When it comes to gaming, I am typically late to the party. I get the invitation and even occasionally fill out the RSVP, yet I show up just as everyone else is leaving. I am not positive if there is a term for people who unintentionally wait six or more months to purchase a title, but through no conscious effort on my part, I embody that term. The wonderful thing is that I still, by some solipsistic metrics, wring just as much reverence and joy from these games even though I might be expressing it in what amounts to an empty room since everyone else has moved on to the next big thing. I blame the Internet. Having picked up Bravely Default only last week, the minutes that I am not playing it are spent thinking about the last few games that have absolutely engulfed my free time to the extent where I have lost a hours of sleep simply because I cannot put them down.
Bravely Default has me by the throat, but in that way where I am submitting to it and do not wish to utter the safe word. I am around fifteen hours in and my interest is still happily hanging its head out the car window like a dog enjoying the passing scenery on a warm summer day, rather than having given up, curled into a ball on the seat, and waited for the ride to be over. Making it to more than ten hours into a game without getting bored is a big thing for me. It is not just the lovely visual design of Bravely Default (Ancheim, anyone?) that has me on the hook, but the story it tells is one I wish to devote my attentions to, no matter how many times I have saved worlds by dealing with crystals before.
When I am about to hand over my grubby dollars for an RPG, there is an unspoken demand that I be told an interesting story. Note that it does not necessarily have to be original. The only way I can think to simplify this notion is to say this; make me give a shit about the characters. It really does come down to that, even if the author is employing every archetype in the book. In Bravely Default, I actually want to see Agnès succeed and am looking forward to seeing if she gets to meet the other vestals, or if she is to find she alone remains, despite the glaring reality that she is a cookie cutter demure female lead. Ringabel, with his tired model of womanizing panache, has my curiosity looking for clues of his past, even though the amnesia horse has been beaten to death by a million other stories. All the common ingredients are there, but it is the care with which they are combined that makes the tale worth being told.
The last game to have me pinned to the screen in such a way where I intentionally replayed areas not to find secret loot, but to ensure that I was following the story to the letter, was, of course, Final Fantasy VII. As I recall, I did not get around to this one until well after release, but needless to say, it has been awhile. However, do not mistake this temporal lapse for a failure of the gaming industry to have produced a great title since then. I have played many, many wonderful games, enjoying each for different reasons, but none will ever recreate the shock and dismay my unprepared young self felt when Sephiroth ran a sword clean through Aeris. Witnessing that event left such a tough scar that even the likes of George R. R. Martin can never hope to penetrate it. I was already enjoying every minute of the story, with its memorable characters and colorful world, so when my healer was turned into a flowery kebab, it left me ravenous for whatever was to come next through two entire discs.
Thankfully, I live in a hermetically sealed bubble when it comes to spoilers, so even though I exude an odd tardiness toward jumping into these great games, I am always surprised. When Earthbound weirdness was stuffed into an emulator ROM, I managed to snag it before Nintendo of America started protecting its interests (yes, it was years after release, no, I do not ever encourage the pirating of a game). Even then, I did not play it right away, and grabbed it on the sole notion that I had heard it was a good time. What a neat little treat that one turned out to be. In fact, I am glad I waited to play the game until I was of an age where the intricacies of the story were not completely lost on me. A wee Java would have likely accused the game’s creators of being lazy and eating mushrooms, whereas the aged me decided that there was something interesting going on with this Ness guy, and I was participating in a story that would beg for pseudo-philosophical discussion and creative interpretation.
There are tons of honorable mentions I could probably burden readers with, but getting back to cherishing characters, I can not help but bring up Thomas Was Alone. If this were a post about my favorite literature, here is the part where I would start talking about terrific short stories. In a span of roughly four hours, I found myself taking a singular interest in the existential crisis of a rectangle. Once again, I had questions about the life of geometry that demanded answers, much the same experience I had when one of my high school teachers bestowed the gift of Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland into my appreciative hands, a story which I still cherish and reread today. While I am on the subject, indeed, there is a Flatland video game, which I have not played (yet), and a Flatland ARG, which I will propose be the mandatory fun activity at the next Lusipurr.com company “picnic.”
Well, I have to be honest with you, dear reader; so much is missing, here. My original draft was twice as long as it needed it be, and it still felt woefully incomplete. There are just some games out there that I still think about to this day, and it is likely that Bravely Default is already among them. To those of you out there who fancy yourselves writers, be it for a game or otherwise, what do you think it is, exactly, that makes a character someone you want to see to the end of the game? What about story? What elements do you look for? What draws you in? I do not know about anyone else, but that sounds like a delicious discussion just waiting to happen.