The other day I did an incredibly rare thing – I purchased a video game on a whim, without any forethought or questioning, without any rhyme or reason. In all my years of gaming, the act of purchasing a game has never been something I’ve taken lightly. I tend to play it close to the chest when buying games, preferring to stick with franchises I know and trust or games that I’ve thoroughly read up on and believe are worth my hard earned sixty dollars. But in the case of this very capricious choice, I went against my own rules and sensibilities.
No need to hold on to your butts here; the game I purchased wasn’t anything all that far-flung, just Final Fantasy XIII-2. Yep, that’s all, simply a Final Fantasy game. I turned on the Xbox, noticed its little sale ad on the homepage, and made the purchase. And I can’t explain why.
Though I’ve never watched FFXIII-2 in action, I’ve read plenty about it, and most everything made me want to stay far away from this most recent “Lightning” trilogy. Though I like the few FF games I’ve played well enough, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the series. I like turn-based combat fine, but my understanding was that the FFXIII games deviated from that norm in ways not terribly pleasant. TL;DR Final Fantasy XIII-2 was never on my radar. And yet here I am now the proud(?) owner of it, and I’m not holding out hope that I’ll actually have time to really sink my teeth into it in the near future.
The thing is, it’s not necessarily that I want to play FFXIII-2 or even just a Final Fantasy game, it’s that I think I should want to. The series itself is so iconic that it has somehow been burned into my brain as a “must play before you die” sort of thing. So when I see a new FF game or read about the stories of past or current games, my mind and heart are tugged in the same “must play” direction. But seeing and doing are two separate actions. I’ve played exactly twenty minutes of FFXIII-2 and I’m already feeling intimidated. I don’t recall right now the moment where I left off and, other than Lightning, I don’t remember any of the other character’s names. Just playing through the game’s opening sequences made me feel as if I had never played a game before in my life.
Therein lies one of the biggest obstacles I have to overcome with FF games and JRPGs generally – accepting complexity. This mental block began developing with Final Fantasy VII. When I started playing the game years ago I had time. I had time to follow the story and its characters. Time to figure out the boss battles and find the secrets. Time to grind and time to build. But then I got stuck. Really stuck in a spot that I now suspect was not too far from the game’s ending. But it didn’t matter because when I got stuck I ran out of time. Life changed and priorities changed, and gaming took a backseat for awhile. For several weeks I attempted to return to Cloud and his crew to get unstuck, but I didn’t make any progress. And each time I went back to the game, I grew increasingly frustrated with my inability to remember my character’s moves. That FF sponge in my brain eventually dried up and I moved on.
And so was laid the cornerstone of that mental block. Only in hindsight do I see how, for many years, I avoided JRPGs. Other FF games came out, but I didn’t get them because I hadn’t finished FFVII, or that was the excuse I used. Many interesting JRPGs crossed my path – Xenogears and Illusion of Gaia came highly recommended – but I was too busy with playing other games or not playing at all.
And then Final Fantasy X came out. I was instantly captured by the first cut scenes I saw and I had to have it. Any rules I had laid in place about finishing games were thrown out the window when I bought, on a whim, FFX. I knew damn well that I didn’t have the time I needed to play it, but what the hell, right? It was going to be soooo pretty. [insert googly heart-shaped eyes here] The first time I played it, I skated through the game on Auron’s mysterious glares, because he was about the only thing I liked about it. The rest of the game…? Hated it. Didn’t like Tidus and his stupid shorts; didn’t like the unholy game of blitzball; didn’t like the stupid sphere grid. After finishing the game, it was as if I’d never played it at all. I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about the story or the bosses or how the game ended because I simply didn’t remember. I didn’t want to admit that I found the game too complex to manage because, by the gods, I was a damn fine and dedicated gamer!
It took a second playthrough years later for me to come to terms with my idiocy and to accept FFX as a great game (and currently my favorite FF game).
Years passed before I picked up a new JRPG. Sticking with what I knew, I played Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV in succession on the Nintendo DS. Both had their high and low points, (I really liked the “jobs” system of FFIII but preferred the overall story of FFIV) but neither compelled me further into JRPG-dom. Besides, there were dragons to fight, aliens to fall in love with, and heroes that needed to be heroic! In other words, I was too busy with dialogue trees and ability wheels to care to get entwined in a multi-layered, multi-character game inside a multi-verse. However, then I caught a post on The RPG Square about a game called The Last Story. Now there looked to be a JRPG that was going at my speed! Interesting story, mechanics that differed from the traditional, and when I inquired about the game’s length…bonus! Less than thirty hours to complete the main story. SCORE! When I finally got around to the game, it didn’t disappoint. I l-o-v-e-d nearly everything about it, from the characters to the story. And I managed it all in just a couple weekends of play.
But again, after completing what had become my new favorite JPRG, I didn’t suddenly rush out and snatch up all the JRPGs I could find. However, while riding The Last Story‘s high, (on a whim) I started playing Xenoblade Chronicles. Oh, I made a valiant effort but failed miserably. I got horribly stuck in a particular battle and then learned that the game was two to three times longer than The Last Story. Ugh. I had to shelve it for the sake of my sanity. After that, my subconscious mind said “thanks JRPGs, it’s been a fun ride, but no.” Which brings me back to my whimsical and groundless purchase of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Because “no” apparently means “maybe, especially if it’s on sale.”
Will I get past those first twenty minutes? I want to say check back with me later, maybe in a year or so. But I have a feeling I’ll still be standing at the crossroads, watching the rising sun go down.