Final Fantasy XIII, on the other hand, is mostly about pressing ⨉.
FFXIII’s combat system is very different from that of the previous games. The most obvious difference is that it is no longer turn-based, which was a bit of a shock to me, and which has probably angered many fans. Unless you enjoy standing still while your adversary pummels you, you often have little choice other than to select “auto-battle” and let the game make all the decisions for you. When you face an adversary you know well (or one you’ve Libra’ed), this usually works out OK for Commandos and Ravagers, and to a certain degree also Medics, but not for Synergists and Saboteurs. Synergists, especially, seem to stick to a predefined sequence of buffs instead of prioritizing those which are appropriate for the current adversary. For instance, there is no point in casting Protect when fighting a monster that uses only magic attacks.
At the end of every battle, you get a rating and a score which are based mainly on how long the battle lasted compared to how long the game thinks it should have. This rewards players who use Haste or are good at sneaking up on enemies (which is not always possible). However… neither the rating nor the score have any effect on the game whatsoever except for how fast your TP bar replenishes. Getting a high rating or score, which can sometimes only be achieved by consuming hard-to-get Fortisol or Deceptisol potions, does not give you better drops or help you level faster. You level by spending Crystarium points, and the amount of CP you get for each battle seems to be based exclusively on either the number of enemies you fought or their total HP (I haven’t quite figured it out), and you get enough CP from the fights you can’t avoid to max out your Crystarium. Thus, there is no incentive to go looking for trouble and no incentive to fight well, and no character development. All you have to do is fight the enemies that show up in the storyline, make it out alive (and if you don’t, the game just takes you back to a point shortly before the fight), and spend your CP.
So far, I’ve played to chapter 7 (about twenty hours), and only in the last chapter or so have the fights been sufficiently difficult to require some thought and to be enjoyable, and I suspect that that’s only because I haven’t leveled any of my weapons or accessories. That’s right, I’m still fighting with level 1 everything, and I’m doing just fine.
The storyline, by the way, is just that: a storyline. You follow a narrow path, fight the monsters along it, and watch the many cutscenes. There are a few places where you can circle around a difficult enemy or take a small detour to pick up a treasure, but you always end up back where you would have been if you’d continued straight on.
Now, I’ve heard that the game opens up in chapter 10, which should be about ten hours from where I am. It is not uncommon for games to have some sort of “cold open”, to borrow from TV terminology, where your choices are restricted and the outcome has little or no effect on the rest of your game, as a sort of tutorial, but I’ve never played a game that had a thirty hour long tutorial, and I won’t blame people who give up long before then. To be honest, I’m not sure why I haven’t; I guess it’s partly because the graphics are gorgeous (the game itself is in 720p, but the many, many cutscenes are in 1080p), partly because I’m starting to enjoy the combat system, or at least consider it a worthy challenge, and partly because I’m hoping it’ll get better.
There is plenty more to dislike about FFXIII. The story is frankly uninteresting and does not really progress; most of the cutscenes so far in the games are either about things that happened before the game started, or about the characters being emo and acting completely irrationally. Everything that happens in the cutscenes in summarized in your Datalog, which is an interesting read, and not in a good way. Not only is the prose as purple as the back cover of a pulp fantasy novel, but the emotions and inner dialog described in the text rarely bear any resemblance to what the characters actually say in the cutscenes. Let me give you an example: according to the Datalog, Hope is seething with rage and working up the strength, skills and courage to confront and kill Snow, whom he blames for his mother’s death. If you only watched the cutscenes, though, you’d think he was actually working up the courage to declare his undying love to Snow—until chapter 5, where he discusses the issue openly with Lightning. However, while he does voice these thoughts and feelings in chapter 5 (and 7), they are never reflected in his intonation or body language.
Now Vanille… Vanille really gets on my nerves. I can’t decide whether she is an overendowed young girl in very inappropriate dress, or an emotionally retarded young woman in very inappropriate dress. She has the body shape of a grown woman but the body language of a ten-year-old girl. She also giggles and moans a lot. In fact, she giggles and moans so much that I sometimes worry the neighbors might think I’m watching porn. Vanille is voiced by Australian actress Georgia van Cuylenburg, who stated in an interview that “[i]t was important for me to keep my Aussie accent to show that Vanille is from somewhere different”, but she doesn’t sound Australian at all; to my ears, she sounds like an American voice actress who occasionally remembers that she was asked to speak with a British accent. Fang, who is from the same “somewhere different” as Vanille, is voiced by American actress Rachel Robinson; ironically, her Australian accent, while obviously fake, is far more convincing than Vanille’s.
So, we’ve covered Hope, Vanille and (very briefly) Fang. Who’s left? Snow is a conceited ass. Sazh is emo as hell in cutscenes, and jittery as hell in combat. Lightning… Lightning’s OK, I guess, except for the way she treats Snow (and Serah, for that matter). She is also the most proficient fighter; Sazh would be a close second if his combat animations weren’t so bloody annoying. There isn’t really that much more to say about the characters; they’re nicely rendered but completely unconvincing. The NPCs aren’t much better; I liked Sazh’s son and Hope’s mother, but Snow’s buddies are as annoying as he is, or worse.
BTW, where are the chocobos? I want chocobos! No, the chick is Sazh’s ‘fro doesn’t count.
Looking forward to chapter 10…