The world is ending.
Monsters have overrun the continents. The towns are burning and in ruins. The king is dead. As a huge meteor/demon/intergalactic catastrophe looms over the horizon, threatening to end all life as you know it, you know that there’s only one thing to do—one thing that takes precedence over everything else, one thing that only you have to power to achieve, because you’re the Chosen One and you’re the hero and you’re on an epic hundred-hour quest to preserve all of existence. So you puff up your chest, brace yourself, and put your meanest game face on.
And you play a card game. Because who wants to save the world when you can place bets and win prizes and stuff, right?
RPGs are notorious for mini-games that keep things interesting when the whole save-the-world thing gets boring. Why be extra when you can just chill and play ball? Here are six of the most intense mini-games in RPGs worth neglecting the main quest for (because riding an oversized yellow bird is more exciting than figuring out some weird Jenova shiz).
1. Chocobo Racing - Final Fantasy VII
Who hasn’t stepped into the Golden Saucer and forgotten the concept of time? This lively place in Final Fantasy VII is chock-full of mini-games to get lost in (and can probably merit a whole list of its own), with chocobo racing tournaments as the cream of the crop. Betting on the poor chocobos for sport may not be the best use of your time when there’s a ticking time bomb on the horizon, but it’s just too darn fun. From capturing the best-performing chocobos in the wild, you can breed the chocobos and maximize their stats to your advantage, and you have to be really good at handling the iconic series steed to acquire the Knights of the Round summon Materia.
The world is pretty bleak, so go ahead and indulge at the Golden Saucer and forget all of your sorrows—huge world-ending meteors included—for a day or two.
2. Cooking Competition - Suikoden II
Suikoden II remains to be one of the most celebrated old-school RPGs in history. Is it because of the gripping tale of friendship and betrayal that puts all other games in the series to shame? Is it having the 108 Stars of Destiny as the most insane number of characters you can choose from to be your party mates on your epic quest? Or is it because there’s this thing where you can pit the cook of your castle against a brave challenger for the dish of all dishes that’s one for the ages?
It’s the cooking contest. Obviously.
The competition essentially involves you cooking up a storm (an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert) to be judged by judges randomly picked from the pool of recruited characters in your castle. Every judge from the 108 characters each has his or her own taste preference, so you have to cater your meals to their very picky palate. But you can’t simply whip up dishes that please just one judge, because what’s one judge’s favorite can’t possibly be the same thing for the rest. There can’t be any favoritism here.
Before you think that it’s just another cooking competition, what actually makes it even more entertaining is the fact that it plays out like a TV show parody, complete with intricate backstories for every character involved in the “show." Building your castle alone and recruiting the 108 Stars of Destiny can already take up a huge chunk of your time, and the cooking competition isn’t helping. Its fun factor definitely distracts way too much from the main quest of the game—and that’s totally okay.
3. Blitzball - Final Fantasy X
Divisive enough that it splits hardcore Final Fantasy X fans into two, Blitzball is a combination of football and some kind of water polo with a twist. Elevating Tidus and Wakka’s careers to unimaginable heights as Blitzball champions takes priority over saving the world, really, because signing contracts is more important than grinding on the World Map.
Two teams of five fight over a ball and try to score goals in a huge aquatic sphere, but it’s not all brawn, because to win at Blitzball, you have to be really, really good at math. And it’s all about emotional impact too, because Tidus eventually discovers that his father has a secret Blitzball move—and that’s way more dramatic than any love story.
4. Battle Arenas - Star Ocean series, particularly Star Ocean 2
From the name itself, Fun City offers players fun like no other, so much so that all the fun takes you away from the main story. The Battle Arenas are pretty prevalent in the Star Ocean franchise, where party members fight monsters to win prizes and really cool stuff. In particular, the arena in Star Ocean: The Second Story takes place in Nedian Fun City, where you can choose between team battles and solo battles plus a survival mode where you get to fight off 50 enemies non-stop.
You can choose fights from Rank E to Rank A and pay a 2,000-Fol participation fee for each battle, but the prizes you get after each fight make registering totally worth it. It’s not just about using brute force, either—you have to pick which character suits every fight best, and know how to use your equipment to your advantage.
By the way, in the northern section of Fun City, you can also participate in Bunny Races, where—yep, you guessed it—you pit bunnies with different stats against each other and bet on which bunny you think will trump all the others. Nothing beats having to save the world than betting on a fast bunny in exchange for awesome prizes.
5. Triple Triad - Final Fantasy VIII
It wasn’t the first of its kind, but Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII probably launched the RPG card game to fame. You play on a three-by-three grid and take turns with your opponent in placing cards on the board. It’s not just about which card has a higher value, because you really have to be mindful of the placing of your cards—your card has to have a higher value than the adjacent card to gain possession of said opponent card. You can also keep things spicy by using combos and chains inside the card game, because why the heck not?
To be honest, what makes the mini-game more compelling is the idea of being able to collect them all (because more cards = more fun). Who cares if Ultimecia wants to possess Rinoa and compress time and all that crap? There’s nothing more exhilarating than grabbing that Bahamut card, so by all means, let SeeD handle it; you’ve got better things to do.
6. Gwent - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
In the midst of the horrible landscape of The Witcher 3, the idea of playing cards with barons and crime lords just sounds all too enticing. But while Gwent looks like an ordinary card game at first glance, the mini-game actually has one of the most well-thought-out mechanics I have ever encountered. You can win, buy, and even steal cards to buff up your own deck, and because you can challenge so many NPCs to a game across the wide open world, the possibilities are endless.
Yes, yes, we know Ciri is in danger, and the Wild Hunt is after her, and you’re on this wild goose chase trying to figure out where she teleported to and stuff—but wait, is that a new merchant selling wares? While you definitely “wouldn’t mind a look at his stock,” you’d also love to see if he’s got any good cards on him, wouldn’t you? Go ahead; scratch that itch. Challenge him to a round of Gwent; Ciri can take care of herself.
It’s a basic who-has-more-points card game, but the extra twists and turns—not to mention the idea of a brooding Geralt playing cards instead of looking for that Elder Blood girl who may or may not cause the end of the world—make Gwent worth investing way too much time on with every playthrough. Plus, it's so engaging that it actually has its own game—if that's not a clear sign that a mini-game isn't so mini after all, then I don't know what is.
Did I miss any awesome mini-games from your favorite RPGs? Do you agree with this list, or do you have your own handful of welcome distractions you'd gladly neglect the main quest for? Let us know what you think!