On Fidelity

Originally Published 6 January 2012

Earlier this week, I finished up my playthrough of Catherine. The game itself is somewhat difficult to place into a genre, which is one of the things that made this review difficult.

The premise of the game is that you play as Vincent. Vincent has a dead-end job, but it’s enough to pay the bills; and a long-term girlfriend. The girlfriend–Katherine–has started hinting that she wants their relationship to move forward with the presumption that it is toward marriage. On the same day that she starts dropping these hints, he ends up having a one-night stand with another girl. The rest of the story is about his trying to come to terms with both his betrayal and what he wants to do with his life.

At the same time that Vincent is having this life crisis, he has begun to have terrible nightmares. In these nightmares (which he can’t remember after waking), he is forced to climb a wall or die. Every night, the complexity and danger of the wall increases.

These two ongoing parts of the game intertwine into one strangely coherent narrative on what the best way to move forward in life is. Vincent’s daytime problems are addressed by interacting with other characters, sending text messages, and trying to figure out his situation. The nighttime problems show up as a sliding block puzzle that is both simple and surprisingly deep. The puzzle game aspect was interesting enough that, even when I didn’t need to do the puzzles (due to having cleared them previously with a high enough score), I still did because they were fun.

Overall, I found Catherine to be very compelling. It was a game in which adult themes–love, fidelity, and finding a place–are address in a relatively adult and realistic way. Finding non-indie games that address these themes is rare enough; finding one that addresses them well was a great surprise.

Catherine: 1

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Brick by Brick

Originally Published 28 March 2011

Earlier this month, I played through 3D Dot Game Heroes. Like many things, I’ve been distracted and have only now gotten around to writing a review for it.

3D Dot Game Heroes is a parody / homage to the 16-bit era, top-down, action-adventure games of the mid-nineties. Specifically, the game most often reminded me of A Link to the Past. You take the role of a Hero (or Sage or Prince) and must go recover the six orbs to create the Light Orb and use it to defeat the Dark Bishop and his attempts to resurrect an ancient evil Dark King using the (unsurprisingly) Dark Orb.

Of course, the plot sounds ridiculous and hackneyed because it is deliberately trying to invoke the memories of those older games. Over the course of the game, there are numerous references dropped to various other games–people inside bomb-accessible caves who force you to pay to “fix their door”, enemies who have “secret[s] to everybody”, NPCs trying to trade their copies of Demon’s Souls for the game you are currently playing, and other such fun bits. Taken together, it is a rather humorous little narrative that is built.

The gameplay in 3DGH is somewhat similar to the 2D Zelda games–you have a sword, you can have one “active” item, and you can block or dash. These make up the key abilities of the hero. The main difference, however, is that your sword is generally of a size best described as “unreasonable”. Being at maximum health causes your weapon to be gigantic–often spanning an entire axis of the screen (or if you’re using a fully upgraded infinity plus one sword both). Unfortunately, this leads to my main complaint about the game.

The game seems to be built so as to be played with the player’s weapon at maximum power at all times. Being even half a hit point short of maximum health causes the weapon to revert to a far smaller and weaker version of the same. Although it is sometimes still usable, I found that losing a single tick of health would usually quickly spiral out to death due to the increased danger of having a shorter and weaker weapon. This kind of statistical instability led to some frustration on my part.

3DGH also seems to have decided to include the most annoying feature that has mostly been left behind in modern games: the lost forever item. In fact, the game has a large number of completely unclued quests which are lost forever if you do not do engage them at specific times. Worse yet, one of these quests spans the entire course of the game with a checkpoint between each major area. Miss a single checkpoint at the quest is failed. Not all of nostalgia is good.

Overall, I found the game entertaining, though I eventually resorted to a FAQ in order to find the unclued quests which were being triggered by quest advancement. If the game had cleaned up these few areas, I would have been able to recommend it without caveats. As is, however, I have to say that it is a niche title aimed (essentially) at people who are in their mid to late 20s.

3D Dot Game Heroes: 0

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Godless

Originally Published 10 September 2010

The week before last, I finished playing through God of War III. If you’ve been living in a hole for the last two gaming generations, you might be unaware that the God of War games are a series of third person action games from Sony and exclusive to their platforms.

At this point, I think most people are familiar with the gameplay of the God of War series and this iterations doesn’t deviate substantially from the mold. That said, the gameplay does remain solid, even if new innovations are mostly absent. Controls are tight and the translation from PS2 to PS3 hasn’t had any particular impact.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this game and how I’d review it. From a purely technical perspective, the game is quite good. My concern is that the game didn’t engage me the same way that it’s predecessors did. I think this is mostly due to the tone and pacing which means that there are spoilers ahead.

