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By Charles On 11 Nov, 2011 At 04:33 PM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, Xbox 360/Xbox One | With 0 Comments

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Last night I completed my 17th hour in Final Fantasy XIII. This on its own isn’t exactly noteworthy, especially in a 70 hour game. But the reason this struck me as significant is because I logged this hour a full 6 weeks after buying the game. 17 hours of story in over 42 days- for me this is something of a record. Final Fantasy XIII is the slowest progress I’ve ever made in an RPG.

Thanatos, I choose you!

Now before I come off as sounding either elitist or lazy, I need to clarify two points: while I’ve been playing XIII, I’ve also been playing Persona 3 on my PSP, a game that I just recently passed the 60 hour point in.  These games rarely compete for play time, one being portable and the other being console, and are often indulged at different times during the day. Of course there is some overlap, but generally I manage to log time in both games in the same 24 hour period. So it’s not that I don’t devote the time to progression. But when I’m playing XIII, I frequently find myself staring at the clock, whereas with P3, I often forget what time it actually is.

Second, I don’t dislike Final Fantasy XIII either. I know the game has come under a lot of fire from long-standing fans of the series (which I am, I started with 1 and went down the line), but I do not share their views. The game is hardly perfect, but it does hold my attention more than XII did. It is a beautiful game to wander around in. I like the battle system, though it did take some getting used to. And unlike many, I do not mind the linear nature of the early chapters, as it keeps me focused on a tangible goal. It’s hardly perfect, but then again what is?

So why then, have I managed to progress so far in one game, and so not far in the other? Well, it comes down to one major point: Final Fantasy XIII gives me no motivation to proceed.

Worst Cliffhanger Ever.

Let me favor you with a story. About 11 years ago, I came back from a brief stint in Ireland with a strong desire to play Final Fantasy VII. I had purchased the game for the PC, and low and behold, I received one of the infamous “bugged” copies, that crashed at the crater each and every time. And, being in Ireland, where apparently Final Fantasy VII didn’t exist at the time, I had built up a fairly rabid desire to pound Sephiroth into submission, presumably for making me wait so long to see where all this was going. So there I was, not even a week back home, and I ran out to Target with a wad of cash and one single goal: get a Playstation and finish the game.

I beat Final Fantasy VII in 10 days, give or take. That first day, I think I logged 9 hours easy, and settled in around 4 a night until I was done. But it still only took 10 days to complete the story. I moved on to Final Fantasy VIII, and finished that in about 20 days, if not a bit less. Final Fantasy IX took me a month, but I was taking my time on that one. Notice a trend here? All three of the PSX era titles took me less time to finish than I’ve currently spent playing XIII.

So why was I able to blast through them so quickly, while I’m currently taking my sweet time with XIII? Let’s look at some of the often-cited reasons.

Sazh Katzroy: Inventor of the Choco-fro

1: I don’t care about the characters or story. This is an unfair assertion to make. No, XIII does not have the best character development. Snow annoys the hell out of me. So does Hope, whom I’ve taken to calling “Jr. Tidus.” I’m neutral with regards to Vanille, because Im fairly certain there’s more to her than I’m currently seeing. But those three aside, I genuinely like Lightning, Fang and especially Sazh. I like those three characters more than any in a recent FF game. Not perfect, but definitely a step up from Squall’s sulky little emoverse, or Vaan’s protagonist-identity crisis

Same goes for story. XIII doesn’t have a story on par with, say, VI, but then again, no other game in the series does. VI, often heralded as the high point in narrative of the series, was one game, released over a decade and a half ago, when Square was top of the RPG market, but still not a world power. It was a dense, woven tapestry of conflicting personal stories mixed in with a madman villain and spread out over two worlds, one of which was created when the heroes failed to save it. In contrast, the story of Cocoon and Pulse seems lacking, or just lurks outside of range, almost like filler to the nice graphics. But that doesn’t mean its terrible, just inferior to a game that redefined the RPG genre. Which, in all honesty, is not a fair comparison to make.

