1/25: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Demo, and Why I’ve Had It up To Here
(Note: This reaction may be a bit harsh, but it was my honest, raw reaction after playing this demo.)
I liked Final Fantasy XIII, I did. But I really, really, really disliked Final Fantasy XIII-2. Playing that sequel was like playing a totally different series that included the same characters: it didn’t continue the story of FFXIII, it put you in the shoes of new characters instead of the main characters we spent hours and hours and hours getting to know in the first game, and the time travel mechanic didn’t relate to anything we’d seen in the previous game. It really was its own game, it just happened to take place in the same general world with some of the same people in it. (I wrote out my thoughts on FFXIII here, and some more here.)
And the ending of XIII-2 didn’t seem to resolve anything, and it ended on a “to be continued.” Infuriating. I did like Yeul, though I don’t think they did enough with her. (I complained about FFXIII-2 here.)
Now there’s Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Yup, it is certainly not “Final Fantasy XIII-3,” because that would imply that the plot would make sense when going into the game after playing XIII-2. Judging by the demo, LR:FFXIII is very much its own game as well. The demo picks up at a place that feels fairly far in: Lightning gets into an altercation with Snow and has to chase him while fighting random battles along the way.
Things I Didn’t Like:
- This is a poor place to start a demo. I have no idea what time period this takes place in. Apparently, Snow has been alive for centuries (what?). I assume the full game will explain, but why throw something like that into the demo and not explain it? It doesn’t compel me to play the game to find out more, it just annoys me for raising a very big question and not even hinting at an answer.
- Hey, JRPG developers: it’s 2014. Can we please stop with the in-battle one-liners that repeat when you attack?
- The dialog is hokey (and that goes for all three games). A lot of what’s said out loud by the characters would probably be okay when read in a speech bubble/text box, but when spoken out loud it sounds lame and hokey and awkward, like a poorly written anime or live-action comic book movie.
- People referring to there being “too much chaos” in an area (dark energy that clouds a room) sounds awkward.
- Talking over a radio to Hope about how Snow has lost his hope is awkward.
- Why are Lightning and Hope and Snow talking to each other like they haven’t known each other for two 30+ hour games?
- Does Lightning need to pose at the end of every single battle? It interrupts the flow of the game. Also, why is Lightning flipping her hair at the end of a battle when in the black mage outfit? This fundamentally goes against her character, which has been developed as being stoic, guarded, dignified, and never girlie.
- Job classes are called “schematas.” Did we need a fancy name for job classes? Did we need a term that differs from the previous two games in the series (it was previously called a “paradigm”).
- This series does a lot of explaining about how things work within its world, so I really hope the full game explains how Lightning can switch clothing on the fly. This is under the “didn’t like” list because I somehow doubt they do, other than explaining it away with “Lightning is a goddess.”
- Lightning is a goddess, referred to as “the Savior,” and serves God.
No, not a mythical god-like being like Cosmos (see Final Fantasy Dissidia), but God God. You know, the one from the Bible and whatnot.*Edit: I’ve been told that it’s made more clear in the full game that the god being referred to is not what I thought, and is indeed mythical.*
- The third entry in a series should not introduce a new battle system; it should improve on the system that appeared in the previous two games. It took me about 6 battles before I realized that the multiple meters on the screen were actually the ATB meters that were unique to each job class I could switch to on the fly, and were not used by all job classes. For example, the blue meter only shows how many for black mage actions you can take, but the yellow meter shows how many savior actions you can take, and they refill over time, even if you’re not using that job class. This was not explained well in the demo.
- The menus feel heavy and overcomplicated, especially since the demo does not give you much information.
- The demo menu lists your three job classes that you can switch between during battle, and also three sub-classes. But there’s no explanation as to how to use the sub-classes, or what they’re for. I wanted to be a red mage, dammit!
- The stagger system has changed since the previous two games, just enough that I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. This is especially disappointing since I was a pro at the previous stagger system.
- Guarding an attack depletes some of the ATB gauge, so if you’ve attacked too much with one schemata, you won’t be able to guard. I can see this becoming not only annoying, but very dangerous and frustrating during an important battle.
