In the golden days before companies realized they could just charge us more money for extra content, unlockables were the best way to squeeze a little bit of replayability out of a game. Whether it was extra characters, secret endings, or ridiculously overpowered weapons, unlockable content rewarded the most skilled and dedicated of gamers. And yet while many of us may now decry a company like Capcom for putting a price tag on something we used to be able to have by just playing their product, I think we’ve lost sight of one very important thing – unlockables are a colossal waste of time.
Now, that’s not to say all unlockables are terrible. I can tell you that the combination of Goldeneye’s Big Head and Paintball modes were responsible for at least half of my happy childhood memories. But a good video game unlockable is entirely dependent on the amount of time and effort it requires to obtain. A video game could have a weapon that turns every enemy into Emma Stone declaring her undying love for me, but if I had to dedicate a month of my life to get it, it’s not worth it.
Yes, you might say that unlockables are beside the point, and what matters for most gamers is simply the fun of overcoming an extra challenge. But I submit to you that the people who use that logic are the same kind of people who think building model ships in glass bottles is a worthwhile pursuit, therefore their opinion doesn’t really matter. So while we all may decry modern gaming’s embrace of DLC, I present the following unlockables as evidence that even though something costs a blood boiling amount of Microsoft moonbucks, it’s something you might not have even missed having in the first place. Here are ten of the most useless, difficult, and time consuming video game unlockables.
10. Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver - Friendship Room
The Pokémon series is no stranger to inane, completely frivolous side quests. Ever since the days of Ruby and Sapphire, Contests and Musicals have forced players to doll up their Pokémon in humiliating outfits and make them strut around on stage in what we can only hope is the closest the world ever gets to a Toddlers & Tiaras game. But while the rewards for completing these useless diversions have always been scant, there is no unlockable as infuriatingly pointless as Heart Gold and Soul Silver’s Friendship Room.
The Friendship Room is unlocked through the Pokéathlon, which is just a collection of minigames that take advantage of the DS’s touch screen. Players can only access the Friendship Room after they beat the first place record of every event, a feat that is in and of itself an act of sad desperation. The Pokéathlon includes so much screen tapping it’s about as fun as an involuntary muscle spasm, and beating the records will inevitably include playing the absurdly difficult “Pennant Capture” so many times you’ll want to hurl your DS directly into Satoshi Tajiri’s face.
Worst of all, the Friendship Room has absolutely nothing to do with friendship. Within its hallowed halls are four statues, one of the player’s character and three of their top Pokeathletes. They’re a shining, permanent testament to the loneliness and isolation of your average Pokémon trainer, whose only “friends” are the pets they make fight to the near death on a daily basis.
9. Dead Rising - Mega Man Outfit
Perhaps more impressive than Dead Rising’s unlockable Mega Man outfit allowing players to live out their secret fantasy of dressing up as a Blue Bomber spin on the Tron Guy is that it turns killing zombies into an absolute chore. Screwing up one of gaming's simplest equations (zombies + things to murder zombies with = money in the bank) takes a pretty concentrated effort, but Dead Rising pulls it off by affixing a big ol' dead zombie price tag to its most sought after unlockable.
The entire outfit is unlocked in three separate pieces. Players can acquire the boots by getting the game’s “true” ending and the tights are unlocked by defeating ten of the “Psychopath” human survivors that serve as bosses. The outfit’s pičce de résistance, however, sorely abuses the whole point of Dead Rising. To unlock the Mega Buster, players have to get the “Zombie Genocider” achievement by splattering the brains of 53,594 undead.
To put that into perspective, I grew up in a town with a population of 2,248 people. I would have to murder my entire hometown nearly 24 times over if I wanted a sweet laser cannon for my arm. I know zombie movies have drilled into our heads that the walking dead are no longer our loved ones, but goddamn, that’s pretty coldblooded for a cosplay.