2: The system sucks. Also, not a fair comparison to make. Mechanically speaking, I’ve had more fun playing XIII than I did playing most of the series. Yes it did take some getting used to, and I found the paradigms annoying at first, but once I started treating boss fights like raid encounters in World of Warcraft, they got infinitely easier. And while the system is punishing to mistakes in paradigm shifts, it’s certainly not impossible, and allows me to use those raid skills I developed in the past 2 years for something other than chatting while healing. I’ve been told the game gets a lot harder after Chapter 11 (I’m on 9 right now), but I welcome the chance. At least I get to keep myself busy paying attention instead of just entering commands.

Plus I love, and I mean LOVE, the Crystarium. Best progression system since the Sphere Grid.

By night, he plays in the goth band "Ancient Mother."

3: It’s all style, no substance. Yes, this is true, but so were VII, VIII and X. Any time there’s a huge graphics upgrade, substance in storytelling is sacrificed for flashy graphics. As fondly recalled as VII is, it got a huge amount of that love from NOT being 2D sprites on a world map. The story is good, and extremely well known, mixing mythology and politics together into a grand narrative of a dying world and the personal motivations of a greedy megacorporation. But how many people remember that versus seeing that train scene in the opening? Or watching Sephiroth walk through the flames of the town he destroyed? Or seeing WEAPON get blown apart by the Sister Ray? Final Fantasy VII staked it’s claim on being a visual experience, and that visual experience is what gives it charm. And did I forget to mention Sephiroth? Because he had a lot to do with it.

So yes, XIII does place priority on being bigger and better, and flashier, than any other game in the series. But that’s been the rule since it moved from Nintendo to SONY, so I’m not exactly citing that as the main reason.

4: It’s not a Final Fantasy/JRPG/what I expected. Honestly, I don’t even know what constitutes a JRPG anymore. Originally it was the turn-based system vs the more action-oriented fare released by US developers. Then it was the depth of storytelling. Then it was the incessant need to grind levels/skills/whatever. Personally, I don’t think the term JRPG matters anymore, because such designations have become irrelevant. Games evolve. The world globalizes and gets smaller. The hallmarks of the RPG are levels and experience. That’s about it. XIII has both.

As for the remark that it’s not a Final Fantasy: well, given that there isn’t supposed to  be any continuity between the games, and each has it’s own self-contained story, then really none of them are. Final Fantasy is a brand name, not a genre.

Okay, now that’s out of the way. None of those reasons are why I find myself inching along in a game that by all means I should have devoured and put away already. So I’m back at Square one: why is it that this game hasn’t motivated me to blast through it like I did with previous installments?

Look Ma, we're retro!

Maybe I’m just getting old. No, were that the case I wouldn’t be able to log hours in any game, not just this one, and I’ve already mentioned addictions to WoW and stacked up progress in Persona. Could I just be getting disillusioned with Final Fantasy as a series? No, because I popped in V last week for the long car ride to Nekocon, and have already managed to log 7 hours in that. So what is it that’s holding me back?

I guess in the end, that’s the real point. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a stellar one either. Unlike Persona 3, which uses an alternating system of classic JRPG dungeon grinding and item fusion with a day-to-day school sim style of plot progression, XIII just seems common. Unlike V, which requires WoW level character maintainence, and thrives on grinding to acquire new skills and jobs, the leveling system of XIII feels too much like what’s come before, flashy clothes notwithstanding. Yes, the battle system is nice, especially when compared to other entries in the series, but fighting always gets tedious after a while. And unfortunately, while I don’t hate the story, what it does give us hardly has the same hooks as the narratives in IV, VI, VII or IX. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t bad, it’s just completely ordinary, which unfortunately is the exact opposite of the main reason why Square started making games in the first place- to not be ordinary.

So in the end, it’s not that I dislike XIII, it just lacks anything that jumps out and screams “Play Me!” Which is also why I haven’t been feeling the overwhelming need to.

By otakuman5000 On 16 Feb, 2011 At 10:40 PM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured | With 2 Comments

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Role-playing games, or RPGs, are games that have us, the players, take on a particular part of a story and it’s events. Most of the time, many of us want to become the hero that saves a world from it’s dark possible future. And yet, at the same time, there are some of us who would guise ourselves into a form who’s goal is to see a world’s destruction. No matter the type of persona we take, the RPG allows us to immerse ourselves within a fictional world that can change from the consequences of our own actions. The way RPGs are played and experienced however, is something that is constantly changing within the field of video games.

