Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I'm Actually Excited About Gaming Again

Everyone who the tag "gamer" applies to knows the feeling. The sense that no matter what you play you just do not care. Regardless of which console you switch to or whether you pull out the old stand-by's (break glass only in case of emergency) nothing seems to capture your imagination. The chances of this frequently happening are magnified ten-fold if you work for a video game site because you'll find yourself assaulted by one poor title after another and you have to play them.

For examples, no one in their right mind would voluntarily play through Eragon but I have, start to finish. Play enough of these back to back and you start to lose hope not only in your ability to go forward in your life, but in humanity as a whole.

But then you come across something that rekindles that imaginative spark which you thought had long since been snuffed out. In my case, one thing ignited it and the other threw a gallon of gasoline on it.

The first was cranking up Final Fantasy XII. I've been an addict of this series since the NES days but the last one I played all the way through was part nine. I managed to get about three quarters of the way through part ten before I grew so bored I physically couldn't go on. I skipped part eleven altogether since it's an MMO and those have no appeal to me. But I fired up FFXII and all of a sudden I was enraptured.

The story is far more appealing than the majority of the others in the series. Far too frequently, Japanese-based RPG's overthink their story line which doesn't add layers so much as bulk. Go back to Final Fantasy VII or VIII and see too shining examples of how a game can buckle under the weight of too much self-importance. The story for the new game cuts through all that by taking a very basic concept (two nations at war with each other, and people caught in the middle try to figure a way out) and building their characters around it instead of expanding the story so it changes with each new revelation. You never knew what was happening in some of the others because the endgame was never in sight, sometimes not even at the very end. Combine that with an excellent new combat system that keeps the battles in-game and very rarely is the immersion stripped away.

The second thing, and that which ignited my gaming passion into a full-fledged bonfire, was buying a DS Lite. Courtesy of a friend up in Manitoba, Canada, I received a black onyx DS Lite the other day and when I'm not playing FFXII I'm playing on Nintendo's genius handheld. Crayola Smoker lent me two Mario games I have no interest in and a Metroid-based game that I tried and failed to like even remotely. But he also lent me the brilliant Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and that clicked with both Yours Truly and My Fair Lady in such spectacular fashion that a blog post devoted to just that is forthcoming. I've also picked up Castlvania: Portrait of Ruin and falled in love with how it shows off the map on one screen while I play on the other. It's also cool how you have the option to draw your own family crest at the beginning courtesy of the stylis pad.

I also picked up Brain Age and Hotel Dusk: Room 251 today. To be clear, I haven't gone on an all-out buying spree for anything in the better part of two years. This is a strangely familiar sensation for me, but I'm so out of practice that it feels odd, not unlike going on vacation for two weeks then coming home and trying to drive to the store. You have to remind yourself, however briefly, what exactly you should be doing and how you should be doing it.

I'm frankly stunned that a handheld of all things could re-inspire me but it has. Of course, having My Fair Lady shout "OBJECTION!" over my shoulder while we played Phoenix Wright may have something to do with that. But for now, consider me stunned.

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