Kantai Collection: A review

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Kantai Collection: A review

Postby cxl » Sun Dec 06, 2015 11:18 am

‘ello, folks.

I’m cxl, and today I will be telling you (at (great) length) why Kantai Collection is a bad game.

Since this is going to be a rant, and since I probably could get away with typing “Fuck Kadokawa” several hundred times, but mostly since I love making my own life difficult and unpleasant (I work in IT and run EoP, after all), I’m going to preface this with two disclaimers.

The first is to head off any would-be burblings from the peanut gallery that “yeah kancolle sucks cuz boats is dumb lol” - My issue is solely with Kantai Collection as a videogame (a bad videogame). I actually rather like the concept behind it, namely, the personification of world war 2 era warships, and I think the character designs are, if perhaps a little on the fanservice-y side, generally interesting. As anything but a videogame, I think it’s successful. Even the anime, which was far too much of faffing around and not nearly enough fighting for something that aims to be based, even distantly and weirdly, around a global conflict, I thought was good, and don’t regret the time that was spent watching it.

The second is that this rant will be undertaken with full understanding of what kantai collection is meant to accomplish as a product - which is to convince people to spend money on ephemeral virtual goods, and also to serve as a marketing tool for a larger line of figures, manga, anime, etc.

So with that out of the way, let me get stuck in and, as usual, angry.

Kantai Collection is, as we are led to believe, a free-to-play browser-based game developed by Kadokawa Games and published by DMM. Now, while I will admit that it is indeed developed and published by those people, and that it is browser based, it is only free under a specific set of circumstances, and calling it a game is a bit like calling the act of hewing your own head off with a chainsaw, “shaving”.

I will address the last of those points first. See, were I ranting about any other game, like League of Legends, World of Warships, Call of Duty, or some other $word of $other_word combination, I would probably dispense with everything else and get right on to talking about the gameplay. You know gameplay, yes? That thing that games have?

Kantai Collection doesn’t have any.

It’s cleverly designed to hide that fact, of course, because the people who created it know full well what they are committing, and while the word “robbery” does come to mind, I’m not going to get quite so hyperbolic just yet (that I will save for when I talk about the in-game events, because fuck the in-game events.)

The act of “playing” Kantai Collection can be broken down into several distinct actions, that when summed up, amount to little more than trying to bias a needlessly fickle pRNG that is specifically designed to thwart your efforts. Many of these actions have been cunningly painted over with a hair-thin veneer of gamishness, so that they might fool people who don’t know any better, but let me break them down.

There is resource management, something which many games have, but here it amounts to nothing more than trading time for numbers. You get resources by starting counters and waiting for them to hit zero. The “game” calls this “expeditions” - but being that there is no input from the “player” beyond making sure they have the required tokens to initiate the counter, and no chance of failure assuming the correct inputs are given, this act of resource management cannot be called “play” in any sense of the word.

There is combat, something which by itself could constitute an entire game, and in many cases often does, but here it is governed entirely by that pRNG that I mentioned earlier. In theory, the “player” (and I’m going to keep putting quotes around that word) selects a fleet of boat people, and their equipment, and then they go out and fight stuff. Only everything that happens after clicking “go” is really little more than rolling a d20 and succeeding on a 15+. Unless the “player” is willing to deliberately thwart themselves by sacrificing boats for progress, any attempt at clearing a map can be scrubbed after so much as one successful hit by the enemy - and when I say “thwart” this is not motivated by some kind of sentimentality for pictures in a flash application, but rather by the simple statistical fact that, one having spent hours clicking through the prompts so as to keep rolling the dice, having levelled up boats, getting them dead and having to do all that over again is simply counterproductive.

The only winning move, really, is not to play, but at least global thermonuclear war might result in something interesting, instead of just getting to do it all over again.