Things I Did Like:
- The opening cinematic reminded me of the opening cinematic of Final Fantasy VII, in which the camera pans over the city and zooms in onto the people.
- Being able to run outside of battle helps keep the fast pace of the game. Attacking an enemy in the field in order to gain a pre-emptive bonus.
- The new battle system is OK, I guess. I like being able to move around during battle (though the Tales series does this much better), and it’s satisfying to have your attacks happen live.
- I still like Lightning. I hope the whole goddess stuff is fully explained in the full game.
- The graphics look nice enough.
But let’s get real for a moment: There are 13 days until the end of the world, and Lightning has to stop it. Psh, come on, guys: Link managed to do it in only 3 (see Majora’s Mask)! Again, these are just my thoughts on the demo. The full game may very well address some of my annoyances.
1/9/14: Setting Up a Wii U, & Wind Waker HD
With the help of gift cards I’d received as holiday gifts, my last major purchase of 2013 was a Wii U. This wasn’t an impulse buy: I had much of the price already covered and had been considering buying a Wii U since its release. (I’ve believed in the console from the beginning but other expenses kept pulling me further away from the purchase.)
It was “off-TV” play that appealed most (being able to play the game on the GamePad only, away from the TV), combined with the fact it will play the Nintendo franchises I love as well as many of the third-party games I would typically buy for my PS3 (with off-screen play included on many Of those titles). I could have simply purchased a Playstation Vita for (some) cross-save compatibility with my PS3, or a Vita & a PS4 for off-screen play via the Vita, however, a Vita + PS3 meant not having access to Nintendo games and GamePad integration (which some Wii U games use very well), and a Vita + PS4 meant the same thing with the added problem of having to pay a lot more money that I’m not yet ready to spend. So I went with the Wii U, and I’m happy with that decision so far.
I bought the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Wii U bundle. Wind Waker comes as a digital download, and I was worried the download time would be too much of a delay in my being able to actually play a game on the system, but it downloaded surprisingly quickly—especially when compared to a Playstation Network download. This is partly due to the size of the game (2+ gb, as opposed to PSN’s approximately 5–20 gb full games) and Nintendo’s network (which has less active users at the moment). I didn’t know it yet, but I could have downloaded it with the system off. Instead, I left the download status bar screen on the Wii U GamePad and checked on it here and there until it was done. Had I shut the system off, what’s normally a red “off” light would have been yellow to indicate it was downloading or updating in the background.
I should backtrack, though; before I downloaded Wind Waker I had to go through the mandatory new console setup: this included putting in my wifi network password, setting up a Mii to go with my user login, and doing a system update before it was allowed to go online. (In retrospect, I like that last bit since it ensures you are fully updated before you do anything besides play a disc-based game. This is good because early instances of people transferring their Wii data to their Wii U caused some problems—sometimes irreversible—and being fully updated ensures that whatever bug fixes that are available are also fixed on your system.) I was able to transfer my Mii from my 3DS (though you could always create a temporary Mii and link a different Mii to your account later) and, after the system update, link my account to the NintendoID I had recently created for my 3DS.
It was all pretty easy.
The GamePad controller turned out to be much more comfortable than I’d imagined. It’s lighter than an iPad (probably because the actual processing power is happening on the console itself), has a rechargeable battery (something the Wii never included on controllers by default), and functions much the way you would expect an iPad Mini with a controller attachment to function. In many ways it feels like an enhanced DS, and in my opinion, that’s why it works. It’s a way of playing—moving your attention between two screens—that many current Nintendo fans are familiar with via the DS and 3DS, so bringing that same idea to a more powerful at-home console just makes sense. Plus, the ability to send many games to the GamePad screen so you can play in another room, away from the TV, is a sweet enhancement. But I digress.
You can add friends to your friends list, post screenshots to Miiverse (Nintendo’s GameFAQS-lite-style per-game forum), access an Opera-based browser that moves pretty quickly, and visit the eShop all via the home screen. (For those who have never used a Wii U or 3DS: the home screen is a system menu that suspends the game you’re playing and allows you to quit out of it or access certain other apps that can run at the same time.)
