The Completionist's Lament

Completionism is an odd psychological compulsion that you either have or cannot possibly understand. I couldn't even try to armchair psychoanalyze it myself, honestly, only that I feel obligated to 100% a game that I'm enjoying before it ever feels truly complete enough for me to move on. It's for that reason I can only usually play one game at once, and that playthroughs can sometimes take weeks.

However, I will happily drop a game for numerous reasons, and one of those is when I'm able to take a step back and see the amount of unpalatable farming, grinding or busywork ahead of me to achieve that "platinum" (either figuratively or literally, depending on the system) state. That also goes for replaying any game with a sufficiently high amount of optional content, even those that would otherwise be considered firm favorites.

The following is a list of games and franchises that I could never see myself revisiting simply because their completionist requirements are far too steep. In essence, this is a companion piece to my earlier Completionist's Complaint article about the (non)difficulties of living with Caravella Syndrome, or Vindrome (all hail the new flesh?) for short.

List items

  • I've entirely ignored MMOs for this specific reason. They're designed to go on forever, always updating with new content, in order to ensure that their subscribers (or is increasingly the case, free-to-players opting into the game's microtransaction economy) stick around. Effectively endless, the very idea of a completionist type starting one seems like a truly bad decision.

  • I really like SRPGs. Or, at least, I did. I burned out so magnificently trying to keep up with NIS's early games - Disgaea, Disgaea 2, La Pucelle and Phantom Brave - that I daren't pick another one up, in spite of fellow mod Sparky_Buzzsaw's frequent praise for this company's output. I don't have the fortitude to resist all those Item Dungeons and whatever else these games have to increase their playthrough lengths from weeks to months.

  • I dunno if I'm necessarily done with Borderlands either, but like the loot games that follow there's a point where I stop having fun and am just stuck in that cycle of getting guns and then getting better guns. It doesn't help that Borderlands 2 was figuratively written by Reddit, to quote a great man, and that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (that's... not how that word works) was so meh that many outlets deemed it inessential. Tales from the Borderlands, sure, but I'm going to have to think long and hard about getting in on the next big loot-fest FPS from this series.

  • Ditto as above, and likewise for the Torchlight and Sacred series. Being in the loot cycle is like being a warm bath or a big snuggie: it's comfortable and pleasant and you could theoretically be in there forever, but for the nagging feeling that you have plenty else to do. The best games drive you forward because you're aching to see how it ends, but Diablo doesn't really end. I mean, you beat the namesake demon, but then you're expected to start over with higher level monsters and loot. The actual story is never enticing enough on its own, especially for 3. There are definitely worse RPGs to spend an unconscionable amount of time with, but at least most of those eventually conclude and free you for other games. (And yes, there are plenty of games that are built to be played forever and that it's a good thing. I just don't like it in my RPGs, which are games where I consider the plot and character development to be key.)

  • I'll be eating my words when the sixth game eventually shows up - though it sounds like Bethesda's focusing on other venues for now - but as with most modern Bethesda games it's becoming harder and harder to psyche myself up for another gigantic open-world of identikit dungeons. Maybe I'm just speaking as someone who recently burned out on Fallout 4. Either way, I'm sort of glad that Bethesda's putting a bookmark in these giant games for the time being. Well, possibly. (Feel free to throw in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 here too. Hell, throw in Fallout: New Vegas, since that was just Obsidian doing an uncanny Bethesda impression.) (And yes, I won't deny the possibility of replaying these games with a whole bunch of crazy mods someday. Wouldn't really be a proper playthrough though, and I certainly wouldn't beat the whole game again with Macho Man Randy Savage dragons flying around.)

  • I've got nothing against the gentle humor and genial charms of the Traveller's Tales LEGO games. They're definitely a bit samey, but when properly spaced out they were always good for a rental when nothing else was available. Even so, each game requires that you beat every level at least twice to get everything: once in the straightforward "story mode" where the characters are locked, and a second in the "free mode" where any character choice is viable. It means that large parts of every level are trapped behind barriers you can't do anything about the first time through. It's the most tiresome aspect of any LEGO game, and is why I'll never play the same one twice.

