Posted by: Chris | February 14, 2010

All’s Well That Starts Well?

A post asking for reader suggestions for games with great openings got me thinking.  All of the games they list: Bioshock, Half-Lifes 1&2, Metroid Prime, ALttP, Ico/Shadows of the Colossus, RE4, Uncharted 2, etc. all featured prominently on game of the decade lists (and best game evar lists for the those that came last decade).  How vital are strong openings to good games?  Is the first hour or so really that crucial or do we simply look back fondly at the openings of good games because of the quality they manifest later? Are there good games that have weak openings or weak games with well-executed openings?

The only thing I can think of right now are the Zelda games (and Okami) which succeed A Link to the Past, which all have beginnings that range from serviceable to down right awful.  The Ocarina of Time, still highest rated game on Game Rankings after all these years, has a quite mediocre opening area.  After an interesting opening cinematic, we are treated to the bland Koriko Village, which tries to introduce the story simultaneous to doing a Mario64-esque playground area and doesn’t really achieve either.



  1. Super Mario Galaxy isn’t anything special until you hit the first full galaxy.

    Some of the Guitar Hero / Rock Band titles have a lousy initial set of songs.

    There are lots of PC RPGs that have boring or simply bad starts…
    Morrowind and Oblivion are both fairly boring until you get a decent ways into the game (Oblivion because the first dungeon is much too long, and Morrowind because your character is so pathetically slow and weak initially).
    Baldur’s Gate 2 has a pretty pathetic prelude, and it isn’t until you get out into Athkatla proper that the game becomes worthwhile.
    Final Fantasy VII has an unskippable 2 minute long cutscene at the start, followed by a fairly boring initial sequence.

    For both I of the Dragon and Gorasul I found that the start of the game promised a lot of fun but found the actual game was incredibly disappointing (bug-filled and basically just more of the same, with many of the expected future features simply absent or crippled).
    Most of the criticism of Diablo, Diablo-2, and Diablo clones seems to be that they are repetitive – which implies to me that the first half-hour is interesting, and it’s only after that that people decide it’s simply not worth continuing. It is, admittedly, a matter of some disagreement. Similarly, most people who dislike Civilization games and other epic TBS gripe that it gets bogged down as your empire grows.
    Freelancer was an incredibly promising title in the initial system (to my eye, at least), which simply failed to deliver on it’s promise of an open-ended space trading/combat sim a la Elite. Still a passable game, but nothing great.

    A good opening is certainly a big help to a game, but not the be-all and end-all.

  2. Civ and other TBS games are a great example (though not exactly narrative games). I am always really excited about the game for about the first hour and then really can’t stand things unless I am still some small fry fighting the desperate fight for survival.

  3. […] are almost guaranteed to contain swathes where one’s interest lags.  Thus, strong openings tend to correlate with people’s judgments of good game.  What more, A Link to the Past ably demonstrates that […]

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