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Dear Final Fantasy, What Happened to You Man? (Part 2)

Dear Final Fantasy, What Happened to You Man? (Part 2)

Gameplay

Here, for my money, is where post-PS2 FF hasn’t done too badly (emphasis on too). The gameplay in FFX was glorious. I loved the tweaks to the classic class system, and the sidebar that displayed the constantly shifting turn order worked wonderfully. (Unfortunately, however, once you fully power up Yuna’s Nirvana, and can cast all the Holy you damn well please, the game became absurdly easy.) It was the only thing – aside from its visuals – that I felt FFX had improved upon from its predecessors.

I wasn’t huge on the battle system in FFXII. Maybe I just didn’t get it. (It has received a lot of positive feedback from critics.) I felt it strayed too far from the established FF turn-based battle system. I appreciated that it attempted something new by completely throwing out the random encounters, but the battles felt more like something from an MMORPG than what I had come to expect. Especially for a game set in the same world as FF Tactics (a deep and challenging game with, again, a great story), this main character/micromanagement focused battle system felt like a major step back – a perfect example, once more, of too much and too little at the same time.

And then we get to FFXIII’s mess of a battle system. Similar to FFXII, the player controls just the main character and doles out sets of commands/instructions to the other characters; unlike FFXII, the classic turn-based template makes a return. Although I appreciated being back in familiar battle territory, the bizarre ‘paradigm’ system (you select a number of paradigms – sets of blanket instructions for the whole squad, including your main character – and switch between them as dictated by the flow of battle) is a big failure.

I am shocked that the Square Enix team thought that going from controlling all the characters in battle (FFI-FFX), to controlling just one (FFXII), to, fundamentally, controlling none was even a remotely good idea. Of course, you can control your main character if you so choose, but after a few hours the battles become so fast paced that the game basically forces you to use paradigms. I will admit that I found a surprising amount of enjoyment in the simple paradigm system after I got the hang of it; yet, once I’d gotten ‘good,’ it played more like a rhythm game than anything resembling a traditional RPG.

Another issue is the clusterfuck of a battle screen HUB. No, FF battle screens have never been exactly  simple, but they’ve never been this ridiculous. The screen is, unsurprisingly, overloaded with various commands, prompts, and situational messages (e.g., your current paradigm), most of which are colorful and written in big, flashy italics. Attack and health points get serious boosts in FFXIII. By about halfway through the game, expect the average boss to have about half a million HP. I know the difference between 10 HP and 10,000 HP is negligible if it evens out relatively, but having the numbers so absurdly high just feels like an superficial exercise in in-your-face radititude. Additionally, much of the time during the attack phase your character (or a character attacking you) actually ends up attacking five to ten times. That, plus the high speed of the battles, ensures that the battle screen is constantly cluttered in (mostly) useless crap.

Contrast this, once more, with FFIX, which utilizes – and, in my ever so humble opinion, just about perfects – the time honored class system. Instead of controlling no members of the group, you control (gasp!) every one, and each has her or his own special focus. Maining the game with a team of Zidane, Garnet, Vivi, and Steiner provides an impressively different experience than with a team of Zidane, Amarant, Quina, and Eiko. Very little – aside from strength and speed – differentiates any of the FFXIII characters in battle. Square Enix has confused complexity and complicatedness. FFXIII’s battles are complicated: loud, wild, and fast paced; FFIX’s are complex: they allow the player time to think, and require one to balance the abilities of his or her party’s characters. (And the same can be said of several other earlier installments.) There’s a big difference.

I’m not even going to comment on the goddamn Eidolon-Cycles.

Presentation

I have exactly one good thing to say about the presentation of FFXIII, and after that I’m done. I’ll get it out of the way: the graphics are beautiful. They are, without question, stunningly pretty and eye catching. But so many games are beautiful these days; without the story and gameplay to back it up graphics are pure window dressing.

In FFs of previous years FMV cinematics were a sort of prize, a reward for besting a particularly challenging or important section of the game, or they would precede a particularly challenging or important section (e.g., the attack on Balamb Garden in FFVIII). With FFXIII, they have devolved into messy, pointless, explosive action sequences in which a lot of not much happens for no real purpose.

I’ve always hated when video games show you action rather than allow you play action; it almost always feels like a missed opportunity. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate a good cinematic action sequence in the middle of a game. For example, the attack on Balamb Garden in FFVIII is absurdly exciting, and is emphasized by one of the first attempts at allowing the player to navigate a character during such a sequence. (Allowing you to control Squall doesn’t exactly let you play the action, but it does add a layer of involvement.)

The problem is that the action in FFXIII’s movie sequences is constant and absurd. There is no ceiling that the hyper-reality of FFXIII will eventually hit, and as a result spatial logic is completely thrown out the window. Expect to see characters do things like throw themselves off hundred story buildings and not be hurt, do battle with an unlimited number of nameless militia, and hang on the back of a ship in ultra-fast, laser-heavy air battles using nothing but their bare hands. This is one of the major issues with shitty anime; its creators begin to think that just because it’s possible to animate any sequence they can imagine, they should. It’s almost impossible to care about the outcome, or worry about the safety of the characters when one such action sequence follows another, follows another, follows another. I have a proposition for Square Enix: how about next time I’m involved in yet another “video game as art” argument, you take over and explain to a naysayer why the main character of your game can do a sextuple backflip while being accosted by a dozen men with lasers and still find within her the grace to land in a picturesque pose.