  • Sega's Yakuza games are truly fantastic, but the immense amount of side content all but confirms a "one playthrough per game" approach. Whether it's the incidental stories you see from bumping into random people on the street, the amount of brawls you get involved in just running around completing those stories, the amount of mini-games like home-run derbies and mahjong you need to master for 100%, the amount of food and booze you need to consume or progressing through the ranks of each game's arenas, there's always a dizzying amount to do in every Yakuza. I've only completed three of them, despite being a fan of the series for close to ten years now, and that's because each one takes so much out of me. All the same, I look forward to when I finally play Yakuza 4, Yakuza 5 and Yakuza 6. I'll probably be as old as Kazuma Kiryu by then though.

  • Prior Assassin's Creed games have always had their issues with too many collectibles and side-missions (remember those flags from the very first one?), but it wasn't until AC III that it became such a problem that it was an actual detriment to the game. Coincidentally for a game about trying to impress your dad, AC III looked like a kid trying on his father's clothes and having far too much they needed to grow into. Many systems, like the homestead trading routes and the hunting, felt underdeveloped and unnecessary, and I actually find the only worthwhile side pursuit - the ship combat and the treasure map missions - to be fairly buried. This was the first game to truly feel the Assassin's Creed bloat, though it was far from the last.

  • While it played better than III, had a more likable protagonist and doubled down on the ship aspects that made III almost salvageable, it still had many of the same bugs and traversal issues and a significant amount of collectible bloat with its enormous map and its archipelago of tiny islands with naught but the occasional chest or message in a bottle. It's a perfectly acceptable game if you aren't sailing up and down the Caribbean after every icon on the map, but way too much if you are.

  • While the wanderlust and riches-heavy Black Flag could justify the amount of off-duty treasure hunting you could get yourself involved in, there's no such plot contrivance to excuse the amount of unnecessary bloat of AC: Syndicate and its Victorian period London. I've used the term "bloat" a few times, so let me explain specifically what I mean: when there's collectibles and side-activities thrown in simply for the sake of boasting a larger world or longer runtime, because prior games had them and to remove them would be to somehow make the game a lesser product. Ubisoft feels obliged to include as much collectible tat and side-missions as they can fit in, along with all their vantage points and towers, and so little of it is actually fun because of its copy/paste nature. To take over London in AC: Syndicate, for example, requires completing the same four mission types about a dozen times each. They might not expect a significant number of their audience to do it, but they'll be darned if they're going to let some reviewer talk about how slight the new AC is even if it means keeping some poor level designer in over Christmas to drop another 300 treasure chests in random areas on the city's topography. (The side-missions involving famous historical figures? Go right ahead and do those. Ignore everything else.)

  • The Baldur's Gate games are a fantastic series, and debatably the best use of BioWare's Infinity Engine. Unlike its contemporary franchise, Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate prides itself on the amount of optional questing and side-areas the player can go off to explore instead of following the story. Essentially, these areas allow the player to gain the experience and resources necessary to challenge the more difficult story areas of the game, like the perilous and spider-infested Cloakwood region. It also means that, if you've spent the time exploring every nook and cranny of Baldur's Gate's Sword Coast, you're hesitant to go through all that again.

  • A similar case can be made for Baldur's Gate's sequel: Shadows of Amn. The first act of the game requires that you earn enough money to bribe your way into the big magical prison that your sworn enemy and best friend (separate people!) have been taken. The game offers the greatest amount of freedom here in how you can go about earning that money, offering lots of quests and dungeons and wilderness areas in which to make your fortune. The rest of the game is a little more railroaded and story-focused, but it's so easy to burn out on that opening chapter alone.

  • I actually like the Riddler trophies more than most, especially in how most of them challenge you in some way with puzzles or skillful timed sequences, but even I would be reluctant to go find all three hundred plus of them again with an Arkham City replay. I could go either direction on the old "which is better: Asylum or City" debate, but Asylum is definitely the one I would play again if pressed for an answer.

  • I enjoyed this Indie RPG immensely, but it definitely had some issues with its needlessly large size. The amount of grinding and farming you need to do to recruit the game's forty eponymous citizens is not something I see myself ever doing again.

  • The only game on this list with a huge amount of side-content that I would absolutely play again in a heartbeat. I include it only because of this list's secondary purpose: to help those of a similar completionist bent to pick and choose games that they might not want to spend several months of their life with. Dark Cloud 2 is so packed with content, from the photography to the weapon-crafting to the golf-like Spheda to the fishing contests to the NPC wrangling for the game's village-building Georama mode that it's likely to keep you going for a very long time. It's a well spent very long time though, trust me.

