Posts Tagged ‘Square-Enix’

Stop Final Fantasy XIII, i want to get off.

August 11, 2010

Let’s cut the chase with this one, Final Fantasy XIII is not a good game, it isn’t. There are several problems keeping this from being an enjoyable experience in any way possible, let alone a decent game. Most reviews have pointed out the linear nature of the game as being the main issue, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. FFXIII carries the weight of several bad design decisions, among other things. This is not going to be pretty, but in order to understand why FFXIII is a bad game we must understand the areas in which the developers failed to achieve creating a sense of enjoyment in the player. Sometimes playing a bad game teaches you important things about why some games are fun, and why others are just, well, everything but fun.

For starters, let’s dispatch the “linear” debate as quickly as possible. Yes, the game is linear as hell, is probably the most linear rpg i ever played in my life. Is a straight line the entire time, with some small detours here and there to grab the ocassional treasure chest with some item in it. Now, this is not a bad thing per se, is just the way the game is presenting itself. Being linear is not a bad thing, the problem is not that you are always following a straight line, the problem is that it’s a boring straight line. There’s nothing interesting to see, to interact with aside from switches to open doors, or activate plataforms. The background design lacks any posible sign of imagination, you will be seeing similar metallic structures and shiny floors for a long time. Long empty hallways full of nothing, and maybe one or two enemies waiting for you, what kind of civilization builds structures so big just to fill them with nothing? When the game switches to outdoor locations things hardly improve, some gray and brown rocks, some grass and big faceless mountains covering the horizon. You will feel like a test rat inside long tubes, and i have seen hamster cages that look way more fun to explore.
Are there any towns you can visit? There are a couple, but the visits will be fast, and the towns hardly worth remembering. Just as anything else you will see in this game, they feel like bits and pieces of other rpg towns you visited in the past, poorly stiched together. Having no stores or inns to visit is then hardly a problem when everything in the exterior already looks quite empty and flat.

The rest of the presentation of the game exhibits similar problems. Repetition will be present not only in the backgrounds, but on the enemies you face. While not on the same levels of repetition as FFX, where you always fought the same miserable dog, flan and wasp in every damn part of the world, FFXIII still manages to bore you to tears presenting a pathetic selection of poorly designed enemies. You will keep seeing the same dogs, flans, leeches and enemy soldiers in several locations, with some different enemies thrown in just to spice up things a bit. Was there some kind of rush in the enemy design area? Maybe a lack of ideas? Whatever it was it’s a testament of how having millions to spend on a game won’t necessarily give you a better project. Sure, it will give you big bright and shinny graphics, but it will be an empty shell with nothing much going on, which is the case of this game.
What about the music? Let’s sum up this one quick, because there’s really not much to say about this area. Uninspired, dull and nearly invisble are the only words to describe the music of the game. Some vague guitar riffs here and there, a poor violin screaming in pain can be heard in the background of some fights. It’s the proper soundtrack for a department store or a super market.

Then we have a problem with how the game constantly assaults you with cutscene after cutscene, you walk a couple of steps, fight a battle or two and then it’s time for a cutscene. Walk some more and 5 minutes later there’s another cutscene, and again and again and again. It makes Metal Gear Solid 4 look shy in terms of abusing this feature, and just like Kojima’s love letter to non-playable non-games, Final Fantasy XIII is desperate to shove down your retinas it’s terrible excuse for a story. Which will be our next stop in this journey of video game emptiness.

The narrative is, to put it simple, schizophrenic and erratic. The story is delivered in the most obtuse and convulted way possible, throwing narrative devices at the viewer like if they were pancakes. The story begins in the “middle” of events already taking form, in a very flat attempt from the writers to, i guess, hook you up from the beginning. The game doesn’t know how to present the story properly, or the characters for that matter, it confuses form with content. Right around the two hour mark one of the characters is yelling that they have to save the the world of “Cocoon”, a world you barely have seen, barely know anything about at that point and a world you really couldn’t care less about. The game seems to assume that you already know what’s going on, or that you got interested in the story right from the first minute. It assumes that you read all the “data logs” that “explain” character backgrounds, and even motivations. Assumes that you find the characters interesting, the game assumes way too many things. The fact that the franchise is high enough in popularity to sell millions of copies on the first couple of days of it’s release seems to be the fuel for Square-Enix’s deluded ego. The fuel for them to think they can throw a barely written story and think we are all going to “fall in love” with one dimensional representations of how human beings look, talk and behave. Not so fast amigos.