Moral qualms aside, the real crime is the monotony of it all. Resourceful players have discovered the best way to unlock the Mega Buster is to drive around Willamette Parkview Mall’s zombie clogged maintenance tunnels for two and a half hours, crushing as many shambling flesh eaters beneath your wheels as you can. When players have to find a tedious workaround to unlock a game’s coolest secret feature, you’re doing it wrong.
Though, the fact that I just used the word “tedious” to describe plowing through hordes of the undead in a 4-door deathmobile may be symptomatic of a much, much larger issue with our society.
8. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction - Magically Inscribe Your Name Onto a Weapon
In Diablo II and its redundant expansion pack Lord of Destruction (Really? Lord of Destruction? You already fought Satan in the original, going after his brother Baal is like settling for the ugly best friend) players can acquire all sorts of ridiculous weapons and armor. Balrog Blades, Ghost Wands, Kraken Shells, Succubus Skulls – pretty much every part of a mythical creature’s anatomy can be fashioned into a fancy hat for you to wear.
But there’s something about wearing a dead Kraken that’s just so... impersonal, y’know?
Luckily, there’s a way to make any item in the game truly feel like your own, and all it takes is defeating the game’s deadliest necromancer. By overcoming the incredibly difficult optional boss Nihlathak – who can not only teleport and endlessly spawn bum rushing gangs of minions, but can wipe intrepid adventures out in a single hit with his pretty gruesome Corpse Explosion ability – players earn the glorious opportunity to add their name to the front of any item of their choosing.
And... that’s it. Doing this doesn't grant any stat bonuses or make the item more powerful, it just inflicts the imagination of a basement dwelling fourteen-year-old on the game’s world. The all-powerful Doombringer sword becomes Th3Wanginat0rs Doombringer sword. It’s the gothic fantasy equivalent of your mom writing your name on the back of your underwear.
7. Disgaea series - Land of Carnage
Look, you know what you’re getting into when you buy a Disgaea game. The 9,999 level cap and 100-floor randomly generated Item World dungeons are the closest you can get to a warning label informing you that hours of your life are going to be consumed by a black hole of overzealous anime clichés. Your average Disgaea player is not only going to be completely unfazed by any massive time sink the game throws their way, they’re going to consider it a bonus.
But even by the game’s stringent commitment standards, the method for unlocking the Land of Carnage demands a little too much. Introduced in Disgaea 2, the Land of Carnage is basically New Game+ on steroids. Or, in more user friendly terms, New Game+ gone Super Saiyan. In addition to unlocking three bonus characters and being the only place players can acquire the game’s strongest weapons, the Land of Carnage includes an alternate version of every single stage of the regular game that multiplies enemy levels by 2100% and slaps an extra 200 on for funsies.
Actually getting to the Land of Carnage, however, requires wandering the Item World for 40 years. Players have to collect treasure maps from 16 different pirate enemies, all of which have a chance of spawning during the first three turns of every stage. While there are ways to increase the rate that pirates appear, there's no way of controlling which type shows up. Which means you could have 15 maps, but spend forever waiting for a ship full of ninjas that may never come. The way it tests player's faith would be poetic if it weren't all in the name of unlocking a green penguin to fight at your side.
6. Kingdom Hearts - Secret Endings
Any number of games could be held accountable for the offense of having a secret ending, as it’s difficult to take a narrative seriously when you can miss out on how it’s supposed to end. It’s like if The Great Gatsby stopped before its final chapters because you didn’t collect all of Doctor T.J. Ecklber’s crystal keys.
But even in a medium that includes conclusions featuring corgis and Little Sister harems, the Kingdom Hearts games stand firmly as the worst of the bunch for both the sheer triviality of their endings and the long, terrible task of unlocking them. In the first Kingdom Hearts, one of the requirements is finding all 99 of the Dalmatians hidden throughout the game. Players will spend so much time scouring every corner of the world for puppies that they’ll wish they could just turn them straight over to Cruella de Vil so she can skin them into some sweet new armor.