And all this was fine and expected—I’d done my research; I’d used a friend’s system a couple of times. But it wasn’t until I loaded Wind Waker HD that I realized just how much I’m going to enjoy the Wii U. I’d played Wind Waker on GameCube, and it became one of my top Zelda games, but I’d never replayed it. The game is the right balance of story, humor, and exploration, and the HD version improves on it: it looks incredible, and the menus have been relegated to the GamePad screen so you don’t have to pause and cycle through the once-clunky menus to find the item or song notes you want to play. You can still pause to check those things (and you need to if you’re playing on the GamePad instead of the TV), but you can also switch items on the fly or leave your map open for an easy glance down to the GamePad if you need to get your bearings. You can also aim your items using the accelerometer in the GamePad—much like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword allowed—though if you don’t orient the GamePad properly before selecting the item, your aim can get massively screwy.
I won’t go into detail about the game’s charm, vivid color scheme, and once-controversial art design—it’s all been talked about to death—but I will say that the game is even better than I remember, and I’m glad Nintendo brought the game back into circulation for players who have never experienced it.
I also played a few demos: ZombiU makes good use of the GamePad by integrating it as a device your character also has. It includes a live, digital map, lets you organize your inventory, and you can hold it up and move it around to scan the in-game environment. The Sonic Lost World demo was kind of fun, but it mostly felt like a stiffer Super Mario Galaxy. The GamePad integration seemed minimal from what the demo showed, though it does let you play off-screen and your progress carries over to the main game (I love when demos work that way).
All in all, I’m happy with my Wii U purchase and I can’t wait to play highly rated games on it like Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, Rayman Legends, The Wonderful 101, and maybe Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (I haven’t decided which system to get it on). I’m excited for the gaming that lies ahead.
Fire Emblem Awakening Demo Impressions
The next game in the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem Awakening, launches on the 3DS on February 4, 2013 in the U.S. While we wait, Nintendo has released a demo (available on the eShop), containing two short battles, some dialogue, and a few cut scenes. I’ve never played a game in the series, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to give it a try.
The Awakening demo begins with a young man named Robin (the woman is not available in the demo) being found in a Ylissean field by a trio of armored shepherds: Chrom, Lissie, and Frederick. Robin soon realizes that he knows Chrom’s name but not his own, and slowly remembers bits about himself. Like many great RPGs’ main character, Robin is suffering from amnesia, but when a nearby village is attacked he quickly remembers that he can both size up the enemy by eye and command magic. Chrom is a swordsman, Frederick is a horsed lancer, and Chrom’s sister, Lissie, is a healer.
The demo’s battles are tutorials that show off the fluidity of Awakening’s battle flow. While the dialog scenes take place in detailed locations with fully-rendered characters on a 3D plane, the battlefield resembles a 16-bit SRPG overhead view, continuing the tradition of other Fire Emblem games before it. You’ll move each character a limited number of squares and attack an enemy, use an item, or wait. When attacking, you can cycle through a character’s weapons to select the weapon or spell with the best reach, highest chance of hitting the target, or doing the most damage. When any character engages in an attack, the view zooms into the map and takes you to a fully-rendered scene in which the attack takes place. The graphics here greatly resembles Super Smash Bros. Melee, and transitions smoothly without pause. During the 3D attack scenes, the action can be paused or fast forwarded, and the camera can be changed even to a first person view. This is probably fun during fights with bigger, badder enemies, as you can pause, go into first person mode, and look around where you stand. Attacking while another ally is on an adjacent map square boosts the attacker’s stats and shows both party members in the attack cinematic. Once the attack is over, experience is given out and the view zooms back to the 16-bit map.
The demo also shows off fully-voiced, 3D anime-style cutscenes. These scenes are gorgeous, and give us another way to enjoy pivotal action sequences.
