Since the review isn't up (and apparently won't be for a bit), and because I am a proactive whirlwind of productivity, I've decided to go ahead and give you my first impressions of the thirteenth entry into the increasingly ineptly named Final Fantasy series (which will heretofore be referred to as "the game," "that game," "game," "the thing," or "it" because FFXIII is ridiculous to type).
Clearly, only two (work) days after the release of the North American version of the game, I haven't beaten it. In fact, I am only approximately 7 hours into the thing, and so this isn't a comprehensive review. This, however, is plenty of time for me to identify what it is I like and what it is I can't stand.
Going into this experience, I brought along with me a set of expectations, and I was disappointed to discover that, again insofar as the first few hours are concerned, they were met with a resounding "meh."
That dude up there? That's Sazh . . . the ONLY
likable player-character in the whole game. Lightening is a cold bitch with a chip on her shoulder, but there is nothing there to humanize her. OK, I get that her sister is presently indisposed, and possibly that's why she's a jerk-off, but there isn't anything in the story up to this point to explain why
she's so unapproachable. Miranda was a right bitch, too, but she had reasons that she told you if you asked her. She didn't know if you were as committed to the Cerberus cause as she was, and her beliefs and mission came before everything else, especially human relations. As a human myself, I can relate to that. She was stand-offish, but she had her reasons, and I respected that. Lightening is arbitrarily a bitch for some unknown reason, or worse for no reason at all, and that instantly turns me off to her. The ONLY saving grace of hers is that she hits like a truck, but this is mechanical, and does nothing to warm me to her.
Everyone else in the group acts out their stereo-type to exaggerated and ridiculous effect. Hope is so fucking whiny, and so typical in choosing a scapegoat for what's ailing him, seeking not to understand or cope, but to lash out in adolescent frustration and rage, accomplishing nothing and generating unbearable dialogue in the process. Snow is a moron, an over-the-top drama queen capable of nothing save proving what he says about himself and his beliefs false at every opportunity, whilst grand-standing about circumstances in such a blatantly dreamy and unrealistic manner you want to slap him to wake him the fuck up. Vanille . . . honestly, I haven't decided on her, yet. She's likable enough, and cute without being saccharine sweet, but given the group she's cast her lot with, I can't really tell if I like her simply because everyone else is so un
likable, or because she's a genuinely endearing character.
I've been saving the world for the majority of my adult life, and I've come to discover that the details no longer matter. Whether circumstances conspire against me and thrust me into a leadership role, or I choose to save it due to personal reasons. Whether it's expected of me due to lineage, or maybe it's just a simple errand that balloons into a grand quest. None of this matters. What matters are the characters I interact with along the way, and the relationships and personalities that develop from there. I do not care about the ultimate destruction of the world, because this aspect of any given game is usually horribly under-developed, trite, outlandish to the point where suspension of disbelief becomes taxing, or any combination of these. The Reapers are fucking silly, and so are the fal'Cie. As a result, it is the characters I look to for intimate emotional attachment and engagement . . . and I cannot stand the majority of the assholes in this game.
Sazh is normal. I can't tell if he's maybe dangerously "BLACK!" at times (my line of work has me hyper-sensitive where race is concerned), but generally speaking, he's just a normal old dude, who also happens to be black, and is surprisingly level-headed and reasonable. He's a decent guy, and I like him.
I realize that plot points may change these opinions, but for the time being, this is how I feel out of the gate.
The Eidolons are amazing in both form and function. I only have access to two of them (Shiva and Odin), but assuming the rest of the pack follows suit, I can't possibly see my interest or enthusiasm waning in any conceivable or significant way. The bio-mechanical aesthetic, and the fact that they have two separate and distinct modes, both as interesting to look at as the other, has me summoning them as often as is reasonable just to look at them. That's typical of me in any game of this series, to only summon them to look at them, but this time it seems much more pressing. The designs are so busy and detailed and just so goddamned neat
; I want to summon and re-summon them to see if there was a detail I'd missed or not noticed before, and there invariably is.
