So many games. It's cruel really. It hurts to think how many games I have bought but will barely or never play, as being a groan-up, there are only so many free hours in my week.
When I make the time to indulge in my lifelong obsession, by flopping onto the sofa and picking up a controller, or contorting my body back into the tortured shape of the workweek at my PC, I am often at a loss for what to load up.
My already exhausted mind tries to weigh-up what the most valuable return on my playtime would be. And so, I sit there; staring at my burgeoning Steam account, then at my new consoles, then at my old consoles and, sometimes, I just give up and zombify my night away on YouTube, Twitter, or go back to the seemingly endless but brilliantly strange book I've been reading since March 2016 (Infinite Jest by David Foster-Wallace)] [finished in December 2016, now ploughing through the Laundry Files by Charles Stross].
I've had some success in combatting this by pre-selecting what to play and committing to it without experiencing the remorse of a poor choice:
On 1st January 2015, at around 2am, I completed Zelda: Windwaker (Wii U version), and resolved along with my wife to play the remainder of the 3D Zelda games that year. If not for her, I never would have made it through the first 10 hours of Majora's Mask (I kept feeling very tired and drifting off when playing it for some reason).
By setting that as our mission and sticking doggedly to it, these masterpieces were very much enjoyed without the distraction of choice over a period of 6 months or so, and I now have very fond memories of journeying through these games to the finish for the first time, and of sharing that experience with my wife.
Such was the success of this, that I proposed our next series would be Final Fantasy (starting with VII, as it was my first and the one which most deeply affected my early pubescent self).
With its beautifully hand-painted backgrounds and a soundtrack that more powerfully than any other game I've played provokes all kinds of emotions, Final Fantasy VII was another masterpiece which we played through. I secretly worried that it wouldn't have aged well, and was so delighted and relieved to relive this experience and share it with my wife, who had never seen a JRPG before, and enjoyed the story, graphics and music too. Years before, I repeatedly exposed our firstborn in utero to the soundtrack, so there was a familiar nostalgia for us all.
Interestingly for me, the next game, Final Fantasy VIII, had much better writing and localisation, while somewhat annoyingly pushing the teen angst and cauldron of emotion and morbid ennui of lead protagonist, Squall. The other characters are far more interesting. Their interactions and character development outshine Final Fantasy VII, and replaying in 2015, I can say that the maturity of the writing, story and world makes it a much more adult and deeper experience than VII, though it lacks the raw power of the music. It also took me a while to prefer the steal and craft magic system in VIII to the materia combinations and MP of VII.
Following this we tried Final Fantasy IX. Sadly, even after fifteen hours, I felt no attachment to the characters or story, and the loading times and delay in starting each random battle, which of course there are many, were utterly dreadful. The same happened with Final Fantasy X, so it was back to the drawing board for 2016.
Three massive games took care of most of last year: Fallout 4, Stardew Valley, and Final Fantasy XV, with Stardew Valley being ideal for our busy family and work lives. Such a charming, colourful, relaxed, and utterly stress-free world. Pick up and play for twenty minutes or two hours and family-friendly too. The variety of activities, soothing music and feeling of accomplishment in building your farm and relationships with the villagers was immensely satisfying.
Fallout 4 was a very fulfilling open-world-a-thon which felt as good as I remember 2008's Fallout 3 being. And Final Fantasy XV was an interesting mess of superficial beauty, and a handsome boyband group of friends, which while plagued with many years of development hell, would have benefited from a lot more dialogue and a more complex story character development to flesh out the best part of the game—the friendship between your characters. My biggest bugbear was the repeated dialogue, which broke immersion so much as to become laughable and quickly spawned memes all over the net. "I've come up with a new recipe!"
The big game of 2017 so far is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As of May, we've completed the main story, all the shrines, all the memories, most of the armour sets are fully upgraded, and we're still playing to explore and collect Koroks, with 160 of 900 in the game found after 140+ hours. That's some serious value for money, even considering the eye-watering cost of the Nintendo Switch, Pro controller and game.
Alas, I now feel my gaming feet itching for pastures new. The dopamine tickle from Zelda is still there, reduced from a bonfire to a bright candle now, and when I look elsewhere, all I can see is the fiery cold abyss and cranial tension of thousands of choices clambering for my evaluation and commitment.
A close friend has come to the rescue with a solution he has catchily named "35 by 35". This is his title for a project encompassing 35 new gaming experiences by the time he reaches 35 years old. His conditions are that each game gets at least six hours play a week for two weeks, giving a minimum of 12 hours per game (or until the end if it's a shorter game). Then after playing each game, he'll write a short review, then collate and publish at the end of the project.
So now, I'm off to tailor this approach into my own project, which I'll share in my next post. I'd be interested to hear in the comments how you, dear reader, select which games you'll play, and your current backlog.