This was a well put-together demo, and it showcases the personality of the characters, the smooth transition between the SRPG battle map and on-the-ground attack scenes, and the fantastic anime-style cutscenes in between. Fire Emblem Awakening sure looks like it’s the total package, and I can’t wait to play the full game.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Impressions
The PSP-only Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is actually three games in one, each weighing in between 10 and 15 hours depending on how much you level/ability grind. There is a short Prologue that shows us a curious relationship between Ventus, who looks remarkably like Kingdom Hearts II’s Roxas, and the infamous Xehanort on the familiar-looking setting of Destiny Islands. We flash to the present, where the young Ventus, the strong Terra, and the mage Aqua are honing their keyblade skills on the Land of Departure. You control Ventus (call him “Ven”, mainly because he tells everyone he meets that that’s what everyone calls him) as you chase Terra and Aqua through an obstacle course on the way to the sparring grounds. This is Square-Enix and Disney’s improved tutorial system that takes 15 minutes instead of the two-hour intro/tutorial grounds of past games that were spliced with plot cinematics before the game’s logo even appeared on the screen. It was a big relief to find that I could jump right into the game, and after completing a character’s storyline you can skip this entire sequence for the next playthrough.
After the sparring match, I chose to start my game with Ven. It seemed logical, as he was a major part of the Prologue and he was the one you controlled most during the tutorial. I was curious to see how his backstory played out, though after completing his story and beginning again as Terra, I found Terra’s story provided many more answers about the game’s world and would have been a far better starting story.
Ven controls like Sora or Roxas did. He is agile, quick, and balanced between strength and magic. His story begins when Terra takes off after taking the test to become Keyblade Master. Ven is visited in his room by a masked boy who looks straight out of Xenogears, who nudges him to follow Terra, saying Terra will not return as the person Ven knows. Ven becomes concerned for his friend, and chases after him in a story that will talk strongly of themes of friendship, light, darkness, and sinister plans to unlock the world of Kingdom Hearts. This path has a similar tone to Sora’s adventures, as it is mostly light-hearted protecting of Disney characters with thoughts of his two best friends pushing him through. His story unfortunately does not include much information about the game’s random enemies, the Unversed, until the very end, and as little about Xehanort’s true plan until the same point. This information is given early on in Terra’s story, though. For much of my 15-hour playthrough with Ven I was wondering what the things I was fighting were (since they were not Heartless), and in this respect Ven’s story is better left for the second playthrough.
You’ll have new interactions with Disney characters along the way and explore portions of Disney worlds that have not been seen in other Kingdom Hearts games. The beauty of the three storylines is that each one feels like a separate game within the story. You get different cut scenes, explore different parts of each world, and visit each world in a different order depending on who you choose to play as.
So far I’m enjoying Birth By Sleep, but even having completed one of three stories, I still feel like there’s a lot more for me to discover, even within the main plot.
Final Fantasy XIII: This Time, The Cons
I would most closely equivocate Final Fantasy XIII to Final Fantasy X, the only other FF game that puts you on a linear path while pushing a mixed bag of voice acting. I’m wondering how many people are fans of both and how many are only fans of FFX, because to my recollection, FFX was better received overall. Is it because the battle system did not stray very far from its predecessors? Was the voice acting that much better? Was it the ability to physically control a summon? Or was the world and story just better fleshed out? It’s probably all of these.
The benefit of controlling all of your party’s characters (ala FFX) is to give you a taste of all possible abilities, spells, and attacks while nurturing a personal connection with each character. FFXIII does away with this to a large degree in that by the time your characters develop their few unique moves the player has already settled on the character they prefer to control and will likely stick to that one character. Therefore, specialized moves like “Highwind”, “Last Resort”, “Quake”, “Dispelga”, and character specific Eidolon summons never get used unless the player-controlled character uses these abilities him/herself. The automated AI party members will not use these special moves, which is why I stick to Lightning and her “Army of One” special ravager ability (also because I’m very clumsy as a defending sentinel character, and don’t want to play as a buff/healer-heavy character).
