Remember â€“ hugs not drugs.
Itâ€™s taken years to get clean and on occasions Iâ€™m still tempted, but they say an important step to recovery is facing your demons. So itâ€™s time to look back at those dark days around Christmas 2002 when I became a slave to my own digital crack â€“ Final Fantasy X.
I bought my PS2 a while after it was released. At the time I played RPGs on PC, and had done for years. It was your typical swords and dungeon kind of stuff. I would be a Bard or Paladin fighting Flayers and Beholders, sometimes online, but mostly not. I had a PS1 so I could rent Tekken or a sports sim if I felt like slumming it. I was happy. Looking back, the change may not have been about games. I think the main reason I splashed out the $500 for that sexy little black PS2 was because I wanted a DVD player. In the end it was more Lord of the Rings and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the commentaries, than gaming, that sucked me in and eventually dragged me down.
When I picked up my PS2, I got some games with it. They were great games. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Grand Theft Auto III, and not long after that, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Final Fantasy X. All of them were remarkable, and they still are. They were, to different degrees, groundbreaking in design, visually stunning and wonderfully long.
Now the guy thing to do would be to talk about getting 100% on GTA. Completing all the optional missions, finding all the packages and cars and avoiding all the wanted stars. Saying I did that, saying I spent weeks and months searching out every corner of the tough and misogynistic worlds of Liberty City and Vice City, would be kind of impressive. Or I could talk about playing through Metal Gear Solid in stealth mode. I could talk about getting really good taking Jack, his tranquilliser gun and a cardboard box all the way through the Big Shell and back to the final showdown in the city, all without killing a single soldier. But this isnâ€™t about that. Itâ€™s not about me talking myself up. While I played those games a lot, dabbled in getting 100% and setting my own challenges, what I actually got hooked on was far more embarrassing. What I did took hundreds of hours of monotonous grinding, very little gaming skill, and was ultimately a complete failure.
Yes, I spent months collecting dark matter in Final Fantasy X.
Although I never saw myself as a hardcore D&D gamer, when I dreamed of games, I dreamed of half-elves and thieves guilds and broadswords with +10 crush criticals and added acid attacks. Despite liking what I liked, I was aware of the Final Fantasy games, but I didnâ€™t really play them. Actually, thatâ€™s not completely true. I did play the demo for Final Fantasy VIII. I got it on one of those sampler disks they taped to the cover of gaming magazines back in the dark dial-up days. It was alright, but nowhere near as fun as taking out a dragon with a ton of traps and some backstabs. Also, not as manly. To me, everyone in the Final Fantasy universe seemed a bit too pretty; a bit effeminate. I saw myself as an old-school kiwi bloke. Rugby, racing and beer. Or in 2002, rugby, hold â€™em and Woodys. Telling my friends about these fantastic games with beautiful graphics, strong female characters and long, tangled, emotional stories of loss, longing and unrequited love, was unthinkable. I had another drink, placed another bet and smashed the halfback the next time I caught the smart-arsed little punk.
But Final Fantasy X got its claws into me early. It had an amazing ad that got a lot of play on television. The one with Tidus at the Blitzball tournament, Sinâ€™s attack and the arrival of the awesomely cool Auron. Itâ€™s still my second favourite trailer behind San Andreasâ€™ Welcome to the Jungle. My first play through was uneventful. It took about 130 hours. I did it without any hints, tips or cheats. I used to take my time back then. I also had GTA3 and MGS2 to play. It was a life changing few months, the kind that would get anyone hooked on gaming for life. I played them all through to the end.
The games were all so good I immediately started to play them again. I canâ€™t even imagine that ever happening again. Four games, bought virtually at the same time, all worth an immediate replay. These days Iâ€™d feel lucky if there were two games a year good enough for that. MGS2 was linear, without any surprises, and GTA had a comprehensive in-game list so I knew what to look for there. But Final Fantasy was a madman. 130 hours of gaming and I had missed side missions, games, weapons and armour â€“ the list was endless. I had even missed the Aeon Valefor, the first of Yunaâ€™s monstrous pets. I hit the net, found the longest walkthrough I could and began again, eager to play the game properly.
It started out fairly simply. I hunted down all the Aeons Iâ€™d missed. The loyal Valefor, the sullen ronin Yojimbo with his pup Daigoro, and all the girls â€“ Anima and the Magus Sisters. Once I had them all it was time to get Tidus, Wakka, Rikku, Auron, Lulu, Kimahri and Yunaâ€™s ultimate weapons. Finding all the Celestial weapons was insanely tough. Impossible Chocobo races, endless rounds of Blitzball, dodging lightning on the Thunder Plains, and capturing monsters, butterflies and cactuars. I got Caladbolg, the Onion Knight and Godhand, but I couldnâ€™t get them all.
Still, I felt pretty good. Good enough to fight the Dark Aeons; the evil and far more powerful versions of Yunaâ€™s pets. I had come across a couple of them while playing, the horned fire-dog Ifrit and Cindy, Sandy and Mindy - the Magus Sisters. However, without any preparation the battles ended quickly â€“ either I ran or I died. But with the ultimate weapons I had earned, I felt confident. I headed for the desert to look for Dark Ifrit, and died.
Looking back, the Dark Aeons were my downfall. Iâ€™ve tried to blame lots of things, but it wasnâ€™t really the fault of The Lord of the Rings, or DVDs, or evil advertising campaigns, or even ninety percent of the game itself. It was those smug and arrogant Dark Aeons. Turning up on roads or in pits, being all unbeatable and unpassable. I hated them and had to beat them. But, to beat them I needed dark matter. I needed to make Ribbons, the accessory that gave immunity to all elemental attacks. I could also use it to upgrade the weapons to replace those ultimate weapons I hadnâ€™t found. A simple plan and a disastrous one.
What followed was months of endless monster hunts, looking for the legendary monsters that carried dark matter. Stealing one or two at a time to get the sixty I needed to upgrade one weapon with the Break Damage Limit ability. It was too slow. I found out Dark Aeons also carried dark matter, so I came up with another plan. I fought hundreds of battles against them, dying every time, hoping Yojimbo would use his Zanmato attack, the only attack that would deal an instant kill on anything. You see how my logic was failing. I needed dark matter to beat the Dark Aeons, so I fought the Dark Aeons to get the dark matter, so I would be able to fight the Dark Aeons... It was a hell designed just for me, created by my own twisted mind. In the end it broke my spirit. I gave up.
Itâ€™s been years since Iâ€™ve played Final Fantasy X. I donâ€™t think about it too often. I sold my copy and with the help of my personal methadone, Final Fantasy X-2 and Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, I was able to get by. Final Fantasy XII has also helped and now with Final Fantasy VII and VIII on PSN and of course Final Fantasy XIII. Itâ€™s as if Final Fantasy X never happened. I feel so good I think I might pick up a copy just for sentimental reasons. I donâ€™t care about those Dark Aeons anymore, and dark matter, doesnâ€™t matter. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll even play it.
Well... I might play it just once.