Transistor is one of the games that you play through once and you move on. You experience the narrative and maybe you tell a friend about it, but all in all it’s not a large game. I beat it in under eight hours, so it has nothing compared to the literal thousands of hours my brothers and I (and any other gamers that have spent their lives in one universe or another) playing things like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, or the Call of Duty franchise. I personally could not tell you how long I’ve spent playing any one of those, but I probably wouldn’t be too far off if I say I’ve put around one thousand hours into League of Legends, and probably far more than that in World of Warcraft.
But games like Transistor are different. They aren’t meant to pull millions of people in and keep them there for years. Games like this are the fulfillment of visions these designers have when they put their minds to the task. With this game in particular, I imagine that the creators said “What if we made a combat system that combined the feel of both a turn-based game with a real-time feel?” and “How could we implement a skill system in which each single skill can be combined and used several different ways, providing thousands of possibilities that are up to the player’s imagination?” For example, if you had this system in a sword and sorcery type of genre, take two basic attacks of ‘Sword slice’ or ‘Fireball’. In Transistor, you can attach the ‘Fireball’ skill to the sword attack to give it a fiery swing, or attach the sword attack to the fireball, and maybe you throw a fireball with a sword inside it. (Keeping in mind that this game is science-fiction and this is simply an analogy.)
So, having no outside information, I feel those two questions served as the inspiration that eventually transformed into what this game turned into. But obviously gameplay mechanics are not the only thing required to forge a masterpiece. So they threw these mechanics into a very apt setting, put together a compelling story, and buffed it up with an amazing soundtrack. Seriously, if nothing else, it is a masterpiece in and of itself. I listened to the soundtrack for months without having seen more than snippets of gameplay, but now that I’ve played through the story and all the songs actually have meaning to me the songs are that much more incredible.
In all honesty, my biggest problem with this game is that it didn’t take me long to beat it. There wasn’t enough story, and I would have loved to put a good twenty hours into it. By comparison, I beat Bioshock: Infinite in twelve. When I finished that one, I was astounded by the amount of time and effort was put into it. Bioshock: Infinite is beautiful in every imaginable sense of the word, and I would not hesitate for a second to put Transistor in the same tier as a true work of art. The difference is, I don’t want more Bioshock. They were each amazing games, true, but they captivated my interest in more of an artistic point of view than a true admirer of the piece. I can appreciate the mastery of craftsmanship of one of Van Gogh’s or Monet’s pieces, but just because those paintings were harder to make than a piece of digital art today doesn’t mean I won’t like the latter more, depending on whose hands the tools are placed in. Bioshock and Transistor are good, but Transistor is far more to my liking.
But in any case, if nothing else, listen to the soundtrack. It’s barely an hour long but each piece is awesome.