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FFXIII - the gaming continues

Just finished Chapter 8. Spoilers to that point. Please, no spoilers beyond that in comments, including icons. Many thanks!


So a lot has happened since I last posted, about 20 or so hours ago. Enough that I can't always remember exactly what I thought of it at the time, so pardon any gaps or repetition. Interesting that most reports have 20 hours of gameplay getting you to the mythical Chapter 11. We might have left a save screen running for a couple of hours here and there; let's call it more like 17.

Characters:

I have been intrigued by Lightning from the very beginning, and nothing has happened to change that. Her realization that her drive for pure revenge is foolish and destructive, not only to herself but especially to Hope, was well-realized. I also must admit that I enjoy having a female lead who appears not to have a single maternal instinct. First she tries to get rid of the kid, then she tries to toughen him up in the only way she knows, and she doesn't realize until too late that her plan backfired. For me, it works.

Snow immediately reminded me of Zidane: cheerful, boisterous, a little oblivious, a self-styled hero and champion. Now, I like Zidane, so that's mostly a good thing, but I find that Snow does get a little one-note at times. If he says "I'll do whatever it takes!" one. more. time...

Hope is whiny, bratty, and in all ways a realistic 14-year-old boy who saw his mother die before his eyes and is having a hard time dealing with it. I don't know if I like him, exactly, but he's been growing on me, and it's nice to watch him growing up under pressure in ways that a real kid would. Maybe a little fast, but not beyond the bounds of believability. I like that they didn't make his father a Bad Dad. I really like that Lightning and Snow are more of big sister and big brother to him than surrogate parents. All of his talk with Snow about family in Chapter 7 makes me think that they may be well on their way to developing into a family of choice.

Sazh... Sazh is awesome. And his story is breaking my heart. Chapter 8... oh my god. My heart, in little pieces on the floor. So tragic for him, for Dajh, for Vanille. I'm assuming he's not actually dead, given that the game just went to all this trouble to get him an Eidolon, but it was still a shocking and wrenching moment when he pulled that gun on himself.

At this time, the character I'm most conflicted about is Vanille. She's the bouncy chick with a dark secret and an overdeveloped sense of empathy, which is fine, but haven't we seen this before? Said dark secret was telegraphed with a bullhorn -- T and I guessed that she was from Pulse and already a l'Cie before the end of Chapter 2 -- so why the attempt at mystery? Unless we were supposed to guess it.

Fang, now. Fang I'm not conflicted about at all. She is fast becoming my favorite character in the game. I love her drive, her no-nonsense attitude, her apparent devotion to Vanille. I love that she is just about the purest female fighter I've ever had as a main party character in a Final Fantasy game (maybe since Freya in FFIX?). I loved playing her with Lightning in Chapter 7, kicking ass and taking names, and if I 'ship anything at this point, it's probably the two of them. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her.

Secondary characters: Serah is intriguing and I hope we get more of her, in flashback or in game. Snow delivering her to the Vestige... OOF. My heart, again. I am bummed that the Quistis look-alike seems to be evil, and disappointed that the silver-haired Colonel, who seems more likely to be turn-able, is dead. Cid is a mystery to me, and I don't know whether it's my denseness or poor storytelling, but I didn't realize until Snow and Fang showed up to rescue Lightning and Hope that he was not on the side of the Cocoon military.

Since I complained about Hope's mom before, I feel that I should acknowledge that they gave the character a name, and that the name had quite a bit of significance for Hope's character and for the story overall. So I partially retract my complaint, although as I discussed with imadra_blue in comments, I think it's still a fair criticism of the character's introduction. If Hope had initially been introduced as "Boy", as if both he and Nora were only named from Snow's point of view, it would have a) felt more equitable and b) not telegraphed the fact, in retrospect, that they were hiding her name for a Big Reveal later.

The story is interesting, although not as deep or complex as I would like for a Final Fantasy game. Only Sazh's story came as a real surprise -- everything else was telegraphed in the storytelling or by the game's marketing. I hope that some real twists are coming, and soon.

Gameplay:

The battle system is growing on me. Now that I'm used to the idea that I will only ever be able to control one character at a time, I've gotten better at switching paradigms. I look forward to the time, coming soon I hope, that I can choose my own party, especially my own leader, and will always have three characters to play with, which should give me a lot more flexibility.

If I'm disappointed in anything, it's the character development system. The Crysterium is pretty, but it's not intuitive at all. I really hate the way the game doles out new pieces of each character's development path rather than showing us the whole thing, and how the characters' paths relate to each other. I don't mind that the game blocks characters from developing past the role level before certain milestones are reached, but at least let me see what's there. How far are we from higher-level spells, better upgrades, etc.? I feel like I could plan a lot better with that info. Right now it feels very deterministic, and it's dull. Give me the flexibility of FFXII's licensing system any time, or even the big-picture overview of the FFX Sphere Grid. There's weapons upgrades, I guess, but that's such a trial-and-error based system that I don't find it appealing at all.

I'm also feeling the lack of puzzles and mini-games, but maybe that will change eventually.

