Twelve Years of The After Years
or, How One Game Stayed in My Backlog for Twelve Years
The year is 2009. Square Enix releases a digital sequel to the long-loved Final
Fantasy 4, titled "The After Years". It concerns the story of Ceodore -- the
son of FF4's protagonist, Cecil -- and *his* journey in saving the world from
a mysterious moon that appears. The After Years pulls in all of the characters
from the prior game, extends character development and story for a lot of
characters, and introduces more; most of them simply the progeny of some main
character from the prior game. Fan bait!
I had recently 100%ed Final Fantasy 4 Advance, back around 2008, so naturally
I bought its sequel! However, it was not quite what I expected. While the new
characters were welcome, a lot of the changes to gameplay negatively impacted
my experience for the entire game, despite my initial interest in them. This
article isn't a review, per se, but I will briefly discuss what I didn't like
about the game, to add context.
The Moon Phase system turns the game's various damage types into its own form of
Pokémon. Each phase makes one of the four types of damage stronger, and another
weaker. This idea *sounds* cool on its surface, but changing the moon phase is
done only by resting via Tent or Cottage, sleeping in a bed, or waiting long
enough gameplay time for it to automatically advance. These mechanics turn the
system into something tedious and unnecessarily annoying, forcing you to pad
your inventory with Tents to have any sort of control over the phases.
Co-operative moves, called Bands, are another mechanic that seems interesting at
first. The moves themselves are cool: they allow multiple characters to band
together and pull off things like a team-wide heal or buff, a unique magic
attack that neither character has on their own, etc. The catch is both
characters get their turns tied up to perform the move (reasonable!) and the
move itself takes about 3 times as long to cast as anything else. That
translates to a good 7-10 seconds you have two characters sitting like ducks.
You also don't know about what bands are available until you attempt to Band,
and choose the correct menu option on the second character. As a result, there
were a number of Bands I simply never acquired.
Next, the encounter rate was frustratingly inconsistent. The After Years was
originally a mobile game, and sadly it shows. Most areas contain a higher
leveled enemy ready to swoop and murder a member or two of your party, almost as
if to add an arbitrary punishment to exploring. On a related note, the enemies
you run into tend to be MUCH faster than you. I experienced this throughout the
entire game, even after grinding at the end of the game.
Lastly, there are a bunch of items across the 8 or so episodes that are
completely missable, and missing them blocks you from getting some of the best
equipment in the game later. Yes, optional content is optional, but permanently
missable things in an RPG leads to pointless replays.
So, with the character of the game established, I played it off and on for the
first few years of having the game. Made it pretty far, about halfway through.
However, the mechanics were really agitating me, and I was frustrated. Final
Fantasy 4 was a great game; was I just not appreciating the design of its
sequel? The characters weren't as well written as the prior game, either, but
the story was still compelling enough to make me want to see the next scene.
It sat there, unplayed, for a good 5-6 years. Whenever I thought about playing
it, I'd think about another classic JRPG I'd rather play, or a different game on
my backlog that felt more rewarding. When I came back to it, I played through
every episode until the last one, where it sat again for 1-2 years. I started
the end of the game some time last year, in 2020, and finished it yesterday,
The After Years was a sort of "dark horse" game for my backlog. It's the game
that I had the most trouble coming back to and advancing. Don't get me wrong,
I've played through some bad games in the past, but none stayed in the backlog
for *twelve years*. It's a ridiculous amount of time for a game to sit around
unbeaten. Your mileage may vary, but there's my take on it.
Back in 2016, I started the vgstash project to manage my backlog; by that point
I had more money than I did time, so the collection of unfinished games began to
get bigger. The After Years was one of the first games to stick around long
enough to consider tracking. I made the software to practice programming, and
to optimizing my gaming time so I could catch up on my backlog.
In a weird sense, The After Years will be a special game for me going forward.
Not because it was particularly well designed. It's not. (sorry, Matrix
Software. This one was just a miss.) It's special because it was one of the
stubborn games in my backlog. It motivated me to write code to solve my own
problem. It helped me see *why* I was having a backlog problem, and *how* to
solve it. Now that it's beaten, I can also say it gave me more patience. Not
only for beating a game, but the greater lesson of waiting to buy a game until
you have the space in your life for it.
Great deals happen all the time, even as much as 80%, and it happens on a yearly
cycle. Since mainstream gaming is going digital (much to my dismay), the need
to have a game right when it comes out is moot. Most games are published in
unfinished form these days, and even if they are complete and just get DLC,
there's always a "Definitive Edition" a few years later.
This lines up very closely to the "Patient Gamers" ideology of waiting to buy
games so you don't get burned by preordering or other FOMO  tactics. The idea
is, if the game is good then people will talk about it, and eventually it will
go on sale or even become good if it was released unfinished. It's a wise way to
purchase in the chaotic world of games publishing.
In the twelve years since starting The After Years, I went through some of my
own character growth and struggles, just as Cecil and the gang did. I started
and ended a relationship, injured my back, reconnected with my dad, met and
moved in with my current SO, became more active in libre software, lost my dad
and cat, moved in with the SO's parents, endured the loss of her father with her
family, and now today... one step closer to a clear backlog, and relieved to be
done with such a long, flawed game that I wanted to like but ultimately didn't.
The lesson to learn from all of this is twofold: (a) don't buy games you aren't
sure you'll like, especially if they're digital, and (b) it's okay to remove a
game from your collection if you don't enjoy playing it. I chose to stick it out
through The After Years because I really wanted to know the story and finish the
game legitimately, but pride isn't exactly a good reason. :) At some point, you
have to be conservative with your use of time or you'll feel like the time you
*do* spend gaming is wasted. Games are entertainment, and you're supposed to
What games have taken *you* forever to beat? I'd love to hear about other games
people have had trouble finishing. Hit me up at .
: Fear Of Missing Out