Final Fantasy Feeding Frenzy

So I’ve begun playing the epic Japanese RPG that is Final Fantasy XIII. It’s been sitting on the pile of things to play for a little while now, losing out to smaller, more accessible (so me) games like Mass Effect or Bioshock 2. But now the wrappers have come off and I’ve played through the first hour or so of it, gathering some initial impressions.

Importantly, I’ve not really played a game from this genre before – I dabbled a little with Final Fantasy X, but never made it all that far, and I keep meaning to play Final Fantasy VII, but haven’t. As such, I’m not really familiar with how these games are “meant to be” and am presumably missing out of vast swathes of important information, attitudes, and the like. Nonetheless, it’s already been pretty fascinating.

For one thing, in terms of being cinematic, it’s pretty amazing. The CG cut-scenes (and even the in-game graphics) are pretty phenomenal looking, though of course in that particular style which doesn’t necessarily agree with everyone. I don’t love it stylistically, but I find myself impressed by the sheer level of detail and effort that’s gone into producing the visuals for the game.

But games are games and not movies, so how’s the gameplay? Well, hmmm. From my perspective thus far, there’s been surprisingly little gameplay at all – I’d even hesitate to say I’ve been “playing” FFXIII because that’s not really what it’s felt like, not intentional in the way that I think of “play” as being. To summarise my experience thus far, there are three basic things that happen. One, you watch cut-scenes, a lot of them. They’re pretty gorgeous, intense, and all that. They move along a narrative which is still a bit opaque to me, but I can live with that in the early stages. Two, you navigate an entirely linear space (this may change, but for now it’s been linear). Not a creative experience by any means, and so far there hasn’t actually been much to look at, so it’s been a case of, more or less, holding “forward” and moving along. Three, you fight. Thus far – and, again, it’s early days yet – this has meant pressing the “A” button a whole lot and winning battles with various kinds of enemies.

All that is to say that thus far I could write a bot to play the game that basically always moved forwards (and veered occasionally to account for minor terrain variations), and hit A all the time. That bot would do just as well as I have so far. I am that bot. And that’s kind of the issue right now. It’s not so much that I’m playing FFXIII as that I’m feeding it. I feed the game the basic food pellets of movement and “A”-pressing, and it feeds me the narrative cut-scenes.

That’s our relationship as it stands right now. For all that, I don’t intensely dislike the game, it’s just not feeling like a game as I know it. Further, I fully accept that this could all change in the near future as the game introduces me to larger aspects of the combat system, navigation of the world, and on and on. This is just a super early impression and I’m looking forward to getting to understand the genre a little better as I go. These games aren’t as popular as they are because people love pressing “forward” and “A” a lot, I’m thinking.

Still, for the moment, I feel more or less like a hamster in a wheel watching a TV powered by the wheel. Not unpleasant, but not what I’d call agency.

23 September 2010
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