My favourite games are RPGs, but it was not until recently that someone drew my attention to the fact that what I really enjoy doing when I play a game is just fiddling around with stuff. I don't mean mini games as such, but the additional (sometimes optional, sometimes essential) things that make a game such endless fun. These are the things you can do that literally can eat up weeks of your time while you make absolutely no progress in the actual game or story.

Not quite the same as the other games as you HAVE to make these monsters as part of the game. Jade Cocoon 2 has a serious amount of them to find and hatch and use, but the nice thing about the original game is the creativity that is possible. Your monsters are not quite so pre-determined. You can mix and match and create the best combinations of skills, appearance and elemental strengths that you desire. And besides, they are so beautiful, as is the game. Access the Eternal Corridor at the end of the main game and you can play with them forever and a day.

A great game and a great weapon and shield melding system. The thrill when you have managed to create an uber powerful weapon that won't rust, won't break, kills dragons, zombies, wind enemies, flying enemies has an attack of 99 and hits everything three paces away. You have to first find a blacksmith and he will charge for the service of melding weapons, or you can use the melding pots that are found in the dungeons. Put in a few specialist swords, break the pot and your new weapon is ready for use. You can do the same for shields too, and in the end you can become almost invincible. Find a really good base sword like the Abacus or Metabble and start melding. And once you get a very special pot you can even duplicate your weapons and continue onwards and upwards making better and better stuff. Not essential for completing the story part of the game but seriously necessary for the extra very hard dungeons.

OK I know I should really talk about the weapon and armour customisation which is wonderful: love those miracles. But the thing that really enchanted me was collecting as many different haniwa, or enemy monsters, as possible. You can only get these in the Dark World and you have to convert them to your side which can take strategy and a lot of time. They remind me of chao, each with its individual colouration and characteristics and skills. Train those haniwa and treat them well and they will fight for you and die for you if need be.

Many games have this feature but this is one of the best item creations, firstly because it is so beautiful to watch and secondly because the results can be predicted and controlled to a degree. You have to find the recipe sometimes by trial and error at other times by fulfilling a quest or just given them. And then, let alchemy commence. Find the ingredients, then check the properties that each has and try to find the best review of your item. Yes, your creations are judged and you get get comments or reviews for everything you make from cocktails to cakes to maps and weapons. Select the best reviews to get better stuff. Also necessary to the game but you can spend hours and hours experimenting to get the very best reviews. And of course, there is all the time it takes to find the things you need first, and all the chatting you have to do to with shopkeepers who will not give away their alchemy recipes for nothing. It is a complex and yet charming system that complements a delightful game.

The most awesome and addictive card game ever invented. For some this is reason enough to play FF8. A complex game to get to grips with at first with rules that change from place to place. But once you do and find yourself raking in the new cards from your wins, and finding the secret players to challenge in order to win stronger and better cards, and completing the Chicobo card quest, you can forget totally about the real purpose of the game and go chasing the world over after the elusive Queen of Cards. You could also try Tetra Master from FF9, also serious fun to play, but, as is often true, the first one is the best.

I could have included the castle itself which has loads of fiddling joy, but you get the castle whatever you do whereas the cooking game is optional. In fact in the credits it is clear that it was made by a separate team so it is a stand alone extra. Find recipes, collect the ingredients and give them to your chef to trigger a new cooking battle. Random characters from your 108 Stars of Destiny are chosen as a four person judging panel. You select recipes and variations of them based on whatever ingredients you have found, fished for, bought or grown. You can offer the panel three separate courses, cook your meal and then get their reactions. The panel judges the results impartially based on their individual preferences. Lose and you lose a recipe and the honour of the castle chef, Hai Yo. Win and you get the recipe of the challenger and an extra scene. There are many challengers and many different opportunities to cook. And as a nice little bonus: load your save data from Suikoden 1 with all 108 stars intact and you get an extra special recipe from you know who. Worth every penny you might have to pay for the games nowadays.

This is a fiddlers paradise. All those characters and all those possibilities for creativity. Make food, write books, create compounds, do metal work, create art, portraits and sculpture, make battle items and weapons, and armour. You can even forge documents and cheques. The list of possibilities is huge and each characters has particular skills and abilities for you to discover. They also have likes and dislikes, and can make mistakes in the creation attempts too which leads to even more unplanned created stuff. Every single created item has its specific function and description. And sometimes you have to have other skills first before you can access the ones you really want. For example: you need the skills of herbal medicine, mental science and biology to get the compounding skill. Makes sense of course, but discovering all the permutations and items can be tough. Endless fun though actually essential to the game as well.

This may come as a surprise, partly because, although a recent PS2 game, not many people have played this game. But it is awash with fiddling. There are mini games galore and number hunting and poker in the casino are great fun, but they have a purpose, to earn you lots of cash. The very best part though has no point to it at all and it is free in a game that is ruled by money. You can have 15 tanks in your fleet and they all can be painted in whatever colours and designs you like. Once you have understood how the painting option works then you can experiment with drawing, circles, squares, stamps and all manner of different shades of every colour imaginable. (You don't have to choose pink!) All completely non essential to the game and easily missed off the list of things to do in the game, as indeed I did at first. But the rapture of roaming the barren wastelands defeating monsters and outlaws in brightly coloured pink tanks is not to be missed, or mocked.

I know it not an RPG, but with such devotion to fiddling that it has to be at the top of the list. Oooh the hours and days, and weeks and well, endless time spent making and breaking chao. And here I mean Sonic Adventure 2 specifically not 1. You have three chao gardens, one normal, one good and one evil. You get eggs to hatch, (throw them, bounce them, cuddle them, smash them), and each baby chao is born with its individual character, and facial expressions. Experimenting with the best ways to get sleepy eyes and no mouth, or droopy eyes and a grin, or whatever other combination you like is only the start of the fun. Catching the birds and animals from the different levels and bringing them back to the garden and giving them to the chao results in a huge range of coloured creatures. They retreat into a cocoon at a certain age and then emerge as adults but still capable of more growth. Watch them sleep, feed them fruit, play with them , hit them, starve them, cuddle them, race them in increasingly hard race courses, win prizes. Watch them play in their own orchestra, or dig a hole, or water a tree, or swim in the pool, or ride on the rocking horse. And, when they are old enough encourage them to mate with each other, enjoy the hearts and happy music and behold a new egg, and so the cycle continues, as they grow old and die, ad infinitum.

It is hard to know which fiddling thing to link with this game, as really the whole game is based around this kind of activity: making and rearranging towns, creating and breaking weapons, taking photographs, experimenting with inventions, playing Spheda, a seriously excellent form of golf, fishing at night or during the day, finding the best spots to catch those huge fish, feeding and breeding fish in your very own aquarium, entering contests for the biggest fish, racing your fish for prizes. Maybe the fishing is the most fiddling fun, and nonessential too, but really I have to choose the whole game for it's endless possibilities for and dedication to fiddling. In fact this is why Dark Cloud 2 is probably the best game of all when it comes to just fiddling around with stuff.

There are many other games that feature fiddling. But some of the more recent ones I have not yet played due to spending too much time fiddling around with other stuff.

List by threetimes (03/09/2007)

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