  • Darksiders 1 was a fairly compact Zelda-style approach to an end of the world scenario that could have been devised by Todd McFarlane. It was over the top grimdark and it worked, for the most part, because it had that solid core of "explore dungeon, get item, fight boss, use item to move forwards with the plot". The sequel opted for a more open-world approach, presenting a lot of optional areas and an equipment system that more closely paralleled the loot of a Diablo-type game. It's not terrible, but it took so long to beat thoroughly that I'm not going to do so again.

  • Those goddamn Hinterlands, dude.

  • I once joked to erstwhile Harmonix employee and muttonchops enthusiast Eric Pope that they should've called this game "Dragon's My Dogs Are Barking" because of the sheer amount of walking from A to B to C you do in this game. That's just if you're sticking to the main plot too: if you're taking on any of the radiant "please take this item to the village on the other side of the world" missions, you'll see the same few miles of road (and its harpies, hydras and ogres) a dozen times. I figured, perhaps erroneously, that the escort missions would dry up and I could continue with the game's plot, but eventually they killed any and all interest I had in the game. I hear Dark Arisen has a better waypoint travel system, as well as an insane late-game twist, but I'm in no hurry to see any of it.

  • DQ8 is just an immense game in general, let alone when you start adding in all the optional bosses (or bounty hunter marks) and the whole late-game bonus dungeon when you uncover a twist taken right out of Spaceballs of all places. Part of the reason that I'll never play DQ8 again though, despite being a fantastic entry in the series, is that I still have so many other Dragon Quest games to check out.

  • However, the remaining DQ games to play won't include IX, which is simply too much for me to deal with. Between the optional grottos and the amount of job system micromanagement for your hero and their hirelings, you could feasibly play Dragon Quest IX for years. That was probably the point too: there was enough content to keep any Dragon Quest fan happy until the next one, which unsurprisingly went full MMO.

  • As with DQIX, Level-5 doesn't seem to know when to rein in the amount of content they offer. Fantasy Life feels like the RPG equivalent to Animal Crossing, in that it's essentially endless. I'm sure its main plotline involving its fairy NPC helper eventually concludes, but it'll take a whole lot of farming and grinding and mining and sewing and crafting (depending on whatever your job is at that moment) to get there, I'm certain. It's another game that I dropped that I'm not sure I'll ever return to.

  • I liked Far Cry 3 plenty, but it takes a while to do everything it has to offer. A very long while. And it's a pain to hunt all the necessary animals for the upgrades, or earn all those abilities, or take over all that territory. The Assassin's Creed bloat isn't quite so prevalent because the game's a lot more fun in the moment-to-moment emergent gameplay, but it's still a few weeks of my life that I don't feel like revisiting when I have so many other games just like it to play.

  • See above. And those eagles can go fly into a jet engine.

  • Every Final Fantasy game has its share of side-quests, optional summoned monsters to recruit, difficult super bosses to train up for, and engrossing mini-games like Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad. It wasn't until FFX that it started becoming crazy with that stuff, which is fairly ironic given that FFX has a reputation for being one of the most linear games of the series. Yet, the prospect of re-acquiring the Celestial Weapons and taking on the Dark Aeons and the roided-up beasts of the Monster Arena? Not an enticing one by any stretch. If I could just replay FFX for its story, I would... well, at least there's a few LPs I could watch instead.

  • I'm one of XII's staunchest defenders, from its insanely clever (if somewhat self-defeating) Gambit AI system to its Yasumi Matsuno-penned (well, mostly) story that perhaps skews a bit too Star Wars once too often. I don't see myself ever running through its dozens of environments, many optional, in an endless hunt for additional eidolons and untold treasures again. Nor do I want to grind all those monster totals to receive those lore entry unlocks, which was fun at the time but hardly something that bears repeating.

  • Just Cause 2 had an immense amount of red-tinged structures to blow up. The scale of its South Asian island nation of Panau beggared belief on its own, but trying to get 100% (which was literally impossible due to a bug) was practically Sisyphean. For as much fun as I had with Just Cause 2, it's not something I can revisit without relapsing into a days-long fugue of property destruction. Maybe that multiplayer mod...

