Games I Did Not Finish

Entertainment comes in many forms, like a good book, movie, or video game. Sometimes, the escapism you hope to enjoy turns out to be a dud, so you drop it and resume reality. Most of the time, you finish what you started. But is there any media that you Did Not Finish (DNF) and regretted it? I know I have. And it bugs me, but should it?


All the bits of entertainment I’ve failed to finish have something in common: they’re epic.

What I mean by “epic” is long-form media, the kind that requires enough time for a glacier to move a measurable distance. For example, two books I never finished are The Lord of the Rings and The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I’m really here to talk about 40+ hour role-playing games (RPGs). I wish I could tell you that I’ve finished every epic JRPG I started. But I admit: I’ve failed to save the world a few times. Sorry ’bout that! I guess my party ran out of HP and Phoenix feathers.

My hands have gripped the controller for some tremendous RPGs all the way through the end credits – I beat the game! So I’ve escaped into much fantasy. But the reality is, there are some RPGs I simply DNF.

Final Fantasy VIII

I beat the two FF games that preceded this one. FFVI and FFVII were both fantastic entries in the popular franchise. But VIII was a bit of a let down. Although it was technically great with high-caliber presentation and interesting gameplay, the story didn’t connect with me the way VI and VII did.

On top of that, I was in college and working a job when I first played this game, so I was often busy and tired. Given that and the lack of interest in an otherwise good JRPG, I fizzed out around two-thirds of the way through.

Final Fantasy IX

Now this FF game is one I really regret that I DNF! I remember liking this much more than VIII; number IX was superior in several ways, and I connected with it. So what happened, what’s my excuse?

It’s mostly the same story. College studies plus work sapped my time and energy. In this “epic” JRPG, I simply lost steam about three-fourths in! Very close to the end, it seemed.

Because I enjoyed FFIX and almost beat it, I am especially eager to replay it. In fact, I have FFIX on my Nintendo Switch right now, just waiting for me. #loveyourbacklog

Golden Sun: The Lost Age

I played this RPG on a Gameboy Advance SP. The game was engaging with lively characters and action, and the story was interesting.

The downfall here wasn’t the game itself though. It was the Gameboy. The handheld device was a compact clam-shell square. The thing was just too small for my adult-sized hands to play at length. The close proximity of the cross-pad, A, B, and shoulder buttons made my thumbs quickly ache from the cramped ergonomics.

Gameboy Advance SP – Black

Octopath Traveler

The is my most recent RPG I DNF. I really like the game and do plan to finish it…eventually. The blame for not finishing this one falls on another time-consuming game: Animal Crossing New Horizons, which kind of never ends. I had been playing Octopath when ACNH came out.

Distracted, I started playing ACNH on release day and…two months flew by! Thanks, Tom Nook.

Prior to both ACNH and Octopath, I had finished Pokemon Sword. So by the time I took a breath after those three games, I needed a break.

When I resumed my Switch gaming, I didn’t pick Octopath back up. Instead, I was compelled to replay FFVII prior to playing FFX for the first time. I played and finished both!


DNF, So What?

There’s a saying, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.” That was my intention on all the games I DNF. And it remains my intention for every new RPG I dive into. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Or maybe you don’t realize what you’re really getting into.

But there’s another saying, “You can’t finish what you don’t start.” Sure, epic forms of escapism take a big commitment. But the potential pay-off for investing your time is also huge. Just go for it!

As I’ve grown, I’ve been able to avoid adding games to my DNF list. In early 2019, I dropped out of playing Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. It bothered me enough that I decided to jump back into the game a full 9 months later. And about a month after that, I beat it! Glad I did, too, because the last few dungeons of that game are awesome!

For the games you DNF, maybe you will pick up right where you left off. Maybe you’ll start over. Or maybe you’ll move on to newer games. In any case, just have fun. That’s what gameplay is about.


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How I Got Into RPGs

OK, so you’ve got your hobbies. But have you ever thought about why you enjoy them or how you got into them? Gaming is one of my “hobbies” in the sense that I enjoy spending time and money on it. Role-Playing is my favorite genre of video game. How or why did I become a fan? Read on.


Act I

My gaming started in the 80’s with Atari and Nintendo. It wasn’t until circa 1994 that I ever played an RPG.

I had a little money saved up and one day was at Walmart browsing the shelves in the Electronics Dept. The hunt: find my next Super Nintendo game to play. Being a teenager then, I didn’t come by money often. So my next game cartridge was a serious purchase; it had to count.