Kingdom Hearts II is even worse, demanding players complete everything in Jiminy’s Journal, a lengthy collection of tedious objectives that’s less “fun” and more “atonement for every mortal sin you’ve ever committed.” This includes finishing the Poster Duty minigame in 30 seconds, which requires no less than a graduate degree in astrophysics.
The rewards for the players who actually see through every one of the game’s back breaking demands to the end are cut scenes that you could have not only just spent five seconds looking upon YouTube, but that are as chock full of vague, foreboding images as a David Lynch film. They have the production values of one of those awful fan made AMVs, and offer little in the way of conclusion because they were meant to serve as trailers for sequels that weren’t even made yet.
5. Dead Space 2 - "Hand" Cannon
I’ll be upfront with you: the only reason Dead Space 2’s “Hand Cannon” is on this list is pure jealousy. The weapon – which allows players to play through the game like a seven year old with an overactive imagination, decimating enemies with a giant foam finger that makes Isaac Clarke go “Bang! Bang! Pew! Pew!” with each shot – is mind blowingly awesome despite its uselessness.
But the price for greatness is steep. The weapon is a reward for completing the game on its hardcore difficulty setting, and the only way I’d ever be able to do that is by isolating myself and training in a cave for six months. Dead Space 2’s hardcore difficulty limits players to only three saves throughout the entire game and forces them to start over from those saves anytime they die. This means players need to parcel their saves through the twelve hour playtime while dealing with the ratcheted up tension and danger of a game that’s already like the chestburster scene in Alien repeated ad nauseam.
The “Hand Cannon” is unquestionably awesome, but not so much when its price of admission is repeatedly watching Isaac get every orifice in his body violated by all manner of alien claws.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Rosalina
Super Mario Galaxy 2 represents not only the pinnacle of platforming innovation, but 25 years of honing Mario games into punishing digital nightmares designed to make children cry and reduce adults to crying children. Despite the friendly Italian stereotype façade, Mario games can be brutal in their later stages, and the second half of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the cartoon equivalent of a Saw movie.
See, once players actually go through and collect each of the game’s 120 Power Stars, they unlock another set of 120 Green Stars, which are hidden throughout each level and are only distinguishable by a distinct green glow and twinkling sound. This is particularly helpful in a game with a color palette as schizophrenic as a painting in a mental hospital art class and where every single object makes a goddamn twinkling sound because it’s fucking space. And after acquiring each of the hidden Green Stars, players unlock the Grandmaster Galaxy, a gauntlet of difficult levels that require the hand-eye coordination of a licensed fighter pilot.
Upon completing that – which will take most players blowing through their lives like a teenage pop star – players will unlock Rosalina, a sort of cosmic Princess Peach. She appears on Mario’s spaceship and just sort of… stands there. When you talk to her, she tells you how thankful she is for you saving the galaxy, but she never quite shows you just how thankful she is. I remember the days when all you had to do to get blue balled by a Mario game princess was jump over Bowser’s head and hit a button.
3. World of Warcraft - What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Life for a WoW addict is difficult enough. The King of MMO’s is designed like heroin through an IV drip, where the game’s greatest rewards are directly proportional to the amount of time you put into playing. Raid schedules and rep grinding manage to turn slaying Lich Kings and godlike dragons into about as much fun as punching the clock.
Which is why “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” is the achievement equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s not enough that a player dedicates their everyday lives to Azeroth, they’ve got to work holidays, too. The achievement requires players to get every one of the World Event achievements, which are WoW’s non denominational equivalents of real life holidays. Want to spend time with the family for Christmas? You better make sure you threw snowflakes on a blood elf warlock first. Got a special date planned for Valentine’s Day? Of course you don’t, so commemorate your loneliness by making a lovely charm bracelet for the Regent Lord of Quel’Thalas. At least the game reserves dragging an NPC orphan into the middle of a PVP battlefield for one of its made-up holidays.
Players dedicated and/or sad enough to actually spend an entire year working toward the achievement are rewarded with Reins of the Violet Proto-Drake, which is different from the other dime a dozen dragon mounts in that it’s... purple.
