Friday, 12 July 2013

The Rant - Final Fantasy XIII

I said I would get to it, and here it is: My rant on Final Fantasy 13! Never in my life has a game completely made me descend into a rage filled, frustrating, confusing and disappointing rant.
When the game was originally announced, I was as excited as everyone else ever is about a new Final Fantasy game. Over time however, cracks began to seep into the perfect image of high definition Japanese RPG gaming heaven. Rumors of linearity of gameplay pulsated over the internet.

For those reasons alone I postponed buying FF13 until about a year later when I saw it for cheap at the second-hand games shelf in Blockbuster.
I knew I would have to get it sooner or later, so I bought it and took it home to see what all the fuss was about. I had played the demo before, so I thought I knew what to expect. Everything seemed fine, and the game seemed quite interesting.
The first warning sign I got was when I started seeing the game over screen a few times, and I mean a LOT of deaths. I thought I just needed to get used to the battle system, so I persevered. Unfortunately it didn't get any easier as some fights would see the character I was controlling die in mere moments from the start of battle, resulting in an instant game over. Whereas you can usually expect to die at least once on boss fights, the fact that I was dying 3 or 4 times in a row no matter what different tactics and strategies I used had me actually questioning my skills as an RPG veteran!

I found myself scratching my head as to why SquareEnix had chosen to set the difficulty curve so steep on this game. One thought that crosses my mind was that because this was the first cross-platform Final Fantasy game in production, they needed a way to compensate for the lack of content due to data limitations on the Xbox 360 (yeah, I'm probably trolling but it could be a valid point).

There a virtually no towns in game, sidequests are sparse and the shops have been gimped, there is not much to do beyond exploring the very linear stages and beat bosses at each checkpoint. That's a lot of free time to fill, so why not distract the player by upping the difficulty to the point where they have to concentrate more in order to win? The problem with that is there isn't that much to concentrate on in the combat, which I will now elaborate further:

You only control 1 character during combat, with the computer controlling the other 2 (with limited effectiveness, I can assure you) and you can't change who you are using. Combat is real time, and you can either select commands from a list or just use the quicker Auto Battle command and let the game choose the most effective command at that moment. This sounds all well and good, but then the cracks in this logic start to show when combined with the way the enemy behaves in this game. The enemies are very aggressive and can quickly overwhelm your team if you're not prepared, leading to quick Game Overs if they manage to kill the character you are controlling!

Potions as ridiculously limited, and healing is restricted to one command line which has to be selected via the much vaunted "Paradigm System".

I'll try to keep it brief, but I'll explain what problems that I have with the Paradigm System. In previous FF games, and also in pretty much every other JRPG you can think of, you can choose your commands from a more or less complete list during combat, be they offensive or defensive. In FF13, you are forced to chose the healing command line in order to use the healing command and then switch back to the attack command line in order to use the attack command. A fancy gimmick, but it forces you to set up a number of command combinations which you think best suit the situation you are in at the time, be it going all out, defensive, buffing your team's stats or debuffing the enemy.

This is a very cumbersome system considering the speed of the combat in this game. As an example of this problem, if the enemy gang up on one character (which they do a LOT), if you have not set one of your team as a healer beforehand it will be up to you to switch your paradigm to heal the character under attack, by that time they will probably already be dead. You can set one or more of your team as a healer, but even that does not ensure complete safety during a regular fight due to the inadequacy of your team's AI.

This situation is compounded ten-fold when it comes to the boss battles, where victory seems to rely more on luck and brute force than a genuine strategy.

I went to research what others had said about my conclusions. What I found was few had a problem with the difficulty, in fact some said they loved the game because of it and actively admonished anyone who disagreed with their opinions that this was one of the greatest Final Fantasies of all time. Was I in the minority?

Its been a very long time since a game has made me "Rage Quit" and nearly throw my controller at the wall, so I was compelled to list all the things I felt was wrong with the game and why as I was playing. This is what I came up with:

1. Story
Quite possibly the worst story for a Final Fantasy game to date (and that's saying something!), they're normally quite good with only a few nit-picks I could mention but nothing to lose your rag over.

