipment life span just irks me. Why have that in a game?

7. Losing Your Abilities

One thing that I find to be a bullshit concept in games is where you start the game kicking ass or playing as a powerful character and then lose your strength and abilities and become weak. Sure, you get stronger again, but it’s just a stupid idea to begin with! Why give gamers a sense of power and confidence and then take that away from them?

I'm looking at you.

I’m looking at you Symphony of the Night.

Metroid Prime is one example of this cliche, and in the game Samus loses her suit and its abilities simply by crashing into a wall! And speaking of Castlevania, not only does Symphony of the Night make you lose your abilities, but Lords of Shadow 2 also starts you off with your abilites, takes them away from you making you weaker, and makes you gradually regain your abilities. What purpose does that serve other than make the game more frustrating by making you weaker?

Similar to this cliche is the trope of starting with a stronger character and then playing as a weaker one. In Final Fantasy XII, you start off playing as Reks and then the rest of the game you play as Vaan. Although Reks isn’t very strong (he’s only level 3), when you start playing as Vaan, he is level 1 and Reks’ level and stats do not transfer onto Vaan. What’s the point? Seriously, why even have a false protagonist anyway, especially if the main character is weaker or if there’s not much difference between the two characters?

6. Too Many Cutscenes and Interference

In games today it often feels like there’s too many cutscenes getting in the way of gameplay. I get that cutscenes are supposed to illustrate the story and events within it, but these are video games not movies. We shouldn’t be watching games more than playing them. And while it is true that you can skip these cutscenes in many games, for me it’s still a matter of why interrupt the game like that anyway? And may gods help you if they put quick time events into the games.

Traditionally in RPGs you have dialogue boxes instead of cutscenes, which means you can skip them by rapidly tapping a certain button if you wanted to (and you probably will if you’ve just come back to that cutscene after dying and getting a game over), but modern Final Fantasy games tend to overuse cutscenes and I swear they replace dialogue boxes with out and out cutscenes. This is definitely true for Final Fantasy X, where there’s no dialogue boxes so you have cutscenes instead, and I swear you can’t skip them.

Which is really bad since it means you can’t skip this shit.

Outside of the RPG genre, DMC: Devil May Cry seems to have a lot of cutscenes and so does the Ninja Gaiden reboot and Lords of Shadow 2, and in Dead or Alive 5 there’s more cutscenes than necessary in its story mode. Not to mention Shadow the Hedgehog has a lot of cutscenes in the game (which thankfully you can skip), and the last story mode of the game has several cutscenes which it takes about two minutes to skip, so there’s a lot of time spent watching the game before you get to the actual gameplay. And as video games get more and more “cutting edge” in terms of graphics, I feel like this trend of too many cutscenes is only to stay or get worse just to flaunt the graphics of cutscenes and even to the point where games more closely resemble movies, which I seriously have a problem with since that will most likely mean more movie-style cliches, and besides I grew up with video games as a totally different art form.

If the game wants to tell you how to do something or give you hints, there’s no reason to interrupt the freaking game and slow the pace down! Just tell the player during active gameplay like in Portal 2.

5. Bosses You Can’t Defeat and Aren’t Supposed to Defeat

One mechanic I find to be utterly pointless and downright bewildering is when a game features a boss that you not only can’t defeat, but are actually supposed to lose to in order to progress the plot of the game. This doesn’t make any sense at all. If you’re supposed to die or be defeated as part of the story, why not put in a cutscene instead of a wasted boss fight? Why not skip the boss fight entirely if you’re not even supposed to fight the guy anyway?

One example I know is right at the beginning of Mega Man X, where the first boss Vile appears in a Ride Armor and can’t be defeated and you eventually get caught by his Stun Beam only to be rescued by Zero. What’s the point? You may as well have put a cutscene there. In another variation of this trope, the final boss of Zone of the Enders, Anubis, cannot be killed and you’re not meant to fight him, but you’re actually not supposed to die against him either. You’re supposed to get away from him for long enough until the game decides to end the fight. Again, you may as well have put a cutscene there. It’d be a sequel hook, sure, but it’s better than having a boss fight you’re not supposed to fight.

I also feel the need to mention that some games have bosses you can defeat but you’re technically supposed to die against anyway. In the Ninja Gaiden reboot, early on you fight a fiend named Doku. It is possible to defeat Doku at this point in the game, but if you die while facing him, the game’s story continues anyway, just that if you do somehow beat him you can unlock the next difficulty without beating the game first. But again, if Ryu dies anyway (and somehow comes back to life later on), what’s the point of all that. Just place a cutscene there.

