As part of our summer schedule, I’m happy to bring you guys a new edition of What We’re Playing. Like I imagine many of you guys are doing, I’ve been diving headlong into an ancient backlog for the time being, partly because there’s a break of game releases (besides the Last of Us, of course) and partly because I’m preparing to auction off a few items in preparation of new console releases. Next up on my list: Final Fantasy VI.
The most interesting thing that I’ve been experiencing in Final Fantasy VI at the moment is how great the illusion of freedom actually is, for a game so old. For any of you that are unaware, a critical moment comes halfway through the story that results in the destruction of the world, rearranging/reshaping it and scattering your party members far and wide. Once you resume control, you can go after them in almost any order, or go tackle some of the game’s many sidequests, or just go face Kefka in his mighty tower.
Like I said before, the feeling of total freedom is mostly an illusion, but smoke and mirrors is where video games can really excel. Where most games are content at running you through tunnels (new Final Fantasy titles included) or trying to be movies that the player often gets robbed of the feeling of being in control. This is heightened in FFVI by the fact that there’s no true main character, so you can sort of pick who you identify with most and pursue their thread through the game’s sidequests straight to the ending itself.
I think another thing that contributes to this that’s a casualty of modern gaming is the world map, a convention we left behind quite a while ago. While it sounds strange to think that the passing of world maps might be part of the cause of this lack of freedom — after all, isn’t exploration in a seamless world, a la Skyrim, even better — but creating a giant open space with clear markers actually seems to heighten the idea that the world is a big place full of secrets for me. In a game like Skyrim, the prospect of running up to every single cave is almost too daunting, and stifles my freedom more than it encourages it. Final Fantasy VI really knows how to direct you forward while also letting you roam around a bit. Plus, you’ve got airships.
What’s the last game that you guys experienced freedom in, in a meaningful way? And what games are you playing right now during the summer? Go!