Final Fantasy is another series that has mastered the art of the time consuming side quest. The fact that they’re responsible for people using time that could have been spent with their friends and family to breed chocobos is surely a crime on par with all those kids of WoW addicts that Blizzard killed.
Final Fantasy XII’s Wyrmhero Blade, though, is the crown jewel of hollow victories. The only way to unlock Final Fantasy XII’s second most-powerful weapon is to defeat two of the game’s superbosses. One of these is Yiazmat, a dragon that, according to the game’s lore, killed God. Forget for a second the religious quandaries this raises and instead consider the facts. Yiazmat has over 50 million HP. He is not only one of the most powerful enemies in the game, he’s one of the most difficult in the entire series. Taking over two hours to beat, Yiazmat is second only to that FFXI boss that nearly killed a whole bunch of players from exhaustion. It’s only after players have defeated him that they’ve truly beaten the FFXII.
Or, in other words, the Wyrmhero Blade is only unlocked after you have absolutely no use for it.
What does the game expect you to do with it? Show it off to people at parties? Take revenge on that asshole dinosaur that chased you out of the Dalmasca desert? I know the game has to give you something for slaying the God killer, but a sword? Give me a spaceship or giant badass wings or a Square Enix representative personally presenting me with a commemorative plaque. The only way the Wyrmhero Blade would actually be worth anywhere near the amount of effort it takes to acquire it was if it was somehow able to bring Ares back to life.
When I was a little upper middle class hell spawn, I had a natural inclination toward anything that cost large sums of my parents’ money. I had learned that a person’s love was directly proportional to the amount of money they were willing to spend on someone, which is why I was a sucker for every passing fad I could force my parents to get their hands on. Furbies, Crazy Bones, Pogs. You name it, I had it stuffed in the back of a closet somewhere collecting dust. As a burgeoning nerd though, no money sink was greater than my obsession with video games. I was an avid Nintendo loyalist, owning both a Nintendo 64 and a Game Boy and spending the majority of my formative years playing both. Naturally, I was a Nintendo Power subscriber, and every month I would comb through the magazine with the same kind of solemn reverence an old man reads the Wall Street Journal.
I don’t know if it was because of my subscription to Nintendo Power or because some marketing research firm had been following my obsessive toy buying habits, but one day I received a mysterious VHS in the mail. This video tape offered an exclusive preview of a video game phenomenon that was about to sweep the nation. I had never even heard of what the video was promoting before, but after watching it once, then twice, then approximately a hundred times after, I realized I had just been let in on the ground floor of the hottest gaming craze of my young life.
That VHS was A Sneak Peek at Pokémon, and it is a master class on turning little kids into cash spewing drones.
If you weren’t one of the fortunate few to receive a copy of this thing when it was sent out like some sort of strategically deployed bioweapon, you can check out the first part here and the second here. It’s basically a fifteen-minute -ong commercial for Pokémon, but it’s so much more than that. This is not just some 30-second spot pushing a hot new toy during Saturday morning cartoons. This is a propaganda film. It’s not selling Pokémon the video game, it’s selling Pokémon the lifestyle.
Sure, if you watch it now it’s a painfully obvious ploy to move toys. But consider watching this thing as an unsuspecting child. It literally opens with some kid telling you what you’re about to witness is a cultural phenomenon that’s about to take America by the balls. It’s not just a TV show, it’s not just a Game Boy game, it’s “loads of other cool things.” I was 10. I fucking loved cool things. At that point in my existence, cool things were the only things I’m capable of defining myself by. I was hooked in the first 15 seconds, but then it kicked in with clips of this kid flying with ghosts and fire birds set to some ‘80s power ballad with lyrics like “You’ve got the power right in your hands,” and “A world of magic at your command.” Whatever this video was promising, it was no less than complete dominion over an army of badass monsters. I had no clue what a Pokémon was, but at that point I wanted every last one of them.
