Not Letting the Game Beat You

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Uncategorized
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There Is No Escaping the Games You Hate

Dead Space Dull

I dub thee..DULL SPACE.

We all have games that we hate. Games that we utterly despise, that we cringe at the thought of replaying. I’m not talking about sections of good games that piss us off.  I’m talking about entire games that make you clench your teeth and shout to the heavens in anger. Most of the time, when a game makes us that angry, we set it aside. We stop playing, we put it away, maybe even sell it off to some poor schmuck and minimize our losses on it. Except….except with the exceptions. Those rare games that we can’t stand, but that we HAVE to finish. It’s not just a challenge. It’s a gauntlet thrown by the developers saying, “Hey…we think you’re gonna give up, punk. Are you a bad enough dude to beat a game you hate like rats?”

And the thing is, these games aren’t E.T., Superman 64 or the like – in general, most of the games I’ve had the hate-but-must-play reactions to have been games that are either widely liked, or at least have a strong following. It seems there are a lot of pretty popular games that I just can’t stand – GTA IV, Kingdom Hearts, and Starcraft II stand as probably the most highly rated games that I can’t be bothered with – but it takes a special game for me to hate, yet still hammer through to the end.

Case in point: my most recent object of odium, Dead Space. I don’t know if the PC port is just really awful or if the game is just extraordinarily dull by my tastes, but I bought it back in April during a Steam sale and…I’ve so far been able to get six hours into it. Roughly an hour a month, right? Well, a few weeks ago I decided I was gonna persevere and finish it. I still haven’t, so maybe it’s a work in progress, or maybe it will just go in the games I never bothered to finish pile. So maybe it’s a bad example.

I want to punch him right in the face tatoo. Through the screen.

I can feel your anger. It gives you focus. Makes you stronger. Emperor Palpatine

A much better example, the painful obsession that haunted my senior year in High School, was Final Fantasy VIII. Now, to start with, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it entry in a franchise where every single game is contested as having ruined the series forever. But since I really enjoyed Final Fantasy IX, I thought maybe VIII was a one-off (turns out I hated FFX, also, but wasn’t motivated to finish it). I had actually first purchased Final Fantasy VIII when it released in 1999 and, after playing for about ten hours and finding the game really didn’t gel with me, I put it back on the shelf. Fast forward to mid-2005, when my interest in the Final Fantasy series picked up again, I dug through my collection of PlayStation games and decided to give it another shot. This time, I wasn’t gonna let anything get in my way. Senior year, brain is already elsewhere, why not plunge it into a world of Gunblades and Guardian Forces? Certainly now that I was a moody and annoying teenager, I’d appreciate all the brooding, teen soap opera angst!

Oh man, that was a long two months.

Final Fantasy VIII Junction System

My personal vision of Hell.

Final Fantasy VIII, of course, put you in the shoes of a moody introvert named Squall. Squall proceeds from his High School/Military Base Balamb Garden with his annoying “friend” Zell and his teacher, who is both younger than him and has the hots for him (creepy on both counts), Quistis. He’s introduced to Guardian Forces – basically, summon monsters, and the ability to draw magic out of people, places and things and junction them to his stats (or alternately, USE the magic spells, but you’re losing a lot of stats that way). Of course, there are more annoying people to meet along the way (imagine if Final Fantasy VII had stocked your party with nothing but personality clones of Yuffie and Cait Sith and you’ll get my meaning) and getting embroiled in a lot of nonsense. That’s the plot in a nutshell – nonsense. Sure it’s got the usual Star Wars-ish “rebels vs. the evil empire”, but it’s so convoluted and out there that it just completely alienated me. The thing with time-traveling sorceresses was obtuse, and the major plot twist was both contrived and vastly improbable. And the romance, one of the chief selling points of the game and one of the things every fan of the game uses to defend it, is completely awful. Squall hates Rinoa up until some arbitrary point where they’re like “OH WE’RE IN WUB!” and you start to wonder if you missed something.

All the while, you get snippets/psychic flashbacks of the much cooler Laguna. It’s like Square was literally just mocking me, baiting me with “Hey, want to play with a character that’s not a complete tool? Here you go – AW TOO SLOW!”. The game even gives you time for these feelings to gel as you pilot the ploddingly slow Balamb Garden around the world in the middle of the game. Padding of the worst kind.

Final Fantasy VIII Fan Manga

Like all Final Fantasy games, VIII has fans so dedicated that they create erotic fanfiction. I saw this and I haven't stopped laughing since.

But I had to keep playing.

It felt like Final Fantasy VIII would win if I didn’t beat it first. In a way, I became addicted to it. Every day after school, I was playing it. After getting home from work at Lowe’s, I would settle in and play it. I battled the aliens, monsters, sorceresses. I battled the silly and often incoherent storyline. And I battled the awful Junction system and the 15-volume set of tutorials it required. And one day, when I reached the Sorceress’ Castle at the end of time compression…I could actually enjoy it. It’s frankly the best dungeon in the game. I didn’t have to draw spells anymore. I didn’t have to junction them to my stats. By then, I already had the good stuff set where it needed to be, and I could just enjoy the totally awesome music, style, and enemies in that final area. Granted, it felt like I’d had my blood replaced with acid while someone electrified my nipples to get to that point, but by the time I got to the hilariously incoherent ending, I was satisfied. Not with the game, but definitely with myself. I had conquered. I had fought the proverbial dragon and won.

And what did it get me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing other than a smug sense of self-satisfaction and roughly 70 hours lost to a game I still despise to this day.  Was it worth it? That’s a tough question. I’m not particularly proud of spending that much time on something I so fervently hated. In the end, I beat it just to say I had.  There’s probably a lesson to be had in there.

Oh, and I do love the musical score in Final Fantasy VIII, for the record. Nobuo Uematsu is like John Williams – even if the game/film is dire, they bring their A-game. No matter what.

  1. While I didn’t loathe FFVIII as much as you did, it’s easily on my short list of least favorite FFs. Like you, I feel compelled to finish this game, and I’ve gotten to the game’s boss already. But it’s been so long that I’ll have to restart the game from the beginning when I’m ready to take it on again – wrap your head around that torture!

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