Final Fantasy XIII Part 10: Cie’th Stones

Posted by GrantHeaslip (1500 posts) -

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.

#1 Posted by Demoskinos (14512 posts) -

The stones are there to give you something to do post-game. They are entirely avoidable if you want but I personally loved diving into them since they featured the hardest fights in the game which really tested the limits of the battle system. The point wasn't and never was story based with these quests it was always about showing off how much damn fun the battle system is. Many of these fights you can't just casually stroll into you need to be prepared and sometimes outfit your party with specific weapons, items , accessories before even attempting it.

#2 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1500 posts) -

@demoskinos said:

The stones are there to give you something to do post-game. They are entirely avoidable if you want but I personally loved diving into them since they featured the hardest fights in the game which really tested the limits of the battle system. The point wasn't and never was story based with these quests it was always about showing off how much damn fun the battle system is. Many of these fights you can't just casually stroll into you need to be prepared and sometimes outfit your party with specific weapons, items , accessories before even attempting it.

That wasn’t the case with the early ones. I played everything up to 35 (the Titan’s Trial), and some 50-somethings, and breezed through almost all of them. It may somewhat be on me for coming back after Oerba though.

#3 Posted by Slag (3897 posts) -

well to be fair Gran Pulse isn't clicking for you because you seem to be playing like I tend to, which is to pounce on all or most side quests as they come available before moving along.

If you play Gran Pulse that way, it's really overwhelming and even worse dull. Pretty to look at but sparse on the story bits of carrot that keep my motivation to grind up.

Like you said the pacing is single biggest flaw this game has. It's all or nothing re: story.

My guess is that it was gamble on Square's part since the story features the protagonists on the run and it probably didn't make a lot of story sense for the fugitive heroes to be to doing fetch quests during said flight. In past FF games (IV in particular comes to mind) Square didn't seem to have a problem with letting the heroes have some downtime while being pursued, but I get what they were trying to do here. Great in theory not so great in practice. Even if they only let you do sidequests every three chapters or so, it would have been a dramatic improvement in terms of gameplay pacing.

but I think what a lot of people liked about Gran Pulse, was that they just enjoyed that the corridor was over (at least for a time) and could move at their own pace and probably unlike us they only did 3-5 ish Cieth stones before plunging right back in. An illusion perhaps, but it's the perception of player control of the pacing that I think that most people prefer.

#4 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1500 posts) -

@slag said:

well to be fair Gran Pulse isn't clicking for you because you seem to be playing like I tend to, which is to pounce on all or most side quests as they come available before moving along.

If you play Gran Pulse that way, it's really overwhelming and even worse dull. Pretty to look at but sparse on the story bits of carrot that keep my motivation to grind up.

Like you said the pacing is single biggest flaw this game has. It's all or nothing re: story.

My guess is that it was gamble on Square's part since the story features the protagonists on the run and it probably didn't make a lot of story sense for the fugitive heroes to be to doing fetch quests during said flight. In past FF games (IV in particular comes to mind) Square didn't seem to have a problem with letting the heroes have some downtime while being pursued, but I get what they were trying to do here. Great in theory not so great in practice. Even if they only let you do sidequests every three chapters or so, it would have been a dramatic improvement in terms of gameplay pacing.

but I think what a lot of people liked about Gran Pulse, was that they just enjoyed that the corridor was over (at least for a time) and could move at their own pace and probably unlike us they only did 3-5 ish Cieth stones before plunging right back in. An illusion perhaps, but it's the perception of player control of the pacing that I think that most people prefer.

The problem is that it’s not so easy to go back once you leave Gran Pulse — or at least, it seems that way. I only knew I could go back because I looked it up. Based on the way the rest of the game had progressed, and the way the ship to Cocoon presents itself as a point of no return, my uninformed inclination would have been to do everything before leaving.

Most of the Gran Pulse stuff is also very clearly balanced to be played when you first arrive. Even after a relatively short detour through to Oerba, I ended up being overpowered enough that none of the Cie’th stone battles were challenging.