The voice acting was a little more mature in FFX - the lost-in-translation Japanese sighs and gasps at the tiniest of movements were not as noticeable. As Jessica Chobot of IGN put it, “There is more gasping sound effects in FFXIII than an 80s porn. I don’t know how much I can take before throwing it out the window.” This is due to Hope and Vanille’s dialog, which is mostly either constant annoyance or flood of overemotional whining. Snow’s character also suffers in personality as he is an obvious clone of Zell from FFVIII and is constantly repeating phrases about how he’s a hero. FFVII’s characters excelled because they were all tough, strong characters who revealed their softer, wounded sides only when appropriate. FFX’s voice acting also introduced an extra element: a second language called Al Bhed. Characters switched between Al Bhed and the game’s local language (English in my case) and the player could do side quests to eventually translate the Al Bhed subtitles, adding an extra layer to the game’s dialog. The mood fit better with the story as well. Most of the characters (except for Tidus and Rikku) were forlorn, tired, and brave for the sake of bravery. FFXIII’s characters, though faced with a terrible dilemma, still feel a bit shallow about the whole thing as if they’re just rolling with wherever the world takes them without reflecting any deeper than the idea that doing x = y and not doing x = z. I am a firm believer that dialog which may sound great in speech bubbles translates terribly out loud, and FFXIII is a prime example of this. I curse the day JRPGs utilized full voice acting.
Character development was better in FFX as well. FFXIII gives players a good amount of information about the personalities and some background of the protagonists, but we really only know what they were doing up to a week before the game begins, with a few other tidbits here and there. FFX’s characters are delved much deeper, bringing insight not only into their pasts but into their views on life, duty, friendship, and the world - but in a way that felt individual to those characters. FFXIII’s characters feel more like generic anime characters with shallow ideas of friendship and all that but no ideas that could be considered specific to their character. And unfortunately, the villains in the game are not very fleshed out at all, especially compared to the humanity Sephiroth brought to JRPGs, the misconceptions of Sorceress Edea, and the way Kefka continually proved with each appearance that he was crazier than the last time you met him and willing to go farther and farther to acquire more power.
So with all these gripes why am I still enjoying FFXIII? Unfortunately, I can’t give a clear explanation, though I will say this: With all its flaws the game remains good by differentiating itself from its predecessors, and the linearity of the game works incredibly well with the constantly progressing on-the-run storyline. The ATB-only Paradigm control-one-character system is a great way to include battles and stat progression while eliminating the feeling of constant grinding, and the high level character-specific attacks are very satisfying. Past JRPGs often made battling enemies feel like a chore that impedes the story, but FFXIII’s system is fast-paced lets you focus on the story.
The game had me sold at two points, very spaced out from one another: My first fight with an Alpha Behemoth (the first challenging enemy that required paradigm shifts to strategize) and the arrival on Gran Pulse. The latter was so rich with atmosphere that it blew my mind a bit.
What I’m Gaming, 03.26.10
Due in part by Lightning, at 32 hours into the game I am captivated and loving it.
The game begins at the end of a very important 12-day period of which events are told through flashbacks. You quickly end up on the run, switching between five of the six main characters from the very beginning as their backstories are told. The game is broken into 13 chapters, some much longer than others, with a trophy/achievement awarded at the end of each one. The first few hours are really just to ease players into the world without having to spoon-feed every piece of information about the game (though a “Datalog” is included in the menu should you need more information on a topic). This can be interesting but it can also become very confusing until a little later on. These hours also serve as a sort of training ground, allowing the player to practice the new battle system. Each character has a “role”, which is the equivalent of previous games’ job class system, learning specific abilities per role.
I would like to point out that there are towns and exploration. People may have disregarded them because you only pass through towns during events and the exploration is limited - though no more, I’d argue, than in FFX. You can still speak to people, though they are few and far between, and shopping is done via the online-enabled save points, not through shopkeepers, and it all fits in with the context of the plot. But as far as linearity goes, FFX was very linear and yet it was still a great game. I can’t understand why there is so much backlash on FFXIII when this game handles linearity in much the same way. If you were okay with the level design of FFX, then you’ll probably be fine with this game. However I will say that once you hit Chapter 11 the game opens up to a large space you can explore, with beasts roaming the land and the sky, all of them visible in the distance. It’s gorgeous and feels alive, and made me feel like that area is what Spira should have looked like in FFX. I’m in love with the place and have spent maybe 3 hours exploring it before moving on with the story. This is also where side missions become available, which play out like FFXII’s hunts.