Phantasy Star 2

In the 8-bit days, RPGs were games that tried to give players a griping enough story to keep them coming back for many hours. While not advanced as more current RPGs, the places and characters within the game had to be dynamic enough for players to either related to or take some interest in what events unfolded. This is the main foundation with any RPG, to have the player immersed within a place that has enough places and characters to interact with, giving the illusion of being within another world outside of our own. Without this total immersion, a player can not take on a role within the world the game sets up, and thus the entire experience is a failure. More recently, developers of RPGs have adopted different methods of finding ways to enhance the way players become immersed within their games. This would include aspects of visuals, music, character relationships, and player relationships to help build upon the aspect of being a part of another world.

Mass Effect 1 Gameplay

The importance of visuals in an RPG are as simple as one might believe. If a person can’t clearly accept what they see in front of them as part of some aspect of a reality, fictional or otherwise, how can they be truly immersed within that reality? If a player is suppose to be looking at an apple, how can they accept that it is an apple if what they are looking at does not actually look like an apple? Or a weapon? Or a person or creature? What players, and ultimately all people, notice first is what they see on screen at any given moment. More current games have adopted the use of three dimensional space and modeling to give more life-like appearances to objects within a game’s realm. The more closer something is made to look as if it is actually real, the more a player can accept that is part of the world around them and can be intrigued to explore other aspects of that world.

Final Fantasy X

The second characteristic that a player will notice is sound. Companies like Square Enix and Atlus Games, makers of both Final Fantasy and Persona, are known for creating musical scores that help enhance the emotions of what is happening to characters during their games. Usually, a main score will be composed, followed by other scores for different times and events, so that a recurring and recognizable theme can be heard throughout the RPG. This can help set up the mood or emotions to be felt about a particular place or person that is presented to players, allowing them to associate that place or person with the world they come from and accept their existence. Now these days, more and more RPGs are turning to musical pieces to give them their own individualities. This can let the music show how unique an RPG world is, and what sets it apart from other places a player might know of from past experiences.

Persona 3

Story is what really separates RPGs apart from other genres in video games. The relationships characters have with one another and the actions they take are what players really pay attention to when playing an RPG. This is mainly because in an RPG, a player can affect other characters, themselves, and even the world with the actions they take during the course of the game. Fable, Mass Effect, and Fallout are all contemporary games that are prime examples of the amount of consequences a player’s actions may have on the world around them. However, not many earlier RPGs allowed a player a large amount of customization of the world they were in, this was mostly due to the hardware limitations of earlier times. The ability to have the option of changing something about the world a player is within only further expands upon the immersion factor. This can help a player feel that they are in control of how a story plays out, and not necessarily tied down to a linear chain of events that transpire as they play. The benefits of this can come in the form of alternate endings, different series of events leading to an ending, or even an entirely new beginning.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of Stary Skies

Yet, does the immersion of an RPG really need to stop when a player turns off the game? Can the world of an RPG possibly extend beyond the forth wall and keep players tied to the alternate world of a game? More and more these days, RPGs are trying to bring their worlds closer to the players by allowing various multiplayer features that add to the fun factor of being immersed within their worlds. For an RPG, why does a game have to stop when you finish the main story, or when you get stuck at a very hard spot that requires hours of grinding? Why not bring in a friend to help you out? Or maybe two, or three even to join in on the action? This helps make players feel that they are not alone in experiencing the world an RPG has to offer, that there are other players out there willing to share in being part of the experience. Although a huge part of MMOs, traditional RPGs are fairly new to having more then one player as part of the experience they have to offer. Games like  Dragon Quest IX and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles allow players to get the full single player experience, and get even more out of the game playing with friends, before and after they have gone through the game solo. Whether it’s completing a side quest or continuing the main story, everything is always better when hanging out with a few buddies in a strange world.

The Role Playing Game genre is something that has come a long way throughout the years in gaming. We as players, and as people, are always looking for new ways to experience a story and feel what it is like to be part of a new place we‘ve never heard of. An RPG can satisfy our need to want to escape from our current reality and explore places and characters we have never come into contact with before. New features, modes, and stories that are developed and implemented will help players enjoy the experience of playing an RPG style of game. And with time, RPGs will evolve more and more sophisticated to fully immerse us within the stories of the worlds they tell.