Entertainment media is so vast and expansive that a general rule of thumb does not exist that is applicable to the many existing forms. You wouldn’t approach a film the same way you would approach a book, and listening to an album is much different than playing a video game. The question I was forced to ask myself recently was this: When is it okay to stop? At what point is it understandable to say, “This isn’t doing anything for me and I’m going to put it down now.” I always finish books and films, and I try to listen to an album 5-10 times before deciding it isn’t for me, but what if this has resulted in me wasting my time?
There are rare exceptions to these personal rules, of course. My family and I were unable to sit through Jason Statham’s 2011 film The Mechanic, and more recently I gave up on Halsey’s Badlands, Travis Scott’s Rodeo, and Future’s DS2 after only two or three full listens. Does this make my opinion less valid? One could argue it doesn’t, but plenty would also argue that I didn’t give the music enough time to marinate. I know because I have been in that camp numerous times throughout the years. 2013’s Enemy, Don Jon, and Bioshock Infinite are all pieces of media I argue are about the destination over the journey, and yet there are plenty of cases online of people taking an early exist, as is their right.
Because of this, I can completely understand the defensiveness of someone who loves something that was dismissed by one of their peers. The simple answer? They just don’t get it. We’ve all said this at one point or another, because to us, it’s true. “You didn’t like this thing simply because it went over your head.” It’s juvenile and assumptive, but it’s a natural reaction; “I love this thing and therefore I must defend and protect its existence,” but I digress. So what spurred my rambling today, you ask? 2013 seems to be a popular year right now, because this was brought on by my attempt at playing Tales of Xillia, which saw its North American release on the PlayStation 3 in 2013.
Tales of is a long-running series of Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs) spanning decades; starting with Tales of Phantasia on the Super Famicom in 1995. I’ve known and heard about the Tales games for years, but I never got around to actually playing one until recently. I was raised mostly on licensed and sports games, which means a lot of my knowledge of the medium came later as I gained more freedom to play what I wanted. My backlog is expansive and overwhelming, so as I result, when I get the urge to play a specific game I do, and this is what happened with Tales of Xillia about a month ago.
Much to my disappointment, I found the game off-putting almost immediately. The game’s anime-style FMVs are gorgeous, and had the story been told in film rather than game, I may have cared more. However, the in-game character models leave a lot to be desired when going through cutscenes, and the battle system–oh, the battle system. Up until this point, I think most, if not all, of the JRPGs I’ve played have had a turn-based battle system. In comparison, the Tales series is more action oriented. I knew this going in, but I never expected it to feel this clunky.
And this is ultimately my biggest issue with the game: I don’t find the combat fun or exciting in any way. In the beginning it felt overwhelming, but at this point I realize it just lacks vision or cohesion for the laymen. For veterans of the series I’m sure this is blasphemy and idiotic, but as an outsider who was looking to join the party, it’s true. As a result, I can’t bring myself to care about anything going on around me. Not when I know that once I leave a town I will have to trudge through a series of battles juggling the same handful of moves, but here’s the thing: I didn’t want to stop due to some misplaced sense of obligation.
This, my friends, is where my original conundrum stems from. Why do I feel obligated to finish something I am not enjoying? In hopes that maybe the story is worth it in the end even when I currently feel detached from everything going on? I don’t care about the world, or the characters, or the main plot, so what could the story possibly give me that would make this 30-40 hour journey worth it? And I think the most frustrating thing about all of this is I kept giving myself different end goals. I literally took almost a month off from the game because I felt unmotivated to play, and when I came back I said, “Give it another hour.” Then I told myself to wait until I hit 10 hours of in-game time (I am currently at 7.5).
This piece wasn’t meant to solve my problem, but rather openly discuss it because I doubt I am the only person who deals with this issue. This happened recently with a book I was reading, as well. I was so excited to dive into This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin, but I was bored within the first chapter. The writing was dull and uninviting, and yet I pushed through to the end regardless of the fact that I wanted so desperately to put it down and move on.
So when is it okay to give up on a piece of media? Who knows. Maybe it’s different for everyone, or perhaps it’s something you address on a case by case basis. With games in particular, I know a lot of gamers would argue you are required to finish what you start, whereas others like Kinda Funny co-founder Colin Moriarty would argue the opposite. Your opinion shouldn’t mean more because you tortured yourself to finish something you didn’t like, and yet in some circles it does. Either way, I doubt I’ll be returning to Rieze Maxia, because at some point you just have to throw in the towel.