February 16th 2012
So I bought and played FFXIII after X-mas. I got about 7 hours into it and really, really, wanted to like it, but i couldnt. You see the big problem with the game is obvious - obvious to just about anyone who plays for more than an hour - but incredibly distracting. I often talk about how important fun is, but fun is undefinable and incredibly subjective. When I think of "fun", something I'm thinking about is really just trying to enjoy that game for what it tries to do, what it is and what it genuinely succeeds that. This is why I still play retro games. And, you see, in FFXIII - it tries to be an epic game, steeped in tradition and backstory you can relate to. It hits the mark 9/10 times, but the one big point it misses is that as a game it doesnt want to let you feel in control at any point.
You see, on paper it's great - the characters are funny, the graphics superb and animations delightful. But the genuine interactivity is limited. In fact, it is more than limited, it is deliberately restrictive. Ingames that take time to teach you how to play it, I respect the patience. Some, like Command and Conquer, you need to be taught the mechanics to enjoy the complexity. I get this - and appreciate it. However, Final Fantasy takes this patience to an extreme.
What ends up happening is the game effectively allowing you to push forward for the start of the game. The dialogue is merely observed (and confusing) and the interaction you have with the game focused on making your Avatar move forward unassailed to the next area. Then the game spells out how to have fights. Then various components to combat are taught to you. Then you get to run forward. Repeat over and over.
While I love grinding in FF games, the problem here is that the game has an adult plot, an adult level of complexity to play (eventually) and an adult level of complexity - and yet it treats you like a child. In fact, the nearest analogy I can make to playing it is that it is akin to playing game you have already played before, but the person you are play with insists on explaining all the controls and nuances in great detail. Imagine that - it is incredibly frustrating, feels patrionisng and detracts from your ability to enjoy the actual gameplay. This is the way that FFXIII teaches you to play the game - it layers and labours the point.
What about the 9/10ths i loved? Well, I'm not going to go into much detail but the leading leady is superb. An utterly believable (and flawed) character that carries the bloated early dialogue. Secondly, the scenery is unbelievable. On my 360, which is apparently the graphically inferior way to play the game, the frozen lake in particular was inspired and beautiful.
Finally, one thing that I respected was the fact that the game set out to tell a very specific story (in the way many FF games do so) and was not afraid, even early on, to try and tell it in an interesting way. You get character focused flashbacks, a 13 day countdown and numerous other slightly vague references to time and all this creates an intriguing setting, great plot, and interesting visualisation ofameloncholy story. I really respected and, on occasions loved it.
Ultimately, beneath the pomp and incredibly inhibiting gameplay, there is a great game. Truly there are glimpses of it, but all too fleeting. To end the post, the funny thing about the game is that I would actually recommend anyone give it a go. It is a very specific kind of game and I can see why people love it, so it is always worth giving it a go. Equally however, I understand and gree with those who criticise the game for its most obvious flaws.
In summary a great game, burried under an inhibited style.