Feels Like the First Time – A Look at Video Game Replayability

I’ve been toiling around at the bottom of a particular gaming rabbit hole recently. Thanks to some of my favorite games of generations past, Ikaruga, Final Fantasy VII, and Resident Evil 4 being re-released on Steam, my time has been largely spent revisiting these classics. As it happens, I’m also eyeballing some of my more recent favorites such as Dark Souls, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Far Cry 2 as possible replay options if/when I get the time.

This march down memory lane has gotten me thinking though about what it is specifically that goes into making something replayable. How much of it is the game, and how much is down to the player him/herself? The truth is it’s something I’d never really thought about before, but there’s no time like the present. Here are some reasons why I’m inclined to go back and replay a particular game, followed by some thoughts about why I’m not.

Snake Tuxedo

Replaying for Achievements, Costumes, New Game Modes

If you’re the kind of person who collects things, then these types of games are for you. Whether it’s the appeal of increased or unique challenges being unlocked in titles like DmC or Dead Space 2, or being able to stop a nuclear launch dressed in a tuxedo, there’s a combination of rediscovery and bragging rights that is at play here. I loved DmC for example, but the goodies that it has gated are contingent on you being able to beat the game on higher difficulties. I’m enough of a man to admit that while I loved that game, there is no way in hell I will ever beat that game on anything beyond Normal.

Some of the most worthwhile replayable games in this category for me are the Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid games. With the former, what I love is that your upgraded weapons and equipment carry over to a new game. Being able to just plow through waves of enemies makes these games feel like entirely new experiences, turning a tense horror game into a balls-out action extravaganza. With the latter, acquiring stealth camouflage gives you the hilarious thrill of being able to troll enemy soldiers.

Final Fantasy VIII Squall

I’ll never be 18 again in real life, but in Final Fantasy VIII I can be 18 forever.

Replaying for Story

Finding a video game with a great story is a rare thing indeed. When one of them comes along, it’s a real joy to be able to go back and experience it again. It’s essentially the same thing as rereading an old book every year. I feel compelled to read Lord of the Rings every summer, and I periodically love playing some of my favorite game stories. I just finished a full replay of the Mass Effect trilogy, and I’m making my way through Final Fantasy VII and VIII now that they’re on Steam. Sure, it’s important to make sure I’m playing new stuff and keeping up with the curve, but there is definitely some comfort in revisiting something familiar.

Replaying for Gameplay and Variety

One hallmark of modern video games is that they are about more than just memorizing a single pattern or path. Nowadays, there is the opportunity for players to engage with a game in a completely different way in a new playthrough. Sometimes it manifests in the gameplay, such as in Splinter Cell or Deus Ex. You can play these games aggressively, stealthily, or a combination of the two. Depending on how you do it, there are complete areas and encounters that you may or may not have. I’ve played Deus Ex: Human Revolution to completion numerous times, and there are still areas I am discovering by playing it a little bit differently.

Farewell, goodbye, auf wiedersehen,...

Farewell, goodbye, auf wiedersehen,…

What About Those ‘One-and-Done’ Games?

And then, there are the games we play through once, perhaps even love it, but then uninstall it or put it away forever. That’s not any commentary about the quality of those titles, nor is it about my enjoyment of them. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed II, but the minute they ended I couldn’t uninstall them fast enough. I’m certainly glad to have experienced those worlds, but they left me with absolutely no desire to look back on them.

So what is it about these games that makes me not want to revisit them? The Elder Scrolls games allow you to play as a number of types of characters, although combat mechanics are not strong enough to support multiple quests. Assassin’s Creed titles have a story arc I personally find fascinating, but the sheer repetition of tasks throughout drains my patience for wanting to experience it more than once. I suppose one thread that runs through those ‘one and done’ games is that they make playing feel like an obligation rather than something to relish.

As I fast approach the conclusion of Resident Evil 4 HD, it’s time to turn my attention towards some of new games that for some reason are all coming out this month. That’s always fun and it never ceases to be exciting seeing new ideas come to fruition, but I’d never give up my ‘comfort games’ for anything.

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