This installment’s question comes from A.V. Club contributor Zack Handlen:
Every time I turn on my PlayStation 4, I see my unfinished copy of The Last Of Us. I know I should play it, but it never feels like I have enough time or I’m in the right mood. At this point, it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten how the controls work, and I’d probably have to start from the beginning, which makes it even harder to go back. Still, I can’t quite bring myself to give it up, so there it sits on my PS4, a measly three hours completed. Do you have an unfinished game you just can’t let go of?
Here’s the truth: I’ve never beaten Final Fantasy X. I watched a friend finish off Jecht one night back in 2002 and even used one of those cheat code discs to go through the motions myself with invincible characters shortly thereafter, but I’ve never actually done it properly. There are multiple reasons for this, the biggest being Final Fantasy X is my least favorite game in the series. I absolutely love its art and music, but I detest most of the characters and the stilted pacing of Square’s first stab at a voiced game. The difficulty near the end of the game is also brutal and tedious, even compared to other entries in a series known for its punishing conclusions. Yet more than a decade later, I continue to fire up Final Fantasy X every couple of years, hoping that this is the time I fall in love with it. It wasn’t when I gave it another stab on PlayStation 2 back in 2012. It wasn’t last year when I tried again on the Vita. Maybe it’ll happen this spring when I play it on PS4. That or I’ll give up as some dull-eyed blonde natters on while I try to enjoy the tropical vistas and Nobuo Uematsu songs.
Right now, mine is Bayonetta 2. My experience mirrors Zack’s completely. Like everyone else, I was immediately won over by the game’s absurd opening salvo and stuck around for a few hours more. More than anything else, I think our falling out was a matter of timing. Super Smash Bros. For Wii U was just a few weeks away. It stole my attention, and every time I started it up (which happened a lot), I had to be reminded of poor, unfinished Bayonetta 2. As Smash fever started to fade, I told myself I’d go back. I went so far as to buy the more ergonomic Wii U Pro Controller, thinking I’d be driven back to Bayonetta’s open arms if only I didn’t have to play it with the Wii U gamepad. Now I just have a game I’m never going to finish and a controller I’m never going to use.
The Last Of Us is far from the only game I’m stuck with, and some of my albatrosses have been with me for years, like The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I owned a copy for the Nintendo 64, when that sentence was vaguely current, and I liked it back then. The story of Majora’s Mask grabbed me in a way none of Link’s other adventures ever really had (except maybe Link’s Awakening). I wanted to find out what was going on with the creepy mask seller. I wanted to investigate the town. I wanted to see if I could stop the moon from killing everyone. But the game’s tricky scheduling mechanics eluded me, and I never managed to finish. Now I have the game on my 3DS, and I’m just as intrigued by it, but I’ve been stuck in the first dungeon for over a month now. I just can’t seem to make the time, ironically enough. I want to, though, and I hold out hope that someday, hopefully soon, I will.
I think nearly every game I play may qualify for this. As anyone with a Steam account can attest, one’s catalog of untouched or barely played games is either a lot of fun waiting to happen or an anxiety-inducing spreadsheet of unmet obligation. But it only galls me when I leave a game that really deserves my attention unfinished. For example, I haven’t completed Media Molecule’s Tearaway, and it weighs on me as if I owed someone money or haven’t returned a phone call from a family member. There is no good reason why I haven’t finished it. Every moment I spent playing Tearaway was an absolute delight. It’s bright, engaging, and lovingly crafted. Few games provide you with both the tools and the motivation to spend the better part of an hour crafting a little gem-studded crown for a squirrel. I did, and by God, I made that squirrel look fantastic. (That’s it up there.) But at some point I put the game down, excited to pick it up again later… and I just haven’t. But if I don’t create whimsical headwear for all the creatures of the forest, who will?
One of these days I’m going to have to admit to myself that I’ll never beat Fire Emblem: Awakening. I’ve had it for nearly a year, and I never got very far. Every few months, I’ll open up my 3DS, looking to fill some time, and I’ll throw it on. I’ll play a battle or two—and I’ll love it. I think to myself, “God, why don’t I play this more often? Everything about it is perfect! The combat is beautiful. The animations are smooth. I can make all the characters pair up and have babies. It’s everything I want in a game.” And then, I don’t play it for several months. I don’t even know why. I just can’t seem to play it consistently, and one of these days, I know I’m just going to have to give it up and admit it’s a lost cause. But I’m not quite there yet. I love you, Fire Emblem. I know we should be together. It’s not you. I promise.