This iteration picks up right where the second game ended: Kratos riding the Earth Titan Gaia up the side of Olympus with muderous intent. Honestly, I think this was a brilliant ending to the first one which was just enough “over the top” to be powerful. The problem I found is that the game seems to try to continually top itself, but at some point, it feels as though they’re just trying to hard. The game opens with a fight against Poseidon and this is somewhat endemic of the problem. When you start by fighting one of the three Greater Gods of Olympus, there are only so many places left to go. This most notably manifests itself in the later fights against Hermes and Apollo which feel more like curb-stomping than legitamite foes. Worse still is the non-fight against Hera who is killed in a cutscene by Kratos simply grabbing her and snapping her neck then using her body to weigh down a switch. That sort of general trivialization of the gods also shows up with Apollo whose head, after his defeat, is carried around to be used as a glorified flashlight.

All of this taken together makes it seem as though the Gods of Olympus don’t really represent a threat to him which is a dramatic shift in tone from the previous games. Thus, when you finally end up in the final encounter with Zeus, he seems less like a larger than life, existential threat to Kratos and more like a minor tyrant struggling to hold onto his kingdom. A battle that should have felt as epic and tenuous as the first game’s battle against Aries instead feels like just another boss fight.

Where does this leave us, though? If you played the first two, you should probably finish the story. If you didn’t, I’d suggest the first one (available in a PS3 collected edition on a single disc with the second game) instead as it is a more compelling game. Trying to start playing the series with this game would be the wrong thing to do, though.

God of War III: 0

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Winged Helmets would make it Perfect.

Originally Published 23 August 2010

Last week, I finished my playthrough of Valkyria Chronicles. It is a tactical-ish RPG for the PS3 which is now a couple years old (it’s old enough to not have trophy support). I say tactical-ish because although measured in gameplay, it is certainly a tactical game with RPG elements, but it lacks many of the standard tactical RPG cliches. Of course, I think this is to its credit.

Valkyria Chronicles takes place in an alternate history version of World War II. Although it occurs on the European continent, all of the countries have had their borders redrawn and the fight is primarily between a Western “Allied Federation” and an Eastern “Empire”. The game focuses on the country of Gallia–a state obviously modeled after Switzerland with its complete neutrality and universal conscription and situated about where Lithuania is today. Gallia has rich reserves of the universally useful energy producing ore known as Ragnite and the Empire begins the game by invading Gallia in an attempt to capture this resource to fuel its war machine into Western Europe. The game eventually develops some supernatural elements as the less obvious intentions of the Empire begin to manifest.

I found the plot and characters to be very compelling and I probably would have kept playing to see how it turned out. Of course, I think much of this was due to the obviously rewritten script for the English release. I used the Japanese language soundtrack with English subtitles enabled, and, although I am not fluent in Japanese, I know enough to know that many translations were not at all close to literal. Most notably, the primary female protagonist–who often responds to the main character’s more empassioned moments by simply saying said protagonist’s name in the original Japanese dialog–had many of her lines rewritten so that she said something useful or at least relevant instead. I know that some people may think that translation should be about preserving the original work, but this game in particular may be a case where an adaptation can improve the characterization substantially.

The real strength of the game, however, is the gameplay which is far different than the standard tactical RPG gridmap configuration. The game proceeds in turns in which each side is allocated a fixed number of “Control Points”. Control points are used to command infantry (1 point), tanks (2 points), or issue orders to units (variable). When the player takes control of a unit, the game goes from its standard tactical map view to a third person perspective behind the unit with relative autonomy of movement–no grids to be found. In this mode, each character has a fixed movement rate and can take one action. Actions are usually either healing or firing a weapon with movement and weapon choices determined by their class. While moving, characters are vulnerable to opportunity fire from nearby enemy units, so rushing headlong into an enemy encampment is rightly discouraged, but sneaking around behind cover is often rewarded. Another unique aspect of the system shows in the actual attacking mechanic. Once a player has decided that they are properly set for an attack, they can go into “aiming mode”. This is an over-the-shoulder view from the unit’s perspective that allows manual aim of whatever firearm the unit has. The game will auto-aim at the center of mass of enemy units to help the player, but skilled players can aim for headshots to increase damage potential with a chance of missing outright due to bullet spread.

