This past Sunday was spent almost entirely playing Symphony of the Night on my PSP. It is rare these days for a game to grip me so much that I not only desire to spend my gaming time with it, but put aside other duties in order to make more gaming time. Symphony was one of those experiences, and while I cannot afford to have them all of the time, it is nice to know they still exist.
That being said, I was surprised to see myself become so engaged with the game. On one hand, this statement is silly. SOTN is one of the few modern classics where the gaming community’s opinion hasn’t greatly diminished after years of constant play and retrospective. People still enjoy it a hell of a lot. But this enjoyment is exactly what scared me away from it for so many years. Since people still love the game, they really like talking about its finer points. The discussions on character tweaking via equipable items alone can be daunting to sift through. Add in familiars and spells, and you have an impressive level of depth that you can choose to explore. Except, after years of reading about the game, I started to believe it was not a choice at all, that in order to beat Symphony’s later areas I would need to hunt or grind for a Beryl Circlet and who knows what else. This fear was compounded due to my experience with Circle of the Moon on the GBA. After about six hours of play, whatever items and experience I had acquired during normal play and exploration were not nearly enough to keep me alive.
At some point yesterday, I realized that my fears were unfounded. Symphony was actually a rather easy game, or at least easy for anyone with moderate experience with Metroid style games. I made sure to explore every room that the map said I could enter, and found a handful of secret areas on my own. The items I earned from this basic exploration were strong enough to keep me alive throughout the game, in turn allowing me to earn experience and stay powerful. Without grinding, and with about 186% of the game completed, I was able to deal good damage to the final two bosses while taking very little of it myself. The only time frustration set in is when I got greedy and tried to explore for too long without saving. In the end, I found Symphony to be a tremendous experience, and I now consider myself a member of its legion of fans.
The lesson I am trying to get to here is not that you should play every game the way you want to, design be dammed. Not every stealth game is going to allow you to go in guns blazing, after all. However, if you find yourself with a game that allows for even a little bit of personal style and strategy, try to beat to your own drum. If you don’t want to grind in an RPG, then don’t. If you don’t want to play a game to 100% completion, remember that you probably don’t need to. It may appear that no one else is going down the same path as you, but don’t forget that the Internet, enormous as it is, is still a very small sample of the gaming population. The odds that you are playing a game “wrong” are just as good as the odds that the comments you are reading are from obsessive completionists or people who have played the game enough times that they can worry about the minute details. Playing a game the way I want to, without worrying about value and completion and system breaking, has been one of the best things to happen to my gaming habits, and it is the only reason I dared to give SOTN a shot.
Of course, there may be games in which you are punished for not doing what the developers (did not tell you they) want you to do. In this case, it is best to sit back and think about whether it is your style or the developers’ desire which is unreasonable. Depending on your answer, you will know whether you need to make adjustments, or put the game away for good. There is no shame in choosing the latter.