In playing these small free games, it’s not often that I’ll spend more than two or three hours with a game. In part that’s because I’m ridiculously hyperactive when it comes to my playing habits lately, but also just because few games can inspire that kind of investment. Increasingly, I wonder to myself whether games even should strive for that kind of investment. Which leads me to Gingiva, an RPG Maker game.

There’s a lot I like about Gingiva. First and foremost is the art, which is gross and surrealist and full of character. Second is the story, possibly about sweatshops? but definitely about the link between capitalism and misogyny. It’s expressed through a world in which you are a headless woman paired with a murderous set of teeth, set loose to take down The Man, which manifests in a lot of weird ways. 

The problem is this storytelling is presented in the context of a turn-based JRPG, and along with that come a lot of the trappings of such a game. All of your attacks and statuses are weird, but they all map faithfully to Final Fantasy style tropes. Your characters are strange and the enemies even stranger, but they all line up time and again to play out battles. Gingiva is a cool game that struggles under the yoke of being an RPG that demands a lot of grinding and constantly throws enemies at you.

It’s a problem with a format like RPG. RPGs are either about a complex numbers game or a (admittedly less ubiquitous) vehicle for delivering big complex stories in games. The problem is that in a smaller, more individualistic game-maker space there’s no need to wrap your strange narrative-driven game in a bunch of ‘gameplay’ to pad it out and meet some semblance of expectation. Instead, all that stuff just gets in the way.

I played Gingiva all the way through, which took me several full evenings of effort, and at the end I felt like my time and energy had been badly misused. Not because the game is bad, because I really liked a lot of what it was about, but because the very genre and its baggage made what should have been a very focused, entertaining exploration/narrative game into a total slog. Which is unfortunate, because this is a game otherwise worthy of people’s time. But in a world with thousands of games

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