The video introduces the game’s core concept through a mix of clips from the cartoon and live-action actors who we can only imagine thought were going to be doing something much better with their lives. We’re told by his “Aunt Hillary” that the star of the TV show is Ash, a firebrand of a 10 year old who dreams of becoming a Pokémon master. And, of course, the only way to become a Pokémon master is to catch all the Pokémon.
First off, no it isn’t. To become a Pokémon master, you have to beat the Elite Four. Nobody is going to think you’re a Pokémon master just because you’ve got Mr. Mime. Second, how did this even get through the FCC? I know the “gotta catch ‘em all” catchphrase has been made fun of to death in that South Park Chinpokomon episode and CollegeHumor video, but seriously consider it for a moment. They won’t let cigarette companies run ads on television, but apparently it was legal in the ‘90s to allow companies to send promotional videos that exist in the moral gray area between advertising and brainwashing directly into children’s homes. In practice, that’s one step above a guy luring kids into his unmarked van with candy.
The most galling thing about this commercial is just how transparent it is. It just straight up tells you to buy everything. The most telling moment comes when we’re introduced to the Team Rocket boss, who we’re told by the veritable Woodward and Bernstein duo of Ash’s cousins “wants to steal Pikachu away from Ash to fulfill their ... diabolical plan for total domination.” How that’s supposed to work isn’t exactly clear, but what’s important is the fact that this menacing shadowy figure informs the viewer in no uncertain terms that unless they give their life entirely over to Pokémon, he’s going to completely destroy that adorable yellow mouse the video just showed a few seconds ago. The same one you see Ash lay his life on the line to save. Whatever a Pikachu is, it’s so important that a massive criminal organization will do everything in its power to have it, and a 10-year-old boy will risk death just to keep it out of harm’s way.
I just imagine there having been a group of Nintendo execs anxiously wringing their hands during a meeting with some ad agency going, “How do we make kids want this thing?” before some smooth Don Draper type proclaims “Make them? No, we tell them.” And then he bangs a secretary and my family loses a quarter of their income feeding my crippling Pokémon addiction.
Needless to say, the video worked. I eagerly tuned in when the anime premiered. I bought Pokémon Blue bright and early when it came out. I loaded up on enough Pokémon cards to fill two huge ass binders, despite not having the first clue about how to play the trading card game. I bought action figures and collectible Burger King gold plated cards. I nearly drove my mother to the verge of tears in my desperate, maddening search for a copy of Pokémon Snap the week it was released. All in all, with the amount of money I spent on Pokémon as a kid I could have probably made a sizable dent in my college loan payments already.
As effective as it was though, the video, and by extension the whole marketing blitzkrieg behind Pokémon, obscured the very thing that was responsible for it – the game. The fact that you played Pokémon almost seemed like an afterthought when compared to all the other ways you could feed the franchise money. After losing interest in Pokémon when all the hype died down, it took me years to rediscover the series as a solid, addicting, and above all else fun RPG. It took playing Emerald on my DS, removed from the “gotta catch ‘em all” fanaticism of my childhood, to genuinely enjoy the video game. A Sneak Peek at Pokémon was my introduction to the ceaseless money making machine that was the Pokémon franchise, and it took forcibly removing the series from its cold blooded claws to actually enjoy the game.
"Jazzy D. Funkington suffers no fools, and he sure as hell don't suffer no motherfucking dragons."
The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter was residing in the White House, disco was just beginning its terrible, glittery rein over the heart of the nation’s music scene, and international jewel thief Jazzy D. Funkington was falling through an interdimensional portal after a diamond heist gone awry. For reasons the scientists of the day could only classify as "some real Twilight Zone shit," the world's most prominent playboy/sticky-fingered filcher/Taekwondo expert found himself transported from the swanky streets outside a Paris museum to the cold, harsh woods of a land called Skyrim.
This is his story.
This man made the unfortunate mistake of wearing clothes that Jazzy needed.