Final Thoughts

As I wind this thorough bitch-fest down, I realize that I will be just another guy on the internet complaining about FFXIII. My opinion on the game is, by and large, negligible. But there’s a good reason for that: FFXIII is a pretty game, but a pretty big failure. It fails as a story; it fails as an example of video game design; it fails on a narrative level and even on the level of straight “entertainment”. It’s a tedious departure from well-hewn game mechanics and storytelling techniques; I will often commend a game for going against what is expected, and this might be a boon of FFXIII if it weren’t for the fact that it wholly embraced so many embarrassing entertainment cliches, like overwrought, weightless drama and pointless, abundant action sequences.

I would very much like to love Final Fantasy again, but I am not holding out a lot of hope for the near future. I just think the series needs to be trimmed in the right areas and deepened in others. FFXIV (which I have not play and base this assessment purely on its critical and commercial reception) was a severe miscalculation. The upcoming FFXIII-2 seems grim, a weak attempt to cash in on the FF brand after, basically, worldwide audience testing. It will, we are told, right all the wrongs of FFXIII-2 by adding to the already complicated story, tweaking the crappy paradigm system, and prettying up the already pretty graphics. Do you have your pre-order? I know I don’t.

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Posted on September 30, 2011, in Opinions And Editorials and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. im with you man… i would love to love FF again but… after the mediocre 12, the abyssmal 13, laughable 14, and now were getting 13-2.

    its like even tho its fun to sleep with a slutty chick, you know deep down shes shallow and you only like her cause shes a slut… you feel bad about it and feel like less of a person for going there.

    thats how i feel about final fantasy. i wonder, will FF ever again be that classy girl that none of the other women in my life can stand up to, or we FF go even farther and be that drunk chick that fell down the stairs but still wants to f…

    sorry for the weird comment 🙂

  2. I like this review.
    It echoing what I wanted to say.

  3. I don’t agree with this review at all. The change it’s gone to is something I really love and agree with. In my opinion, SE is doing the right thing by doing new things. Sure, there are some that dislike the change, but its what’s necessary. I truly think that the turn based combat is a dying type of gameplay and there are plenty of other games that are using this gameplay.

    It’s honestly getting very boring, and the gaming industry have been comprised of different companies merely doing the same thing as one another and not changing anything cause they don’t want to take the risk of losing money.

    So far, I think SE has done great changes and I don’t think I’m alone on it. Plenty of critics love FFXIII for the change, and I honestly love the story.

    FFX’s system was alright, but the story literally sucked.

    • WOW WOW WOW, FFX’s story is worse than FFXIII’s????? WOW WOW. FFX’s STORY IS BY NO MEANS SHAKESPEARE, BUT GOD DAMN IT IS BETTER THAN FFXIII’s MELODRAMATIC, SHOOTABLE CHARACTER FILLED PIECE OF DONKEY DIARRHEA BULLSHIT

    • I’m very curious how you can say that turn-based gameplay is dying, while, in the same sentence, say plenty of other games use it. And if FF remembered it’s roots (Dungeons and Dragons), and treated a game like an epic D&D quest, with several opportunities for side quests, it would be fine. It has decided to forsake that, and every FF after FFX is a reflection of that. I would say FFX-2 would also be like that, but they decided to allow the characters to shift classes at will, which is bullshit.

      Final Fantasy XIII’s story was an attempt to correct the error of FFXII, which was almost no story. If you don’t do any of the sidequests, and just try to blaze through the story, XII is the shortest FF you can play up to that point. XIII at least tried to correct that, but over corrected.

  4. Personally, I loved XIII. I hope to look forward to playing XIII-2 if I ever finish fixing my 360 -fingers crossed-.

  5. I think the game company is trying to evolve along with their gamers and future gamers, I particularly liked the battle quickly and little thought FFXIII and as soon i finished the game. I went to see older versions like FFVII, I tried for 2 hours and gave up playing, the whole game itself is slow and it was so boring, if FFXIII was so bad? why make FFXIII-2 They Could create a remake of FFVII (i see the movie advent children and i was gorgeous in every way) and i suppose THAT would make u guys happy. (Not me if the system was going to be the same) and really complaining of Final Fantasy, fantasy? The History was badmade, and system maps thats like a corridor that’s is true. But for me the age of Squaresoft is passed. Enix still making Dragon quest very… similar to the older days maybe they should work MORE together to make a perfect game? in everyone opinion

  6. I would LOVE a Elder Scrolls esc Final Fantasy. Can you imagine going back to having a whole world to explore with airships and what not? I wouldn’t want it to only have one playable character like Skyrim. Maybe go to the FFXII days where you saw your enemies coming up on you, and you and your team dispatched them. I doubt Square would ever do that though. *sadness*

