fEidolon

Recently I’ve been hearing more and more statements about the polarization of the Final Fantasy series. In particular how fans of the series are more likely to passionately hate and love various titles in the series and the high likelihood that there isn’t a fan out there that likes them all. It definitely makes sense given how radically different each entry in the series tends to be.

I definitely fall into that former category as I hate some entries in the series (VIII) while loving others (X, XII) and today I can safely add another title to my hated FF list: Final Fantasy XIII. I really tried to like FFXIII, but there are so many flaws and inexcusable design decisions that I honestly think that XIII is by far the WORST Final Fantasy game (main series) ever created.

Woah, the worst in the series? Seriously?

Yes. Most definitely yes. From the criminal pacing of the first 4 hours, to the stale characters, to the pretentious names of Fal’Cie & l’Cie, to the horrific item management/upgrade system, to the HUGE STEP BACK from XII in combat, to the steep jumps in difficulty for certain encounters, to the unforgiving and piss-poor designed Eidolon battles I’ve had enough of this pathetic entry into the Final Fantasy series.

After finishing up Batman Arkham Asylum I felt that I owed it to myself as a fan of pretty much all things Final Fantasy that I should give XIII one last shot to make sure that I wouldn’t regret setting it down. I ground out some crystarium points and was able to get past the bombs that had previously proved impossible to down quickly enough and proceeded to run into yet another wall, this time comprised of fortified concrete: Vanille’s eidolon battle.

What a piece of shit encounter. First off you’re not given a choice on who to bring in to the battle, you must use Vanille and Fang. I like neither character and thusly when I first encountered Vanille’s eidolon I had over 80k+ CP unspent on both of them. Obviously I was destroyed this first time considering that you’re not given a chance to adjust equipment, paradigms, and spend CP prior to battle unless you’re retrying it.

After numerous failed attempts where either Vanille would die or I wouldn’t build the gestalt meter enough before running out of time I have no more motivation to keep playing through XIII. I’m sorry Square, you’ve failed … miserably. I guarantee that had the title not been graced with the name Final Fantasy very few people would have even bothered getting more than 5 hours into the game.

There are just so many better games out there and I refuse to waste my valuable free time on piece of garbage. I seriously hope the team that is inevitably working on XV take a long hard look at Mass Effect 2 and reflect on what made XII and X such a great game. (Ironically XIII was developed by mostly the same team responsible for X, my favorite in the series)

Oh well, looks like I can safely return to Mass Effect 2 now.

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Focus

I’m coming awfully close to reaching my breaking point with Final Fantasy XIII. I was holding onto the hope that things would balance out once I got to Gran Pulse where the game truly opens up. Unfortunately when you do reach Gran Pulse, the faults of the game become so glaring that it’s nearly impossible for me to look past them. Even the battle engine has gone from chaotic fun to frustratingly inadequate with the incredible leap in difficulty in chapter 11 from non-boss encounters.

You’re dropped onto Gran Pulse with little direction with a landscape littered with Behemoths and Adamantoises with only a little yellow arrow on your mini-map blindly guiding you. While individual Behemoths are not impossible to take down at this point, you will get utterly decimated by an Adamantoise. Sure they’re easy to avoid, but there are so many meandering around that you’re given the false-sense of security that you can engage them. Well, it may be possible to down one, but not without a ton of grinding for upgrade components and CP.

Grinding is nothing new for veteran FF fans like myself, but I’m not sure I have the fortitude and patience for it anymore. Between higher level crystarium nodes requiring between 4k-10k CP and the continued scarcity of gil to buy components to upgrade equipment you can waste DAYS grinding. There are (side) missions you can undertake to give some meaning to the otherwise all-out grind-fest but these aren’t fun to complete either. Usually the mission descriptions do an adequate job of telling you what you need to kill and whereabouts to find your mark, but without a map of any kind giving you an idea to where these locales are you’ll be wandering aimlessly hoping that you’re going the right way.

