How many places you have where you use different language with different people, and how many terms and words you can muster that all have, ultimately, a different meaning? Then count all the specific terms you use just with certain people, words that outside that circle would have no idea what you’re talking about. Sure, you can surmise the overall meaning if you’re familiar on the topic, but even then you require knowledge of the sub-culture. To use a full sentence as an example, Dianne’s 6D+2 was no help against the Dragon when I had the Queen, but at least I had the Cleric can tell you something. Dianne is probably a character’s name, D6+2 means either six dice or six sided die with plus two to the gained value from the dice toss, the Dragon was the opponent being battled against and the battle was lost due to Queen’s having a some sort of negative effect in the game, but how Cleric could help isn’t clear. This is basic language for sure, and the dice bit is the only special bit of lingo used, but with the lack of context and further information the meaning is lacking. In this case, you’d need to be in the know about one specific game, where the Dragon is the strongest monster, the Queen kills player’s attack value by 2, and the Cleric has the ability to resurrect a downed character. But you wouldn’t know that if you haven’t spent any time playing table top role playing games or similar to get the dice lingo down, and then played this particular game to understand further meaning behind the character names, their position in the game’s structure and how they effect the game. This isn’t even a harsh example, unlike metroidvania.
I’ve been harsh on Metroidvania as a genre term in the past, and that hasn’t changed. It’s one of those terms that whenever used absolutely requires extended explanation for people who are not in the know what it means. For example, take a look at Record of Lodoss War -Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth‘s description on Steam.
Despite the term supposedly being universal in usage, an explanation had to be given. The reason is as simple as that as a descriptive word, metroidvania is a terrible one. People within the industry, within the core users know what it is through exposure to the industry magazines and their peers using it. However, step outside this deep red ocean market, and the word has no meaning. Hence, action-exploration is used here as a supplementary description, though the age-old action-adventure would have sufficed. This isn’t exactly uncommon though, only music nerds know what the hell acid jazz or nu metal actually are in terms of genres, but at least even the most casual music listener can surmise something from those two; one is some kind of jazz, one is some kind of Norwegian death screeching. Though if you’re more invested into music, you can deduce that acid is taken from the mid-1980’s sub-genre of house music, which is often described as somewhat psychedelic. Nu metal, well is new metal that mixes lot of then-current other popular genres like hip hop and grunge into one, something old death metal heads didn’t exactly appreciate.
Metroidvania doesn’t have these benefits of deduction, and that has something to do with the games used in the term, Metroid and Castlevania, having vastly different kind of games in their franchise. Depending when you got into these franchises, and if you ever did, you either got the action-exploration for Metroid and and Action for Castlevania, action-exploration for both, or First Person Adventure for Metroid, or 3D Action for both. As much as some of the classic Metroid fans wouldn’t want it to be, Metroid Prime was to many their first step into the franchise and defined lot of the world for them. Recalling back when Metroid Prime was released and FPA was used as its genre, a lot of magazines and people on the Internet were claiming that the genre name was bullshit and nobody should come up with such made-up names for genres. Times sure have changed.
Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth has a necessity to explain its genre for the larger audience that might come across it. This game already has a limited audience in people who are into 2D action-exploration and people who are fans of Record of Lodoss War franchise, and as such having some resemblance of explanation what it actually is all about is only sensible marketing solution. Though dropping metroidvania from the description would’ve saved them some space. No, using just metroidvania wouldn’t have been enough, as the whole post is about why.
It’s an issue that has no real solution. On one hand, using metroidvania for the red ocean market is fine and dandy, they’re catered with that. On the other hand, it’s a nonsense word that means nothing despite how much attempts people are trying to justify it. Sure, new words are invented and used in langauge, their widespread usage will make people understand them and so on, but it’s again a case where there is no need for such term, and there never was. Perhaps this is, alongside Doomclone, where the game industry and its core market are trying too hard to make themselves stand different unconsciously and spread their language and lingo. Using your own language and lingo is perhaps the best way to make a statement, and to divide people in Us and Them. Metroidvania in this regard is very much an innocent term, just a genre name for electronic games, unlike in political discussions, where people are categorised with the most unfavouring names even if they’re not applicable, but it is somewhat similar case; people see something familiar to them, even if inaccurate, and then proceed to use that naming even if it was inaccurate, didn’t make sense or outright wrong. Fling it long enough and it’ll stick, everything else be damned.
Though I have to say, the demo of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth was a nice fresh air. The developer’s Toho action-adventure game was a massive letdown, but this seems to be hitting the stage design and character functions spot on. I just hope won’t become too gimmicky towards the end.