You see, i’m not throwing the word schizophrenic for nothing, the writting suffers big time by this particular notion it has about “developing” characters. For SE writters, a fully developed character is somebody who jumps from one emotion to another like a mentally unstable bi-polar-pill-addict who hasn’t take his/her medication yet. Characters are lamenting their situation one moment, then cheering others in the next scene, with no real sense of transition between any of these situations and emotions. It happens to every single one of them, in one moment you have Lightning complaining about having to take care of Hope’s whinny ass, and some battles later she is hugging him, promising to protect him forever and ever. Hope spends easily the first ten hours of the game complaining about everything, then after a brief talk with some characters he’s cool as ice and more than willing to go in a quest with a bunch of strangers he just met. The game keeps doing this for a while, there are no middle points with the characters, they are either super happy or super sad, depressed or motivated. Every moment of “tension” plays like a bad melodramatic high school play written by people who just read fan-fics on the internet.

In other words, square thinks good storytelling and character drama looks something like this:

Trying to find anything worth mention about the cast is just futile. Lightning is a bad attempt at pulling a female Clint Eastwood/Toshiro Mifune, she’s “super cold” and serious, but the reasoning behind her coldness is silly at best. Especially the story behind her changing her name to lightning. Snow is just the average rpg good guy with not much going on for him. Vanille is the touch of spunk/kawaii-ness that SE thinks every Final Fantasy game needs these days. Hope is a worthless empty shell of melo-cliches, a strong candidate for dumbest character i have seen in ages. Fang is just there, Sahz is the closest thing to a character that was not written on a napkin. He’s not another mindless teen, he is the mature guy of the team, he has a kid. He is the only one saying things that make a bit of sense. As for the antagonists, they are barely there, and have nothing worthwile to do or say for the most part.
Trying to sum the story and characters it all boils down to one thing: there’s no one and nothing to give a damn here. Coocon and Pulse`s relation as another Metropolis-esque world, where the nice and healthy live in one place, and the “ugly” ones below the first group, feels weak and as the social commentary it tries to be is just vague to say the least. The gods/machines/whatever they are controlling Coocon are another “been there, seen that” scenario of many role playing games from Japan, just not done as well as in other games, or in any way that could engage the viewer. By the time the game throws you a detailed explanation of what is going on, around the 20 hour mark, the incompetence of the storytelling will hit you hard and fast. Yes, there is a segment where a character has to explain the heroes, and the viewer, what the hell is going on. He’s a bad guy, and like any other bad guy he takes the time to explain all this before doing one of those rpg staple nonesensical transformations into his strongest “form” and fight you to the death. Engaging is the word that is missing in this game, and by the 26th hour of playing this thing i got tired of trying to look for it. Yeah, i haven’t finished the game, and no, “waiting” for a game to “get good” after dozens of hours is not a good sign at all. It shows how developers got things very very wrong, and we are just starting with this one.

