GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
In my last column I talked about how the Nintendo 3DS has renewed my affection for handheld consoles and the culture that surrounds them. This renaissance of interest led me, by way of a birthday present to myself, to pick up a second-hand PlayStation Vita on a whim. Thanks to the enthusiasm demonstrated by a friend I was also inspired to return to my PlayStation 3 for the odd bit of set-top gaming; I was even convinced to grab a subscription to PSN Plus and see what it had to offer. And that, in the main, turned out to be indie titles, emulated versions of popular PS1 and PS2 titles and HD remakes of older games, which in turn has led to me revisiting a few titles of yesteryear. If you’ve been following this column and my podcasts over the years I think it’s fairly obvious which titles those were.
Yes, rather predictably the first thing I did with the Vita was to link my PSN account and re-download Final Fantasy VII to see how it played on my new hardware and, in particular, that gorgeous OLED screen (spoiler: really, really well). There was a surreal moment when I realised that I was playing from a save game that was approximately sixteen years old (I’ll save that story for a future column, I think) and then I found myself drawn in to that world, that story, all over again. The only problem was that my ancient, creaking save file was more or less complete; I had nothing left to do and no battles left to fight. No problem, I thought; I popped on to the PSN store and bought Final Fantasy VIII for a replay. “Of course,” I thought, “It would be a shame not to have the full S-Generation set on Vita.” So Final Fantasy IX joined it in the basket. And then I spotted the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X…
Final Fantasy X was the first title from the franchise to appear on the PlayStation 2 and the entire reason I bought a PS2 in the first place. It also had a strange, fluctuating difficulty curve and a mid-game boss which munched up your summon spells – traditionally the most powerful offensive magic attacks in the Final Fantasy series, and the backbone of any boss fight – like they were popcorn. Coupled with lengthy, unskippable cut scenes – one of which was sandwiched in between save point and boss – it was an exercise in utter frustration. Eventually I gave up, popped the game back on to the shelf and moved on. Ish.
“Ish” because the Final Fantasy series has always meant a lot to me. They were the first RPGs that truly absorbed me and made me part of their world whilst I was playing; the first video games to make me take the fates of their characters personally. In the years before Mass Effect they were my favourite games of all time, and not being able to finish one felt rather heartbreaking. I wondered whether I was done with the series altogether; perhaps they were no longer the games for me. When Final Fantasy XI was released as an MMORPG it was easy to ignore. By the time that Final Fantasy XII arrived on UK shores in 2007 I had already moved on to the Gamecube and was busy enjoying titles like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I eventually picked up a second-hand copy of Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox 360, mainly out of curiosity for how the series would translate to a non-Sony console*, but I only played it for about an hour before the random battles – which I hadn’t experienced in a new game for over a decade – made me irritated and bored. I left Final Fantasy behind. Until…
I realised that I couldn’t let it go. I had to get closure. After years of friends and fellow fans evangelising the game and telling me that I just had to learn how to use the Sphere Grid correctly** I had to – had to – finish Final Fantasy X, and my new Vita was the perfect excuse to start from scratch. For weeks I ground away at the game, spending all of my leisure time ploughing through its epic story and its side-quests. I marvelled at the visuals, which (on the character and summon models, at least) looked more gorgeous than I’d ever seen on a Final Fantasy game. I learned the Sphere Grid. I learned new tricks and tips for fighting bosses. I beat my old nemesis on my first try by poisoning him and simply keeping myself alive until he keeled over. I rushed towards the end-game and then, just before the final boss, I decided to pick up the optional summon-spells hidden on the game map. This involved returning to the first village in the game to collect an item that I had missed the first time around, whereupon a mandatory boss popped up that wiped out my entire party in one strike.
I ran to Google, hoping for tips. The advice I found was divided roughly into two camps: “Restart the game and collect that item the first time around. Dumbass.” and “Use that hidden summon. Oh, you can’t get it yet? Then grind levels like it’s your job. Should have collected that item the first time around. Dumbass.”
It was then that I realised that JRPGs really aren’t for me any longer. Yes, their plotting and characters are epic (but these days I have Bioware), yes the cut-scenes are cool (the first time around, at least) and yes, there’s a huge nostalgia factor at play but obtuse and obscure items, mysteries and puzzles that you need a degree in mathematics to decipher on your own (unless you’re willing to abuse GameFAQs) and dull, repetitive level grinding are no longer my idea of fun. As much as I love the idea of a new Final Fantasy game the reality never matches up. It’s time to let it go.
No, I’m not going to sing.
*I’m aware that the games originated on Nintendo platforms, but I definitely count myself as part of the S-Generation fandom.