I don't like cheating. I'd like to think that most gamers out there prefer to avoid using strategy guides, FAQs, and how-to sheets on getting past games. I'm not a competitive gamer. I'm not really up for trying to get my name up on leaderboards, or out to win every achievement. But there is one side of me that is strong and proud: I want to figure stuff out on my own. I like getting stuck in games because it means that there's a challenge. Challenges are good. I like a game that tests me, especially intellectually. For the longest time, the idea of consulting GameFAQs on a game I had not yet finished was almost sacreligeous. I had a voice inside me telling me that I shouldn't read up on how to get something done, because I was smart enough to figure it out on my own.
And sometimes I did. I'm pretty proud of myself for beating Tomb Raider without outside interference, as well as Portal (alright, not a huge challenge, really, but hey, you gotta boost up your self-esteem where you can.)
At some point, though, this policy of not looking stuff up can derail my progress in games. If I get grumpy and quit playing something because I am brickwalled at a certain point, am I really getting my $40-70 worth out of the game? And what about games where the basic play methods aren't always apparent?
Take Vagrant Story
, for instance. I got this game in mid-summer 2001, and played it for about six hours, before encountering a boss I could literally not do damage on. I tried it for a few hours, said screw it, and then moved to Colorado for school. It wasn't until many years later that I found out that I hadn't been using the crafting system right; there was a very specific series of things you needed to craft in order to get a weapon capable of killing this boss. This information is not readily apparent from the manual, in-game help, or other aids, it's just something that you have to figure out on your own to get.
So my own pride for not looking things up actually stopped me from getting anywhere in this game. I guess my rationalization is this: if I start looking up one thing, then aren't I just going to lean on the FAQ from there on in and stop trying to figure things out on my own? I had little faith in my resolve.
Here I am, a few years later, and I've mellowed a little. Yes, I prefer to defeat bosses and solve puzzles with my own brainpower, but I'm also realistic in my gaming ADD. I'm only going to play a game for so long before giving up. The trick is to balance out the time that the developer intended for you to solve this puzzle yourself and not getting so tired of the game that you stop playing it altogether.
Here are my personal rules of conduct regarding looking things up:
1. Ye Shall Try To Figure It Out Thineself, But If Ye Realizes That Ye Hasn't Played the Game in a Few Weeks Because Ye Is Stuck, Thou Shalt Check GameFAQs.
2. Consulting Thine Friends Isn't Really Cheating.
(This is pure rationalization.)
3. If Ye Game Is Of The Obscure Japanese Variety Where If Ye Forgets One Little Thing Early On In Thine Game And It Willst Fucketh Things Up For The Rest Of It, Ye Shall Be Granted Permission To Read Up On Game Mechanics But Not The Walkthrough Or Boss Strategies.
I have to remember that it is my game, and I can enjoy it how I choose. But much of the enjoyment for me is solving puzzles, so I'm conflicted. Commandment 1 is my way of dealing with that: any game that I'm not picking up because of a brick wall is open season.
Also, I don't consider anything wrong whatsoever with mucking about with FAQs regarding games that I've finished, although the amount of times that I've messed around with a game after finishing it is limited to say the least. I don't know why I don't consider asking a friend about how to get past something. I guess it seems more chummy, and probably because I can't keep bothering the same person about how to get past something without him or her getting mad and telling me to check an FAQ. My one rule about that, though, is that they either have to be there in person or on the phone. Asking people online is still cheating. (Yes, it's irrational.)
Here is a look at some other games where I did end up cheating, and a brief rationalization why:
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
This was a case where I didn't even start playing this game until about six months after I bought it. And when I did, I realized I wanted to finish it. The story is that good. Fortunately, the gameplay elements of this experience are fairly breezy, to the point that I wasn't having much problem getting in between story segments. Except for the catacombs. I've mentioned it before in my write up on stealth games that this is one of the worst examples of stealth mechanics in a game. I knew basically what I had to do, but it would have required several hours of dealing with shitty game design to bypass. So I just said screw it, looked it up on GameFAQs, and moved on. I don't regret it.
As this isn't a narrative experience, I don't feel too bad at all about this one. I was so hopelessly behind everyone else in the game, and just generally awful at it that I realized there was no harm in checking up some strategies, and beefing up my knowledge of what the hell everything does. The manual isn't exactly heavy reading, and poorly covered the basics of the game.
