Games Meet Metal: Say, have you heard that the first half of Final Fantasy XIII sucks?

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Say, have you heard that the first half of Final Fantasy XIII sucks?

When I picked up my copy of Final Fantasy XIII way back in March, I was as excited as a teenage boy about to touch his first breast. FF 12 was one of my favorite titles on the whole series, and I have been jonesing for more of the same. A good chunk of the reviews at that time had warned about an extended learning time, as the game tended to pad out the acquisition of new skills. Hey, fine by me, I thought. I've gone through old school Dragon Warriors and not blinked an eye. A little extended edumacation isn't gonna kill me.

Fast forward to May, and according to the strategy guide, I'm finally about to reach the middle of the game. Over two months after the game is released. Why? Because it feels like FF XIII was supposed to be two separate games, and the first half is the most horrible prequel ever.

Turns out that "edumacation" turned into a needlessly extended origins story that just wants to club the player over the head with ridiculously convoluted plot elements. Now, this is Final Fantasy, and I'm used to the idea of a silly story line. This, however, is crossing the line. Not revealing the main plot point until five hours in, unexplained allegiances, factions with no real reasons for fighting, a whining momma's boy. For what is considered to be an intro to a vast world, this isn't setting the pace, or even the interest, in playing the game.

Linearity is the call of the moment, and FF XII attacks it with gusto. But why should it? RPG's are traditionally about vast exploration and skill building. It's like the developers at Square despised FF 12 so much that FF XIII became their punishment for gamers who enjoyed it too much. The game structure is essentially the longest hallway you'll ever run down. And it just goes on and on like a failed marriage. It does get broken up by the enemy battles at every 20 yards, but there's such a sharp learning curve with the Paradigm battle system that the fights aren't even all that fun until about the 15-hour mark.

But my biggest gripe is the weapon upgrade system. In FF XII, you don't just buy the next powerful sword. Instead, you beef up the one you get through bits of technology and enemies you find along the way. This can give you more attack power, as well as stat bonuses. The hiccup here is that you can upgrade to a point and they'll be maxed out. From there, you have to get a new weapon, which is usually WEAKER than your beefed up one, disassemble your old one, and put all those bits onto the new implement of destruction. Yes, it's literally two steps forward, one step back. It also makes this the RPG equivalent of Lego bricks, but that's unfair as they already have their own games.

Since I have almost made it to the halfway point, thing have gotten a tad better. I know the combat system now, and had a rather enjoyable boss battle against a troop carrier. More story elements have entered and have helped clear up some major plot holes. I haven't played "Lego-ize your weapon" in awhile, but I'm sure I'll have to soon. With the presumed big fight with a president/mayor/emperor-type person closing out the first half, I'm looking forward to seeing what the good side to the game may offer. But getting there has been a war of attrition that I just didn't want to go through. And at this pace, I won't be getting to the end until August.

I will finish this game though. I have to justify that $60 price tag somehow.

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