XIII however tries so hard that it ultimately alienates the player with overly confusing techno-babble and a convoluted plot. It doesn't help that most of the characters are immediately unlikable and barely improve over the course of the game.

I haven't beaten it yet, but I'm almost certain I will be disappointed when I do see it.

2. Linearity
Most other genre of games can be mostly forgiven for linearity in their progression, but rpgs are expected to give us more scope beyond the main story for those who want it. XIII does the bare minimum, maybe even less than the minimum in terms of things to do outside of the main story. As I mentioned before, towns are almost non-existent. 

Interactions with npcs is minimal, and shops are merged with the save points for a simplified "online" access of products, except you hardly have any money to buy anything until right near the end of the game.

There are few exploration points on the map for out of reach items, and side-quests are just "Hunt the Monster" lists for rarer items and unlocks. Unfortunately, it all feels like a lazy add-on which barely helps your already gimped squad get any stronger.

3. Gameplay
Where do I begin? I won't repeat too much of what I've already said above, but without a shadow of a doubt the biggest problem is the balancing of the difficulty.

There is no doubt the Paradigm System is a bold move by Square Enix, but they clearly either ran out of time or just plain forgot to balance the difficulty of the enemies against the strength of your characters during combat.

Combine that with the fact that the system almost completely removes the option for the player to choose what they want to do at a specific moment, replacing it with a mothering mentality of "this is too hard for you, let me choose what you should do next"

Regardless, I soldiered on with the game in the vain hope that at some point it would click and I would start to see the method within the madness. But all I got was madness and more madness as I struggled with the linear path I was being forced down, the random strength of the enemies, the gimped characters and the ham-strung combat system. I can honestly say this was the most frustrating Final Fantasy game, nay, most frustrating Japanese RPG I have ever played in my entire gaming career!

Many a speculation has been guessed as to why the developers had made the descisions they had when making FF13, but in my personal opinion it doesn't excuse them. This is the first Final Fantasy (at time of writing) I thought I would never see the end credits of, and I am still finding it very difficult to find the motivation to keep playing. I do intend to beat the game at some point, but you can be sure it won't be anytime soon!

The irony of it is SquareEnix have since released a sequel to 13 guessed it, Final Fantasy 13-2! I guess all the money they spend developing their "White Engne" has not been recouped yet, so they were left with no other option but to make another game set in the same universe.

I played the demo expecting it to be more of the same foolishness of its predecessor, but to my surprise it was actually not bad. They hadn't changed much, but what they had changed made the game less of a chore to play and somewhat more enjoyable. This frustrates me all the more to know that they could do this for the sequel, but not the original!

I've kinda made an oath to myself that I would buy FF13-2 after I beat FF13, but only for the sake of being able to have an opinion on both games and the direction the franchise has taken in this current generation. And even though I feel I've been well and truly burned by SquareEnix this time round, I still hold out hope for the other Final Fantasy in the pipeline for PS3 - Final Fantasy Versus 13.

We haven't heard too much from this one, but what we have seen looks really good, and I would be more motivated to get this game then I was when FF13 was anounced. My fingers are still crossed for Versus 13 when it is finally released.

The question remains however: Will it be any good?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

July 2013 Update

Yeah!! I'm still alive! Well mostly anyway! Lots of stuff happening, lots to tell you about, I'll just fill you in on whatever seems most relevant!

Gaming First of all, I finally have a gaming PC! Yay!

Its not the most powerful beast, but it was relatively cheap and should have a bit of scope for upgrading to a point if need be. Funnily enough, I almost ruined the damn thing when I got it by blowing the power supply in a moment of supreme derp-ness! That is a story for another time however, and for now I'm having a lot of fun testing my PCs limits!

A fortunate benefit of PC gaming over consoles is that I can finally play around with MODS!!