4. No Retry

This cliche is as old as the days of the NES, but it continues in some forms in games after that era. This is where if you die in a game, and you get a game over, you don’t get to continue immediately where you left off. Instead you either get sent back to the beginning of a level or the game, or get sent back to the main or start-up menu forcing you to load the game all over again. Plenty of old NES games utilize this cliche in the form of giving you no continues (like Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, Milon’s Secret Castle, City Connection, Zelda II, Super Mario Bros. etc.) though even after the NES era many role-playing games force you to load the game from the main menu and start again from the spot you last saved in. In modern games the lack of a retry is particularly baffling because the data is already in the game, so why not just let me pick up where I left off immediately after I die rather than force me to sit through a Game Over screen only to force me to either the beginning of the level or the start up screen and have me load the game again!?

The only Final Fantasy game I’ve played (not counting the MMO titles) that let you retry immediately was Final Fantasy XIII. Not to mention, traditionally in the Dynasty Warriors games if you die or fail the mission, you get sent back to the main menu and have load the game and continue from there. In the Ninja Gaiden reboot, the game does let you continue from the game over screen, but rather than continue you from directly where you left off, it continues you from the spot where you last directly saved your game. This means that if you die before the first save point in the game you go back to the beginning and lose all the items you got, and if you die on the next chapter without saving in it, you get sent back to where you last saved in the previous chapter and have to do whatever you had to do in it again, which is messed because you should be able to retry where you left off (like in the Devil May Cry where you save after each mission and if you die and continue you start round about where you left off). Come to think of it, I might as well mention that save points are pretty bad alternative to the retry feature in general, especially in action games.

3. When Action Games Have Too Much Puzzles and Exploration

One complaint I have towards modern action games is that there is often a large gap of exploration or puzzle-solving between combat sections. Traditionally in action games the primary emphasis is on combat rather than exploration and puzzle-solving, the way it should be. Of course I do like exploration, and a healthy dose of exploration is a good thing in action games (or more or less action-adventure games), but I’m a guy who likes straightforward action if it’s an action game. I don’t like it when action games have less combat and more puzzle-solving and more time spent figuring out where to go when it should really be straightforward, especially when they compensate by making each fight with an enemy long and tedious.

It’s not like this in older action games where you run through the stage, kill enemies, and get to the boss and goal, although to be fair back in those days many action games were also side-scrollers, probably with a fair share of platforming involved depending on what game you played. But nowadays in 3D hack and slash games except the Dynasty Warriors franchise, it feels more like you beat up two or three enemies for 5 minutes or so and then spend time exploring, looking for the way to go, or solving some puzzles. The biggest example I can think of is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (and it’s even worse because the game renders its own puzzles almost pointless because it lets you skip them, albeit at the cost of not gaining experience points). Not only that, but Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2 often have a lot of walking around and puzzles before any of the fighting, and this appears to be stronger in Lords of Shadow 2 (and they also seem to overuse quick time events in boss fights). Come to think of it, this seems to happen in less linear games these days. As long as we’re comparing NES action games to contemporary action games, I’m sure the Ninja Gaiden reboot is still faster than many modern action games, but it still has you looking for items and solving puzzles while killing things. Same with Devil May Cry (though it feels like Dante isn’t as fast as Ryu), in the same stages you’re killing enemies, you’re also solving puzzles (though I must admit, Devil May Cry’s puzzles usually aren’t long). In the Sonic Adventure games on the other hand, heavy fast action and treasure hunting exploration are split into separate sections, though Sonic games in general are straightfoward action (albeit with platforming).

2. DLC Endings

Imagine this: you’re playing a game all the way to what seems like the last stretch of the game, you get to what you think is the final part of the game, only for the game to tell you that you have to download the rest of the story. It infuriates me because not only does the game block me from seeing the end of the game’s story, it has the nerve to make me download that part of the game’s story, charging me extra money for it no less. I already paid for the damn game, why should I pay to see the rest of the game! The game where I have experienced this directly in is Asura’s Wrath, where you have to pay to download the true ending to the game, and on top of that you have to get have S ranks in the game and then beat the last chapter before the true end chapters to unlock that part.

