essay, video games

Ending it

I just beat Final Fantasy X-2. And by “just”, I mean I got up from playing the game and walked over to the computer to begin typing. That’s how soon it was. I won’t go into how I feel about the ending other than to say that 40+ hours was a bit much to see a scene I thought should have happened right after Final Fantasy X had ended. Despite that, I was interested in what the game presented me at the very end. After all the credits and “The End”, it allowed me the option to save my game in order to start the New Game Plus version. I didn’t take it up on this offer — enough is enough — but was intrigued by the idea. When was the last time I had that option?

As fate (and some research) would have it, the very last time I had seen that option was exactly one month ago today when I beat Bastion. I was given the option to take all the experience points, weapons and skill I had developed and try the game again. Then, since I knew the game to be short, had an awesome soundtrack and interesting choices to make, I played it again. This time though, with Final Fantasy X-2, I was not going to invest another couple dozen hours into a game I mostly didn’t like. Why should I even want to do that? Why would I want to play the game again and, as the last screen of text says, “write a new story”? What would be there to gain?

In considering this, I have tried to think back to the games that I have played more than once. They are, I freely admit, very few of them. In recent memory, there is Mass Effect 2, Borderlands and Red Faction Guerrilla over the last year or so. All three were games that I first played on one system, the PC, and then went to on to play again on the Xbox 360, obstinately to get the achievements. Added to that list is, of course, Bastion which I beat and then played again immediately, taking the game up on the offer of a New Game Plus. That game, Bastion, is probably the only one I can think of that I have gone through the trouble of playing it again using a New Game Plus option. Wait, no, I just thought of another.

Half-dozen years ago, I was playing through most of the games I had missed on the Super Nintendo. Among them was Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy II and Chrono Trigger. It’s the last game that I remember from my time playing and which fits the model of what I think about when I consider playing a game again. In that game, in order to get to the other endings, you had to play the game again, if not maybe for a third time. In order to level up your characters and defeat the last boss, you had to play the game for a second time and choose to end the game during certain moments. From my memory, the game had around a dozen endings and I can remember getting most of them over the period of several weeks during a summer break. In Chrono Trigger, there was a reason to play the game again, some additional choices and story beats to see. Where did that go?

I know the answer to that question. I know why games have gone from New Game Plus to what amounts to ‘never-ending‘. They are now toys and services. Anything that has a decent following, hundreds of thousands of players, has moved from a single experience to a model where content is rolled out over time. Many games are now services, allowing players to buy what pieces they want and when they want them, buffet-style. The other extreme is the toy model, that of pick up and put down, endless variations and casual play. Neither of these are bad per se. No, it’s not the object’s fault but the intent behind the development. Is it to give the players options or to nickle-and-dime the content, reaping a profit per story beat?

I know I sound a little “get-off-my-lawn” or even “in-my-day” here, but having spent time with older games and then coming back to the news cycles and constant updates of video games related stories, I get a bit bummed. I’ve begun to wonder if the future of the mainstream of gaming will be those games which never end, into which content is added and added and added until the player-base finally moves to the next big-shiny. For me, I miss the endings. Even for someone that might only beat twenty or so games in any given year — more than average but less than most serious writers — I have to ask every once in awhile if I like the way the way the market is headed. Have I just gotten old and caught up in nostalgia by playing games on older consoles? Is there something we might be losing to the rat-race of shorter bits more often? I’m not sure.

Sometimes, I just want a game to end.