Jan. 1st, 2010

naukhel: (crisis core: cloud)
True to my word, I bought a copy of FFXIII on my way home from the airport the day I got back to Japan. I've been seriously looking forward to it! So now that I've had about three days to play it (currently around the 16 hour mark) I thought I'd write a little bit about it.

I'm generally the kind of person who doesn't like to know about a new game or film before trying it out for myself. I like to be fresh when I come to form first impressions, and I find it a lot harder to do that if I've already learned about the story or the characters. It's a lot more fun to discover it as I go. I've avoided trailers and reviews in general.

Firstly, I'll say that I'm really enjoying it. I'm a lot more drawn to the storyline and the characters than I have been with more recent Final Fantasy games; I found it really difficult to get into FFXII's plot, and even found the characters to be fairly two-dimensional and uninteresting, even the ones that I desperately wanted to be interesting. The story for FFXIII had a more instant appeal for me - it's presented and paced well, for one thing. It's the kind of story where you're going to feel like you've come in halfway, because you really do. But the way that the backstory unfolds is really well dealt with, in my opinion, and it's not confusingly opaque as to the fact that you'll gradually find out what's going on the more you push forward.

On the face of it, the characters can seem pretty stereotypical: strong, standoffish warrior lead. Bullheaded but good-hearted Seifer-lookalike. Cutesy and a little off-the-wall young girl. Whiny and intolerable blonde boy-child. Middle-aged black guy with a baby chocobo that lives in his afro who he refers to as "dad", a character point that is yet to be explained or commented on in any way... Okay, so the last one is just strange. But I feel like there's a lot more character interaction and development than there ever was in FFXII. Perhaps the characters aren't exactly deep - they do all conform to their roles in a way - but they're not without personality or growth.

The battle system isn't unenjoyable, though I think I prefer the one from FFXII on the face of it. I did start thinking for a while that all the battles basically involved pressing "confirm" without making any choices whatsoever - the game chooses your party for you, which roles they play in battle in which combinations, and even selects which commands are most appropriate for the situation at hand. It was holding my hand a little TOO much, though that's got a bit better later on into the game - you can choose to select your own commands whenever you want, but since the computer does it quicker and already knows which ones to choose, it feels a bit like a waste of time.

In addition, some of the battles are hard. I mean really hard. People who've played earlier Final Fantasy games will probably be fairly familiar with the idea that if you fight regularly and level up, you're very unlikely to have a "game over" situation from your average random field battle. That's really not the case with FFXIII - if Lightning dies, it's game over whether or not other party members are alive. Add to this several other factors:

(1) Enemies often gang up on one party member, inflicting nearly constant damage if their ATB gauges are in such an alignment
(2) Actions can be interrupted by an enemy attack, and either delayed or canceled entirely.
(3) The above point causes, at times, huge problems. Take the situation, for example, that the game has chosen your party members and roles in such a way that Lightning is the only healer in the party. If enemies gang up on her, their attacks will cancel or delay her healing moves, and if that goes on for long enough, it's game over.

I think that the one other big thing that the game is going to be criticised for is how linear it is. I've been playing for around 16 hours, and to be entirely honest, virtually all of that time has felt like running down a one-way path fighting battle after battle and watching cutscene after cutscene. It's not a huge criticism, unless you were hoping for the expansive roaming that you get in, say, FFXII. I don't know if it will change later on in the game (see my earlier point about not spoiling myself ahead of time), but at the moment it's very much like that.

A personal criticism would be the music. It's not bad, but Masashi Hamauzu fails to write the catchy, moving score that Nobuo Uematsu does, for me. I liked the work that Hamauzu did for Dirge of Cerberus, but again it's not emotive enough - and I'd be hard pressed to hum you any tune from FFXIII if you asked me to. A score by Uematsu would have made a huge difference to the game, for me.

Of course, it looks fucking amazing though. The in-game graphics are stunning, and the polished cutscenes look even better.

All in all I'm enjoying it! I've been told that there's about 40~60 hours of gameplay in it by someone who's already seen the whole thing through, so we'll see how that holds up. Work starts next week and I'll have significantly less time to put into it, but I'm in no rush :) I've been waiting too long!


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