Look, it’s largely my fault it’s been a 10 days since part 9, but I’ve got an excuse: I’ve progressed very little. After fighting Barthandelus part 2, which was about as easy as Dahaka, I teleported back to Archylte Steppe to finish missions. I’ve written enough about combat, and there’s been little story to speak of, so I’m going to devote this entry to one of the most exasperating things about this game: this mission system.
If you’ve forgotten or haven’t played the game (why are you reading this?), about 2/3 of the way through Final Fantasy XIII, the game introduces a side-quest system that consists of 64 numbered missions. Each one involves killing a monster, often one that’s nowhere near where you are. You get them from floating Cie’th Stones, which, when approached, give you a short, forgettable text description of their (failed) mission, which you can choose to take on. From there, you run to where the monster is (which, as a result of the map and fast travel system, isn’t always clear) and kill it. Rinse, wash, and repeat. It didn’t help that I ended up being over-levelled for everything up to class B missions (and under-leveled for class A missions?), but that’s not the core issue.
It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s boring, soulless, and repetitive. At their best, side-quests tell interesting stories, flesh out the game universe, encourage exploration, and give players reason to experiment. Final Fantasy XIII’s side quests encourage exploration, and that’s about it. The little mission blurbs were, I assume, supposed to provide a window into pre-War of Transgression Pulse and the plight of the l’Cie, but it’s such half-assed exposition that I can’t in good conscience give Square Enix credit for it. The mission system feels like the result of them running out of time, cancelling a bunch of Gran Pulse story-relevant mission, and scrambling to fill the vast expanse of with content.
Pacing is a huge issue — side-quests should have been spread throughout the game, not crammed into a single bottleneck area with no story significance. It’s technically possible to mix story progression with side-quest completion, but the path of least resistance seems to be to arrive at Gran Pulse, grind through Cie’th stone missions for 10+ hours, go on to Oerba, and maybe return before the point of no return. That’s ridiculous, and totally defeats the point of side-quests. Nobody expects side-quests to be of the same calibre as the main game, and that’s why the player should be encouraged (and ideally, through gradual doling out, forced) to complete them at a leisurely pace.
The general impression I got from reading about Final Fantasy XIII was that Gran Pulse was the point at which the game clicked for people. For me, it was the opposite: Gran Pulse was the point at which my interest lulled and momentum slowed. This same thing — at approximately the same point — happened to me in Xenoblade. It’s obviously a different scenario, because Xenoblade’s side-quest pacing was largely sane, but the feeling of boredly grinding through mailed-in sidequests before entering the last stretch of the game is very similar.
As much as I could poke holes in a lot of aspects of Final Fantasy XIII’s story, it’s apparent that it’s the reason I’m playing. Developing an interesting story then putting it on hold for 10-15 hours is bad game design, plain and simple, and I’m glad to have it behind me.
P.S. I love the Chocobo riding theme. It’s an unironic jazz funk piece with soprano sax solos and a bongo breakdown, and I unironically wouldn’t have it any other way.