Considering that I’m anxious to get back to Mass Effect 2, I decided that it was in my best interest to ignore these and push on through the storyline. What a mistake. I started blindly heading in the direction of the yellow arrow and discovered that in doing so, you’ll eventually be led to packs of behemoths. Oids >.< Eventually I found a path where I could skirt around a behemoth and fenris/wolf engaged in mortal combat and ended up finding a cave leading onto the next area I was meant to go to.

While it might seem a little contradictory, I am a completionist when it comes to exploration in Final Fantasy games and when I discovered a side-path in this cave that I had to take. It led to a room where my rag-tag team of three proceeded to get utterly decimated by the Juggernaut. I’m the Juggernaut, bitch! Okay, optional boss I figured and with my tail tucked between my legs I headed down the other path straight into another brick wall.

This time the wall was a seemingly ordinary pack of mechanical enemies with a larger “commander” unit in the back which could call in reinforcements slightly faster than I could take them down and then proceed to buff them to make them dangerous. I tried a number of tactics to tackle this normal encounter but I ended up banging my head against this wall for about 20 minutes. Initially I tried burning the adds and but couldn’t keep up with the reinforcements enough to put a dent in the big guy. Then I tried buffing my team and focusing solely on the big guy but once his adds are buffed, they just tore through me.

Eventually I decided to try my luck just by focusing my attention solely on the big guy by switching to RAVx3 after getting that initial powerchain to stymie the stagger decay and fortunately that worked. Relieved I proceeded onto the next platform to be rewarded for my hard work by a pack of 5 bombs. /wrists. After several futile attempts at burning down enough of the bombs to survive the inevitable self-destructs I threw my hands up in the air and turned the system off.

Leading up to this point I had encountered a number of fail-screens mainly from boss encounters and the odd puzzle encounter, but never from a pack of normal monsters. My frustration from these encounters has only been rivaled by the Eidolons themselves (Bahamut I’m looking at you). When your team is perfectly happy standing in the middle of a pack of bombs about to self-destruct I yearn for the ability to move my team leader ala Final Fantasy XII.

So I’m at a weird cross-roads with Final Fantasy XIII. Either grind to keep progressing through the story which I’m becoming disenchanted with, or put the game down and set it next to VI and VIII as the 3rd Final Fantasy game (main series) that has pissed me off to the point where I could care less about finishing it. It is hard to find the motivation to keep going especially with Mass Effect 2 whispering sweet-nothings in my ear, but I suppose I owe it to myself as a Final Fantasy fan-boy to keep going …

Paradigm

I’m closing in on 16 hours of playtime in Final Fantasy XIII and I hate to say it, but I’m pretty disappointed with the game so far. There’s something amiss in FFXIII besides the horrible pacing, awkward cinematography, and convoluted and relatively uninteresting storyline. I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet but I think it has to do with the lack of control I have had, even 16 hours in.

My complaints with the pacing of FFXIII are multifold from the frequency of save points to the battle system, even the item and story progression. You’ll often encounter save points on both sides of a cut-scene and then go through an entire “level” without one unless there’s a boss battle. There’s no rhyme or reason to the placement for many of the save points, but they do serve a secondary purpose: upgrading your equipment and shopping the miscellaneous “eCommerce” stores.

This secondary purpose raises more issues with the game thanks to the extreme scarcity of materials used for upgrading equipment and gil that is provided early on. Well I should state that you’re given enough materials to upgrade a couple of items a number of times but that presents yet another problem. You’re given so many weapons and pieces of equipment that you can’t upgrade them all which adds insult to injury because if you’ve spent any time upgrading any of your early weapons they’re far more powerful than anything you receive later in the game.

Even the pacing at which you upgrade equipment is strange with some items only requiring 300-500 points to level up and others requiring 1000+. There’s even a multiplier mechanic thrown in for good measure that requires the heavy usage of junk materials to increase the bonus multiplier for materials consumed while upgrading. You can keep bumping the multiplier with junk to reach a 5x multiplier (I think) but it requires a metric ton of junk as the highest I’ve reached is a 3x multiplier. This multiplier isn’t permanent, however, as beneficial materials used will decrease the bonus multiplier.

