Star Stable: To the north! … pt 2

Since my Star Stable Online review, I’ve had a chance poke into the background of the Star Stable games and played the Star Stable Seasonal Rider games, new adventures with old friends, so to speak, in a single player setting. Yesterday, we discussed the origins of that and some of the good points to the games and I mentioned they’re relaxing.

Each game had familiar faces such as Herman, at least three of the four Soul Riders and always one of the Dark Riders. Winter Riders revolved around the area of Pine Hill and Mr. Sands. There were also new characters. In Jorvik Bay there was Jordan Jet and her plans to create a spring and summer camp in the area (a rival for SSO’s Moorland Camp perhaps?) and Jorvik Ranch introduced Herman’s other brother, Coyote. There were also familiar set pieces, such as the Mill Hill of Will, just that was up near Jorvik Ranch for some reason. The castle showed up three times and the show jumping competition actually took place in the castle courtyard (which was awesome.) My favorite was finding the secret stone ring and seeing Gilbert of Silverglade there. Of course, Jorvik Stables never changes. It is probably the most consistent part of these games.

I said these games were relaxing.

They’re relaxing because there is literally no conflict. Star Shine Legacy had two writers, Nil Gulliksson and Magnus Seter. Somewhere between Star Shine Legacy and the Star Stable Riders series, Magnus Seter is no longer a part of the team. On top of it, Nil Gulliksson stepped into a game design role. The last name to come up quite a bit in the Star Stable Riders credits is a freelance graphic designer named Anton Jarl. He did a lot of the world building, graphic design and modeling in the Star Stable Rider games.

Let me put it this way, these games have no story and just when you start to feel like there is a story or some sort of conflict that you are being put into, the game ends. Each game ends with things unresolved either in the quests or even on the back of the box. In fact, there are things that are mentioned on the boxes that aren’t brought up until the very end of the game. Summer is particularly bad about this. But they all suffer from a lack of a writer. All of them.

For instance, in Autumn Rider, you are new to horses and you want to live your dream of being around them. Nothing is put in your way to keep you from the horses. The strangers are all friendly. The horses like you. (The fact that this is presented as a conflict is rather nonsensical.) The Claymore Challenge is mentioned relatively early on and your name is put up as a possible competitor and representative of Jorvik Stables. Then, as you train around Silverglade and the Harvest Counties, no one is put in your path as a rival for the title. Not even Jessica who is running a cross country race in Firgrove and is a Dark Rider in the Star Shine Legacy games is the least bit hostile. As long as you beat the first races of the trainers, there is literally nothing keeping you from the Claymore Challenge. (And even that is debatable since the Claymore Challenge opens up at level 11 and there are enough story quests and areas to discover to get you to that without racing.)

In Winter Riders there is lip service paid to conflict in the form of Sabine being your rival to represent Pine Hill Stables with Mr. Sands at the Dekker Horse Show. However, she’s not introduced until the very last show jumping training event in the game. In Spring Riders, Anne whisks you away from the main plot for the dressage competition all last minute (and then the main plot is never resolved, which is the whole Jordan Jet and her plans for Jorvik Bay and her spring riding camp.) You don’t even know it’s going to happen until Anne says “I choose you!” (So I’m not sure why it’s the culminating event in the game.)

In Summer Riders, Coyote’s secret is mentioned on the box and then is never brought up until you are ready to head to the rodeo. The best and most amusing conflict of the game, Herman versus Mr. Sands is also brought up last minute and then is never truly resolved beyond the first salvo of ‘this is war!’ (Herman and Coyote built a castle. Who knew Herman wanted a castle. Mr. Sands is not having it.)

The writer in me cries. I feel so unsatisfied! But- But-But- what about…. AHHHHH!

Secondly, if you have played SSO up to, maybe level 10 or 11 by now, you are going to recognize quest trees. Because, it feels that quest trees were taken directly from these games and put into SSO, sometimes, word for word. In one case, in Spring Riders, the swans/ducks in oil quest are actually done better because in Spring Riders, the source of the oil leaks is actually found and fixed so the story line feels somewhat resolved. (Though this isn’t the main story line, which isn’t ever resolved.) In Winter Riders, you’re going to rehash Steve’s problems with the mice, except now they are rats. I was waiting for us to build them a nice home with a water trough and a pile of cabbage near Meander Stables, but that didn’t happen. It was almost disappointing since we’d done everything else up to that point including the stinky cheese.

Thirdly, the games are race and competition driven even if the competition has no bearing upon the story at all. (Spring and Summer were like this.) Autumn and Winter at least paid lip service to the idea that you were trying to win a competition so the races and the training made a certain amount of sense. However, the games that did have these plots lacked anyone or anything standing in your way to make it feel particularly tense. The races were all against a clock rather than against a computer controlled character. (I think I’ll rant about my dislike of timed races/levels another time.) So, once you won a major competition, even if it had no bearing towards the game plot overall (I’m looking at you Spring and Summer), the game was essentially over and everything was dropped.

There isn’t any emotional payout at the end of the games. You are left going “that’s it? It’s over?” This is probably the worst thing that can happen in a game. You want to feel triumphant not cheated. It was severely disappointing, especially for time invested.

Once again, this review got a little long, so tune in tomorrow for part 3 where I discuss the good and the bad of the game mechanics…

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