Temporal Paradox

Final Fantasy XIII was a game which induced mixed feelings in me. Like many, I recognized the long, seemingly interminable, part of the game where players are taught how to play. I was, like many, disheartened by the preponderance of linear sections punctuated with cutscenes. Nevertheless, the late game content, the story, and the gameplay itself (as manifested in the battle system) all resonated well with me.

It’s sequel, cleverly titled Final Fantasy XIII-2, manages to take the core criticisms of its predecessor and produce a brilliant counterpoint to those criticisms. The story begins with Serah–the sister of one of the playable characters from FFXIII and former damsel in distress–trying to build a new life in the aftermath of the events for the first game. Everyone in the world remembers her sister vanishing at the end of the previous game despite both her memories showing her sister surviving and the displayed ending of the previous game. Serah has largely put this down to her wishful thinking until the attack of creatures from the future and the arrival of a time-traveler who has met Serah’s sister in the future. Thus begins a wild trip through time to try to correct whatever damage has occurred to the timeline as well as to find Serah’s sister.

In gameplay terms, time travel is represented as a large directed graph of accessible time periods. As the game progresses, more areas are unlocked, alternate versions of some time periods are produced, and changes propagate through the timeline. This results in some interesting plot lines that involve going to a “dead” timeline (one which has been rendered no longer part of the “true” timeline) to find things that may be necessary to advance either before or after it should have had happened.

The paradigm system from the previous game returns and is largely similar. The major change that has occurred is the replacement of a third character with an interchangeable assistant monster. This simultaneous enhances possible choices and dramatically restricts them. Since the creatures can be modified, combined, and leveled dramatically differently, it adds a great deal more diversity in the end game experiences of players than existed in Final Fantasy XIII. At the same time, though, by being restricted to only having three active assistant monsters, the number and types of paradigms available is substantially reduced, make the tactical aspect of the game somewhat more important. It feels like the changes deepened the system and the game is better for those changes.

One thing that may put some off, however, is that Final Fantasy XIII is really required reading for the sequel. Not only does this game open with great big spoilers about its predecessor, but it also doesn’t invest too heavily in characterizing the people who were core to the previous game. This seems reasonable for those of us who have completed Final Fantasy XIII, but is likely to put off the many who did not.

When I first heard that there was going to be a Final Fantasy XIII-2, I prepared myself for disappointment. I am happy to say that my expectations were wildly exceeded and that this game is very much worth playing.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: 1

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You got your Adventure Game in my Police Procedural

L.A. Noire was the “active game” in my PS3 for a very long time. Usually this means one of two things: 1) the game is amazing and I can’t get enough of it, or 2) the game is tedious and playing it is a chore. L.A. Noire is, unfortunately, the latter.

The premise of L.A. Noire is interesting enough. Players take control of Cole Phelps, I returning World War II veteran as he readjusts to civilian life as a police officer. His strong dedication to the job and attention to detail allow him to quickly move up the ranks to detective. Here, however, he finds that his idealism is insufficient for the world around him. That premise, and its payoffs, are the strongest and best parts of the game. I’d even go so far as to say that the game has one of the best endings that I’ve seen in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the gameplay lacks much. It wavers from being a third-person cover-based shooter in its action sequences, to a hunt-the-thingy adventure game, and back to a guess-what-the-facial-expression-means game. Each of these different modes tends to feel somewhat disconnected from the others. Moreover, the most important mode–guess the facial expression–commits the sin of “screw up and you lose”. It isn’t a complete loss, one can always replay the mission, but one has to replay the entire mission. Worse yet, it isn’t always clear how bad any particular error is. Sometimes, a wrong choice in guess the facial expression results in no downside save a lowered score. Sometimes, a wrong choice completely prevents you from finding the true culprit.

This sort of frustrating, inconsistent, and time-wasting gameplay shouldn’t be seen in a modern game. I might expect it in a Sierra Adventure Game from the mid-90s, but I don’t expect to see it in a AAA title from less than a year ago.

 

L.A. Noire: 0

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