Final Fantasy XIII Part 6: Catching up

I’ve come quite a long way since my last proper entry — I’m at the beginning of chapter 9. The crew has just joined up with Cid Raines, and Sazh just shot himself (though I know he’s not actually dead — he’s in Gran Pulse in the opening cinematic). I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so here we go:

Story

I’m generally feeling pretty good about the way the story has come together. A lot of the concerns I had earlier in the game — especially with respect to characters — have been at least partially addressed.

Hope’s one-sided, silent resentment of Snow is a poor plot device if just because it goes on for way too goddamned long, but I don’t think it’s entirely unrealistic — teenagers are angsty, irrational idiots. In a lot of ways, it would be weird if a 14-year-old boy who just lost his mother, was being hunted by thousands of soldiers, and is probably cursed to death wasn’t borderline deranged. I think we have this weird expectation that game characters should always be as rational as the player, even when making the rational choice would be totally out of character. I was cursing the game as Hope tried to kill Snow as the two were being chased around a city by cyborgs and jetpack snipers, but from his perspective, they were probably screwed anyways, and this was his chance to enact his revenge.

Vanille’s character has also turned out better than I expected. I think I’m still missing key information (and I’m behind on my Datapad homework), but if I’m reading this correctly, her childish personality was partially a put-on to get the group to take her in without asking too many questions, and partially a coping mechanism. The game hinted as much when she voiced over parts of cutscenes, but when I look back at the some of the obnoxious stuff she did earlier in the game (and even stuff as basic as her run animation), it’s a little hard to accept that she was just a really good actress.

Lightning and Snow have revealed themselves to be more complex characters, and Sazh has avoided being comic relief. I don't think this game did itself any favours with its bait-and-switch character development, but at least the switches happened earlier rather than later.

Character development aside, I’m happy to be near the end of The Corridor. It didn’t bug me as much as others, but having the first 20 hours of an RPG take place on a linear corridor with no secondary objectives seems like such a misguided idea one wonders how it happened. It makes sense in the context of the characters being on the run, but maybe Square Enix should have found a way to condense the storyline in favour of gameplay variety.

To their credit, it’s not as if things haven’t been happening. There’s been some pretty good story arcs: Lightning providing Hope with the emotional and physical ammunition he needed to kill Snow before realizing she was avoiding her own regrets; the revelations about Sazh’s reasons for joining the Purge, how connected Vanille was to what happened to Dajh, and Sazh’s confrontation with Vanille (in which he confirms what an awesome character he is); the tensions between the Guardian Corps and PSICOM; and hints about what the Fal’Cie actually are.

In all sincerity, I think this Final Fantasy XIII has been telling a better story than Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s still got time to screw everything up, but I’m much more invested in the characters, universe, and plot than I ever was in Xenoblade. Whereas I saw almost every event in Xenoblade coming from a mile away, Final Fantasy XIII has surprised me a number of times. The pacing is much better, though to be fair, it’s much easier to pace a story when you’ve got complete control over what the player does.

Gameplay

As with the story progression, I’m a bit disappointed with how long it’s taken for the gameplay to open up. As a novice to the series, I appreciated gameplay concepts being introduced at a slower pace, but I'm just plain sick of playing with two member parties. The paradigm system is clearly balanced for three-member parties, and it makes using paradigms besides COM-RAV and RAV-RAV awkward without completely killing the pace of battles. In particular, playing with a Sentinel feels weird, and I’ve been left relegating the role to healing cover and defence for near-guaranteed-death attacks.

Speaking of Sentinels, they take some getting used to, and the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining them. At the point they’re introduced, the game starts throwing enemies with the aforementioned if-you-don’t-block-this-you’re-dead attacks at you. To know how to handle them, you not only need to understand aggro and blocking, but you need to develop a pretty good sense of enemy attack patterns, how long it takes to generate aggro, and when to start blocking so you don’t over/under-shoot the hit. I spent a while not realizing an attack was coming until I saw it charging, which is usually too late to paradigm shift, provoke, and guard. It doesn’t help that auto-battle seems to often spend an extra cycle provoking, leading to some exasperating “oh fuck, I didn’t want to to that” moments. For a game with such a shallow learning curve, hitting you with a bunch of poorly-explained vital gameplay concepts at once is a bizarre choice.

