Labor Day: The pain of healing

[Last week, I asked you to tell me about a moment in your gaming career that really made you work hard. Today, meteorscrap tells us about his all-Priest playthrough of one of my favorite games: Final Fantasy Tactics. Want to see your own work on our front page? Write a blog on our current topic: Relaxation. — JRo]

I’ve previously discussed my love of Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s somewhat ironic that the game I love so much is also the game that has come closest to making me break, make me give up on gaming as a whole. See, one of the challenges I’d taken to doing was going through the game with a single class of the twenty available. Up until I’d started the challenge which nearly broke me, playing through with a single class had proven to be a challenging but fun time. It was also a way of keeping my mind off the fact that I couldn’t afford any new titles at the time, and wouldn’t be able to for many, many months.

Then I began to play the White Mage Straight Character Challenge. Or Priest Straight Character Challenge, if you prefer the one time in the history of Final Fantasy that they aren’t called White Mages. The point is, I thought they’d be fun. I’d previously tackled a few of the other challenges, knowing full well that the difficulty was going to be high. The challenge was a way for me to reinvigorate my love for the game by presenting me with tough battles which would challenge my mind and my perceptions of how battles should be fought.

The problem was the exact opposite: The challenge was, for the most part, easy. Of course there were a stretch of battles that were incredibly difficult, as happens in any Final Fantasy Tactics playthrough, but the problem here was not the difficult battles but the easy ones. Each one represented a half an hour, at minimum, of slowly plodding from target to target, trying to corner the last few enemies so that I could slowly beat them to death with sticks.

See, the problem was that when I went into the challenge, I expected that I’d be able to toss out a few Holy spells and then mop up the rest of the enemies by beating them to death with sticks while healing anyone who got low on health. What I’d neglected to take into account was the fact that until nearly the end of the game, Priests don’t really have the MP to cast Holy and have enough juice left over to fight the rest of the foes you’re facing.

In fact, my expectations were reversed: most of my battles up until the middle of the second of the game’s four chapters were spent beating people to death with sticks while healing anyone who got low on health, and then, IF I had enough MP left in the tank, nuking whoever remained with Holy to mop things up. Once I DID get Holy most of the assassination battles where you have to take out a single target were incredibly simple. It even rendered some of the tougher battles easier by allowing me to selectively assassinate especially troublesome enemies like Black Mages or Dragoons.

But up until that point, it was tedious. Incredibly tedious. Most battles were long, long grinds which pitted my ability to keep healing my four or five White Mages against my enemy’s ability to survive the chip damage I was inflicting with the sticks my mages were thwacking them with. Battles which might take an offensively-oriented party twenty minutes to thirty minutes at most would consume an hour. Longer, more annoying battles (in particular, the two fights with Gafgarion where you couldn’t turn him into a naked Chemist and anything with more than six capable enemies) could take considerably longer.

To say that I’d grown to hate Gafgarion (a boss you must fight legitimately twice) by the end of the second chapter of the game is an understatement, since both fights are absolute bears even when played normally. With almost no offensive power to speak of, and Gafgarion’s ability to replenish his HP while, at the same time, depleting my own, he is a bastard.

My time estimate assumes I could even finish a few of the longer, tougher battles on the first try. The reality of that rhymes with “Bot a ducking lance”. Most of my Straight Character Challenges to that point took, from beginning to end, roughly two weeks to a month of casual play and maybe an all-nighter or two, depending on the difficulty of the job class. The White Mage Straight Character Challenge became a god-damned time vampire which took me three months of harsh, brutally slow gameplay to even claw my way three quarters of the way through the game.

There were times (mostly around the end of Chapter Two and midpoint of Chapter Three) that I would go a week or more at a time with no signs of progress; just a nightly attempt at a battle which would almost inevitably end up with my crew running out of MP and dying messily while my foes shrugged off the final desperate puny blows of our sticks and laughed.

To make matters worse, I did this challenge while playing the game on an actual Playstation, not using an emulator. You really don’t know frustration until you’ve had to reset a battle for the umpteenth time and had to wait to load your save game and enter the battle again rather than hitting F3 to load the save state for the beginning of the battle. Even worse, I couldn’t use frame skips to speed the thing up the way I can now, which allows me to breeze through certain Straight Character Challenge playthroughs on a lazy long weekend.

Thankfully, right around the time I was seriously considering the option of saying “Screw It” and quitting, I passed beyond the vile, evil barrier which had stymied me and into the part of the White Mage Straight Character Challenge where each of my units could cast Holy more than once. I found that once I’d reached that point, eight to ten Holy spells tended to solve a lot of the encounters I was facing, especially with the late game focus on killing a single unit. The end game was a breeze, with most battles taking a few turns to advance towards the unit in need of killing after casting Protect, Shell, and Regen quick and then re-enacting the creation of the universe right in their face.

While a certain part of me considers the challenge of a game, of having defeat tossed back in my jaws time and again, a fun thing, that playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics represents a dark time in my gaming career where I wanted to beat my Playstation with a hammer instead of beating the game. At times it was a tedious chore, at other times it was a painful, delicate balancing act which could be upset by one small miscalculation, and at no time did it resemble anything which could be construed as fun.

In the time between then and now, I’ve tackled other FFT-related challenges which are considerably harder and more tedious, but none of them quite managed to feel like such hard work as that one did. I’ll probably never repeat the challenge, just because of how much trauma that one has inflicted on my soul.

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