essay, video games

I see you like games…

…so I put some games in your games.

In an attempt to get through some of my backlog, and avoid the achievement scene, I thought I would hit up some PlayStation 2 games. Having spent some time in Final Fantasy X-2, I thought it would be the best choice. After all, I was over a dozen hours into the game, I must have liked what I was doing. Right?

I know many people really loved Final Fantasy X. I liked it. I didn’t love it, to be sure. I found the Sphere Grid system of upgrading to be rather annoying most of the time. I ignored all occasions to play Blitzball and did not invest time into the various other side-quests as I would have traditionally done. Final Fantasy X caught me at a time when I was moving into the new generation of systems and was burned out after playing through Xenosaga I and Xenosaga II back to back over a couple of months. I had loved Final Fantasy VII, IX and even came to really like VIII when I played it for a second time. But Final Fantasy X? No, I just couldn’t get into it. I beat it, but did little else.

Coming to Final Fantasy X-2, a sequel to a game I was left feeling “meh” to, was maybe not the best choice. Most of the critics, I had heard, were not fans of it. Many people had never finished. No one in my circle of friends had even played it. Yet, it was a Final Fantasy game and I was going to play it. This oath to get through games with this specialized label of Final and Fantasy was nothing too locking but was something I felt I should do. It was something to prove how much of a role-playing gamer I was. So, it was with pride that I approached a game I felt I might not like but was determined to play.

I was mostly right. I’ve managed to get up to about thirty hours at this point. However, much of it was through sessions where I was skipping through dialogue and dreading visiting new places in the game. While I like the battle system, the job system — the dressphere — is good. The locations are, well, exactly the same as the previous game. It’s nice to see some of the same people, see what they are up to several years later. The world is neat. What is so frustrating to me, what is slowly driving my crazy, is the reliance on having the game be broken down into a series of mini-games, each one a separate “mission”.

It’s not that I don’t understand the want of some developers to add some small mini-games into their larger games. They help break up the pace. When there is a great degree of tension, developers need a way to release that. After the same actions over and over, players want a break, something new. Mini-games give the players this needed break. They can learn and participate in a new dialect of the game language. They have learned the grammar of the actions, how they fit into the greater game world. A mini-game allows the developers chance to try out a new sub-set of the language in a slightly new way.

Final Fantasy X-2 has several shooting games. One in which a series of pictures flash and only one, of several, counts toward the goal. I did it six different times, losing in five of them. The other shooting game, a run and shoot, I had to cheat at. As enemies run at you, you must shoot them. They constantly respawn and as you score shots, you gain combo bonuses. The more you gain, the better. But getting hit is bad. I lost quite a few times before finding a place I could hide in and not get hit. Each mini-game, regardless of its manner, is based in using guns by Yuna, the same woman who was the High Summoner on the first game. The same one who was about using peace to settle arguments is now quite fine shooting everything in sight.

That dissonance is probably at the root of my annoyance. Whereas the first game was about saving the world from an overwhelming force, this game is about finding spheres, recorded video clips from the present and far past. Yuna might also be looking for someone, but has changed so much it is hard to tell. She has gone from a priestess to a warrior. Putting down her staff of office, she had taken up with a gang that roams the world. Side missions were optional in the first game. Here, they are part of nearly every mission. X was about a long narrative, X-2 is about a series of side stories, almost short stories that happen to be in the same world.

The mini-games in Final Fantasy X-2 are distracting, distancing. Instead of providing me with new moments, new takes on this world, I find them annoying. They are not adding to my experience, they subtracting from it. I have had to spend more time within the sub-sub worlds than in the actual dialogue of the game. It’s not a matter of learning the grammar of the game, I’ve had to suffer through the various dialects over and over. And over.