In the end, I play FF games for story and characters, so if the gameplay is a little simplistic, I can live with that (shades of Kingdom Hearts 2, anyone?). Especially for a game as beautiful to look at as this one.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
wildejoy
Mar. 24th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
So I've rented the game and I started reading this, before realizing I think you're a bit further ahead than me. So I didn't read the whole thing. But I completely agree with your opinions on Lightning and Snow, though I think I get more irritated with Snow. To me he feels too cookie-cutter, even for Final Fantasy which is constantly criticized for that. I love Lightning, and I wouldn't have thought to put my finger on it, but you're right - the lack of maternal instinct is so refreshing.

I kind of love Sazh's coat.♥
owlmoose
Mar. 24th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
Snow is getting more depth, I think, although not enough that he is likely to break into my pantheon of favorite characters any time soon. At least he's not the only main character, the one I'm supposed to empathize with most. That's one of the things I'm liking about this game: it feels like a true ensemble, much more so than any other I've played.
wounded_melody
Mar. 25th, 2010 01:35 am (UTC)
"I also must admit that I enjoy having a female lead who appears not to have a single maternal instinct."

THIS!!!
owlmoose
Mar. 25th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
Like wildejoy said, it's refreshing.
imadra_blue
Mar. 26th, 2010 04:47 am (UTC)
The story is interesting, although not as deep or complex as I would like for a Final Fantasy game.

Well, Final Fantasy has never had any particularly deep games. XD Don't get me wrong, I love FF, and always have, even though I don't like all the titles (and was vastly underenthused about the PS2 era which produced dreadfully dull games), but I found FF13 about as deep and complex as the others. I can agree that it's more streamlined, and it lacks the side quests and NPC interaction, but those things never add complexity--they usually only connect little to the story and frequently weigh it down. But the heart of each FF game's storyline is fairly comparable to FF13, I think. I did finish the game, which colors my perceptions, perhaps.

Ch. 8 broke my heart, too. Sazh killed my heart. I found Ch. 7 very emotionally satisfying and effective, though Serah in general leaves me cold and I never got into her or felt any impact from her flashbacks. I like her visual design, though.

My favorite characters by the end of the game wound up Lightning and Hope. Both because of their evolution and realism, and my ability to empathize with them. Sazh and Snow and Fang come in just under them. I like Vanille a lot, but I never got into her as much as I did the others. The ensemble, however, is brilliant. Such great dynamics between the characters.

Are you one of those gamers who prefers free development? I kinda liked the more restricitve growth here, because it suited the characters and the storyline, and it was a sad day for me when FF left its roots behind to let you develop your characters however. To me, this reminds me of more old school games, like FF4 (one of my favorites).

I love how Lightning fails at maternal and winds up screwing with the teenage boy's head even more. XD Really, I love the whole damn game and am not fully rational about it yet.
owlmoose
Mar. 26th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
Ah, but the PS2 era games are my very favorites. So I think we may have different ideas about what makes a complex and interesting storyline. That's not to say that I won't fall in love with FF13's story when it all comes together, of course -- I am reserving final judgement until it's done. And I won't try to claim that other games haven't also telegraphed their secrets with bullhorns. ;)

So far, I think I agree with you about the ensemble working really well as a group, although I don't have them all together yet. I'm looking forward to that for many reasons.

Are you one of those gamers who prefers free development?

I didn't think I cared until I played FF12. The flexibility of that system blew me away. You mean I'm not forced to have one (female) white mage, one (male) tank, one black mage, one thief, etc.? I can mix and match and give everyone basic cure and elemental magic? I really loved that aspect of it, especially on my second play-through when I payed more attention to how I was developing the characters. That said, I don't mind deterministic development, but I wish I could have some better idea of what was coming next. I would like the Crysterium much better if I could get a big-picture overview of the whole thing.

I also really enjoyed Chapter 7; it's probably my favorite part so far.
imadra_blue
Mar. 27th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
It's likely a difference in taste, though disregarding the quality of each game (interpretation of which will be painfully subjective), I think the actual complexity of the main storyline in recent past FFs (I'm thinking FF7-FF12) are comparable to FF13. Once you strip away the side-questing and NPC interaction, the basic storylines really are the same level of complexity with only minute variables. However, I absolutely will agree with you that the story lacks the epic scope of other FF games until later on in the story. Not lacking in complexity, but lacking in scope, though this does change later in the game. However, I like that it is so focused on character pathos in the beginning--it made for a more personal experience for me.

For me, FF13 harkens back to the simplicity of the SNES games in gameplay. FF4, for example, was a very linear experience with predetermined growth and developed. Your parties and actions were chosen for you. I am not a big fan of player agency. I like it when gameplay and storylines suit the characters. I feel this breeds a better, more coherent storyline--which is why I play FF, since, for me, gameplay is only a vehicle for the storyline. Keep in mind, I grew up in the Golden Age, with SNES RPGs. I really can work up a rant about the flaws of the PS2 era, but if you liked it, I'll spare you. It's all just opinion.

