Sunday, July 3, 2011

Almost Got 'Em

In the dank and smoke-filled Stacked Deck Club in the grimiest neighborhood in Gotham City, a special table is set in the back. Though the establishment's usual patronage is almost exclusively men of shady backgrounds and ill-repute, not even the toughest, most hardened of them venture near. At the sound of cards shuffling, tapping against the table, and being doled out for a poker game of questionable legality, the patrons try to avert their eyes and pretend they're not paying any attention. Truth be told, they could not be more terrified. For at that table, five of the world's deadliest criminals have gathered to tell each other a tale.

Poison Ivy. Two-Face. Killer Croc. The Penguin. The Joker. As the cards fly and the night grows thick, thicker than the cigar smoke heavy in the air, one-by-one they tell a story. A story about how once, they came close to taking home the biggest prize of them all. Victory was so close, their fingers practically closing around it, the taste of it on their lips, before it was maddeningly pulled away. This is the night they tell each other the story of how they came so close, so tantalizingly close, to finally killing Batman before he grasped triumph from the jaws of defeat. This is the night they talk about how they almost got 'im.

As the other three watch Poison Ivy enter, the Joker stares through the television and into your soul.

Almost Got 'Im was one of the most highly critically acclaimed episodes of the even more critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series. One of the few episodes to feature almost every major character (Catwoman, Detective Bullock, Commissioner Gordon, and Harley Quinn also guest-star), it shows the story of being beaten by Batman from the viewpoint of the villains, and throws in a few good twists involving the Dark Knight himself.

So what does this have to do with video games?

It's the inspiration for the series I'm going to be posting here. As I mentioned in my last post about Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, there is a plethora of games I've played and given up on. Some of them, however, I came so close to the end of that it makes almost no sense as to why I stopped without beating them. I reached a point where the final boss was arm's reach away and then . . . nothing. And I'd never play the game again.

That's why, in the weeks and months to come, I will dig up every single one of these abandoned titles and play them again, from scratch in most cases, and get through them all the way. I've already done one, which I'll talk about now, and then give you the list of the rest of the cases where I left a game right on the verge of finishing.

Replace the girl with a copy of Xenogears and you get the idea.

This is the story of the games that got away.

This is how I almost got 'em.

Last night, I sat down with my copy of Kingdom Hearts II and beat it. I had a save file on my PS3 dating back at least four years with a game about 99% complete. The only thing left to do was beat the final boss and get a golden mouse sticker for the tournaments in Jimini's Journal.

In case you're not familiar with Kingdom Hearts, Jimini's Journal is a record the conscience mercenary keeps detailing all of your encounters, important parts of the story, and your scores in the numerous mini-games. This is important, because getting a high enough score will earn you a golden Mickey Mouse-shaped sticker for that event. If you get every single golden sticker in the game, you earn a secret ending after the credits which shows Batman with a keyblade.

Note: This may not have actually been what the secret ending was about.

So back whenever it was I first tried to play through this, I got all the way to the end, with the only sticker remaining one which required me to get 15,000 points in the Hades Paradox Tournament. This 50-fight-long marathon pits you against enemies up to four times stronger than their non-tournament counterparts, with boss fights every 5 or 10 rounds, and rules which alternate between having your abilities sealed, 10 rounds in 10 minutes, and being automatically eliminated if you take a certain amount of damage. Naturally, if you fail in any of these fights, you have to start back from the first one and try again.

So four years ago or so, after numerous attempts left me unable to get past round 20, I called it quits. Despite the fact that there was only one thing left for me to do in the entire game - fight the last boss - it wasn't worth it to me if I couldn't see that secret ending. I never picked up Kingdom Hearts II again, and so my save file sat, untouched, until last night.

Waiting for its chance to strike.

But there's a very big difference between the person I was then and the person I am now. More focused? Perhaps. More dedicated? I guess so. More desperate for blog content? It's possible. The big dividing factor between who I am and who I was, though, is that the person I was had never beaten Devil May Cry 3. After fighting the worst demons hell's guts could retch out and walking out triumphantly, slowly not paying attention to the massive and awesome explosion behind me, I wasn't about to cede victory to some cartoon monsters and Final Fantasy characters. I made a few cautionary attempts the day before, but last night I launched into it full-on, and I beat that tournament. Then with the final feather in my cap and Jimini Cricket angrily shaking his fist, I ventured forth to The World That Never Was and sent the final boss back to oblivion. The game was over. I won.

It'd been waiting to smoke that cigarette since 2007.

So I'm kicking off Almost Got 'Em by celebrating my long-time coming victory over Kingdom Hearts II, a game that fired Lance Bass from its roster of voice actors for being openly gay and yet still contains some of the most blatant mutual male attraction of any series ever.

Sora and Riku in the midst of an hours-long session of telling one another how great their friendship is.

That's out of the way, so what's next? Well, let me give you the full rundown, along with a blurb about how they came to be placed on this list.

Breath of Fire III

Status: Stumbled upon final boss on accident, died, never played again.

When Was This?: 2001

Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete

Status: Beat the final boss, didn't realize you could still die if you didn't go through the next sequence correctly. Never tried again.

When Was This?: 1999.


Status: Made it to the final dungeon, lost interest halfway through.

When Was This?: 1999.

Final Fantasy IV

Status: Died to the final boss, never tried again.

When Was This?: 1995.

Final Fantasy VI

Status: Got lost in the final dungeon. Gave up.

When Was This?: 1996

Final Fantasy VIII

Status: Made it to the final dungeon, was worried I had missed a Triple Triad card somewhere, decided to just quit.

When Was This?: 2002

Suikoden III

Status: Died in the final major battle, was going to reattempt but never got around to it.

When Was This?: 2003

These seven games, and perhaps more if I can remember them (I never did finish Dragon Quest II . . .) will be next up on the line to be removed from the Backlog forever. In those posts I'll go more in-depth as to what my reasons and experiences were, and what it was like going back to these games I came so close to defeating all those years ago.

First up is Breath of Fire III, because I remember it being incredible and want to start with a bang. I look forward to taking this trip with all of you, and while we're here, feel free to share your stories about how you almost got 'em.

By the way, the secret ending to Kingdom Hearts II? It's a teaser for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. So, still a great piece of animation, probably not as big a deal as it would be if I'd beaten the game five years ago.

Then again, Batman.

Until next time, from start to finish, keep playing.

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