The games we gave up on
Between my DS, my 3DS, Wii, Wii U, Switch, PlayStation 4, Vita, Steam, NES Classic, SNES Classic, and the three Xbox 360 Burger King games I just bought off eBay, I have a backlog of roughly 350 titles. I don’t want to know how many hours of play that translates into because it’ll only remind me I’m in the waning years of my life and death steps closer to me every day. I know that’s not the biggest backlog you’ve heard of, but for me, it’s certainly close to insurmountable. Unless I have a drastic increase in free time, I don’t see how I’m ever going to finish all those games.
It’s completely my fault it’s grown this big. Not only do I keep buying games I really have no intention of playing – why the hell did I buy Xenoverse 2 – but I also have a nasty habit of quitting games the moment something better comes along. As I’m sure many of you do. People just don’t finish games anymore. There are, however, a few franchises I insist I complete every game I start. Mario, Dragon Quest, Kirby, God of War, Splatoon, and The Legend of Zelda. I may not do it all at once – I’ve been working on Dragon Quest VII for 3DS since it launched – but I play the games on a regular enough basis to see them to the end in a timely manner. That’s been true of those series with one exception: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.
I know I’ve bitched about this game before, but when I thought up the concept of this week’s Destructoid Discusses question, I figured it would be a great opportunity for me to get it all out on the table. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is, all things considered, the greatest video game I’ve ever played. It’s difficult to keep saying that year after year with all the great new titles being released, but every time I boot it up my mind, body, and soul are instantly transported to the Great Sea. That’s how it’s always been for me.
To say I was excited for Phantom Hourglass is an understatement. I was champing at the bit, foaming at the mouth, absolutely, totally driving myself crazy in anticipation in the lead-up to that game. I get to sail the sea as Link…on a handheld? Yes, please and thank you. You bet your ass I pre-ordered that bitch and on October 1, 2007, I dropped everything else I was doing at the time for another trip to a flooded Hyrule.
The first hour of the game was everything I’d hoped it would be. The graphics were colorful, the controls were tight, and the picture book recap of the adventures of Toon Link and Tetra was outstanding. Even my first run through the Temple of the Ocean King to save Linebeck was great fun.
Then came the second trip.
And then the third.
And then the fourth.
Yes, I do understand how tired this argument is, how many people hate the execution of this dungeon. This temple is no bueno. But back in 2007, I did everything I could to get past my deep seeded hatred of the Ocean King and just complete the game. After all, I’ve played lousy Zelda temples before. Twilight Princess’s Temple of Time, Zelda 2’s Great Palace, Oracle of Ages’ Jabu Jabu’s Belly; all mediocre in their execution. The big difference is I didn’t have to return to any of those dungeons.
I made it through three full trips to the Temple of the Ocean King before I had my fill of it. When faced with yet another go, roughly three weeks after I first started playing the game, I closed my Nintendo DS and gave up out of pure frustration. I couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t take one single step into that goddamn dungeon. So I stopped playing.
Did I eventually beat it? Yeah. After two years, though I was still annoyed at the whole experience, I picked up where my save file left off to complete it in time for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Turns out, I was roughly 30 minutes away from the end of the game.
Spirit Tracks did the concept much better and is, overall, a superior title, though its dungeon themes are largely rote compared to other games in the series. Phantom Hourglass remains the only Zelda game I’ve never bothered returning to for a second run. I may, someday, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact the Temple of the Ocean King frustrated me so much I actually stopped playing a Zelda game.
Final Fantasy XIV is the best MMO I’ve ever played. It’s built a stable and growing player base despite its catastrophic launch because 2.0 transformed it into something extraordinary. I can’t name any MMO that has impressed me more on a technical or design level, at least out of the ones I’ve touched myself. I’ve simply never played any MMO that I’d consider to be objectively better than FFXIV. And yet I’ve dropped it long ago, even though I had time to spare and most of my best friends still play it.