I've been playing around with mods for one of the greatest jrpgs of all time, FINAL FANTASY VII!! Let me tell you, nothing is as impressive as playing a high-res, graphically and musically enhanced version of one of your favorite games of all time! FF7 has been painfully in need of some kind of update for a good while, but the owners of the game Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft) have confusingly been too scared to do so.

And it's not like they can't do it, or that the game would not sell like gangbusters either. The fans (me included) have wanted either a remake, update or true sequel to the original game but have been fobbed off with lackluster spin-offs and sidestories from the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project, and only cool thing that came out of that was the Advent Children movie...

I guess we're fortunate that while Square Enix go back and forth on weather or not they should, the internet community have once again led the way with a full-blown HD update of the PC version of FF7 using various mods and patches. Its tricky stuff to learn, but once you figure it out the benefits are obvious when you can play such loved characters as Cloud, Tifa and Aerith in their Advent Children costumes in glorious 1280x768px!

I think I've gushed enough about this for now, so I'll move on to other news.

Gaming wise, huge shakeups with the anouncements of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox ONE (don't get me started!), E3 2013, new games like Metal Gear Solid 5 and *drumroll please* Final Fantasy Versus 13! (To be here onwards known as Final Fantasy 15!)

I also wanted to mention I am currently in the PS3 Beta for Final Fantasy 14! (my first Beta!) This year for me is going to be pretty much the year of MMOs, so stay tuned for updates on my progress through FF14, Vindictus and (when I eventually get it) Tera Online!  

Work News I'm still volunteering at the charity company I joined a little over a year ago, to little avail of opportunities. Sufficed to say, I'm not planning on staying for any longer than I have too! I desperately need to get back to looking for jobs again, and maybe even consider a change in profession as I've come to the realisation that maybe I'm not cut out to be a graphics designer...

TV and Film As for tv shows, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3rd season of Game of Thrones, and am eagerly awaiting the next season of Luther with my man Idris Elba!

In terms of movies, I have been spoilt for choice in terms of Super Hero movies this past year! 

The crazy thing is, each movie I've seen I've been considered to be the best I've seen until the next one turns up and is even better! Avengers Assemble, The dark Knight Rises, Star Trek: Beyond Darkness, Iron Man 3 and recently Man of Steel have restored my faith in actually going to the cinema to see movies, where I would've just done the "other" thing.

I've still got some movies still to see this year, like Pacific Rim (Idris Elba again, woot!), The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman is BOSS!), Thor 2 and Captain America 2, so I think I'll still be going to the cinema at least a few more times this year!

My anime watching has been almost non-existent of late after the troll-wreck that was Gundam AGE, but my new PC should finally allow me to catch up with new shows like JoJo's Bizare Adventure and some shows I've missed like Armored Trooper Votoms and Sengoku Basara Season 2!

That'll do for now, not sure when I'll do another update but if anything cool comes up I'll probably write something about it. Till next time!

Monday, 1 July 2013

August 2012 Update

(Just realised I never posted this, its been sitting there for over 6 months! Might as well post it before I post the latest one!)

Hi all! Once again, its been a while since I've posted on ma little old blog. I've been through hell these past months, but hopefully things will come to a climax this week. I don't wanna say too much, for fear of jinxing the whole thing like last time! Lets just see what happens...

In the mean time, I'll just review over what has been happening recently.

I doubt I could go on without at least mentioning the London 2012 Olympics. There was a lot of hype leading up to and surrounding the 2 week event, and I was as sceptical as everyone else was about how good our attempt on the Olympics would be.

Despite my better judgement, I decided to watch the opening ceremony just so I could say I had seen it. All I'm willing to say wasn't terrible! It was actually quite good in parts, the performances were okay and it was nice to hear some of the music in there too. I also was quite moved by the lighting of the cauldron at the end.

Ultimately, I guess we realised we couldn't out muscle the Beijing Olympic ceremony for shear mass so we decided to focus on what makes us so uniquely British!

Anyway, I didn't watch many events while it was running, but I saw some good performances and I loved seeing Usain Bolt and Team Jamaica pretty much demolish everyone on the track events!