Lastly, the equipment upgrade system seems poorly designed. I had the sense to do some research when it unlocked, and discovered that to use resources optimally, you need to essentially game the system. I don’t understand why games do this — does anyone find these sorts of math-heavy, easy-to-do-it-wrong systems fun? Unlocking a gameplay system only to be told I’m a chump if I touch it in the next 15 hours just plain sucks. This isn’t just a case of nerds over-thinking a system — the way the multiplier system is designed, coupled with the inscrutability of component multiplier values, encourages material hoarding and leaves players without vital information. In an act of defiance, I spent some materials upgrading characters weapons (weapons I’d chosen by looking at what message boards suggested), and very quickly regretted it, as the yield wasn’t what I’d expected. To put this in more general terms, the player should be able to understand the choices they’re making — and predict the outcomes of actions — without having to consult message boards and wikis.

10 Comments
11 Comments
Posted by GrantHeaslip

I’ve come quite a long way since my last proper entry — I’m at the beginning of chapter 9. The crew has just joined up with Cid Raines, and Sazh just shot himself (though I know he’s not actually dead — he’s in Gran Pulse in the opening cinematic). I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so here we go:

Story

I’m generally feeling pretty good about the way the story has come together. A lot of the concerns I had earlier in the game — especially with respect to characters — have been at least partially addressed.

Hope’s one-sided, silent resentment of Snow is a poor plot device if just because it goes on for way too goddamned long, but I don’t think it’s entirely unrealistic — teenagers are angsty, irrational idiots. In a lot of ways, it would be weird if a 14-year-old boy who just lost his mother, was being hunted by thousands of soldiers, and is probably cursed to death wasn’t borderline deranged. I think we have this weird expectation that game characters should always be as rational as the player, even when making the rational choice would be totally out of character. I was cursing the game as Hope tried to kill Snow as the two were being chased around a city by cyborgs and jetpack snipers, but from his perspective, they were probably screwed anyways, and this was his chance to enact his revenge.

Vanille’s character has also turned out better than I expected. I think I’m still missing key information (and I’m behind on my Datapad homework), but if I’m reading this correctly, her childish personality was partially a put-on to get the group to take her in without asking too many questions, and partially a coping mechanism. The game hinted as much when she voiced over parts of cutscenes, but when I look back at the some of the obnoxious stuff she did earlier in the game (and even stuff as basic as her run animation), it’s a little hard to accept that she was just a really good actress.

Lightning and Snow have revealed themselves to be more complex characters, and Sazh has avoided being comic relief. I don't think this game did itself any favours with its bait-and-switch character development, but at least the switches happened earlier rather than later.

Character development aside, I’m happy to be near the end of The Corridor. It didn’t bug me as much as others, but having the first 20 hours of an RPG take place on a linear corridor with no secondary objectives seems like such a misguided idea one wonders how it happened. It makes sense in the context of the characters being on the run, but maybe Square Enix should have found a way to condense the storyline in favour of gameplay variety.

To their credit, it’s not as if things haven’t been happening. There’s been some pretty good story arcs: Lightning providing Hope with the emotional and physical ammunition he needed to kill Snow before realizing she was avoiding her own regrets; the revelations about Sazh’s reasons for joining the Purge, how connected Vanille was to what happened to Dajh, and Sazh’s confrontation with Vanille (in which he confirms what an awesome character he is); the tensions between the Guardian Corps and PSICOM; and hints about what the Fal’Cie actually are.

In all sincerity, I think this Final Fantasy XIII has been telling a better story than Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s still got time to screw everything up, but I’m much more invested in the characters, universe, and plot than I ever was in Xenoblade. Whereas I saw almost every event in Xenoblade coming from a mile away, Final Fantasy XIII has surprised me a number of times. The pacing is much better, though to be fair, it’s much easier to pace a story when you’ve got complete control over what the player does.