  • There's a number of reasons why I won't ever play Lightning Returns again, but first and foremost is its structure: the game gives you a ticking clock to complete the game before the entire world ends and in that time you're running around acquiring (or "saving") all the souls of your friends and past associates. However, to see the real ending, you also have to save the souls of almost everyone with a side-quest bubble over their head, which effectively postpones the apocalypse by another week. Add to this the Final Ones, a grinding-heavy side-mission to hunt down every last member of a monster species, and the game's definitely a one and done sort of affair. I certainly enjoyed reveling in its madness though: the FFXIII sub-series truly stopped giving an eff towards the end there.

  • The things I remember most vividly about Square-Enix's squad-based RPG are its Byzantine level-up system and the how completing the vast amount of side-content would unlock the "true" final boss: designed to be the strongest opponent in the game, in spite of all the optional superbosses and dungeons creating horrifically overpowered heroes. (Final Fantasy X could've used something like that.) Either way, it's for those two remarkable reasons that I can't see myself ever playing The Last Remnant again. I'll listen to its awesome Japanese buttrock instrumental soundtrack until the end of time, however.

  • Nier has plenty of side-quests, though the most significant late-game busywork comes from acquiring all the weapons and completing the game four times in total (though subsequent playthroughs mercifully fast forward through most of the game). For story-related purposes, though, there's a very specific reason why I won't - by which I mean actively refuse - to ever play Nier again. If you've reached the same point of the story (or just watched a YouTube clip), you'll understand why.

  • The best part of Radiant Historia, which is also the reason why I probably won't ever replay this otherwise excellent time-travel RPG, is all the dead-ends you can discover. These are "false" conclusions to the game that the player can reach by making the wrong decisions at certain points in the story. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, almost, in that you're often curious enough to seek out all the paragraphs where your quest ends prematurely. After thoroughly exploring every timeline though, I'm happy where I left off Stocke and company.

  • The reason I can't play Vesperia again is actually because of its achievements: for whatever reason, I felt inclined to get all of them for this game, even if many of them were completely broken or designed by masochists. Among them is completing every side-objective in the game, every special boss fight condition, completing the bonus dungeon and replaying the game two and a half times in total - one of which was a speed run and the half was a low-level run. It's one of the best games in the Tales series, but I can't even look at it without shuddering a little.

  • While I adore Terraria, I can't imagine how I could restart with nothing but clods of dirt and wood with which to build my NPC houses and equipment. Especially after I've been chopping down eldritch horrors from space with advanced technology from a fortress base made out of solid platinum. The more Minecraft-inclined folk can happily tear down their creations and start anew, but reaching the late-game beasties and equipment progression trees once was enough for me. If I ever play it again it'll be to help another Terraria dweller get their start, or just continuing from wherever I left my overpowered hero should a new update's worth of additions roll around.

  • I feel like this was the beginning of the end for modern Level-5. I haven't been able to get into a non-Layton game of theirs since, packed as they are with a huge amount of truly tedious side-content. Most of WKC's content is safely locked behind its online mode, which I had zero interest in pursuing, but it's also a pretty dull game all round: not a patch on Xenoblade or Final Fantasy XII, which did the single-player MMO thing so much better.

  • Wild ARMs 2 and 4 are very compact, very deliberate RPGs that emphasize the strategic combat by keeping its action as narrowly focused as a bullet. 3 is the aberration that sits between the two: while a fantastic entry - possibly the best? - its absolutely packed to the gills with side-missions and optional bosses. You'd be hard pressed to move in any direction on its close-to-the-end desert world of Filgaia without bumping into some optional objective.

  • The only Wizardry game I've successfully completed, Wiz 8 is gigantic in both scale and time investment. It doesn't help that the player can maximize their quest logs by playing numerous factions against the middle in order to acquire their help in defeating the Dark Savant. The glacial pace of its combat means that, even were I to skip all the inconsequential quests and areas, it would still take way too long to play through it again. I loved it at the time, though.

  • I haven't struck off Xenoblade Chronicles X from the wishlist, but I think I'm done with the original for as fantastic as it was. After painstakingly exploring all its environments, grabbing all those blue orbs for my "Collectopedia" and rebuilding Colony 6 to its former glory, I don't think I have it in me to do it again. Despite Reyn's frequent warnings, I came close to losing my head playing this so thoroughly.