As an avid gamer, there are quite a few things about video games that I often find irksome or annoying. Probably the most frustrating thing to me, however, is missable items.
I was recently spurred to this thought while playing The Legend of Dragoon. There is a key item in the game called Stardust, of which there are only 50 pieces in total. Every 10th Stardust gives the player a special item, the last of which allows the player to access and defeat an optional boss.
When I started playing the game, I knew of Stardust and picked up the ones I could find, but didn’t bother making a point to grab all of them. Fast forward to almost the end of disc 2 and I decided I really should backtrack and pick up the ones I missed. There is a story point near the end of disc 2 that takes the party to a new continent, and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of returning to the starting area of the game.
After a bit of research, I discovered that none of the Stardust pieces were missable, and I had encountered 30 up to where I was in the game. I found a picture guide of where each Stardust was and went to every location to check for it. Though I had already picked up 13 or so of the 30 available, the game keeps no record of which Stardust you have or have not acquired. The only way to know is check where one is supposed to be and either get it then or read a completely unrelated examine text.
Thanks to being tremendously overleveled and having a detailed guide at my disposal, I was able to comb through the stardust locations in probably 2 hours or less. While there are locations in the game that are rendered inaccessible after certain story points for one reason or another, the developers were kind enough to have Stardust locations available through the whole game. Even if I were to wait until the very end of the game, I could still choose to work my way back through the entire game world to get all the Stardust pieces.
Pondering on how fortunate I was to be able to get these previous Stardust pieces in The Legend of Dragoon, I thought about how many key or important items in other games are completely missable. Of the 26 Al Bhed Primers in Final Fantasy X, I want to say at least 3 of them can be entirely bypassed. In Final Fantasy VII, rewards from the Fort Condor minigame can be missed if you don’t return to play it after a number of unintuitive milestones in the game. Even outside the Final Fantasy series, many RPG’s have important gear or items that can be missed if you don’t know when and where to look for it.
Now, I don’t mean to say that every single item available in a game needs to be always available. Items that can be purchased from a merchant or otherwise paid for, even those that cost large sums of money, are fair game to be missable. Sure, it’s nice to get these items for free, or get them earlier in the game than may be otherwise possible, I can at least get them later with a little extra work. If the item is one-of-a-kind or available only in limited quantities, however, don’t let me play past the point of no return without getting it.
A great example of proper punishment for missing an item is the way ultimate weapons and their upgrades are handled in Final Fantasy X. Players who know where the items are and when they become available can usually obtain these items without much hassle. Wait too long, though, and you can risk putting the tremendously powerful Dark Aeons between you and the item. These battles are some of the hardest in the game, but that doesn’t mean the items are permanently gone.
One way of addressing this that I can typically get behind is allowing subsequent playthroughs to pick up remaining items. BioShock Infinite had this sort of system in place for most of the collectibles available, and you could keep items you had already obtained. Ratchet and Clank games allow challenge mode runs for unlocking skill points and upgrading weapons. If I can play through a game again while keeping all my previous gear and making some sort of progress, I don’t mind replaying most games.
I’m all for video games (specifically RPG’s) being both difficult and unforgiving. If I die multiple times throughout the game, congratulations to the developers for making a tough game. However, don’t make it so that I have to read a guide beforehand or somehow alert myself to missable items while I’m playing through. If I want to finish a game 100%, I shouldn’t have to start over from the beginning just because I accidentally bypassed a key item.
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