Gungnir is a Japanese tactics-RPG, and I like tactics-RPGs, so if I start to sound a little harsh understand that it’s not because I disliked the game. Gungnir tasted fine and would make for a great meal. That being said, I came across a series of nitpicks that all point back to one thing: you’re trying to tell me too much.
Gungnir has a lot of beautifully rendered art, a detailed story, an intricately designed user interface, and deep, thoughtful mechanics. These are all great things; all these things craft a great game. Yet, I feel Gungnir goes a little overboard with the presentation, like using a bit too much salt on your steak and drowning out the other seasonings. Everything is detailed-oriented, so much so that I could get lost in the details. This is at its worst in the user interface where text is tiny and floods the screen. Options and information are everywhere. This is generally great, particularly for a tactics game, until it becomes too much to handle – there’s too much information here that’s not immediately relevant. The screen ends up looking cluttered so it’s tough to find the information that you need. There’s data noise happening.
Almost every screen shows the current time and calendar date, looking something like MIRDZ 10.983 16:26. At the top of the screen is the current location rendered in fanciful text. When a character portrait is revealed to speak, the words NOW TALKING are flashed across frame on a scrolling marquee, along with the character’s name, and of course the dialogue text inside of a text balloon. If multiple characters are in on the conversation, they stack on top of one another. If this conversation occurs in battle, all of these display elements are on top of the battlefield, still be rendered beautifully in the background. Fanciful text from the last actions may still be layered amongst these features as well. It’s a lot to look at – and not all of it is needed. Why do I need a marquee declaring NOW TALKING when a character appears to speak? Why do I constantly need to know my location and the date?
The game treats exposition the same way. After one scene of characters speaking, for example, the game pulled out to a world map and a narrator repeated all of the exposition that had just been revealed by the characters in the previous scene. Yes, this happened, and not only once. It’s too much info and it makes everything feel bloated.
A complex game does not necessarily require a complex UI. Detail, exquisite graphics deserve a screen to themselves, not stacked upon one another like a cluttered desk. This may be even more important if you have complex systems in your game. Present the information in clear, concise chunks so that the player can properly digest and adjust to your world. As an old archeoptryx once advised, Keep It Simple Stego!
Gungnir was developed by Sting and published by Atlus. For this post, I played for about 3 hours on the PSP.
This post was originally written and published by me on a former site on October 16, 2012.