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The Trouble with Expectations

Michael A. Cunningham

Expectations in video games can lead you down the wrong path. As I sit playing Final Fantasy X HD, I realize that sometimes what you're expecting will cause you to treat a game differently than coming at it fresh. I think back to when I first picked up the PS2 version of FFX back in 2001, I went into that game cold, as I had not seen or read anything about it beyond the initial reveal. I knew none of the characters' names, and nothing about the battle system or world, so I went in knowing zero about the game. And I loved it.

Sadly, this is something that's near impossible to do these days. My experience with FFX was special, as I had no preconceived notions about the game. I loved discovering all of the game's little details for the first time: the characters, the story, and the combat. Auron was awesome from the first time I saw him. The story really grabbed me, especially discovering how sad and somber Yuna's journey through Spira truly was. And I loved the turn-based combat, especially the fact you could swap characters around mid-battle, something that is still not used enough in RPGs. All of these things were fantastic, and I enjoyed experiencing it with fresh eyes. I miss that feeling, as expectations can skew feelings about a game one way or another.

More recently, I was excited to finally get my hands on Xenoblade when it was released in English, and I even imported a European copy nearly a year before the North American release. My expectations were very high, as this game looked like it was was going to have battles like Final Fantasy XII, a personal favorite combat system of mine. After playing the game, it wasn't enough like FFXII for me. The AI didn't allow me to completely automate my party members like I wanted, so it just wasn't what I had expected or wanted, so I bailed after ten hours. Only nearly a year later did I pick it back up again and learn to love it. The difference was that I went into it the second time not expecting it to be something other than what it is. This was not another Final Fantasy XII, but my desire for it to be that is what caused me to dislike it originally. If we're honest, this kind of thing happens to us all to some degree or another.

Sticking with Monolith Soft for a minute, overly high expectations are something I fear could strike the company's upcoming Wii U game. This game, tentatively titled X, has a lot of interest riding on it due to the fan love of Xenoblade Chronicles. The combat from the videos looks to use the same user interface that Xenoblade does, but the rest of the game's structure is still mostly unknown and can only be guessed at. We've seen video footage that looks as if party members are being controlled by multiple people online instead of the single-player party setup found in Xenoblade. Sure, that could just be a new optional online component, but at this point we don't really know much more. This could be a game where you only control a single character and have to join up with others to battle monsters via the Internet or it could be Xenoblade redux with some new features. Until we have more details, fans will continue to have expectations that this game this game will be exactly like Xenoblade, and it might end up being something dramatically different.

All of this goes to show how much of a part expectations play in our enjoyment of games. It's not always the best option to go into a game completely blind, even if that might increase your enjoyment somewhat, but checking your expectations at the door is a good idea. If you just play a game for what it is instead of what you think it should be, you'll at least be giving it a fair shot. Too often people just see what they want to see and ignore anything else, and that is a very dangerous game to play. If you go in with a desire for a game to meet some magical expectations, you'll be disappointed almost every time.

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