I go back and forth on whether or not I like Achievements/Trophies/equivalents. Sometimes I like them. In Diablo III, for example, they became an addictive metagame once you’d ploughed your way through the main (rather predictable and marginally disappointing) story. In World of Warcraft, they provide a wide variety of things to do that reward you with tangible things with which to outfit your character. In The Secret World, they’re a handy way of tracking what you have and haven’t done.
But in other cases — typically in story-heavy games — they just make the sense of ludonarrative dissonance even more pronounced than it needs to be. The most egregious example I can think of was Oblivion, in which I raced through the various Guild questlines in order to get all the achievements, then the Shivering Isles expansion, then the main quest. By the end, I had all Oblivion’s achievements, but had completely lost all sense of that thing that made The Elder Scrolls series special — that sense of you being a character and forging your own path in the world as if you “lived” there. Instead, all I had done was follow a checklist. It ruined it. And it soured me on Skyrim somewhat. (Well, that and the realisation that Bethesda RPGs have great worlds but some of the worst characters and storytelling in all of gaming. But that’s another matter altogether.)
At the moment, I’m playing Yakuza 3. The joy of the Yakuza series is, like its spiritual predecessor Shenmue, exploration and discovery giving you a sense of immersion in the game world. What’s down this side alley? Oh, it’s an arcade! I wonder if I can play the arcade machine? Oh, I can! That’s kinda cool. I wonder if the crane game works? Yes it does! Awesome! Oh, hey, there’s an irritable-looking lady, I wonder what’s wrong with her? Oh, she’s had her bag snatched… etc. etc.
Since Yakuza 2, the series has had a “completion” menu that taunts players with how many sidequests they’ve completed, how many cabaret girls they’ve romanced and what foods they’ve eaten in restaurants. After 40 hours of Yakuza 2, I had beaten the main plot but apparently only “beaten” 33% of the game. I didn’t feel short-changed, as a lot of the stuff I’d missed was simply eating as much food as possible and playing some minigames that, while fun, weren’t the reason I was playing Yakuza.
Yakuza 3 compounds this problem with a Trophy list. Not only do you have a “completion” menu now, but you also have an actual checklist of Things to Do. I wouldn’t mind so much if these trophies simply tracked your progress through the game, but when they demand that you spend time playing indecipherable Japanese board, dice and card games in order to score some sort of virtual trophy, that pulls me right out of the experience. It puts me in a quandary while I’m playing — “should I go and do this stuff I don’t really enjoy just to get a trophy?”
The answer, of course, is “no”. There is no sense in playing a game if it’s not enjoyable — unless, of course, it’s something like Pathologic, in which case its sole reason for being is to be less than enjoyable — but I continually see people who insist on “Platinuming” or “1000Ging” their games and feeling like they’ve short-changed themselves if they don’t. That’s fair enough, and of course it’s their call if they choose to do that, but the fact is that in most cases, it becomes abundantly clear that these people are not having any fun. By following these arbitrary checklists, they are voluntarily sucking the fun out of a game that might have been a favourite.
“Oh, but chasing the trophy list is fun in itself,” you might say. And for some people it might be. But for the trophy whores I follow online — who, for all I know, could be in the minority, I’ll admit — pretty much every single one refers to their relentless pursuit of Platinum/1000G as “work”, a “slog”, a “grind”, and they express relief rather than joy when it’s done. That, to me, is just bizarre. Why continue doing something long after it has ceased to be fun in the pursuit of something intangible that, in most cases, doesn’t benefit your in-game experience at all? Are we so vain that we need to brag about the fact that we started ten fights in first-person mode (an actual achievement in Yakuza 3) or that we spent three hours mastering an ultimately-irrelevant darts minigame just so that we could get a “hat trick” (another actual Yakuza 3 achievement)?
Apparently we are. I’m not judging you if you’re one of those people who likes (if that’s the right word) chasing Platinum trophies. I’m saying that I find it completely unfathomable. I have no desire to grind my way through abject tedium purely so I can get a differently-coloured virtual trophy that no-one will look at or care about. I don’t beat a game, look at that trophy list and feel I’ve not had my money’s worth if I haven’t got 100% of the game’s trophies. I beat a game, roll the credits and then, in most cases, move on to any one of the bajillion other titles waiting on my Pile of Shame — which, I have to admit, has only got bigger during the recent Steam summer sale.
It’s easy enough to ignore Achievements and Trophies, I guess, and they certainly don’t hurt anyone. But I kind of resent the “torn” feeling they give me when playing a title like Yakuza 3. I’d much rather they not be there at all than pull me out of the experience by making me wonder whether or not I should be seeking out locker keys, cabaret girls, karaoke bars, dartboards… you get the idea.
My favourite implementation of achievements in a narrative-based game? Deadly Premonition, which rewarded you with one achievement per completed chapter, one for completing 100% of its sidequests and one for completing it on each difficulty level. That’s how it’s done. I don’t need any more incentive than that. Build your reward structure into the game and build the achievements around that — don’t give me a list of arbitrary objectives that don’t actually improve my game experience at all.
Achievement whores, I salute you. I’m a patient sort of guy in most cases, but you guys must be like saints.