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On Completionism

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This month, I thought I’d use this blog to take a break from reviews and to steer things in a different direction. Of course, you might be wondering, why? Well, for one, I have had access to this outlet for several years now which has offered an admittedly squandered potential to disclose and assert my ideas and poise questions to a fairly large community. Whether this sticks and becomes an alternative to my (bi-)monthly reviews is up in the air, but I thought I’d give something new a try. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was also because Ragns and Sonomaa let me run a largely unregulated blog and there’s nothing you can do to stop me! Nothing! In hindsight, I probably should have gotten a large mahogany chair to stand up from and angrily splash Cabernet Sauvignon (which really is the most evil sounding wine) from my almost comically oversized goblet which is clearly part of this story, but that’s really unimportant at this point. In any case, I invite you to sit back and enjoy what I hope will be an interesting discussion on completionism in gaming.

BlueGartr has roots firmly planted in the Final Fantasy Franchise, so the notion of completionism should be familiar to many here. After all, role playing games like the early Final Fantasies really pushed players to explore the world outside the main storyline by offering secret quests and collectibles which came in many forms. Whether you're talking about hidden weapons, hidden summons, or even hidden bosses (which are typically harder than even the final boss and raise an interesting question about enemy hierarchy, or at the very least evil allocation of resources -- but that’s a topic for another discussion..), the Final Fantasy series has featured it all.

Of course, it wasn’t just RPGs. The original Legend of Zelda for the NES had numerous hidden items which could be found by players who wandered off the beaten path which made the game infinitely easier (in writing this piece, I’ve learned that Wooden Sword runs are a thing and intend to give one a try in the near future). Sometimes completing everything rewarded players with a bit of dialogue to acknowledge their accomplishment. Collecting all one-hundred twenty stars in Mario 64 led to a few lines of extra dialogue from Bowser during the final confrontation. Other times, wandering away from the main story or searching for secrets rewarded players with alternative endings or stories. More recently, completionism has become a staple in just about every game. Even first person shooter games like Halo and Call of Duty have introduced collectables (Skulls and Terminals in Halo and Intel in Call of Duty) to get players to explore the world and search the corners of every level.

But why do we care about being completionists? For years, being a completionist was a personal matter. The only person who really knew if you had beaten Ruby and Emerald Weapon (or if you had created a lie so large it became self-sustaining for nearly two decades) was yourself. I still remember when Final Fantasy VIII was released, and my competition with a friend to see which of us would be the first to beat the game and all it had to offer. While he beat the game well before me, I recall the exuberance I had when I was the first to acquire the Proof of Omega for beating the Omega Weapon in Ultimecia’s Castle. Of course, I didn’t mention I had pulled it off thanks to a clutch The End by Selphie.

Achievements and Trophies changed all that. Suddenly, it wasn’t just your word, there was evidence. Suddenly it was easy to catch someone in a lie about whether they had completed a challenging quest or overcome an arduous opponent. Beyond that, it also gave a more tangible reward for gamers. It wasn’t just about beating a hard enemy or completing every side-quest. Now there was a permanent mark of glory associated with completing these difficult tasks. Those who have played Final Fantasy X and have beaten Nemesis know the time and effort needed. It isn’t just about leveling your characters. Final Fantasy X’s unique leveling system essentially requires that you build your characters from the ground up again, after you’ve reached the point where you can challenge the game’s hardest bosses. Years ago, I devoted the requisite time to wipe my sphere grids and maximize my characters for this task. Although Final Fantasy X is my favorite entry in the franchise, knowing I had done it once, I had never bothered with this process again. However, with the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, for the first time in countless playthroughs, I again found myself spending far too much time to maximize my characters for a handful of challenging fights. What was it that made this time different? Yes, the fact that the remake included the International Version bosses was part of it (allowing me to finally face Penance), but beyond that, I NEEDED to get that platinum trophy. It wasn’t just about being able to say that I had beaten those bosses, but I needed anyone who checked my PSN profile to see that I was in the 0.1% of players which had actually pulled it off.

The other side of the story is the necessity of completionism. I’ve played four games the past few months, each of which has taken a different approach to completionism -- Destiny, Batman: Arkham Knight, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix (as part of the 1.5 Remix), and Fire Emblem: Awakening. Destiny approaches completionism from several different ways. On one hand, a game like Destiny pushes players to be completionists for the sake of having access to the most unique weapons and armor for every possible encounter. Destiny also keeps a visual score of a player’s accomplishments, the Grimoire Score. This is visible to all players and having a high score is seen as a badge of skill and honor (and as someone who has nearly maxed his Grimoire Score, I can safely say it’s also a sign of someone who plays way too much..). With the start of year two approaching, Bungie has also introduced a reward for players who complete the game’s major tasks (completing the raids, collecting treasures from the world, etc).