In fact, this is true of the entire game:
The stunning craft with which the artists constructed this world, and the staggering amount of detail, containing no small amount of filigree, which must have been painstakingly wrought and textured has me gasping at every new thing
that enters the screen. Airships, people's clothing, monsters, weapons, everything
in the game demands such rapt attention for sometimes such a brief period of time, just looking at the goddamned game has become the very definition of intensity. This is, put simply, the best looking game you could ever lay your eyes on.
This is what's keeping me playing for the time being. I want to see what comes next. I want to see the forests, the skies, the wastelands, the fleets of ships, the monsters, everything
. I don't care why I'm going there, or what I have to accomplish. I care just that I get there, and have the opportunity to see it all.
Exploration has been completely removed, and I often feel like I'm being shoe-horned down a corridor that is invariably too long, punctuated (thank god) with minor and major battles to break up the monotony. If you aren't going to let me look around how I want to, at the very least be merciful in how long you force me to stay in any given environment. This game is not so benevolent. You can leave when it tells you to, and chances are, it won't be telling you to for a while. There comes a point where I don't give a shit how beautiful this particular environment is, I've been here for way too long and fucking want out.
The player's function in combat has been minimized, as well. You control only the party leader, and if they die, it's game over. Never mind that all throughout the initial stages of the game each and every character takes turns leading, proving themselves capable of taking the reigns if necessary, if the currently selected leader dies, you start over. Mercifully you start over from a point right before that particular pack of villains was engaged, so this contention is more about how little sense this design decision makes than actual player inconvenience. It still has me scratching my head.
While in combat you choose a load-out for your squad in real time, and can change it up at any moment to suit your needs. I find that the game is actually quite flexible in this regard, not requiring certain paradigms, as they're called, to defeat certain enemies, but allowing you to use the tools at your disposal to solve any given combat conundrum in the manner you feel most comfortable with. Want to debuff everything in sight before you swing into them? Go for it. Do you like a medic mainstay, sacrificing damage for the piece of mind a ready healer can afford? Be my guest. Personally, I like to debuff the baddies, buff myself, and then swing with everything I've got. It costs time, which can cost experience and items, but honestly that isn't anything a little grinding can't fix. Or a bunch of Gil.
At first, when hearing about this system, I thought it was sacrificing player interaction. In a form of media where interactivity is the biggest strength and mode by which games differentiate themselves from everything else out there, I thought this a mistake, and an affront to my gaming sensibilities. After having played it, I find it's fast, frenetic, extremely fun, and had they given me the responsibility of choosing all of my party members actions every round, would become convoluted, messy, and nearly impossible to deal with, especially giving the pacing of the battles. The Chain Gauge adds to the freneticism, as it adds a sense of urgency with which you attack any given target. Certain conditions affect the gauge, like class or resistances, but the overall effect seems to keep the battles strategic in the face of their rapid pacing. You have a lot to consider each time you shift or attack, or use an item, and the experience is really very fun.
Call it Crystarium, Sphere-Grid, License Grid, or what-the-fuck-ever. It's all the same thing, with extremely limited differences, capable of making your characters carbon copies of one another in time for the endgame.
I actually like this, as it allows me to select my party based on who I like, rather than what they can do, but at the same time what a character can do can become such a huge part of who they are and their personality; it's a triumph in a gameplay sense, but a defeat in the character development department. I certainly prefer this design choice, but with characters I already find insufferable, I wonder if maybe giving these people a new dimension with which to develop might have actually been a good thing. I am reminded of Final Fantasy IX, and how everyone had a class, only that class, and it added a very strong pillar of personality to each and every one of them. Vivi just couldn't have been anything other than a Black Mage, and he was better for it.
That said, the Crystarium is OK enough. You can advance your dudes down whichever path you choose, but ultimately certain dudes are better at certain things. Other dudes get access to the same abilities, but at different places throughout their development, and everyone has their own ability pathing. Sazh's Synergist path gets him Faith and Brave early on, while Hope has access to Protect and Shell. Overall it's a solid system, and honestly with the limited exposure I have, can't really be too critical of it yet.
I'll certainly let you know, though. read