I made a bunch of progress yesterday, and just reached Vile Peaks and the point at which the group splits into Lightning/Hope and Sazh/Vanille.
I’m starting to see what people talk about when they reference the one-way corridor the first 20 hours or so takes place in. I’m not particularly fatigued with it yet, but knowing what I know about how much of it I’ve got left, I’m starting to get worried. It doesn’t help that it’s not totally clear what I’m even working toward — it seems like the group’s objective right now is to keep moving, which makes sense given the circumstances, but doesn’t exactly make for an enticing carrot on a stick. I suppose I’m just supposed to accept on face value the idea that the one path open to me just happened to lead me to the plot device I needed to move to the next area.
Vanille continues to Vanille it up. Hope continues to almost to confront Snow only to turn back at the last second and silently resent him. Snow’s decision to stop and pick away at a clearly indestructible crystal had me rolling my eyes, but grief makes people act irrationally, and I guess they needed an excuse to separate him from the group. Were I not aware of Final Fantasy XIII–2, my inclination would be to assume that Serah has been dead since the moment she was petrified, so it’s kind of a bummer that I’ve had her eventual fate somewhat spoiled. I still really like Sazh — I’m curious about what his angle is, and he’s generally just likeable. While Lightning’s personality isn’t totally clear to me, I appreciate her no-nonsense attitude, lack of patience with Vanille’s childishness, and ability to call out Snow’s irrationality. I like it when game characters are annoyed at the same things I’m annoyed at.
I should say that I’m by no means hating the story so much as I’m disappointed with how some of the characters are developing. I really do want to know what’s going to happen next: I’m curious as to what’s going to come of Snow’s capture (though I know from screenshots that his captor is a future party member); I want to know the nature of the Fal’Cie; and I can see the makings of some neat political intrigue. I think they’ve created a neat game universe, and I want to see more of it.
I’ve reached the point where roles, paradigms, and the Crystarium open up, which has made the combat more interesting. Once I was tasked with levelling up character skills, I had my usual “oh god, what if I’m totally screwing this up” panic, and spent half an hour reading forum threads. It turns out that (and this is to Square Enix’s credit) there’s no weird tricks to character progression — if I stick to levelling up characters’ 3 main roles, I should be fine, and I’d really have to be actively irrational to run myself into a corner. That’s a relief.
I’ve heard there’s still a good deal of depth left to uncover, but balancing chaining, health, and damage dealing is already a pretty effective dynamic. I’ve been trying to manually stack abilities when I’ve got the time, but I can already see how auto attacks are going to be valuable once I’ve got more elemental attacks and monster weaknesses to manage. If this works the way I think it will, I like it — it removes the repetitive busywork of combat and lets you manage at a higher level.
Lastly, I want to call out some of the game’s great music:
Saber’s Edge (early boss theme). It sets the tone, but also doesn’t convey a false sense of danger. I’m not sure why, but it’s got a “hey, you’re playing a tutorial” sound to it.
Hanging Edge. It’s texturally similar to the aforementioned boss theme, and has a similar early-game sound to it.
Blinded by Light (battle theme). It’s got a great driving sound to it, builds up nicely, and doesn’t have any immediately-apparent annoying qualities. I can’t imagine the pressure on a composer writing the battle theme for a 50+ hour game.
The Vestige. An appropriately mystical-sounding ambient track.
P.S. Figuring out that Lightning shares the same voice actress as Mass Effect’s Liara was a revelation, and now that I know it, I kind of wish I didn’t.