Gameplay

As with the story progression, I’m a bit disappointed with how long it’s taken for the gameplay to open up. As a novice to the series, I appreciated gameplay concepts being introduced at a slower pace, but I'm just plain sick of playing with two member parties. The paradigm system is clearly balanced for three-member parties, and it makes using paradigms besides COM-RAV and RAV-RAV awkward without completely killing the pace of battles. In particular, playing with a Sentinel feels weird, and I’ve been left relegating the role to healing cover and defence for near-guaranteed-death attacks.

Speaking of Sentinels, they take some getting used to, and the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining them. At the point they’re introduced, the game starts throwing enemies with the aforementioned if-you-don’t-block-this-you’re-dead attacks at you. To know how to handle them, you not only need to understand aggro and blocking, but you need to develop a pretty good sense of enemy attack patterns, how long it takes to generate aggro, and when to start blocking so you don’t over/under-shoot the hit. I spent a while not realizing an attack was coming until I saw it charging, which is usually too late to paradigm shift, provoke, and guard. It doesn’t help that auto-battle seems to often spend an extra cycle provoking, leading to some exasperating “oh fuck, I didn’t want to to that” moments. For a game with such a shallow learning curve, hitting you with a bunch of poorly-explained vital gameplay concepts at once is a bizarre choice.

Lastly, the equipment upgrade system seems poorly designed. I had the sense to do some research when it unlocked, and discovered that to use resources optimally, you need to essentially game the system. I don’t understand why games do this — does anyone find these sorts of math-heavy, easy-to-do-it-wrong systems fun? Unlocking a gameplay system only to be told I’m a chump if I touch it in the next 15 hours just plain sucks. This isn’t just a case of nerds over-thinking a system — the way the multiplier system is designed, coupled with the inscrutability of component multiplier values, encourages material hoarding and leaves players without vital information. In an act of defiance, I spent some materials upgrading characters weapons (weapons I’d chosen by looking at what message boards suggested), and very quickly regretted it, as the yield wasn’t what I’d expected. To put this in more general terms, the player should be able to understand the choices they’re making — and predict the outcomes of actions — without having to consult message boards and wikis.

Posted by Hailinel

If I recall correctly, I don't think you'll have to worry about two-character parties for much longer.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@GrantHeaslip said:

In all sincerity, I think this Final Fantasy XIII has been telling a better story than Xenoblade Chronicles.

Posted by GrantHeaslip

@Video_Game_King said:

@GrantHeaslip said:

In all sincerity, I think this Final Fantasy XIII has been telling a better story than Xenoblade Chronicles.

I don’t expect you guys to agree with me, but I remain a bit perplexed by the love of Xenoblade’s story and (especially) characters. To each their own, I suppose :).

@Hailinel said:

If I recall correctly, I don't think you'll have to worry about two-character parties for much longer.

Yeah, from the looks of things, I’m at the end of that.

Posted by Hailinel

@GrantHeaslip: The story in Xenoblade Chronicles is spread a bit thin over the vast expanse of things to do, but the characters in it are pretty damn awesome. It also doesn't expect you to read through an encyclopedia to understand its world or the plot.

Posted by GrantHeaslip

@Hailinel said:

@GrantHeaslip: The story in Xenoblade Chronicles is spread a bit thin over the vast expanse of things to do, but the characters in it are pretty damn awesome. It also doesn't expect you to read through an encyclopedia to understand its world or the plot.

I think we reached an impasse on this a while ago, but you’re right, the Datapad stuff in FFXIII sucks. Putting stuff in plot recaps that straight-up wasn’t communicated in-game is insane.

Posted by StarvingGamer
@GrantHeaslip

@Hailinel said:

@GrantHeaslip: The story in Xenoblade Chronicles is spread a bit thin over the vast expanse of things to do, but the characters in it are pretty damn awesome. It also doesn't expect you to read through an encyclopedia to understand its world or the plot.

