The Hellhole

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A video game post...

I have to say (er - write) that so far, I'm just not feelin' the Final Fantasy love for FFXIII. I started to write this post much earlier on but decided that maybe my observations weren't fair/wouldn't hold since I was only on Chapter Four. Now I'm on Chapter Seven and my opinion hasn't changed much, if at all.

A few positive observations: the graphics are spectacular, character movement is amazing and it's a dazzling visual spectacle. Alan wanted to watch the opening movie twice, it was that great; two or three times I've quit without saving just so we could re-watch a cutscene. As always, SquareEnix has THE BEST bestiary, filled with wonderful enemies from wyverns to aster protoflorians (those look like angry cloves of garlic) and flandragora (which are like evil fanged tomatoes).

As far as the game itself, though...I dislike statements like I'm about to write because they're so subjective but it's just I also dislike the oft-invoked game gripe that 'it's too linear' but damn if FFXIII isn't. There is no exploration, game play consists of walk straight ahead, fight a non-challenging battle by frequently pressing X, watch a cutscene, lather, rinse, repeat. You can't explore the worlds, you can't revisit areas once you've left them - though in fairness there's not much reason to, because the straight-ahead aspect means that it takes a special kind of ineptitude to miss any enemies, bosses or treasure chests.

Character development is eliminated in all but name only. While characters can acquire strength, magic, new abilities, etc. through a crystarium that is somewhat reminiscent of the sphere grid, it's all linear too. With the sphere grid, the player could choose which direction(s) to go and how to develop the character - good skills all round, weak fighter but master magician, vice versa - the possibilities were near-infinite. In FFXIII, however, there are pre-selected roles for each character and they can only develop along one straight, predetermined path within that role. The developers have decided for us who can and can't be a medic, a ravager, etc. as well as when and what new skills can be activated, in what order. In previous FFs, I very much enjoyed deciding how to grow my characters, who to use in what battles - oh, I didn't mention that you can't do that here, either - the storyline determines who you get to play when. I liked weighing which skills would be most valuable to expend crucial points. Gone in this game: when a new attribute is available for one of your characters, your choice is either to spend crystal points on it or not. This eliminates so much that was fun to me, getting to decide whether 30 more health points would be more beneficial than 15 more magic points, because health is great but with 15 more magic, my cure spell would be upgraded so I could replenish health more efficiently - I liked getting to decide. That also lent an automatic challenge for replayability - beat the game as a balanced character, then a warrior, then a magician.

Why are there potions in this game? Seriously, what purpose do they serve? Medics auto-heal without using items. Health for the entire party is restored, even for KO'd characters, at the end of every battle, great or small. Again, a challenge I enjoyed - trying to balance potion rationing with magic use, hoping for a save point instead of a random encounter when both were depleted, using every strategy available to make it through a battle alive if the encounter came before the save FFXIII, no need to sweat it. None at all.

Next gripe: there is WAY too much AI in this game and far too much is out of the player's control. Even without using Auto-Battle, strategy basically comes down to pressing X repeatedly. The player only controls one character at a time even when the party consists of two or three; the computer decides what spells and techniques for the support characters to use, when to heal whom, if one of the support characters happens to be a medic. There are "paradigm shifts" which purport to allow the player to choose what type of team (commando + medic, 2 ravagers, etc.) but since the game itself determines which characters are involved in any particular chapter and which roles are open to them, it's a bit of an empty gesture. Again, that was something I enjoyed, even if I lost a boss battle two or three times - figuring out who to use and what attacks dealt the most damage to a particular enemy.

Back to the 'linear' gripe - I understand why people don't like that in a game, but often I can forgive it if the story is compelling and the battles are fun and the enemies are challenging. At least so far, I'm not feeling any of those things for FFXIII. I've already covered the latter two, but compelling story isn't here either. The beginning is a weird mishmash of Pulse, Cocoon, Sanctum, l'Cie, fal'Cie, Cie'th...I was willing to let that go for a while, trusting that all would be clear in time. It kind of is, at least the terms have been explained, but I can't decide why I should care about any of it or any of the characters. Contrast this with FFX, where I genuinely liked Tidus within the first few minutes because famous, successful sports star that he is, he's at the arena early to sign autographs and demonstrate techniques to little kids. There's not really a villain in FFXIII either, at least not by Chapter Seven. *anguished cry* Where are the Sephiroths of yesteryear?

I'm going to keep playing in hopes that it gets good, and I'm going to finish it regardless, but I can't pretend that SquareEnix didn't disappoint me this time around.

Mister Fusspot would like me to add that, making bad matters worse, there aren't any chihuahuas in the game, either.


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