List by Matt S.
I know that my taste in games can be somewhat different to what people in the “mainstream” like to play. And I’m quite comfortable with that. I can only be me, and I would find life quite boring if I agreed with the mainstream on everything.
There have been times however where my view on a game has been wildly, totally different to that of the overwhelming bulk of game critics – and indeed the community. Games I’ve absolutely loved that were almost universally panned otherwise. So for a bit of fun this week I thought I’d look at the games that have a Metacritic average of 65 or lower (in this industry surely a sign of an unpopular game), that I’ve either given a glowing review to, or have continued to love to this day. Are any of these games favourites of yours despite the critical reception they got? Are there any others that you can think of? Let us know in the comments!
We’ll start with a game that I found to be so utterly happy that I honestly think that anyone who didn’t enjoy the game doesn’t have a soul. Birthdays: The Beginning is not a “game” in the sense that it has win/lose states, or even really a point, but coming from Mr. Harvest Moon himself, this can hardly be a surprise. Instead, it’s a simple toybox of evolution, where you manipulate the environment around you to cause species to spring into existence. And those critters, made in the most adorable claymation art style, just melt the heart.
Nintendo Pocket Football Club
This game was, to the best of my knowledge, never released in America. It would seem that Nintendo knew how niche it would be, and decided to limit it to the markets with the most fanatical football fans. And that’s a pity, because while this game is niche, it is by far my most played Nintendo 3DS game ever. It’s a serious football management game (you don’t control matches, just training, trades, and so on), with the cutest character graphics you’ll ever see in a sporting game. It might not sound like a mix that should work, but it really, really does.
Gal*Gun Double Peace
This is a game that people dismiss without playing it, because, of course, it has a “pervy” concept, so therefore it must be a game exclusively for “perverts.” Putting aside that hypocrisy (those same people then go and play FPSers and other hyperviolent games because of course that’s perfectly wholesome content), Gal*Gun is actually quite subversive, and actually satirises that which people attribute to it. But you’d have to play the game to understand that first, and this is a game where it’s downright safe to criticise without doing that.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters had a couple of issues going against it. It was a visual novel, for one, which, unless it’s Steins;Gate means it’s going to instantly lose a few points of the typical review score. It’s also got a very odd combat system, which looks and plays like people moving pieces around an impromptu board game, drawn on grid paper. The Dungeons & Dragons nerd in me had a hell of a time with this, but it’s the kind of gameplay system that’s more about imagination than depiction, and those are always polarising experiences.
My rating for the game: 4/5
This is a far, far smarter game than almost anyone gave it credit for. It’s a game about (literally) having children to throw into battle for the good of humanity, and in that way it’s actually a satire and commentary on the pressures that Japanese culture is trying to put on their young to produce children and bolster a collapsing birth rate (and with that, economy). But of course all the critics saw was a fanservicey JRPG with dating sim elements.
My rating for the game: I didn’t review it, but I would have scored it 4.5/5
The newest game in this list (and, actually, the game that made me think to write it), Valkyria: Revolution is nothing short of a masterpiece. It has one of the most complex, most nuanced, and most meaningful anti-war narratives we’ve seen in quite some time, but because it was tackling issues that we’re not encouraged to think about in the west, is was instead derided for, well, basically not being Valkyria Chronicles. Given close to 100 per cent of games made aren’t Valkyria Chronicles, it’s hard to shake the feeling that perhaps people were leveling an unreasonable expectation on this game.
My rating for the game: 4.5/5 stars
Omega Quintet was Compile Heart’s first outing on the PlayStation 4, and it was roundly dismissed for all the reasons that Compile Heart games are usually criticised; the fanservice, the combat system, the relatively primitive art style. And yet, when I was playing the game I noticed none of that. Instead what I saw was brilliantly funny characters, a really interesting and unique combat system, and simple, but clever and visually pleasing art. It was after this game was released that I really started to shift away from playing my PlayStation 3.
The Caligula Effect
In fairness to the game critics on this one, The Caligula Effect was released at entirely the wrong time, given it canvasses so many of the same core themes as Persona 5, but is of course a game made with a fraction of that budget. What’s really amusing is that it’s the same publisher in the west that pushed out both games; some really poor timing there. Anyhow, The Caligula Effect is actually a very sharp, smart JRPG, with a really interesting combat system and gorgeous music. If only people weren’t comparing it to one of the genre’s all-time greats.
My rating for the game: 4.5/5
Dark Rose Valkyrie
The second Compile Heart game on my little list, Dark Rose Valkyrie was criticised for basically the same set of reasons that Omega Quintet was, and yet I loved it for much the same reason that I loved Omega Quintet. I often wonder if critics go into these games with the right frame of mind, or they go in expecting something like Final Fantasy and then see red and explode when instead they get panties and harems. Oh well. I love you, Compile Heart.
Criminal Girls: Invite Only
This game does raise some interesting questions about the reviews process; should a critic focus on the presentation elements (this one looks like an RPG Maker game), or should the unique gameplay and narrative hold weight. And, speaking of that narrative – if a developer is building a game to reference and pay homage to a specific genre (in this case, the prison exploitation films of the 80s), do you criticise it for not being a more pleasant game? I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here, but I loved both Criminal Girls games, and most other critics did not.
– Matt S.
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