Conversely, Arkham Knight is a single player game which, in many ways, makes completionism a necessity. In Arkham Knight, players who complete the game’s campaign aren’t really given much of an ending. Batman wraps up the main story and then tells Alfred to ready the Knightfall Protocol once he finishes saving Gotham. Viewing the game’s ending (and even its credits) requires completing all the side-quests -- capturing all Batman’s rouges, eliminating the presence of the militia throughout the city, and solving all of the Riddler’s challenges scattered throughout Gotham. While some of these objectives are simple and enjoyable, completing all two-hundred forty-three tasks for the Riddler is tedious and arduous.

Kingdom Hearts employs a completely different strategy for completionism. I remember when I originally beat Kingdom Hearts on the PS2. I beat Ansem, saw Sora say goodbye to Kairi, and then was left wondering what was next for Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Only later did I learn about Another Side, Another Story. For those who don’t know, completing Kingdom Hearts and finishing a number of side-quests (while admittedly not even the most challenging ones) rewards players with a secret video. This video was a tantalizing taste of dual-wielding Keyblades, mysterious cloaked figures, and curious words which briefly flashed across the screen and hinted at a broader and more exciting future for the franchise. While these videos have become the norm in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, they continue to be bonus videos which merely tease rough ideas which are being formulated for later games.

My experience with Fire Emblem: Awakening is arguably the closest to my early experiences as a completionist. Although I’ve played through Awakening several times, I’ve never taken the time to maximize every support relationship between every character. For some reason (probably due to an ever-growing need to play Fire Emblem: Fates), this time I’ve not only decided to unlock every support conversation, but also every possible marriage and family for the Avatar (a process affectionately dubbed save-scumming). Unlike the other two games, there is really no reason for me to make such a commitment. Apart from being able to rewatch the dialogues should I feel so compelled, Awakening doesn’t reward players for accomplishing this task.

So which approach is best? Should games employ rewards? Should there be a reason to be a completionist? Or, should completionism be a personal matter? Are hidden bosses a good thing, and to what extent should they factor into a game? On one hand, yes, they are an outside element which can give players who are willing to make the commitment an incredibly satisfying challenge. On the other, what happens when aspects of the game are locked behind completionism? In Kingdom Hearts, a secret movie was hidden. In Arkham Knight, the game’s true ending was locked behind completionism. Are these equivalent? (It is worth noting that both Kingdom Hearts and Arkham Knight include even more tasks which are not required to unlock their respective movies -- Kingdom Hearts features a number of additional bosses while Arkham Knight has additional challenges scattered around the map.) The impetus for this post was a conversation I had with a friend regarding Arkham Knight -- that he had no intention to complete all the tasks necessary to unlock the true ending and had resorted to YouTube to see the story’s conclusion. Part of me wanted to criticize him (and I certainly made fun of him a fair bit), but as someone who has grown up as a gamer, I know where he’s coming from. I’ve been playing video games since I was four, and in my youth, I was more than willing to pour excessive hours into a game to maximize my characters, to scour the world, and to complete every possible task. Now, not only is it harder to find the time to game, but if I can find the time, I certainly don’t want to spend it doing menial and unrewarding tasks. So my question to you all, what are your thoughts on completionism?


  1. Shaano -
    Shaano's Avatar
    Completionism is what keeps me going in all games. From playing all Final Fantasy titles and hitting 100% or damn near close ie: XI and XIV it feels great. I experienced everything and got the most out of my buck. I could grind the smallest mob that drops a .5% item for hours on end just to know that I 'did it'. :D
  2. Elcura -
    Elcura's Avatar
    If you have the motivation to do it I would definitely complete a game. Most of the time I just play games until I feel I'm done with them or I've done everything I consider fun. A game has to be very good to get me to do shit like collect all weapons and do all the things.

    But also since I'm not a child and can actually afford to play more than 1 game a month I definitely don't delve as deep. No way am I beating FF7 15 times just to see the different dialogue flavours characters had at certain parts of the game or getting to level 9999 and grinding item worlds in Disgaea anymore, but you definitely go as far as the game keeps you interested. Doing things for the sake of doing things is a young man's game, or someone who generally doesn't have a wide collection/variety. Too old for this shit.
  3. Quicklet -
    Quicklet's Avatar
    Completionism is good when it's done organically. It's bad when it simply serves as content padding or to incentivize players to play the game in an inherently unsatisfying way. When the player feels excited for that next piece of content and any associated reward with it, that's good. When it just feels like going down a checklist, that's bad (even though it may still be effective in maintaining player interest in the short-term).

    I'd separate completionism and achievements as two somewhat overlapping design issues. Achievements may promote completionism through external rewards, but they also rob the player of the imagination/freedom to explore a game on their own terms. My own personal opinion is that many more games from the pre-achievement era fall into that "fun completionism" category while those in the post-achievement era tend to fall into the "checklist" category.