There is a lot to like in the general configuration of the battle system. By making the limit one of “total action” rather than limiting total units and giving 1 action per unit, more advanced strategies become possible. At the same time, to prevent simply running one unit through an entire mission, the game provides diminishing returns in the form of reduced movements on subsequent actions taken on the same turn and, for certain classes like snipers, limited ammunition. The balance thus struck is remarkably workable.

I have only two complaints about the game. First, it seems to be set up so as to encourage grinding. Leveling is done on a per class rather than per character basis, so it often seemed (to me) like power levelling was a compelling proposition. The extent to which some of this is required to beat the game is unclear to me. I never particularly had serious problems with a level, but this may have been due to being over levelled for much of the game. Second, I found the final level of the game to be somewhat frustrating. Although it was a trick fight and I had immediately figured out the trick, I hadn’t found a way to actually control the battle and win. I ultimately had to go to a faq for a workable strategy which I consider indicative of a problem in the mission’s design.

Notwithstanding those two issues, I would highly recommend this game. It is quite easily the best tactical RPG that I’ve ever played and also one of the best RPGs that I’ve played in quite a while.

Valkyria Chronicles: 1!

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This Killing Zone has been designated “Knife Only”

Originally Published 9 August 2010

Early last week, I finished my path through the single player mode of Killzone 2. I’ll preface this review by stating that I only played the single player campaign of Killzone 2. Also, I believe that any game that takes the time to have a single player mode–even if it is primarily built as a multiplayer game–should make that mode strong enough to stand on its own.

When I started playing Killzone 2, I had chosen to play on the second highest of its four difficulty levels. I have played many first person shooters and even a fair number of console first person shooters (the retarded cousins of real PC first person shooters). I quickly found that the controls were too cumbersome for me to be anything but rubbish at the game and downgraded the difficulty to the second lowest tier.

Even at this level, I was still having trouble with the controls, but soon discovered something interesting. It turns out that the game offers an always-available knife which is an instant kill on most enemies and which has a a radial range slightly wider than the field of view. At that point, rather than playing the game properly, I became Sev–the madman with the knife. As an example, my totals kills with the knife at the end of the game were over 400 whereas I hadn’t broken 100 kills with any other weapon.

It actually turns out that the enemy AI is poorly adapted for a crazy man with a knife rushing them. Part of their behavior seems to be an attempt to maintain a certain distance from the PC. Thus, a common occurrence was me rushing an entrenched location and watching as the enemies flee from the guy swinging the knife and strafing to avoid their fire. I once even watched as a gunner in a machinegun nest fled at the sight of me and my knife.

Gameplay wise, it is rather similar to most other console first person shooters of late. It uses the relatively standard Gears of War style health regeneration system. Weapon sets are similar to most FPSs though with a disappointing emphasis on assault rifles. They even took the irritating Halo-style “you only get to have two guns” system even further by having the two weapons being restricted to a pistol and a larger weapon. Maybe this is yet another reason to go for a knife-only game.

On the other side, I found the plot mostly incomprehensible. I hadn’t played the previous game, so there were certainly things that I had missed, but I really didn’t get why I was part of this invasion force. It seemed like the bad guys had invaded wherever our force was from at a point in the past (probably the last game), but since we defeated them, we decided to invade back. Strangely, despite the game treating nuclear weapons as serious business and a legitimate threat in a spacefaring universe, the “good guy” faction doesn’t choose to simply bomb their invaders back to the dark ages and instead carries out a protracted ground war with them. I mean, I can understand maybe wanting to capture the territory, but there is a point where I really have to question whether or not resources are being used efficiently.

Between the impermeable plot and my concerns with the controls, I didn’t really find much to like here. Luckily, the game was short–less than 10 hours even with all the deaths that using a melee weapon in a gunplay setting brings.

Killzone 2: 0

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Walk in the Rain

Originally Posted 24 June 2010

Last night, I defeated Heavy Rain. By defeated, I mean that I earned the platinum trophy and am thus completely done with the game. If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not be aware that Heavy Rain is an “interactive thriller” for the PS3 (currently an exclusive title) made by the people who made Indigo Prophecy. Because Heavy Rain is heavily story driven, you would be wise to expect unmasked possible spoilers below.