There’s so much more to say about Final Fantasy XIII but I don’t want to spoil the story - which is a typical anime plotline, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.
Give the game a try. If you’re not instantly grabbed, give it a few hours and it’ll grow on you. Don’t worry about the battle system being different, or not having towns to explore - after 12 games (including FFX-2, not including FFXI) the series has earned the right to a change, and I’m enjoying this one.
Stripped-Down Final Fantasy XIII Is More Movie Than Game [WIRED]
"With precious few exceptions, the first 17 hours go like this: battle, movie, repeat. There are almost no towns, nonplayable characters to chat up, extra side missions, hidden sequences, fancy equipment to save up for and buy, or reasons to run around and grind enemies for extra level-ups. Heck, there’s no need to even wonder what to do next…"Read the full review from [Wired].
Further Reactions to inFamous
I’ll admit it: I was wrong. I was harsh on inFamous and quick to judge.
At 29% completion I’m up to the second borough of the city, Warren, and by now I’ve discovered many new powers, fought a boss fight, and discovered new enemies. All these things have added to the game’s experience and made inFamous more fun.
What really had me sold, however, were two things: Cole’s increasing reactions to the events around him and his introspective thoughts on his own physical and emotional development, and the fact that I now have fans. Yes, that’s right: I have done so much good for Empire City that pedestrians now cheer me on in the street, put up posters of my face, and even call my name for help if someone is wounded or for help against reapers who are mugging people. The city has gradually come to life, and the portions of the city I’ve helped have become cleaner and less run-down in the process. Contrast this against the districts I’ve just discovered and have not even restored electricity to yet and the difference is staggering.
I’m liking inFamous a lot more now that I’m seeing the effects of my actions. And again: I really like the superpowers.
Reactions to the First Fifth of inFamous
According to my PS3 save file data I’m 17% through inFamous, the open world superhero game by Sony and Sucker Punch.
The game came out in May and I’ve been meaning to play it ever since I got my PS3 this autumn, especially because Greg Miller of IGN kept promoting the game and I’ve often agreed with his opinions of games (i.e. I love Patapon 2). After playing a series of newer games I’ve finally gotten my hands on a friend’s copy of inFamous.
Though the superpowers are really, really fun.
The karma system is what gameplay is based around, in that anything Cole does gives him good or evil points, which affect which electricity-based superpower abilities he can unlock. The problem with this is that in order for it to be plausible the game gives Cole’s personality a blank slate. We don’t know what kind of person he was before the game takes place, and his personality is fairly generic and bland throughout, so that if you’re good he comes off modest and if you’re evil he comes off indifferent. The karma system starts to take away from ability building, though, because if you go on instinct and do some good things and some evil things you will unlock neither the “good” powers or the “evil” powers. Instead you’ll be stuck powering up the general plot-given powers, and there is no benefit to being “neutral” like in some Star Wars and Bioware games. In order to truly become powerful you have to stick to being really good or really evil. For example, in many cases I’ve regretted not allowing myself to follow the urge to do something evil because I’m set on following the good path, unlocking the hero-level abilities and getting a trophy for being so damn good. This also means I can’t dive bomb a row of cars and civilians without it lowering my good karma. Then again, it gives the player a reason to replay the game, and to replay it differently.
But like I said, I’m 17% through — unfortunately, I feel like the game is just getting started. But I wonder what wholesale warehouse the reapers use to order the hundreds and hundreds of identical red coats they wear? And why can Cole get shot if he’s so electrically charged? Shouldn’t bullets deflect away from him?
I’ll see where the story goes. ‘Til then I’m gonna keep flipping cars and throwing reapers off roofs.
MGS: Peace Walker demo from IGN is Japanese
When writing about the Metal Gear PSP demo IGN had posted from the Tokyo Game Show I neglected to realize it was the Japanese demo. Meaning multiple Metal Gear opening cut scenes in Japanese only, with Japanese menus. I figured out most of the controls on my own, but couldn’t figure out how to crawl, and so I got stuck in the first very small area that begins the demo. Sigh. Then I found out you can’t crawl, and were supposed to throw a grenade at a metal gate to advance.