Make Me Play Video Games Field HQ: What Rough Beast

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.


4 thoughts on “Make Me Play Video Games Field HQ: What Rough Beast”

  1. So why is it that you *need* to get the weapon badly enough that you wont play the game? I lost my save after roughly 60 hours of play, and I will restart this game. I loved it, though I may get distracted by 13, I will definitely play and complete 12. Will I worry about the Zodiac Sphere? No. Do I have the strategy guide? Yes. I’ll play this like every other FF game, for fun and for the story, not for a super rare weapon that makes playing the game a huge pain.

  2. Well, I’m aspiring to get to a place where I *don’t* feel like I need the Zodiac Spear to enjoy the game. As I’ve mentioned from time to time, I have this crushing need to somehow “get the most out of a game”, seeing all of its content end experiencing all of its gameplay. Missing out on secrets inflames that itch pretty severely. I’m trying to be more grown up about it, but old habits die hard.

  3. I just realize that its not possible for me to do *everything*. I play through games, try to get the most enjoyment out of them, then go onto the next. When you have a backlog as large as I do (and I’m sure you do) you end up not having time to worry about *EVERY SECRET THING*. Plus, I realize I should be social outside of games and want the most of that too.

    Its a tough balance. Its really easy to see this with games like Disgaea where you can literally spend hundreds of hours just leveling up weapons and freeing citizens and moving them around in weapons etc etc all without ever progressing through the storyline. And lets not even get into character reincarnation =)

  4. The force is strong with you Miah! I’m in the in-between place where I need to do all the optional missions, the presented optional content, but I do not need to go out and get all the hidden items. So I’ll have girlfriends in GTA, but I don’t need to get every piece of graffiti.

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