But I didn’t have the internet back then to tell me which game might be worth it. The best I could do was walk over to where the magazines in the store were and hope to find an article on whatever game I might want. I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power at the time, which was my only real guide.

So I was scanning the box art of each SNES game at Walmart. And there was one game that stood out from the rest due to its relatively simple design. It looked serious, refined, and mysterious. It said to me that it was special. That game was Final Fantasy III.

I mean, surely any game that uses roman numerals in the title had to be remarkable. Final Fantasy, The Third.

On top of that, I swear it was priced at a whopping $70. Even now, that’s a high cost for a top-tier video game. So the box art, title, and price convinced me that the game was going to “change my life” or at least make me happy for a while.

Final Fantasy III Box Art
Final Fantasy III Box Art

Act II

After I got home and first tried to play it, I was not happy. Instead, I was totally dismayed. What happened?

I recall the opening screen, the descending view over clouds sparked with lightning, and the ominous 16-bit organ music building up. Then the fancy game title rose, backlit by flames! What an impressive intro!

But then I tried the gameplay. It was like eating vegetables. Bitter. Yuck! This game was supposed to be good for me, but instead it seemed to be a major let-down. What is this thing? I felt robbed. And there was no getting my hard-earned money back.

Like I mentioned, I had never played an RPG before. FFIII (what was truly FFVI) is one of the best JRPGs ever, and it was a pretty hard-core one to start with.

And I just totally didn’t get it.

I was exploring a town with my sprite-based character who couldn’t jump like Mario or shoot like Samus in Super Metriod, and all I could do was talk to people. Boring.

But then, while walking around, sometimes I would suddenly be jolted into a “battle-screen” lined up with enemies. I had to wait my turn to pick an action…from a menu. The choices were weird. And if I won the fight, my sprite-person would dance and I’d get weird point things and money.

And the process would repeat. Random encounters were annoying interruptions. The classic gameplay that traditional JRPGs are known for was too foreign to me.

To make things more frustrating, all the gameplay weirdness was supposedly tied together by an epic unfolding story. But it just seemed out of reach, a story you must play out for hours and hours, sort of solving it like a puzzle.


Act III

Thankfully, I had something more valuable than the $70 dud of a game. I had a friend. He had already been into RPGs. So he told me to bring the game over and he would teach me how to play it. Sure, what did I have to lose?

This is a very fond memory of mine. I sat on the floor with my friend as he walked me through the first part of the game. He explained the basics while showing me how it all worked and was supposed to play out. I watched. I asked questions.

My friend encouraged me and was happy for me to have such a cool game to play. (Later, he let me borrow his copy of EarthBound. Wow! The box had scratch-n-sniff stickers. Such a fun and cool RPG.)

After a while, my understanding of the game grew. The basics were simple enough. You had to level up your character over time with experience. There were many stats you could affect! This wasn’t as simple as growing from small Mario to big Mario in an instant with a mushroom. This was realistic growth!

I also recall being particularly impressed by the freedom to choose a cool magic-based attack instead of a physical attack in battle mode. There were options!

The strategy of battle pulled me in. Not only could I choose magic over sword swinging. I could choose a type of magic, like fire versus ice. And the choice made a difference; it all depended. Then I learned of greater choices like Fire2 versus Fire1. I could do more damage at once, and the magic looked more awesome!

And all that hooked me. The depth, the options, the battle strategy. But then, what reeled me in was the grand story, the world building, the many characters you could play as. You played many roles!

Ah…click! A role-playing game.

I beat my first RPG, Final Fantasy III, many weeks later. It took that long to progress through the story – and what a story! To this day, it remains one of my favorites. Grinding and all.


Begin Final Act

Final Fantasy III was a big investment for me as a kid in several ways. A high purchase cost. Weeks devoted to playing. Pushing through its challenges. What was almost a total let-down turned out to be one of the best game pay-offs ever!

An RPG fan was born.

Final Fantasy was the only RPG franchise I knew back then. I went on to play FFVII, VIII, and IX on the PS1. I also played EarthBound and Super Mario RPG on SNES. DragonQuest wasn’t on my radar.

Over the years, I sought out other RPGs; it’s my favorite genre to this day. As an adult with kids and a full-time job, I don’t get to escape into video games quite like I did in my youth. But I do find time to role-play.

