Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FFXIII: Pre-Coital Disappointment

I was looking at our meager shelf of PS3 games, determined to play one now that the PS3 is back on its feet and we finished Little Big Planet 2. Boy, was that ever a disappointment as well. But more on that later.

I looked inquisitively at Valkyria Chronicles and then back at FFXIII. I knew VC wouldn't disappoint me but I'd given up on FFXIII. Maybe I'd been too hasty on giving up on it, maybe I didn't give it the chance it deserved. I mean, a lot of time and money went into its development, it couldn't be that bad, could it?

Every single day my phone's shuffle treats me to some fond memories of the past. I even have two copies of this fanfare in there so it pops up fairly regularly.

The Final Fantasy brand meant something to me. I'll admit though, I'm not the biggest fan of FFVII. I tend to be put off by big hype trains. The first Final Fantasy I actually played was FFVIII. The story thinks too much of itself and takes some ludicrous turns some times. But the gameplay was complex enough to make me want to progress and improve and there were enough side-quests and easter eggs that made me play the game for a very long time. And Tetra Master. Oh my God, I spent a shameful amount of hours playing that card game. It was so simple and yet so addictive. It was so good they made an actual trading card game edition (of which Mike has a few cards still) and I believe there's still an online version of it going strong.

Bear in mind, Final Fantasy has disappointed us before. And when they do, they seem to want to do it twice over. Like, they want to rub it in your face. Remember FFX? Well, they went on to make an FFXII, an absurd sequel with JPop stars double-wielding pistols in skanky outfits. It was very Sailor Moonish and scary. The world didn't like FFXIII either so they squeezed out an FFXIII-2. I refused to even look into it so I have no idea what it's about.

We've had a few gems in between, when Square decides to think outside the box. FFIX was a pretty good try at returning back to the saga's roots. It was entertaining even if the story was a bit lacking. FFXII was a God send and you people have Team Ivalice to thank. From their minds spawned the wonderful Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. They be awesome and I love them and I wish we could see and hear more of them.

But no, Square decided to go back to a more FFX oriented formula of futuristic settings and idiotic stories. Quite. Or maybe they had FFVII in mind seeing as the game also starts with a train. Hmm. No?

All of this went through my brain as I looked at the cover of the box, deciding whether or not I should subject myself to this again. 'Let's save Valkyria for after I'm disappointed in this', I thought. Good omen. And so I pushed the Blueray in.

During those few but long seconds of black screen until the words SquareEnix announced the show was about to start, I went over what I could recall of the story in my head. I knew there were big God-like creatures (aren't there always with these people) and these things made human slaves of sorts for themselves. The story was mostly set on a big moon-like place whose inhabitants had some phobia against the main planet below. I started cringing in fear of its convolutedness even before the intro had started. This was not going well. I pressed New Game and light a cigarette to get me through the long FMV I knew was coming.

You know how these hip japanese developers are. They love small breasted chicks showing off a lot of leg, spiky hair and plenty of jumping. I remembered this intro well and I remembered how much it had put me off the whole things. I swallowed back all these feelings and focused on finding positive things about the game, valid reasons for why I was wasting my time with this game yet again.

I'll shock you now, oh you that has played, feared and loathed the game, and tell you that I don't really mind the Paradigm system. It is very much like the Rift soul swapping system only for an entire party and you can do it mid-battle. You can resort to a mix of three characters and choose from tank, dps, rdps and healing clichés, switching around as needed. Too bad that the first time you are faced with a boss battle in which you actually get to change your Paradigm you have to do exactly what the tutorial tells you to or you die. Repeatedly. And the shifting animation takes a long time while the battle doesn't pause during it.

And that's another thing. They do love their tutorials, don't they? Last time I played the game I was getting tutorials on after four hours of playing. You'd think I'd have gotten the gist of things by then, no? The game makes it a point to tell you how stupid you are and takes you by the hand through a series of narrow hallways and repetitive enemy encounters. There isn't a single point where you can deviate from the story which you probably are having a hard time following. 'This is what you have to do and this is where you have to go,' the game will explain in a patronizing tone. 'Here, let's have another tutorial and I can show you how it's done.'

The characters are... well, let's just said that I didn't fall in love with them. I loved Balthier in FFXII from the moment I saw him. There was something specially pretentious about him (maybe you can blame Mr. Gideon Emery for my love of Balthier and fascination with Fenris). I can say I didn't really like-like any single character in FFXIII, orphaned kids, annoying kids, spiky haired femme fatales, cocky bulky hormone-ridden dudes. And Serah! God, they spend an absurdly long time yelling out 'Serah! Serah!' You know how irritating that is? Every single Sarah in a game or movie is either dying or dead or raped or missing or... Urgh. Not interested. And the story wasn't realing me in either nor was the gameplay, to be honest, and I knew there was a grinding period approaching, seeing as my reluctance to grind made me hit a wall of a boss the first time I played through it.

So I casually dismissed the game again. Not even the music was vaguely interesting. Their recycling of at least one FFX theme was annoying enough. My advice? Don't play it. It's not worth it. I'm not sure it's even worth you reading this review. Shiva is a two-broad bike ffs!

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