Now, the story sucks, the characters are easy to forget, surely the gameplay is where the strong point of the game resides right? A game is not a game without gameplay. Well, things get trickier here. RPG nerd time: the battle system is a combination of elements from three specific games that come to my mind: Grandia, Shadow Hearts Covenant and Persona. Enemies appear in real time, but once you touch them a battle field appears where you will do battle, just like Grandia. Also, just like that game, timing when and from which angle you approach the enemies is vital to get the first turn and strike them to stagger. Just like Shadow Hearts you can knock down enemies in order to produce more damage to them, the game calls this mode “stagger” and never hesitates to remind you on several ocasions, tutorials that is, that this is the way you want to hurt your enemies.
Battles will consist of a party leader, the only character the player will be able to control, while the others act based on orders given by the player, just like Persona. Well, sort of orders, more of that just ahead. Now, all those games mentioned did all these things very well. FFXIII learned the principle, but not the way to implement all this in a satisfactory way.
The first issue comes with the early strike system, the game lets this work whenever it feels like doing it. Sometimes you will approach an enemy from the back, just to see that you didn’t get the first strike in the battle. The enemies have a field of visibility, but this is no Metal Gear Solid, and the range of their vision is never clear, not even in the small map in the screen. You will have to keep guessing just how much they can see, and in the case of some enemies, trying to guess from which angle they see will be a quest of it’s own. Unlike Grandia there is no penalty for being ambushed by the enemy, they never get the chance to strike you first, so this entire mechanic becomes pointless pretty quickly.

But “dude, striking them first lets you stagger them faster!”. Here we truly encounter the biggest mistake the game makes, the numero uno of all: every single battle boils down to the same thing. The only way to really damage many of the enemies in the game is to stagger them, and to stagger them you have to keep hitting them again, and again, and again, and again. There you go, that’s the entire strategy. FFXIII is the most ellaborated game of paper-rock-scissors you could ever play. That sounds like many other rpgs right? Well, this one simplifies thing as much as possible. For starters the are no mp bars, no need to cure allies after battles, actions now cost technical points, sections of a time bar. The game offers you the paradigm system, a sort of gambit/job system only simplified to it’s most essential bare-bones principles. You can change the role of the characters in the middle of the battle, and make them either do nothing but heal, provoke enemies to defend the party, put some stats on the enemies or just attack straightfoward.
Now, all this sounds great on paper, changing roles in a split second, not having to cure everyone after a battle, or reviving the fallen. Fast and to the point, the thing is, on practice is a very different reality. Because the game is designed to defeat every enemy in the same way, by knocking them down after dozens of blows, the paradigm changing becomes a tedious and highly repetitive affair. All this helped by an absurd and incoherent difficulty level, where enemies will atack fast and hard draining great portions of your life bar, so you better change into the defensive paradigm quickly to heal the wounded, but if you stay that way too long you won’t be able to stagger them. At the end you will be looking at the lifebars more than looking at the actual battle that is taking place. Change paradigm from offensive to defensive and viceversa, press x to attack or heal, repeat till boredom. Is a senseless button smasher, plain and simple.

Then there will be times when the game is just being, well, stupid. Changing paradigms in battle is suppose to be a smooth procedure, but the game stumbles like a drunk guy in a room full of cans. Sometimes changing a paradigm will trigger a brief animation where every single character in the party strikes a small pose, just in case the big sign in the middle of the screen alerting you of the paradigm change was not enough for you to know which command you just input. This becomes a problem when the enemies are still attacking you while the party is too busy looking glammorous and full of sparkles. It’s truly a testament of how busy the game is looking at itself, admiring the spectacle of bright and shinny graphics, and just “forgeting” for a second that you are suppose to be playing this thing, not just watching it.

Shops are now accesable via save points, but they are all worthless, with maybe the item store being the only exception. As for weapons and gear, the game is generous enough to provide plenty of those, located in treasure chests around the world. You can only gain gil by selling the junk the game throws at you. Improving your gear and weapons now consists of an upgrading system, also accesible on the save points. You can disarm weapons and accesories, and use the components to improve the qualities of other weapons and armour. This is another idea that sounds good on paper, but peforms poorly thanks to the random process in which you improve items. Raw material dropped by enemies or chests is the prime stuff to do all these improvements, with the weapon or piece of gear in question displaying how much “exp” it needs to go up in level. Every piece of material gives the item a certain number of exp points, but some pieces give bonus points. The more bonus points you get in the upgrading, the faster it gets to level up the item. Sadly the game never tells you which pieces give bonus points, so it becomes a game of guessing which part will give you the bonus reward, so the 9000 points of exp needed to upgrade something can be reached faster. Like the battle system, this is another tedious exercise that will make you skip the damng thing several times out of the sheer boredom of having to go into that damn upgrading screen again.

