Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's the Time? It's Time to Get Chill!

So, I had a pretty Chill day today.  And I was thinking, "Say, there's a lot of games out there that you play when you just wanna chill out and relax", so, especially since I played one of those all day, I figured what better to do a post about than them?  Re-lyric the above song in your head at your leisure, of course, or feel free to skip it entirely.  I just always say that when it is time to Chill.

Harvest Moon, as a series, is pretty much the quintessential "Chill" game.  There's as much or as little depth to it as you want there to be, and, with most of the games (the really non-narrative ones, at least, which are the ones that count) it's all up to you on what you want to do.  The basic goal is pretty clear, of course.  Usually, the game wants you to be the ultimate farmer, build up your farm, clear your lands, raise crops and livestock, that sort of thing, but if you don't?  No real immediate consequences.  Say ore mining and hitting on the Mayor's daughter is more your thing.  Well, this is a thing you can do.

Bust out your fishing rod (Once you've acquired it from somewhere or someone) and spend all day fishing if you want.  Sell the fish, cook 'em, eat 'em or give them to someone who may or may not appreciate the gesture, it's all fair game.  While there are always little bits of story intermingled here and there (from the bare-bones "Rival Events", to oftentimes more driving things, more interaction with the people around town to find out something they need or want, where you can then give it to them or decide against it), the broadest strokes of the story are the ones you make for yourself.

It's very much a game series that you play in your head more than not, and that's pretty much the true beauty to it.  It's not overcomplicated at all, unless you make it that way, but even then it's easy enough to just step back, relax, and let it run.  And while they're not always the games you want to play, they'll always be there when you do, ready to let you start right back where you left off, or all over again, since sometimes going back to scratch is just as fun as anything else.

Animal Crossing is another of these series, and one that I never really got exposed to until way too late into it.  As I've said time and time before, I completely skipped the Game Cube, and Animal Crossing and the Skies of Arcadia remake are pretty much the two main games that bring me close to regretting it.  Had I had Animal Crossing back when it was new, back when it was on Game Cube, I likely would have fell in love with it, as I have with the Harvest Moon series.

And while I speak as if I don't love the series, I sort of have to; since my only real dip into it is with the DS version, which most speak of with grumbles, as well as the Wii version (which I also own but have never really played.)  On top of those two games being, by-and-large, the same game, they try too hard, but not enough, to be the Game Cube version, or so I'm told.  And through it all, there's just something missing, especially when you compare it to the Harvest Moon games in levels of 'Chill-i-tude'.  My word.

If I had to guess, I would suggest that the trademark lack of romance is part of that; not that you'd want to romance anything in Animal Crossing, of course.  Being the sole human in a town of humanoid animals is the thing of nightmares for most of us, but it never gets that bad, thankfully.  But it's something that I notice in the more narrative Harvest Moons as well, when you can't actually romance anybody.  There's no real feel of relationship building in those games, and while there is some in Animal Crossing, in that you can tell who are your friends and who are not so much, that's about it.

But that might not be the whole of it.  To say that Animal Crossing as a series isn't that great would be a lie, of course.  It's a good series on its own, and definitely fulfills the Chill criteria, as you can basically do whatever you wish without any real repercussions.  I just think that it needs a little something, and hopefully Animal Crossing 3DS does a little to add to the mix, rather than continuing down the Pokemon path of keeping the same things that hamper it while making it shinier and adding superfluous things.  Will I neglect to buy AC 3DS if it doesn't add much?  Probably not.  But I can dream.

What would an article about games that let you do, essentially, whatever you want be without a mention of The Sims series?  Unquestioningly the most popular franchise in what I would call the "Chill" series of games, or the Chill genre, millions of people have played at least one Sims game and understood the allure of governing the lives of a virtual family, sometimes loosely, sometimes strictly and for their own good, and sometimes out of pure sadism.  Yes, anyone who says they've played the Sims for an extended period of time and claims that they didn't kill one of them is a liar of the highest caliber. 

The game could not likely be any easier.  You can build a house for your sims or just buy/download a pre-built one for them to live in and then, well, facilitate their living for however long or short you would like to.  You can make your sims rise to the tops of their chosen professions, or have them wallow in their own filth while the repossession people come and slowly take everything they have to pay for the bills.  With the expansions comes even more options for careers or side activities and the mod options allow for limitless creation thanks to the power of the internet.

Of course, The Sims doesn't have the same lack of relationship issue that Animal Crossing has and, if anything, provides more there than any other game on the market.  You can have one of your sims be, quite simply, a pimp or pimpette of the highest order, with every eligible bachelor or bachelorette on speed-dial, ready to head over for a little hot tub fun at the press of a button.

If anything, though, I'd say it's the complete freedom of The Sims that creates, eventually, a complete lack of focus when playing it, and you eventually stop playing it, so much as you're stalling to try and figure out what you want to happen next.  Sure, your main sim is a CEO now, but, well, now what?  Maybe a kid?  But before a kid, you should probably have him with someone, but who?  All those people, all those options, which one will be around for your main sim's son and/or daughter while he's off at work?  Or maybe he could just quit and start another career?  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

Still, any game in these series will likely find a way to eat straight hours of your life, should you let it, and there's absolutely nothing wrong in doing so.  Sometimes you just need to, even, to remind yourself that games aren't always about the goal, and sometimes just about the journey and the experiences you can have along the way.

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