View RSS Feed


On the Journey

Rate this Entry
I am sure you are all familiar with the common adage, “It is not about the destination, it is about the journey” (or some variation of that sentiment). At the heart of the statement is the notion that a person should not focus solely on the outcome, and instead realize that the experiences encountered and lessons learned on the road to the destination have value. Compared to books, films, or music, video games are the form of media which provides a distinctive method to embody this concept. It is only through the interactive format of a video game that both the protagonist and the audience (player) get to each partake in a journey. I thought I’d use this editorial to invite you all to join me on a journey through journeys in gaming.
Spoiler: show
See what I did there?
Spoiler: show
Join me on a journey.
Spoiler: show
Since this is about journeys!
Spoiler: show
Get it???
Spoiler: show
If you're still with me, have a picture of a rabbit with a pancake on its head~

(Since this is a discussion of journeys and destinations, there will be some spoilers.)

There are a number of ways which journeys and destinations manifest in games. One of the most obvious examples is the narrative journey and narrative conclusion. Video games have been used to tell some amazing stories through different formats. Some of the earliest games told very bare-bones stories, mostly focusing on the simple notion of the battle between good and evil. Over time, games have expanded in their narrative abilities and can now tell intricate and detailed stories. Some of the most obvious examples for a forum like BlueGartr are the stories told in the Final Fantasy franchise. Fans who played Final Fantasy VII have not spent years talking about stopping Meteor and saving Gaia, but instead about the events which lead to that conclusion. The destruction of Sector 7, Cloud’s repeated struggles against Sephiroth and his past, Aeris' death at the Forgotten Capital, the attack of the Weapons, and Cloud’s final confrontation with Sephiroth are some of the defining memories of Final Fantasy VII. Of course, the journey to the conclusion can also work to make the final moments of a game far more powerful. Final Fantasy X is, personally, my favorite entry in the franchise. Although the game’s core is about defeating Sin and Yu Yevon, it is more about the relationships between Titus, Yuna, and their allies, the struggles and challenges they face together, and the bonds they serve to build. If it wasn’t for that journey, Titus’ ultimate sacrifice and departure after defeating Yu Yevon would not have had the same emotional effect.

Then again, a terrible conclusion can also invalidate a satisfying journey, leaving bitter memories and disappointment. Consider the Mass Effect franchise. Across three games, players experienced the story of Commander Shepard and his/her crew as they prepared and battled against the looming threat of the Reapers. The games were built around choices and consequences which carried over from one game to the next. However, in the game’s final act, players’ choices were synthesized down to three simplistic outcomes. Players felt betrayed that the universe they had invested time and emotions into ended in a way which was barely more complicated than flipping a coin. For many of those players, their memories of Mass Effect 3 are not of the refined third-person shooter mechanics, the improved character flexibility, or the surprisingly fun multiplayer. Unfortunately, there are many players whose strongest recollection when thinking about Mass Effect 3 is bitter disappointment. In fact, I know people who were so soured by the game’s conclusion that it has tainted their impressions of the entire franchise.

Franchises and sequels offer the potential for a narrative journey to expand even beyond just a single game. It can be the case of a franchise like Mass Effect, where multiple games were intended to come together, across multiple conclusions, to tell a complete narrative. Or it can be like the expanded Final Fantasy VII universe which has grown beyond its original plan and served to tell various aspects of a story which has developed beyond just Cloud and Sephiroth. A sequel can also take on the role of Final Fantasy X-2, which served to explain Final Fantasy X's post-credit scene and give Titus and Yuna the happy ending they deserved (because Final Fantasy X -Will- doesn't exist..). I have repeated espoused my love for the Legend of Zelda franchise which, as a whole, tells the story of a never ending journey. Although each game tells its own, self-contained story, the Legend of Zelda franchise tells the story of the eternal struggle of good versus evil. For many years, players had no idea whether each entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise was independent, was part of a single timeline, or was same story being recounted by different storytellers. In 2011, Nintendo released Hyrule Historia, an encyclopedia which contained the history of the Zelda Universe. This, combined with Skyward Sword, the first game chronologically, revealed that each entry in the franchise filled a role in a timeline where Demise’s undying hatred continues to return, forcing those born with the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero to continuously battle. Although the narrative lacks a conclusion, each entry in the franchise serves as another step in a journey, where Zelda and Link are called upon to stand against the enduring darkness in their world.

