My wife loves to read. She decided after three of George R.R. Martin’s books from the Song of Fire & Ice series that she would take a break and read the first book in the Hunger Games series. Believe it or not, she finished all three books in just three days. And as much as she loved the books, my wife was sad at the end. It wasn’t the ending itself that made her sad. For her, the adventure was over. This happened with the Harry Potter series as well. Here was a series my wife grew up with, and then before she knew it, it was over. The books finished a few years ago, but the final movie came out just last year. In the blink of an eye, a big part of her high school and college years was over. She told me it was like a piece of her was gone.
That got me to thinking of similar experiences I had. I’ll admit, I was sad when Harry Potter was finished. I came in around the sixth book. As late to the party as I was, the series created some great memories for me. Video games are no different. You spend hours, days, weeks, even months, immersed in a game just to see it end. But, it isn’t the end that matters. As cliché as this may sound, it’s the journey that is the important part.
Take Final Fantasy VI as an example. People will argue until they are blue in the face, or even passed out from lack of oxygen, that Final Fantasy VII is the best in the series. To me, FFVI had the best cast of characters and a storyline that was touching AND made sense. From the moment Terra’s Theme hits and you see her walking in Magitek armor with Biggs and Wedge, the story takes you in and holds on for dear life.
You follow a multitude of compelling characters through a revolution, world-changing catastrophe, and loss of loved ones. It hits you again and again with emotional moments that make you laugh and cry and do both at the same time. Then there’s the epic final battle with one of the craziest antagonists in gaming, Kefka. Once you beat Kefka, the game ends with each character’s story wrapping up nicely.
The game itself can take 60-80 hours if you decide to tackle every bit and do an extensive amount of level-grinding. 80 hours, that’s around 3 and a half days over a few months of playing the game. That is a lot of time to spend with these characters. But, when it is all said and done, do you remember what really happens at the end? Aside of saving the world, I don’t have very fond memories of the ending. I remember meeting Cyan’s dead wife and son. I remember Kefka poisoning the water and killing General Leo. It’s the moments like these that get me excited to play the game again someday.
Games with a compelling story have a tendency to grow on the player. I don’t think every game needs a story. Sometimes you just want to play and not think too much. And then there are games that have a great story that is diluted through unnecessary sequels. After finishing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and hearing Ubisoft wants to keep making games for the series, I am worried. I really enjoy Assassin’s Creed’s storyline. But with yearly releases I’m growing tired of playing games that are more a small expansion to the story than adding any real meat. This is a case where I wouldn’t mind if they took a break. A year or two off would serve the series well, allowing it to come back refreshed and renewing the journey.
Then there are the games that allow the player to dictate how the story goes. The single greatest achievement in this to date is the Mass Effect series. Each decision the player makes has an impact on the overall story. Something you say to someone in the first game could severely impact the ending of the third game. As such, the journey becomes extremely important. Unlike most games though, this journey doesn’t just lead up to the ending, it creates it. So, the ending becomes purely incidental.
Some games even have a journey that has a tendency to lose track of itself. It gets twisted and convoluted and can’t seem to find itself. I’ve heard tell that Final Fantasy XIII-2 suffers from this, but I’ll reserve judgment until I play it. The series I see that suffered the most from this is Resident Evil. What started out as a zombie outbreak has exploded into a strange tale that spans into Europe and Africa. Somehow the U.S President’s daughter gets involved and then there’s a plant with a new version of the original T-Virus. It goes on and on. The series even lost sight of the genre it created going from survival-horror to survival-action. I love the Resident Evil series and can’t wait for the next few games. I only hope these games can put the series back on track. Even a reboot wouldn’t hurt. Really, the more you think about it, this journey may actually need an end to make sense of it all.
This leads me to one of my favorite beginning-to-end journeys (as much as I love The Legend of Zelda, there is a questionable timeline and the series hasn’t ended yet). Metal Gear Solid has one of the best journeys I have ever taken in video games. Is the story crazy and convoluted? Yes, it is. But, in the end, it makes sense. This is the first series to get me near tears. When Solid Snake is trying to get through the thermal area in Outer Haven near the end while Akiba and Meryl are fighting for their lives, I was mashing the square button, standing up, yelling at Snake to keep going. I had been with him since his foray into Outer Heaven on the NES and I was not about to see him die like this.
Not only did the MGS journey have a great storyline, it also had an unbelievable cast of characters. From Psycho Mantis to The Boss, from Otacon to Raiden, each character made the journey that much more special. And Snake, be it Naked Snake or Solid Snake, was caught in the middle, trying to survive through lies and betrayal while doing everything he could to save the world from disaster. His story is one that is masterfully told and has a clear end to it (at least until some wise guy tries to change that. Please, Konami, let Kojima-San go on to other projects).
So, what is the moral to my story you ask? Why, it’s the story itself. We gamers put a lot of time and effort into video games. We grow attached to the characters and the stories. Some are short and easily understood, while others can span multiple games and become convoluted. What is important isn’t how these games end. It’s the journeys they take us on that matters. So, while you may feel like a piece of you is lost when you put 80 hours into a game and finally get to the end, just remember the incredible moments you experienced and the characters that joined you on your quest. Not every fantasy has to be final.
Just In Bailey –an homage to the secret code from Metriod, which allowed you to play as Samus Aran without her suit– is an editorial column at Vagary.TV brought to you by Joey Alesia. Each week Joey will challenge you to look at a different perspective of the characters, gameplay, and/or plot in your favorite games. Chat up your thoughts below, or send Joey an e-mail at Joey.Alesia@vagary.tv and remember to follow him on Twitter @wrkngclsswrtr.