I’m in a destructive relationship with one of my best friend’s backlogs. I’m constantly offering her games she doesn’t have time to play but I think she’ll love, and she returns the favor by adding to my endless “to play” list. The result is our games tend to sit on each other’s shelves for years. I recently got a stack of mine back when she moved, but I still have her copy of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light for the 3DS. I’m constantly thinking I should either finish it or give it back, but of course, I don’t do either. I enjoyed the hours I spent on it, and while the portability of the 3DS makes it easy to pick up, its convoluted plot doesn’t. Plus, I always seem to have other portable games I’d rather play, especially since I bought a Vita. Luckily, my friend has so many games in her own backlog that she hasn’t bugged me for this one back.
My favorite games are the ones where you can play for an hour and not make any actual progress. That’s why I love Bethesda’s role-playing games, and why I was more excited for Skyrim than I have been for pretty much anything that doesn’t have Metal Gear in its name. I honestly don’t know how many hours I’ve put into it, but I know that the number is absurdly high. Still, though, I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of the game’s main storyline. I totally lost the thread at some point and got wrapped up in side-quests, and then when my beloved sidekick—whose name I don’t even remember—got killed, I dropped everything and joined a murder cult so I could enact bloody vengeance on the world that took him from me. Then other games came out, and I haven’t gone back to Skyrim in years. I even own all of the expansion content, some of which is supposed to be really good, and I haven’t touched any of it. I wish I could go back to avenging what’s-his-name, but Metal Gear Solid V comes out this year, and I’m not made of stone.
I played Dishonored for about six hours and had a pretty good time with it. I usually like to play as stealthily and non-violently as a game will allow, and at first blush, it seems like the perfect game for slinking from shadow to shadow unseen. After a few hours of pacifistic play, though, my inventory was laden with fun sounding but forbidden tools of destruction. What finally broke me was collecting my first spring razor—a land mine that shoots deadly barbed wire when detonated. My desire to slice up guards with my new toy came into conflict with my desire to play non-lethally, and I was paralyzed. To this day I haven’t decided whether I’d rather commit to a slightly boring no-kills run, or start over and gleefully eviscerate whoever looks at me wrong.
I love the Ace Attorney series. I practically shoved the original trilogy down Agnello’s throat in 2008 because I needed somebody to talk to about the wonderful twists and turns of its stories. The one time I’ve ever cosplayed has been as Apollo Justice, and the one cosplayer I’ve ever photographed at a convention was a Trucy Wright. So of course I downloaded Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney—Dual Destinies the day it came out back in 2013. The icon has been sitting untapped on my 3DS home screen for over a year now. That game is just so dull! The series won me over with it’s clever pacing and entertaining dialogue, but the early chapters of Dual Destinies lack any of that. Without those virtues, it feels hollow. Many people have told me that the ending is great, that the second case (the one I’m stuck in) is the worst part and I just need to power through, but I haven’t built up the muster yet. I plan to, some day, because I love the series, but until then, that silhouette of Phoenix on my 3DS menu will keep silently shouting at me, ignored again.
Every weekend, when I sit down in front of the tube to decide which video game will consume the next few hours of my life, the first I consider is Grand Theft Auto V. I can’t entirely explain why. I enjoyed the game well enough when it came out, and it sustained my interest intensely for a few weeks before I grew tired of it. That’s par for the course with most open world games, and usually I’m okay with that. Yet GTA5 has stuck in my craw for whatever reason. It’s a hurdle I have to get over every time I’m choosing a game: I have the thought, “I should really finish GTA5,” and as soon as the notion has entered my brain, I dismiss it. The dumbest part is that this mental tic has become so irritating that I’ve come to irrationally hate GTA5. It hovers over me, a needless obligation that I can’t shake. The last game to vex me like this was Oblivion. I did finally go back and polish that one off (and it was a lot of fun), but somehow I doubt I’ll do the same for GTA5. We’re like a bitter old married couple that doesn’t speak to each other anymore, even though neither of us knows where we went wrong.