Much like its predecessor, Heavy Rain is mostly composed of quick-time events with interspersed exploration scenes and a heavy emphasis on narrative. This time, our four-man band consists of Ethan, the downtrodden father; Madison, the nightmare-addled reporter; Scott, the private dick; and Norman, FBI profiler. The story begins with a very shiny prologue with lots of bloom lighting and a virtual guarantee that something horrible is going to happen to transform the idyllic life of Ethan into the dark and gritty version seen on the game’s box art. Honestly, I was spent most of the prologue trying to figure out how many and which of his family members would die. After the inevitable death in the prologue, we pick up with Ethan two years later.

Within minutes of beginning the game proper, Ethan’s son is kidnapped by the Origami Killer and he is thrust into a series of “trials” in order to save his son. Coincidentally with this, Scott and Norm are seperately attempting to hunt down the Origami Killer. Madison is added on a bit later as a romantic foil and makeshift medic for Ethan.

As I said above, the gameplay comes in two main varieties: exploration and QTE. The exploration areas usually consist of puzzles and tend to be a bit more subdued. Unfortunately, the controls for the exploration areas are a bit klunky. The game uses a sort of “driving” paradigm where you point with the right control stick and move in that direction using R2. Unfortunately, the turns are rather lousy, so the game doesn’t quite respond as expected. This isn’t enough to cause many problems, but it can be annoying. The QTEs make up the bread and butter of the gameplay, however. Despite what might otherwise seem like a relatively restricted set of actions, the game actually manages to mix up the QTE options somewhat. In addition to using all 8 of the available buttons (X, O, Square, Triangle, R1, R2, L1, L2), they also make good use of the sixaxis controller by including rotations (especially in driving scenes) and more complex analog stick manipulations to denote fine actions. Also, unlike its predecessor, the game seems to have relatively few unwinnable QTEs. I believe there is only one QTE that I was never able to complete successfully in the entirety of the game.

I found the story to be relatively compelling if somewhat short. My first pass from beginning to end took less than a day and I was able to get the platinum trophy in under four days. Playing through the last bits of the game so many times in such a short period (one of the trophies is “Get All Endings”), did lead me to discover that the game is severely lacking on replayability. QTEs in general are fixed and don’t change from playthrough to playthrough. Puzzle layouts and hidden items also don’t change, so the second lizard will always have the key no matter how many times you play through the level. At the same time, playing through a second time does allow you to see more subtle things that show off characters’ true motivations. For instance, some animations that originally seemed just like “idle animations” gain new significance when viewed with full knowledge of the game’s plot.

I was a bit disappointed with some of the voice acting/writing. Most of the children that show up in the game have very strange or perhaps stilted dialog and the voice actors chosen have strange delivery. This occasionally happens to the adult characters as well, but is slightly less noticable. I attribute this most likely to the game’s dialog having been originally written in French and then translated into English later. This may explain their constant use of the word “wasteland” to describe certain kinds of deserted areas within an urban area–a usage which I’d not heard before.

There are also some loose ends that I felt the game didn’t properly address in any of the endings. Mostly, there is some background characterization at the beginning of the game which is supposed to muddy the waters in your search for the killer. Some of it ends up getting resolved, but some is simply dropped on the floor once the real killer is revealed. At the same time some characters (Madison and Norman especially) have internal struggles that you seem to be set up to try to help them through, but player actions seem to have little effect on the outcome.

Overall, there is a lot to like here. Indigo Prophecy is a good bellweather for whether or not you’ll like this game (surprise, surprise). Without that bit of data to provide help, I’d recommend it for general fans of mystery and old-style adventure games.

Heavy Rain: 1

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Ok, We’ll need a Crucifix and a Knife Sharpener

Originally Posted 21 June 2010

Over the weekend, I finally beat Cross Edge. For those unaware, Cross Edge is a tactical(-ish) JRPG for the PS3 published in the US by NIS America–the Disgaea people. It’s primary selling point is that it is a big crossover of various other games, notably bringing in characters from Disgaea and Darkstalkers. Less notably, it brings in characters from series that I’d never heard of before (Ar tonelico, Spectral Souls, Atelier Marie, and Mana Khemia). None of that matters though because everyone starts with amnesia, so you don’t need to worry much about the backstory of the characters.

The game itself is segmented into four main “modes”. The first is the overworld “wandering” mode. On the overworld, you are tasked with finding “souls” and releasing them. What this means in practice is that you wander around the overworld map, periodically mashing the square button. If you are lucky, there will be a soul or event within the area of effect of your search. If, as is much more likely the case, there isn’t, nothing happens. Of course, the game includes random encounters, so during this combing effort, you are periodically subjected to fights.

