What I did not suspect before but want to have known afterwards

Spoiler alert for the ending of Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I must have needed 20 attempts for this boss: Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Each of my attempts, apart from the last, ended in frustration and the feeling of being the victim of a deeply unjust arbitrariness. In this emotional state, of course, the fault always lies with the game. Never again would I look at it, once finally completed (because I can’t leave things unfinished), let alone play it. Darn it all, what unprecedentedly bad game design! Until Sephiroth falls. And with him my wall of frustration and rage.

Why can such energetic feelings fizzle out within seconds? I think the answer to this is related to the mystery of why someone can put hundreds of hours into a game only to find it so mediocre in the end. We see things differently at the end than at the beginning or in the middle.

From psychology we know that we cannot trust ourselves. We remember experiences wrongly, permanently feed our bias and have no idea what actually makes us happy. For example, I had no idea that the elation of finally breaking through that wall of frustration would make me so happy that I would want to start all over again.

It’s not the first time a game has seemed incredibly tough during its first playthrough, only to open up to me emotionally once it’s over. Actually, it’s me who opens up, not the game. I didn’t really understand Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater until the credits rolled. This probably has something to do with the genre, because in stealth games it’s an invaluable advantage to know layouts and NPC waypoints before the level starts. However, I credit a greater effect to cognitive trickery: This daunting, hour-long challenge is now behind me, I have successfully mastered it. And having mastered something is a sublime feeling. From now on, the game dances to my tune, not the other way around.

I have succeeded in lowering the difficulty of games or not playing them at all without suffering from injured vanity. However, at least with the rage-quit-forever, it also closes a door on everything else the gaming experience might have had to offer. For example, the metagame. Strategy tips, tricks, trivia, insights, exchanges, and meaning-laden theories are all part of complex game worlds like that of a Final Fantasy. You’re a fool if you think game designers don’t have that on their radar. I only found out by studying wikis that the Fuck-You-Sephiroth-Randomfest wasn’t actually random at all. And I can’t help thinking that even from the idea, if it wasn’t planned that way, it was at least calculated in.

Now that I know what to expect, my confidence is solid, and my knowledge of the hidden mechanics is greater, I’m approaching the New Game Plus of FF7 Remake not as a monolithic task, but as a sport. As a fun sport, somewhere in the amateur league, if that. But a sport, after all. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn a few more tricks or something about myself again.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake is Square’s reinterpretation of the 1997 classic. Initially released in 2020 for the PS4, this time developed by Square Enix, it is a special example of how a remake can work without relying solely on the nostalgia effect. However, with an end-game retcon that actually seems clever and makes sense, FF7 Remake only maps out about a third of the original story. A sequel is already in development.

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