Missables, my gaming pet peeve
Editor's Note: I think we can all relate to this one.
Picture this; you're playing a game. You're progressing rather well, and you've been rather successful at tracking down more then a few useful items/ spells/ weapons/ etc. But then you read about something you've overlooked. Or maybe a friend told you. He told you that the Kinda-Nice-To-Have Orb is back in the town of Nottoberazed. And you think "oh, alright then, I'll just backtrack and pick it up!". And then you get back, and, Nottoberazed has been kinda... razed. But you decide to check for the Orb regardless. But you can't find it in the place it's supposed to be. Or maybe you get to see a bandit make off with it (which has the effect of the game developers going "neener neener neener" at you). Or maybe the town is fine, but the Orb, for whatever reason, just isn't there. And to make matters worse, you later learn that the Kinda-Nice-To-Have Orb was NEEDED to later acquire the Armor of Waning Stab Wounds. Or the game's "Infinity +1 Sword" (if I may use a term from TV Tropes). Congratulations, you've just missed a "missable".
Missables have always been a pain in everyone's side (mostly in RPGs, but other genres are no stranger). And in mine especially. Branched pathway? How do I know I can explore the other one later? What if a cutscene "railroads" me back into the main quest and locks off the other area? Or what if I simply don't want to mash the A (or X) button over every single thing that MIGHT hold something important? Or what if a decision I made earlier bars me from getting something much later on? Some people might just say "worry about it on the next playthrough". But me? Well, I can do that at times. But in many games (especially RPGs), I feel that need to grab ANYTHING that might not be obtainable later. Or to make sure that I get all of an item that there's only, say, seven of. Of course, I have my limits. Excalibur II in Final Fantasy IX? Only if you paid me.
Keep in mind that I only deem something missable if it's limited (or one-of-a-kind), and if there's no alternative. For example, if a quest has two outcomes, and you can only do one or the other, but both endings get you a reward. At which point, its not so much missable, as much as it is a choice. It CAN stretch to missable territory however, if one quest reward outcome is the only time (or a limited time) you can acquire said items (or whatever it might be). At which point, most people will always take the option with the more limited item (if they know, that is). It can also apply to multi-tiered rewards (i.e. make sure you you kill twenty skeletons to get the missable, as the rewards for killing five and ten are common or will be common).
Some of the more notorious games I've played in regards to missables would be:
For the most part, Metroid games manage to avoid missables. Every power up is obtainable at any point (once you have the right equipment that is), and there's no need to worry about it too much. And while that stays true in the Metroid Prime games as far as expansions are concerned, scanning, on the other hand, has became something of an annoyance to me as the series went on. Trying to remember to scan hostile targets BEFORE attacking them doesn't always work out. And it can be a pain if there's one enemy (that ISN'T a boss) that only appears for so long, such as the Ice Shriekbat from the first Prime. Or Hive Mecha, the boss who had a scan point in a less obvious spot.
Granted, Metroid Prime 3 did go a ways to fix this by having your scan log carry over when doing a new playthrough (New Game + style). But, it also had tokens and vouchers. Several of which had requirements that weren't very obvious. Not to mention hard. Did anyone LIKE trying to dodge Ridley's attacks in the Morph Ball tunnel? Didn't think so.
In the Golden Sun games, there are creatures called "Djinn." It's ideal to track the little guys down, as they can be used to augment your characters, or used to summon things that make Bahamut's Mega Flare look like a blowtorch. And in Lost Age, there's a special location that requires you to have ALL the Djinn (seventy-two of the things) in order to gain access. This means you need to get EVERY Djinn in game one, transfer, and make sure you get them all in Lost Age. Granted, there is some leeway; one Djinn from each element from the first game can appear in Lost Age if it was missed. But if you missed two or more... whelp, you're gonna have to, at the very least, play Golden Sun all over again (once beaten, your file can't be used, except for Arena). And if you've already reunited with the second party? Tough luck.
Dark Dawn wasn't innocent either. Several locations get cut off as you progress through the game, which is a problem when a Djinn might have been in said location. I remember religiously checking a guide for that one.
Final Fantasy V is my favorite Final Fantasy ... and one of the most missable-ridden games in the series (and this was BEFORE we had to worry about getting everything before moving on to disc 2!). This is due to the fact that the game world changes three times before the end, and many areas are cut off or changed. Chief among these missables are spells, be they summons or songs. And of course, don't forget to steal the Genji equipment from Gilgamesh!
Right now, its my dislike of missables that's preventing me from beating Final Fantasy IX. Some things, I can actually force myself to not care about (getting one hundred on that sword fight during the play? Excalibur II, as mentioned above? Yeah, forget that). But it's the easily overlooked but perfectly within reach missables that make me feel like I NEED a guide open while playing it. But really, any Final Fantasy after V is going to be riddled with these. To this day, I grieve over not having three Enemy Skill materias with ALL learn-able skills in Final Fantasy VII. Stupid Dragon Zombie glitch...
What's odd is that many of these missables didn't get me as down back in the day. I must have replayed these games several times, not even with the full intent of going after everything. Yet nowadays, I feel almost pressured into having a guide on hand at all times (usually a guide made by a helpful fan online). It's to the point where it can impact my enjoyment, making me wish I didn't have to worry about them.
Fortunately, some developers have the foresight to know when something can't be retrieved. Or maybe they just got lucky with how the game was made. But there are solutions to avoiding this frustration.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door does exactly this. Throughout the game, you can have your Goomba party member, Goombella, use an ability called "Tattle" to get the HP of an enemy displayed onscreen, but also fill an entry in your journal. Now, obviously, bosses (and the occasional one-time mook) would be missable... but if you neglect to Tattle a missable enemy, you can still get the full entry, if you know where to look.
One other method I can think of, is to have an NPC that "gathers" any missables from an area, should it be unable to be visited in the future. Then, the player could go to said NPC and get said missables... but for a price (to encourage players to be on the lookout).
Usually, starting a game over is the only way to get missables. Kind of a downer, considering the effort we may have put into our playthroughs. Which is why New Game + is great; it lets us keep our effort (or at least, part of it), while allowing us to replay the game and get that which we missed, without feeling like we've started over. The crowning examples here are obviously the Chrono games (Trigger and Cross). And as mentioned above, Metroid Prime 3 allows the scan log to be retained in a New Game + fashion.
No doubt the hardest in some cases. Due to things like plot, sometimes the places or people you see won't always be there, or be there in the way we want them to. A good example is Knights of the Old Republic, and the destruction of Taris. But many games manage to avoid it one way or another. Maybe there's nothing of importance in a certain location, or the game world doesn't radically change, which means that everything is still going to be there. Or maybe the developers are just REALLY good at planning. Regardless of how its handled, it's nice knowing that there's no need to worry about something becoming unobtainable. It can really kill your fun.
Overall, I feel that locking a player permanently from obtaining something with little-to-no warning (and sometimes even with warning) is a bit of a strong punishment. It's not a huge deal for the most part (if anything, it gives you a reason to play again). But at the same time, I'd prefer to be able to know I can take my time and not worry about missing anything. Then again, I worry even when I CAN take my time. Oh well.