Final Fantasy? More like First Fantasy

18 03 2010

I seemed to have missed my once-a-week deadline I set out for myself, but for good reason. One, I’m on spring break this week and two, I’ve been very busy. No, not drinking my face off and partying, but playing vidja games. What else.

Recently I bought the game Tales of Vesperia off and began very engrossed in it. It’s a fun, HUGE game with an addictive action-RPG style. It’s a typical JRPG though, the formula they’ve followed for decades. Go to town, talk to right NPC to move story along, fight monsters, fight boss monster, repeat. Nothing wrong with that. The story was great, the graphics were AMAZING (I’m a huge sucker for the cel shading they used in the game) and the production values and voice acting were great overall.

However, last Tuesday, a little game released. Not many people know of it, it’s called Final Fantasy XIII. Oh, you’ve heard of it? The Final Fantasy series is well-known for its lavish production values, great cinematics, story and characters. Final Fantasy XIII is no different. Where it is different, however, is its gameplay. For starters, the game is almost entirely linear. We’re talking straight down a corridor linear. You may have one or two little paths to deviate off to, but they either loop back to the main path or offer a dead end containing a treasure sphere (chests are too old school for this sci fi party). Combat is also something new to the series. In the past, you control all of your characters, deciding what actions for them to do, who they target, but in this one, you just control your party leader. The other one or two members simply do their thing, attacking your target, doing attacks that would be beneficial.

I won’t lie, I won’t mince words. I hated this game a few months ago. True, I had never played it, but I looked at it with nothing but contempt. I’m not a huge Final Fantasy fan (never played 7, 8, 9, never beat 10) but I do enjoy them from time to time. VI is probably my favorite and one of my favorite RPG’s ever. Anyway, I looked at the game’s characters, its super futuristic, sci fi setting and scoffed. I heard of its linearity, of its lack of towns and lack of character leveling and thought, “Fuck that game.” How wrong I was.

The reason I started this post with talking about Tales of Vesperia is that’s a great example of an old school JRPG. You have a huge world to explore, you get freedom to explore it, but when I thought about it, how free are you, really? You can go to Town Y instead of Town X, or Forest Z instead of Forest X, but it doesn’t matter all too much in the end. The game limits you from going places by either adding barriers of some sort (construction, strong enemies, something you need a key/ability to get by) so really, you’re pushed to go in the linear path they want you to go to. It’s an illusion of freedom, really. I can’t really go wherever until I go to where the game’s story wants me to go to.

What Final Fantasy XIII does is streamline this whole process. This illusion of freedom is gone and you can see on your map where you need to go. You don’t need to spend an extra 15 to 30 minutes wandering the map for the right location to go to, the game simply presents it for you. The leveling process is the same. In many old school RPG’s, you have to kill the enemies to level up so you can be strong enough to take down the boss monster. Final Fantasy XIII streamlines that as well. A cap is placed on how far your character can develop in each chapter, making you unable to grind further. You can if you want, for extra items to level your weapons, but it’s all in the interest of streamlining the game.

Towns are the same thing. In Tales, towns are pretty, they offer NPC’s giving flavor text, they offer an inn to sleep in, places to sell and upgrade your weapons, and an NPC or two to move the story along. What FFXIII does is remove them. They aren’t needed. You do your shopping from save points. Your health is instantly regenerated after each battle. You don’t have to search every nook and cranny of the town for that one NPC that will move the plot forward. You simply move forward, no obstacles in the way.

I won’t touch on the story in FFXIII suffice to say it’s very good. The characters are interesting (even emo-tastic Hope) and they’ve all undergone a pretty major change in their personality in the 20 hours I’ve played. This is no review of the game, more like impressions. I’ve still got a good 20 hours left before the game is complete.

For those that worry, FFXIII does open up in its later stages (typically 25-30 hours for most players), allowing you to roam around, grind enemies for character development and items, but until then, the game simply guides you along, taking you for a ride through its world. And no, the game isn’t perfect by any means. Combat can be dull at times, simply pressing attack, but then what RPG’s don’t have combat like that? At least in this game, it’s always very pretty and interesting to watch. And no, I’m not going to gush over the graphics, though they are simply incredible to say the very least.

To bring this post to a long, overtalked point, it’s that Final Fantasy XIII is not the end of the world. It’s a great game in its own rights that should be played by everyone who feels tired of the traditional JRPG structure. It’s not perfect, but it’s an incredible example of how games are changing and will set a benchmark for future RPG’s (both Japanese and Western) for quite a while.




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