I will agree it's annoying for them to give you the Crystarium in pieces. If you want to level up and plan ahead and become God early on in the game, I feel you deserve it if you put in the grinding time. Plus, it helps you plan ahead. Revealing certain abilities and developments is fine, as is restricting your abilities and whatnot, but babystepping your development? Overkill.

FF13 has a wonderful nakama and has the advantage of all its player characters being loveable on their own, though I obviously have my favorites (Lightning and Hope!). But the group dynamics just... it makes me happy to finally see a group really work. FF hasn't done that for me since FF7.

Ch. 7 is when I felt the story really turned over a new leaf and began to blossom into something greater. It speeds up from there, getting better and better, grander and grander, and you shall get your epic scope soon. :) Of course, keep in mind I still have stars in my eyes from this game, and due to the subjective nature of art, YMMV.

I shall shut up now, and look forward to future reviews as the story develops. :)

Edited at 2010-03-27 10:06 am (UTC)
owlmoose
Mar. 27th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
However, I absolutely will agree with you that the story lacks the epic scope of other FF games until later on in the story. Not lacking in complexity, but lacking in scope, though this does change later in the game.

I think this is largely part of it. There was the vision of Ragnarok at the beginning of the game, but except for that we haven't had the same sense of "world in peril" that most of the other FF games set up a lot earlier in the story. I'm glad to hear that it becomes more integral later.

I played FF4 on DS last year, and though I liked it quite a bit, the way characters were bounced in and out of the story made me crazy. It kept me from connecting with them, because I never knew when one was going to disappear, or pull a personality whiplash, or abruptly change character classes and have to start again from zero... The only other SNES-era game I've played is FF5, on the PS port, and I fully accept that this might color my views; FF7 is my least favorite of the main titles, but sometimes I wonder if I would have liked it better if I hadn't played it for the first time in 2004, after playing all the other PS generation games as well as X and X-2. (FF6 is high on my list to play someday, although I haven't decided whether to wait for the DS port or if I should be impatient and pick up the GBA version used.)

I would be interested to read your rant about the PS2 era, if you were ever inspired to write a post about it. It could make for an interesting discussion topic, anyway. But maybe after more people have finished FFXIII so we all have the same basis for comparison....
imadra_blue
Mar. 28th, 2010 12:19 am (UTC)
I shall say nothing more than the epic storyline does reappear--it's just late to the party. XD

Ah, I can see where you're coming from. I grew up with FF4, so the DS remake was a nostalgia trip. It readjusted some of my perceptions and confirmed that this game was a tad silly, but loveable, but still very nostalgic. I played FF7 as a still-impressionable teen. It held up on the replay, but it is dated. I actually kinda love it best, but a lot of that is rooted in the characters, who came alive to me in personal ways.

The PS2 games have more fully realized worlds and storylines, but my problem lies more with how their characters are stunted and lost amidst these world. My rant on the PS2 era is very personal, and I suspect due to FFX's popularity, I'm flying the unpopular fandom opinion flag. It might also be that the PS2 games came out at a point in my adult life when I was becoming disillusioned with video games in general, and that likely affects my views. I've actually been meaning to give FFX another chance and finish it so I can fully judge the game on its own merits. How I'm supposed to tolerate Tidus's VA, I don't know. I wish I could have the original Japanese audio...

Apropos of nothing, I kinda love that you have Roger Ebert in your links list. I ♥ him.
owlmoose
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
Roger Ebert is one of our greatest living writers, and I am not exaggerating. Do you follow his Twitter stream? It's high volume, but very worthwhile. I've been a fan of his for a long time, but the recent Esquire profile (did you read that? It's really amazing) raised him in my estimation about 10 times.

I'm already seeing the epicness starting to return (in Chapter 10) and I look forward to seeing it continue to grow. :)
lassarina
Mar. 29th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC)
ONLY A FEW DAYS LATE.

I ship all the ladies together. Seriously. All of them are so awesome. And yes, I love Lightning forever for not being maternal. She IS a big sister; but then again, we know she's a big sister.

I think it's more poor storytelling re: Cid. I had that problem too.
owlmoose
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:31 am (UTC)
I am still getting there on Vanille. Liking her better in Chapter 10 (I guess I'm about halfway through?) than I did before. And yes, this game has just about the most promising girl-shipping dynamics ever! Is it wrong to love that Lightning is kind of ineffectual as a healer? ;)

The storytelling problems are evening out for me, with time, as well, but I still feel like I'm learning stuff from reading the Datalog that I ought to be learning by listening to and watching the characters.
lassarina
Mar. 29th, 2010 07:49 am (UTC)
Confession: I have not read a single piece of the Datalog. I think at this point I'm saving it for having beaten the game. XD
owlmoose
Mar. 29th, 2010 11:20 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. There is so, so much in the Datalog that is not made clear within the game. Like, character motivations and plot points. I think I would be even more confused without the Datalog.

I am really glad it exists, though. I just wish the storytelling were good enough that it was a nice bonus instead of essential to understanding what was going on.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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