Metal Gear Solid 3
I'd stopped playing this game altogether. With the new game coming out, I had a sudden desire to see what the hell was up with Naked Snake and all the other odd folks in this game, so I figured I'd go back and try it again. I'd done so a few months earlier, to no avail: the fenced area before the lab I had to go to was impossible to me. And yet, after an hour or two reading through FAQs, I breezed through it in about five minutes. Let me put it this way: my save file was from mid September 2006. It'd been almost two years that I'd been stuck at this part of the game (before the mountains). I had figured that you were supposed to get through this game without killing or tranquilizing anyone, and had been playing it as a purely sneaking game. Coming back to it, and after reading the FAQ, I realized that I could go through as much as I wanted with the Mk22, and that that damned dog
was cannon fodder. This goes back to my third point, about Japanese games whose hidden goals can be difficult to grasp on your own. (Alright, this might be a personal thing. I've always had a hard time grasping the intricacies of Japanese games, especially JRPGs.) The game bugged me so much about being invisible that I'd assumed that was the way you had to play it. Nope, heck, you can even go through the game murdering everyone. I don't know why it happens to me with Japanese games specifically, but I get so intimidated by them, not understanding the unstated goals, and thinking that I have to be super careful or else I'll get The Bad Ending, the slap in the face to anyone who considers themselves an educated gamer. It turns out that there was so much I didn't know. Putting TNT into the armory and food camps. The ideas behind food rotting. How it implements survival skills. And this was after playing through Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 unaided (though, I'm pretty sure I played through those "wrong").
Final Fantasy Tactics
Because I got to Wiegraf in his demon form and got absolutely destroyed. Then I put the game down in 1998 and didn't pick it up again until 2005, where I decided to play through as guided by an FAQ. I didn't know what to equip, what level to be, what jobs to take. The sheer mass of everything I could do choked me, and evidently, I made all the wrong decisions. It's the double-edged sword of open-endedness. Either you get it or you don't, and I didn't figure out for myself the best way to play the game. So my thickheadedness with JRPGs combined with a game whose ability, power, and job descriptions were brutally murdered in translation meant that I never really got to enjoy what is known by some as one of the best strategy roleplaying games out there. As a footnote, I played through the game for about five hours following the FAQ and then got bored and played something else. Stupid ADD.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
I'd finished it before. Wait, no. My brother finished it before using the Brains path in 1992, and I watched the ending. I got to the labyrinth that is Atlantis as a 12 year old and promptly got stuck. My brother Nick manages to generally be better at games than me then, as well as now, and got through it by himself. So when I found out about VMScumm working on the Mac, I realized that i could load up my laptop with Fate of Atlantis, what I thought was one of the best adventure games ever made (even if I hadn't finished it), so I... er... copied my old 3.5 disks of the game onto my laptop, yeah... (Alright, I downloaded it. But I do own a legit copy of the game somewhere.) At any rate, I got stuck pretty fast on puzzles that I had solved years ago. And I just wanted to go through the game again, see what there was to see, so I figured what the hell, and implemented a "if I can't figure it out in 30 minutes" rule on myself to speed through the game. I got most of the things on my own, save for some really obscure puzzles, right until the end, where I just wanted to see the ending. Adventure games are brutal sometimes.
Secret of Mana
I wanted to keep playing in multiplayer. Multiplayer Secret of Mana, especially 3-players, ranks in my heart as the single best console multiplayer experience of my life. As soon as I get my multitap I'm gonna kidnap someone to make them play it with me and Rooo. But as it is, we were having a grand time getting through it two-player. But then we hit a brick wall for about half an hour. We'd cleared out Gaia's Navel (linty!) and the game offered no clue as what to do next. We talked to Jemma. Went back to the water palace. Nothing. I had a flashback to being in this same situation back in the early ninetees playing a borrowed copy of the game. But my brain wasn't releasing all the details. "I think... we have to talk to someone and trigger a cutscene." I told Rooo, but I had no idea who. So yeah, GameFAQs time to keep the pace of the game going. Turns out there's a random person you have to talk to in order to open up the Awesome Music Temple Place.
So how many people read up all about a game that they are playing? How many try to figure it out for yourself? What games made you throw your hands up in defeat?
And when do you admit defeat? Do you give yourself a time limit to figure stuff out? Ever look something up only to get mad at yourself and think "Aw, I was so close to figuring that out myself!"
Right now I'm playing Lost Odyssey
sans guide, figuring that there's not too much to the whole thing that I can't figure out on my own. Do you let your own stubbornness regarding not cheating end up stopping you from finishing games like I do? Heck, I'm halfway through that damned Still Life
and not getting any further because of some ridiculous recipe puzzle. And if I ever want to get anywhere in Final Fantasy XII, I'm probably going to at least check out some How To guides on getting those stupid Gambit things working.
In something completely unrelated, my friend Vince took a picture of my boyfriend Rooo at an Erykah Bad Dudes concert. The perspective reminded me of a certain game, so I summoned my lackluster photoshop skills...