  7. If you actually liked ff13: you are a moron.

  8. I felt like leaving my feelings on this, since i’ve been wondering lately wth happened to the FF franchise.

    I was 8 – 9 years old when i had my first experience with the Final Fantasy franchise, the undisputed best polished gem of the series ff7. Can’t really say i played it much to begin with, because my experience with this game in reality was sitting hours in front of my friends tv, watching him play the hell out of it. And it really wasn’t that bad. Not understanding half of the lines said, moreso getting the story from the overall picture. I remember very clearly how AWESOME everthing played out. I mean; SEPHIROT!? Battling between stars and space in epic bossfights?!?! I can clearly say i had my first nerdgazm even before i’d had a normal one, not knowing what just happened, sitting all just very confused and wondering if i’d be ok in a moment or two.

    What i’ve felt happened to the franchise is that it’s “power level” has since 10, risen at an alarmingly steep scale. Now, what i mean about power level is quite simple; take dragon ball, the most commonly read manga in the world and look at it’s use of power levels. the first 10 or so books are really down to earth (in some manner of speaking. This IS draginball), then things just gets way out of hand, seeing as gokus enemies rise steeply in power (levels) and he with them, turning things just really whack.
    In FF you can view this mainly by how crazy things get, both visually and gameplay-vise. Visually i like to think it started with ffx. Now, ffx besides ff8 are my favorites of the 6 ff games i’ve played (exluding ff7 here, because it’s on the top no matter what), and i really liked the fresh style and gameplay changes ffx brought. ff11 i felt took the visual style too far, followed by ff12 which built more on it, and finally ff13 wich just threw things off hinges. I really don’t like ff13 at all. i tried to like it but we didn’t match. It’s power levels rose waaaay beyond 9000, into the millions.

    If you think about it, this makes sense seeing that after ff9 the main persons behind the games uptil then, left the company, and founded their own; Mistwalker corp. Leaving the squaresoft/enix scene was the main designer and the lead music designer. Makes sense things got downhill imo after ffx.

    I need to mention that i’ve never played 1-6, which is a very saddening thing. But at the same time i can understand new players to the FF-franchise. If you start at 12 even 10, i guess in a retro-spective view the games 1- 9 seems rather sluggish, boorish and ugly too look at. Sadly though that’s the mindset most of the new generation gamers have.

    A dream i’d like to see come through: A FF game with FF7 level of story and characters with FFX Level of combat gameplay (since i strongly mean that FFX’s combat gameplay was a step in the right direction).

  9. I was a teenager when Final Fantasy 3 (JP FFVI) was released in america. I had played the previous final fantasies available in the US and thought that they were on par with many of the PC and console based RPG games that were available. They focused on exploration, story development, puzzle/thought-based decision making, and then combat/character management. Final Fantasy 3/6 is the best example of an RPG that I can possibly introduce to anyone, It was the broad scope of exploration, the extensive story and side plots, the engaging characters, the sense of discovery and the immersion in this world coupled with brilliant music–that helps to evoke every possible emotion from fear, to anger and suspense– overwhelming calm and content, happiness, sadness–the story takes your hand and leads you through its hall of wonders and rewards you for it. Final Fantasy 7 did the same (though to a lesser extent for me, the first love is hard to compete with). Six and Seven were the pinnacle of SE’s achievements (I also enjoy Tactics) and then it died. I have tried future releases with friends but never purchased my own copy. I would rather play any of the first seven and trade the laser light graphics show of today for these interactive novels of the past. There is a generational rift with gamers that has altered the industry–where mindless online grinding and ‘high stats’ is considered an RPG for some, for others it is over the top graphics, flashy moves & pop-trash, Where more and more games are delivering instant sensory gratification without stimulating the mind whatsoever or shackling players to massive online worlds that have never-ending conflict that lack in real highs or lows, where no character matters at all and there is no sense of completion.

    Bring back the story, the development, make us care again. Make a game that doesn’t end up on the used shelf at the store. It has been decades– start caring about games again, stop rushing out games for profit or someone will be forced to come along and replace you who does care– I only hope it happens in time before people come to expect and rely on the trash that is out there now.

    • Very well said Charlie. Totally appreciated your feedback.

      I don’t think I’ve had a recent Final Fantasy title on my game shelf for longer than the game’s play length. I mean I still have FF Tactics, FF7, and FF 8 10+ years later; and I’ve traded in the more recent ones because they’re just not that memorable compared to the originals.

  10. Well….. I do not want to sound like if I am trying to piss you off, but….. Of you did not like FFXIII, why did you take some time to write about it instead of doing something more….. I do not know…. Productive? Its just my opinion, you know

    • Video game journalism requires writing about games one dislikes as much as those one likes. The same can be said of almost any form of criticism.

  1. Pingback: Dear Final Fantasy, What Happened To You, Man? (Part 1) « JTM GAMES

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