Chapter 4 (Vile Peaks)
After taking a few days off, I made my way through a bunch of Vile Peaks. Now that the battle system has mostly opened up, I’ve been enjoying messing with different paradigm progressions in battles, and feel like I’ve developed a much better grasp of the mechanics. I may be giving the developers too much credit, but this section of the game feels like it was designed to give the player an opportunity to do exactly that — they force a bunch of different character combinations on you, and force you to play without a Commando, demonstrating how important they are for damage dealing and chain retention.
Setting up paradigms appeals to me in much the same way setting up build orders and unit compositions did in Starcraft II — they’re obviously quite different, but they both require you to prioritize competing factors and understand timings. You’ve got to balance chain building (RAV); chain retention and damage dealing (COM); buffs (SYN); debuffs (SAB); healing (MED); and tanking (SEN). For the first little while, I wasn’t putting enough stock in buffs and debuffs, but after hitting a hard battle, I decided to lead off with RAV/SYN/SAB and sometimes switch to MED/SYN/SAB (rather than MED/RAV/RAV), which made a huge difference. Of course, this also burns time (which stops you from playing too defensively), so I’ve been trying to find a good balance. Realizing that I could save the chain gauge from expiring by expediting an attack felt awesome, and it wasn’t something I needed to have spelled out for me. As with any gameplay system (especially one in a 50+ hour game), I’m sure the novelty will eventually wear off, but this one deserves credit for allowing you to make meaningful tactical decisions, rewarding exploration, but still being easy to pick up.
It’s definitely not perfect, however. I’ve hit a few battles that I’ve scored 0–3 stars in despite not obviously doing anything wrong — I’m hoping this was just a result of being stuck with two non-complementary characters. It would be nice if the game gave you a quick way of switching your opening paradigm — while I like leading with buffs, it’s probably not worth the time investment for easier battles, and I’m sure there will be points in the game where I’ll want to vary my opening depending on the enemies I’m facing. I’d love it they gave you a Xenoblade-style countdown timer for charging enemy attacks, as I’ve had trouble getting a handle on when they’ll hit.
I don’t have any real story progress to comment on, as this section was gameplay-heavy, but looking back through my Datapad events section I came across this entry:
Having made their escape, Lightning and the others pass through the ruins of a city damaged several centuries ago in the war with Pulse.
Amidst the rubble, they happen upon an airship which they board in the hope of finally shaking the relentless army.
I may have missed something, but the fact that I was running through the ruins of a city wasn’t totally clear to me until I read this. I know I’ve already talked about the aimless nature of parts of this game, but finding out that I basically totally missed the significance of an area was a telling example. It’s possible that I missed some in-game comments from a party member, but considering how messed up the mixing can be for these when you’re not near the speaker (and I play with headphones!), I’m not taking full responsibility for that.