Certain types of materials are better for upgrading different kinds of weapons and equipment but you’re not given an interface to make this process simple and easy to understand. You’re forced to pick a weapon or piece of equipment and then manually go through all of your materials one at a time to see if it’s beneficial or not. It’s all very convoluted and horribly executed and explained.

You are given the ability to buy some materials from the save point stores but you’re given so little gil in the beginning that I’m wondering why these stores are even provided. I have been hoarding all the gil I’ve received so far and I currently only have 5600 gil. Yes, that’s right … 5600 gil after 15 hours of play. ><;

I’m hopeful that once the game finally opens up that many of these issues will be resolved. I feel like I’ve been playing an extended prologue as I still have no control over my party as the storyline splits the six protagonists into groups of two with the occasional intersection of paths for a fully fledged three person party. You’re also not given control of whom you want to be the party leader, so occasionally you’ll be in control of a character with paradigms that you’re not comfortable with.

You can think of paradigms as your classic final fantasy jobs or roles, but with new and exciting names! Can you sense the sarcasm? For example, instead of white mage, you’re a medic. You’re given the ability to change your party’s paradigms on a whim to suit the situation by selecting one of (up to) six preset combinations, (these are given exciting names as well!) and for boss encounters you’ll be doing this frequently. Generally you’re given enough paradigm combinations to cover most situations, but you may want to double check and create a combination or two with more than one medic or all ravagers.

One reason you’ll need to switch paradigms is too build up a stagger meter to drastically increase damage once an enemy is staggered. This stagger meter is not always easy to fill as the stagger point will vary from enemy to enemy as well as the attacks effective at filling the meter. This is where you’ll need to be mindful of the paradigms active in your party. Ravagers are great at bursting the meter up but that build-up quickly decays without having a Commando attacking the same target to slow the stagger meter’s decay.

You don’t need a commando active at all times to prevent the meter decay as I’ve switched to all ravagers to build up the meter on boss encounters as their stagger point is usually difficult to reach. You just need to pay attention to the meter and execute paradigm shifts and abilities as necessary. Your party leader can queue up abilities which cost a varying amount of action points: single target attacks requires one point, area attacks require two points and summons require three (I think). Initially you start off with three action points per command sequence, but once that character unlocks their Eidolon (summon) you’re given four points.

You’re also given the option to manually queue up abilities, or hand the reigns over to the computer to make the decisions for you by selecting auto-battle. Usually auto-battle is decent, but you’ll probably want to dictate how you want to apply debuffs to the enemies if controlling a Saboteur. In one battle where I controlled Vanille auto-battle wanted to apply poison multiple times without decovering or defaithing.

Once the abilities are queued manually or by auto-battle the ATB meter will begin filling and the abilities will automatically execute one after another once the meter fills. While the meter fills you can press the triangle button or Y button to execute the commands in which their segments are filled and cancel the remaining queued commands. Why would I want to do that? Occasionally you’ll run into a situation where you need an attack NOW to prevent the stagger meter from completely depleting or relaunching an enemy before they have a chance to retaliate.

However, it is more likely that you may use this when you do not need an entire ATB meter to finish off an enemy. Because of all these mechanics to the battle engine and the speed in which everything plays out, battles have never felt twitchier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to frustration if you find yourself frantically trying to swap in a medic or two to prevent your party leader from dying; if your party leader dies, it is game over.

Overall the battle engine feels like a bastardized child of Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy X-2 which isn’t a bad thing. I just think that it could have benefitted from the action slowing down or pausing during command sequences to eliminate the frantic feel to a lot of the boss battles I’ve encountered. I’m sure some folks out there will love it, but because of the frantic nature of battle the engine lends itself to being more reactive than strategic. I’ve found combat really enjoyable so far but feel that if some of the frantic chaos was taken out, it would have been perfect.

Outside of the mechanics Final Fantasy XIII’s story and character development has been another disappointment for me. The entire first hour was extremely painful for me to get through as you’re tossed into the middle of an assault with a number of characters that are so incredibly stereotypical that you could care less what happens. Toss in the convoluted concepts of the fal’Cie and l’Cie and the battle between Cocoon and Pulse and you’re completely lost.