These days, I’m pursuing RPGs more like a hobby, collecting promising titles in my backlog and anticipating new ones as they’re released. At night after the kids are to bed, I like to immerse myself into whatever current RPG I’m playing. As of this writing, I’m 42 hours into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on my Nintendo Switch. It’s a gem!

A good RPG might be more important to me now as an adult versus when I was a kid. Why? Because as one with a life full of adult responsibilities and stresses, video gaming is a helpful way to escape into some fun. And the immersive world-building and story-telling of an RPG is one of the best forms of escapism to enjoy.


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Quantity Or Quality In An RPG

Would you rather have a good 100-hour RPG or a great 50-HR RPG? Your answer might depend on your availability; time is a limited resource. In my experience (XP level 43…), I would prefer a shorter yet better role to play. But I can see how one could go either way.


One one hand, like a long-form novel, a good RPG sometimes can take a few hours to get going. You might spend several play sessions wondering when the in-game tutorials will end or when the world really opens up to explore. And once you get comfortable with the game mechanics, then you might feel that you’re finally connecting with the characters.

This can take considerable time to develop. It depends on the story the game is trying to tell; it could be deep, broad, or both. Of course, it also depends on the technical and artistic abilities of the game developer to spin a good yarn made of ones and zeros.

Let’s say a good RPG averages around 50+ hours just considering the story-telling. Would a longer time-sink be better? Or would a succinct and brief RPG pack a better punch? Because sometimes, cliche or not, “less is more.”

After you’ve invested many hours into a good RPG, and have connected with the characters and themes, and are immersed in your substantial role to play – you have all the XP – what else do you want? You want a great pay-off!

If the story is great and is also told well, then you might find yourself in a catch-22. You want to hurry up and see how the exciting story ends! How do the plot-points connect? How do the characters’ story-arcs play out? But you also want the game to never end because it’s so good! When you’re enjoying a good thing, it often ends too quickly.


There’s more to the RPG motif that severely affects both the quality and quantity of a game. Grinding.

Some players accept grinding – rote, necessary, and repeated ad nauseam battles to slowly rack up all-the-points (XP, JP, AP…) – as inevitable to some degree or another. But other gamers decry the grind as a deplorable staple from traditional RPG’s past their prime. The grind is a vestige to cut off and live without.

To that, I say a modern RPG can offer balance. With the large number of ports and updated editions of past games, there have been quality of life improvements to mitigate grinding. For example, 2x or 4x battle speeds; a toggle switch to turn off (or increase) random encounters without waiting until 40 hours into the game to find the item that enables such conveniences. Or better yet, encounters that – get this – are not random!

RPGs today should include these mechanics from the start, along with being able to change difficulty level on the fly throughout the entire game. Some modern RPGs already do this, which is likely one reason why there’s been some resurgence in the genre.


Another aspect of an RPG that affects the quality level is directly correlated with quantity: the number of optional side-quests and bonus content. Assuming that these features exceed mere fetch-quests and are done well, they offer to the role-player an opportunity to go deeper into a broad story.

Let’s say you love a supporting protagonist and want to learn more about their backstory. How cool is it to choose to explore a 10-hour sub-plot centered on that character? If this was a more prominent trait in RPGs, and you had the time to spend on it, would you?


Finding the ideal RPG formula is a challenge for any game developer to be sure. And finding the perfect RPG as a player is equally elusive. But in our day, we’re closer than ever to enjoying these role-playing goals. A balance between quantity and quality is a worthy endeavor.

Since my play-time is limited, I lean towards quality escapism over quantity.

I admit, though, that I tend to undermine my enjoyment of whatever current RPG I’m immersed in by craving the next new one on my backlog. But that’s another story.


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Better Gaming Through Broader Story Telling

A hallmark of good entertainment is a compelling story. In a video game, a background story is sometimes used to merely support the game-play. But in role-playing games (RPGs), the story is forefront, giving the player an immersive role in a grand story-arc. So I was excited and surprised to discover an RPG video game with a story so important that it spans across mediums.


The promising RPG I found is waiting on my backlog: Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition.

I’ve been looking forward to playing this game for a while now. It ticks all the boxes that almost any RPG fan would crave; good story is one of them. And it will be my first “Tales of…” game ever. As part of a long-standing and successful action-RPG franchise by Bandai Namco, I can’t wait to dive into it!

But to sweeten the deal, I found more to the story. Literally!

Thanks to Amazon’s smart suggestions, while shopping the website recently, I stumbled upon Tales of Vesperia: First Strike (check it out on Letterboxd). It’s a movie prequel to the story found in the game. Wow!