The second mode could best be described as “event” mode. In this mode, you get to watch a short cutscene of various party and non-party characters interacting. Unfortunately, almost all of these are scripted together using perhaps a dozen different still poses of each character in an attempt to convey some action. Rarely, they will use some sprite-based animations to show something more important happening. Events also sometimes have battles in them when you wander across threats and the like

The third mode is the “dungeon” mode. Dungeon mode differes from wandering mode in two ways: your 2d-grid is now oriented like a platformer (complete with jumping puzzles) and your characters don’t auto-heal between battles.

The last, and most important, mode is that “battle” mode. In battle mode, you take your party versus a set of enemies (Hey, its a JPRG, what did you expect?). The “tactical” part of the game comes into play here most. Both your party and the enemies are assigned a 3×4 grid on which characters are placed. The PC party is, generally, made up of 4 characters. Each side gets to take turns wailing on the other with perhaps the most important parts being making good use of the combo system to string together long and deadly attacks.

The game, unfortunately, shows many failings. First and foremost, the plot doesn’t matter. In fact, one of the characters even says as much about two-thirds of the way into the game. Even setting that aside, it isn’t a very strong plot anyway. More egregiously, the game basically ignores the last decade of development in the JRPG genre. Pacing could be best described as horrible with level grinding routinely required even between events which are nominally supposed to occur immediately after one another. The game eventually gives you upwards of 40 possible player characters, but rather than having everyone be at the same level, the “current” party gets full experience with reserve characters getting less. This quickly leads to a huge power disparity between the “main” party and your other characters. This could be ignored, but the game insists on periodically forcing characters into your active party for certain plot-related battles. There is even one event battle (where failure, luckily, has no effect) where your entire party plus your starting formation is chosen for you. Also, the game explains the combo system to you, but fails to stress that mastering it is the entire point of the battle system. In fact, once I had finally grokked it, I was able to beat the final 4 or 5 bosses in two turns each and did the same for the first 5 post-game bonus bosses.

As if these issues weren’t enough, the entire game seems to be build out of guide dang it moments. For instance, there are events which are on the world map and discoverable. Periodically, some events will unlock others. Of course, the game doesn’t make any mention of the newly unlocked events in any way. Since they only show up when searched for, even a map doesn’t necessarily help. To make matters worse, many events disappear after key events if you haven’t found them yet. And woe be to you if you are trying to get the “True Ending”. In order to get it, you basically have to do every optional event in the game (a feat in and of itself). Additionally, you have to do arbitrary, unclued things in various battles. For instance, some characters who are outright hostile to you, you aren’t allowed to attack in battle. Other characters must be completely defeated (getting them to zero hit points) rather than allowing the battle’s turn limit to expire.

Underlying all of this is a layer of creepy Japanese otaku appeal. For instance, one of the things that you can do is change character’s constumes in order to change their stats. Ok, sounds reasonable. The character who describes the system to you informs you that when females characters change, you “get to watch them, so its a bonus to the player” or something similar. Incidentally, said explanatory character is like an 8 year old girl. Oh, and the game also includes hot springs scenes. So yeah.

Ultimately, I can’t say that there is much here to like: bad pacing, weak story, unclued puzzles, and endless random encounters. Honestly, I thought the best part of the game were the handful of post-game events. Since the main story was over, there were many instances of the PCs breaking character and being somewhat hilarious. Unfortunately, those handful of scenes aren’t worth the investment.

Cross Edge: 0

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Charted!

Originally Published 15 April 2010

Being a multi-platform owner, I get certain advantages. One of these advantages is the ability to play the platform-exclusive titles for each system. Most recently, this meant that I played through Uncharted 2: Among Thieves–a PS3 exclusive released a few months ago. I actually finished the game on Sunday, but after looking at the trophy list ended up deciding to take a shot at the Platinum Trophy which ended up requiring me to beat the game on the two highest difficulties. I finished the second of those runs last night.

For those who missed it the first time around, the Uncharted series centers around Nathan Drake, a self-reported descendent of Sir Francis Drake and something akin to a treasure hunter by trade. This time around, he has been pulled into a scheme to find Marco Polo’s lost ships and the treasure that was presumably within them. As with most things in Drake’s life, this quickly degenerates into people shooting at him and buildings collapsing while he is in or on them.

