Now Loading is a weekly column focused on the games I'm currently engaged with, enraged at or totally perplexed by.
How I Ruined my Own Gaming Life and Blamed FFXIII for it
Readers of the last 'Now Loading' know that I put FFXIII aside for three months and was resolved to play nothing else until I completed it. I'm almost embarassed to say it took me less than three hours to finish the game once I picked it up again.
Like many other jaded fans, I initially missed the illusion of freedom provided by previous games in the franchise but after a few hours of play I actually warmed up to many of the changes. Despite some evident flaws, I really appreciated Square-Enix's willingness to experiment with the traditionally conservative JRPG genre.
Ironically, it was when I reached the open world areas which I pined for that I completely lost interest in the game. In previous entries, I blissfully spent countless hours completing all of the sidequests and discovering every obscure secret I could find. But in FFXIII I just didn't find this section as compelling, in fact I found it pretty damn boring.
In retrospect I can see now that there were two main reasons for this:
1. I was doing it wrong: I have to admit that I think I made a huge mistake in stopping to do all the open world quests. It seems, that unlike previous entries, XIII really wasn't designed for this. I suspect the intention was for players to first complete the story sections without stopping and then later to go back and finish the side quests. The fact that you're unable to utilize the final Crystarium grid (where you level up your skills) until after you beat the game reinforces this theory.
Where as in the other games it was an integral element of design, which besides offering some fun anecdotes and additional backstory, also encouraged the player to explore the world during the main quest in order to obtain weapons and secrets which would make the final sections of the game much easier. However, in FFXIII the open world segment seemed like an afterthought that was inappropriately jammed into the game to appease fanboys (like myself) who yearned for some of the more traditional elements.
2. The Open World section breaks the game: I think the flaws I mentioned in the previous article just became a lot more apparent and harder to deal with during the open world sections.
Originally I believed that the momentum which kept the game moving briskly forward did a lot to obscure those flaws. The fact is, I don't think I noticed them at all until the open world sections. The game seems to have been specifically designed with "long linear corridors" in mind, as long it stuck to that structure it felt engaging and gripping, but once it veered from that path it just didn't work.
Or maybe I'm wrong. Jorge Albor over at the Experience Points blog, convincingly described the game as embracing the casual play style of a Popcap game. If this is true, then the open world sections would work much better when played in short micro-segments and not in long binge sessions like I'm used to doing in most JRPGs. This would actually compliment the structure of the rest of the game rather then disrupt it.
I plan to give it another shot and work on the side missions the way they were intended to be played, in bite size chunks. We'll see how that goes.
Either way, I did enjoy the last three hours of the game and found the ending pretty satisfying, I only wish i had gotten around to it sooner.
Special thanks to all of the peeps who sent me some advice last week, it helped give me that extra push.
Final Fantasy XIII may have punched me in the face but in the end I emerged triumphant! (that sentence was just an excuse for me to paste this pic again!)
Other games: Honestly, I think I prematurely blamed FFXIII for keeping me from playing other games when in fact it probably has a lot more to do with the awesome spring weather and my current obsession with reading at least one book a week.
Despite finishing up FFXIII on Monday I have only played about an hours worth of Red Dead Redemption. However, I plan to do a shitload of gaming this week so I should have an article focused on RDR and possibly a few other games next week.
I'm still playing tons of Nethack on my iPhone, now that I 'get it' I think it's a game I'll be playing for years to come. I plan to write a separate blog focused just on Nethack sometime this week.
Lazaro Cruz is a former member of the fictional gang The Orphans who appeared in the 1979 film 'The Warriors'. 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.email@example.com or check out his twitter feed at http://twitter.com/LazaroCruz.