essay, video games

Time for forgotten corners

I was reminded just now, while playing Final Fantasy X-2, of one of the reasons why I dislike role-playing games: hidden items.

I should have known that as soon as I began to talk and type about the features of role-playing games that I really like, battle systems, I would run in to one that causes me the most trouble. This recent spark up was caused due to forgetting to pick up an item over ten hours ago and just now, in hour 35 or so, realized I needed to go back to an area, finally complete a puzzle and get the single item that I needed.

I had thought I was in a good shape, character-wise. I was a couple levels over where I needed to be, I had mastered a couple of jobs. I was doing well, or so I thought anyway. I was making my way through the same area that was giving me trouble yesterday and was determined this time to get through it, beat the boss at the end and then get on with the game. I was following the same path I had been. I was making progress. Then I got to the boss. He killed off my party.

So, I tried again. My party was killed off.

Then my was party killed off.

Again. And again.

Finally, I had had enough. I went looking for a guide to the fight. There had to be something that I was missing. Maybe there was a technique that I could use, some combinations of abilities and magic to take out this threat. I search through the familiar haunts for such problems and then came upon a video of the fight. I watched it, saw the battle was only supposed to last a couple minutes. I was confused. I watched the video again. Then I caught what was off about this battle and my own: they were using abilities I did not have.

It had turned out that while I was in an earlier area, I did not pick up the dressphere (job) I now needed. It was with that role, and the associated abilities, that was the key here. Using that technique over and over during the battle would make extreme easy, a breeze. All I needed to do that was this one item. And for the item I needed access to the lower parts of an area I had not visited in over ten hours. For a few minutes, I was actually scared I might not be able to get back to where I needed to be. How do I get back in there?

It was both harder and easier than I thought it would be. The solution, according to reading large sections of two different text guides, was to skip the mission I was on and then continue with the overall story. Once I had made more progress, I could gain access back to the area and, hopefully, get want I needed.

A couple hours and missions later, I got what I needed. My plan worked out exactly was I was hoping it might. But it reminded me of what drives me crazy in games like this: hidden items.

The reason to hide things is for them to be discovered at some later point. Be it as form of security through obscurity or just because you want someone else to stumble upon your treasure, you hide things. This idea, as used in role-playing games, manifests itself through chests and other containers of goods. The developers place such items, weapons and helpful things so that players will find them. Given this, I often find it annoying that such purposes are counter-served by making these same items hard to find or complex to get to and acquire.

There should be something in the chase. The journey is as important as the ending. These and many other platitudes are something I understand. There is a reward in making it as far as you could, even if you do not cross the finish line. You tried. You did your best. You reached for the stars and hit the moon. It was in the doing that your saw what you are capable of. This, I understand. This I even like. What I do not understand or fail to want to understand in my old man cranky mode that I am in right now is why the game would let me do that!

As much I praise the ability of time-investment in games to lead toward mastery, I am left with the thought that many role-playing games are designed in such a way as to inspire repeat playing of games not because of story, as that hardly changes, but to find all those small, tucked away forgotten corners where some item they missed the first or third time is waiting for them. This was something I would have loved when I was younger. I spent hours upon hours looking in every damn place for anything I had missed in some of my early games. Now, as I’ve gotten older, I want my time to mean something more. I do not want to have to backtrack for hours to get the towel or to shut off the stove.

I want it now. I do not have time for the forgotten corners. Give me the things I need, let me play. It might just be my opinion, but if I have to use more than one guide for a game to make sure I can get through it and see the story I know I will miss otherwise, something is wrong. If I need advisers to pick my path for me, counselors to recommend actions and chaperons for the adventure, then I am not playing. At that point, I am reading. I come to games to choose. If you punish me for an invisible choice, I must know. Tell me, let me know. I’m allowed mistakes.

With time may come mastery but the cost of which may be the exploration of each inch of every space. That is not the action of a seeker but a snail. I’m not blazing trails at that point, I’m oozing my way over every surface.