In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
Justin Taylor is the author of Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever (2010) and The Gospel of Anarchy (2011). His short story “After Ellen” was published in The New Yorker last August. A list of his current projects can be found here. [Full disclosure: Justin and I were roommates for several years, during which time I one time made the mistake of challenging him in GoldenEye 007. He made embarrassingly short work of me.]
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Justin Taylor: So this weekend I’m going to be playing Final Fantasy III [a.k.a. Final Fantasy VI —ed.] , a game that I never played when it was new, and that I downloaded for my Wii, I want to say last summer. I’ve been slowly chipping away at it ever since. It was a good summer for Final Fantasy III last summer, but I’m a teacher, and the school year took some wind out of my sails, so I didn’t play it for a number of months. I came back to it over winter vacation, but now just sort of fiddle around with it whenever I can. I guess I’m about a year into this game.
Gameological: Is the end in sight?
Taylor: Well, all of my characters are leveled into the mid-50s by now. Let’s put it this way, I’m 44-and-a-half hours into this game. [Checks his stats.] I’ve taken 73,458 steps. Although a lot of those steps, I have to say, were just marching around back and forth in that little forest on the continent in the northwest quadrant, where the tyrannosaurs are?
Taylor: Yeah, I spent quite a bit of time just leveling up my guys there, which I felt a little skeevy about, but somebody told me that’s what everyone does.
Gameological: Well you’re a Zelda guy.
Taylor: That’s true. My favorite RPGs growing up were like the Zelda series, but really any kind of these single-player RPGs. A lot of them have certain amount of leveling up or whatever, but it’s all kind of tied to some linear quest, so the game just takes as long as it takes. But FF3 is so sprawling, and there are also so many damn characters, that if you want to keep them all on the level of each other, at some point you have to take the ones you don’t like using that much and just break yourself to go and take them out to do something that’s not too important. Like that asshole who just tells lore?
Gameological: I hated that guy. What’s his name again?
Taylor: I’ll look him up right now. [Looks him up.] Yeah, Strago. You know, you don’t really want to bring Strago out to a big fight, because he’s not that fun to use and he dies all the time. But you have to keep him on roughly the same wavelength as everyone else, because sooner or later, you’re going to have to break up into parties. Which, incidentally, is what stopped me on my last binge of this game. I had a really good run. The first thing that stopped me was when I was on the verge of entering the World Of Ruin, when I just didn’t have time to play through. And then after I made it to the World Of Ruin, I was very excited and played a bunch of levels. But then I hit the Phoenix Cave, and I had to break up into two parties, and I just didn’t have the energy—or the time, really—to do it.
Gameological: I always hated the airship guy, too. You know, the one with the stupid slot machine ability?
Taylor: Yes, Setzer and his slot machine.
Gameological: He sucks, but you want to keep him around because of his sweet airship. Like how you might be friends with someone early on in high school just because they have their driver’s license.
Taylor: Yeah, I fly that airship all over town.
Gameological: I remember you were pretty taken with that World Of Ruin when you first hit it.
Taylor: Yeah, I think it’s incredible. I really love games that have a moment where the basic reality of the game is rewritten or reorganized in some kind of permanent way. For me, the paradigmatic example is in A Link To The Past, when you discover the, uh, the moon jewel? Whatever that thing is, and then you get the mirror. And then you have to navigate between the light world and the dark world. These two worlds exist on top of one another, and you’re constantly going back and forth and figuring out what’s what. I think it’s great when a game can pull that off. FF3 definitely does a version of that. You get really involved in the layout of the land, and where the continents are, and you start to learn where all the towns are. Then you hit that midpoint, and climb that mountain, and there’s literally an apocalypse. And like a year goes by. You wake up and you’re on this little fishing island. You have to feed your uncle and find this raft. Once you get off that island, you realize that everything is somewhere else, and nothing is where you think it is. There’s that weird demon that flies around in the sky and attacks the airship now.
Gameological: There is nothing “final” about Final Fantasy. They’ve made dozens of games under that title, with no end in sight.
Taylor: And I have to say, each individual game seems to be endless. I don’t know how many more hours I’m supposed to put into this thing. I actually took a look at a walkthrough—not even to cheat, although I guess I did cheat a little bit—but I really just wanted to see how much was left. I’ve come pretty far in the thing, but it seems like there’s at least three major adventures left. I don’t know. Right when I got into the World Of Ruin and got the airship back, I took a run at Kefka’s Tower. I didn’t really know what was going on.
Gameological: You got smoked?
Taylor: Yeah. Definitely learned that one the hard way.
Gameological: That Kefka is a bad, bad man.
Taylor: Yeah, he’s terrifying. And he had that long speech on the mountain before the World Of Ruin thing happened. Actually, that speech alone—the fact that you couldn’t skip through that cutscene—that is probably what delayed my playing of this game for six months. It took me, I think, four or five tries to beat that mountain level. I kicked his ass, and then he gives this 10-minute speech. You can’t cut through it. You just have to watch it. And then after that, there’s that timed test where you have to get back off the thing and jump on the airship, but then you have to not jump because you’re waiting for the ninja…
Gameological: Of course.
Taylor: I misunderstood what side I was supposed to be running to, and so I kept dying on the time test and that makes you redo the whole thing. After like the third time that I had fought, and won, and had to sit through this fucking speech and then die running through the maze. I just said, “Fuck this, I’m going to throw this controller through the TV if I don’t stop it.” So every time I was going to go back and play, I was like, “Do I have two hours to just sit and watch this stupid speech over and over until I can figure out how to do this maze?” And I kept saying “no” for six months.
Gameological: The game has this whole steampunk thing going on—this fusion of magic and technology in the form of Magitek Armor. If you could have one magical ability and one bionic implant each, what would they be?
Taylor: Good question. I guess my magical ability, I suppose, would be regeneration. As for the bionic implant, and this may sound petty, but I’ve always wanted to shoot lasers out of my hands. I feel like I could be useful and do something with that.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.