Gameplay wise, it is very similar to the first Uncharted. It seems to use mostly the same engine which, despite the intervening time, is still very impressive. The gameplay is mostly of two forms: Prince of Persia style platforming and cover-based gunfighting sequences. I think this iteration of the series manages to blend the two styles of play somewhat better than the former in that it makes use of the platforming mechanic to create interesting encounters. For example, at one point, you are forced to carry out a gunfight while hanging off a telephone pole and scrambling around the various signs on it to maintain your cover. At another point, your entry into a room full of enemies is made via a scalable wall at the end of a platforming section. This gives you interesting retreat scenarios and greately enhanced cover, but limits your ability to make use of all of your equipment.

Perhaps the most interesting scenario, however, is the chase level. In this scene, you are in the back of a flatbed truck in a convoy. The enemies have spotted you on the truck and so enemies in other trucks are shooting at you, your truck, your ally’s truck and basically anything else nearby. In order to survive, you have to jump from truck to truck, clearing enemies as you go, so that the you don’t end up flying over a cliff in one of the trucks as it is taken out by your foes. The entire scene looks like it was shot for an action movie and is incredibly fun.

There is very little that I can really complain about in the game: the acting is extremely well done; the gameplay is mostly solid; and the plot is interesting enough to keep me playing. Perhaps my only complaint is due to my play through on the highest difficulty (which they call “Crushing”). On the highest difficulty, due to the increadible ease of dying, all of the relatively minor control flaws become glaringly apparent. Every time that I died due to the game refusing to make a corner transition properly or shift from one kind of cover to another made me spew curses. Luckily, the lower difficulties (even Hard) tend to be forgiving enough that minor control issues are unnoticable.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: 1!

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Organization XIII

Originally Published 9 April 2010

Last night, I finished Final Fantasy XIII. In this case, by “finished”, I do not mean “beat”, but instead mean “defeated”. I’d been playing the PS3 version, so this means that I got the Platinum Trophy for the game.

From a plot perspective, FFXIII begins in the middle. You’re immediately dropped into a large fight and have little idea why you’re fighting or what you’re trying to acomplish. In fact, the game very slowly doles out backstory through flashbacks over the course of the majority of the game. The game diverges somewhat from the standard Final Fantasy plot in that your character don’t really know what they’re supposed to do for a good majority of the game. Although you have enemies, you spend most of your time running from them due to their sheer numbers.

Gameplay wise, it offers and “Active Time Battle” system with a few twists. Firstly, unlike older ATB systems, there is no option to put it in a “slow” or “wait” mode–enemies will continue to attack if you are paralyzed with indecision about what to do. At the same time, the game severely limits how much actual consideration the player needs to do. The default action for each “round” is for them to automatically carry out their role. Also, each of your teammates will automatically carry out their role without any input from you. In fact, you can’t control your teammates at all aside from setting which role they are currently tasked with. Now, these roles are actually quite important to the game system. The game has six roles: Commando, Ravager, Saboteur, Synergist, Medic, and Sentinel. Commandos are the big damage dealers. Ravagers are elemental damage dealers that build the “stagger gauge”, Saboteurs give negative status ailments. Synergists provide positive status effects. Medics heal (who knew?). Sentinels draw enemy attacks and take less damage from attacks. The game lets you select up to 6 “sets” of roles for your party and during combat you can quickly switch between them as the battle progresses. For instance, you might begin a battle with a Commando/Ravager/Ravager configuration to help build up an enemy’s stagger gauge, then switch to a Commando/Commando/Commando role to put out maximum damage once its stagger guage is broken. Since there is no way to slow down battles, this leads to rather complex interaction as you attempt to build stagger chains, keep healed, apply buffs and the like.

The game is divided into 13 chapters. For the first 10 or so of these chapters, the game is essentially a straight line with no sidequests and no ability to decide who will be in your party. I consider this to be something of a failing. For the most part, until you reach chapter 11, you’re just along for the ride. The game also very slowly gives access to new abilities and roles during this same period. Some people have likened it to a 15-20 hour tutorial and they may have a point. At the same time, the game will periodically inflict fights on you which can only be beaten through good tactics–leveling, button mashing, better equipment–all of these will have little effect.

Overall, I enjoyed the game. If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy or the JRPG style of games, there is much to enjoy here. The game is certainly one of the most visually impressive games that I’ve ever played, but that alone doesn’t make a great game.

Sticking to my previous scale, I’d say this game is probably a zero. It certainly has things that give it appeal, but the extreme linearity coupled with long payoff times make it suspect. In many ways, you could say that it is in a Mass Effect 2 sort of situation: the game is technically good in many ways, but has some obvious flaws that make it difficult to give a blanket recommendation. This is made doubly important due to the pedigree of the game.

Final Fantasy XIII: 0

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