Wait, what? Based on reviews, I learned that this movie sets up the video game by telling the back story of some of the characters. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this kind of expanded story-telling before, other than a book/movie tie-in. This is a video game/movie tie-in!

I’ve got to try this new experience, so I bought the movie right away. And now, instead of looking forward to only the video game, I’m also eager to see the prequel story set it up. It should make my role in the RPG more immersive and satisfying.

I never expected an RPG to be enriched by a movie complement. So, yeah, I’m pumped about it. It’s exciting to find new stuff like this. And what impresses me, too, is that a company cares enough about a franchise to create its art in multiple formats for the sake of good story-telling.

Through the mediums of both movie and video game, I hope to connect with the world and characters in Tales of Vesperia more deeply and be moved more emotionally while playing the RPG.

Are there other movie/game or book/game tie-ins to find? Hope so!

Anything to make a good RPG great and the role-play more immersive, bring it on.


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Why Make Apple TV Pro And Mini

Apple TV hardware has languished. Apple is in the hardware business and could do better with Apple TV. Here are some ideas.


The naming, pricing, and marketing should all be refreshed.

Naming

To help differentiate Apple’s TV products and services, I suggest two new Apple TV hardware models called: Apple TV Pro and “Apple TV Mini.”

These names would better distinguish the hardware from the software app, “Apple TV” and the service, “Apple TV+.”

Pricing

Apple TV Mini

It should hit the magical $99 price point. It would match the HomePod Mini at the same price and be more competitive with other TV boxes. And even if Apple TV Mini had the least market share, more people would buy it than the current Apple TV box because it would be more affordable. That’s more revenue for Apple.

To hit $99, Apple TV Mini would be like a small streaming stick with one feature: 4K resolution. So no Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio, or HDR. And it would have only 32GB of storage since it would be for streaming not storing content.

Apple TV Pro

This one should start at $199 and be marketed towards the gotta-have-it-all crowd and…gamers. It would feature 4K HDR, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio, and start with 64GB up to 1TB.

And throw in a free trial subscription of Apple Arcade.

It would be a small box like the current Apple TV hardware and be for storing loads of games or videos.

GamePad

Apple TV Pro would pair with an all-new Apple GamePad.” This new device would sell for $99 and would have physical buttons, be shaped more like a modern game controller with analog sticks, and also serve as the remote control.

The GamePad would utilize the W-series and ultra-wide band chips from Apple for auto-magically pairing (like AirPods) with Apple TV Pro and for finding with Apple’s upcoming (rumored) AirTags product. It would, of course, work with games on iPad and iPhone too.

Marketing

Marketing for Apple TV Pro and Mini would draw both consumers and developers. For the Pro, “Casual Console” gaming would attract more buyers and also compel game developers to…step up their game.

If Apple really wanted to lean into gaming, they could call their Apple TV Pro device the all-new, “GamePod.”

An Apple TV Pro (GamePod) with Apple GamePad and Apple Arcade would, like Nintendo, differentiate from hardcore gamers (Xbox and PlayStation) and lean towards more casual gaming. And of course, it would have the distinct advantage of a vast library of mobile games from iOS.

Apple could promote Apple TV Pro with Apple Watch and Fitness+ by pairing them together, like how Apple integrates Apple Watch, Fitness+ and Apple TV for video workouts.

It could also enable more interactive games, using Apple Watch, with its fitness and motion sensors, to track movement similar to the Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure.


Family Friendly

My wife and I have five sons, and we all play Nintendo. Owning two Switches, many 2DS devices, and a Wii U, we enjoy different types of gaming across several age brackets. Of course, Nintendo’s intellectual property, franchises like Mario and Zelda, are the “software that sells hardware.”

Apple can mirror Nintendo as a Family Friendly game distributor and leverage its Apple Arcade service along with a new Apple TV Pro device (GamePod) to sell more of its own TV boxes, peripherals, and third party and indie game apps. Apple is poised with the potential.

Think about it. An Apple TV Pro at $199 plus a GamePad at $99 would basically match the cost of a Nintendo Switch at $299.

Making Apple TV Pro would address the current languished state of Apple’s TV hardware. Pushing into home console gaming via Apple TV would do more for Apple’s overall gaming efforts than has its Augmented Reality gaming push.

If nothing else, a sub-$100 Apple TV Mini would revitalize the platform and be a strong complement to HomePod.


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