Two weekends ago I asked Chris Zukowski for help. He's a gamer I think every other gamer should listen to and I needed to hear what he had to say.
He replied with blunt advice that I'm not sure I can accept.
Let me explain: I was stressed about "Final Fantasy XII." I was far into the game and unhappy.
This was a game so highly touted that I waited to play it for months. I waited until I had a relatively empty summer gaming schedule during which I could appreciate it properly. This was a game I was enjoying so much that -shock - I ditched dinner with a friend so I could play it more.
And then, there I was two weekends ago, feeling like a dope, staring at Chris Zukowski's "Final Fantasy XII: Fun Graphed Against Time" chart.
I saw in cold, hard type that Zukowski and I had reached "FFXII"'s Golmore Jungle in the same 21st hour, that he and I had played this game at the same pace. I suspected that he and I might have similar impressions of this game -- in fact I knew so since I'd been reading his hilarious guide to the game on his site Game Intestine*. His chart promised I was about to sink into a valley of non-fun just a few hours from my save point. This chart also showed that I had 50 hours to go in the game and that nine consecutive hours would have to be spent... leveling up.
I shot Chris a note and asked him for help. How could I bail on a Game of the Year? What should I do?
Zukowski leveled with me in five hard-to-accept paragraphs:
"About your "FFXII" quandary: quit. The game really looses steam at about the 28 hour mark. In fact, I added a note at that point telling anyone in your situation to quit. See Note to reader.
"Here are some general tips:
"a) Don't do hunts, they don't level you up that fast. Instead, find a zone that matches your level and do some grinding there. In my guide I tried to include recommendations of where to level grind.
"b) Sell all that loot you pick up EXCEPT for Teleport Crystals. There is no weapon crafting; that stuff is purely for re-sale. Also, sell all downlevel weapons, they are useless once you outgrow them.
"The funny thing is that I have had other readers email me with the same "I want to quit FFXII" question. Every time I have recommended that they should quit. It's kind of like being a sponsor for AA (except backwards in that people WANT to quit). If I had not been writing a guide for it, I would have stopped too. There really should be an abridged version of the game."
My goodness, was I just a video game Linday Lohan to Zukowski? Read that part I bolded for emphasis. What was this game driving me to?
Throughout that weekend when I e-mailed Zukowski I watched with envy as people cradled their new "Harry Potter" books. They flipped pages in the subway and in the park and just walking down the street. They got lost in their own final fantasy adventure and, I knew, jealously, they would be be done in a fraction of the time it would take me to conquer "FFXII."
Had "Harry Potter" ever taxed their patience the way "Final Fantasy" had mine? Two days ago I played "FFXII" for an hour. In that hour I accomplished the following: entered a town, watched a cut-scene, walked back to the town entrance, watched another cut-scene, walked through a few areas plagued by monsters I had to fight, realized I had walked the wrong way, headed back to that town entrance, saved and quit.
I haven't read the new "Potter" and I don't want any spoilers, but is there any hour of that book that can be that tedious? What is it with games?
I've written about the bailing out quandry before, but back then it was about games I knew I was doomed to dislike. The truth is that I'm not hating "FFXII." I actually like most moments in it. I like the gameplay. And I want to know what happens to the characters. But I don't know if I want to surrender 50 hours more of my life for that, especially now that I've seen that some of those hours could have been shortened. Is there any other medium that can turn off one of its fans in quite this way?
In my earlier article on the topic I quoted gamer Chris Scott. I think he spoke true wisdom. He told me: "The saying goes, 'Quitters never win and winners never quit. But in the gaming world, quitters can keep their sanity."
I e-mailed Chris Zukowski yesterday and told him I might continue to play. He wished me luck. If he knew the emoticon for someone shaking their head in disappointment, I'm sure he would have used it.
I want to be a quitter. I just don't know if I can.
*Yes, I was reading his guide, and, believe it or not, I was reading it for fun! After I finished an area in "FFXII" I read Zukowski's impressions on it. Anyone observant enough to mock the bad design of some random mini-boss or sharp enough to describe the "FFXII" version of level-grinding -- "chaining" as the video game equivalent of racial profiling makes my blogroll and even the occasional gushing write-up.