I think we reached an impasse on this a while ago, but you’re right, the Datapad stuff in FFXIII sucks. Putting stuff in plot recaps that straight-up wasn’t communicated in-game is insane.

Is the Datapad that important? I didn't read any of it but never felt uninformed or confused at any point during the story.
Posted by Slag

hey fun to read as always! For whats it's worth your blog series got me inspired to start playing Xiii-2 off my backlog. I've rarely ever played a direct sequel so soon after beating the first game, but it feels ok this time. It's kinda nice to have the story and such so fresh in my mind when playing the sequel.

Hope’s one-sided, silent resentment of Snow is a poor plot device if just because it goes on for way too goddamned long, but I don’t think it’s entirely unrealistic — teenagers are angsty, irrational idiots. In a lot of ways, it would be weird if a 14-year-old boy who just lost his mother, was being hunted by thousands of soldiers, and is probably cursed to death wasn’t borderline deranged. I think we have this weird expectation that game characters should always be as rational as the player, even when making the rational choice would be totally out of character. I was cursing the game as Hope tried to kill Snow as the two were being chased around a city by cyborgs and jetpack snipers, but from his perspective, they were probably screwed anyways, and this was his chance to enact his revenge.

my sentiments exactly. A good character is not necessarily a likable character. I think Hope is a good teen character, his actions/perceptions rang true to me.

if anything Xbox Live is all the proof anyone needs that teen boys aren't always the most relatable/likable people.

I totally agree that weapon upgrade system is absolute garbage, easily the worst of its' kind in the Final Fantasy series and perhaps the worst aspect of the whole game. It isn't remotely explained, it's way too slow and it's prohibitively expensive. I'm well into post game and I've barely scratched the surface on it. It feels like something optimized for 200 hour+ game when this game is less than half of that.

I know what you mean about sentinels, I found myself cancelling out of excessive provokes a lot to shift into more useful things like steelguard or mediguard. There were a lot of times I just decided to forgo using them even when it would be smart to do so, since I disliked their playstyle so much. They certainly are essential the deeper you go though.

Glad you liked the last couple chapters! 6-9 through was my favorite part of the game story wise.

Posted by Petiew

You don't need to regret spending materials upgrading your weapons. There isn't a finite number of materials in the game, and everything you used is going to be inconsequential if you decide you want to upgrade weapons to the max. You'll be farming amandatoises over and over again and just buying the necessary materials from the shop.
I'd say its actually the best course of action just to upgrade your weapons as you go with the loose materials, it'll make battles much quicker. 
 
For sentinels I never found the need to use them much throughout the main game. It wasn't until XIII-2 expressly explained it that I realised sentinels have an inbuilt damage reduction ability. Just being in the sentinel role greatly reduces any damage you're taking. If you're already being hit with a big attack just switch straight to sentinel and it'll mitigate a ton of damage.
If you haven't already figured it out, auto battle isn't the best way to play.

Posted by Hailinel

@StarvingGamer said:

@GrantHeaslip

@Hailinel said:

@GrantHeaslip: The story in Xenoblade Chronicles is spread a bit thin over the vast expanse of things to do, but the characters in it are pretty damn awesome. It also doesn't expect you to read through an encyclopedia to understand its world or the plot.

I think we reached an impasse on this a while ago, but you’re right, the Datapad stuff in FFXIII sucks. Putting stuff in plot recaps that straight-up wasn’t communicated in-game is insane.

Is the Datapad that important? I didn't read any of it but never felt uninformed or confused at any point during the story.

It's really not that important; I got through the game just fine with only brief perusals into it. But there were plotpoints and characters that I did feel the need to look up because things weren't as clear as they really could have been, even in the context of the way that the story is told.

Edited by Canteu

@GrantHeaslip: I'm glad you're continuing. As advice, in real paradigm setups, Sentinel is amazing, unreal, OP if you will.

Keep at it.

And again, I implore you, please experience the best final boss music in any JRPG ever made.