After seven years of it hanging over my head, I just “platted” Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3, and I’m here to tell you: trophies (or achievements, or whatever your favorite system calls them) are the absolute worst.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the idea, a brief explanation. Achievements (or trophies; I will use the terms interchangeably from here on out) are a way of tracking and rewarding a player’s actions in the vast majority of modern games. It all started with the Xbox 360; the PlayStation 3 followed suit a couple of years late, and both Sony and Microsoft’s modern systems continue the trend. Steam, the juggernaut of gaming on modern PCs, also tracks achievements, and people have even reverse-engineered them into games of yore. They act as a “scoring system” for all of their platforms; for example, as of this moment I’m Level 20 on my PlayStation Network account, with 32 platinum trophies–essentially but not precisely “games I got every achievement in”–and another 3300 or so other trophies of less valuable metals indicating progress in hundreds of games.
There are fundamentally three types of achievements:
- Some you get for passing certain points in the game; these tend to be unmissable, assuming you play through the whole thing.
- Others you get for doing certain challenge-y things within a given game, such as beating it on a particular difficulty level or using a weak weapon, or simply pulling off something clever or challenging that isn’t required to beat the game itself.
- Lastly are achievements that pretend to be the second kind, above, but are secretly actually “play the game until you hate it with every fiber of your being because this stupid achievement is making you do something tedious and awful.”
Now, perhaps you can put your sleuthing hat on and figure out which of the above I abhor. (I’m actually not a big fan of the first type of achievement, either; they feel like participation stickers. But at least they tend to be inoffensive.) Sometimes the second type can even shade into the third, if the challenging thing you’re asking a player to do ends up being too challenging; game designers tend to be a little too close to their games, and often don’t realize that what is easy for them and their testers can be downright devilish for players out in the real world.
The problem is that almost every game with achievements has at least one of that last type, even games I’ve otherwise really enjoyed. For example, Axiom Verge–one of my favorite games of all time–has an achievement that requires you to “glitch” at least one of every enemy in the game. This is quite tedious and frustrating, as some enemies only show up in one or two rooms in the game, and missing one means scouring the map for That One Thing You Didn’t Do. Now, I happen to have collected all of the achievements in Axiom Verge on three different occasions (two different PSN accounts, plus on Steam), but I still hate that particular achievement with a passion.
I recently “platted” (short for “platinummed”, a delightful verbing of the act of getting the last trophy/achievement on a PlayStation game, which nets you a special platinum trophy on top of the copper, silver, or gold one that whatever the actual thing you did provides) Diablo III. That game also had a couple of awful trophies; one required you to essentially beat the game with six different characters, which is a lot of one game for most people, but that wasn’t the big offender. No. The awful one was the “complete 500 bounties” trophy.
Bounties in Diablo III are semi-random tasks the game assigns you, five at a time. The thing is: after you’ve done twenty bounties or so, you’ve basically seen everything that the bounty system can offer. And yet you have to grind out another 480 of them. 480! Even a fast bounty takes a couple of minutes to complete. It took me hours of completing bounties while doing other things (mostly watching Twitch) to complete that trophy, none of it fun.
So, back to Final Fantasy XIII. It, too, has a couple of awful achievements, but one of them takes the grand prize in the Garbage Design Sweepstakes. You have to “hold” (i.e. have in your inventory) every single weapon and accessory in the game. Many of these you can’t actually find in the game; instead, you have to upgrade other, weaker items into the missing ones. The details of the system aren’t important. What’s important is that getting this one trophy easily adds another ten or so hours onto the game, minimum… all of which consists of repetitive tasks where you kill enemies over and over and over and over and over to get items to sell (or use) to feed the upgrade engine. It is awful, unfun, and you are basically forced into using a guide off the Internet to make sure you don’t miss any of the upgrade paths.
So: I beat the game back in 2011, looked at what I had to do for the last trophies–there are some other really stupid ones in the game that I won’t get into–and went “nope.” But it’s been nagging me in the back of my head ever since then. I platted both of FFXIII‘s sequels, and FFXV as well (for those of you wondering “why not FFXIV?”: it’s an massively multiplayer online game, and I’m not allowed to play those for a whole bunch of reasons having to do with my well-being), and still FFXIII sat there, trophy list 60% complete, mocking me.
And so this past week I decided I’d finish it off. And finish it I did. A tiny bit of that was fun; a couple of the bits in the game that I hadn’t done were interesting and challengin. But mostly it was miserable and boring and tedious.
But. By merely existing, achievements are a gamification of the act of playing games. And a lot of people–myself included–are easily susceptible to that sort of thing. I look at a game where I have 70% of the trophies and go: I should get the rest. Then I have a shiny platinum! Then people will know I beat the game. And so I found myself listening to The Dollop for two hours tonight while tediously playing the same battle over and over and over to get enough in-game money to just be done with this. This is not good game design. It’s captive, sure, but it’s unhealthy. And I don’t like it at all. But I can’t help myself, either.
At least I can blame Bill Gates.