While my progress in Far Cry 2 has been slow and steady, it is certainly real, and I’ve spent some time thinking about the contestants for the experiments still to come.
That got me wondering why exactly it was that I ever stopped playing FFXII in the first place. Nostalgia, misty memories and a certain amount of remaining franchise goodwill had me seriously thinking that I’d missed out by dropping my controller and abandoning Vaan, Ashe, and Penelo, never returning to their story in the four years since. What made me quit this game that was apparently so full of fond memories for other gamers after only a few hours of play?
And then I stumbled across a post on Gamasutra from last October that brought it all rushing back to me:
An Eternal Recursion of Idiocy
Final Fantasy XII, a game with a fair share of both wildly successful and completely backwards game design, isn’t the first to do this to its players, but it is certainly one of the worst. Specifically, it is the weapon called the Zodiac Spear (specifically, the secret of obtaining it) that is an example of game design that is so mind-numbingly cynical that even reading about it causes me to feel mentally cross-eyed.
Secrets exist to be discovered. Some don’t, but they aren’t intentional, and they range from the merely embarrassing KotOR II to GTA’s multi-million dollar cup of hot coffee. But it isn’t often that a secret is paradoxically meant to be revealed but also impossible to find on a player’s own.
The Zodiac spear was not intended to be discovered through natural play or even unnatural play.
Let me tell you about the Zodiac Spear. It’s the strongest weapon in the game, and the process for obtaining it is almost insane. Scattered throughout the game are treasure chests. Oddly, they are random spawns, and usually contain nothing useful other than a handful of coins. Of course, early in the game, they’re actually a tiny bit useful, so you’d think, given that this is a video game and an RPG at that, opening treasure chests would be a good thing.
A Puzzle That Makes Sudoku Look Like Hopscotch
And that’s where you’re wrong. Because when you open these treasure chests that have absolutely no distinguishing features, you lose the chance of obtaining this ultimate weapon permanently. Let me repeat: Not only is there no indication that this weapon exists at any point in the game, not only is there no way to know what chests not to open, in no way is any of this information in any way conveyed to the player. A player who decides to buy this game will remain blissfully unaware of this until his friend tells him halfway through the game.
Excuse me, I forgot for just a second. That’s not how you get the Zodiac Spear.
You get the Zodiac Spear by buying the strategy guide.
Oh, that’s right: that game is made of bullshit.
I had played for a little while, let my curiosity get the better of me and checked a hint guide online and realized that I’d already screwed up getting the best weapon in the game simply by playing naturally. My brain went into a weird divide-by-zero loop, stuck in a short between my sense of completionism, my sense of loot-whoredom, and my outraged sense of a violation of the implicit contract between the game and myself. “Play me, Rob”, the game had cood from the shelf at GameStop, “and I will not suck”.
I played. That sucked. Deal over. Onto the shelf of shame with you. Go hang out with Xenosaga.
I’m willing to give FFXII another go, if it comes to that. It’s a Final Fantasy game known for doing things a bit differently, and that is in itself pretty noteworthy given what a hoary old series FF has become. The real test, I think, will be whether I can let the whole Zodiac spear thing go and just play the game as it presents itself to me, loosening my grasp on 100% for the sake of actually having fun. That’d be a huge step on the path to being a more mature, easygoing gamer.