I was in love with FFXIV during 2.0’s main story. Despite feeling overwhelmed by everything, I found a groove in traveling to new regions, testing out new Black Magic in combat, and leveling mining/goldsmithing on the side. Yet a few quest chains after the first credits roll, my enthusiasm took a nosedive. I didn’t enjoy the battle system as much as I used to. Everything seemed to revolve around memorization and optimization rather than impulse and reaction, and I prefer the latter by far. I think that didn’t bother me earlier because constantly unlocking new spells kept me guessing and changed up my strategies constantly.
The emphasis on memory games only magnified the further I dipped my toes into the endgame. I could have leveled other classes, but I doubted I’d enjoy a repeat trek through old haunts the same way I did playing blind. I wanted to keep playing with friends because, well, that’s kinda the point of a massive online game, but I was bad at lining up our playtimes. Eventually, I was spending $15 a month on subscriptions when I’d only play two days. I started to feel as if I had an obligation, not a desire, to play more days and make better use of that money. It was healthier for me to cut the cord, at least with my current mindset and play habits.
Granted, I was playing a DPS class, and Black Mages have more simplistic and repetitive rotations than other 2.0 DPS jobs. Now I think my playstyle might have been closer to my preferences if I chose a healer or a tank. From my limited understanding of Stormblood’s Red Mages, I might also have more fun if I try one of them out. Unfortunately, I now have less time than I did back then and I don’t want to risk another poorly budgeted subscription, not now at least. But I’ll always consider it an experience worth trying out and a game worth playing. Eorzeans, I salute thee.
Very few games cause me to stop playing them. I’m typically able to sit through even the banalest nonsense just to reach the conclusion and give myself a sense of closure. Sometimes, though, a game goes too far with its length and even I have to throw in the towel. Mercenary Kings is one such game.
I got the title free from PS Plus a few years back and gave it a shot. The art style (done by Paul Robertson of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game fame) is absolutely excellent and the soundtrack is very catchy, but everything else about the game is a slog. The characters move ridiculously slow, the mission objectives repeat in basically every tier and the guns you collect take far too much grinding to be upgraded.
Worse still, the sheer number of missions given to you is ridiculous. I believe the reason for this was that Mercenary Kings originally launched in Early-Access on PC. Bringing updates every few months, developer Tribute Games probably didn’t expect anyone to play through the entire game in a few sittings. When you remove all the periods where you would have been waiting for new content to release, it just adds up to a game that never manages to excite past the third boss.
To make matters worse, I’m actually in the final tier of the game and can go straight for the final boss. Because of my completionist nature of wanting to finish everything, though, I burned myself out way too quickly and have no desire to pick it back up. I just don’t see the appeal of doing the same crap again only to have some limp boss fall before me and me adding another checkmark on my list of completed games.
When I think of BioWare’s Mass Effect — and particularly its sequel, Mass Effect 2 — I’m flooded with wonderful memories of great times, amazing characters, intense dialogue, and hours upon hours spent wandering the Normandy, chatting to all the crewmates over and over again. It’s truly one of my favourite RPGs, and video game universes, of all time. I basically 100% completed ME2, got all the upgrades, did all the side-quests, maxed out conversations (though no romance, oddly enough) and even all the DLC content. I then came out of the suicide mission with a full crew. No man, woman, nor Turian left behind.
I then proceeded to never play Mass Effect 3.
It wasn’t the furore of the fans, it wasn’t the pissy cupcake PR stunts. I didn’t care that it had a wack multiplayer mode, or that it was “better with Kinect”. I just didn’t buy it and didn’t play it. Now, as time goes on, my life gets busier and the ME3’s already-clunky mechanics become more dated, I don’t know if I will. I’m not quite sure what happened. Actually, scratch that. I do know what happened. Diablo III happened, and by the time I’d put several thousand hours into that, ME3 seemed like 50 years prior. Despite all this, I still have my save file, as Alex Shepard and her crew eagerly await the oncoming Reapers. Never say never.