I get the story angle, but it’s not like the story was set in stone and they were forced to design a game around it. Even if they absolutely couldn’t budge on the story arc, I’m sure JRPG gamers would understand if there was a game mechanic at odds with the story.

#5 Posted by Slag (3897 posts) -

The problem is that it’s not so easy to go back once you leave Gran Pulse — or at least, it seems that way. I only knew I could go back because I looked it up. Based on the way the rest of the game had progressed, and the way the ship to Cocoon presents itself as a point of no return, my uninformed inclination would have been to do everything before leaving.

Most of the Gran Pulse stuff is also very clearly balanced to be played when you first arrive. Even after a relatively short detour through to Oerba, I ended up being overpowered enough that none of the Cie’th stone battles were challenging.

I get the story angle, but it’s not like the story was set in stone and they were forced to design a game around it. Even if they absolutely couldn’t budge on the story arc, I’m sure JRPG gamers would understand if there was a game mechanic at odds with the story.

I won't argue with you there.

Just trying to point out why that perception is our there imo.

And you are right the game does a very poor job of communicating at all when to do the Cieth stones or how readily available they will be to do. In retrospect some are clearly optimized for your first trip through Archylte Steppes and some are clearly meant for end game/post game. And the game doesn't really give the player a good idea how many are which. I just eventually moved onto back into the corridor when I realize there were some high level ones that were going to crush me unless I power grinded and figured I would mess with the rest in post game.

What's even worse and you wouldn't know this, but when that message has appeared in past Final Fantasy games your initial interpretation would have been correct (especially the ps1 era ones if memory serves). I.e. if you want to do sidequests this was your last opportunity to do so.

so yeah they could have handled a lot of this a lot better.

#6 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1500 posts) -

@slag said:

What's even worse and you wouldn't know this, but when that message has appeared in past Final Fantasy games your initial interpretation would have been correct (especially the ps1 era ones if memory serves). I.e. if you want to do sidequests this was your last opportunity to do so.

The point of no return is a pretty standard characteristic of RPGs of any type, isn’t it? Basically any game with progression-based game systems and a distinct end-game area will have a warning (especially in the age of achievements, trophies, and auto-saves). I know the Mass Effect games had pretty blatant “hey, maybe finish all your stuff?” warnings, and I think Xenoblade had a couple of them. Even some Zelda games have it if memory serves.

Cheers again for the input!

#7 Posted by ZombiePie (5556 posts) -
<>

Tell me I'm not the only person to notice this.

Moderator Online
#8 Edited by Slag (3897 posts) -

@slag said:

What's even worse and you wouldn't know this, but when that message has appeared in past Final Fantasy games your initial interpretation would have been correct (especially the ps1 era ones if memory serves). I.e. if you want to do sidequests this was your last opportunity to do so.

The point of no return is a pretty standard characteristic of RPGs of any type, isn’t it? Basically any game with progression-based game systems and a distinct end-game area will have a warning (especially in the age of achievements, trophies, and auto-saves). I know the Mass Effect games had pretty blatant “hey, maybe finish all your stuff?” warnings, and I think Xenoblade had a couple of them. Even some Zelda games have it if memory serves.

Cheers again for the input!

It is and it was one thing I was very glad to see gone/improved in 13 and 13-2. I much prefer the option of being able to do that stuff post game if I want to. Nothing causes RPG grinding burnout faster than having to grind for 10-30 on sidequests before making the final Boss run.

I've always been lukewarm on the new game + thing too. Most long games I just want to lay through once and maybe some parts twice. 13-2 in particular I felt did a great job of handling post game for an RPG. It has tons of collectible sidequests, some new story content and allows you to replay any part of the game at your leisure Lord knows it did a lot of other things wrong , but it sure did the post game as well or better than just about any JRPG I've played to date.

no problem man, looking forward to seeing your thoughts as move onto the next chapter of the game!

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.