Jazzy’s first night in Skyrim would have been considered a tumultuous one by the standards of any mortal man, but for Jazzy a near-execution interrupted by an attack from a mythological reptilian monster was simply business as usual. Uninterested in whatever rebellion threatened to tear the populace apart, Jazzy set out on the first step of his epic journey with only two goals in mind – to acquire riches and bitches. This was not only the title of his bestselling autobiography, but the two longstanding tenements of the Funkington family that were the reason Jazzy was the self-made man who had once made love to a trio of Swedish supermodels after he had swiped their ruby studded mink coats.
After hours spent hunting a wide assortment of Skyrim wildlife in search of the animal best suited for making love on in front of a fire place, Jazzy stumbled upon what one had to be generous to refer to as “civilization.” The town of Whiterun was certainly a town in the strictest sense of the word, but the lack of a respectable night club or an alley to shoot dice in did not bode well for his fortunes there. Nevertheless, Jazzy spent the evening hooking a brother up with the local tavern’s finest hooch, punching a woman in the face until she proclaimed her unyielding service to him, and being assigned dragon slaying duty by Carl Balgruuf, the town’s top turkey.
Jazzy, seen here testing a bear's carcass for form and comfort.
When informed that the “C” in Carl was actually a soft “J,” Jazzy calmly informed the Little Lord Fauntleroy-looking pimp, “The only soft J’s I deal with are the ones immediately preceded by a ‘B.’ Motherfucker, you Carl.”
While Jazzy’s heroic act was simply a front to allow him access to Carl’s highly ransackable castle, the man's single greatest flaw was his vanity. He could not turn down such a tempting feat of badassery. Surely if he were to defeat the draconian beast that threatened Whiterun, the town would erect a statue of his massive balls out of pure gold – which he could then steal and sell at a considerable profit. Already assured of his victory, Jazzy strode confidently into the night, a dispatch of Whiterun guards and Carl’s finest looking elf at his back.
It wasn’t long after reaching the besieged watchtower, the site of the dragon’s attack, that the terrible creature revealed itself. As it took off into the night sky, its wings spread out across the star streaked blackness like twin harbingers of doom, the guards unsheathed their weapons and readied for battle. The dark elf commanded the warriors to begin their assault, crying out for them to claim the dragon’s head.
“Be cool, elf honkey!”
The tremendous beast’s fearsome roar filled the frigid Skyrim air, but it was Jazzy’s words that quieted the rabble. He stepped forward, flexing his muscles hard enough to rip himself completely out of his woefully suede-free outfit. His clothes burst into tatters and scattered in the wind, abs chiseled out of concrete and several generations of racial injustice glistening in the moonlight. “You can’t just kill it. A dragon that fine you got to romance first.”
"Shh, girl, be cool. You about to get Jazzed."
What happened next was an act so indescribable that even a team of the Bards College’s greatest scholars writing every minute of every day for the next five hundred years could not even fathom to capture it in a song. Through the sheer power of his own funk, Jazzy overcame the raging monster using methods that had bedded an endless number of heiresses, air hostesses, foreign dignitaries, and skanks from around the block. The dragon thrashed wildly, but was no match for Jazzy’s soothing touch. It spat fire hot enough to melt the strongest Dwarven metal, but they were no match for the flames of Jazzy’s libido. It stared with eyes full of bloodthirst and malice into the very soul of the man who defied it, but its gaze was no match for Jazzy’s smoldering blue eyes.
Jazzy slayed the dragon not with force or magic or any other such destructive means. He felled the great menace with a power it could never hope to understand – the love of an upstanding black gentleman.
"Was it as good for you as it was for me? No, because there ain't nothing as good as being with me."
As the awestruck guards gathered around the corpse of the slain behemoth, murmurs passed between them about the reappearance of a legend.
“Dragonborn?” Jazzy asked. “More like dragon dead, which is what every one of them scaly motherfuckers are going to be if they step to me again, knowhaimsayin?”
Jazzy lifted his hand for the high five, but received no skin in return, as not a single warrior knew what he was saying.