In the game’s defense though, at least it was good content for a great game.

Other examples may include Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, where the true ending to the game which leads to the sequel had to be downloaded in the form of two extra chapters, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 where the secret true ending had to be bought and downloaded. Seriously, why do that? Why make the player pay for the true ending of the game? Traditionally in games you had to follow specific steps to unlock the true ending, but this was within the game itself. You didn’t have to download the content from outside the game. You shouldn’t have to do that!

And the cliche/trope/trend I hate most is…

1. Escort/Defense/Rescue Missions

I’m very confident that I’m not the only person who hates these kinds of missions. You know, the kind where you have to rescue a character, bring them to a specific point, or defend someone from getting killed. Why do I bundle them together in this list? Because they’re almost the same kind of mission and annoy me in the same way. These missions always drop the empowerment factor for me because where I would normally go guns blazing through a stage by myself and only having to worry about my own survival, I would then feel chained because I have to worry about someone else’s survival because that other person does the mission is fails and I have to do it over again. And that’s not all, very often the person I have to escort or defend I really don’t feel like helping that person, especially when that person is either an idiot, a character I don’t care about anyway, and they often have bad AI.

There’s plenty of games out there that have some kind of escort or rescue mission out there (Resident Evil 4 being a famous example). One of the worst I’ve experienced is the escort mission in Catherine, in which you have to climb to the top of one of the Nightmare stages with Katherine following you. Catherine itself is already hard and often frustrating, but when you have a character you have to escort who just wonders away from you nearly all the time, then that just makes what is already a frustrating and difficult scenario even more frustrating and difficult for the wrong reasons. And in Zone of the Enders 2: The Second Runner, you have two characters in separate occasions, and the worst of these is when you have to airlift Ken/Ardject to safety. When you’re not airlifting her to safety, she does nothing but stand there and take damage from enemies that you have to scramble to attack, which makes no sense since she is clearly capable of combat (you fought her as the first boss).

Now in terms of rescue or defense missions I’ve experienced, Devil Survivor sometimes has you rescuing bystanders from enemy demons by leading them to an exit point, but these bystanders are almost cannon fodder and they can’t defend themselves, and depending on the attack patterns of the demons, they are probably going to die fast. And in general it’s not really worth it, I barely feel like doing any of it. And going back to Zone of the Enders, both Zone of the Enders and its sequels have missions where you a rescue a city from a barrage of attacks, and the enemy always causes some casualities and top of that you are always going to destroy some buildings while dispatching enemies, and afterwards the game ranks your performance on these missions. To me that feels pretty useless. In the first Zone of the Enders you have to rescue this girl who is trapped in a building, but she really doesn’t do or mean that much. But the worst defense/rescue mission in those games is in Zone of the Enders 2’s third and final encounter with Nephtis where she possesses Ardjet and so you have to defeat Nephtis without directly attacking Ardjet. To do this you have to parry her attacks until she is susceptible to the anti-viral program, but she also sends projectiles at you that you can shoot down which also risks damaging Ardjet, and to top it off, she drains half of Ardjet’s life if you don’t stop her (which will mean hitting her).

The only tolerable escort missions I’ve played in a game were from Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, mainly because (1) the character doesn’t wonder away from you all the time, (2) the character actually helps you in battles, (3) you and the other character heal after every battle so there’s almost no need to worry about resource management.

And that’s the end of that. I might just post another countdown, but most likely not for a good while. It doesn’t help that this has been the longest post I’ve ever written.

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2 responses to “Top 10 cliches, tropes, and trends I hate in video games