Not many options are left on the side-quest department. A weak attempt at imitating marks from FFXII stand as the only offer in terms of recreation from the main quest. These marks boil down to a sign in the middle of a field telling you to go and kill some monster. Then a red point in your map appears showing the location of the monster to be kill. That’s it! No trying to figure out on your own where to catch the beast, the thing is already waiting for you with a big red glow. Go for it! Video gaming of the current generation in it’s purest form indeed.

There’s really not much to add, i might be making this sound like a lot worst from what it is. This is not the “worst game ever made” or any other kind of hyperbole like that, it is a highly mediocre one, and it makes no apologies about being such a bland product. I have finished games that i truly disliked with raw visceral intensity, but FFXIII is not the case, the more i advanced the more it kept feeling like a lazy uninspired project covered in layers of sprinkles and glitter trying to disguise itself as something else. Video games are not about watching endless cutscene after cutscene, neither should they be about smashing buttons like a trained monkey. Supporting a game like this one will be telling Square that it’s ok for them to toy with consumers as they please, that it’s ok to give more preference to how the game looks and not how it plays. That this brand of super generic role playing games filled with fashion models from a bizarro fashion parade on steroids, made to appeal easy-to-impress teenagers, is the way to go. As i kept playing i couldn’t help but think all the good games i was not playing, all the good times i could be having with games that deserve far more attention from the one they get, games that never in their wildest dreams will be able to sell millions of copies on a week based on “brand” appeal. Final Fantasy XIII is a good lesson in bad video games, but is a lesson that should be taken only every once in a while. It’s not the kind of thing you want to make an habit.

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Parasite Eve The 3d Birthday trailer.

June 16, 2010

Well, finally something good coming out of the cirque du soli- err i mean, e3 thing. While i still have some doubts about the gameplay i’m hoping it retains the rpg elements. Yoko Shimomura is also back in the soundtrack area as far as i know. Good times.

Two cliches, one game.

April 29, 2010

Cavia, the makers of the very underrated Drakengard games are getting their newest game released for the PS3 and 360 in the west. Going by the name of “NIER” this rpg-actioner has a very peculiar detail regarding it’s localization. You see, we are getting the exact same game as the japanese, but with one exception: the lead character. While japan is getting this guy:

While we are getting this dude:

The reason for this? According to Square Enix, the publishers, each character was made to appeal to each market. The androginous young boy for the japanese, the “angry roid-rage guy” for us gaikokujins. You know, because there’s barely any of those character featured in games in both the east and west. Well, the guy we are getting is surprisingly not bald.

Hey, two different characters, a different take in each story right? Not here, the story is exactly the same for both versions, with just some minor alterations. So the question here is, why not just having a single guy for both markets? A single, well written character, that can help make the story as engaging and appealing as it can. Sure, the game might play well, but seeing this much attention focused on the “looks” i have to wonder how the story flows. The premise is that the hero is trying to find a cure for a plague, in the japanese version affecting the sister, and in the american version the daughter. Here we arrive at one big problem: changing the age of the character right there means a lot more than just doing an asthetic change. A younger man is not going to approach a situation in the same way a more experienced man could do. That the producers are minimizing this aspect speaks greatly about how game companies still approach storytelling in video games, and yes, western companies are in a similar condition before you say it. Seriously, when was the last time you heard about a movie releasing two versions with different leads in the same date? Same story, same situations, just a different guy to “appeal” to different audiences?

Here’s the thing: you can’t please everyone all the time, sometimes the end result can end up being quite ugly that way. Japanese developers seem to be obsessed these days with pleasing way too much the audience, even forgetting about themselves in the process. Sure sure, a game is a product made for mass consumption, and people always want more of the same. The thing is, if you are never going to try something different might as well not bother doing a new franchise at all, just release another port or a redundant sequel to a well known franchise, and call it a day.

Now, if the story is actually good, well damn, sign me up. I still find the reasoning behind this “different lead for different demographic” quite silly, at the core japanese and western players are really not that different. They stick to what they know, but sometimes it’s good to rock their boat a bit.