There is even ostensibly some degree of fleet management hidden in this “game” somewhere. Having played it for around a year, I couldn’t find any, but maybe I just didn’t click through the same set of menus enough times. You can build ships (read: trade resources for more dice rolls, but given that resources are just a representation of time, you’re really just burning hours for uncertain outcomes), but given that you cannot actually exercise any degree of control over what you’re building, there’s nothing saying you won’t build the same thing that you just built eight more times. And since there is minimal utility to be gained from keeping multiple copies of the same boat around (outside of certain event related clauses, for the most part, but fuck events), and one only gets a limited number of “slots” - the idea here is mostly to fool the “player” into sinking hour after hour into this garbage only to inevitably run out of space (there are more boats to be had than slots available initially) and be forced to spend their actual money for further slots.

As a quick aside, let me stress just how badly this thing fails at its own premise - the notion that one should be able to collect (hey, it’s in the name of the product) the boat people (does this count as slavery simulator? One for the philosophers, there.) that one likes - whether this “like” takes the form of pathetic otaku-hood, or simply an appreciation of visual design and characterisation. There are, as mentioned, more boats than there are slots (initially - if I recall correctly, one can pay for sufficient slots to hold at least one of every boat); Kantai Collection has a large cast - well over a hundred unique characters. Some of them are only ever encountered as hostiles, however - I guess this is another small fuck you to add to the pile, even though I would trade the vast majority of available boats for a single enemy destroyer, given how much more interesting their designs are - and others are only available through events (and again, fuck events).

You might, if you’re very generous, or very brain-damaged, say that this is just an example of a game being explicity pay-to-win, and certainly there would be some basis to such an argument, but upon close inspection this falls apart when you realise that everything one can do in this “game” is predicated upon the cycling of expedition timers - meaning the only thing one can do with this “game” is to spend time on it. And therein lies probably the second most damning argument against Kantai Collection - that it is nothing more than a trap designed to gate “advancement” (what little there is) behind timers, so as to require regular (but not excessive) input from the “player” and thus keep the concept lurking somewhere in the back of the poor fool’s mind. The hope is probably that this makes one more likely to spend money on merchandise.

And then there are the in-game events. Also known as the mechanism by which this “game” subverts its own purpose. Also known as the reason I stopped playing. But most importantly, also known as the developers’ way of saying “fuck you” to their “playerbase”.

Let us revisit what Kantai Collection is, since we now have some further information upon which to base such a jugement. It isn’t a game, because there’s no gameplay. It’s basically timers and prompts. What is its purpose? Marketing, mostly. How does it accomplish this? By convincing lonely otaku to keep clicking through prompts for the promise of being able to digitally marry their preferred waifu character (The fanservice underscores this).
The closest thing that this “game” has to a victory condition would be to acquire every boat (after having paid for the right to do so via the purchase of slot expansions), and then to level them all up to the point of being able to marry them all like some kind of twisted seagoing polygamist (after having purchased the wedding rings with real money - they only give you one for free, much like a drug dealer might offer you some free meth).

One might therefore operate under the assumption - assuming of course that one was this stupid - that so long as you continue to overcome the pRNG and acquire more unique boat people, that one is making progress.

Enter events. Or more specifically, fuck you, the horse you rode in on, and the stableboy that feeds it its daily ration of hay.

On paper, the events are not quite as bad as I have probably made them out to be. They’re essentially timeboxed opportunities to access content long before (in theory, a year or more, and sometimes forever, because again, fuck you) anyone else. Nothing forces players to take part in events, but in theory they break the monotony and you might get some rare (and therefore prized) bauble out of doing so.

In order to take part in an event, there are some prerequisites, such as not being at the bottom of some scoreboard, and having a certain number of free slots (again, such a thirst for shekels), and the soft-prerequisites such as having a massive amount of resources stockpiled (which the event will probably take a large chunk out of - remember, the goal here is to keep the “players” chained to the... it’s really not a game, and I’m going to stop calling it that).

So in theory, the events are in keeping with the core principle of the application - you trade time for progress, since all you need to gain resources is to click through some prompts every few hours. One degree of seperation (i.e. another set of prompts, and a bit of our old friend the pRNG) over, and you trade your time for more tokens (i.e. boat people).