Things did pick up once I got through the fal’Cie interior and once the initial five protagonists were branded as l’Cie I was hooked. Unfortunately every time the story picked up, it tripped over itself and all momentum lost. There will be a building sense of urgency only to be ruined by short cut-scenes where the characters are casually or lethargically getting through the script. Sometimes they’ll have out-of-character moments leaving you scratching your head, but I think that has to deal more with Japanese storytelling style.

I’m having a hard time feeling compelled to keep going to the point where the game finally opens up. No game should ever demand so much of an investment from it’s players before becoming completely enjoyable. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m such a Final Fantasy fan-boy, I probably wouldn’t still be playing XIII as I’d rather be playing Mass Effect 2. Had the game not taken 5+ years in development and been released on PS2 it might have fared better in a pre-ME world.

Editor’s Note: I completely forgot to cover the Crystarium system which is how you “level” in Final Fantasy XIII. It is very similar to FFX’s sphere grid, just in 3d. No complaints here. I also forgot to cover Eidolons in detail, but I’ll save that for another update since I still haven’t grasped that system completely.

Diversions

How awesome are the new 5 mans in the Frozen Halls? I know right? Er, well … I haven’t seen them yet. What little time that I have had in WoW was spent setting up add-ons and running one PUG with the new dungeon finder tool. I’m determined to use pitbull again but ver.4 has a different learning curve to setting up than ver.3 did. I figure that since this should be the last major patch until the 4.0 roll-out prior to Cataclysm any time I spend on getting my UI just right will be worth it.

Considering that I don’t have much to comment on with patch 3.3, I figure I’ll shift the focus on this entry towards console gaming and the upcoming diversions from WoW. There have already been a large number of games released this holiday season that I’m interested in, but I’m always looking forward. Assassin’s Creed II, Borderlands, Uncharted 2 … Meh! Who needs them right? Let’s look to first quarter of 2010 for what really has me excited. Old games are old news is what I always say ^^;

Right out of the gate January has two games that I am really looking forward to: Darksiders and Bayonetta. The buzz revolving around Darksiders is very positive, but I’m hoping a demo gets released in the coming weeks so I can try it out for myself. I downloaded the Bayonetta demo and WOW that’s how you start a demo. It doesn’t slow down in January either with Dark Void and Mass Effect 2 on their heels. Dark Void is likely to get overlooked by many but I’ll check it out based off how much I loved Crimson Skies. Mass Effect 2 is a no-brainer … but I still need to pick up Mass Effect and finish it first.

February isn’t quite as packed with titles that cause me to salivate but there are a couple of titles that I’ll mention. As blasphemous as this might be I could care less about Bioshock 2. I didn’t like Bioshock, the control just felt off and as cool as the atmosphere seemed, it just didn’t grab me. Where Bioshock 2 fails to excite me Star Trek Online exceeds in tapping the inner-trekkie inside of me. Away missions aside the game looks amazingly fun. DS9 uniforms?! Hell yes. I loved TNG and DS9 (season 4+) and cannot wait to captain a cruiser through the Gamma quadrant and kick some Dominion ass (okay, that might be getting ahead of myself).

February closes with a bang with Splinter Cell: Conviction which is a little surprising coming from me. I’ve never been a fan of the Splinter Cell series, but Conviction just looks bad-ass. Obvious inspiration from the Borne movies as well as Fox’s 24 seems to have shifted Conviction into a game that I look forward to playing. Speaking of 24, season 8 is going to absorb my Monday nights. I am a huge Jack Bauer fan and should my wife and I ever have a boy, he will be named James “Jack Bauer” Rainwater. 😉

Finally the grand-daddy of all diversions will come in March as Final Fantasy XIII is released. As much as I love the Warcraft universe, Final Fantasy has and will always be #1 in my heart. Once FFXIII drops my WoW playtime will disappear until I’m completely satisfied and finished with FFXIII. I just need to decide whether I’ll pick it up on 360 or PS3 should a PS3 slim find its way into my home during the Christmas holiday.