In my 43rd hour of Final Fantasy VII Remake, as the Planet cries out in pain, so too does my soul. What started as a gorgeous reimagining of a tale as old as time (that’s right, time was invented in 1997), has begun to overstay its welcome, and I find myself longing for the days when video games didn’t have to be the length of two full TV seasons to justify their existence. In a not-so-distant past, I could simply buy a game and experience a beginning, middle, and end all in one weekend.
It struck me after learning The Last of Us Part II was taking some players over 20-25 hours to complete that, no, I’m not delusional—games ARE getting longer. Over the course of three weeks, I replayed The Last of Us: Remastered and the included Left Behind DLC, then played the recent sequel from beginning to end. From those playthroughs, I can confirm “TLoU 2" is about double the length of the first game and its expansion combined. I’m not the only person who thinks this, either. In their review for Bloody Disgusting, Ty Galiz-Rowe called The Last of Us Part II “an overlong journey filled with bloodshed and horror.”
“Despite being excessively long,” they write, “it just doesn’t understand how to allocate its time properly. “When I take a step back, I can see the skeleton of this story, and there could have been a solid foundation. But aside from way too many combat encounters, and focusing entirely too much on Ellie’s killing spree, the game isn’t confident enough in its subtleties, overcompensating with heavy-handed and time-consuming flashbacks.”
More than a week before the embargo for The Last of Us Part II was lifted, I impulsively tweeted, “I wish video games were 2 hours long and $5 apiece.” without giving it much thought. After gaining some traction considering my relatively modest follower count, I followed up with a second tweet garnering over 70 responses: “What’s your favorite game you can beat in 5 hours or less?” As I was misled by wiki guides regarding my progress in “FF7R,” I’d hoped to—as a breath of fresh air—start and finish a single game that weekend.
Of course, that never happened, seeing as I was actually seven chapters from the end and not 1-3 as I’d originally presumed. And then TLoU 2 came out, so that couldn’t go unplayed. Surprisingly, I’d played a lot of the games mentioned in my replies, but most of them I hadn’t. Some, like Neversong, I’d never heard of. Still, for whatever reason, I’ve decided it’s a good idea to list my personal top contenders here for you to roast my basic taste in the comments. Trust me, I know, and I can’t help what I like. On the bright side, you’ll never, ever catch me using That Reaction Image.
Potential spoilers ahead for Gone Home, Firewatch, and Oxenfree ...
Even if you’ve grown wary of the prestige arthouse shtick, Journey stands out as a must-play short game. At 2 hours long, according to game length aggregator HowLongToBeat.com, you can boot up Journey on the PS4 after work and reach the credits by sundown. Perhaps best known for its soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory, which earned it the first-ever video game Grammy nomination, Journey was originally released in 2012 for the PS3.
In it you play as a nameless, faceless owl-shaped character wandering the desert sporting a scarfed robe and communicating with real players online, anonymously with no dialogue (you must converse using only musical chimes). Because it doesn’t have a narrator, Journey’s story is largely interpretive, which opened the door for plenty of discussion when it first launched. Play online ‘til the end for a benevolent surprise. I’d say more, but Journey is a, well, journey better played than described. It’s available now for under $10 on the PlayStation Store as well as PC and the iOS App Store.
From the team behind the Minerva’s Den DLC for BioShock 2, Gone Home is a “walking simulator” in which exploration is the name of the game. You assume the role of Katie Greenbriar, a 21-year-old returning home to Boon County, Oregon from her study abroad. Upon entering the house, she realizes no one is there, and thus begins her search collecting notes to investigate her family’s absence. Without spoiling the climax, what you’ll soon discover are fascinating anecdotes from the lives of her 17-year-old sister, Sam, her father, Terry, a failed writer turned tech reviewer (hey, it me!), and her mother, Janet, a wildlife conservation director.
Gone Home took HowLongToBeat users an average of 2 hours to see the credits roll. If you have an extra half hour to spare, however, I recommend checking out the additional, optional notes around the house. From them, you’ll learn of Terry’s work and how it ties into his personal life, Janice’s budding love affair with her employee, and a conspiracy involving what you’d suspect, based on the trailers, the game was about all along: a spOoooooOOoky ghost. Gone Home is available for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch eShop for $15.
In a similar vein, Firewatch is a walking sim, albeit one perhaps unfairly defined by its controversial ending. Henry is a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming who fled his hometown of Boulder, Colorado after his wife was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Hoping for a new start, he meets a woman on his radio frequency named Delilah who implores him to close in on an illegal fireworks display and find the people responsible. Along the way, he finds a camera belonging to a boy named Brian Goodwin who is later revealed to have died possibly at the hands of his own father, a former lookout and coworker of Delilah’s.
The novelty of Firewatch is that the entire story is told through dialogue exchanges over a two-way radio system, though as you’ll soon realize, Henry and Delilah are not alone. Back in 2016, almost four years ago now, Campo Santo divulged a movie version of Firewatch was in the works, but few details have been reported since. As is the case with many video game film adaptations (see: Uncharted, which has only now begun production, 12 years after its official announcement). Nonetheless, Firewatch the game is only 4 hours long, according to HowLongToBeat, and requires little to no formal gaming education to complete. You can buy it on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Shoutout to a game I’ve actually been playing lately! Spyro the Dragon, like Banjo Kazooie and unlike Crash Bandicoot is one of the few classics from the era of the 3D mascot platformer that actually still holds up, and the Reignited Trilogy is easily the best way to experience it for the first time or as a returning guest of the Dragon World. You play as Spyro, a chipper purple dragon who I like to think of as the Sonic the Hedgehog to Barney the dinosaur’s Mario.
In an effort to thwart the game’s antagonist Gnasty Gnorc, it’s up to you (Spyro) to save your dragon friends and take back what is rightfully yours, stolen gems and dragon eggs. If it sounds dumb, that’s because Spyro the Dragon and its two sequels included in this collection are intended for children. Go in with reasonable expectations and you’re in for a fun, lighthearted collect-a-thon I’ll admit is a breath of fresh air after playing the gratuitously morbid TLoU 2. Spyro Reignited Trilogy is available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The whole trilogy is, according to HowLongToBeat, 15 and a half hours long, though as @dmacdonal85 suggests, you can beat the first in less than 5.
Remember Stranger Things? What if I told you there’s a point-and-click adventure-style game set to a similarly synthy soundtrack about kids facing up against supernatural forces and it’s a thousand times more interesting than the Stranger Things 3 video game (and arguably the Netflix series)? Now that I have your attention, Oxenfree centers around a group of teens en route to a party on an island. Alex, the main player-controlled protagonist in the story, is joined by her dead biological brother’s ex-girlfriend Clarissa and Jonas, her new stepbrother, as well as friends Ren and Nona.
After hearing of a cavern on the island where radio frequencies are said to incite otherworldly situations, the group decides to explore their depths and, in turn, opens a dimensional rift. While you might expect a harder science fiction tale from Oxenfree, the reality is a lot more grounded. As the plot unfolds, the true challenge reveals itself. Clarissa resents Alex for standing by as Michael, her brother and Clarissa’s ex-boyfriend, drowned to death. Meanwhile, Alex holds Jonas accountable for the divorce of her parents amid unrelated grieving. Rather than saving yourself from interdimensional terror, you wind up tasked with saving your friend group from a disastrous social blowout. Its branching narrative makes Oxenfree a game of pure consequence predicated on choice.