When it comes to generating excitement in my weird little brain, the Final Fantasy series used to be top dog. I loved Mario, Mega Man, Metroid, and all the other staples of the NES and SNES generations, but Final Fantasy existed on another level. The release of a new game in the series signified a step forward for the entire medium. With each new numbered entry in the franchise, the bar for excellence in graphics, music, storytelling, mechanics, world-building were all elevated to levels we’d never seen before.
That is, until Final Fantasy VIII.
This came as a nasty surprise to me, as I thought I knew what I was getting into with the game. A special demo for Final Fantasy VIII came packed in with the underappreciated masterpiece Brave Fencer Musashi, and I had played through it several times without issue. I loved the new gunblade battle mechanics. I was impressed with the improved visual fidelity and realistic-but-stylized character designs. I liked Zell’s JNCO style shorts (which were pretty cutting edge in the late 90’s). I wasn’t quite as blown away with it as I was with the Final Fantasy VII demo a few years prior, but hey, you can only make the jump to “CD-ROM power 3D graphics!” once, right? All things considered, there was no reason to think that Final Fantasy VIII would let me down.
That is, until I got the full game, and had to experience the ever-increasing levels of drudgery that lay in wait for me. In prior Final Fantasy games, you had new characters and mechanics to discover along nearly all of you 50-70 hour journey. In Final Fantasy VIII, you meet the entirety of your party by the end of your first disc, and they all play pretty much the same. The story was uninspiring, something about a flying school and a sulking, handsome, mean-spirited teen who doesn’t seem to notice that a Tifa-looking popular girl wants to make out with him? I can’t remember anymore. I couldn’t relate with any of these kids, except maybe for Zell and his shorts, but ultimately, the similarities between this spunky tattooed comic relief character and myself were not flattering for either of us.
Worst of all, everything took so long. Load times were long, battles were long, dialogue cutaways were long, and very little of it felt worth it. There was a lot of hinting that something important would happen or was secretly happening somewhere else, but those carrots were too small and the stick was too long to get me to ever move past the second disc. I’d end up buying Final Fantasy IX on day one, eventually playing through it twice while loving every second of it, but after that, I never beat another numbered Final Fantasy game again. They all reminded me too much of Final Fantasy VIII.
I loved Kingdom Hearts from the moment the first game came out on PS2. It actually helped drag me into the world of Final Fantasy games through my love of the Disney worlds being connected. I also loved my Game Boy Advance SP, it helped long rides on the bus for marching band trips pass a little bit easier. So when the spin-off Chain of Memories was announced for the GBA, I was ecstatic because I could finally take my beloved Kingdom Hearts on the go.
At first, it was OK, the card battle system was a little weird but it didn’t matter, there were new characters and lore expansion! Then came the hardware issues. The GBA SP was not known for having reliable shoulder buttons, and Chain of Memories used the shoulder buttons to shuffle through the cards you had to play with. So as my shoulder buttons started to lose their responsiveness, I also lost the ability to play because without my shoulder buttons I was just spamming cards in the order of which they came in my deck. Not reliable when you need to heal or exploit weaknesses. Thankfully though I was able to employ the help of my friend who cleaned my shoulder button ports for me and I was back in business after a delay of a few months.
Then came the Riku battle. I can’t remember exactly which of the six times you had to face him that ended up spelling my demise but my god I almost threw my cartridge out the bus window. I must have tried the battle at least 50 times and just couldn’t get past him. Couple the difficulty spike with my shoulder buttons beginning to fail again and that was enough for me. I read a GameFAQs about what happened in the story and never went back to the game, or any other of the spin-offs for that matter. Which is a shame as Marluxia was the best part of that convoluted mess called Organization XIII.
Arkham Asylum is quite possibly the single greatest licensed superhero game ever. Arkham City is in contention for that title, even if I found it a bit too big and unfocused for its own good. Like most people writing in this feature, I was super, duper pumped for a game that totally broke me.
