Mainlining Final Fantasy

This past week I've loaded up my gaming syringe with a massive dose of Final Fantasy, smacked a vein with my seasoned shoulder button mashers and injected more brand love into my lifestream than ever before. With Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light being practically glued into my DS and a newfound scary obsession with building a PC capable of housing Final Fantasy XIV it's only now that I've started to come down from my hi-potion rush. I've gained perspective and I'll tell you why...

Despite the shiny new MMO and another DS spinoff, it's something less recent which has captured my imagination this week. Final Fantasy XIII. It has been sitting unloved and unappreciated on my gaming rack since February. Occasionally, I'd dipped into it, indulging my long-standing addiction, but for the most part I had found myself deterred by so many people I know who felt disenfranchised with the linearity and lack of open world exploration, the combat system and the common gripe that you have to commit 20 hours to it before it got good.

The impression I had was that FFXIII was Final Fantasy cut with asprin. Good, but ultimately, impure.

I decided this weekend that as a frequently relapsing addict, I would find a reason to ignore every single criticism that had been levelled at my gaming vice. I would fall off the wagon and I would do it in style.

So on Saturday (and indeed Sunday...and much to the umbrage of my long suffering girlfriend) I embarked on an eight hour binge through Cocoon to quell these fears of linearity and boredom. Before I knew it, I was intoxicated once more by the level of the detail and the scale of the narrative and left wondering what everyone's problem was?

In terms of linearity, this is the direction the series has been going in for a long time. Final Fantasy X presented fans with the most linear iteration of the series at the time of launch forcing players through long 'tunnels' of storytelling before presenting an 'open-world' in an unusually closed off manner. There was no wandering around a world map and global exploration was limited to secret areas you could discover with the airship's scanner.

FFXII was a similar case for long tunnels of narrative, but for me the evolution of that formula. As Square Enix became more familiar with the limitations of the technology and how far they could push it, the result was more vibrant and interesting towns and the illusion of more open explorable environments, over 70 hours of side quests and one of the most engaging tales ever told on Playstation 2. Essentially though, it was beginning to look like the convention of an overlaying world map had become a thing of the past.

I would have to concede though, that FFXIII takes tunnelling to a new level. It chews you up for 11 chapters and spits you out on Pulse where you could be forgiven for feeling like you'd inadvertantly landed yourself in a Bear Grylls-esque survival situation thus forced to squeeze Adamantoise shit for moisture and eat raw Flanitor for sustenance to have any chance of making it out alive.

Still, having played as much, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. In most FF games (and indeed most RPGs), you'll do the majority of your side-quests shortly before fighting the final boss. Sure it's nice to have the option to get some out of the way on your playthrough (FFXII catered to this exceptionally well) but does it really matter that much when you do the sidequests providing the option is there? Not to me.

The ATB system. It has evolved constantly throughout the series and despite what many might see as a monotonous and unwelcome overhaul, there is a lot of satisfaction to be gleaned from combat in FFXIII. My biggest criticism of the combat mechanics would be the hand-holdy nature in which it forces you to learn and for the first couple of hours it can become tedious in places. However, the effort ultimately pays off and after 12 hours of playing I found myself seeking fight after fight in an effort to perfect my tactics and score five stars as often as possible.

The ability to switch your party's stance at the touch of a button becomes more engaging with every new skill acquired on the Crystarium. I've become something of a Crystarium junkie, adventuring back through conquered areas to gain points only to spend them with fervour on improving the standing of my heroes. This is complimented by the upgrade system for weapons.

Isn't it about time a JRPG bucked the traditional trend of buy weapon, beat dungeon, reach next town, buy new, better weapon, beat dungeon, reach next town and so on and so forth? I'm not adverse in any way to that mechanic but it's refreshing how the design team opted to be different in this respect.

As for the notion that FFXIII takes 20 hours before it gets going, I fail to see how this is true. I'd say it takes about eight hours and seeing how you can easily spend 80 hours plus playing this game, I'm going to quantify that as 10%. 10% of FFXIII is spent learning the combat system and becoming accustomed to the linearity. Is that such an unreasonable portion of overall gameplay time to spend learning the ropes? Moreover, does FFXIII offer nothing in the way of enjoyment in its first eight hours? You're still treated to the groundwork of another epic storyline, you're blessed with some of the finest visuals seen in a video game to date and you get an introduction to the most creative use of summons magic (in my opinion) ever in the series.

Disregard these words as the mindless witterings of an FF fanboy if you will, but at the heart of Final Fantasy XIII is a fine addition to the series. Not the finest however and only time will tell if Square Enix's next offering proves to be the current gen's FFXII to the previous gen's FFX - if that makes any sense whatsoever. A friend informed me you can pick this up for under £20 now, so if like me you're regularly catting for a heavy dose of Final Fantasy and don't own this already, put your preconceptions aside and pick it up.

Despite all my love for this title, Vanille is still the most annoying character in a video game ever, wresting the crown from FFXs Yuna, and she still runs like Phoebe from friends.

I only wish Sazh had popped a cap in her ass at the end of Chapter 8...


  1. Well said :)
    I also rather enjoyed FFXIII. Need to go back sometime to get all the achievements.

  2. Thanks! :)

    I think a few of those are going to involve a serious investment of time!