Gamespot and Atelier Meruru: Lack of Professionalism in Reviews

If you read video game reviews, no matter what the site or publication, you have read at least one you have disagreed with. Most of the time, these professional reviewers are not the ignorant fools that they get accused of being so often by commenters. Despite what many would like to believe, there are different opinions and priorities out there and the vast majority of professional reviewers are just that: professionals. However, sometimes a professional review is published that is so unabashedly unprofessional that it needs to be pointed out. If it was done to a game such as Gear of War, I wouldn’t need to point it out as the internet would be swarming with fanboys, but that is not the case here. Gamespot ran a review of Atelier Meruru, the most recent game of the long running Atelier series and finale of the Arland trilogy that consists of Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori. The review is by far the lowest score on Metacritic and is a really terrible review, not because of its score, but because of how it was written. Today, we are going to look at why this review is so poor and professional conduct in professional reviews.

Well at least it isn’t about Kane & Lynch this time.

Firstly, it is important to look at why professional reviews are so important that it is worth writing about them. Movie critics are worthless. They are a dime a dozen and all of the bad reviews in the world won’t stop a movie like Twilight from sweeping the box office. The reason for this is the sheer amount of reviewers and the cheap price of a ticket. The first of those reasons is why review aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes are so popular. The video game industry is another monster altogether. Games are expensive, and there is a comparatively closed group of professional review sites and magazines. Professional reviews are a major factor in many people’s decisions regarding game purchase. That fact gives these review sites quite a huge level of influence over the industry, but it also means they are held to a much higher standard than user reviews which are worthless (…Except for mine of course…).

Video games aren’t art my ass.

Every review ever written is biased. That is a simple fact as we can never fully remove ourselves from our own tastes and thought process. However, it is the job of professional reviewers to minimize that bias to a level that their review can be useful and informative to a wide range of readers. The fact of the matter is that these reviewers get paid to give a thorough impression of the game, and minimizing one’s biases is important to that end. Revelling in your own biases is the calling card of the user review and that is the last thing a reputable site wants.

Elevate yourselves above the common nerd

The major problem with the Atelier Meruru review is that it is clear from the very beginning that the reviewer has no interest whatsoever in JRPGs and is quite hostile about the fact he has to review the game. Immediately the use of the word “campaign” to describe the game’s story was extremely worrying. For those who don’t know, some games with heavy multiplayer focus (Mainly first person shooters and strategy games) use campaign to denote the story mode. This term applies only to these genres and not to singleplayer games where the “campaign” is actually the whole game.

Maybe the campaign comes with the special edition?

However, it isn’t simply the lingo that shows the reviewer’s distain for the genre. Atelier Meruru isn’t simply a JRPG, it belongs to the moe-inspired anime-style JRPG subgenre that includes a host of niche games, few of which are released in the west. All you really need to know about this is that the games have anime-style art, story, characters, and is full of incredible cuteness at every turn. Every review of the Atelier game series should be prefaced with the words “this game isn’t for everyone”. Nevertheless, it is important to realize the genre of the game you are reviewing and the conventions that come with it. This reviewer did not.

Read: Not for everyone

The chief complaint levied about the game was the cuteness, colour, and characters, all of which are actually great examples of the genre. However, it isn’t simply the fact that this bothered him that was unprofessional, but how he put it. Such as:

…it is impossible to enjoy the game as a complete experience because you see everything through the eyes of one of the most vapid gaming protagonists ever created, and do all of your adventuring in a world so sickeningly sweet that you should get screened for adult-onset diabetes the moment you put down the gamepad. 

Compare this with the far more professional IGN review, which was also one of the lowest on Metacritic:

Compared to Rorona and Totori before her, Meruru seems vapid and dispassionate. Rorona was trying to save her master’s workshop from being shut down, and Totori was learning alchemy in order to become a licensed adventurer and search for her lost Mother. Meruru wants to become an alchemist because… uh… she’s bored? 

It is the same complaint about the character with each reviewer putting a joke in, but the IGN review did so in a credible and accurate way. You see, internet, the problem isn’t the low score, but with the way it was presented.

This is about as angry as Meruru gets

This of course raises the question of who should do certain reviews. Should only a fan review a genre, or should anyone be able to? Is there a level of knowledge that should be required before someone is qualified to review a game, or is playing it enough? Obviously, picking only fans is a bad idea as it is as skewed a viewpoint as having people who don’t like the genre review a game, but having someone with no experience or knowledge of the genre is also a dangerous path. I for one would feel completely incapable of reviewing a new Madden game. The reason for this is that I lack the background knowledge required to do the review justice. I could surely review the game itself, but I would be unable to explain why it was better than last years or highlight the new features. The Gamespot reviewer seems to have been in a similar position.

Is this the game where you try to kick the puck into the basket?

The Atelier Meruru review was seriously lacking content. It was clear that the reviewer had played the game, but that isn’t enough when the game is the final one of a trilogy. The review was entirely lacking of details concerning the many, many improvements over the game’s predecessors, with very little mentioned about the game’s plot, other than it is sweet. The reviewer was able to address the gameplay, but, once again was unable to connect it to previous games, which is damning for a trilogy capper. I’m not sure the reviewer can be blamed for his lack of knowledge on a niche game series, but perhaps Gamespot should have not reviewed the game at all like they did with Atelier Totori. What the reviewer can be blamed for, however, is the total focus on the colourful, peppy world and characters as a negative, and spending an inordinate amount of time on sexuality without actually making a point.

He has a point. He just didn’t make a good one.

The point I’m trying to make is that professional reviews are held up to a high standard. Reviewers aren’t perfect and they should be given the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes a lack of professionalism in a review is inexcusable. It isn’t about the score, but the information that is conveyed. If the review fails to provide the information that people need to decide if they want to purchase the game or not, then it is a bad review. And, if the reviewer seems to want to launch into a personal tirade against a genre because he or she doesn’t like it, they have done nothing more than write a user review, and should not be allowed to be published.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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