Arkham Knight is simply too much. Way, way too much. It’s huge, and it’s bloated, and it’s full of great things and full of horrible, un-great things. The most un-greatest thing is by far the Bat-Tank, which led to what finally made me quit playing this game: Riddler Trophies. At my best estimation, there are 11.2 billion of those goddamn things to collect throughout the city. Most are manageable enough, but dude, those Batmobile ones are downright terrible in every single way.
I started Arkham Knight. I played through the main story, all the while collecting trophies and clearing side missions, up until the last story mission. Like I usually do with these types of games, I decided to 100% the rest of the game so I wouldn’t have to go back and play it again. Two weeks later, when I had cleared the final abysmal Batmobile Riddler Challenge, I hated Arkham Knight so much that I never, ever wanted to play it again. So I didn’t.
I 99%ed the game, and quit it forever. I hate the goddamn Batmobile.
Sometimes just walking away from a game is the best decision you can make. On more than one occasion I’ve felt that uninstalling World of Warcraft was the best thing for me.
I love the game, there are few things in life that can feel quite as cathartic as grinding out some quests in Azeroth while you wind down for the evening. I would senselessly plug away hours into the game across multiple characters on both factions, but eventually, I had to stop myself.
When I started essentially losing track of time and losing entire weekends to the WoW grind I knew it was time to end my subscription. I won’t lie, I tend to briefly bounce back for each expansion, but thankfully I keep myself in check enough to know when to call it quits. I still haven’t pre-ordered Battle for Azeroth, but the day isn’t over yet.
I don’t quit games nearly as often as simply drift away from them, forces of circumstance or habit just leading me to lose contact with them the way one might lose touch of classmates from elementary school over time. I’ve got a ton of amazing games in my backlog that I’ve simply moved on from, with plans to come back someday…someday.
Mobile games, by contrast, are designed to avoid this precise phenomenon, by demanding little of most players and rewarding them just for showing up. They never seem like a burden – until you start to get serious about progression or competition. That happened to me with Star Wars: Commander, a Clash of Clans-like mobile game based on (duh) Star Wars. You built a base, manufactured units, and chucked armies at other bases trying to conquer them. Like other games in the field, it had a competitive component, where you targeted the bases of other players, and vice-versa.
It was alright while it lasted, and I got plenty out of the game without ever spending a cent, but my breaking point with the game came around the time it ran a competitive event. Players would raid bases to gain points on a leaderboard, and be rewarded with new units or other goodies based on their placement. That’s when I got serious because I wanted to get some rocket troopers or something. I played almost constantly to keep my position on the board, to the point I was staying up late and waking up at weird hours to run battles.
But it wasn’t to be. In the last minutes of the event, I was knocked out of my bracket and missed the chance to get my rocket troopers. I was incredibly salty about the whole thing, and after realizing the lengths I had gone to get that thing, vowed never again to succumb. I still play mobile games, but I’ve since taken care never to get too involved in anything with that sort of competitive element again.
All this is coming from someone who platinumed Nioh, but for the longest time, I left Bloodborne behind. In fact, I beat Nioh’s primary campaign before even coming back to Bloodborne.
When I first booted up Bloodborne, I had an embarrassing start. Crazy villagers gave me a little trouble, but the whole crowd at the start with the bonfire was a brick wall. After exploring detours like the sewers, and figuring grinding would be a waste of time, I put Bloodborne away. Only after truly seeing how the game could be experienced through Nioh did I decide to come back to the game that was heavily praised by friends like Occams and Gamemaniac. The timing of the dodges, the back and forth of combat, and a sense of true fear/self-preservation.
I bought Bloodborne in December of 2016 for a PS+ sale for $10. One year later, in 2017, I went back in. After beating the game, probably a month later, I platinumed it. Never let it be known that Bloodborne broke me entirely.