Now Loading is a weekly column focused on the games I'm currently playing.
Final Fantasy XIII
I have owned FFXIII since March 9th. Since then I have barely played any other games. In fact I refuse to take on any other demanding title until I finally beat FFXIII.
To make matters worse, I have almost no desire to play FFXIII.
Here's what happened.
For the first two weeks I played it relentlessly. Even though I was somewhat disappointed with the game for many of the same reasons other fans have cited (doing away with the illusion of non-linearity and it's embrace of casual gameplay for instance.) Still, I was utterly driven by the promise of the game 'opening up' once I reached chapter 11 or 12 and continued to play. Despite some of my initial reservations, the game started to grow on me. The battle system really felt fun and the pacing (once the enormously long tutorial was over) even became brisk; I got used to the routine of slogging down a long corridor, fighting a few battles and then being rewarded with a very fancy, yet not frustratingly long, cutscene.
Then I crossed the threshold and made it to the mythical 'open areas' of the game. I sat down, grabbed my controller, and cracked my knuckles. "Here it comes," I thought to myself, "enough of this casual shit." I had finally entered in to the realms of hardcore JRPG geekery. I was ready to tackle countless side quests, discover untold secrets, get lost in a huge non-linear open world, take on some ridiculously challenging fights and test the mettle of this apparently complicated battle system that was somewhat wasted due to the games hand holding. I was about to experience the real Final Fantasy XIII!
Only, it didn't work out that way. Instead all of the games glaring flaws became even more apparent to me.
The open world, while pretty and flawlessly rendered, also revealed a (Adjective) lack of imagination. It became painfully obvious once I actually stopped being pushed forward by the game's manufactured momentum, that the visuals and environments - though spectacular to look at - felt workmanlike, dull and soulless. I can't even think of one area in the game that had a distinct personality. Nothing even came close to rivaling some of the memorable areas found within Final Fantasy IV (II), a huge setback considering FFIV was a 16-bit game that came out almost 20 years ago.
Likewise, the battle system that once seemed so intricate and nimble also fell short once I realized that I could beat just about anything by using the same attack pattern every time: First use buffs and debuffs, then magic attacks until mob is staggered, then relentless assault until dead - rinse, repeat, ad nauseum. The only time this didn't work was when my opponent would kill my entire party with one or two blows, it was pretty clear that I was just not ready and should come back after leveling up since no amount of strategy would help. Of course I also knew that once I got those levels, I'd just end up using the same exact pattern I always used for any 'challenging' opponents. This completely shattered the illusion of the highly touted battle system for me and actually made me miss the old turn based battles from the older games.
There were a lot of other things I noticed at this point that just really turned me off, but for the sake of conciseness, I'll just cut it short for now.
I have made many attempts to push forward and finish all of the side missions but it just feels like drudgery at this point. I end up doing a mission or two and just turning off the console and doing something else.
I find it impossible for me to really get lost in the game, the way I used to with many other JRPG's. I'm one of those insane dudes that spent countless hours playing blitzball, breeding chocobos and dodging lightning bolts in FFX and roamed the world looking for triple triad opponents in FFVIII. I'm that huge nerd that didn't stop playing FFVII till I beat all of the ultimate weapons. And it wasn't just OCD, I actually enjoyed doing that stuff.
Don't get me wrong, despite all of the negative comments I'm wiriting, I do not completely dislike FFXIII there is a lot stuff I did like. Oddly enough all of those moments happened before I got to the part of the game I was looking forward to the most. For some reason it's just not hitting the same addictive spot the past games have when it came to all of the sidequesting and secret-hunting.
But unfortunately, I am still an obsessive completest when it come's to my RPGs, hence my dilemma. I don't want to play any other games until I beat FFXIII, but I don't want to play FFXIII.
Am I getting old and cranky? Have I just lost my patience with JRPGs? Am I playing the game wrong?
I think the real problem is that I feel compelled to do all the side missions before moving on to the end game. It's been over two months now of playing the same game, running around the same plains, killing the same ol' creatures- so I think I need to get over it.
At this point I have a few options:
1. Force myself to finish up all the sidequests and beat the game.
2. Simply skip the sidequests and move on to the last section of the game.
3. Swallow my pride, realize that a series I have been playing since it's first inception just no longer (adj engages) and simply move on to play something I'll enjoy more.
I welcome any advice and suggestions from my fellow dtoiders.
Though I haven't played anything else I sure as hell haven't stopped buying games - here is a quick list of games I've bought since I started playing FFXIII. They are all sitting patiently on my shelf collecting dust.
1. God of War III
2. 3-D Dot Game Heroes
3. Demon Souls
4. Red Dead Redemption
Before starting FFXIII I was playing through the God of War collection, since I was too busy with college when the first two GoW games came out. I was about 1/2 through God of War, but the fanboy love I have for Final Fantasy compelled me to set it aside until I finished XIII.
Other Games I've been playing on the side:
Even though I haven't committed to any other games I feel would demand a lot of time out of me, I have been casually playing some smaller games on the side.
Nethack (iPhone) - If there is one thing I can thank FFXIII for, is the fact that it has pushed me to play it's polar opposite. Nethack is the antithesis of this generation's Final Fantasy. It is unabashedly cryptic, intensely difficult, and thoroughly unscripted. It is not an easy game to get into: you have to be prepared to die often and do a bit of reading just to figure out how to do even the most trivial things, like renaming your pet.
The iPhone's menu-driven interface lowers the Nethack's bar of entry dramatically. There is no need to memorize dozens of keyboard commands which frees you up to focus on the meat of the game.
Needless to say I have become a bona fide Nethack junkie: I am having a blast learning the ins and outs of dungeon crawling, potion quaffing (Nethackese for drinking) and monster bashing. I have to admit I am still a rookie, making tons of mistakes and dying constantly. But I am also improving a bit each game, and every time I make it a bit farther into the dungeon or discover some new technique that makes things easier for my characters. I get a huge rush. This old little ASCII game provides thrills that rivals many AAA console games. So far my biggest accomplishment is making it to level 10.
Mega Man 9 - As usual I'm late to the party. Everyone has probably beaten Mega Man 10 by now and I have just recently started playing it's predecessor. I usually throw it on for a quick play session when I have some time to kill. I'm loving the nostalgia factor provided by the 8-bit graphics and the awesome chiptune music. I have it made through one level so far. Like I said I been only playing Mega Man 9 in short sessions. It is serving as a perfect palette cleanser in between games.
Afterburner Climax- I absolutely love this game. I have been a big fan of Afterburner series since way back in the arcade days I remember it was one the few Sega Genesis games I payed full price for back in the day and likewise I grabbed the PSN version the moment I saw it was released. There are some graphical updates and a few new features, like the bullet-time inducing climax mode. But underneath all that the game remains practically unchanged, and like Mega Man 9 - I prefer it that way. Another one I play in small doses when ever I have a few minutes to kill.
That's all for this week, I hope you liked the first installment of Now Loading. If you have any comments, questions or advice on how to improve my c-blog, please feel free to leave them below.
Lazaro Cruz is a wannabe revolutionary who is funding his battles against the tyranny of Postmodernism by writing inconsequential manifestos. H=In his free time he enjoys overdosing on trashy B-movies, siccing his dog on Mormon proselytizers that visit him at home and founding a new religon based on the tenets espoused within Kung Fu movies. You can email him at Lazaro.cruz00 (at) gmail.com or check out his twitter feed at http://twitter.com/LazaroCruz.