Of course, the narrative is not the only journey which players are invited to partake. The original Super Mario Bros. tells the story of Mario’s (and Luigi’s) efforts to save Princess Peach from the evil King Bowser. However, the game never actually explains this to players, and instead, like many games of its era, relies on the instruction manual to convey the game’s story. The game’s narrative journey is so minimal that it is not the journey that players remember. I imagine most players remember their gameplay journey, as they learned the game’s mechanics, refined their skills, and eventually were able to successfully progress through the entire game. One of the best games which embody the notion that the gameplay journey is more important than the destination is Shadow of the Colossus. For the majority of players who have played Shadow of the Colossus, I would not be surprised if their strongest memories are not of the game’s ending, but instead have to do with the game’s sixteen colossi. Either the first experience with the colossus Valus or a personal favorite colossus (Phalanx or Gaius for me) are probably far more memorable than the game’s peculiar and open-ended conclusion.

Journeys can also be about learning new skills and developing new talents. I can still remember when Halo 3 was released and one of the multiplayer game modes which was very common was Shotty-Snipers. For those who are unfamiliar with this type of mode, players start the game with a shotgun and sniper rifle, both with unlimited ammo. There are no other weapons available, so players are restricted to only these two weapons. However, the players who usually played this game mode were typically skilled snipers who wouldn’t give shotgun users the chance to close the distance. When Halo 3 came out, a few of my friends were great at sniping, while I was not. For me, it wasn’t about the matches, or even the wins, it was about becoming a better sniper. For months, while Shotty-Snipers was our most commonly played game mode, I had resigned myself to being the worst player on the team, to having the lowest Kill/Death ratio, and enduring the blame of being responsible for close losses. However, through it all, I was able to improve my sniping, develop better awareness, rely less on hard-scoping, and became a better overall sniper.

Unfortunately, for gamers especially, the destination can often overshadow the journey. Destiny has a number of really exceptional examples of this -- namely, the challenging Crucible questlines introduced in Year Two. One rewards a shotgun which can excel in the Crucible in the right hands, the other opens up weekly Crucible bounties and rewards. Both are incredibly, almost painfully, challenging, but serve to provide useful training. The Crucible questline in particular teaches players how to play different game modes, use different weapons, and, in my opinion, can improve the way players approach the Crucible and make them better PvP players. However, there is a large population of players who have only focused on the destination and looked for the easiest way to get these objectives done -- hopping into games with friends and farming kills with no challenge. They only cared about the rewards, not about the intentions of the quests or the lessons which could have been learned.

As we approach the conclusion, I do want to reflect on the journey that really hits home to me and motivated this post. Like many of you, I spent many years playing Final Fantasy XI. I played from the North American release till the end of Wings of the Goddess. However, I quit playing around five years ago. When Square Enix announced Rhapsodies of Vana’diel, years of nostalgia resurfaced and I honestly thought about returning to finish the story of Vana’diel. Although I downloaded the game and have it fully installed on my computer today as I type this, I have still not logged in to finish the game’s final narrative arc (and Seekers of Adoulin). For me, the journey of Final Fantasy XI was more than just the game. It was not just about the narrative (which I still love), it was not just about learning the intricate gameplay details (which have made me a better gamer), and it was not just the skills learned. Final Fantasy XI was also about the experience that transcended the game. I found my way to BlueGartr because of Final Fantasy XI. I started writing a blog because of Final Fantasy XI, which led to writing game reviews, which led me to start writing for BlueGartr five years ago. My journey with Final Fantasy XI ended five years ago, and although, today, I regret not being able to experience Vana’diel’s conclusion, that journey led me to something I really enjoy, and I am truly thankful for the journey I experienced.

Is this it? The place we really belong?
Yeah. It’s one of them.
I see. It’s pretty.
~Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans


  1. theshun -
    theshun's Avatar
    The really neat thing about Rhapsodies of Vana'diel is it tells a story that really allows the player to journey through their own memories of their first experiences. I found myself continually recalling when I first experienced these zones and NPCs.
  2. synistar -
    synistar's Avatar
    First thing I thought of when I saw the title:
    "Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination."
    Stormlight Archive book 3 can't come any sooner.

    Just the other day was reminiscing the journey I had in FFXI with friends. Can never forget the MPKs, the AF1 farming, and all that other random stuff back in RoZ/CoP era.