  1. #10 Seems kind of unnecessary to complain about this seeing as how it almost never has any effect on the gameplay and really doesn’t create any problems.
    #9 I have to disagree here. Even with lines that are constantly repeated, there is a lot more life added to the game when you can hear some things. Granted it becomes a problem if they are repeated too rapidly and annoyingly (a lot of Sonic games come to mind) but in general these don’t seem like much of a problem.
    #8 While I do agree with this, I do not like the “games shouldn’t be realistic” argument. In some cases, having limited inventory space can provide an element of strategy that would be otherwise absent if you were just allowed to have unlimited items. However, breakable weapons I agree with wholeheartedly as I have never seen them done in a way that I felt added to the game.
    #7 Can’t agree here either. Games are not about powering your way through everything. The point of temporarily losing powers is to make you change up your strategy in a way that makes you approach something differently than you would if you had them and change things up. Having them at the beginning is also supposed to be a narrative focus of telling the story and progressing its plot through the gameplay mechanics.
    #6 I will just say that I strongly dislike the “video games are not movies so they shouldn’t be anything like movies” argument. There is not a set rule that all video games need to abide by and there is nothing wrong with a game attempting to merge video games and cinematic styles. Arguments like this basically imply that the entire visual novel genre sucks because of the lack of gameplay. Art is art regardless of what medium it is told through and just because something could have worked as another medium does not mean that it has to have been in that medium nor does it mean that there is any less artistic merit to it. Also the only other complaint that was applied here was towards cutscenes being unskipable which is a problem but does not seem nearly as common nowadays.
    #5 The point of this is an attempt to advance the narrative through the gameplay itself rather than through a cutscene. Doing so creates a greater sense of immersion and a greater sense of powerlessness, which gives the scene an atmosphere that would be a lot less interesting if told through a cutscene.
    #4 I agree. There is no excuse for this unless the game is deliberately designed to be punishing (IE Dark Souls)and require a greater amount of tension and risk (IE Fire Emblem with party members dying permanently).
    #3 Have to disagree again. It is important to have a balance between action and puzzles, and ultimately focusing on just one gameplay style is basically the game design equivalent to putting your eggs in one basket, and it could end up making it much easier for the game to become repetitive.
    #2 Agreed completely. I don’t even know how anyone could defend this.
    #1 While I do agree that escort missions never really added that much to the game and are more of a hindrance, I don’t feel as though they are the worst thing a game could have and don’t necessarily think they are as bad as they are made out to be. Yeah games would be better off without them but they never really killed a game for me. Personally I think they are worthy of being on the list but not the number 1 spot.

    • #10 I did say it was a minor thing, but still it doesn’t make sense. Seriously, give me a reason why you can’t learn the skills? And in games in general it just means more resource management for things that you should be able to learn without having to exchange any kind of currency.
      #9 Those one-liners do not add life to the games at all. They’re ineffective and only prove to be annoying. I think you’re being too general when analysing the cliche. The problem is mainly with 3D fighting games that have one-liners, and maybe any game that has your character cast the spells. It’s almost never particularly nice to hear and only ever gets repetitive.
      #8 I didn’t say “games shouldn’t be realistic”. You’ve twisted my original words here. I said games shouldn’t be TOO realistic. Aren’t you playing video games because they’re taking you into an environment that’s not real life? I don’t care if that’s for story reasons or not, the fact is the player is taken out of real life for a while, ideally. Besides, these limitations are generally arbitrary and exist solely to limit the game.
      #7 The problem is that it’s usually not a temporary loss of powers that occurs in the middle of the story, or even as an optional quest. It happens after the beginning of the game and it’s mandated by the story. I know it’s not technically permanent since you eventually get them back anyway, but it’s just a stupid and even cruel idea giving the gamer a sense of power and then taking it away from the gamer. You don’t make the game harder by taking away all your powers. Besides, what’s wrong with games that make you feel powerful, or games that let you mow down enemies, let alone mooks? They can still be frustrating without all that nonsense.
      #6 You clearly don’t understand how bad the over-mingling of cinematic elements with video games can get. Especially in this decade, I feel that video games are dangerously close to becoming like Hollywood, and the industry is stagnating trying to make blockbuster games that are basically the same thing as each other. Is that what you want?
      #5 You honestly think they enhance immersion? They do not. Every time I encounter a boss I can’t defeat I don’t think I’m immersed into the story. I think about surviving a hopeless battle which is not fun at all. And in Anubis’ case, what was the point of making that the final boss? Why would you want to feel powerless in a game?
      #3 Why do I care about puzzles and over-long gaps of exploration between combat instances in games where combat is the emphasis. Keep in mind that in this cliche I refer to ACTION games, not games that are strictly ADVENTURE games (not action-adventure), I mean action games, where action is the primary emphasis of the games.
      #1 True, they’ve never fully killed a game for me either (I still enjoyed Catherine for instance), but the escort missions themselves have never been enjoyable, at all.

      I can honestly tell that we are just different types of gamers. I honestly prefer games that are more straightforward in terms of gameplay but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting about it, and I play games for fun, sometimes story enters into it but mainly fun, the fun that casual games don’t seem to offer. You obviously prefer different kinds of games for different reasons.

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