Completionism has its limits

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I’ve been spreading my attention far too thin lately among many games, at a time when my day job means my gaming hours pitiably thin. I’ve had to make do with an hour or two of Snake Eater here, a handful of random battles in Final Fantasy V there (though I did manage one of those elusive pleasures–a four-person session of Gears of War 3 with my bros. Scheduling, right?). Rather than buckling down and trying to finish a project, I went ahead and started fooling around with Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (which I highly recommend for anyone who, unlike me, has a couple hours to kill).

There have been one or two games that I’ve put a fair number of hours into this month. Before the deluge of media that is March (Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Game of Thrones–and did I mention I mean to squeeze PAX East in there, too?), I thought I would try and knock out a couple of entries in series I love but hadn’t gotten around to for one reason or another. I plowed through Professor Layton and the Last Specter probably more quickly than is healthy, and I meant to continue my streak by getting through Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, which is eminently more affordable now than it was at release (I got it off Amazon for fifteen bucks!).

Birth By Sleep has a narrative frame that I like a great deal–you get to play through three separate-yet-intertwining stories one at a time, leading up to a conclusion that sees them all brought together in the final climax. It’s something of a rare choice, as far as videogame storytelling goes (though it’s used to excellent effect in Suikoden III, if you’d like another good example).

Only I hit a roadblock. One of the persistent quirks of the Kingdom Hearts series is the ability to unlock secret epilogues–something akin to what’s known in cinema as a “stinger“–by beating the game on harder difficulties or by racking up 100% completion in most aspects of the game on normal difficulty.

So, foolishly avoiding researching the matter before setting out on my quest, I started up the game on normal difficulty as Terra, the brooding anti-hero, and set about enjoying my romp through delightful (yet still weirdly empty) Disney worlds. It wasn’t until my tenth hour of the game, when I was finally ready to clean up the loose ends before moving on to the final encounters, that I realized what a huge number of bullshit, trivial objectives the game expected me to accomplish in order to earn that secret epilogue.

It was a truly monumental amount of bullshit.

Here’s the thing–I love the Kingdom Hearts series. As much as I feel a little weird saying it, I’m very invested in its goofy, tangled, abstract melodrama. The core gameplay of the series, too, has never had any difficulty getting its hooks in me. I love whacking monsters with a sword! Birth By Sleep does some awesome things with that formula, too, with abilities that level up individually and a weird magic-fusing system that Squeenix salvaged from Crisis Core.

The rational thing would be to go ahead and beat the campaign I’ve started, play the other two, and then go ahead and watch the epilogue on YouTube. And I could do that. But deep down inside, I would know I haven’t earned it. How messed up is that? I’ve been so bred by JRPGs throughout my youth that the perception of “narrative as reward for slogging through repetitive gameplay” is THAT ingrained.

Oh well! With my schedule the way it is, my indecision means that Birth By Sleep is most likely going to end up on the shelf until another dry spell hits. I’ll have Lara Croft to pal around with in a week, and when Bioshock Infinite hits, well… I don’t imagine I’ll be emerging from Columbia anytime soon.

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About sinclairvox

Nate Ewert-Krocker has been both a gamer and a writer since he was very small. He believes that gaming, as a medium, deserves to be considered and chronicled with the same level of detail and attention as the rest of our pop culture. He's also an author! You can check out his fiction at www.silentworldpress.com. And, of course, the ol' Google+

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