Something about the way I play video games changed when Final Fantasy IX came out. To start with, after getting the two previous Final Fantasy games on the days they came out, I waited a couple of years to get Final Fantasy IX because Final Fantasy VIII burned me so badly. (I got Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII on their release days, never got Final Fantasy XI or Final Fantasy XIV because I don’t play online role-playing games, waited to get Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV since I didn’t own the systems they were on at the time they came out, and pre-ordered Final Fantasy VII Remake months in advance before I’d even bought a Playstation 4 because, well, yeah.) By the time I finally owned a copy of Final Fantasy IX, I’d read an awful lot about it, and even though I wound up liking the game an awful lot, there was one thing I learned about the game that really made me hesitate when it came to finally buying my copy and playing it.
There is a sword in Final Fantasy IX called Excalibur II, and it’s far more powerful than any other sword in the game. In order to get the sword, though, you have to reach a certain point near the game’s ending before you log in more than twelve hours of play time. Both of the previous Final Fantasy games I’d played had taken me sixty to seventy hours to complete, so I figured that this task would be all but impossible. As I learned from playing the game for the first time, the only way to reach that point in the game in anything close to twelve hours requires skipping pretty much every scene of the game where you get to experience its story. In other words, you have to rush through every fight in the game, and then choose to not see everything that tells you why these fights are taking place, or who the characters are, or anything that even hints at the game’s lush atmosphere.
Although the speedrunning community of twenty years ago wasn’t nearly the size it is now, enough games were famous for their time-oriented incentives back then that it wasn’t too surprising to see a speedrun goal come to a Final Fantasy game. With those other games, though, their stories tended to be so minimal that skipping story-oriented scenes didn’t exactly remove much from the playing experience. Console role-playing games have always had very deep stories, though (and Final Fantasy IX’s is excellent, at least up until the middle of the final disc, when the writers seemed to get their hands on some really bad acid), and skipping all the story scenes of a role-playing game in order to get a special weapon is like only reading the SparkNotes of a novel to prepare for a test. (At least the SparkNotes will give you a fuller idea of plot than understanding a role-playing game by only watching its battle sequences.)
As a result, I made the decision that I was never going to attempt to get Excalibur II in Final Fantasy IX, no matter how many times I played the game. I can understand why other players might be up for that challenge, but the way I play role-playing games just doesn’t allow me to breeze through a game and ignore its story just to get some special weapon. It wasn’t like me to not attempt to obtain every special thing in a Final Fantasy game — I even bought a GameShark so I could get the item I needed to defeat the optional megaboss in Final Fantasy VIII, since it was impossible to obtain that item any other way due to Sony not releasing the PocketStation here in America — but I just couldn’t bring myself to rush through such a good game, and ignore the core element of what makes role-playing games so immersive and wonderful for me, for one lousy weapon that I didn’t even need in order to beat the final boss and finish the game.
In Final Fantasy X, there were a total of seven ultimate, “celestial” weapons to get, but by the time I got to the point in the game where I could start obtaining those weapons, I quickly realized that the requirements for two of them — the Onion Knight and the Caladbolg — were too much for me to handle. I made more than a few attempts at the mini-games I needed to beat in order to get these weapons, but I quickly realized that I would have to invest so much time in getting good enough at those games to get the celestial weapons that I decided the effort wouldn’t be worth it for me, Again, I wasn’t one to back down from a challenge in a video game I loved, but I just couldn’t justify the time I’d need to invest to get those special items, to say nothing of the frustration that playing those mini-games over and over and over again was likely to cause me.
I should note here that I’d started back at college before I played Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X, so I certainly had things that were far more important to be spending time on. At the same time, though, it kind of felt like I was giving up on video games far more easily than I ever had before, and even if video games weren’t that important a part of my life, giving up on anything just never feels right to me, probably because of the way I was raised. Even all these years later, I’m feeling some slight pangs of failure as I write about these episodes.
The reason I’m bringing this up now is that I finally started deleting games from the hard drive of my Playstation 4 for the first time since I bought it six months ago. I got a subscription to Playstation Plus when I got my system, so I get to download a couple of free games every month, and I’ve been trying all of them out as I try to catch up on all those years of video gaming I missed when I was in college (and starting my teaching career afterwards). Some of the games I deleted weren’t really a big deal for me, either because I couldn’t handle them (modern first-person shooters give me terrible motion sickness), or they were so buggy that I couldn’t enjoy them (I’m looking at you, Sims 4), but every time I deleted a game from my hard drive, I still felt like I was giving up on it.
Just like when I was going through those Final Fantasy games after returning to college, I have far more important things to concern myself with right now than getting good at every single aspect of a video game. Even when I’m almost constantly being surrounded by reminders of that fact, though, there’s still a part of me that feels like a failure when I don’t give everything I have to solve every problem I’m faced with, regardless of how trivial it is. Given the problems the world is facing right now, getting all those special weapons in those Final Fantasy games feels like it would be a whole lot easier in comparison, but I have more important things to do with my life, even if that realization makes me feel like a failure at other things.