But then at some point the developers decided to say fuck you. Possibly consumer engagement with the brand was on a downward trend and they needed to hurridly throw out a smokescreen to distact their customers, but whatever the reason, they then proceeded to throw out the core premise of their application and make a majority of the most desirable tokens’ acquisition dependant on the pRNG.

Were I a charitable individual, I would assume that someone at Kadokawa has simply written a very good pRNG algorithm and likes to show it off. I’m not, so I won’t, and also fuck ‘em.

Going back a little in this rant, one needs to realise that Kantai Collection, sans events, operates on a “when, not if” principle of operation - given sufficient time, and with a small investment of money, one can acquire all the in-game content. As such, the implicit contract between company and customer is a simple one - give us time, we give you waifus.

Then they throw that out.

In other words, you can put in as much time as you like, bias the pRNG in the most optimal way, and still, in theory, leave with nothing. I know this because I did - despite more than a month of preparation, and focusing specifically on one goal, and spending every last digital token (i.e. resource) I had, I ended up with nothing more than I started. And 13 Zuikakus. Fuck Zuikaku.

Let me make this even simpler: You can “play” Kantai Collection and accomplish nothing.

Imagine going to a restaurant, ordering a sandwich, paying for your meal, and having a small but non-zero chance of getting nothing at all. This should help you realise the problem here. Now you might be tempted to say that one isn’t forced to pay for Kantai Collection at all - and this might be true, but A) time is money, and B) without paying, you are guaranteed to only ever see a specific portion of the application’s content.

Being incredibly generous, one might call Kantai Collection a demo, since it functions similarly to one - i.e. one can freely access some content, but must then pay for the full experience. But demo is short for demonstration, and payment in such a case would actually unlock something. Kantai Collection gives you the full experience right from the start, but expects you to pay for the privilege of doing it over a few thousand more times. You’re not buying a sandwich at this restaurant, you’re buying a kick in the teeth.

I must, then, conclude that, not only is Kantai Collection not a game in any sense of the word, but rather that it is a particularly cleverly designed advertisement. It forces engagement by gating content behind timers, and leaves one in constant doubt as to the outcome of one’s actions - which is no doubt calculated to engender as much over-preparation as possible, in turn leading to ever more of one’s attention to be focused on this bizarre flash application.

The only way that they could make their aim more clear, is by flashing up a screen in between every transition from one badly designed menu to another, having upon its garish surface writ in large, bold letters, “BUY OUR MERCHANDISE!” and “GIVE US YOUR MONEY - WE’D ENJOY IT MORE THAN YOU!”

In summary, then, as much as I like the underlying concept, and as much as I find the characterisations interesting, and some of the designs inspired, I would not “play” Kantai Collection, and I would, in as much as I am able, urge others not to spend time on it either. Were it simply a line of figurines, I would’ve probably purchased some myself. Were it simply an anime, or a manga, I would’ve given it my most emphatic recommendation.

As it stands, though, I give Kantai Collection a 0/10, and that’s only because I couldn’t think of a sufficiently large negative number to give it instead.

If you have so much free time on your hands, and that fact alone irritates you to such an insane degree, you’re better off spending it in at least some vague delusion of productivity, or at least meaningful entertainment. Get a job. Get five more. Buy an actual boat and go sailing. Go see a film.

If you want a game, go play Battlecruiser 3000AD - it’s more of a game than this garbage could ever be.
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Postby cxl » Sun Dec 06, 2015 11:22 am

The Condensed Version:

Kantai Collection is a bad game because it lacks anything that could be called gameplay. It's no more interactive than a spreadsheet. It's a bad whatever the hell else it's supposed to be because all your progress or lack thereof is controlled by little more than a dice roll. Rolling actual dice would be better since you wouldn't have to go through some online lottery for the privilege of doing so, and because you don't have to pay at some arbitrary point to keep rolling dice.

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Re: Kantai Collection: A review

Postby fauxm » Tue Dec 08, 2015 2:10 am

yeah kancolle sucks cuz boats is dumb lol

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