The Irrational Perfect Play-Through

XCOM 2 is fantastic. I love the new layers they’ve added, I dig the story and the combat is great. Still, despite all of the things that I love about XCOM, I’m absolutely miserable when I play it. Somewhere along the road I decided that I have to keep every single soldier that I’ve created or recruited alive, and because I’m stupid I’ve decided to not use any guides. I know what you’re thinking, why don’t I just break my dumb rules. I…I just can’t. I have to beat the game like this now.

So to sum things up I took a pretty great game and accidentally made it infuriating for myself.

Anyone else ever do this to themselves with a game?


In a sense.

At the end of Persona 4, you get locked off from a ton of social links, and there are a buuunch of timeskips. I played the game expecting to have most of that time available to me for ALL the social links and thus kind of spread out my stuff. So when I got to the end and that happened and I hadn’t maxed out Kanji, Naoto, Dojima, Nanako, or any of the other characters that I didn’t have the time I thought I had, I kinda almost didn’t want to finish the game? I pushed on, thankfully but it really soured my opinion on the ending (which I also have other criticisms of but that’s not relevant)

i do this with majora’s mask, where before i let myself beat the game i have to end it on a 3-day cycle where in addition to killing the final boss, i also have to set all of the major plot threads straight in the process or i will feel unending guilt.


This is me with Fire Emblem. Also, any game with dialogue options.

For XCOM, though, I promised myself I’d never reload a save, and the effect was much more tense and exciting gameplay and more emotional attachment to my squad.

The perfect playthrough is so tempting because it’s one of the few times when we can see what it’s like to never do anything wrong, but we’re doing so by eliminating the consequences of making mistakes, so it starts to feel like a meaningless chore. I guess that’s why people got so hot on roguelikes in recent years (and why the new XCOMs have iron man modes)


With mass effect 2 i had a huge problem where i stopped a to that point 17 hour uninterrupted playthrough (my first) because i had to choose between a mother or her daughter (Samara or Morinth) , the way the mechanics worked I’m not too sure how it played out with a relatively neutral alignment because I was dissatisfied that my options were greyed out meaning that my influence on that specific conflict was negated because I didn’t align either “moral” (emphasis on the quotation marks) extreme.
So I started over, deliberately targeting one of the two alignments so that I could make a decision in that scene.
36 hours of no sleep (combined with the previous 17) later I found myself at the climatic mission of the game, which i ran two or three times calculating the probability of partial failure. (It’s a suicide mission and I wanted everyone to live)
This nonsense got so ingrained into me that if I were to play the game again I would instinctively remember the exact composition of assignments meant to create a ‘perfect playthrough’ type deal. And that doesn’t limit to these two examples but everything in the game that I could use to achieve an ideal that my brain would accept as optimal.

It’s possible I have a disorder.

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I can’t play a Pokemon game anymore without Nuzlocke-ing it. There’s no tension, there’s no stakes, there’s no challenge, and, worst of all, I don’t care about my Pokemon nearly as much. They’re just numbers in a normal playthrough, but they feel real in a Nuzlocke.

I have never been as emotionally devastated by a video game as the time I lost a Nuzlocke run with only my starter left, essentially (if you buy into the fiction of the run) dying in the game at the same time my first pokemon did.

But what makes it even more irrational is the additional rules I add atop the pile of misery. Some examples from my ongoing Black run:

  • When a Pokemon dies, you must determine your next Pokemon in your party by randomly choosing from the PC. You cannot change your team unless you
  • No Legendaries, gifted (except your starter), or traded pokemon
  • Starter Pokemon is determined randomly
  • No rare candies or any EV boost items.
  • Pokemon cannot level past the strongest Pokemon of the next gym.
  • No daycare.
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I’m awful at this with RPGs. For most games with some sort of moral choice system, I’ll spoil myself on nearly every choice before I make it and pursue whatever impossibly obscure nonsense path I am supposed to take to get to the “best” ending. I partly blame the way said RPGs are written for making me this way in the first place: Dragon Age Inquisition’s presents the decision in Iron Bull’s loyalty quest as a genuinely hard choice, why do they then proceed to give you almost universally positive feedback if you save his mercenary company, but if you don’t, then in the DLC you’re given no choice but to kill him. It’s not the consequences I mind, but the tone: “You bad idiot, this is what happens when you make the bad choice.”

The Witcher 3 was one of the few games that (admittedly, only partially) broke me out of this habit: I realized about four hours too late what the consequences of a certain decision in the Bloody Baron quest were (freeing the tree spirit inevitably leads to the Bloody Baron’s wife dying and the Baron hanging himself), but the game’s narration literally admits that there’s no way you could have predicted the outcome of your actions. After that I felt perfectly free to go make a bunch of bad, narratively-interesting decisions.

This is why I can’t get through tactics games like XCOM or FFT even if I’m enjoying them. It seems to be the only genre that really does this to me though. I’m not really surprised to hear others mentioning the same games, but I’d love to understand why it’s this specific style of game that makes me demand perfection to the point of giving up.