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Get your multiplayer out of my single player!

6:18 AM on 12.12.2006 // Aaron Linde

I've invested quite a bit of time into Final Fantasy III DS since its release. Sure, I've been hemorrhaging cash in various other directions too, but FFIII has been my little go-to buddy, filling morning commutes and lazy afternoons nearly effortlessly. Though I've gone on the record more than once over my distaste for Square-Enix's recent surge of franchise-whoring, I can't say I blame them for going back to the well when there's so many good games to revisit. Adding new stuff to my favorite classics? I'm there. Just show me where to sign.

FF3 ain't without its flaws, but I'm thoroughly engaged by it. Nearing the endgame, it occured to me that I hadn't fully explored any of the game's new additions -- the extracurriculars, if you will. Too lazy to discover the location of the new dungeon (natch) and other bonuses on my own, I hobbled over to GameFAQs to get the low-down. Here's the rough of it: to access some of the game's sexier new content, I have to use FF3's new in-game communication system, Mognet, to send messages back and forth other fleshy human players. Like, real people.

No messages of any particular worth, mind you. I could send a memo to Nex that says "goathungry bandersnatch wants u in his office" and still unlock the dungeon. What's important is that the game forces my hand into completing arbitrary and borderline retarded tasks that rely on the utterly broken DS friend code system just to access single player content. That, friends, is poppycock.

Hit the jump to find out why I'd sooner cut out my own kidneys than travel any farther down this miserable little road.

I've spoken to folks who insist that, by definition, "hardcore gamers" are gamers who live and die by multiplayer experiences on home consoles. Sure, if you say so, but I prefer a fine, well-prepared single player experience over rounds of multiplayers with gamers who threaten to destroy my otherwise sunny outlook upon humanity with every utterance. However, I consider myself hardcore by virtue of my preternatural knack for digging through every inch of game that a well-rounded single player experience can offer me. Scatter fifty pieces of crystal, jigsaw puzzle pieces, or discarded glass eyes across the landscape and just watch me hunt 'em down. Oh, I will.

That being said, making me use some gimmicky, tacked-on feature just to unlock content that should be accessible by more independent means is just a mean thing to do. I don't know anybody locally who is playing the game, and even if I wanted to coordinate my efforts with someone on the web -- say, in the Dtoid forums -- that's still a good chunk of time invested in setting up the rendezvous, to say nothing of the ungodly length of time it takes for the DS to actually connect, send and receive information, etc. I'm just not motivated enough to put out that kind of effort just to play a portion of a game that, in every sense of the word, belongs to me. I paid for it. With money! Making me jump through idiot hoops just to play it through to completion is almost as irritating as EA's recent microtransaction shennanigans. At least I'm not paying Square-Enix to screw with me, I suppose.

That's not what bothers me, though. At its core, my worries boil down to a single, unanswered question: if I have to rely on other people to play every inch of a single player game, what happens when they stop playing?

The technical issues bear even greater concern. Who knows if DS online infrastructure will still be around in any familiar form in, say, six years? What if the next generation of Nintendo portables forsakes current multiplayer communication standards in favor of something newer, much like the way they gave up on making Gameboy Advance multiplayer compatible on the DS? There may come a time at which it becomes virtually impossible to unlock various features of games like Final Fantasy III, simply because everyone -- gamers and developers alike -- have moved onto other things.

I have a huge game collection. I collect games the way most people collect books in that I may not play every one of them every day, but I like having the option of playing them -- revisiting old favorites during the summer droughts is a welcome respite from the flood of new titles. For this reason, the thought of portions of my game collection being instantly gimped by the lack of an active community is a chilling one. Phantasy Star Online: Episode 1&2 will always be a better game on the GameCube over its Xbox counterpart. Why? Because I can play it any time I want, no matter what happens to the servers or how few people still play the game. If Sega was crushed into dust tomorrow by the wrath of some ancient and terrible god, I can still toss PSO1&2 Plus into my GameCube and play me some split-screen with my buddies, offline. The Xbox version is online only and, therefore, utterly worthless to game collectors like me. It's a waste, and a shame.

Don't play the gimmick game, Square-Enix. Use the features of the DS wisely, and be sure to give us single player shut-ins something to hang onto when we finally decide to turn our backs on society and retreat to our caves and underground bunkers once and for all. Wi-Fi is a wonderful innovation and worthy of the focus and attention it gets from developers everywhere, but to establish network interactivity as a crux of the single player experience is going too far. Sartre said it better than I ever could: Hell is other people.

Aaron Linde,
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